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Jesus into Paul

Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic

of the Whole Gospel



 Integration Study



T. Dave Matsuo


©2012 TDM All rights reserved

No part of this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author

Contact: tdavematsuo@4X12.org




Chapter 1                 Introduced in the Beginning




The Epistemic Approach to the Whole

Theological Issues Preventing the Whole

The Nature of the Message (in "the unfolding of your words")

1. Cosmological

2. Relational

3. Whole

Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Ch 8

Ch 9

Ch 10

Ch 11

Ch 12

Ch 13

Ch 14

Printable pdf of entire study

Table of contents

Scripture Index



The unfolding of your words gives light;

It imparts understanding to the simple.[1]


Psalm 119:130




Modern science, notably physics, has attempted to provide a definitive answer to the question of Goethe’s Faust: “What holds the world together in its innermost?”[2] After attempts by noted physicist Stephen Hawking to develop a “grand unified theory” (GUT) that would enable us, in his words, “to know the mind of God”—and that essentially would make a creator God superfluous—Hawking surprisingly gave up his quest for a complete comprehensive theory for knowing the world in its innermost parts. He concluded that this was not possible with the limited framework of science, because a physical theory can only be self-referencing; and, therefore, it can only be either inconsistent or incomplete.[3] In other terms, the whole cannot be achieved from mere parts, wholeness can neither be understood nor experienced from things which/who are only fragmentary.


Did Hawking learn anything from Paul: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” (1 Cor 2:16)? Highly unlikely in probability terms. And unlike Paul’s claim to “have the mind of Christ” (2:16; cf. Jn 15:15; 16:13-15), Hawking denies any view from outside the universe. Despite having given up on GUT, he continues to labor under the assumptions and hope of human shaping and construction, which have emerged notably from the Enlightenment but have roots more primordial than that. That hope for physicists has recently shifted to the Large Hadron Collider (the world’s largest particle accelerator) to provide explanation for the vexing mysteries still eluding human knowledge.[4]


Turning to the world of neuroscience, Iain McGilchrist locates these heuristic and epistemic processes in the brain activity of the right and left hemispheres. He concludes that each brain hemisphere represents different views of the world. The left hemisphere, for example, looks at parts or fragments and then makes generalized abstraction, aggregated from the parts. It is the special capacity of the left hemisphere to derive generalities—the dominant function characteristic of scientists—but these generalities have nothing to do with wholes because, as McGilchrist rightly notes, they are in fact necessarily built from parts, aspects, fragments of existing things within the universe; these things in themselves could never have been generalized. This knowledge gained from putting things together from bits—the knowledge called facts—is the only kind of knowledge permitted by science (at least in theory if not always in practice). Yet, this resultant sought-after “certainty,” on which the left hemisphere concentrates in its need to be right, is also related to narrowness, with the effect that the more certain we become of something the less we see (perhaps like narrow-minded). Consequently, this knowledge, with its left hemisphere function, does not provide a good idea of the whole, but, at best, just a partial reconstruction of aspects of the whole.[5] And how we use this knowledge, and its underlying assumptions, may not only indicate the dominance of the left hemisphere but also will critically determine the breadth and depth of our perspective of the world and all who live in it. This is the hard lesson Job learned in both the limits and distortion of his knowledge and the hubris of his speculation about God: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3, NIV).


This may appear as an odd introduction to a study of Jesus and Paul, but in fact it points to the shared cosmology integral to their stories (cf. Jn 1:1-5; Col 1:15-17) and what unfolds in the universe from the beginning. Therefore, it is indispensible for this study to start ‘in the beginning’. From the limited framework of science, we need to shift to a further and deeper perceptual-interpretive framework that provides the lens necessary both to illuminate and to sharpen the focus on what emerged in the beginning. In the process, we engage theology (logos of God) and encounter the world in its innermost through the lens of theological interpretation—not leaving science behind but providing it with the qualitative perceptual-interpretive framework necessary for whole understanding and meaning of the quantitative reality it observes. This includes the reality that it ignores or is unable to perceive.


What Faust’s question raises are the primary issues of the breadth of the human condition and the depth of the good news for the human condition. Therefore, the question involves by necessity addressing the breadth of the first issue by responding with the depth of the gospel. Anything less and any substitutes of both neither get to the innermost nor are held together. These primary issues unfold in this study, as Jesus into Paul addresses irreducibly and responds nonnegotiably to both by embodying the theology and hermeneutic of the whole gospel.


This study combines and extends further my separate studies of Jesus and Paul: Sanctified Christology: A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus and The Whole of Paul and the Whole in His Theology: Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process.[6] The full content of those studies is not included in this integrated study, so you may find it helpful or necessary at times to refer back to them. As we proceed in this study of the synthesis of Jesus and Paul, we will be further challenged in our perceptual-interpretive framework, in the epistemic process we are engaging, and in the theological assumptions we have not only for Jesus and Paul but of the innermost whole of the world and the whole of God beyond. Moreover, both Jesus and Paul ongoingly challenge our theological assumptions (including of the gospel, grace and faith) and make imperative listening to the communicative words from the God outside the universe, concurrently present and involved (Mt 17:5; Mk 4:24; Lk 8:18; Rom 10:17; Col 3:16).



The Epistemic Approach to the Whole


Engaging this deeper epistemic process is not a 180° turn from rationalized thinking (as in science) to faith, that is, as faith is often perceived without any valid basis other than a believer’s own supposition (even presupposition). I am not faintly suggesting a leap over Lessing’s ‘ugly, broad ditch’, the gap between reason and that faith. Nor does this involve maintaining some sort of dualism between the material and immaterial. This shift to a qualitative framework, however, does involve going further than the prevailing primacy of reason (notably since the Enlightenment) and deeper than conventional faith.[7] Admittedly, for some this will in effect widen the gap of the ‘ugly ditch’—that is, by deepening our thinking and faith for this study, which is a necessary function in God’s self-disclosure (cf. Lk 10:21) and thereby a necessary purpose in this study.


Rather, this deeper epistemic process involves turning our focus to revelations from outside the universe—neither assuming beforehand a reality exists beyond the universe nor assuming such reality cannot exist. Along with eschewing these two assumptions, the assumed superiority of the scientific method that privileges sight over other means of perception is chastened. Thus this epistemic process involves paying attention to disclosures which are “heard” more than seen—in a similar sense of purpose, perhaps analogous, to scientific monitoring of outer space to listen for any signs of alien life. That is, these disclosures are communicative action from the Reality beyond the universe, the access to which cannot be gained by any effort from within the universe, however sophisticated, dedicated or convicted the effort. Therefore, we have to assume that any disclosure is a self-disclosure initiated from a personal Being, whose “discovery” can only be known in the relational epistemic process constituted by the relational context and process of this personal Being’s self-disclosure from the beginning. Anything less and any substitute of this relational context and process reduce the relational epistemic process to, at best, conventional observation, which becomes self-referencing (as Hawking concluded) and thus is consequential for the relational outcome for which these self-disclosures have been communicated to us. This reduction applies equally to scientific, philosophical and theological observations, including those by biblical exegetes.


