Friday, October 12
The Second Epistle of John: This and the next short book of the New Testament are one-page letters. Each would each fit on a piece of papyrus measuring about 9 by 5 inches, which was the average size of papyrus sheets in antiquity.
It is a common feature on letters, whenever written, that they normally contain the names of the writer and the recipient. This is as true our own correspondence today as it was of the epistles of St. Paul. In this present work, however, the author identifies neither himself nor his readers. We should say something about both of these points.
The writer self-identification here is simply “the old man” (ho presbyteros. Apparently the Apostles were sometimes referred to by the generic “elder,” or in Greek presbyteros. This would explain why the Apostle Peter calls himself by this term (1 Peter 5:1). In the case of the present epistle, however, something more seems to be intended. The author does not call himself an elder, but the elder, or perhaps even “the Elder,” indicating that this is what he was called; it was the normal way in which folks referred to him, knowing exactly who was meant.
Abundant anecdotal evidence testifies that there have been many Christian pastors, over the centuries, who have been similarly referenced, such as the Pastor. The present writer knows of a cathedral where the expression the Dean referred to a clergyman who had been dead for years. None of his less impressive successors, all of them deans, were ever so called!
Anyway, Papias of Hieraopolis, an early second century Christian writing in Asia Minor, refers to someone called ho presbyeros Ioannes, “John the Elder.” Although Eusebius of Caesarea, who records this witness, doubts that the reference is to St. John the Apostle (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.5-6), the present writer does not trust him on the point. Since the earliest collectors of the writings contained in the New Testament were guided by the canon of “apostolicity,” it is difficult to understand how they would have included the present epistle, unless they had been persuaded that John the Apostle wrote it.
Moreover, this small work has definite affinities with the First Epistle of John, the Johannine authorship of which Eusebius had no doubts (3.24.17). The present comments, therefore, presume that the author of this epistle is St. John the Apostle.
The “elect lady” that John addresses is evidently a local church, over which he has some supervision. This supervision he exercises from his own church, presumably Ephesus, which he calls the “elect sister” (verse 13). John writes to this other church, not only in his own name, but on behalf of “all those who have known the truth” (verse1). This is the truth of the Gospel that unites all Christians to one another.
In John’s greeting, the “grace, mercy, and peace” are wished to be “with us” (notwithstanding the Vulgate, the KJV, and other translations). These three nouns are common terms of greeting in the epistles of the New Testament, as benefits that all believers would wish for one another. Indeed, since the word “mercy” (eleos) is found only here in the Johannine writings, we may surmise that its appearance in this text comes from its being such a commonplace in Christian greetings (cf. Galatians 6:16; Jude 2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Philadelphians Prol.).
When John remarks that “some of your children” (ek ton teknon) are “walking in truth,” we are perhaps justified in suspecting that he intends a subtlety. It could be that he means, “not all of them are doing so (verse 4). John is writing to this church, after all, in order to warn them about deceivers (verse 7), urge them to circumspection (verse 8), and put them on their guard with respect to bad teaching (verse 10). John certainly sees some potential problem on the horizon of this congregation, and it is clear that this is why he is writing to them at all.
By way of exhortation the Elder sends his readers back to the basics of what they have received “from the beginning,” an expression that he uses twice here (verses 5-6). This exhortation to the commandments and love for one another reminds us of several in 1 John: “I plead with you . . . not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.”
For all his subtleties and gentleness, John is also stern. False teachers are not to be greeted nor received into one’s home (verses 10-11). From this exhortation, it is clear that he is not directly blaming anyone in the congregation itself; it is outsiders that he has in mind, though it is difficult to explain why he wrote this epistle unless he had in mind some specific dangers to his readers.
These false teachers are easy to detect, because they have wrong answers for the questions, “What do you say of the Christ? Whose Son is He? Who do you say that I am?” That is to say, they deny that Jesus is God’s eternal Son become incarnate (verse 9). This thesis is the “doctrine” (i>didache—verses 9,10) that sustains the Christian life and communion. It is the foundation of everything else. Those who deny it, therefore, merit the name “antichrists” (a term that appears only here and in 1 John). We don’t “all worship the same God.” The only God we worship is the Father of Jesus Christ, His Son, who is our only access to the Father. There are no short cuts to God, bypassing Jesus. In particular, there are no ecumenical short cuts.
