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Jesus into Paul

Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel


Chapter  2                The Face




The Challenge of and for Face

The Embodied Face

The Distinguished Face

Turn from Face

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



Pay attention to what you hear;

the measure you give will be the measure you get.


Mark 4:24


Did God really say that?

Genesis 3:1 (NIV)



The challenge at the end of the previous chapter to ‘let the Word communicate and listen’ continues throughout this study. Yet, letting Jesus and Paul speak for themselves, much less listen to them, is not a simple choice to make—particularly if McGilchrist is correct that the left brain hemisphere does indeed exert dominance in our modern context (noted in chap. 1) and, more importantly, if the human shaping of relationships prevails.


For many engaged in scholarship, the integration of Jesus and Paul is possible with only various parts of them, and a synthesis is out of the question or beyond human reasoning. When some persons talk about Jesus and Paul in the same sentence, they are able to voice a consistent harmony without any dissonance, that is, as far as harmony goes. For others, while Jesus and Paul provide an agreeable flavor in their mouths, the taste is more bittersweet for them, and as a result what comes out of their mouths is unclear or ambiguous, perhaps inconsistent. Still others have difficulty keeping Jesus and Paul in harmony, consequently voicing dissonant speech, with even others unable to relate Jesus and Paul in compatible discourse congruent with their confession of faith.[1] In this cacophony of voices, will we be able to listen to Jesus and Paul, and can we let their own persons speak for themselves? This requires an openness by listeners, even, certainly, to listen to matters we may not want to hear or that even conflict with us. This is the challenge of this study, which I engage with the Spirit in the relational epistemic process—in that relational context which was embodied by Jesus and extended by Paul.



The Challenge of and for Face


To meet this challenge our “ears” have to have priority over our “mouths.” As the Father made imperative, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him” (Mk 9:7); and as Jesus made imperative for his followers: “Then pay attention to how you listen” (Lk 8:18), and “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mk 4:24). In other words, it is imperative to listen before we speak, giving priority to the sounds from Subject-Other, which is a necessary relational dynamic in all communication; unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, this dynamic has been reworked in the human condition. Quietly, for example, ‘method’ in scholarship imposes concepts on what we seek to know, giving priority to its own perception (view of Other), thus it essentially speaks before it listens.


Furthermore, in this epistemic process our “eyes” are even a higher priority than our “ears” and must antecede both our “mouths and “ears” as the determinant for their function; this was the lesson Job deeply experienced (Job 42:3-5). This has less to do with the function of sight and critically involves how and what we see. When Jesus defines “the measure” (metron, metreo) used above, he identifies his followers’ perceptual-interpretive framework and lens, which determines what we will pay attention to and ignore and, therefore, what we see, hear and listen to. That is, to listen carefully and to understand what Jesus says, we not only need to understand the horizon of where Jesus is coming from, but we also need to account in this process for the horizon of where we are coming from—and the defining and determining influence our own context may exert as it converges with Jesus’ context.[2] Without knowing our own horizon and its influence on the framework and lens we use, we cannot listen to Jesus and Paul to speak for themselves on their own terms. ‘Method’, as noted above, signifies a generalizing bias of rationalizing from a scientific paradigm rooted in the Enlightenment, which reduces reality by narrowing down the epistemic field for better explanation. This modernist framework “speaks” before it listens, thereby defining the terms which determine the outcomes.


As these two horizons converge, the primary determinant of how the words communicated are to be understood for the listener/reader must always come from the context of the speaker. Certainly, some secondary influence still remains from the listener’s side. Yet, in the relational epistemic process the hermeneutical dynamic involves successive interactions between listener and speaker, reader and text, in the reflexive process of a ‘hermeneutical cone’[3] for further and deeper understanding. Throughout the process, however, the speaker’s context emerges as the primary determinant without negotiation with the listener’s side. And Jesus’ context cannot be limited to historical human contextualization but needs to include “in the beginning” and his relational context from outside the universe. His horizon is both nonnegotiable to human terms and irreducible to human shaping and construction.


In his imperative for his followers, Jesus makes it clearly definitive: our perceptual-interpretive framework and lens will define our reality and determine how we function in our life (“the measure you give”); on this basis alone, we should not expect to experience anything more or less (“the measure you get”), notably in relationship together. Implied further in his words, Jesus defined the outcome of a qualitative perceptual-interpretive framework and the consequence of a quantitative perceptual-interpretive framework, both of which are directly correlated to the epistemic process: “For to those who have a qualitative framework and lens, more will be given; from those who have nothing, that is, no qualitative framework and lens, even what they have from a quantitative framework will be taken away or rendered insignificant” (Mk 4:25). Yet, the measure we use has more than epistemological consequences.


A quantitative framework shapes our theological anthropology to define the human person from outer in, based notably on what the person does and/or has. On the basis of this self-definition, this is how that person defines others, which then determines how relationships are engaged, both with God and others. The consequence of this human-shaping dynamic is far-reaching to define the human condition and determine the human problem. This quantitative framework and lens, for example, creates a process of measurement in social context with others in comparison and competition with them for one’s self-determination (see Mt 6:1-8, 16-18) and self-justification (see Mt 7:1-5). Self-determination is never an individual action (or an individual group action) done in isolation from others (or other groups). Self-determination is a social phenomenon requiring a process of comparison to others to establish the standards of measuring success or failure in self-determination. Invariably, these comparative (and competitive) differences lead to “better” or “less” social position (historically, even ontological nature, as seen in racism), consequently the operation of stratified relationships together (formalized in systems of inequality). When relationships become separated, partitioned or fragmented, there is a basis of justification needed either to access a “better” position or to embed/maintain others in a “less” position. The pursuit of this basis is the effort for self-justification (by individual or group). That is to say, the effort for self-determination inevitably becomes the function in social context for self-justification; and the results of this effort invariably come at the expense of others, even unknowingly or inadvertently.


