The Table Podcast

Diversity and Reconciliation in the Early Church

In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Michael Burer discuss diversity and racial reconciliation in the early church, focusing on issues addressed in Paul’s letters.

Timecodes
00:15
Burer’s work in New Testament Studies and the early church
04:45
The Maccabean war and the New Testament
08:01
Maccabean war and the distinction between Jews and Gentiles
09:33
Groups emerging during intertestamental period
13:25
Jesus commands to take the Gospel to the Gentiles
15:33
Galatians and reconciliation
18:03
How Galatians 3 and 4 pictures reconciliation
26:12
How 2 Corinthians 5 pictures reconciliation
31:45
How Ephesians 2 pictures reconciliation
43:28
How the church should demonstrate reconciliation today
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to the Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. Our topic, today, is reconciliation and diversity in the New Testament. We want to take a look at how the church was originally formed out of Jew and gentile, and to take a look at the background of that, my guest, today, is Michael Burer, a distinguished colleague and New Testament associate professor.
Michael Burer
Oh, thanks for that vote of confidence, Darrell – I appreciate that.
Darrell Bock
Good – you’re very, very welcome. Mike and I have worked together a long time, and I still trust him, so that’s good.
Michael Burer
Well, I was gonna say, we’ve started to look more alike as time has gone on, as well.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right, but, you know, your sense of exaggeration is overwhelming me.
Michael Burer
Yeah, I realize that – I’m trying to compensate for something with this big beard and mustache.
Darrell Bock
Well, Mike, talk a little bit about how you got into New Testament studies, and particularly your interest in Galatians and the New Testament.
Michael Burer
Sure, I, much like a lot of ThM students, came here to get a good Bible education, and when I came here, I really fell in love with the New Testament, just with the language issues of grammar, things like that, but also the wider world. And the things that you taught me, that other professors taught me, about understanding culture and things of that nature just really enriched everything I learned about the New Testament. So, I got my Ph.D. in new Testament here, as well, and I’ve been teaching in the department for a number of years, now. And the more I do it, the more I realize, everything that we’re dealing with in the world around us, there are answers in the New Testament. There are cultural problems that they experienced, that we’re experiencing. So, in some ways, there’s nothing new under the sun, and God’s revelation is still valuable for us, today. So, happy to come and talk through a lot of these issues with you.
Darrell Bock
Well, that’s great to hear, and you’re preaching to the choir, here, so that’s good. Yeah, and we thought we would take a look at one of the more interesting themes that really resounds through the New Testament. And the way I like to introduce this topic is to say, there are very few passages where Paul takes the trouble to zero in on one word that summarizes what his ministry is about. And I say there are – and there maybe be more than this, but – there certainly are two very prominent passages where this is done. One is in Romans 1:16, where Paul, when he summarizes the reason he’s not ashamed of the Gospel, says that he’s not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation. So the word “power” is the one word that he picks to be the kind of summarizing zinger of what he’s all about. And power, there, means enablement, and we probably one day should come back and do a podcast just on that theme.

But the second passage where this idea comes up is in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5, where Paul talks about being given a ministry of – and he has only one word to pick to summarize everything that he’s about – a ministry of reconciliation, as an ambassador of Christ. He’s just come off the passage where he says if anyone’s in Christ he’s a new creature, so, obviously talking about the Gospel. And the whole theme is summarized around the idea of reconciliation. Peter does the same thing, in 1 Peter, Chapter 3, when he talks about being prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in us, and “hope” becomes his singular word to build things around. So we’ve got these passages that deal with these huge themes, and so, reconciliation is certainly one of those. In fact, in New Testament studies, there’s often a debate about what’s the most central concept in Pauline theology. And one of the concepts that certainly comes up for this discussion – at least as being a candidate, if not the candidate – is the theme of reconciliation.

Michael Burer
Yeah, and, well, you had asked me, before, about my work in Galatians and writing a commentary on it. And Paul does the same thing, he invests two words with that theological significance. The first would be “justification,” and the second would be “inheritance.” And so, he, in that particular book, is using those terms, and like you said, we oftentimes debate if justification is the key of Pauline theme, or whatnot. But in terms of kind of dovetailing with reconciliation, it has a very human element to it, because both Jew and gentile receive both of those things equally. And so, I know we’ll talk more about those particular passages, but it’s amazing to see how Paul’s theological mind is working on our salvation from all these different angles, and they just all represent different facets of the beautiful salvation that we receive from the Lord.
Darrell Bock
That’s exactly right, and I think that sometimes we don’t appreciate the variety of ways kind of in to the story that one can take. Well, let’s talk a little bit about the background of this, ’cause we wanna look at the theme of reconciliation and talk about it. We wanna look at some passages very, very specifically, but first I wanna paint the backdrop. And so, to do that, I think we need to go back. Well, we could go all the way back to Genesis 12, and the way in which God chooses Israel to be an important nation in the scheme of things for his plan, and yet he’s gonna bless the world through them. But we’ll move forward and talk about the period between the testaments, what’s often called the intertestamental period. It’s the second temple period, and we’re dealing with the way in which Judaism is reacting to circumstances around it. And there’s an event that I think most Christians don’t know very much about, that actually is pretty important to the backdrop of the New Testament, and that’s the Maccabean War. Now, that’s not in the Bible anywhere, but the impact of that event on the New Testament is huge. So, can you sketch for us why the Maccabean War is an important part of the backdrop of understanding what’s going on in the New Testament?