Saturday, October 13
Psalm 104: In the traditions of the Christian East, this psalm is always the first psalm of the evening office, Vespers. Though prayed in the lengthening shadows of evening, Vespers itself has always been thought of rather as an hour of light than of darkness, a perspective inspired both by the special quality of the gloaming and sunset and by the ritual lighting of the candles. This note of vesperal light is obvious in the traditional hymnody of both the East and the West. One thinks, for instance, of the ancient vesperal hymns Phos Hilaron (“O Gladsome Light”) in the East and Lucis Creator Optime (“Most Good Creator of the Light”) in the West. An early line of our psalm strengthens the same impression: “You are clothed in praise and majesty, adorning Yourself in a garment of light.”
Psalm 104 is likewise one of those psalms for which the New Testament provides at least a partial interpretive key. An early verse of it is quoted in Hebrews with respect to the angels: “Who makes His angels spirits, / And His ministers a flame of fire” (1:7). This line of the Psalter is interpreted just a few verses later: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (1:14).
Psalm 104 is not difficult. Indeed, the flow of its poetry has made it a favorite, and it is no surprise that the Church has long tended to pray it daily. The psalmist meditates on the various “days” of Creation, starting with the vast expanse of the heavens, then the ministry of the angels, then the earth and its myriad phenomena, the various plants and diverse animals, from sparrows and rabbits to deer and lions, and not excluding man, always with an emphasis on God’s generous provision for the needs of all: “Expectantly do all things look to You, to give them their food in due season. You give, and they gather in. When You open Your hand, all things are filled with goodness.”
Psalm 104 combines considerations of the natural order with those of human commerce, suggesting a “cooperation” between God’s work and man’s. This perspective is true with regard to both the land (“You make grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man—to make bread spring from the earth, and wine to gladden his heart, and oil to shine on his face, and bread to strengthen his heart”) and the sea (“Here is the sea, great and wide, holding creatures without number, living things both great and small. Here too go the ships to and fro, and the great sea serpent that frolics therein”). Man’s own labor is matched by that of other creatures in nature, such as the hunting of the lions and the nest-building of the birds.
Toward the end our psalm speaks of God’s Holy Spirit at work in the world: “You will send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created, and You will renew the face of the earth.” Perhaps inspired by this psalm, the poet G. M. Hopkins saw the sun’s daily rising as a sign that “the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
Sunday, October 14
Luke 11:37-54: This section ends with a certain irony, remarking that Jesus’ enemies were “lying in wait for Him, to catch at something He might say.” As though Jesus had failed to say something offensive in all the preceding verses!
Most of the material in this chapter is parallel to Matthew 23, where Jesus’ seven “woes” condemning the scribes and Pharisees form the first third of His final discourse in that Gospel (chapters 23—25). Luke, by inserting certain “woes” (verses 42-52) into a narrative setting involving the scribes and Pharisees, also creates a sevenfold condemnation of these two overlapping groups.
Luke places all this material in the home of a Pharisee (verse 37), a detail at which modern sensitivities easily take offense. One contemporary commentator, for example, thinks it “still more unlikely” that Jesus would have been so rude and impolite to a host! (He does refrain from calling Luke a “cad,” though this would be the logical inference.)
The point of Jesus major objection in this section is the disposition of Israel’s religious leaders to identify the service of God with a purely formal adherence to the externals of religion, to the neglect of inner transformation and vibrant faith. We recognize here a preoccupation of the Bible’s prophets.
Hence the repeated contrast between the surface and the depth, the outside and the inside of the dish and cup (verses 39-40), the outside and the inside of the grave (verse 44). Adherence to the mere externals of religious observance, says our Lord, is entirely compatible with having the heart of a murderer. Indeed, those so zealous for mere conformity to external norms are actually embracing the easy part of religion, avoiding that change of heart that forms its essence. A person thus engaged will fall victim to self-satisfaction and the loss of the living memory of God..
Monday, October 15
2 Chronicles 2: Solomon’s great building project begins.
As though the fact were an afterthought barely mentioned in just two Hebrew words, we are told that Solomon also planned “a house for his kingdom” (verse 1; 1:18 in the traditional Hebrew text). This latter construction, which served for governmental administration as well as Solomon’s residence, required elaborate planning and labor over a period of thirteen years (1 Kings 7:1-12). Once again, however, as in the case of David, the Chronicler is relatively uninterested in this political and worldly aspect of Solomon’s reign. In the eyes of this writer, the historical importance of Solomon had to do entirely with the Temple and what took place there.
