Psychology and Biblical Studies

 

SBL Annual Meeting Papers, November 2010

For review only; do not distribute

  pdf version

Thaumaturgical Mediation:
Conflict Resolution in the Family of God
The Role of the Go(d)-Between

Kamila Blessing
Blessing Transitions

NOTE: Most of the Slides I will have are still missing!

Introduction

I Timothy 2:5 says:  "There is one God, and one mediator of God and men, [the] man Jesus Christ..."  Many of us know that verse in its prayer-book form:  Jesus, "our only mediator and advocate." 

The theme of the mediator evokes a thread of biblical theology and anthropology that has not been adequately studied among Bible scholars, A. Oepke's article "[see pdf version for Greek]" ("mediator"; TDNT IV) notwithstanding.  The theme is important because it addresses the human ability to heal family and society as well as ourselves – as reflected in the increasing use of mediation instead of marital counseling or court procedures.  Moreover, mediation is an essential aspect of God's own nature:  mediation between people,between people and God – and also between people and the evil of the world.  This last (if not all of these) must be a specific property of the Thaumaturge.

To go directly to an example I will propose here:  I believe that we have traditionally read the "Fall" story of Genesis 3 incorrectly, and that pulling the thread of mediation evokes an entirely "new" aspect of the message that is much more true to the text.  With or without this reinterpretation, however, the Bible:

- provides early examples of mediation, and

- grounds the role of mediator in the ultimate – giving it value beyond any single culture or time. 

If indeed mediation is central to the nature of God-and-his-people, the methodology of choice for analysis of Bible texts and stories will be family systems theory.  While not all mediation is done on the basis of this theory, family systems addresses universal aspects of human systems – and thus also systems-in-the-image-of-God.1  These systems' capacity to heal themselves is of course inherently interesting.

Problems with the Topic

To go any deeper into the subject, we must address several difficulties that such a study presents.  The first is that the Greek root for "mediate" or "mediator" (mesite-) occurs only seven times in the NT, all in Paul, I Timothy, or Hebrews – so we must track down the activity of mediation and its related concepts.2  Also, there is no direct Hebrew equivalent.3  This and theological factors lead A. Oepke to conclude that the concept of the mediator is not fully developed in the Hebrew Bible – with the partial exceptions of Moses, and several of the prophets – and only comes into its own with (First Century and later) Judaism, and with Jesus in the NT.  He writes (p. 610) that God is not the middle point of the world, but above/outside of it!4  He does say that "mediatorship is at the heart of OT religion" (p. 614); but in the OT, the mediator is the "committed spokesman." He includes the Suffering Servant whom we might, by analogy, call the "committed bearer" (of suffering for the people/for God's purpose of blessing).

While true, that argument:

- ignores God's immanence and

- fails to take a systems view of the universe – in which the biblical God-and-Creation work always in relation with one another. 

Pointedly, Greek Parakletos is most completely translated "Mediator."5  It is not surprising that "Paraclete" in some languages is "one who mothers," "one who falls down beside."  This function brings out the aspect of mediation that involves soaking up the suffering, wicking it away, as it were, from the sufferer; taking the evil of the world upon himself and thus away from humankind.  Thus the action and the accompanying theology of mediation (if not the terminology) suffuses the entire OT and NT, wherever the Spirit is active.

Then there is the subtle but powerful question:  Since Jesus is our only mediator and advocate, exactly with whom or what is he mediating?  The "obvious" answer is God,7 on account of our sin, but what if God himself is the mediator?  How does that role work with that of Judge?  Then, if there is one mediator only, why are there in fact so many others in the Bible, and what are the implications for biblical anthropology?  I propose that all of these difficulties are addressed by way of the NT/Nicene assertion that Jesus is homo-ousios with God; therefore God is implicitly the complete and perfect mediator.  The capacity for mediation must also therefore be an essential aspect of humanity created in God's image.

