Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

God’s Rivals 2

In chp 2 of Gerald McDermott’s God’s Rivals we are treated to a study of the surprising knowledge of God outside Israel and the Church. Again, the question here is the scandal of particularity and God’s rivals in world religions.
What significance is there to the reality, easily demonstrable, that our biblical faith has some serious overlaps and parallels with pagan religions contemporary with the Bible? What does that say about the faith of “pagans”?
McDermott begins with Luke 4 and Jesus’ statement where he compares favorably the faith of the widow at Zarephath to the faith of his Israelite contemporaries. He sees three themes:
1. God wants Gentiles to know Him. Exod 14:4 is a good example:”But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” God wants to make himself known to Gentiles. An example I think we need to study more carefully is Acts 14:17: in his comment to the Gentiles, Paul says of God: “yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
2. Some came to know God or truth about God who were Gentiles.
Melchizedek (Gen 14), where Abraham uses the name of his God for YHWH.
Pharaoh’s magicians (Exod 8:19)
Balaam, Rahab, King Huram of Tyre, Naaman, Nebuchadnezzar
Acts 17:28 where Paul quotes Epimenides and Aratus, showing revelation of truth to Gentiles.
3. God’s people learn from pagans/Gentiles/etc
Religious culture and customs: like circumcision, torches and pots, etc.
The names for God in the OT are found among pagan religions: El as “God.”
Cornelius in Acts 10 and this powerful statement: “but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34-35).

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Scot McKnight

posted January 3, 2008 at 7:13 pm

I did not have access to the blog for the last two days so I didn’t notice this. Sorry.

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posted January 4, 2008 at 10:10 am

Well, time and relevance have marched on – but I would still like to address these questions, having been prepared to do so for a couple of days.
It seems to me that the reality of overlap demonstrates that our biblical faith is founded in historical reality, not dropped from on high so to speak. God was always present and at work in his creation. A faith grounded in the reality of history and human experience must interact with the surrounding culture and will speak to people in the context of that culture. God addresses people through time in forms capable of comprehension – and this is what we have recorded in scripture. Of course, this understanding must then play a role in our interpretation and theology of scripture. Among other things this can mean that scripture includes an appropriation and shaping of local culture and story, myth, or legend, to convey profound theological truths.
McDermott, at least as reflected in the summary above, does a good job of reflecting on what this historical reality says about the faith of pagans.

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Mike Clawson

posted January 4, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Under #3, let’s not forget the numerous influences of Zoroastrian on Post-Captivity Judaism and especially New Testament Christianity and the Early Church. For instance, ideas about heaven & hell, angels, demons, the immortality of the soul, the ultimate end of the world, free will, and socio-economic and gender equality.

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