Philosophy engages this conversation by addressing the basic issue of the knowability of God and by seeking to define concepts with precision and rigor of argumentation. Concepts historically attributed to God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, simplicity, immutability and impassibility, may appear to describe the God outside the universe, but essentially they tell us more about the unknowability of God. This is demonstrated in the work of Thomas Aquinas on the doctrine of divine simplicity.[8] This basic view that those within the universe cannot know the essence or being of God—nor are our words basically capable of speaking of the creator—gave rise to the voice of negative theology: we can make only statements of negation, saying just what God is not or cannot be, thus avoiding the limitation of language that is susceptible to falsifiability. This position, however, both limits the epistemic process and gives some illusion about knowing the reality of God; consequently, it also limits or even precludes the reception and understanding of God’s self-disclosures and the communication of positive theology for both the whole ontology and function of God and thereby of God’s creation.[9]


In the philosophy of religion, such an omnipotent, omniscient, perfect God took creative action in the beginning to form the universe and all in it, after which this Being either left it on its own (deism) or continued to be involved with it—the extent of which varies with each specific view of theism. Both deism and theism depend on a particular interpretive framework which determines the epistemic process it engages. Perhaps deists need to return to monitoring the universe to listen to the signs of life coming from outside the universe. Yet, the classical theistic picture of God—as self-contained and all sufficient, impassible, etc.—is also not the God of thematic relational action found in the self-disclosures of the Word in and from the beginning. The interpretive framework from human shaping and construction has dominated philosophy’s voice in this conversation. In part, this speaks to the Copernican shift in astronomy (the earth revolves around the sun) and its influence on philosophy: theocentricity was replaced by anthropocentricity. The direction of influence was no longer from certainty of God to certainty of the self but now from self-certainty to certainty of God. Küng identifies this methodical beginning emerging from the human being, the subject, one’s reason and freedom, as a paradigm shift that culminates in a radical critique of the proofs of God.[10] In spite of this history, philosophical theology will hear a clearer voice to respond to for engaging this conversation. This is demonstrated, for example, by current scholarly efforts to clarify how many voices from outside the universe there are. [11] That work addresses the issue of the “threeness-oneness problem” and involves the theological and hermeneutic issues of the Trinity, whom I refer to in this study as the whole of God.


It is within this conversation that we need to go back to an earlier context on the Damascus road where Paul’s story emerged, not began, and converged with Jesus’ story. Even though Paul was an unrelenting Jew (Pharisee), his practice of faith revolved more around the terms of human shaping and construction than God’s terms (cf. Dt 12:8; Judg 21:25; Rom 2:28-29). In other words, in functional terms the monotheist Paul was actually more anthropocentric than theocentric. Anthropocentricity was also identified by Jesus as “tradition” (paradosis), which focused on terms from human shaping and construction in substitution for God’s terms (Mt 15:2, 6-9; Mk 7:8; cf. Paul’s later understanding in Col 2:8). The significance of theocentricity was embodied by Jesus as the epistemological, hermeneutical and functional keys to the whole of God, God’s whole and the wholeness of all creation. This is the Jesus who confronts Paul in his tradition and anthropocentricity on the Damascus road. Unable to deny this experience despite his prevailing interpretive lens, Paul asked the critical epistemic question: “Who are you?” (Acts 9:5; cf. Mk 4:41). By being exposed by the self-disclosure of the Light, Paul undergoes a paradigm shift in his perceptual-interpretive framework to deepen his monotheism, transforming him from anthropocentricity to theocentricity, and also from fragmentary human ontology and function to wholeness (Rom 8:5-6). This constitutes the whole that the Word outside the universe both enacted in the beginning and in vulnerable self-disclosure embodied for relationship together with the creation (Jn 1:1-3; Col 1:16-17, 19-20; 2:9-10).


As Paul learned dramatically, underlying the dynamics unfolding from the beginning are perceptual-interpretive framework issues. Whatever paradigm shift in the past defines our current worldview in general, knowingly or unknowingly, determines in particular the extent of the epistemic process we engage as well as the depth of our involvement in it. Obviously, these issues are consequential for the results we find, the conclusions we make, and, most importantly, for the relational outcomes we experience. Like the monotheist Paul before the Damascus road, we cannot merely assume that our theology is valid and our theological anthropology is significant, that is, in God’s terms of being whole and not in our fragmentary terms.

We cannot underestimate the importance vested ‘in the beginning’ for our understanding the whole as well as our need to be whole. And we can neither allow this to be diminished by science nor minimalized by philosophy as well as theology. Essentially, its importance involves no less than the search for identity, human identity, not in social terms but in primary terms of creation. Accordingly, this identity is inseparable from the identity of the Creator outside the universe, whose intrusive action set in motion the relational dynamic that “holds the world together in its innermost” in the beginning, ongoingly from the beginning, to and through the end. The whole—in which human identity is defined and by which it is determined—constitutes the identity of God, the whole of whose creative action composes the universe and all in it. This created whole, however, was sadly fragmented by reductionism—the contrary of wholeness—making necessary the whole of God’s salvific action to transform human being and thus all creation to be whole. Nothing less than this identity can be whole, and any substitute for this whole identity is only reductionism. This reductionism and its counter-relational work are consequential for the fragmentation of life constituting the human condition, not in the beginning but from the beginning—as demonstrated in the primordial garden (Gen 3:1-7). Therefore, the search for identity has had a long history of human shaping and construction; underlying this history is the shift of ontology from inner out to outer in, and thereby the shift in function from qualitative to quantitative (cf. Gen 2:25 and 3:7). And, most certainly, this shift has restricted the epistemic process to limited (narrowed-down and fragmentary) knowledge and loads of information; moreover, it has prevented the involvement necessary to go further and deeper in the epistemic process for whole knowledge and understanding.[12]


There is a dynamic interaction of distinct variables which converge in the human shaping and construction of identity. Further understanding of this interaction will be helpful, if not disconcerting. Self-determination is the underlying dynamic that needs to be understood in human shaping and construction. The presence of self-determination may be apparent in an individualistic context like the United States but how is this relevant in collectivistic contexts? The reality is that self-determination is never pursued in a vacuum or in isolation from the self’s surrounding context; it is always a process in relation to others outside of oneself, thus self-determination can be both by an individual and a collective. The underlying dynamic of self-determination is made definitive by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6, which overlaps with self-autonomy in Mt 5 and self-justification in Mt 7). This prevailing effort, which constitutes human shaping and construction (cf. the tower of Babel, Gen 11:1-4), focuses our interpretive lens on what to pay attention to and what to ignore (cf. Gen 3:4-6). Moreover, it also signifies an outer-in ontology and function, which depends on rationalizing in its acts of determination and consequently defines self and relationships by quantitative parts, aspects or things for easier determination. In further understanding, the quest for self-determination is inseparable from a search for identity, which conjointly leads to the quest for certainty. Here is when the underlying dynamic becomes more obscure. With the elusive nature of certainty in the universe and in the absence of wholeness, the definition of certainty by necessity becomes reduced and narrowed down to what we can control and thereby be certain about. Then, of course, this dynamic engages the variable of fear, which easily becomes the driving force behind human effort—extending self-determination into self-justification. McGilchrist associates this quest and reduction of certainty to the dominance of the left brain hemisphere in its need for certainty and to be right. In light of ambiguity and mystery, the left hemisphere tends to react with premature over-interpretation, which requires reduction and narrowness of what is seen for more certainty.[13]


Whether or not this dynamic interaction is accurately associated with the left brain hemisphere, the brain confirms distinct patterns existing in how the human person functions and how we see the world—even at some point from the beginning, evolutionary development notwithstanding. Helpfully, this reality in human function is made more accountable for us to address by necessity. With the inability of human effort using a quantitative framework to find what holds the world together in its innermost, we tend to maintain a lens focused on the outer in to avoid the unresolved issues (personal, collective, global) involving the inner out; consequently, we continue to depend on quantitative aspects, parts, things to substitute for the deeper qualitative levels of life which elude us. For example, MIT professor Sherry Turkle, founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, describes how we have changed today as technology offers us substitutes for connecting with each other face-to-face, and how technology redraws the boundaries between intimacy and solitude.[14]


This prevailing shift to substitutes and secondary matter can only be reductionist and its consequences (epistemologically, ontologically, relationally) increasingly pervasive in all levels of life, including the church and academy and their theology and practice. The relational consequences are even more far-reaching than the epistemological: not fully receiving the whole gospel; not wholly knowing (i.e. beyond quantitative information) God, who is vulnerably present and intimately involved, in the qualitative depth of relationship (e.g. in contrast to the quantitative extent demonstrated by the disciples, Jn 14:9); not experiencing the whole of relationship together in likeness of the whole of God and therefore unable to witness to the world this wholeness that holds it together in its innermost (in contrast and conflict with Jesus’ prayer, Jn 17:20-24)—all the above emerging from the human shaping of relationships.