Definitions:  Mediation and Mediators

Before going further, we must define "mediator."  Oepke defines "mediator" as "the one who stands between," "the one in the middle."  In Greek, mesiteo is to bring about an agreement or to reconcile; mesites is one who helps opposing parties to come to an agreement, with the implication of guaranteeing the arrangement.  Ancient Near Eastern covenants of many types are written such that God (or a god) stands between the parties, administers reward and punishment for keeping/breaking the agreement, and is the overall guarantor – particularly of oaths, which are a form of prayer.  The OT-NT definition of mediation following all of the trails mapped in Louw and Nida,8 and thus considering the rich trove of related Greek and Hebrew terminology – accords with Oepke, to a point:  "to put oneself in the middle," "to speak to both [sides]."  The elders in the gate form this function throughout the OT (Amos 5:10; Ruth 4).  However, contra Oepke, the OT God stands between peoples (enemies, or society vs. the poor, e.g., Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3); and even between spouses, for instance Genesis 21, between Abraham and Sarah over the issue of Hagar and Ishmael). 

People are called to imitate God in being "between" – and also, acting on behalf of God-between – between people and evil, including strife with each other.  Job, for instance, imitates God as mediator between humanity and evil, and between other men and God.  See also the roles of Abraham in Genesis 18; Moses generally between God and people; Hezekiah in Isaiah 36; Isaiah in Isaiah 379; the apostles between God and humanity in the NT, particularly in Acts where they minister healing in the name of Jesus.  In James 5, we see the assumption that believers will listen to the sick (including their confessions) and pray for their ills (speak to God), awaiting God's answer of healing.  The man-and-Son-of-God Jesus takes on human and divine mediation by promising to "be in the midst of them" as disputes are addressed in the churches (Matthew 18:15-20).  (In fact, Jesus is all three types of biblical mediator listed by Oepke:  God, heavenly intermediary, and human.)

Standing between God's role and people's as mediator is the heavenly agent of God – the angel of the Lord or perhaps even the flashing sword – that is, the sword that is of God's mouth (Revelation 1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21; cf. Isaiah 1:20 and, differently, 49:2).  This sword as well as the angel of the Lord is apparently the Word of God and/or the Lord himself in a particularly revealing form, to which we will return.10

The concept of mediation participates in a number of other domains such as forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, compassion, prophecy and mercy – all aspects of God's justice.  The reason the Greek idiom krinei ana meson ("judge between") has such theological and literary power is exactly this range of meaning subsumed under God's justice.11 

Finally, in ancient pagan literature, there is an even deeper definition of the mediator – one that evokes the deepest mystery of Creation and Cross:  mediation is the capacity and process of passing between the sacred and the profane.  Such an event may require ceremonial or other rites to smooth the way for an otherwise intractable or forbidden passage.  One thinks of the pagan priestess inhaling the fumes from the sacred spring and thereby becoming able to see visions and to prophesy.  However, surely the ultimate passage is that of Jesus passing through human death into ultimate life and then back and forth between the earthly and the eternal.  He is the NT's ultimate transition specialist, the mediator between humankind and death.  Notice that all parties are interdependent and the outcome is a product of all.

Obviously, there is not time here more than to introduce the subject.  So let me turn to so-called "fall" story in Genesis 3.  This will make it plain how important it might be to pursue this line of inquiry. 

An Instance in Particular:  Genesis 3

In Families of the Bible: A New Perspective, Chapter 2, we studied the "first family" and their "fall."  In fact, we found that there really is no fall in the fall story.  The entire text – while acknowledging the disobedience – recognizes and articulates the always-mortal nature of humanity, the (in itself good) human capacity of choosing for/against God, the already-in-place condition of the ground-bound world (mortality),12 and the contrast of the ground-bound with the eternal.  There is one genuine new development in humanity before vs. after the "fall."  The story (Genesis 3:1-4:2) ends with humanity's commissioning – in the very presence of evil – to reflect God's work of creation through all kinds of labor (manual work and procreation/birth). 