Jesus challenged these dynamics of reductionism, its counter-relational work and the functional workings of the sin of reductionism countering the whole of God’s desires—the human condition. Paul builds on Jesus’ words (1 Cor 4:6-7; 2 Cor 10:12) and extends them in the dynamics of the ecclesiology to be whole, which counters this reductionism (e.g. Eph 2:14-22; Gal 3:26-29). Therefore, our theological anthropology is critical for the theological process we engage and epistemic process we are involved in; our “eyes” by necessity antecede our “ears” in order to meet the challenge of our “mouth” to speak before it listens. And these issues are definitive for our ‘face’, the challenge of and for face that resolves one half of the relational equation needed to meet the challenge for the relational outcome of connection with the whole of God. What is the other half that is integral to our challenge for this relational outcome?

Theological interpretation correctly focuses on Scripture as communication, which helps put a face on those words in Scripture to hear as distinguished words from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3; Isa 40:5; 55:11; Mt 4:4). Yet it is insufficient to stop at communication because this communication is always in relationship—the relational function which should never be assumed, taken for granted or ignored. Relational messages (discussed in chap. 1), for example, are critical to understand since they provide deeper meaning to the content of the words communicated. This deeper meaning helps us interpret God’s relational intention for the words communicated, which is necessary to establish their full context for whole understanding. God’s communication always declares God’s relational nature, and this is enacted only in God’s relational context and process. Relationship, therefore, is not merely supplemental or supportive to the communication but primary for the communication. And what ‘face’ is put on the words of God determines what priority the relationship has. In terms of what ‘face’, it is critical to distinguish between anthropomorphisms in language about God (which result in allegorical interpretation) and the relational language of God. What appears as anthropomorphism in ‘the face of God’ is the relational language of God’s relational nature, who created human persons with ‘face’ in God’s likeness only for relationship together (intrinsic to Gen 2:18,25).


The Face in and from the beginning makes definitive both the distinguished relational context and relational process of God’s whole ontology and function. The Face is inseparable from God’s relational context and process, in which the Face functions integrally to establish the primacy of relationship. Without the functional reality of the Face, any relational context of God is ambiguous and thus any relational process with God is elusive. What makes God’s blessing definitive from the beginning is the Face (paneh, signifying God’s whole presence) “turning and shining on you” in this distinguished relational context and relational process (Num 6:24-26). The lack or absence of this functional reality renders this blessing merely to the transmission of information without the relational significance either from God or to those receiving the blessing (e.g. just a perfunctory benediction).


Furthermore, what ‘face’ is put on the words of God determines whether we are listening to referential language transmitting information merely about God or to relational language for us to deeply know God. The former, for example, only hears (sees) the Word as Object to be observed with measured engagement, that is, from a relational distance, perhaps with a certain ‘method’. The latter is the relational outcome of listening to the Word as Subject with immeasurable relational involvement ‘Face to face’ in the relational epistemic process. Face to face is the distinguished involvement required to listen to the words from God’s mouth within God’s relational context and process. This involvement was distinguished with Moses, with whom “I speak face to face” (idiomatic use of peh, lit. “mouth to mouth,” Num 12:8; Ex 33:11). This was also the deeper relational outcome of Job’s epistemic humility in the relational epistemic process when he listened to God communicate in relationship (Job 42:4).


Both Job and Moses were important antecedents for Paul’s Damascus road experience and subsequent transformation, providing his roots in the whole of God’s thematic relational response. Most significantly, this is the Face who confronted Paul on that road for his epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction, and the Face to whom Paul responded in the relational epistemic process (“Who are you, Lord?” Acts 9:5)—without his reductionist framework and lens—in order to listen to Jesus for the Face-to-face relational connection needed to be made whole. This is the Face that Paul, the learned Pharisee, certainly had information about from God’s definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26), but whom his own face apparently had long avoided in Face-to-face relationship to deeply know; his experience signified his own challenge of and for face. Even though Paul’s information about God from the Shema was correct in his monotheism, the Face challenged his monotheism, clarified it and deepened it beyond Paul’s reason and imagination. This did not change Paul from monotheism but changed his perceptual lens and interpretive framework to be qualitatively and relationally whole. This is the nature of the Face and ‘the challenge for face’ in his relational work; and this is the relational outcome of vulnerable involvement together Face to face. The Face turned to Paul and shined on him on the Damascus road to bring him the change needed for new relationship together Face to face with the whole of God and God’s whole. On this relational basis of Face to face, not on the basis of mere information (even if correct), the whole gospel for Paul embodied nothing less and no substitutes (Gal 1:11-12). Anything less and any substitutes for Paul was in reality “no gospel at all” (Gal 1:7, NIV).


Therefore, the Face is the other half completing the relational equation and is critical to the words of God from the beginning, notably in God’s definitive blessing. The Face makes this blessing definitive and composes it in communicative action for relationship together, not in referential language for information. Importantly, the Face is irreducible for the whole of God embodied by the Word unfolding now in the incarnation, yet necessarily even before the cross for the complete Christology. The Face is not only irreducible for embodiment but also embodiment is nonnegotiable for the Face. That is, not only is the Face’s embodied ontology irreducible to human shaping and construction, the Face’s embodied function is nonnegotiable to human terms, most notable in relationship. What ‘face’ is put on the Word is the critical challenge of face, which defines and determines what unfolds with the Word. Moreover, when the Face is allowed to embody the Word to speak for himself without human shaping or terms, the Face presents the critical challenge for face, our face in Face-to-face relationship.


