Understanding the fulfillment of the promise

     Every person witnesses someone's death at one time or other. The observation that what remains at death, the corpse, is the person yet is not the person (or is it?) has lead to a confusion that has resulted in two traditional stances. One maintains the unity of man when positing that the corpse is all that is of the person--he or she no longer exists. Such a view, often considered monistic, would claim that the individual as one entity or substance, is totally destroyed by death. Nothing remains of the person; after all, the corpse lingers only briefly. Yet the centuries of man show that his innermost hopes and desires are never quite able to accept this view. Throughout history most people have believed that a person is somehow more than the corpse which remains.

    This latter belief is found in most religious systems in some form or other; the existence of the individual continues despite death. But one is then faced with a contradiction that the corpse is, yet really is not, the person. This contradiction usually forces one to the dualistic position that man is two entities--one of less value since it actually is not the person and is but the corpse, and one of more value since it is actually the person whose existence continues. The contradiction that death presents is one possible origin of the body/soul dualism. It is the reality of death that has lead many to conceive themselves to be two part creatures. The 'religious' have perceived their nature to be split in an attempt to be consistent with their innermost longings.

    The ancient Hebrews were not caught in the dilemma between contemporary monistic and dualistic hypotheses. According to their belief system, mankind was originally created as an entirely whole, unified creature who was embedded in the activity of the Garden. The entrance of sin into the Garden brought death to its caretaker. The Israelite knew that death did destroy the 'whole man', but lie did not believe death revealed two entities--one perishable and the other imperishable. What was destroyed was the person's status as a N creature. As noted earlier, death was seen as the reverse of that creation of man recorded in Genesis 2:7. Both breath and flesh returned to their place of origin--breath to the wind and flesh to the dust. The person then acquired a new status as one of the rephaim. It was a dark, silent, weak and certainly unappealing existence as a shade or shadow in sheol. Or, however, the godly person-­dying a natural, honourable death full of years--acquired a restful status with his ancestors. Such people could be disturbed from their rest, nonetheless, in order to visit N existence, e.g., Samuel by the medium of Endor (see I Sam. 28:8-15)

    The OT Hebrews did not have to be in a frame of thought that was confused by the monistic/dualistic dilemma that the corpse presents since their Torah had recorded that God had given the promise that N would be saved. N would not always be in bondage and threatened with danger and death. The Hebrew that was obedient before God did not have to reduce himself to the misconceived hope of 'religious' man that an immaterial entity would survive death nor to the pessimism of the monist that death is existential annihilation. The devout knew the fulfillment of the promise lay in the offspring of Abraham (Israel), the line of David, the root of Jesse, the Branch, the coming of the Messiah. Here lay his hope in the deliverance of the N from bondage, destruction, and inevitable death.

    However, diversity of thought increased in the ancient Hebrew world as it approached the NT era. This development is particularly evident from the later books among the Apocrypha and Pseudoepigraphy. A more dualistic anthropological perspective found in, for instance, Esdras, Ecclesiasticus, and the Book of Wisdom suggests Hellenistic influence. Into the NT period there was not one sole viewpoint which could be labelled as the Jewish point of view. This is evident from the controversy regarding resurrection that occurred between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. By this time the Jewish leaders, at least, held views that had evolved from the views of their ancestors. Further evidence of Hellenization is perhaps evident in the writings of Philo and Josephus and the Rabbinical Literature such as the Mishnah, though here the body was not degraded as occurred in Platonic belief.

    In the NT era there was differences in belief regarding basic anthropology, and consequently death, but the present author has traced only that development found among those who wrote the NT. The argument has been that the NT writers maintained the ancient Hebrew tradition which viewed N in terms of its status and accompanying imagery, despite the fact that they used the Greek language to convey their Hebrew perspective.

    Luke's choice of words for recording Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin demonstrates that mostly likely he and Stephen were conscious of the promise that God had given to the offspring of Abraham, They also understood that it was N or P who was given this promise. When Stephen gave his defense before the council, he reviewed the history of God relating with Israel. It is recorded that he said while speaking about Abraham:

And after his father died, God removed him from there into a land in which you are now living; yet he gave him no inheritance but promised to give it to him in possession and to his posterity after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect, that his posterity would be aliens in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and ill-treat them 400 years. 'But I will judge the nation which they serve,' said God, 'and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.' (Acts 7:5-7)

    Stephen, like the author of Genesis 49, said that it was N that went to Egypt and became enslaved. "And Joseph sent and called to him Jacob his father and all his kindred, 75 P." (v. 14) Israel was in N bondage to Pharoah, but God delivered them as promised. Note that their deliverance was accomplished only after the sheolish sea parted.