This narrative cannot be a court proceeding with "sentences," as some authors and some Bibles' subtitles argue; the man who has been created to till the ground is to continue doing so, and Eve actually advances through the divine acknowledgement and blessing of a new name.  Her name reflects God's (Kol-Hai's13) own nature:  Havvah, "mother of all living."  Afterward, she becomes that literally – "with God I have brought forth a male-person" (Genesis 4:1).  The serpent – cursed though it is – goes on along ground just as before.  It is in the nature of serpent-ness to be obviously ground-bound and to reflect most forcefully only one of the "raw materials" of created beings.

The curses certainly occur; but in the traditional curse formula that is used here, the curse is in itself the "bad" result – as with "Let there be light."  The pronouncement of curses (on the serpent and the ground) does not alter anything else, however, but rather points out the locus of strife and toil.  There is no hint of punishment of the female per se; male and female are given the same pronouncement – of "toil," using the same Hebrew word, itzvon.  Further, the "expulsion" from Eden does not separate good from evil or humanity from God's immediate presence.  The text never says that there was no toil in tilling in Eden (2:5-15), only that there had been no one to "work" the ground in the garden.  God sets humanity (ha-adam, a collective) there specifically to "work" and to "keep" it.  ("Keep," Hebrew rm# shamar, also means to guard or even to be faithful with/to, as the Law.)  The "fall" does not make humanity mortal or immortal; they were mortal to begin with. 

There is possibly – even probably – only one central tree (2:9).14  But that one tree so far did not change their mortality.  Only going forward (in NT perspective) through the cross-tree and to the new Eden gets them immortality.

So what goes on here?  Why, for instance, does an omniscient God ask man and woman each to give an account?  If it is not a trial with defences and punishments, and if the condition of all three guilty parties is the same or better at the end (with the possible exception of the serpent feeling bad about its curse), what has the conversation accomplished?  Two things:  Conflict (Genesis 3:15; possibly 3:24); and Mediation!  This is the first essential conflict experienced by humanity with other earth-creatures and the first confrontation over their behavior, with only a hint of the resolution.  However, looking at a very complex text using only one thin but strong strand, we can see:

- The Essential Mediator at work as early as Creation, and

- A new "take" on the one other unambiguous change in the condition of the world:  that SWORD.

So let us contrast the traditional view of the "fall" with the mediation-thread view.  Here is a very simplified representation of the way the "fall" is seen in many past interpretations:

chart 1

"Before," it seems that evil is nowhere "inside" and God and humanity are in full and positive communication.  This may not actually be true, but it is the usual inference.  "After," there is evidently a dividing line between humanity and Eden, with the hierarchy of good vs. evil well established.  The problem with this non-systems view is that afterward, God is still speaking on intimate, if unhappy, terms with the man and woman, and it is not at all true that the negatives of the "After" are new to the situation.  It also does not take into account God's continuing role as the go-between or the one standing in the middle (of good and evil? Of man and woman? Of humanity and serpent?).

Here is a systems view that makes apparent the role of God-Between:

chart 2

The Paradox:  Only Together Do Want/Suffering and Abundance/Life
Reveal and Result in Achieving (the New?) Eden

Each horizontal line contains a pair of "opposites" (or corresponding realities) in relation with each other with God-Between.  The condition of the world is mostly still chaos and humankind have to order it – otherwise, why would God have told them to rule over it when God is doing the job already?  The condition of the earth-world is (already) one of hunger, toil, and mortality.  Abundance is the recognition and fulfillment of God's free provision for life at all levels.  Obedience has two faces, the first of which is not really obedience.  Male and Female persons are not opposites, but like the other "rows," are complementary, corresponding to one another; but they have their (marital) differences. 

As God calls the people to explicit understanding of both "sides" of each aspect of their life, they find themselves in the midst of a paradox:  without death, the promise of life eternal has no meaning; without the capacity for disobedience, there is no real obedience; without man-woman-in-joined-system, there is no real understanding of their complementarity and no capacity to give birth to birth.  Without the consequent journey ("away" from Eden), there is no "return" to Eden.  Their Triptik has now revealed a Construction Zone but what is left is not really a detour because it was always going to be there.