This issue and its relational dynamic were demonstrated by two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32). Their trip on the third day after Jesus’ death was an exercise in disembodiment, which objectified the cross as event and thereby alienated these disciples’ connection or relatedness to the person of the cross, the Face—including disembodying his words as if without the Face. This was a hermeneutic impasse to the Face, creating the critical challenges both of face and for face. Of course, as the hermeneutical key, the Face’s appearance to the two on the road restored their connection, yet not metaphysically but to his embodied presence irreducible to their shaping and with his relational involvement nonnegotiable to their terms. What they experienced was relational and whole, not metaphysical: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us…?” Jesus did not use referential language to transmit information about himself to them; he talked (laleo) to them not focused on content but rather in relational language to communicate his relational messages for them to take into their whole person, not merely process in their mind. Their deep communion together was the relational outcome only from the Face’s integral embodied presence and relational involvement, which the disciples learned as the functional reality of nothing less and no substitutes.


This is the Face challenging our face in this study for Face-to-face involvement together in the relational epistemic process. The contrast, and even conflict, of this relational epistemic process Face to face with a conventional epistemic process is evidenced clearly by Jesus’ declaration for receiving God’s communication (Lk 10:21, discussed in chap. 1). In his declaration essentially of God’s relational nature, Jesus categorically distinguished the deeper epistemology of the relational epistemic process that goes beyond mere information about Jesus and God to deeply knowing Jesus and God from involvement in relationship together—the relational outcome Jesus’ prayer later made conclusive (Jn 17:26). This is the deeper level that the early disciples had yet to engage with Jesus (Jn 14:4-9), and that constitutes participation in the eternal life with the whole of God (Jn 17:3). It is critical, notably for scholarship, to distinguish these (basically competing) epistemic processes and to understand what process we are engaging. Our interpretive framework and lens will determine whether we will indeed listen to Jesus and Paul, and if we will let their whole persons speak for themselves, and then be involved with them in relationship together to know their whole persons and the wholeness they embodied, both individually and together, as God’s whole on God’s terms.


This raises the issue of God’s self-disclosures in Scripture and how we view revelation. My short answer: If your view from inside the universe is definitive, speak; otherwise, listen. At the risk of oversimplification, this obviously points to only two views available to us, both of which are contingent on the availability of each view.


1. The view from God is both ‘from above’ (top-down from outside the universe) and ‘inner out’. This is the view communicated in the whole of God’s thematic relational action from top-down that the Face embodied from inner out (Jn 1:18; 3:13; cf. 3:31). ‘Inner out’ signifies the qualitative whole ontology and function of God, and on this basis inner out is the critical view for whole understanding (meaning for the innermost, not reduced to fragmentary explanation) and wisdom (understanding the whole in function, not the sum of its parts). God’s view extends further and deeper than a quantitative view of the universe and all in it; therefore, how God sees the human person, life and practice is always from inner out and is focused primarily on the qualitative function of the heart (Ps 7:9; Mk 7:14-23; Lk 16:15; Rev 2:23).


2. The view from humans can be only ‘from below’ (bottom-up from inside the universe) and, if not introspective, is limited primarily to ‘outer in’. ‘Outer in’ signifies the lack or absence of wholeness and thus becomes a reductionist view of quantitative parts, the fragments of which are aggregated in a conceived sum for some type of explanation. This reductionist view defines the human person from outer in within primarily quantitative terms, which is consequential for the fragmentation of both the person and persons together in relationships. This is characteristic of and inherent to reductionism and its counter-relational work, which constitute the human condition that the view ‘from below’ is unable to wholly understand and to fully resolve.


The limits of the knowledge, understanding and wisdom available to the human view is a contingency that cannot be avoided and must no longer be minimized, that is, if the concern is for the human condition and resolving the human problem. This contingency leaves us faced with the view from God—a challenge that Jesus also presented to Nicodemus (Jn 3:10-15). If openly faced, this further raises the challenge of and for face, which must be met conjointly with the contingency of availability for the necessary convergence of Face to face. When the Face connects relationally with human face, the relational dynamic is engaged for God’s view from above and the Face embodied from inner out to unfold Face to face. Yet, this view’s own contingency is its availability from God’s self-disclosure from outside the universe. If such a reality does not exist outside the universe, then obviously this view is not available. If God exists, are there valid revelations definitive of God making his view available to human persons? My short answer: Yes, indeed. This contingency of availability is met with Scripture and most importantly in the embodied face of God who has turned and shined on us. This contingency, however, is a reciprocating contingency; and it is insufficient merely to affirm the Word of God to meet this contingency. Without also the depth of relational involvement with the Word unfolded in the relational epistemic process, the availability of the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement is not the functional reality that can be known—even though its information may be in one’s quantitative grasp. This is available only in reciprocal relationship Face to face, as Jesus made conclusive (Lk 10:21).


Apart from the primacy of Face-to-face relationship, Scripture and the self-disclosures of the Word are susceptible to human terms and its relative shaping and construction; then the view from God is misperceived and misrepresented by the view from below—that is, re-presentation of God’s presentation. A re-presentation may even appear authentic in form when dressed in certain theological terms and doctrine (e.g. the authority of the Bible or biblical inerrancy). When Scripture and the Word are not engaged in the relational epistemic process, they invariably are narrowed down to and by referential language for the purpose of transmitting information about God’s view, with the assumption of its general availability in its special form—even despite the embodied Word’s definitive declaration (Lk 10:21). This is contrary to the communication of God’s view only in qualitative relationship; and apart from the distinguished relational context and process of God’s communicative action, all re-presentations of God’s view are rendered without relational significance both for theology and practice. Without having relational significance, theology and practice, and its gospel, become fragmentary for the whole of God and God’s whole. In other words, re-presentations in any form misrepresent God, the Word and the gospel.