The necessary alternative to counter this reductionist shift is a qualitative perceptual-interpretive framework that restores ontology to inner out and the primacy of function back to the qualitative—restoring both divine as well as human. An inner-out framework does not ignore the out as unimportant or separate it in an artificial dualism. Nor does a shift to the qualitative mean to idolize and get absorbed in an ambiguous world of metaphysics; neither to get lost in subjectivism nor to merely surrender to fideism. But this qualitative framework also does not yield to the dominance of rationalism, and it challenges the explanations and certainty concluded from a quantitative outer-in epistemic process with a chastened reason whose interpretive framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo) have been made whole (as Paul later made definitive, Rom 8:5-6).


In contrast to the quest for certainty—as defined by the quest for self-determination and a search for identity—we need to get back to the significance of faith. However, there is a deeper understanding of faith necessary by its beginning nature to realize in order to engage in wholeness and not in reductionism as in the common perception and practice. In the relational epistemic process, faith is the qualitative relational response from inner out that emerges from what is heard; and what is heard is clearly communicated and made definitive by the communicator, notably through the embodied word of Christ, just as Paul illuminated (Rom 10:17). Therefore, the extent of one’s faith is directly contingent on how well one listens to the word communicated (cf. Mt 17:5; Lk 8:18; Mk 4:24). This can only be understood as a reciprocal relational dynamic, not a mere subjective experience. In other words, faith is a relational action signifying relational language, thus neither a mindset nor a state of mind defining what one believes. The relational outcome is the reciprocal relationship, in which this relational response of faith has the basis (hypostasis) for being able to count on the whole of God disclosed in relationship together. That is, this is the confidence in qualitative relational terms, not a certainty in quantitative referential terms, of the whole of God vulnerably present and relationally involved, not just a part of God. Along with this basis, the relational response of faith also has the qualitative evidence (elenchos) necessary to go deeper in reciprocal relationship together than what the quantitative can observe—the hypostasis and elenchos to be reciprocally involved in the relationships necessary to be whole (Heb 11:1,39). [15] This type of qualitative certainty is further and deeper than the limits inherent in and the narrowness associated with quantitative certainty. The qualitative certainty of the Whole self-disclosed from outside the universe and the confidence in the Other’s presence and involvement, and thereby being whole together, stands in contrast with quantitative certainty that is only fragmentary and has certainty only in one’s own knowledge, however limited.


The hypostasis and elenchos can be claimed because God’s self-disclosure functioned only on the basis of nothing less and no substitutes. This is the basis by which the Word from outside the universe was embodied to be present and involved with human persons, with nothing less than and no substitutes of the whole of God. This Word is also the pleroma (fullness, complete, whole) of God Paul illuminates in his cosmology (Col 1:15-17,19). These were not only the terms of God’s self-disclosure and embodiment but also the terms for the relational response of faith: nothing less than and no substitutes of our whole person from inner out (cf. Jn 4:23-24). Only God’s terms are compatible both for engagement in the relational epistemic process to know the whole of God and for involvement in reciprocal relationship together to be whole. The early disciples learned the difficult lesson that human terms by definition cannot be whole, whether in the epistemic process or in the practice of faith, much to Jesus’ frustration and discouragement (e.g. Mk 8:17-18; Jn 14:4-9).


The issue between faith and reason is also taken deeper by Jesus, not in the sense of widening the gap but in terms of their function in the epistemic process. As logos from outside the universe, the Word embodied the hermeneutical key for the whole of God. In this function Jesus not only embodied words from outside the universe but, just as importantly, he also made definitive what was necessary to engage the relational epistemic process to receive the Word vulnerably unfolding to illuminate the whole of life. Jesus exalted very clearly in a moment of leaping or dancing for joy: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and revealed them to young children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Lk 10:21). With this clarification, Jesus made definitive both the relational outcome of God’s terms and the relational consequence of human terms in the epistemic process of understanding the whole of God’s self-disclosure. He was not suggesting that God’s revelation was selectively given to only certain persons, and thus not available to all. His only focus here is about knowing and understanding God’s self-disclosure, which is grasped not as observers (however astute) but understood only by involvement in the relational context and process by which God communicates. And he reminded his disciples how blessed they were to be receiving God’s disclosures in this vulnerable relationship (Lk 10:22,23).


The “young children” (nepios), about whom Jesus was so excited, is a metaphor for a person from inner out, not from outer in: an unassuming person just being whom God created—with a heart open and involved, a mind free and adaptable to the improbable (i.e. able to go outside of the box as characteristic of most children). More specifically, this “child-person” functions by using the mind ingenuously in likeness of the whole of God, without unnecessarily complicating matters or overanalyzing things, yet not over-simplistic or foolish, thus compatible with the qualitative presence of God—a mind distinct from what prevails in the human context. Most important, therefore, this child-person’s mind does not function apart from the heart in order to entrust one’s whole person—nothing less and no substitutes—to be vulnerably present and intimately involved in God’s relational context and process for the relational epistemic process necessary to know the whole of God. Moreover, while the mind of a child is considered immature and undeveloped according to prevailing terms, this metaphor includes the function of a perceptual-interpretive framework that is unrestricted by predispositions and biases. As our mind grows in development, we also put on different lenses that tend to become more and more restricting and essentially reductionist (e.g. imagination, creativity, spontaneity decrease)—as in the trained incapacities often from higher learning. This ironic development describes “the wise and intelligent or learned,” who, as Jesus directly implied, depend on their rationality (sophos and synetos) without epistemic humility. Consequently, they fail to function as the whole person from inner out necessary by nature to engage the relational epistemic process to receive God’s self-disclosures and know the whole of God in relationship together—resulting in the relational consequence to labor in fragmentation and not truly be whole.


The difference in perceptual-interpretive framework between the child-person and the wise and learned is the difference between the qualitative and quantitative, the relational and referential—perhaps also the difference between the right brain hemisphere and the left. This difference is critical for defining which epistemic process we engage and for determining how we engage in that epistemic process. This difference critically determines the level of involvement of our participation in the epistemic process and, if it is the relational epistemic process, whether relational connection will be made for a further and deeper epistemic outcome. This critical difference was clearly distinguished when Jesus explained his use of parables (Mt 13:11-17). When the epistemic process involves God’s self-disclosures, this difference means the difference between the relational outcome of knowing God more deeply and the relational consequence of not truly knowing God or of merely having fragments of information about God. The former is whole while the latter can only be some form of reductionism, even when aggregated and generalized.


These are the qualitative relational terms embodied by Jesus as the hermeneutical key for the relational epistemic process to the whole. God’s terms are clearly definitive, and thus irreducible and nonnegotiable, which is why the Father made it the key imperative: “Listen to my Son” (Mt 17:5). And why Jesus makes it the relational imperative: “Pay attention to how you listen” (Lk 8:18) and “Pay attention to what you hear; the level of relational involvement you give will be the extent of reciprocal relationship together you get” (Mk 4:24), and then “Follow me.” The imperative in Mark 4:24 needs to be integrated with Luke 10:21. The “measure” (metron) we give and get that Jesus refers to involves our perceptual-interpretive framework that we use, which determines (measures, limits) the level of participation in the epistemic process for God’s self-disclosures. The above difference in frameworks signified by the child-person and the wise and learned is clearly made definitive by Jesus for “the level of relational involvement you give will be the extent of reciprocal relationship you get, both in the relational epistemic process and in relationship together”—for either a relational outcome or relational consequence (Mk 4:24-25). Therefore, the relational context and process—that Jesus embodied for our participation in the relational epistemic process to the whole of God, God’s whole and our wholeness—cannot be diminished or minimalized by human shaping and construction without the loss of whole knowledge and understanding, as well as what it means to be whole. Nothing less and no substitutes are the irreducible and nonnegotiable terms the whole of God embodied.


