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Jesus and the Demise of Death: Read An Excerpt
Does this view of Scripture as related fruitfully to Greek philosophical thought find support from other scholars?35 Treating what he terms "the perennial issue of the Christian encounter with Hellenism" in his Gifford Lectures on the Cappadocian Fathers' natural theology, Jaroslav Pelikan observes that words such as "logos" (John 1:1) and "hypostasis" (Heb 1:3) came "to the Septuagint and then to the Christian vocabulary from the language of Classical and Hellenistic philosophy and science."36 Similarly, in his Judaism and Hellenism, Martin Hengel describes how the Wisdom of Solomon, which significantly influenced the New Testament texts, has affinities with Stoic philosophy.37 Richard Bauckham notes the Stoic influence on a key text for traditional Christian eschatology, 2 Peter 1:4, "he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature."38 Elsewhere Bauckham examines the use of "Hellenistic true-god-language" in the Letter to the Hebrews.39 We might also point to Ben Witherington III, whose Jesus the Sage makes clear the Hellenistic influences in late Second-Temple Jewish and Christian texts.40
Consider Paul's claim that "this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because
we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:17-18). Paul's emphasis on an "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (or "beyond all measure") calls to mind the transcending of this-worldly limitations that Plato is known for evoking. When Paul tells the Corinthians that by "beholding the glory of the Lord" they are "being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3:18), his expressions likewise resonate with Platonic and Stoic notions, without thereby ceasing to be uniquely Christian. Yet when N. T. Wright, whose opposition to Platonism we noted above, interprets 2 Corinthians 3-4, he finds that our "glory" means simply that we are not overcome by suffering, because we will be vindicated by God. In his view, the "glory of God" refers to the work of the Spirit in the hearts of believers. Christians are changed into Christ's likeness "from one degree of glory to another" when Christians "reflect God's glory to one another and so enable an honest and open-faced ministry to take place."41 It will be clear that Wright makes very little of the "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" that Paul promises us. But if Paul is right that our glory is to be "beyond all comparison," it may be that Wright overemphasizes the horizontal dimension of glory and underestimates its transcendent dimension.
An emphasis on the horizontal dimension also appears in Wright's portrait of resurrection life. He states, "There will be work to do and we shall relish doing it. All the skills and talents we have put to God's service in this present life . . . will be enhanced and ennobled and given back to us to be exercised to his glory."42 This description of the enhancement of our skills and talents does not evoke a life utterly "beyond all comparison." Wright imagines the new "work to do" not in terms of the "things that are unseen," but emphatically in terms of the things that are seen. The transcendent dimension found in Paul seems strongly muted in Wright. If we emphasize the renewed material creation and a new set of cosmic adventures, we risk turning eternal life into something quite banal.43 Who wants to repeat forever, no matter in how elevated a fashion, our earthly experiences of banqueting and evangelization?
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