Michael Burer
Sure. What happened was, the Jews had undergone a period of persecution, under Antiochus Epiphanes IV. And it was a terrible time for them, because they had been oppressed, they had been forced to basically become Hellenist, which means eating pork, sacrificing to false gods. And, in fact, Antiochus even went into the temple and sacrificed a pig. And so, everything that they held dear, everything that connected them to their God was under attack. And what happened is, this family – the reason it’s called the Maccabean Revolt is because it was taken from the name of the patriarch – basically led Israel in a revolt. And it was so successful that they were able to become independent for a period of time. And so, the revolt that we’re referring to, the Maccabean War, was the time in which they were fighting against the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes, seeking to gain independence, and becoming the Jews they were meant to be.

They’re in the land, they had been worshiping, that had been taken away, and they’re trying to get that back. And what became really critical, I think, is not so much the military aspects of it, but the social and cultural aspects of it. Because the Jews as a people had been put in a pressure cooker and forced to become something else, and they fought viciously and bravely to retain those social and cultural things that marked them off as who they were, things that God had ordained and blessed them with – worship in the temple, Sabbath, food, and things of that nature. So, it became not just a military victory but a time of, shall we say, social – I was gonna say purification. I don’t mean that in a negative sense, but they basically said, “We are Jews, we are intended to be such by God, we are blessed as such,” and so, it was a time of renewal and restoration. And in fact, the time when the Maccabean descendants were ruling over Israel was a time when Israel was an independent nation again, and they were prosperous and strong, and blessed by the Lord in a lot of ways.

Darrell Bock
So, what did this mean for the relationship between Jews and gentiles, and particularly how Jewish people tended to view gentiles?
Michael Burer
Well, I think the best and most obvious thing to say is that Antiochus was a gentile, and so, for him to forcibly make Jews act like gentiles, you can imagine how that would create an animosity, a fear, perhaps a negative sense, even a hatred, of gentiles and everybody else that was outside. Because they had been so persecuted, they felt the need to remove any gentile influence, to restrict it, so that it didn’t negatively influence them again, so it didn’t affect their worship in the temple or their desire to live as Jews. What we oftentimes realize, though, is that they weren’t perfect in that, and you and I can recall how they were syncretistic, at some point. They became very cozy, in a lot of ways, with gentile forces. But it created sort of a social impetus to be distinct, and to make sure that you were encouraging your neighbor, your Jewish neighbor, your Jewish friends, your Jewish family, to be distinct. Because the fate of the nation was at hand – if you compromised, there was danger in that. And so, they were very intent on remaining pure and Jewish, rightly so, because that’s who God called them to be. But it ended up causing some negative consequences moving forward, which we can discuss if you wanna go that direction.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is important, because if we look at the various groupings of what emerged out of reaction to the Maccabean War, I mean, you’re talking about a social oppressor that’s designed to really deny your identity, your religious identity, and you’re fighting to preserve that. All of that’s very, very – I mean, this is one of those places where it reflects what goes on today.
Michael Burer
Yeah, I was wondering if you were gonna bring that up. [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah, and you ask yourself, “Okay, so what are the reactions?” so let’s go through the various groups and talk about the reactions. And I have in mind, here, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots, okay? So, lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my, okay? [Laughter]
Michael Burer
Sure, yeah, well, should we start from the top?
Darrell Bock
So, Pharisees.
Michael Burer
Yeah, the Pharisees were a group that came out of that period of foment, that period of, shall we say, compromise after this period. And they basically said, “Listen, if we’re gonna be faithful Jews, we have to stay faithful to what God originally gave us, the Torah.” Because all of the things that make a Jew a Jew come from that: Sabbath, food, et cetera. And so, their focus was on obeying the Torah as perfectly as they could. In fact, the general argument the way a lot of scholars talk about is that they took the requirements for a priest, which were above and beyond kind of requirements, and said, “We’re gonna try to behave this way all the time – everyone needs to behave this way.” So, they solved the problem of, shall we say, gentile compromise by focusing on the Torah, on living that out and obeying the laws that were written, there. What was the next group you had said?
Darrell Bock
Sadducees.
Michael Burer
Okay, yeah, the Sadducees were pragmatists, in a sense, because they said, “If we’re gonna survive in this day, we have to work with the ruling power as such that we can stay alive. I mean, if we are so dead set against gentile rulers that they come and crush us, what’s the point? What’s gonna be the result? There won’t be a Jewish nation.” So, they had basically adopted in such a way that they could live as Jews but then still have the sanction of Rome. And so, they were basically compromisers, you could say. The next group, the Essenes, those were the people that decided, “Well, you know what, the only way that we can really be a Jew is to remove ourselves.” The Essen community was a community established in the desert. The reason it was in the desert is because nobody wanted to go there. [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
So it’s the Benedict Option that we hear about today.