As this study unfolds Jesus’ story, we will further discuss his hermeneutical key, including his being the theological and functional keys to what holds together the world in its innermost, in and from the beginning, and therefore the keys to be whole together, to live whole in the world and to make whole the human condition.


What hopefully is clearly emerging in our discussion is the following: Responding adequately to the question of “What holds the world together in its innermost?” necessitates the relational epistemic process to the whole, thus the focus of our lens and its perceptual-interpretive framework cannot remain quantitative from outer in and nonrelational. The whole that holds together in the innermost is not a quantitative condition from outer in that can be observed and verified in quantitative terms, and accordingly described merely in referential language. The whole is a qualitative ontology from inner out that involves the relational dynamic initiated from outside the universe—nothing less than the relational dynamic of grace. This qualitative relational Whole further engages the world and all in it by the relational context and process, for which there can be no substitute. Where or when the whole of God is not vulnerably present and relationally involved, then the whole is elusive and wholeness is lost (cf. Ps 30:7b). The good news is that God’s self-disclosure in relational context and process continues to be present and involved, which those in the world must by nature engage in the relational epistemic process in order to know the Whole, and thereby be made whole in likeness.


To paraphrase the ancient poet quoted at the top of the Introduction: “The unfolding of your words from outside the universe gives the illumination necessary for whole understanding so that the simple ‘parts’ can be reconciled and made whole” (Ps 119:130). And as the poet further said: “But when you hide your ‘face’ and no longer communicated the words from your mouth, I was dismayed, that is, experienced the loss of what holds us together in our innermost, and consequently became fragmentary” (Ps 30:7). Indeed, he affirmed: “The whole of God from outside the universe blesses his human family with wholeness” (Ps 29:11)—just as the creator God enacted in the beginning (Num 6:24-26). Nothing less and no substitutes are sufficient to define the whole, Who and what unfolds in and from the beginning; and nothing less and no substitutes are adequate for the study of Jesus and Paul and their synthesis.


The time, whether in modernist context or postmodernist, is imperative for us to embrace the qualitative perceptual-interpretive framework necessary to engage the relational epistemic process in order to return to the roots of whole identity in the beginning, and then to discover the whole all of us together can be, with nothing less and no substitutes. This is the Word in the beginning we need to listen to, who addressed the breadth of the human condition and responded with the depth of the gospel for wholeness. Will we let the Word speak for himself, or will we essentially end up speaking for him, even with good theological intentions?



Theological Issues Preventing the Whole


When science understands the limitations of its view from only inside the universe, there can be modesty in proposing a physical theory as merely self-referencing and as a result necessarily incomplete, if not inconsistent. This epistemic position can only be beneficial for all of us, specifically for the whole since it limits illusions about it. Where scientists do not exercise such epistemic humility, this has the effect of preventing the whole by promoting inconsistent and incomplete universal claims which can only be illusory of the whole. The lack of epistemic humility is consequential for all of us despite the progress science has achieved, for example, in technology and medicine. These advances in the quantity of life, however, should not be confused with improving the quality of life[16]; and in actual function these advances direct us away from and not toward wholeness. The narrowing of our interpretive lens—limiting what we can see—for the cause of certainty and, of course, for the sake of self-determination always prevents any knowledge and understanding of the whole since it restricts the whole from emerging. This whole is not some idea of a whole from inside the universe itself but the whole interposing from outside the universe. Unfortunately, this restriction does not prevent the illusion of the whole since creating any epistemological illusion and ontological simulation of the whole are the genius of reductionism.


This process and the issue of epistemic humility also apply to theology. If theology is indeed directed by revelation from outside the universe, its formulations should be other than self-referencing; and its understanding needs to be more complete by the nature of the knowledge available from outside the universe. Yet, theology has long labored under a counteracting dynamic: between what God reveals and what we attribute to God; between what God says for and of himself and what we say for God and impose on him; between God’s terms and reduced terms of human shaping and construction. Some may locate this dynamic in the hermeneutic circle. But the former is whole and the latter is not just some part that can be interpreted into the whole of God; the latter is fragmentary and from reductionism, which is always incompatible with the whole. And comfort should not be taken in the latter’s place in tradition, prominence in the academy and acceptance in the church.


For example, if the Bible is read through someone’s idea of what the perfect being outside the universe must be like, as in classical theism, whose words become primary for theology, ours or God’s? The philosophical influence on theology, which still exists today, has shaped or constructed a different picture of God than the God of thematic relational action and response in Scripture, definitively embodied by the Word. The classic doctrine of God, existing in systematic and biblical theologies, does not fit the image of God embodied by the face of Christ, as the monotheist Paul “discovered” and wholly understood (2 Cor 4:4-6). This reshaping emerged when concepts from Greek philosophy were used as the framework, which was later refined by the epistemological program of foundationalism to establish a basis for certainty. The quest for certainty emerges again with the consequence of narrowing the words of Scripture. Most importantly, the reshaping of God emerges when interpreters of Scripture end up listening to themselves talk about God rather than listening to God speak for himself. Nicholas Wolterstorff defines this as ‘dogmatic’ interpretation: dogma governs our interpretation of Scripture for our divine discourse, not God’s communication of God. Interpreting Scripture in light of itself involves the hermeneutic circle: interpreting the parts/words in the light of the whole and the whole in the light of the parts/words[17]—just as the ancient poet said, “The unfolding of your words gives light” and understanding of the whole to those who listen carefully and do not speak prematurely “of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know,” just as Job learned (Job 42:3).


Yet, this counteracting hermeneutic practice continues to be a critical issue. When theology does not listen to the words of Scripture in the relational context and process constituting the relational epistemic process, then theology assumes an interpretive framework to engage a limiting epistemic process that leaves theology on its own to speak prematurely “of things it did not understand, things too wonderful for it to know on its own.” This condition of theology in its actual function also directs us away from and not toward the whole. This epistemic view of God only functions to limit or even prevent the understanding of God’s whole on God’s terms, that which is necessary for us to rise above epistemological illusion and be whole, and to be transformed from ontological simulation and live whole. This reductionist direction is further illustrated in evangelical theology, despite its doctrine of the authority of Scripture and emphasis on the gospel of salvation—by those known as “people of the Book”, who apparently often lack the whole Christology of the Word, which this study will unfold in Jesus’ story.

The issue for evangelical theology is certainly not the place of the Bible but rather the more subtle distinction of the function of the Bible, that is, in what God defines these words to be and how God determines these words to serve. From a theological perspective, Kevin Vanhoozer defines “the most important fact about the Bible is that it is the voice of God addressing the people of God. …The Bible is simultaneously an instrument of divine action.”[18] He goes on to identify the prime hermeneutical imperative of simply letting God’s Word accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. Divine action is certainly theological but it is not the action of systematic theology, propositionalist theology, doctrine, much less philosophical theology. Divine action is communicative action composing the whole of God’s relational context and process for the primacy of reciprocal relationship together to be whole. What is primary to God is nothing less, thus irreducible, and no substitutes, thus nonnegotiable. All else is secondary to God. Therefore, the communicative action of God’s words and terms cannot be muted by the voice-over of human words and terms.


In contrast to what is primary to God, the burden of evangelical theology is having taken on the weight of secondary matters, not unimportant yet not as important to God—for example, the certainty issues of doctrine, a systematic theology, the integrity of a propositional theology of the Bible, a detailed exegesis of the biblical text for information, and issues related to the Rule of Faith. Theological and biblical scholarship, however, are relevant only when they say something significant about what is primary as defined by God. Setting aside for the moment our quest for certainty and related fear, the underlying quest for self-determination and its conjoint search for identity, what emerges about the primary for God is only and always about being whole in relationship together, in ongoing conflict with the sin of reductionism. ‘Nothing less and no substitutes’ is not a concept but the relational dynamic by which the whole of God is vulnerably present and intimately involved for the basis (hypostasis) and evidence (elenchos) necessary for the reciprocal relational response of faith (Heb 11:1) in the relationships together necessary to be the whole of God’s family (Heb 11:39). This relational outcome is the primacy of God’s whole on God’s terms, which Paul will make definitive as his story unfolds and makes whole the words of God (Col 1:25).