Both Jesus and Paul confirm all of God’s self-disclosure in Scripture unequivocally, the integral integrity of which Jesus only fulfills (Mt 5:17-18) and Paul extends to fullness (Col 1:25, cf. 1 Cor 4:6). When Jesus was confronted for unorthodox practice (healing on the Sabbath), he appealed to the Father’s thematic relational work revealed from the beginning of which he was the qualitative-relational embodiment from inner out (Jn 5:16-23). His accusers based their critique on knowing the quantitative words of Scripture from outer in, which was about referential language transmitting information about God. This information was vested in the quantitative words of the text and not in the communicative words of God in relationship. “You have never heard the Father’s voice…and you do not have his word abiding in you…even though you search the scriptures…but I know that you do not have the love of God in you from inner out” (Jn 5:37-42). Detached from the primacy of relationship and reduced to and by referential language, the words of Scripture become subject to the terms of human shaping and construction—which persons impose on Scripture for self-determination/justification in their quest for certainty in identity (e.g. strict adherence to the Sabbath represented an identity-marker for the above Jews). What unfolds in this interaction is vital to understand for our working-view of God’s self-disclosures in Scripture, not our theologically-correct view: (1) The relational dynamics ‘from above’ in contrast and conflict with the reductionist dynamics ‘from below’, by which persons are defined and determined, relationships are established and function together—either from inner out or outer in (cf. Mk 7:1-23); and (2) the relational outcome of the former and the relational consequence of the latter, just as Jesus declared: “the measure you use will be the measure you get” (Mk 4:24). Paul further challenged the human shaping and construction of Scripture and the measure used notably in church practice, and this practice always fragmented the relationships necessary to be whole, just as reductionism and its counter-relational work can be expected to perform (1 Cor 4:6-7; 2 Cor 10:12,18).


This is the challenge of and for face that Jesus embodied in wholeness and Paul further embodied integrally. As the subtitle of this study indicates, ‘embodying’ is integral for both Jesus and Paul, and their synthesis. A further discussion of embodying is necessary at this point, which will unfold throughout this study for our further and deeper understanding.



The Embodied Face


It is necessary to further understand how the Face is irreducible to human shaping in order for the embodied whole of God to emerge in whole ontology; and to apprehend how embodying is nonnegotiable to human terms for this Face to function whole. Whole ontology and function are indispensable for the embodied Face (cf. Col 2:9-10), who constitutes the theological, hermeneutical and functional keys to all that unfolds (Jn 1:14,18; 14:6; cf. 2 Cor 4:6). Paul further embodied this whole theology (e.g. Col 1:19; 2:9) and the hermeneutic necessary to be whole (e.g. 1 Cor 14:33; Eph 2:14; Col 3:15), which he made definitive also for the Athenians (Acts 17:23).

‘Embodying of the theology and hermeneutic of the whole gospel’ means to go from distant, or more abstract, to functional reality. This necessarily involves the strategic, tactical and functional shifts unfolding with the Word (discussed in chap. 6), which take us from quantitative-referential beliefs or concepts of God to the qualitative-relational experience of the whole of God—just as Jesus initiated the strategic shift with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:21-26). The process of embodying is neither a conceptually distant reality nor an abstraction of reality, as the Samaritan woman witnessed (Jn 4:28-30). Relational embodying composes the theology of God’s presence further than the quantitative Object to be observed to the depths of this qualitative Subject present vulnerably for reciprocal involvement in relationship together.


This embodied reality is not the mere notion of it (however personal) from incarnational terms of human shaping and construction but the whole reality from outside the universe to be known and experienced as Subject, therefore who is embodied reality both qualitative and relational, irreducibly qualitative and nonnegotiably relational. That is to say, this functionally qualitative and relational reality cannot be reduced just to quantitative terms (as Object) or this fragments, separates and disembodies its essential wholeness (as Subject)—the wholeness in which this whole reality is necessarily known and by which he is experienced. Anything less and any substitute of this whole reality reworks the strategic shift back to an abstraction of aggregate parts, aspects and fragments—the teachings, example, principles separated and thereby disembodied from Jesus’ whole person—which can never be whole. Importantly, the consequence is indicated in a conceptually distant reality of God (even with a personal theology) that needs to be understood always as a relational consequence. And the awareness of this relational distance may not be apparent from our epistemological illusion (e.g. in an incomplete Christology that is overly christocentric) and ontological simulation (e.g. with faith from a truncated soteriology) in this reductionism. This abstraction or reductionism is the consequence always prevailing when only part of the message of the Word unfolding is listened to, emphasized or proclaimed.


This gets us back to the heart of the issue of how we talk about God and the language we use, and specifically what we can say in relation to God based either on the information we have about God or on the deeper knowledge of God. The depths of the issue exposing the level of our knowledge certainly involve our perceptual-interpretive framework, and this engages an epistemic level in either the quantitative-referential words of mere discourse or the qualitative-relational words of communication in relationship. At its depths, though less definitive, we also should consider what McGilchrist suggests as influenced by the function of our brain’s hemispheres and their competing views of reality.[4] Within this context, a question of interest is raised: What if, as in Steiner’s Secondary City,[5] all talk about God was prohibited? Who speaks then?