Michael Burer
Although I think maybe the Benedict Option’s a little bit different. But the point being is that they said, “We need to be Jews, but we can’t be Jews in contact with gentiles. We’re gonna have to remove ourselves to a remote location.” For example, in the news, recently, there was a discovery of a new Qumran Cave. And the Qumran area is where a lot of these people lived, and the reason that that cave was only recently discovered is because it’s hard to get to, it’s physically demanding location. And so, they had removed themselves, and their basic solution was, “We’re not gonna compromise; we’re just gonna exit, and go to a different location.” Now, the last group that you mentioned, the Zealots, they were the ones who decided that they were gonna take matters into their own hands, and they were actually – there were some of them that were called Sicarii, which is a term for dagger. Because what they would do is hide a dagger in their clothes, and when they had an opportunity, they would bring it out and assassinate an official or somebody who was colluding with Rome. And so, their philosophy was, “We’re gonna need to take action,” and they took it in a way that was violent and that was dangerous, and in some ways contrary to the teaching of the Torah. But it was a solution that in some ways was effective, because Rome had to do things about them, at various points.
Darrell Bock
Every one of these groups is nervous about gentiles, fair enough?
Michael Burer
Yeah, very fair.
Darrell Bock
And so, along comes the Gospel, in which Jesus initially, of course, is ministering to Israel, but eventually asks the Disciples to take the message to the ends of the earth. And all of a sudden, we’re going to invite these people. [Laughter]
Michael Burer
Yeah, I can just imagine the disciples’ eyes when Jesus was saying, “You need to go from here to Samaria,” they probably thought and said, “Wait a second, we don’t like the Samarians.” There’s a reason, because basically they were the leftover Syrians that took Israel captive. And then he said to the ends of the earth, and I’m sure their eyes just got wide, and they said, “Wait, you mean gentiles? They’re gonna hear this message, and they need to respond to it?”
Darrell Bock
Yeah, in fact, in Acts, it looks like for a while they thought, “Yeah, we can take that message to the ends of the earth, but we’ll talk to Jews who are scattered around, before we’ll talk to any gentiles.” [Laughter]
Michael Burer
Sure, “They’re here, why not? You know, let’s take care of that, first.”
Darrell Bock
And then God’s gotta remind’em about Chapter 10 that, “No, no, I mean ends of the earth; I mean anybody and everybody.”
Michael Burer
Right, yeah, and I think what we see, in the Book of Acts and in Paul’s letters, is the growing pains, if we could say it that way, of the Church coming to the recognition that the Gospel message is, in fact, in God’s ordination and will and desire and decree to go to gentiles. And it was always intended to go to gentiles. And so, the lightbulb had to come on, it had to be screwed in the right way, it had to be polished, and then it had to be turned on. And it took a while, it just naturally took a while. It took a while for them to understand, “Oh, I begin to see God’s program, I begin to see why he’s doing what he’s doing, and why we’re now called to act this way.” And so, a lot of the problems that we see in the New Testament, some of the things we’ve mentioned about Paul’s arguments and whatnot, are just a very real record of the human propensity to stay where we are, to stay with who we are like, and not to expand out as God desired them to do.
Darrell Bock
Okay, well, this sets us up nicely for the passages that we wanna look at. Let’s talk a little bit about – let’s go one at a time, here, and start in Galatians. And Galatians has gotta be a little bit of a shock to people, in some ways. It’s clear it was a shock to the Church – that’s why Paul’s writing. So, why do you think Paul had to work so hard to make clear what the Gospel was all about?
Michael Burer
What had happened is, he had had an opportunity to evangelize people within the Galatian region. There’s a little bit of a scholarly debate, you and I know, about which area, but we can just say the Galatian region, for now. And the churches had heard his Gospel, they had heard his proclamation, and these gentiles had responded. And so, the Church had begun, there’s even evidence in what he says, that they had received the Holy Spirit, that God was at work among them in a powerful way. So, the Church had been established – the proof was already there that the message was intended to go to the gentiles, and they were intended to respond. But after the fact, after he left the scene, people from most likely Jerusalem came to the area and had begun to preach that, “No, what Paul told you wasn’t exactly right. He perhaps got you started on the road by getting you connected to the Lord, but in order to complete this spiritual transformation, you’ve got to become Jewish. You in essence have to obey the law.”
Darrell Bock
In terms of practice.
Michael Burer
Yeah, in terms of practice [crosstalk] specifically circumcision was discussed; there’s indications, perhaps, that the Galatians might’ve even been struggling with whether or not to keep the Sabbath, and some other things that made people –
Darrell Bock
Diet.
