The Recapitulator — Introductory Article

The Recapitulator is the title I have chosen for my new blog, in which I intend to discuss “all things biblical-theological.”  The blog is named after, and dedicated to, the one who truly is the Recapitulator, Jesus Christ, in whom God has purposed “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head” (Eph 1:10).  By his incarnation, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension, he has “recapitulated” the first Adam, the nation of Israel, humanity, the institutions of kingship and priesthood, indeed, all creation, gathering them up in his own self, and bringing them to their true telos, their true goal, the fulfilment of that for which they were created.

Secondarily, this blog is dedicated to Irenaeus, the second-century AD bishop of Lugdunum (modern-day Lyons), who may rightly be called the “father of biblical theology.”  For some who know me, the choice of Irenaeus as a second dedicatee might seem strange.  For example, I am a Calvinist; Irenaeus was not (though this is, of course, framing things anachronistically).  I am a cessationist; Irenaeus was not.  Irenaeus, on account of his commitment to particular theological idiosyncrasies, sometimes arrived at rather strained exegetical conclusions; e.g., that Christ died at about age fifty, rather than in his early thirties, as traditionally believed; or that there had to be four gospels to correspond to the four winds or the four faces of the cherubs in the book of Ezekiel.  On occasion, Irenaeus could entertain interpretations that today might be considered allegorical or fanciful.  And, as is the case with most of the ancient church fathers, the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, which would play such a crucial role in the Protestant Reformation, was not stated so clearly or unambiguously by Irenaeus as we might wish.  But despite these and other differences, I have chosen to dedicate this blog, secondarily, to Irenaeus.  Why?  For the following reasons:

First, as already mentioned, Irenaeus can rightly be called the “father of biblical theology.”  After Christ and the Apostles themselves, it was Irenaeus who, in the latter half of the second century AD, most emphasized the unity of the Old and New Testaments.  And it was he who perceived that unity to consist of the development of the biblical covenants.  He was a biblical theologian, and he was a covenant theologian.

Second, it was he who recognized most astutely that heresy develops out of the failure to recognize the unity of the Testaments.  In his valiant fight against the Gnostic and Marcionic threats to the Christian church in the second century, he correctly recognized that to concede that there was a disruption between the Old and New Testaments was, in essence, to surrender the Christian faith.

Third, he refused to give any credence to the heretical idea that the God who revealed himself in the Old Testament and the God who revealed himself in the New Testament were two different gods.  He refused to entertain the teaching that Christ set himself up in opposition to the God described in the Old Testament, or that Christ came to present to us a “kinder, gentler” God, or that part of the reason why Christ came was for the purpose of correcting erroneous Old Testament understandings of the character of God.  Irenaeus correctly recognized that for the Christian faith to indeed be the Christian faith, it must hold firmly to the teaching that the God described in the Old Testament is, indeed, the “God and Father of our Lord  Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3; 11:31; Eph 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3).

Fourth, he rightly condemned the practice of certain readers of the Bible to treat the Word of God as their own private playground, with the freedom to interpret or move things around as they saw fit.  He graphically described the heretics as those who took the beautiful mosaic portrait of God that the biblical authors had constructed, a portrait that showed him to be the Great King that he is, and took the pieces apart and reassembled them in such a way that now God was portrayed as a dog or a fox.  He correctly recognized in this move the failure of these so-called interpreters to give the word of God its proper reverence, and to truly submit themselves to the authority of God’s self-revelation.

Fifth, he advocated that all interpretation of Scripture should be in accord with the regula fidei, the “rule of faith,” or what is sometimes referred to as the “canon of faith,” the “analogy of faith,” or the “rule of truth.”  There is much discussion as to exactly what Irenaeus meant by this, and I’ll have more to say about it in another post.  But for now, it will be sufficient to note that, by this, Irenaeus meant, at the very least, that the interpretation of Scripture must be carried out in the context of, respect for, and in accordance with, the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).  This “faith” was not one that the Apostles took it upon themselves to create, but was, in fact, the very “doctrine of Christ” himself.