What is primary to God challenges our view of the gospel and necessarily takes it to the depths of relationship when our gospel is not whole. What is primary to God, and thus to the gospel, is often unintentionally reprioritized to a secondary place (e.g. saved from sin is usually emphasized over saved to whole relationship together), and/or unknowingly reshaped to a reduced meaning preoccupied by human terms attending to secondary matters. The latter is illustrated by the loss of God’s presence, not theologically speaking but functionally in our practice, such that even the theological task and biblical exegesis are engaged with relational detachment or distance, whether for personal comfort or due to a quantitative framework from outer in and, per McGilchrist, the dominance of our left brain hemisphere. The implication, of course, is not being involved in the relational context and process necessary for the relational epistemic process to know God. It is certainly discomforting to interact relationally with the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of the whole of Jesus (the pleroma of God) face to face, just as Paul experienced on the Damascus road and Peter resisted in Jesus’ footwashing (Jn 13:6-8). We cannot deny the benefit of focusing on secondary matter in order to maintain relational distance; but we have to account for its relational consequence on our theology, our gospel and our faith. This burden of evangelical theology is better rendered as a substitute, if not an excuse, for the primacy of whole relationship together, both with the whole of God and with the whole of God’s family, thereby exposing its underlying human shaping of relationships. Until this burden, substitute, excuse and its human shaping of relationships are redeemed, its practice will continue in a counteractive dynamic preventing the whole.


One of the ironies of focusing on Jesus is the susceptibility of our focus becoming imbalanced. This can be the view we often receive from the Synoptic Gospel narratives, but not the view of Jesus that John’s Gospel paints. If we are predisposed in our view of Jesus, even though the Gospel of John focuses on the Word in the beginning, it would be easy to overlook the whole picture he provides and maintain a christocentric picture in unity with the other Gospels. Yet, this neither accounts for the cosmology integral to Jesus’ story nor accounts for Jesus’ disclosure of the whole of God, notably of the Father (Jn 1:18; 5:19; 7:16; 10:38; 12:45; 14:9-11, 20; 17:21). An overly christocentric focus is theologically inadequate to account for the whole picture: the whole of God in trinitarian theology; God’s self-disclosure in Scripture for its whole (not a mere unity) in biblical theology; the triune God’s thematic relational action in creation for both a whole cosmology and theological anthropology; and the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition in the whole (not truncated) of soteriology; and thus the whole gospel, not only with the incarnation but from the beginning. As will unfold in this study of Jesus’ story, the complete Christology is not christocentric but theocentric, whole monotheism as Paul learned. An incomplete Christology, however christocentric, prevents the whole, the whole ontology and function of God and of those ‘in Christ’. These are theological issues which elude our awareness when our systematic or biblical theology and doctrine appear to have certainty; yet, the narrowness often associated with this certainty is also not as apparent, which likely points to the shortsighted limits of our interpretive lens or perhaps even speaks to the dominance of our brain’s left hemisphere.


The need for certainty in doctrine, notably among evangelicals influenced by modernism’s scientific paradigm of foundationalism or by postmodernism’s rejection of any metanarrative, has often been driven by fear in its quest for self-determination in a surrounding context which is, at best, adversarial and, more likely, hostile and in reductionist conflict with the whole of God. Yet, we must not allow our identity to be defined by their values and determined by their measures (metron). This need, quest and related fear have narrowed the vision of theology, which has constrained the Word from God to speak for himself. The consequence of this on human identity has been immeasurable, other than to say that the identity is less than whole. The identity of who and what we are, and the necessary theological anthropology implicit to it, is not only rooted in the beginning with the Word but also constituted in the innermost by this Word from the beginning in order to be whole. Therefore, human identity is both inseparable from the Word in the beginning and contingent on the Word from outside the universe from the beginning. All other words in the search for identity in its innermost are the human shaping and construction from reductionism, which has been working against the whole also from the beginning (Gen 3:1-7). These beginnings are necessary to understand because they are basic to who and what are whole, God’s whole only on God’s terms.


A history of human shaping and construction has evolved ‘in front of’, ‘within’ and ‘behind’ the text of the words from the mouth of the God outside the universe, resulting in fragmentary systematic theologies and incomplete biblical theologies assuming to answer what holds the world together in its innermost. The epistemological challenge facing this condition is the absence of the whole; the functional challenge is the loss of wholeness. Unless theology, along with philosophy and science, can meet these challenges, it is rendered insignificant at best and counteracting the whole at worst, thereby reflecting, reinforcing or sustaining the human condition without understanding the depth of response composed by the gospel.

The ongoing concern in God’s self-revelation is always for the human condition ‘to be apart’ from the whole; and the communicative action of the Word always defines the whole as God’s whole only on God’s terms; and the thematic relational action of the Word, namely the relational response of the embodied Word, always determined what is necessary for this wholeness, and therefore is solely for the relationships together necessary to be God’s relational whole on God’s qualitative relational terms. If we do not understand God’s concern, we will not adequately listen to what the Word defines. If we don’t fully listen to what the Word defines, we will neither have whole knowledge of who came nor have whole understanding of what has come to determine the wholeness of human ontology and function.



The Nature of the Message (in “the unfolding of your words”)


When we focus on listening to the words in language, we may or may not be focused on communication from another. Words in referential language are commonly what we use to transmit information to talk about something and to express how well we can talk about it, notably to explain it. It can also be about someone, such as God, in our discourse. Yet that other being remains impersonal if the focus is not on communication; the focus on words in referential language becomes an I/we-it relation rather than the I/we-you relationship involving communication. In referential language the other is just an object while in relational language the other is always a subject. This distinction is critical for determining the message unfolding in the words in and from the beginning.


“In the beginning” (re'siyt, Gen 1:1; arche, Jn 1:1) are words which can denote first as to time, place, order or in terms of leadership; the starting point or cause of something commencing. Are these just words in referential language to transmit information, or is this communication from the Other outside the universe—perhaps both? The primacy of the latter can include secondary aspects of the former. Primacy given to the former, however, is incompatible with the latter and thus does not lead to the primacy of communication in relationship; moreover, it remains fragmentary—whatever its assumed precision, consistency and certainty—unable to be whole.

There are two major ways to understand “in the beginning”: (1) in the context of time and space, is ‘the beginning of time’; and, (2), within but not limited to the time-space context, is ‘the starting point of relationship’. These views are not mutually exclusive, yet how they overlap can redefine the message in these words. Traditionally, the first interpretation tends not to include the full significance of the second, even though creation may be affirmed and the Creator acknowledged. “In the beginning,” however, “was the Word” in person just to communicate, not words in referential language to transmit information. A traditional interpretation is theologically distorted because it, first, reduces the qualitative whole (including the cosmos and all things in the universe) constituted by the Creator to only quantitative terms, and as a result, secondly, diminishes the relational significance of what the Creator created. Rather, in these words with the Word, God communicated a definitive statement of God’s communicative action as Subject—in contrast to merely transmitting information as Object observed—that can only be fully understood as relational work, that which synthesizes the creative work. This relational work does not render the physical universe (or material) as bad or diminish its significance but provides the whole understanding and meaning for what holds it together in its innermost.