Michael Burer
Yeah, exactly. So all the things that we think of when we think of what makes a Jewish person Jewish, they were being encouraged to take that on. And the reason Paul had to address it so carefully is because that assertion implies that what Christ did for these gentiles, and him bringing them into the Church, was insufficient. And so, basically, it gets to what we might call the question of, is Christ alone sufficient for the salvation of these gentiles. And so, that had come into question, and Paul did not hesitate to say, “No, this alternative teaching, this idea that you’ve gotta finish by going to the Law is problematic and wrong.” And so, he had to address it head-on with the Galatians, because they were being tempted to come away, to become Jewish, in a sense.
Darrell Bock
Now, which passages in Galatians do you feel get at this, and show kind of the proper direction of things?
Michael Burer
Galatians is roughly divided into three parts. Chapters 1 and 2, Paul kind of details his history, his personal biography. And then, Chapters 3 and 4 are a central theological section, where he dives into this question about the nature of the Gospel and how gentiles fit. And then Chapters 5 and 6 wrestle with, in some ways, the outgrowth: if you’ve got the spirit, how should you behave and how should you live.
Darrell Bock
The application.
Michael Burer
Right, the application. And it’s really in that central section where he gets into the nuts and bolts of it. Because his basic argument, there, is that the Galatians were included in God’s promises to Abraham; they were included as recipients of the Gospel from the get-go. When you go back to the Old Testament and you see the promises of Messiah and you see the promises of the Gospel, the gentiles are there. Maybe not spelled out in so many letters, but when you see God’s plan and you see the whole of what God is doing in this world to restore it to himself, the gentiles are included. And they’re included as gentiles, not as a group of people that have to become something else, but they can remain who they are, and then become people of God in the family of God.
Darrell Bock
Now, do we see this in Chapter 3, in particular, anywhere? Or – and when you said “central section,” I’m assuming we’re talking about Chapters 3 or 4.
Michael Burer
Yeah, that central theological section. Yeah, it basically is part of his whole complete argument. There’s two or three places that we could point to. In Chapter 3, Verse 8, he’s kind of thinking back to what God promised to Abraham. We all know about the Abrahamic Promise, the Abrahamic Covenant, from Genesis Chapter 12. And Paul takes that and points out that gentiles were part of that. He says in the Scripture, “Foreseeing that God would justify the gentiles by faith, proclaimed the Gospel to Abraham ahead of time, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.'” In other words, that promise, that was way back to Abraham in the very beginning, included gentiles. And so, it doesn’t mean that they have to become Jews; it means that they’re accepted as they are, as gentiles. The next verse shows that it’s the question, really, of faith that becomes really critical: “Those who believe – ” and the subtext here would be whether Jew, whether gentile – “those people are blessed along with Abraham the believer.” So, it’s his way of saying, “It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re included in this promise.”
Darrell Bock
And this chapter actually echoes something that’s also said in Romans 4, which is, that Abraham’s the father, he’s the father of faith, he gets called to faith before he’s circumcised, it’s not a matter of works, it’s a matter of grace – all those themes are in Romans 4, as well. And so, we’re back into, you know, how far back does this promise go? Well, Genesis 12, that’s pretty early in the whole story. So we’ve got lots of things that Paul is building on, here. He goes on to talk about how the law doesn’t accomplish this for anybody – that’s Verses 10 and 11. And then, Verse 12 he picks up and he says, “But the Law is not based on faith, but the one who does the works of the Law will live by them. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, by becoming a curse for us, because it was written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'”

And then, what I think is probably one of the more important verses in the entire book, “In order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to gentiles, so we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith.” So the gift is this enablement by the spirit that comes by faith, which enables you to live in a way that the Law couldn’t do for you, because it was on the outside, it was external.

Michael Burer
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, this verse is worth unpacking just a little bit – there’s some Old Testament theology that we ought to show as a background. Basically, one thing that we’d have to argue is that, what was God gonna do when he finally renewed his people at Israel? We go to New Covenant passages like Jeremiah 31, but there’s also a parallel passage in Ezekiel 36, where he talks about the new thing that he’s gonna do in the eschaton is to give his spirit to his people. And so, he is tying into that particular promise, and the ultimate goal, here, is not that the Jews would have it and the gentiles might benefit. It’s that the gentiles would have it as well – that’s what the blessing of Abraham is, it’s this promise of the spirit that ultimately was gonna be given to the Jews. Paul argues that God organized everything so that it would also come to the gentiles – they were meant to be fully included in this blessing, this spirit, that was gonna be poured out upon people as a sign of God’s [crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
Well, actually, three covenants in one paragraph, if we can think about it that way. The Abrahamic Covenant, “all nations will be blessed;” the idea of the Christ, that there was a seed of David who would come and execute this on behalf of God, who is The Seed, that’s what he’s getting ready to say. And then, thirdly, the New Covenant, the idea that God would put his spirit within people, as a way of dealing with what the Law could not do because it was an external standard as opposed to something that brought internal transformation. How’s that for a summary?