Job, of course, stopped talking about God and deferred in epistemic humility to listen to God in the relational epistemic process (Job 42:3-5). With the unfolding of the Word from God, Jesus embodied the view ‘from above’ in the strategic shift and made functional the view from ‘inner out’ in his tactical and functional shifts. The embodied Face thus challenged the views ‘from below’, exposing the perceptions from ‘bottom up’ and confronting both interpretation of God’s words and subsequent function only from ‘outer in’—always challenging prevailing theological assumptions of both God and the human person (e.g. Mk 7:1-23). In Paul’s confrontation by the embodied Face, he was epistemologically clarified from his own illusion and hermeneutically corrected in his own ontological simulation, therefore integrally transformed ‘from above’ and from ‘inner out’. The relational outcome for Paul—unfolding in this study with the Word unfolded—was the redemptive change from fragmentary faith outer in to wholeness inner out, to which Paul witnessed for the Face (Acts 26:16; 2 Cor 4:6) in order to complete the Word from God and its gospel (Col 1:25-27; Eph 3:2-6). This relational outcome only emerged from Paul’s relational response to engage the embodied Face in the relational epistemic process Face to face (“Who are you?”) and then to listen.


And just as Job experienced, whatever his ears had previously heard about God was rendered silent by the whole understanding of God he received from inner out (Job 42:5). When we experience as Job did, our outer-in information about God is rendered silent in order to have relational connection with the whole of God embodied and thus unfolded from the beginning. The Word was embodied in the quantitative (in the universe) yet embodied from inner out for relationship; therefore, his embodying was whole and not fragmented, just as the Word created all persons in the universe in his image for whole relationship together (as Paul made theologically definitive, Col 1:15; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 3:10). In this relational dynamic, the Word embodied Face to clarify any existing ambiguity to the face of God and to resolve any elusiveness of connection with the whole of God, Face to face (Jn 12:45; 14:9; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:6). In the relational dynamic of the embodied Face emerged the whole ontology and function of God ‘from above’ and from ‘inner out’, nothing less and no substitutes, only for the relational outcome of the relationships together to be whole, Face to face—just as Jesus’ formative prayer for his family composes (Jn 17), and Paul’s prayer further embodied (Eph 3:14-19).


Moreover, it is critical for our whole understanding to be unequivocal about the following: Embodiment emerged with the incarnation but was enacted in its relational dynamic even before the creation of the universe (as Paul clarified theologically, Eph 1:3-5). The whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace from the beginning is the relational context and process that by necessity integrally contextualizes the incarnation together with those in human history. Therefore, the embodied Face is inseparable and indistinguishable from the face of God from outside the universe, and from the Face engaged in creation in its beginning (Jn 1:1-3). Furthermore, the embodied Face is inseparable and indistinguishable from the Face who turned and shined on us in definitive blessing from the beginning to “bring the change needed to establish new relationship together in wholeness” (Num 6:24-26). God’s thematic relational response of grace can certainly be called a metanarrative. This can understandably raise suspicion. Yet, those who object to metanarratives are correct only insofar as they discount any ideological construction and functional shaping which impose a template ‘from below’ on the universe and all in it. In this regard, there is a place for a hermeneutic of suspicion to retrieve the words unfolding from outside the universe[6]; and the deconstruction of human shaping and construction today are both necessary and urgent. Deconstruction, however, is insignificant and serves no purpose if that is all replaced by other human shaping and construction. This is our predicament if we are limited only to views ‘from below’ inside the universe. Most important, if those objecting to metanarratives also discount the metanarrative of the relational dynamic from outside the universe, the relational consequence is the absence of the whole’s presence and involvement and thereby the loss of ‘what holds together the world in its innermost’—making any notion of the whole ambiguous and experience of wholeness elusive. If hubris does not make secondary the concern for the human condition, we need to speak less and listen more to the words from outside the universe unfolding from the beginning.


The whole of both the embodied Face and the gospel can only be seen, heard and understood in their relational beginning in God’s integral relational dynamic—the relational dynamic defining and determining nothing less and no substitutes—unfolding in the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition. Besides the hermeneutical issues identifying the whole of God and God’s communicative action in self-disclosure, this dynamic identifies the relational problem many persons throughout Scripture evidenced in maintaining relational barriers/distance in their relations with God other than Face to face (as critiqued in Isa 29:13), notably with the embodied Face vulnerably unfolded before their faces—that is, of those from his hometown (Mk 6:1-6), of his disciples (Jn 14:9), and of religious leaders (Jn 5:16-40).


Before the relational outcome for Job experiencing God in relationship Face to face, there was Moses in open interaction with God (Ex 33:11ff). Moses engaged the relational epistemic process with God’s disclosures in Face-to-face relationship (Num 12:6-8). Paul defined Moses’ experience as temporary, not fragmentary but transitory (2 Cor 3:7,13); and the relational difficulty of not having direct relational connection with God is signified by ‘the veil’, which Paul used to indicate counter-relational work (2 Cor 3:13-18). The relational connection without the veil was completed and made whole when the Face emerged wholly embodied in the relational work for the permanence of intimate relationship together Face to face (Jn 17:3,26). What Job learned qualitatively and experienced relationally (Job 42:5), along with Moses, were the integral aspects of (1) the definitive nature of God’s self-disclosure and (2) the constitutive relational context and process of God’s communicative action. The unfolding of the Word from God was always a relational dynamic, not a mere dialectic, that cannot be reduced from its relational context and process and still be definitive. That reduction involves renegotiating the Word’s relational process to be shaped or constructed by human terms. On God’s terms, the Word can speak for his own Self only in God’s relational context and process. And the embodied Face speaks for himself secondarily as the object-Other in confirmation of the primary that more significantly communicates as Subject to be received in wholeness (neither fragmented nor disembodied) and to be responded to and experienced in whole relationship together Face to face. What Moses and Job were introduced to was now complete and made whole in new relationship together. This is what and how Jesus embodied as the whole of God’s Face; and as the relational outcome of Paul’s ongoing relational experience with the Face initiated on the Damascus road, this is Who, what and how Paul further embodied with the Spirit (Eph 1:17-18; Col 1:25).