The paradox created by these juxtapositions is central to the growth (in all senses) of humanity and creation.  This is also true, for example, with Abraham and Sarah:  no barren years, then no certainty of God's gift of a particular child; there is no facing up to the essential difference between the ground-bound means of the merely-human (bringing in a concubine…) from the spiritual and material abundance of God's Rule.  We could say that the couple were always in God's Kingdom but would never have seen it explicitly without their paradox.  Likewise paradoxically, Jesus cannot give and show people eternal life (a different kind of living) without his death.

Most of this is not new.  However, the consequence of looking at the "fall" in this way, and at God as God-Between, is "new."  It is seen when the "expulsion" has taken place:

chart 3

The Real "Divide"(the Sword) – Itself a Paradox

God has listened to both, and spoken to both woman and man.  God has also "listened" to (interacted directly with) creation in innocence and creation in both senses of non-innocence.  In "listening to both," God does two things:

- He makes the two persons speak to each other:  Man and woman must (over)hear each other and thus realize they are really not a unity; he reflects back to each its essential nature (a human mediator would reflect back their exact words, but God knows them more thoroughly).  Hence the male is to till the ground and the female is to make a man with God (not "with God's help").  Their "marriage is reconstituted on the basis of their real essential selves, now much more reflective of God's own nature.

- He implicitly and explicitly shows them the ground-bound, hungry condition of the world, and right next to it, the Spirit-filled abundance of the Kingdom of God.  Eden and the rest of the world are not actually separated, nor (in the literal Hebrew) are the humans actually kept out of the garden.  In evoking the adamah aspect along with the Spirit aspect of humanity, existing in the same beings, he effectively states the paradox:  you cannot have the one without the other.  Incarnation is unavoidable!  Life and death also must exist in the same beings, both at work at once.  In the paradox is the message:  now that you are yet more like God, you have to recognize danger, but in doing so you recognize your safety, provision, and abundance.

- The sword, flashing back and forth, is not an electric fence.  It is the Word by which humanity will live and/or die.  It "cuts both ways":  those who are faithful know themselves already in incipient Eden; those who are not know themselves bound forever and seemingly solely to the dust.  The original wonder-worker by his very presence between them creates the gate of heaven and the capacity to accept the healing of humanity.

Thus the sword in the "expulsion" represents God-Between two sides:  the woman and man, good and evil, the Kingdom and the dust-bowl, forever mediating a path forward.  With God, the humans will make a man, a generation, a renewed Eden.  With God, humanity also can learn to "speak to both" as well, and thus like God, create peace and further unity, the healing of humankind.  That is the Bible's anthropology.  Whether we see ourselves in that way is another matter.

So the Mediator begets mediators who now, aware of paradox, can be Between-God-and-creation and begin to confront both conflict and chaos in new ways, thus fulfilling their commission to rule-and-shamar-keep the earth.

 

 

3:14 The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this,

16 To the woman he said,

17 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,
`You shall not eat of it,'

cursed are you above all [set apart from; good and bad] cattle, and above all wild animals;

 

cursed is the ground because of you;

 

"I will greatly multiply your pain/toil in childbearing;

in pain/toil
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.

19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread

and dust [‘aphar] you shall eat [bodily function, nurture by toil rather than from God] all the days of your life.

[from before “dust”] upon your belly you shall go, [etiology of condition of world, what has always been]

in pain/toil you shall bring forth [not same term as vs. 16 but same concept of fruitfulness] children,

 

 

[in pain/toil, from vs. 18]
you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
till you return to the ground,

for out of it you were taken; you are dust,

and to dust you shall return."

15 I will put enmity [evah] between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed; [continuing state of world; intergenerational effect also]

he [her seed] shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel."