Writing long after the worldly prestige and power of the Davidic monarchy had disappeared from the geopolitical scene, the Chronicler was not disposed to dwell on the worldly grandeur of Solomon’s reign. All of that was gone. What, then, asked the Chronicler, was Solomon’s real historical significance? What was the true, important legacy of his reign? It was the Temple, the institutional provision for the worship of God. In this effort lay the genuine greatness of Solomon. This was the authentic work of the wisdom with which the Lord endowed him (verse 12).
This significance is expressed in detail and at length in Solomon’s letter to Huram (Hiram in 1 Kings), which the Chronicler employs to elaborate the theology that the Temple will embody. This letter, along with Huram’s response, goes to the heart of the matter.
The Temple, first of all, will not “contain” God in the sense of being his adequate residence. Although the Lord’s “Name” will dwell there (verse 4; cf. 1 Chronicles 28:3; 29:16), the house itself is properly intended for man’s worship of Him (verses 4b-7, with no parallel in 1 Kings).
God Himself, after all, cannot be enclosed in space. Even the highest heaven, the place of that true tabernacle not made with hands, is unable to contain the One that made it (verse 6). Such was the new king’s conviction, and if he adopted any other attitude toward his work, Solomon’s very Temple would have become only a more subtle form of worldliness.
The reply of Huram (especially verses 11-12) should be read as the Gentiles’ proper response to Solomon’s plan. In the full context of biblical history and revelation, Huram and Huramabi (verse 13) foreshadow the Magi and all other generation of Gentiles that will come with their gifts to worship the God of David and Solomon. Huram here plays Cornelius to Solomon’s Peter.
Properly to understand this correspondence, then, we should read Solomon’s letter rather like we read those of the Apostle Paul—as a proclamation of the Gospel to the nations. Huram’s letter, in turn, is the faithful response to that proclamation.
Later on, in Luke’s narrative of the apostolic mission to the Gentiles, Stephen’s famous sermon on the significance of the Temple will serve as a sort of manifesto.
(Taken from P. H. Reardon, Chronicles of History and Worship, Conciliar Press 2006)
Tuesday, October 16
Galatians 2:11-21: A first thing to be noted about this text is its reference to “the faith of Jesus Christ.” In a strict adherence to the Greek text, verse 16 should read, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” The KJV got it correctly.
This simple, clear statement has somehow proved too much for modern English translators. For instance, the NKJV, the RSV, the TEV, the JB, and the NIV read, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ.” The NEB and Philips are substantially the same: “faith in Jesus Christ.” The ESV is nearly identical, except for its politically correct alteration of God’s Word: “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” These inaccurate translations of this simple prepositions are really quite misleading.
The clear problem with these mistranslations is, of course, that they are unable to deal with the notion that we are justified by the faith of Christ. They reflect a loss of perspective traditional in the Christian Church and contained in the KJV. Namely, the faith of Jesus. These new translators are unable to look upon Jesus as a man of faith. They think of faith as something that Christians have, but somehow Jesus had no need for.
This is clearly not view of St. Paul, according to whom we are justified before God by the faith of Jesus Himself. What Paul affirms here is not that we are justified by our own faith. We are justified by Jesus’ faith. Jesus’ faith was the source of His redemptive obedience to the Father. Our faith comes from Jesus’ faith, and this is what renders us just. Thus, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as “the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame . . . who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself.” (12:2,3). This is the faith that justifies us, the faith of Jesus in all His service to God and man, but especially His endurance of the Cross. This is what we see when we behold the wondrous Cross, where the young Prince of glory died. The crucifixion is the supreme symbol of the faith of Jesus.
A second feature of this text is its description of redemption in personal terms. In the NT most statements about redemption tend to lay emphasis on the universality of what God has done in Jesus; the terms tend to be plural and collective: “God so loved the world,” says John 3:16. Similarly Paul wrote that God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Paul also so wrote, “There is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6). The words of Jesus over the covenant-cup also stress a universal perspective: “This is My blood of the new covenant which will be shed for you and for the many.” Earlier the Lord had said that “the Son of man came not to served but to serve and to give His life for the many” (Mark 10:45). Texts of this sort abound in early Christian literature, all insisting that the blood of Jesus was shed for all of mankind. That is to say, the New Testament teaches universal, not limited atonement.