Michael Burer
Yeah, that’s a great summary. I was gonna say, what we’re doing – of course, with 2,000 years of hindsight – is we’re able to see all the pieces of the puzzle. And I think what we have to wrestle with, sometimes, is the Jews in Paul’s time didn’t see it. And so, that’s why I think he had to really address this and help them realize, “No, I have been called as the apostle to the gentiles because God has been planning to bring these people in all along, ever since day one.”
Darrell Bock
So, let’s put it against the backdrop of where we started, which is the sense of distance that existed between Jews and gentiles, and almost the sense of hostility and animosity that existed between these two groups. It’s a little bit like the danger was, “Are we inviting the traitor into the house?” And so, you’re having to overcome that hurdle of, “Here is someone different than who I am, who God is also reaching out to bless – should I really feel comfortable about that?”
Michael Burer
Right, yeah, and you can understand why somebody wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. We didn’t talk about the beginning of Chapter 2, but the central – excuse me, not the beginning but the middle. But Paul was really reacting to Peter, at one point, because Peter had invited those people in, they were eating together at Antioch. But then, when some Jewish people came from Jerusalem, from James, he withdrew, he basically said, “No, we’ve gotta keep that distance.” And Paul was saying, “You’re making backwards steps. You are not going the direction God wants us to go, in bringing the gentiles into this promise.” So, yeah, you can understand exactly why they felt that way, but that doesn’t make it right. We’ve got to recognize God’s plan, as the creator, is to bring all peoples, whether Jew or gentile, into his family.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, Scripture often walks in ways that challenges us where we are in life, and how we tend to view our experience. And that certainly is what’s going on in this book, and Paul is in full throttle challenging where the Galatians are.
Michael Burer
Right. And sort of to close off our discussion on Galatians – ’cause I know we wanna go to some other passages – we mentioned in the latter two chapters he talks about how the Spirit guides the behavior. At that point, he’s now not talking anymore about the Jew-gentile problem. He basically is saying, “Listen, you all have received the Spirit. The Spirit has been equally given, so that you might walk in the way that pleases the Lord as a Jew, and you might walk in the way that pleases the Lord as a gentile.”
Darrell Bock
And it’s a good Southern “y’all,” right?
Michael Burer
Yeah, [laughter] that’s right, that’s right. We could even say he was fixin’ to do it, or something like that. So his theology is, “The proof of the Spirit in your midst shows that God has accepted all of us, despite our differences, despite our Jewishness or gentile-ness.” And so, it’s a great roundoff, because he implies that, “You’ve got the Spirit, and that’s all that you need in order to live a life that pleases the Lord,” those Jewish-gentile distinctions had fallen away.
Darrell Bock
Okay, let’s take a look at a couple of other passages, while we still have time. The next passage I wanna go to is actually one of my favorite in the New Testament – I actually think it’s one of the more important Pauline passages in all of Scripture, and it’s in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5. And the picture is of how we minister in light of the Gospel, and as I mentioned, this passage begins in Verse 17, Chapter 5, “So if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old is passed away; look, what is new is come.” It’s an allusion, again, to the newness, to the rebirth, if I can say it that way – being born again, I like to say it like a good Baptist [crosstalk].
Michael Burer
Well, I am from Georgia, so you’re speaking my language. [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
That’s right, you got it, yeah. You preach that from the pulpit.

Yeah, so anyway, and so you’ve got this new life element that’s going on, that makes possible the ability to walk with God. And then he says this: “And all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” And I’m sitting here thinking, man, if I were to walk out on the street and ask someone, “If you had one word to summarize what the Gospel is all about, or salvation is all about – ” and I just asked it open-endedly, I imagine I’d get all kinds of answers: grace, forgiveness, hope, salvation, judgment. And I’m willing to bet that if you went in the average church, the term “reconciliation” would fall way down on that list. It would not be in the top five; it might even make it to top ten, and yet –

Michael Burer
It’s so fundamental, because, to me, this is one of the most important ways Paul describes our salvation, because it implies that there’s two parties that are at enmity with each other. And that’s a fundamental way to describe how we rebelled against God and we needed his forgiveness. And so, it encompasses, in many ways, all of those other ideas, in a very potent friendship metaphor, in a sense.
Darrell Bock
That’s right. And the picture here of reconciliation is obviously primarily aimed at the relationship that we have with God – that’s certainly the case. When you read on, it says, “In other words, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s transgressions against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.” And then this wonderful verse that I think is – I actually think this is one of the core verses when you think about engagement in general – “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ – ” an ambassador represents a country, he’s a foreigner in a strange land, he is designed to picture what his home country is about and what its values are, he works for peace between the people that he represents and the people where he is living, all those things were in play – “as though God were making his plea through us – ” interesting tone – “we plead with you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” And obviously this is the human-divine relationship that’s being focused on, here. “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we could become the righteousness of God,” Summary, actually, of also the Book of Romans.
Michael Burer
Yeah, exactly. And what’s beautiful about it is that God stands ready; he is ready to be reconciled to us, it’s just a matter of us responding.