And your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.

20 The man called his wife's name Eve [havah],

because she was the mother of all living.


The "Fall" Story in Parallel Form

 

NOTES


1 For a treatment of the use of Family Systems Theory as hermeneutic, see the Preface and the Appendix of Kamila Blessing, Families of the Bible: A New Perspective, Santa Barbara:  Praeger, 2010.

2 For instance, Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9).  In Isaiah 2:4 (LXX), the Greek idiom krinei ana meson means "judges in between [parties]."

3  In the Hebrew Bible, several terms enter into the idea of mediation, including yakah, "judge" or "contend with," which also means "judge between"; and sarsor, a commerce-contract negotiator.

4 He does give God one mediation role:  between Job and the (false) God of retribution.  He also says that Job in 9:33 represents the first true "spontaneous desire" for a mediator (p. 610-611.  But as we see below, mediation is an expected role of God.

5 Parakletos is a prominent name of the Holy Spirit in the NT, with conceptual echoes of the conveyor of God's presence and comfort in the OT.

6 One of the multitude said to him, "Teacher, bid my brother divide (μερίσασθαι, merisasthai) the inheritance (κληρονομίαν, kleronomian) with me."  But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or divider (κριτὴν ἢ μεριστὴν, meristen) over you?"  Note that the "inheritance" theologically means God, the Law, or the Holy Land, and so the ultimate referent here is theological.  The real question is who set Jesus as Judge (answer:  God) – and knowing this, now what?

7 I John 2 says that if anyone sins, we have an advocate with God (Jesus), but the Greek word is Parakletos and so means more than our lawyer; he is the one who joins hands with persons and with God at one time and through whom judgment is filtered to become mercy.

8 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, Second Ed.  New York:  United Bible Societies, 1989.

9 The mediator is actually a common and expected role in the OT, beyond the prophets.  The people expected the elders to mediate disputes and matters of law.  Note also how much it is a foregone conclusion that the recourse sought in impossible situations was that God would mediate, for example, Genesis 31:43-55, where "covenant" and "God" are somewhat interchangeably cited as "witness" to Jacob and Laban keeping faith with one another upon their parting.  Contra Oepke, here is the OT God in a presumed role of mediator.

10 We might include Balaam's ass's vision of the sword here because it represents God's angel and God's word to Balaam and his ass (Numbers 22).

11 The related concept of atonement (Hebrew kapar) is never used to mean or occasion displaced punishment.  Kapar means "to cover."  It is not that God is not a realist, but that he embraces, enfolds, and covers us from the evil of the world, including that in which we have willingly or unwillingly participated.  Thus in atonement, God displays his most fundamental role as mediator:  he forms a sort of boundary between humankind and evil.

12 Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, A Continental Commentary, Trans. John J. Scullion.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1984, specifically p. 276.

13 Kol Hai pointed in the way it is here is specifically a name of God; it is methodically and virtually consistently pointed differently when it means "all living things."

14 Genesis 3:3, "the tree that is in the middle of the garden…"  Genesis 2:9, God made many trees and in the middle of the garden were [two trees? One tree with two descriptions?]  Genesis 3:22 "and take also" of the tree (lest he live forever):  there is not necessarily an "also" in either Hebrew or Greek.  In Greek it is a series of kai's; in Hebrew it may mean "moreover" (a tree of "good and evil" and also / moreover "living forever.")  Going from innocence to God-likeness is a good thing and part of the plan of Creation and it is a natural next step to seek immortality – which the man and woman are in fact going to get in several ways:  the procreation and "with God" making of a male human being (4:1); the preservation of the genealogies to come; the ultimate NT-perspective result of immortality through death and the Resurrection.  Finally, God "sent" (SLH) – not "banished" – the man/humanity (ha-adam) to till the adamah from which he was taken – which, paradoxically, is in the garden.  Kl# (shalach) can be simply "send," or "commission," as with an apostle.  The noun form, shaliach, is the OT equivalent of "apostle."