Sixth, and finally, and most pertinent with reference to the name of this new blog, it was Irenaeus who, though he was not the first church father to refer to the idea of recapitulation, was nevertheless the one who gave the concept its greatest exposition and prominence. Christ came to redeem his creation, and to a large measure that redemption was accomplished by recapitulating the history of that creation in his own incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  Therefore, the aforementioned unity of the Old and New Testaments is not only an authorial or covenantal unity – it is specifically a Christological and redemptive-historical unity.

Regular features of this blog will be:

(1) Articles that engage in the practice of biblical theology, and that address various pressing questions facing church and society from a biblical-theological perspective.  Oh yes – what is biblical theology?  I’ll lay out my understanding of this discipline in another post.

(2) Reviews of books dedicated to biblical theology, and reviews of other books from a biblical-theological perspective.

(3) Attempts to make a case for the importance of biblical theology in the life of the Christian church.

(4) Examinations of the biblical theology, teachings, and life of Irenaeus.  (By the way, despite the disclaimer above, there are some very interesting and unique connections between Irenaeus’s theology and that of John Calvin; in another post I’ll be calling attention to these).

(5) Appreciations of various figures in the history of the Christian church, both past and present, who have been especially engaged in the practice of biblical theology (e.g., Geerhardus Vos).

(6) A series under the rubric, “I once heard a preacher say . . . ,” in which I will provide biblical-theological critiques of incredibly stupid things I have heard preachers say in their sermons (sometimes the incredibly stupid thing will come from one of my own sermons!).

(7) Contributions from guest bloggers, colleagues of mine at Taylor Seminary, pastors, and both current and former students of mine who have done exceptionally good work at writing papers and articles of a biblical-theological nature.

I welcome suggestions from all of you who read this blog as to how it might best serve your needs.  Please feel free to pass along suggestions as well with regard to topics, issues, or passages of Scripture that you would especially like to see explored.  Indeed, if you feel up to it, I welcome longer contributions and you can be a “guest blogger”!

I start this foray into the blogosphere with a measure of apprehension.  The proliferation of blogs over the past years has, to some extent, been a confirmation of what one keen sage observed nearly three millennia ago: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Prov 18:2).  Nevertheless, I make the attempt in the hopes of not proving to be a fool.  I trust this blog will be beneficial for the biblical, theological, and spiritual formation of those who read the articles posted here.  I offer this blog, thinking, in particular, of former students and busy pastors, who may find here a place to find continued stimulation to their thinking along biblical-theological lines.  May the one for whom this blog is named, the great Recapitulator, our Rock, and our Redeemer, find the articles and meditations posted here to be pleasing in his sight.

Jerry Shepherd
Feast Day of St. Irenaeus
August 23, 2013

34 thoughts on “The Recapitulator — Introductory Article

  1. This is great. I like the early fathers quite a lot (my favorite is Athanasius), but don’t know enough about Irenaeus. I remember Mr. Priestley was also a fan, and probably for many of the same reasons.
    I am looking forward to learning more about biblical theology here. Godspeed.

  2. I love the theology of recapitulation. My thesis was on theosis and one of the main tenets of that is that God is summing up all things in His Son. Gregory of Nyssa is the Patristic Father I most connect with but Irenaeus is one of the greats too. Looking forward to next blogs and posts.

    • Kevin, this is very interesting. I’ll have to get you to contribute an article or two to the blog later on. We’ll also have to get together later on and talk about your thesis. Blessings, Jerry.

  3. Hi Jerry, Nice to be able to hop across here from b-hebrew! Thanks for the invite. The “appetizer” for what you’re planning to talk about here is very tasty – very much looking forward to it. (Incidentally, I teach Biblical Theology – very much in the Vos tradition, though mediated by some Sydney Anglican biblical theologians who are no doubt less well known – along with Old Testament and some Systematics in a small Spanish-speaking theological college in Santiago, Chile.)