What is the nature of the message God communicated with the Word? The definitive nature of the message unfolding with the Word in and from the beginning is (1) cosmological, (2) relational, and (3) whole:


1. Cosmological

As John’s Gospel records (Jn 1:1-4) and Paul affirms (Col 1:16-17), the source of the Word was conjointly from outside the universe and the source of the universe’s creation (Jn 1:10,18; 3:19). This cosmology is integral to the full identity of the Word and the quality and depth of the creative action communicated by the Word—whose dynamic context and process are unfolding from this source (notably recorded in the Gospel of Jn 1:4-5, 10-11,14,18; 3:19). This beginning is vital for understanding what unfolds.


Given the source, the Word cannot be reduced to be defined or determined in any manner by anything in the universe. If it were, this would result in the following: The Word is part of the universe itself; or diminished to some aspect (e.g. category, order, species) of creation, even created itself; or otherwise anthropomorphized in human terms. The parameters of the universe can only narrow the perception of reality outside the universe, which would constrain God in a box of human shaping and construction. Any of these reductions is consequential for the unfolding of the Word, reducing the qualitative depth and significance of the message that we call the gospel. Moreover, given the source, it is only the Word in the beginning that defines and determines the universe and all in it, that is, only on God’s terms and not on human terms. The cosmological nature of this message unfolding with the Word necessitates our epistemic humility and requires our ontological deference.


Therefore, only on this basis does the message of what unfolds and why become definitive. What the Creator created and why are understood not by the mere transmission of information by the Word in the beginning but only as the cosmological source of the message in integrated communicative-creative action as Subject for the primacy of relationship together. This integrally integrated dynamic constitutes the relational nature of the message unfolding with the Word.


2. Relational

What the Creator created and why emerged in the beginning only as ‘the starting point of relationship’; therefore the what and why are inseparable from the communicative action that unfolds with the Word. The relational nature of the Word ongoingly engages in communicative action, not in the transmission of information. In further and deeper unfolding of this relational dynamic, the Word embodied this relational communication in the vulnerable self-disclosures of the whole of God (Jn 17:4, 6-8; Col 1:19; 2:9). In his crucial prayer-communication to the Father, what the Son completed (teleioo) in revealing God was not to merely exhibit God for observation in order to have some information or knowledge about God; that quantitative revelation is signified by the word apokalypto, which only refers to the object revealed. The Son, however, vulnerably phaneroo the Father, that is, more deeply “disclosed you to those whom you gave me”—referring specifically to those to whom the revelation is made in this relational context and process. Phaneroo signifies the further and deeper unfolding of the Word for the sole purpose of relationship together. Therefore, the nature of the message unfolding with the Word is always relational: “who came from the Father…” (Jn 1:14, NIV), “who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18), “God so loved…gave his Son…send the Son” (Jn 3:16-17), “I am…to the Father” (Jn 14:6), “…they may know you…” (Jn 17:3), “I have made your name known to them…so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17:26), “…what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17), “Let the word of Christ dwell in you” (Col 3:16), “Listen! I am standing at the door of your heart, knocking; if you hear my voice and respond to me, I will come in to you for reciprocal relationship together” (Rev 3:20).


Our understanding of the message unfolding with the Word from the beginning does not emerge from the textual words in referential language. This is not merely having referential knowledge and information about God but critically involves the distinguished process of wholly knowing God, which is only the relational outcome of deep involvement in relationship together as Jesus’ prayer above makes definitive (notably of eternal life, Jn 17:3). Therefore, communication from the Word is composed by the primacy of relational language and only secondarily by referential language. The significance of relational language defines, on the one hand, the qualitative ontology, relational nature and vulnerable function of the Word (signifying his glory, Jn 1:14) and, on the other, defines what was created and why. To define these secondarily by only referential language immediately diminishes what was created and minimalizes why, along with fragmenting the Word who created in the image and likeness of the whole of God. That is to say, referential language essentially disembodies the Word unfolding from the ontological Source in the beginning and the relational nature from the beginning, thereby fragmenting the Word, for example, to teachings and then further disembodied into doctrines. Though the teaching and doctrine are about the Word, their referential language no longer embodies the Word for the primacy of relationship together. The implication is that the secondary becomes primary, which in actual practice favors human terms more than God’s relational terms. The relational consequence is relational distance that diminishes, prevents or even precludes the involvement necessary for qualitative relationship—the relational distance demonstrated in epistemic, exegetical, theological and discipleship activities both in church and academy.[19]


The reality is compelling, despite not prevailing: we cannot substitute referential language for relational language and have the relational outcome of intimate relationship together. Even neuroscience recognizes the limits and consequences of referential language with the development of prose, in contrast to qualitative communication expressed in poetry, singing and music—all of which predate prose in the development of communication.[20] Does this speak to the prominence of poetic style in significant portions of Scripture?


Basic to this relational language—implied in all communication, verbal and nonverbal, even during transmission with referential language—is imparting three relational messages implicit to what is communicated by sounds, gestures or words. These relational messages need to be distinguished for deeper understanding of the message communicated. All communication has not only a content aspect but also a relational aspect that helps us understand the significance of the content of communication. In these relational messages, which are usually implied, a person conveys to others one or all of the following messages:


  1. Something about one’s self, for example, how one sees, defines, or feels about oneself; Jesus’ call to “Follow me” implies about his self that his whole person is vulnerably present and intimately involved, and is not about his teaching and example.

  2. Something about one’s view of the other(s), for example, how one sees, defines or feels about them; you “follow me” implies that also your whole person is important, not what you have in resources or can do in service or mission as a disciple.

  3. Something about their relationship together, for example, in what way one defines the relationship or what it means to that person; you “follow me” in relationship together implies about this relationship that it is very important to “me”, and is the primary priority over serving.


These relational messages are vital to distinguish because they qualify the content aspect of all communication. The content alone of the words “follow me” easily become redefined by our terms, as demonstrated by prevailing inadequate interpretations for discipleship. Words by themselves, apart from the context of relational messages (e.g. tone of voice, look on one’s face, face to face or looking away), have less meaning, perhaps no meaning, or may even mean the opposite. As these relational messages are received and understood from the person communicating, there is a deeper basis for knowing that person and a fuller understanding of how to respond back.[21] The significance of this relational language is found no more conclusively than in the Word’s likely most compelling communication to us: “Follow me.” And this study can be defined essentially as the unfolding of these relational words, which Paul hears not in referential content but in the distinguished relational messages from the Word.


The relational language of the Word is further composed of these three relational messages which integrally qualify the self-disclosures of the whole of God and help bring to light the needed understanding of God’s whole thematic relational response to the human condition unfolding with the Word. Besides within the surrounding context, the deeper significance of the Word’s words emerges in the relational context of understanding what the Word says of himself, or about other(s) or the relationship together, implied in his communication. The relational nature of the language and the messages from the whole Word are irreducible and nonnegotiable for the relational outcome constituted by the Word, in and from the beginning, of the relationships together necessary to be whole, God’s relational whole only on God’s relational terms. This relational dynamic from outside the universe is vulnerably present and relationally involved with the unfolding of the Word to define and determine the whole nature of his message in the gospel—the whole of Who and which Paul hears from inner out, relationally receives and vulnerably responds to.


3. Whole

When physicist Stephen Hawking gave up his quest to discover a grand unifying theory (GUT), he correctly concluded that human shaping and construction can only be self-referencing, and therefore inconsistent and incomplete. Only a view from outside the universe could speak of the whole in the innermost. This would appear to provide those who affirm God’s revelation the view necessary for the whole in order to be whole and live whole. Yet, this wholeness is neither the theology of the Word and related theological anthropology nor their correlated practice which prevails in the church and academy today. This absence or lack continues to demonstrate the pervasive influence of reductionism and its counter-relational work in understanding the unfolding of the Word in the beginning and his relational work from the beginning. In other words, this is an absence or lack to listen to the message of the whole gospel, which exposes the presence of gospel substitutes from our human shaping and construction (cf. Paul’s situation and claim, Gal 1:6-7, 11-12).