When we relationally engage as Job engaged and relationally respond as Paul responded, as both in their epistemic humility, we come before the functional reality facing us: The unfolding of God’s words gives the light of the whole and imparts whole understanding only when the Word embodies the hermeneutic necessary for the relational language used to communicate the relational messages and relational work of the whole of God. This hermeneutical dynamic unfolds as follows: The Word embodies conjointly and integrally the whole of Subject-God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement to deeply know God; and he further embodies the perceptual-interpretive framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo) for this whole ontology and function of God in relationship Face to face; the relational outcome for those in relationship together is having this framework and lens to exercise with the whole of God in order to be and live whole (as Paul made conclusive, Rom 8:5-6). Therefore, only when the embodied Word unfolded is allowed to speak for himself is the light from the Face of the whole of God the functional reality shining to bring the change needed to establish the new relationship together of God’s whole—fulfilling the blessing of God’s face from the beginning (Num 6:24-26). This is the Face made conclusive by Jesus in the incarnation—the Face to whom Paul gave theological clarity for “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:4-6), and the Face to whom Paul witnessed to complete the Word from God and its gospel in order to make whole the human condition (Col 1:20,25-28).


This reality and meaning of the whole gospel are at the heart of what Paul said of Jesus and are critical for his ongoing conjoint fight for this gospel and against any reductionism of it. Just as Jesus embodied the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement for the theological, hermeneutical and functional keys to whole ontology and function, Paul, also when allowed to speak for himself, extends this embodying to be whole, to live God’s whole only on God’s terms, and to make whole the human condition in the world (as apostle to the whole of humanity). Nothing less and no substitutes define and determine both Jesus and Paul, together in wholeness.


This study follows the unfolding of the whole Word in and from the beginning—the unfolding of which Paul was responsible to further complete and make whole (pleroo, Col 1:25), yet not by his own shaping and construction as suggested by some Pauline scholars. And this study unfolds with the relational dynamic enacted in the beginning by the Word; and from this beginning the Face ongoingly enacted up to and conclusively through the embodying of Jesus, including his post-ascension interactions, which then enacted definitively into Paul in Face-to-face relational progression. Jesus into Paul is not a conceptual reality understood only on the metaphysical level. In contrast to such a distant reality or abstraction, Jesus into Paul signifies the relational dynamic of their relationship together, in which the whole of God was vulnerably present and intimately involved with Paul—whose relational outcome Paul defined in relational language with the shorthand term ‘in Christ’. Understanding this relational dynamic is the critical antecedent to any synthesis of Jesus and Paul; and the lack or absence of this understanding disengages the continuity of the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition, thereby reinforcing the theory of Paul’s shaping of Christ and construction of Christianity.


From the beginning God’s words unfolded in the whole of God’s thematic communicative acts of self-disclosure. The relational dynamic composing God’s thematic relational response of grace was defined and determined solely by ‘nothing less and no substitutes’ of the whole of God. Where the whole of God is not vulnerably present and relationally involved, then the whole is elusive to those from below and wholeness in the innermost is lost—which dismayed the ancient poet (Ps 30:7). The Word as clearly unfolded, however, conclusively embodied the Face of the whole ontology and function of God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement (Jn 1:10-14,18).


The relational dynamic embodying the Face with nothing less and no substitutes is at the heart of what Paul made definitive theologically for the whole gospel: (1) God’s self-disclosure in relationship, (2) Jesus’ whole ontology and function in the qualitative significance of relational work, and (3) Christ’s relational work of atonement on the cross to complete the enactment of God’s thematic relational response (Col 1:19-23). As the Word of and from God, the Face embodied the whole of God unequivocally in the distinguished relational context and process of God’s terms from above (1). Jesus’ whole person always constituted his function in, with and by his wholeness, from inner out, thereby openly and vulnerably in, with and by his heart; and his whole person was always engaged and solely involved in relational work, that is, wholly engaged and vulnerably involved for accessible intimate relationship together Face to face (2). The relational progression of this relational dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes was ultimately enacted by his vulnerable presence and relational involvement embodied on the cross for atonement rather than a substitute body (Lev 16:1-19), therefore fulfilling God’s definitive blessing to bring (siym) redemptive change for new relationship together in wholeness—without the relational barrier/distance signified by ‘the veil’ (3). The embodied Face—by the cosmological, relational and whole nature of his communicative action—completed the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition, which unfolded from the beginning exclusively in God’s relational context and process.


God’s relational dynamic is vital to understand as the integral theme for what unfolds in God’s words for us to jointly listen to and respond. Who emerged was not only the embodied Face but clearly the distinguished Face.



The Distinguished Face


Consider the pre-Damascus road Paul. Here was a Jew of religious conviction, impassioned to eliminate the embodied shape of his religious roots and the embodied reshaping of his religious convictions; he was dedicated to the demise of this embodiment—both the Face and faces following—threatening his religion by redefining the terms. Consider the post-Damascus road Paul. Here was a Jew of deeper conviction of faith, impassioned to eliminate the human shaping of the Face emerging from his religious roots and the human terms reducing the new depths of his faith and the whole gospel. What brought this change in Paul? The distinguished Face, who not only turned and shined on Paul but who was vulnerably present and relationally involved directly in Paul’s life, Face to face.


The challenge of Face goes unmet by merely embodying the Face. Certainly, the incarnation is essential theology; and in spite of how ‘critical’ (historical, form, literary) the embodied Word has become in biblical studies, no human shape or construct distinguishes the Face unless the Face distinguishes his own Self. This goes further than the details of what the embodied Face disclosed of himself to more deeply account for how the Face was present and involved in the human context by the nature of what the embodied Face was. What unfolds from the Word and emerges clearly is the distinguished Face.