Darrell Bock
He sent out a whole cadre of messengers to make the point. And that message is both incarnated and declared, so that we’re supposed to represent God in this way, not only by what we say but by how we live and engage, and reconciliation is the point. So I like to tell people – another way to get at this is to say, “Why is the Gospel good news?” You know, most people sometimes hear the Gospel – or at least they hear the way the church preaches the Gospel – and they think, “Well, this sounds like mostly bad news: I’m a sinner, and in trouble, and, you know – “
Michael Burer
I’d better repent [crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly, I call it the Jimmy Cagney [crosstalk] voice: “Nananananana,” you know, “You dirty rat, you shouldn’t be doing that.” And there’s no good news in that message, but if you think about reconciliation, or Peter’s word “hope,” what you’re talking about in the Gospel is an offer to be reconnected to the living God, to actually live out the way you were designed to live. That’s what the Gospel is designed to take you back to.
Michael Burer
Yeah, exactly, and there’s a sense, here, that it fulfills us as who we were made to be. God the creator who made us wants to be connected to us, and if we respond to that message, it fulfills his entire plan for us. We can only find the fulfilment that we really want by responding to that message of reconciliation.
Darrell Bock
So, obviously, reconciliation is an important theme, and to me, this category, this is the answer to the human problem and human dilemma: to be reconciled to God. And we posit all kinds of answers, in our everyday life, in terms of what might fix what’s wrong in the world. But ultimately, the theme of reconciliation is the divine answer to the problem: getting reconnected to God in a proper way, and then letting his resources and his power and his enablement change how we act and interact. And in that process, hopefully bring a healthier dynamic to the way in which people function in the world.
Michael Burer
Right, exactly, and that, in fact, is a great segue. Because the next passage we wanna talk about, Ephesians 2, deals with that horizontal problem. So, it’s as if, in Paul’s theology, we’ve gotta get right with God, and then we can get right with our fellow man.
Darrell Bock
And what’s really interesting is, if you look at the Bible as a whole, that’s the way the whole thing has always been structured, ethically. I like to remind people, “Think about the Ten Commandments, for a second, okay? Two tablets. Tablet one deals with your relationship with? God. Tablet two deals with your relationship to?”
Michael Burer
Man – exactly right.
Darrell Bock
That’s right. Think about the Great Commandment, okay? Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, strength – okay, that’s part one. And part two is?
Michael Burer
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Darrell Bock
So you’ve got what I call the Ethical Triangle, which is, you’ve got your relationship to God which is vertical, designed to impact your relationship to others which is horizontal, and it’s a three-part deal. And what we sometimes do, even with a term like “repentance,” or a term like “reconciliation,” is we say, “Well, this is ultimately about my relationship to God, and repentance is ultimately about my relation with God.” But biblically-speaking, it’s actually about the whole shoot match. The reason I get rightly related to God, in part, is not only to be rightly related to God, but then I’m better equipped to actually reflect who God is to the people that God has put me alongside, and who I am designed to serve, and minister to, and love, and care for, et cetera, as I steward the creation that God asked me to steward, all the way back in Genesis 1. [Crosstalk] back to the beginning of the story.
Michael Burer
Well, why don’t we take a look at the Ephesians 2 passage, ’cause that has a ton of stuff to say on this theme. You know, part of the reason that you and I talked about sitting down and doing this together was because of the issues of diversity that we’re wrestling with in our culture. And fundamentally, I think you hit the nail on the head: unless we are properly reconciled with God, we cannot be properly reconciled to our neighbor. And so, the true answer to diversity is recognizing that God is in charge of it, and God has redeemed us so that he can redeem our relationships together. And Ephesians 2, I think, really hits that nail right on the head.
Darrell Bock
I do think that raises a question that I’d kind of wanted to pose at the start, too, which goes something like this: It isn’t that I, as a believer who’s been reconciled to God, am supposed to wait until the other person also gets reconciled to God before I treat them in an appropriate way. That’s not a prerequisite for what we’re talking about. We’re actually supposed to model the way God acts. The way God acts is that he, as the just one, died for the unjust. Or as, again, 1 Peter 3 says, when it’s going through this example about being prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you, later on down that passage, the example for doing this, even when you’re treated unjustly, and responding to the unjust person in a just kind of way, is the example of Christ himself. So we actually model who Christ is when we love our enemy, and seek to serve them, and care for them, and pray for them – things Jesus said, as well. And so, there’s a huge ethical core behind what we’re talking about, here, that doesn’t require the response of the person on the other side, for me to at least take the initiative in trying to reflect what God has done in my own life.
Michael Burer
And in a sense, it really respects the fact that God has not just called me to redemption, but my fellow man – everyone that is part of the human family is whom God is calling. And it recognizes that I’m just not God’s sole attention; he’s got his attention on everyone else, as well. And so, it’s respecting his desire and love for my fellow human being, to recognize that and to live that out.