    Interestingly, the three other instances in the NT where P denotes a specific number of people, emphasize deliverance rather than bondage and enslavement. Enumerations of N in the OT suggested bondage and captivity; in the NT the enumerated are not N in bondage but P saved. On the day of Pentecost Peter addressed those bewildered about the event, and, subsequently, "...those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about 3,000 P." (Acts 2:41) Peter also wrote in his epistle about the Flood when "a few, that is, 8 P, were saved through water." (I Peter 3:20) While Paul was being taken to Rome as a prisoner, the ship sailed into a storm. They became lost at sea, but Paul assured them, "...there will be no loss of P...".(Acts 27:22) Paul gave thanks and broke bread, and the crew ate some food themselves. The author, probably Luke, added that there were "in all 276 P in the ship". (v. 37)

    Each of the three instances has a reference to water that was not typical of N during OT times--the water for baptism in Acts 2:41, the Flood in I Peter 3:20, and the stormy sea in Acts 27. Each event was like the time when the sheolish sea parted and allowed the Israelites to flee Egypt. P was saved from possible destruction by water--during their baptism the converts arose from water, during the Flood the Ark stayed afloat, and during the shipwreck all made it to shore safely. Water, in connection with N, was always the sheolish water of the sea that threatened to destroy and engulf N in a consuming manner. In the OT N were like those N hayyim that swarm in the sea; they were like fish in bondage to the sheolish sea. At that time the natural habitat of fish was viewed as a chaotic, evil, uncontrollable element that kept N in bondage. In the NT period, P acquired the sign of Jonah, that is, it had been engulfed in water but through a great fish had risen from the grasp of death threatening water. P were therefore no longer like fish in bondage in sheolish water, but were like fish that were delivered. Perhaps this NT link between fish and P was a factor that lead to the use of the fish as a Christian symbol. "Fishers of men" rescue P from the dangers of consuming sheol. (Mat. 4:18-22)

    For the NT Church this new relation between water and P had baptism imagery. In rising from the water P was found to be cleansed wholly.

Understanding this connection enables one to see why Peter, after writing that 8 P were saved through water, next wrote, "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (I Peter 3:21) Unless P was baptized, it could not be saved; in other words, unless P arose from the sheolish water, P remained in its bondage. Fresh, running water was clear and cleansing in the OT viewpoint, but it was not until the writing of the NT that this aspect to water was associated with N to the point that water cleansed, delivered, and even saved P.

    Now the shift that occurred from N of the OT to P of the NT is hope­fully more clear to the modern reader. The wicked could seek N and destroy it. People could also seek P, but they were not really able to destroy one. (see Mat. 10:28) N was easily threatened and often quite insecure; however, P was secure through faith and kept through endurance. N needed food for sustenance, or else!, but P was more than food. (see Mat. 6:25a) In sickness N was weak, but P could be sound despite poor health. N made its appeal for atonement through the sacrificial pouring out of blood, but P made its appeal through baptism which cleansed, atoned, and removed blame. N feared for its well-being, but P did not need to be anxious nor accounted as precious. The OT Hebrew feared losing his N, but Christ's followers willingly gave up their P and thus really saved it. N was the perishable seed which continued, through the offspring, the godly line leading to the Messiah; P was the perishable seed which, once buried, grew into pneuma.

    This development of the theme from N to P occurred because the promise given to N had been fulfilled. The Messiah had come! Prior to Christ there was a growing sense of resurrection, but it was only on an anticipatory level. Once the death and resurrection of Christ had satisfied the hope that the Hebrews had as N creatures. This shift in emphasis from N to P became most complete. From the viewpoint of those who wrote the NT, the life of Christ meant P could receive what N was once promised. Those P who made their appeal to Christ and were cleansed were considered to be people that were no longer in bondage to nor subject to death. Obedient P were not like the beast, the stranger, the slave nor the captive in the OT. They had emulated Christ through sacrificing their P and had thereby saved it. The term P was thus given by the NT writers an OT sense in some instances because N still anticipated the fulfillment of the promise, whereas in other instances P was given a NT sense because P had received what N had been promised. When P was used to translate an OT quote or expression originally containing N, P remained limited to N. When it was meant to convey notions found only in the NT such as sacrificing P or saving P despite death, then P was employed in light of the fact that the OT promise had been fulfilled.

    Therefore, the Christ-follower also did not have to succumb to the dilemma that the corpse presents. His hope for the deliverance of the N had foundation. The deliverance from Pharaoh promised in Genesis 49