More rarely does the NT speak of Jesus’ love for each person. For example, the parable of the Good Shepherd tells how He goes out in search of the one lost sheep. In the Gospel of John, the Good Shepherd says that He calls each of His sheep by name. When the Gospel of John speaks of the Holy Eucharist, the emphasis once again is on the singular: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides and I in him.” This same accent is found in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone opens, I will come unto him and eat with him.”
Such expressions of personal intimacy with the Lord are not as common in St. Paul, but today’s text from Galatians is an exception: “The life I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” This text is evidence that Paul, like John, knew the love of Christ to be directed as him personally. He too is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
St. John Chrysostom comments on this passage: “Each person justly owes as great a debt of gratitude to Christ, as if [Jesus] had come had come for his sake alone, because He would not have grudged this His condescension though but for one, so that the measure of His love to each is as great as to the whole world.”
Chrysostom’s comment is remarkable. It says that Christ loves each of us as much as He loves all of us. Perhaps this is less surprising if we reflect that we ourselves tend to love our families in the same way. Within our families, we love each as much as we love all. This is how Christ loves each of us, and this is why He died, not only for all of us, but also for each of us.
A third feature of this passage is its inclusion of our identification with Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The acceptance of the crucifixion on Jesus Christ into our hearts places there a new source of life and identity. I must die, in order for Christ to live in me. That is the hardest of messages—I must die. Not “I must be fulfilled.” Not “I must be satisfied.” Not “I must reach my full potential.” No, very simply “I must die.”
Christ’s own faith is the model, exemplar, and source of my own. These are hard words: “It is not longer I who live.” The self must go. In the pursuit of Christ, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-preoccupation, and self-absorption are the enemy. The destruction of these things in our hearts is what Paul calls a crucifixion: “I have been crucified with Christ.”
This crucifixion of the sinner has particular respect to the flesh and to the world. With respect to the flesh, Paul writes somewhat later in this same epistle, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” And again, with respect to the world, Paul writes in this epistle’s final chapter, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” To embrace the faith of Christ, to embrace the Cross of Christ, is to experience crucifixion in regard to the flesh and the world.
The flesh and the world comprise what St. Paul calls “the old man,” and he writes of it in the Epistle to the Romans: “We know that our old man was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6).
We Christians have no hope but in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. He is our one confidence in life and in death. We place all our faith in Jesus’ faith. We cling to His cross as our strength and solace. For His sake we put to death the ways of the flesh and of the world, in order to conform our live to the pattern of His cross. In doing all of this, we are justified. Jesus has replaced the Law. He is our only Law. We Christians, once and for all, have placed all our eggs in one basket. It is the Easter basket.
Wednesday, October 17
Luke 12:13-21: This brief parable, which introduces the straightforward didactic section on trust in God (verses 22-34), is proper to the Gospel of Luke. The parable is given in response to a request that Jesus intrude His influence in an inheritance dispute between two brothers (verse 13), and prior to presenting His parable the Lord disclaims authority to settle such a dispute.
This point, aside from its function of introducing the parable, already conveys an important lesson respecting the Gospel and the world. Jesus refuses to take sides or arbitrate in a domestic and financial dispute in which, presumably, an arguable case could be made for either side. This sort of thing is simply not what He does.
If this restraint was exercised by the Son of God and the font of justice, how much more should it apply to the Church and her ministries. This narrative offers no encouragement to those who imagine that the Church should intrude her influence in social, economic, civil, and political controversies on which plausible arguments can be made, whether in theory or in fact, for either side of a case. This is not the vocation of the Church. In the societal settings in which the life in Christ is lived, there are certainly circumstances where it is incumbent on the Church and her ministries to speak clearly and fearlessly and decisively. The Church’s interest in social and political controversies should be limited to those cases. With respect to the other myriad concerns of society and the political order, prudential concerns about which it is legitimate for godly men to disagree, the proper response of the Church should be, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”
This point settled, Jesus attacks the root of the problem presented by His questioner: greed, or covetousness (verse 15). Once again, the Lord does not go into particulars. His is, rather, a word of “caution” (“keep on guard,” phylassesthe) and the stating of a principle (“a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”). The purpose of the parable is to reinforce that caution and to illustrate that principle.