Darrell Bock
So we extend a hand in invitation by the way we interact with people, invite them in to be reflective of what it is that Christ has taught us. He even said it in the Lord’s Prayer, which is better named the Disciple’s Prayer, in which he said, you know, in which we ask for forgiveness of sins because we forgive those who trespass against us, and it’s the same kind of attitude. So, with all that table setting, we’ve got these gentiles, in the first handful of verses, who really are a pretty bad lot at the start of the passage.
Michael Burer
Yeah. [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
I tell people, when you read this kind of CV, this resume, of what makes a gentile, a gentile, it’s not something you present to a prospective employer, you know?
Michael Burer
Right, we teach this passage pretty regularly in our exegesis class, and we ask students to kind of create a thematic statement. And I will routinely say something like “the very sorry state of the gentiles” – there’s nothing good to be said about them.
Darrell Bock
That’s right, and we’re not apologizing here, we’re just describing it. So they’re uncircumcised by the so-called circumcision that is performed by hands, they’re without a messiah, they’re alienated from the citizenship of Israel, they’re strangers to the covenant of promise, they have no hope, and they’re without God in the world. [Laughs] It’s not a thrilling resume.
Michael Burer
No, no, but kind of keeping with our theme of diversity, and we talked a little bit about reconciliation, what Paul is saying is that the gentiles were separate from everything that made Jews Jews. You know, the promise of the Messiah, the Messiah was going to be a Jew; the covenants that God had given to them through Abraham and David, they weren’t privy to that, because of their gentile-ness. But Verse 13, “Now in Christ Jesus, you who used to be far away have been brought near.” That’s a powerful statement about what God’s done.
Darrell Bock
And “brought near” doesn’t mean what it might suggest, it doesn’t mean being brought close; it’s actually a way of saying “been brought in.”
Michael Burer
Right, yeah, brought inside [crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
Yeah, because the point is that, that distance, that space, that chasm that used to exist has now been removed. Okay, and then to show you – I love this, “For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one, and destroyed the middle wall, partitioned the hostility.” And I like to say, here, this is reconciliation, as you said earlier, at the horizontal level. It’s very clear, we’ve got two groups that are now made into one, we’ve got a partition that’s done away. I like to say, you know, “God is my peace.” It’s not me in God that we’re talking about; it’s that God is our shalom, and this is the diversity made into a unity.
Michael Burer
And Christ’s work was to remove those barriers between us. There is some debate about exactly what that was, whether it was the cultural enmity that they felt towards each other, similar to what we were talking about earlier, the way Jews felt, or whether it was the Law itself. But Christ’s complete and finished work on the cross removed any barrier between us. And that then creates the opportunity for us to be formed into a new humanity in the church.
Darrell Bock
So, when it says when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments and decrees, I can imagine the Jews that we were describing at the very beginning of the hour, hearing that and going, “Whoa.” [Laughter]
Michael Burer
Their eyebrows, you know, went up five notches.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, because now the distinction at one level seems to be done away with, and yet it says, “He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus, making peace.” And I think it’s very important, here, to discuss – you’ve already said this, in one way – this new man is new humanity. This is not a discussion of the internal anthropology of my having a new creation inside of me as an individual. This is a corporate image, in which we have come in to be part of a new humanity. It’s a group of people that we’re talking about. When the parallel passage in Colossians 3 talks about there being no Jew or gentile, slave or free, barbarian or Scythian, and I like to use the illustration: when I go to the doctor, the doctor doesn’t examine me when I’m sick and say, “You know, Darrell, the problem with you is you’ve got too many barbarians and Scythians inside of you, and if we can take care of that problem, you will be feeling whole and better again.”

No, this is a conglomeration of groups of people who have now been unified and brought into oneness in Christ. And he’s reconciled both of them in one body, to God, through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. And so, this barrier, not only just the law, but the sheer hostility between the two groups has been removed by what Christ has done on the cross.

Michael Burer
Exactly. And the latter part of this paragraph really presents the beautiful new picture of what this community is gonna look like. You know, there’s no gonna be inies and outies, there’s no longer gonna be “us” and “them.” It’s only “we.” It’s only “we in the body.” And the imagery is of them being built together into a new dwelling place where God himself can live – it’s kind of a temple image – and the Church being the new place where God is gonna reside. And Paul’s whole point of this paragraph is to make the gentiles remember that they were out, but now God has graciously brought them in. And I think to the Jew it says, “These people were out, but now they’re in, and so we have to accept them as 100 percent brothers and sisters in this new community that God has created in Christ.”
Darrell Bock
And so, in Verse 17 it says, “He came and he preached peace to you who were far off, and peace to you who were near” – the same message, no matter whether they were close or distant to the promise – “so that through him we both have access in one Spirit – ” the Spirit key to this whole thing, just as we saw in Galatians – “to the father. So then, you – ” and the “you” goes back to the “you” of Verse 11, “you gentiles” – “are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but are fellow citizens with the saints, members of God’s household, because you’ve been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone – ” and then the picture of the temple, as you noted – “in him, the whole building being joined together grows into a holy temple of the Lord, in whom you also are being built together in the dwelling of Christ in the Spirit.” I do think it’s important to remember that part of what makes reconciliation reconciliation is to recall that God has made one out of two people who reasonably before would’ve been seen as distinct people.