If indeed the Word, who speaks for himself, is from outside the universe, then the Face, whom we tend to talk about, is not just another embodied face in the human context. That is, the Face is neither another in common life and practice whose presence is praiseworthy and above reproach, nor another within the context of what is ordinary who is involved with others in extraordinary ways. While such presence and involvement in the human context rightly gives Jesus a special face in comparison to the other faces in the population, it is still another embodied face among the many in the same category of ‘common’ and of the same kind of ‘ordinary’. Any distinction in this category and of this kind can be special only in a comparative process within that category and kind; but the value-judgment ‘special’ does not distinguish it from that category and kind (cf. Isa 40:18).


This becomes problematic for what we talk about for Jesus. For example, Jesus’ ethical practice is certainly special and would be beneficial to emulate. Yet, ethics is not what distinguishes the whole of Jesus, even though it is an important distinction commonly used for Jesus. There is an essential (critical if you wish) difference between a special Face and the distinguished Face. Both can be combined with the embodied Face. A special Face, however, is attached to Jesus by a narrowing-down process from a conventional view inside the universe that attempts to better explain Jesus, notably from outer in by what he does (hence ethics). Even with good intentions, a special Face is incompatible with the embodied Face from outside the universe—though complimentary in christological discourse about the Face on narrowed-down fragmentary terms, still unable to speak of the Face in whole terms. The distinguished Face emerges only from God’s relational dynamic in congruence with the whole ontology and function in the embodied Face of Jesus. Therefore, the distinguished Face can only be distinguished when he distinguishes his Self in the constituting relational context and process of God’s relational dynamic, just as the embodied Face emerged. What emerges that is distinguished beyond a mere distinction?


God’s relational dynamic has unfolded from the beginning in communicative action, which is conjointly qualitative from inner out, yet not mystical, and always in relationship, never isolated or disengaged. This nature of God’s relational dynamic is evident in the embodied Face to fulfill God’s thematic relational response of grace. What becomes further evident of God’s relational dynamic unfolding is witnessed in how the Face distinguishes his Self and what he distinguishes, both of which are not distinguished by or in a special Face.


A term used in the OT can present similar issues discussed for a special Face. This term is “wonderful” (pala, v., pele, n., pil’iy, adj.). ‘Wonderful’ (pele) is the name identifying Jesus in prophecy (Isa 9:6). The name ‘Wonderful’ could be attached to Jesus with the distinction similar to a special Face, or ‘wonderful’ could distinguish the Face of Jesus from any and all other faces. How the prophet used the term was later indicated in his description of the Lord of hosts: “he is wonderful [pala] in counsel” (Isa 28:29); pala also denoted to separate and distinguish, and is the root word for pele and pil’iy. The clear indicator of the term identifying the name came when Manoah asked for the name of the angel of the Lord and received this response: “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful” (pil’iy, incomprehensible, Judg 13:18). ‘Wonderful’ goes beyond a special distinction within the same category and kind, to distinguish a category and kind of its own that is too wonderful and incomprehensible for prevailing conventional terms of the common and ordinary, and is accordingly separated from all else.


Moreover, in common or ordinary terms ‘wonderful’ is a value-attachment in the eye of the beholder to describe something; thus this view is actually less focused on the thing described since the value comes from the beholder’s attachment. ‘Distinguished’, however, defines the thing itself more than describes it and establishes its uniqueness set apart from all else, perhaps even in all the universe. This defined the name Manoah asked for; its uniqueness set it apart from all he could understand or comprehend. Such uniqueness set apart from all else is also inseparable from who is holy and what is sanctified. Perhaps ‘distinguished’ can be considered a synonym for ‘holy’ (cf. Isa 41:14,20; 43:3, 14-15; Lk 4:34; Jn 6:69). Together in function, we begin to understand the Face: whom Hagar named “You are El-roi” (Gen 16:13), that is, “You are the God who sees me” (NIV), and also said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”; of whom Jacob requested the name, and who blessed Jacob there in the place he called “Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved’” (Gen 32:29-30); the Face who is set apart and distinguished from any and all other faces, whose definitive blessing “shall put my name on those in whole relationship together Face to face” (Num 6:27); whose relational dynamic unfolds conclusively in the face of Jesus whom the prophet named ‘distinguished’.


Also important in the meaning of that which is separate, the process to be ‘distinguished’ implies that only the distinguished name can distinguish himself and cannot come from a value-attachment of a beholder. This was the issue others had with what is ‘wonderful’. When Sarah heard of her pending pregnancy from God, she used biological “science” to narrow-down her knowledge for a conventional explanation from inside the universe. On this basis, she also spoke for the God from outside the universe, thereby making the face of God un-distinguished. Offended, God responded: “Is anything too ‘distinguished’ [pala] for the Lord?” (Gen 18:10-14). Job implied acknowledgment of the distinguished God (Job 21:22) yet he attempted to speak for what is distinguished (pala) from his view inside the universe, and consequently he also reduced the face of God to obscurity in the un-distinguished (Job 42:3).