The message of the parable is self-evident, laying a sensitive finger on the shortness of life and the unreliable nature of all things temporal and material. This lesson the “fool” of a rich man learned after it was too late. At the end of his selfish life he had nothing to show for his efforts. He was “not rich with respect to God” (21).
There is an irony in the Lord’s referring to this man as a “fool,” because in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament the fool is someone who fails to take care of his financial resources.
Thursday, October 18
Luke 12:22-34: The parable of the rich man’s barns is followed by a straight didactic exhortation that complements the message of that parable. Most of this material (verses 22-32) is shared with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34). “”Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing,” asserts our Lord (verse 23). No great insight nor advanced wisdom is required to grasp the truth contained in this assertion. It is a matter perfectly obvious to a second’s reflection. This is the reason why our Lord poses the truth in a rhetorical question. Any intelligent person knows that the body is more important than the clothing that adorns it. Everyone knows this, yet there are anxiety-driven men that destroy their health by overworking in order to obtain more wealth. This is folly.
The Lord’s exhortation against anxiety is based on two considerations, one of them an appeal to common sense, and the other a call to faith.
First, common sense indicates that mere anxiety about material things does not improve the material situation. There are limits to man’s ability to control the circumstances of his life, restrictions on how much he is able to do for himself. His anxiety is spawned by the constant remembrance of those limits and restrictions. Why, then, asks Jesus, be anxious about what is beyond our control? Such anxiety is irrational. A
Man cannot lengthen his days by anxiety on the subject (verse 25), a truth illustrated by the foregoing parable of the rich man and his barns.
Second, the call to faith is founded on a consideration of what takes place in nature, where a heavenly Father cares for the animals and the plants. This, says our Lord, is a matter of empirical observation. This information, coupled with the consideration of man’s value, greater than the animals and the plants, yields the inference that God is to be trusted to take care of us. The only rational response to these considerations is faith.
The alternative to faith, therefore, is not simple unbelief, but a shaky life based on the constant, nagging companionship of anxiety, from which there is no other deliverance. Such anxiety eats away at every fleeting human joy.
In addition, it remains a perpetual cause of distraction, so that man is unable to give proper attention to the deeper purpose of life, which Jesus identifies here with God’s kingdom.
Such anxiety is unnecessary and absurd, because the God that provides man with the greater gift, the kingdom, will not deprive him of lesser things. It is this priority that man must adopt in his own mind, seeking what is higher and trusting in God to provide all else *verse 31).
This mention of God’s kingdom prompts Luke to append here another saying of Jesus abut the gift of the kingdom (verse 32). Their reception of this gift will inspire believers in turn to treat others generously (verse 33), thus becoming rich with respect to God (verse 34; cf. verse 21).
Friday, October 19
Galatians 4:1-11: Not least among the striking features of this text is the apostle’s use of exactly the same verb to speak of the sending forth of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. In each case he says, exsapesteilen ho Theos—“God sent forth his Son. . . . God sent forth the Spirit of his Son.” This is a summary of how we know God: We know him because he has revealed himself by his sending forth of his Son and Holy Spirit.
This text of Galatians speaks of the sending of the Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit as two realities subject to distinction. In thus distinguishing them, Holy Scripture justifies our investigating each of them in distinctive (though not separate nor separable) ways. Let us, then, speak of each distinctly.
We may begin where the Bible does, with God’s revelation through his Son. How should we describe this revelation? Two adjectives that come to mind are empirical and historical.
In investigating the empirical aspect of God’s sending forth of his Son, we can hardly do better than to start with the Johannine literature. This theme’s most graphic text is found at the beginning of the First Epistle of John:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you. . . .” (1:1–3).
In this passage we are impressed by the sustained repetition of verbs expressing the sense experience of the Incarnation: heard, seen, looked upon, handled, manifested, seen, manifested, seen, heard. Later in the same epistle John proclaims, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world” (4:14).
This sensual dimension of the Incarnation is likewise characteristic of the Johannine Gospel. Thus, the Lord says to the Samaritan woman, “I who speak to you am he” (4:26). And to the man healed of his blindness, “You have both seen him, and it is he who is speaking with you” (9:37). And to the citizens of Jerusalem, “ He who sees me sees him who sent me” (12:45). And to the apostle, “Have I been with you so long, and you have not known me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). All these lines illustrate the principle stated early in the Gospel of John: “No man has seen God at any time. The only-begotten God (monogenes Theos), who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him (ekeinos exsegesato)” (1:18).