The relational dynamic from outside the universe does not emerge with referential language but only in the relational language of the Word for ‘the starting point of relationship’. The unfolding of this relational dynamic embodied nothing less than the whole of the Word, whom Paul later made definitive theologically as ‘the pleroma (fullness, complete, whole) of God’ vulnerably self-disclosed (Col 1:19; 2:9). Nothing less than the whole of God emerged from outside the universe and was embodied in the Word to be vulnerably present and relationally involved with us, without any substitute of his wholeness. ‘Nothing less and no substitutes’ is critical for understanding the whole of God emerging from outside the universe in the beginning and this whole embodied in the person of Jesus. Any fragmentation of the whole of God and Jesus—for example, by referential language transmitting only information about God—not only reduces the ontology and function of God but also redefines what creator God created and why. This is critically consequential for both an incomplete theology of God (particularly Christology) and for an insufficient theological anthropology; theology that essentially becomes self-referencing and thus inconsistent and incomplete, that is fragmentary and consequently unable to be whole much less live whole. What defines our ontology and determines our function either emerge from the whole ontology and function of God, or are defined and determined by human shaping and construction, even with theological certainty and the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion advanced by it.


The whole nature of the message unfolding with the Word is indispensable for our understanding of what we receive, believe and proclaim to be the gospel. Yet, this gospel is also fragmentary if it begins belatedly with the incarnation of the Word—rendered to an incomplete Christology and truncated soteriology in contrast to Jesus and in conflict with Paul, including an immature pneumatology and a renegotiated ecclesiology in contrast to Paul and in conflict with Jesus. This points ahead in our study to Paul’s ongoing engagement in his conjoint fight for the whole gospel and against reductionism of it.


Definitively what was created and why are contingent on the whole ontology and function of God, and therefore of the Word in the beginning, in whose image human being is created to be whole and in whose likeness all human ontology and function are created to live whole—to be and live whole together in relationship with the whole of God and God’s creation (Gen 2:18,25). The whole was not a product of some dialectic or abstract process; it was the relational outcome in the beginning of the whole of God’s communicative-creative action. The whole emerged only with the Whole from outside the universe to constitute the whole of the universe and all in it in the innermost. Moreover, the Whole does not become the universe (pantheism), nor is the universe all there is of the Whole (panentheism). The whole of God remains distinguished outside the universe and in the Whole’s likeness distinguishes the universe in the innermost to be whole. Though this wholeness was the reality in the beginning, reductionism fragmented the whole of human ontology and function and creation (Gen 3:7,10,17; cf. Rom 8:19-21). The good news, however, is the deeper unfolding of the Word to give the light to the innermost necessary to be whole.


Yet the whole gospel emerges from the beginning. ‘In the beginning’ put into motion the relational dynamic of the thematic relational action of the whole of God, whose relational response of grace unfolds from this ‘starting point of relationship’. To fast forward, the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace was enacted ongoingly throughout the OT to converge in the embodying of the Word in order to be fully disclosed and fulfilled. The integral relational work of the Word of God that unfolded in the incarnation must be contextualized from the beginning to fully understand the whole of God’s (and Jesus’) relational work composing the gospel.


Paul later defines the gospel as “the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15), that is, “the peace of God” (Phil 4:7) and “the peace of Christ” (Col 3:15) from “the God of peace” (1 Thes 5:23; 2 Cor 13:11; Rom 15:33; 16:20; Phil 4:9) and “the Lord of peace” (2 Thes 3:16). Yet Paul, both Jew and Roman citizen, did not use the Greek idea of peace (and its negative notions, e.g. the absence of war, conflict, or avoiding contention) but the Hebrew understanding rooted in wholeness (shalom). For Paul, the gospel was the good news of wholeness rooted in the beginning of creation by the whole of God’s thematic relational action and after creation with God’s ongoing relational response of grace to the human condition apart from the whole (cf. Gen 2:18; 3:10). The gospel of wholeness unfolded after creation when tamiym reemerged with Noah (Gen 6:9) and was established with Abram in covenant relationship together (Gen 17:1-2). Tamiym can be rendered in negative terms as “blameless” or in positive terms as “complete” and “whole”. Tamiym is inseparable from shalom and by their nature they must be integrated, yet not in the incomplete sense of being irenic and without blame. Tamiym is certainly by necessity contrary to the sin of reductionism in all its forms but only because of its condition of shalom and therefore to be and live whole (cf. Dt 18:9-13). The ‘wholeness’ of shalom constitutes God’s relational response and its relational outcome, and ‘to be and live whole’ of tamiym constitutes the reciprocal relational response to and experience of God’s relational action. This wholeness and being whole emerge only from the relational response and outcome of the definitive blessing that God initiated from the beginning and ongoingly enacts: “…make his face shine on you and relationally respond in grace to you…and (siym) bring change and establish the new relationship necessary together for wholeness” (Num 6:24-26; cf. Ps 119:1).


The relational dynamic to bring change and establish whole relationship together was vulnerably embodied by Jesus, the Word unfolding, to intimately disclose (phaneroo, not merely apokalypto) the whole of God to completely fulfill God’s thematic relational response from ‘the starting point of relationship’. This is light unfolding in the Word: in the beginning, being the whole of God (Col 1:19; 2:9); relationally fulfilling “the light of the whole gospel” from the beginning and vulnerably embodying the whole of “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4-6); who has “turned his face to you” to live whole in the world and make whole the human condition (Jn 14:27; 16:33; Col 1:20; 2:10; 3:15; Eph 2:14; 6:15)—just as the gospel of wholeness was definitively enacted from the beginning (Num 6:26).


This is the whole gospel composed by the Word in the qualitative significance of relational language. And the gospel of wholeness, unfolded with the Word by its cosmological nature in the beginning and by its relational nature from the beginning, emerges whole only in this relational language; nothing less and no substitute can be definitive of the relational message that the whole of God communicated with the Word. Referential language, and its reliance on quantitative words to transmit information, is incapable of communicating the relational language of the Word and is deficient in accounting for the Word’s relational work. Furthermore, referential language is rendered impotent for the qualitative-relational significance necessarily involved in the whole of God’s definitive blessing to bring change and establish the new relationship together of wholeness; perhaps these referential words serve a benedictory function but without relational significance. As discussed earlier, referential language is fragmentary and disembodies the Word into parts (e.g. teachings, doctrine), which it attempts to aggregate into some unity or whole (e.g. in a systematic or biblical theology). This fragmentation and disembodiment are further evident in textual criticism (historical, form, literary), which embeds us in the secondary without understanding the primary (as defined by God). For George Steiner, this secondary critical reflection is the interpretive crisis that results in the loss of God’s presence—a condition he identifies as ‘a Secondary City’.[22] More critically, the use of referential language in the quest for certainty (e.g. in foundationalism and philosophical theology), which presumably would more accurately describe and represent the Word (e.g. in propositionalism and criticism), cannot be more than self-referencing, inconsistent and incomplete; that is, this is the consequence once it disembodies the Word and hence disengages from the Word’s relational context and process vulnerably disclosing the whole of God.

A qualifying note is necessary for the further distinction between referential language and relational language. The depth of relational language also includes propositions in the communication of vulnerable self-disclosure. Such propositions, however, are only for the qualitative significance of relationship together, not for mere quantitative knowledge and information. Therefore, in contrast to their use with referential language, these propositions must not by their nature in communication be reduced from this primary relational context and process, fragmented from the communication in relationship, and disembodied from the communicator, the Word. The primacy of relational language that qualifies the presence of propositions in communication clearly is heard in Jesus’ “I am” statements (e.g. Jn 6:35; 8:12; 10:7,11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1), which Paul heard, received and responded to only in relational terms (Acts 9:5).