Michael Burer
And not just distinct but perhaps incompatible.
Darrell Bock
That’s exactly right. And so, in the process of that, you’ve got Jews and gentiles who get to remain, to some degree, somewhat Jewish and somewhat gentile in the way they live. I mean, we see in the New Testament discussions about, you know, “Don’t mess with someone else’s diet if they have that in terms of conscience, just don’t require it of somebody.” So they get to maintain who they were on the one hand, but they realize there’s something that transcends that on the other.
Michael Burer
Right, yeah, one verse that, in Galatians, we didn’t talk about is towards the end, but it kind of deals with this particular theme. It’s at the very end, when Paul is kind of summarizing the message. And he says, basically, here – it’s in Chapter 6, Verse 15 – “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. The only thing that matters is a new creation.” And we would think he would say, “Circumcision doesn’t matter anymore,” we would think he would say, “Oh, uncircumcision doesn’t matter,” but he says, they both, neither of them, matter. And what this stands in for is Jewish identity, Jewish racial ethnicity, and gentile racial ethnicity. And his point is that those things have been minimized; what now is maximized is the fact that we are together in the body of believers that Christ has made.
Darrell Bock
And the beauty of that testimony to the world is that, that which is previously separate and previously hostile has now been brought into a realm of shalom, or peace, by what it is that God has done, and by God’s power, by God’s provision, by God’s grace. And I actually think that one of the most powerful testimonies the church has available to itself, today, in our world – transition – is the way in which we are able to demonstrate this kind of reconciliation. Because it’s so contrary to much of the tribalism that we see that often goes on in the world.
Michael Burer
Yeah, I agree with you 100 percent. We kind of talk about this at our own church – I attend a, as you can imagine, fairly mostly white church. But we actually had a good discussion at a business meeting, the other day, about how we are just about to cross that percentage threshold that classifies us as a multiethnic church. And we were excited about that, and we realized that God’s at work to build something that we couldn’t build on our own. And that for a long time we were just “white middle class,” and now we’re moving into a new area. And we believe that’s a sign of God’s blessing, and of his goodness, and a reflection of what he wants the church to be.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, so, I think we often – there’s too much discussion in our culture, I think, about diversity, as if it’s almost a four-letter word, it’s a dirty word. And yet, what we see God doing, at least in relationship to the Gospel and the offer of the Gospel, is building, out of the diversity which he has created, a unity that allows the different elements of what that diversity represents to be harmonized, if you will, in a body that operates in peace and reconciliation with one another. Thus, the ministry of reconciliation being a central theme of the New Testament.
Michael Burer
Yeah, Paul never said, “You have to stop being a Jew. You have to stop being a gentile.” What he did say is, “You have to be that within the context of your brothers and sisters.” And that’s exactly what God intended from day one, from the beginning of those promises, was a new body that was gonna include all of them together.
Darrell Bock
And so, you don’t have a Jew who has to become a gentile, you don’t have a gentile that has to become a Jew, but they do have to be one in Christ.
Michael Burer
Right, that’s exactly right.
Darrell Bock
So, well, this has been an interesting overview. Obviously, it’s an important theme – we’ve only touched the top layer of it. But I think it’s important to think about how Galatians 3 and 4, and 2 Corinthians 5, and Ephesians 2, help us in thinking through what it is that God has done in salvation. I like to say, you know, when God forgave our sins and when he died on the cross, it isn’t just that we check a box and we go to Heaven. He did it for a reason, and the reason that he did it for in part had to do with bringing shalom to the earth, to bring a wholeness, a restoration, if you will. And that restoration is seen relationally, and it’s seen relationally across a diverse group of people.
Michael Burer
And I think the calling that we have to take up is that we’re called to show that in our daily lives. And we have to think about the way that we treat others in the body, the way that we’re interacting with them. Do we show that shalom? Do we exhibit it in that unity? We don’t have to change our ethnicity, we can’t, but we’ve got to show it in such a way that we give evidence to the fact that Christ has brought us all together, loves all equally, and desires to create a new body of the entire human race that’s a temple that can praise him.
Darrell Bock
Well, we thank you, Michael, for coming in and helping us think through this, and we appreciate you taking the time to be with us. And we appreciate the fact that you have joined us on the Table, and hope you will join us again.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Michael H. Burer
Associate Professor of New Testament Studies BMus, University of Georgia, 1993; ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1998; PhD, 2004. Before beginning his faculty service Dr. Burer worked for many years with Bible.org as an editor and assistant project director for the NET Bible. He was also instrumental in the completion of the New English Translation-Novum Testamentum Graece diglot, published jointly by Bible.org and the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft of Stuttgart, Germany. An ordained minister, Dr. Burer is active in his local church and has ministered frequently with The Evangelical Alliance Mission in France. He has served as a visiting teacher at the Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique in Vaux-sur-Seine, France. His research and teaching interests include Greek language and exegesis, the Gospels, and Jesus studies.
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