    • Hi Stephen. Great to have you following the blog. I hope you’ll be thinking of some blog articles that you might be willing to contribute later on. I think I know who some of those “Sydney Anglical biblical theologians” might be. Blessings, Jerry.

  4. Hi there, Thanks for the invite to this blog. I just finished two courses in an OT survey taught by Warren Gage, whom you likely know something about. I won’t miss the hard work of the past 16 weeks, but am glad to have this blog to follow and keep my mind returning to biblical theology and the amazing unity of the Old and New Testaments.

  5. Should prove interesting. Trying to put together another sermon for another week here and not say anything stupid while trying to say something that honors God. Just finished fixing a bike tire for a little and so it is now back to the keyboard as Sunday is coming.

    Ryan

    • Ryan, I like the way you phrased that: “trying to . . . not say anything stupid while trying to say something that honors God.” That summarizes the preacher’s dilemma pretty well. And it’s my contention that biblical theology helps out with the dilemma in huge ways. Blessings, Jerry.

  6. Looking forward to more, Dr. Shepherd! I agree, exploring and affirming the beauty and unity of the Old and New Testaments is essential for articulating a Christ-centred faith. Thank you for your time and effort to encourage and share your thoughts with us.

    • Welcome, Christine. Interesting your use of the term “beauty.” One of the most recent biblical theologies that I’m reading through right now is Thomas Schreiner’s The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Good to have you on board. Blessings, Jerry

  7. Hi Jerry, Great to hear and learn more about Ireneaus again, after that Biblical Hermeneutics class in my first-year, first-term at Taylor. Thanks for teaching that class! I would say though that, perhaps, we also need to reevaluate critically the “biblical theologies” of the early Church Fathers and see whether their theologies are consistent with the meaning of the biblical texts in their historical and sociolinguistic contexts. Don’t you think that much of the theologies that came out of the early Church Fathers was greatly influenced by their own religious and political situations or circumstances? Of course, I recognize that, today, we too do theology within our own (postmodern) context. I look forward to your next post on What is Biblical Theology. Blessings!

    • Welcome, Hughson. Insightful comments — we do need to evaluate all biblical theologies, from whatever era. In particular, as you have pointed out, the ancient church fathers did not necessarily have the critical tools to allow them to do the sharpest historical and sociolinguistic analyses. At the same time, it is entirely possible that, for all their lack of tools, they nevertheless may have had the better set of presuppositions — remember Steinmetz’s article, “The Superiority of Pre-critical Exegesis.” We’ll certainly be talking about that later on. Blessings, Jerry.

  8. I am very excited about this blog! I never had the chance to study under you at Taylor and I’m thrilled now to have the opportunity to learn from you via the web. My sister, Erin Reich, speaks very very highly of your influence on her understanding of theology.

  9. Your intention , ” (3) Attempts to make a case for the importance of biblical theology in the life of the Christian church” is a noble one and especially needed in our age where it appears many Christian movements have quite forgotten the foundations on which their churches were erected.

  10. Dr. Shepherd,

    Reflecting further on your introductory piece, a recent crisis in the Church made this statement ring true: “Fourth, he rightly condemned the practice of certain readers of the Bible to treat the Word of God as their own private playground, with the freedom to interpret or move things around as they saw fit.”

    Your comment is similar to one made by an instructor teaching a Historical Theology Class who gave this as one purpose of his class: “. . . to emphasise the truth that a Christian, a congregation, or a denomination that is unaware of the past is like people suffering from amnesia: they are to be pitied and feared, not because they can’t remember details but rather because they can’t be trusted.”
     

    • Hi Charles,

      Thank you for this, and for the previous comments as well. That was a wise professor of historical theology. Another common way of framing things is that the modern church can often be accused of “chronological arrogance,” the assumption that the way we are doing things now is the best, and that we couldn’t possibly learn anything from our ancestors about worship, or theology, or missions, or evangelism, or how to do church, etc. Good to have you following.

  11. Pingback: Irenaeus on the Incarnation (1) | The Recapitulator

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