Thus, in his incarnate Person, the Son is the living exegesis of the Father. The Lord must tell his enemies, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” (8:19). So much is this the case, that no man has access to the Father except through the Son. On the other hand, God does not have, nor has God ever had, any relationship to this world except through his Son. Even in Creation, “all things were made through him, and without him nothing was made that was made” (1:3).
This Johannine accent on the empirical experience of the Father’s revelation in his Son justifies our speaking of the Incarnation as the divine entrance into the historical, categorical order. Theologically we may describe it as God’s unanswerable vindication of man’s empirical faculties that operate within the classical categories of where, when, quantity, quality, and so forth. Specifically, John’s emphasis on the visual, the auditory, and the tactile prompts us to speak of God’s fleshly intrusion into space.
When we speak of the historical, categorical order, however, we must regard more than the senses operating in space. We must also consider the memory operating within time. Those who saw the Son, heard him, and touched him did so, not only within the limiting confines of human space, but also in the living context of human time.
The Son did not reveal the Father to just anyone, after all. He made his revelation to the Jews, who had been especially prepared, during many centuries, for precisely that revelation. It was God’s historical, categorical revelation in his Son that brought that historical pedagogy of Israel to its defining fulfillment. According to the opening words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the defining truth of that history is the truth revealed in the Son “in the last of these days”—ep’ eschatou ton hemeron touton—“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to our fathers through the prophets, has in the last of these days, spoken to us by a Son, whom he has appointed heir of everything.” God’s revelation in his Son is inseparable from time, the experience of before and after, of tense and becoming.
The Synoptic Gospels contain a dominical parable that stands in striking parallel to this opening verse of the Epistle to the Hebrews. I cite it in the Gospel of Mark, where the Lord describes God’s activity in Old Testament history as that of a man sending his servants to the keepers of his vineyard, so that they might hand over the fruit of the vineyard. “Last of all,” says the text, “He sent his beloved Son”—huion agapeton . . . apesteilen auton eschaton. This Son is recognized, even by the wicked vine-keepers, to be the “Heir”(12:6f), the same word used in the foregoing passage from Hebrews. In both of these texts, history is interpreted solely with respect to eschatology, and eschatology is defined by God’s revelation in his Son.
In summary, in the revelation in his Son, God transforms the knowability of the empirical, historical, categorical order, and all of God’s speaking in history is determined by, and to be interpreted with reference to, his revelation in the Son. From the very first time that he uttered a human word, God started to become incarnate. By speaking this word in history, God transforms the knowable structure and content of history.
These reflections bring us to God’s revelation to us in the Holy Spirit. For the purpose of this inquiry, it is neither possible nor necessary to examine this theme in all its amplitude, for Holy Scripture tells a good many things about the mission of the Holy Spirit. I propose, rather, to consider the mission under one aspect only. Namely—the Holy Spirit’s transformation of man’s knowledge, a theme developed in both the Pauline and Johannine sources of the New Testament.
We may begin with St. Paul, who addresses this matter in the Epistle to the Romans, in a passage strikingly similar to the Galatians text that we have already seen: “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry out ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself bears joint witness to our spirit that we are children of God” (8:15f). We observe in this text that the Holy Spirit bears witness, not only to who God is, but also to who we are—not only to God as Father, but also to us as his children. The Holy Spirit testifies, not only that something is so, but also that Someone is such-and-such in regard to us, and we in regard to him. It is the personal knowledge of the relationship between God and ourselves. We now know God, because we now stand in a different relationship to God as his children.
Likewise in the Corinthian literature, St. Paul speaks of the wisdom conferred by the Holy Spirit. Thus, of those things that the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard, he says, “God has revealed them to us through his Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. . . . Even so, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches . . .” (1 Cor. 2:9–13).
This instruction of the Holy Spirit is directed to the person and activity of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that gives “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6), so that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same icon from glory to glory, as by the Lord of the Spirit (apo kyriou pneumatos)” (3:18). This is the meaning of Paul’s assertion that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit not only tells us to proclaim “Jesus is Lord,” he also grants us the vision to see the glory of that lordship. We proclaim only what we see.