Essentially, it can be said that referential language was not “designed” for the further development of qualitative communication in relationship but in reality went in the opposite direction which takes us away from qualitative relational connection. Historically, the referential language of prose evolved after poetry, and early poetry was sung, the qualitative significance of which was basic to communication in relationship and not the mere transmission of information.[23] This speaks further to the significance that many portions of the canonical Word are poetry; communication is the key, not transmitting information, which in the Bible singing and music also constitute in the innermost (e.g. Judg 5:3; Ps 27:7; 30:12; 108:1; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). This raises the issue of the effectiveness of prose in theological discourse. Perhaps contrary to Steiner’s own use of prosaic language, he states the following conviction:


It is, I believe, poetry, art and music which relate us most directly to that in being which is not ours. Science is no less animate in its making of models and images. But these are not, finally, disinterested. They aim at mastery, at ownership. It is counter-creation and counter-love, as these are embodied in the aesthetic and in our reception of formed meaning, which put us in sane touch with that which transcends, with matters ‘undreamt of’ in our materiality. …All good art and literature begin in immanence. But they do not stop there. Which is to say, very plainly, that it is the enterprise and privilege of the aesthetic to quicken into lit presence the continuum between temporality and eternity, between matter and spirit, between man and ‘the other’.[24]


While Steiner rightly identifies poetry and music as a qualitative link to the other beyond our being, he only appears to make discourse about this being without the relational connection constituted by communication. McGilchrist further identifies this difference in the qualitative use of words with music and poetry only for communication, which he locates in the function of the right brain hemisphere. This qualitative function of the right hemisphere, and its related view of the world, is in contrast to the quantitative reduction of words to the referential language of prose by the left hemisphere for its function not of communication in relationship but to merely make discourse about something.[25] This critical difference between discourse about the Word or from the Word of God to transmit information, and the qualitative communication by the Word in relationship is not the gap of Lessing’s ‘ugly broad ditch’ but rather the relational distance Jesus made definitive in Luke 10:21 for the presence or absence of the communicative God in relationship.


The message of the Word illuminated in and from the beginning is directly relational and qualitatively whole, clearly nothing less and no substitutes. Therefore, Jesus, the Word unfolded giving light and imparting whole understanding, is the beginning (arche) of creation (Rev 3:14) and the author (archegos) of life (Acts 3:15), of salvation (Heb 2:10) and of faith (Heb 12:2)—all of which Paul made conclusive as “the word of Christ,” that is, as communication in relationship, not as a set of propositions in a belief system (Rom 10:17; Col 3:16). The pleroma of God is the only whole and source of wholeness in the innermost (Col 1:19-20; 2:9-10), which Paul made the ongoing imperative to define and determine (brabeuo) our ontology and function from inner out, both as persons and persons together collectively (Col 3:15). This wholeness that Paul made the defining determinant for our life and practice is not a static condition but the relational dynamic composed by the communicative “word of Christ” (Col 3:16). This is the relational context and process of the Word in which Paul prays for the church for its deeper relational involvement and experience with the pleroma of God (Eph 3:16-19). His prayer echoes the relational significance of Jesus’ crucial prayer for his family’s relationships together to be whole—“one…”, not fragmented, separated, or broken, but only whole in likeness of the whole of God (Jn 17:20-26). Any human shaping or construction of these primary areas above constituted by the Word are only the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of reductionism and can never be whole, God’s whole from inner out.


This gospel of wholeness is the integral relational response to the human condition that the embodied Word fulfilled and that the word of God completed by Paul with the Spirit (Col 1:25) distinguished for the relational outcome of wholeness ‘already’ in relational progression to the relational conclusion ‘not yet’. The integrating relational dynamic of God’s words unfolding from the beginning is the whole outworking of God’s definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26) to make whole the human condition and to fulfill in whole the inherent human relational need, as initially responded to at creation (Gen 2:18). This is the relational dynamic of the whole of God in Jesus, whose vulnerable presence and relational involvement extended into Paul for the embodying of the theology and hermeneutic of the whole gospel.


In the process unfolding in this study—a further and deeper extension of my separate studies of Jesus and Paul (noted earlier)—hopefully Jesus and Paul clearly speak for themselves without the influence of reductionism. Both of them necessitate nothing less and no substitutes, not out of duty or obligation but by their nature to be whole. Along with the question of Goethe’s Faust at the beginning, this raises questions which need to be addressed. Questions such as the following: Who is this Jesus, not only historically and epistemologically but most important relationally, which Paul also raised on the Damascus road?; What is the identity of God and God’s nature unfolded with the Word—theism, monotheism, trinitarianism?; What is the ontology and function of human being and persons in the image of God?; What does it mean to be whole (including the cosmos and all things in the universe), God’s whole on God’s terms?; What then is the gospel and its relational outcome?; and thus What is reductionism? These, and related questions (including those asked by God) and issues, are integral to this study. And, as begun already, they will be addressed, if not fully answered and responded to, without concern for maintaining any existing discipline boundaries between theology and biblical studies and even between OT and NT in order to not become fragmentary in the relational process to the whole.


As the ancient poet communicated in song to the God from outside the universe, present and involved: “Let your face shine upon your children” (Ps 31:16). In God’s blessing enacted, let the Word unfolding communicate, and may we listen.





[1] Unless indicated, all Scripture is from the NRSV; any italics in Scripture throughout this study signify emphasis or further rendering of terms.

[2] For an overview discussion of this activity, see Hans Küng, The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

[3] Quoted and discussed in Küng, 15-24.

[4] See physicist Steve Giddings, “The physics we don’t know”, op-ed, Los Angeles Times, Jan 5, 2010.

[5] Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

[6] Reference: (Christology Study, 2008) and (Paul Study, 2010), online at http://www.4X12.org.

[7] It would also appear to be a shift from the left brain hemisphere to the right hemisphere, as McGilchrist defines their functions, which can be threatening for both the science community and the theological academy.

[8] Summarized by Brian Davies, “Simplicity” in Charles Taliaferro and Chad Meister, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 31-45.

[9] Colin E. Gunton engages this philosophical discussion to refocus theology in a positive direction in Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).

[10] Küng, 43-53.

[11] A descriptive overview of this work, in interaction with systematic theology, is found in Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?: Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

[12] McGilchrist locates this shift in the prevailing activity of the left brain hemisphere and its dominance in shaping the modern world. The Master and His Emissary.

[13] McGilchrist, 79-83.

[14] Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011).

[15] Greek and Hebrew word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laid Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); Harold K. Moulton, ed., The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).

[16] This is witnessed in the increasing medicalization of life from the womb to death where the medical condition of persons is being overly diagnosed with subsequent unnecessary intervention and treatment, which may result in more harm than benefit.

[17] Nicholas Wolterstorff, “The Promise of Speech-act Theory for Biblical Interpretation” in Craig Bartholomew, Colin Greene, Karl Moller, eds., After Pentecost: Language and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 73-90.

[18] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “The Voice and the Actor: A Dramatic Proposal about the Ministry and Minstrelsy of Theology” in John G. Stackhouse, Jr., ed., Evangelical Futures: A Conversation on Theological Method (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 71.

[19] Decades ago, Helmut Thielicke tried to make the same point to his students: “The man who studies theology…might watch carefully whether he increasingly does not think in the third rather that in the second person. …Consider that the first time someone spoke of God in the third person and therefore no longer with God but about God was that very moment when the question resounded, ‘Did God really say?’ (cf. Genesis 3:1). This fact ought to make us think.” A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 33-34.

[20] See McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary, 94-132.

[21] The conceptual dynamics of human communication are discussed in a classic study by Paul Watzlawick, Janet Helmick Beavin, Don D. Jackson, Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967).

[22] George Steiner, Real Presences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

[23] See Oliver Sacks for a discussion on perfect pitch, tonal communication and protolanguage, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brian (New York: Vintage Books, 2008); see also Edward Foley, From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1991), 9.

[24] Steiner, Real Presences, 226-27.

[25] McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary, 105.



©2012 T. Dave Matsuo

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