Sarah and Job contradicted what the ancient poet understood, the poet who did not attempt to grasp the distinguished ‘from above’ on the basis of what can only be indistinguishable ‘from below’: “Such knowledge is too wonderful [pil’iy] for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it” (Ps 139:6). Yet, the underlying issue in these examples is less epistemological and is rooted in the primacy of relationship. It is critical to understand that the distinguished Face does not and cannot distinguish himself in isolation or disengaged from relationship. If he did, he would no longer distinguish what the whole of God is and how God is. Relationship is always primary for God, whether in the beginning for the God outside the universe or from the beginning for the God now also inside the universe. Inside the universe, the face of God becomes distinguished for those ‘from below’ when he emerges from behind what is signified by ‘the veil’—a metaphor for the relational barrier/distance preventing significant relational connection (e.g. Sarah) and deeper relational involvement (e.g. Job). The Face is not distinguished as long as a veil exists in the relationship. Neither God’s face behind the veil nor our face in front of the veil allows for the relational connection necessary to be involved Face to face. The relational dynamic of the Face converging with our face in Face-to-face relationship is disengaged when relational distance exists—either the relational distance of God’s face or our face. This relational dynamic was evident when Moses made relational connection with God Face to face without the veil, after which he had to cover his radiant face with the veil to meet the people who could only observe from their relational distance (Ex 33:9-11; 34:33-35). This relational dynamic was made conclusive by Paul for the relational consequence of the veil’s presence and the relational outcome from the distinguished Face removing the veil (2 Cor 3:13-18; cf. Mk 15:37-38).


Vulnerable involvement in relationship without the veil was the unfolding relational dynamic of how the face of God was distinguished. The vulnerable presence and relational involvement of the distinguished Face integrally distinguished his own Face and composed the relational connection necessary Face to face for relationship together in wholeness—contrary to, and in conflict with, fragmented, separated or broken relationship with the veil.


The unfolding relational dynamic distinguishing the face of God became more definitive in relationship when the ancient poet requested from God: “Wondrously show [pala] your steadfast love” (Ps 17:7) or “Show the wonder of your great love” (NIV). The latter is easily rendered to comparative terms for a special distinction in the same category or kind of all love. Yet, the poet’s request implies for the relational dynamic of God to distinguish his own love, not merely to show a special love defined within the limits of all love in the universe. For the distinguished Face, there is still an element of mystery no matter how distinguished the Face is; and we can allow for and may be able to live with mystery for God. For love, however, we appear to need certainty and would not want any mystery about God’s love; and thus we try to explain God’s love in referential terms comparative to love inside the universe. Distinguished love cannot be constrained to these limited terms and, by its nature, will also still have an element of mystery no matter how distinguished by the distinguished Face; yet, this also accounts for distinguished love to be open-ended, that is, to be deeply experienced without limits or end, as only God can constitute. Nothing less and no substitute of this love is what the ancient poet requested from God. And any attempt to “fully” explain God’s love can no longer distinguish love from the God from outside the universe. Both the distinguished Face and distinguished love are contingent on God’s self-disclosure. Though God’s self-disclosure is complete in terms of being whole (pleroma, Col 1:19), we can never assume that the disclosure of the Face and love distinguished before us is complete in terms of the totality of God. Mystery remains by necessity for the distinguished Face and love, yet without the gap from anything less or any substitute of their being whole.


Furthermore, distinguished love is not about the wonders of what God is capable of doing—another reductionism of God defined by what God does, which invariably engages a comparative process in human terms with distinctions of more or less, special or so-so. The reality of ‘all love’ is its conventional definition about what to do, in which quantity exceeds quality and by which sacrifice achieves its highest rank (e.g. the sacrificial love of agape). Distinguished love certainly involves action; this action of love, however, is relational action that only defines how to be involved in relationship. In contrast to love defined by ‘what to do’—that may benefit a need of another without being involved with their person—distinguished love engages the depth of relational involvement with the other person(s) with nothing less and no substitute of one’s whole person, and on this basis vulnerably sharing one’s self, not merely giving one’s deeds or resources. The depth of relational involvement unique to distinguished love to set this love apart from all love can be and is fulfilled only by the face of God. This is evidenced in the covenant and Torah. The covenant was no mere framework for religious identity that the Torah served for its identity markers—although they easily become just that when perceived in referential language. The face of God turned to bring change and establish a new relationship together in wholeness, as promised, that is, the covenant relationship distinguished by love in the covenant of distinguished love (Dt 7:6-9). And the Torah is God’s terms (dabar, Dt 29:1,9) for reciprocal relationship together Face to face—the whole terms distinguished by distinguished love (Dt 7:10-13), which Jesus made definitive in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:17-48).


The distinguished Face directly distinguished love in relational response to the ancient poet in a functional reality (not a conceptual reality) beyond what he asked or could have imagined; therefore, he sings out in reciprocal response: “Blessed be the Lord for he has distinguished his steadfast love to me” (Ps 31:21). And the poet could say confidently: “Truly the eye (‘ayin) of the Lord is on those who…hope in his steadfast love” (Ps 33:18). Yet if the face of God only watched from relational distance, the Face would be ambiguous most of the time and relational connection with the Face would often be elusive, which describes the history of Israel’s relationship with God. The term ‘ayin also denotes presence, the use of which distinguishes relational terms from mere referential terms; and the eye involves the Face whose presence distinguished love. Therefore, the poet was confident that the Face does not merely watch from a relational distance but indeed is vulnerably present and relationally involved to ongoingly distinguish love (cf. Ps 34:15-16; 1 Pet 3:12).


This goes far beyond a special distinction of wonderful love from a wonderful person, even if that love is perceived to be from God. When the distinguished Face distinguished love, he integrally distinguished how the face of God is vulnerably present and relationally involved with other persons in the human context, and also what is the qualitative ontology and relational nature of the whole of God constituting the Face’s relational response. No human terms and categories can define or determine the how and what of the distinguished Face.


This relational dynamic unfolds conclusively when distinguished love is enacted by the distinguished Face wholly embodied (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8; Eph 2:4-7). Yet, the cross, as commonly perceived, was not what distinguished love; this perception of love involves comparative terms as sacrifice or service. The special distinction of sacrificial love is the basis for the cross usually lacking the distinguished Face, whose own relational communication while on the cross tends to be buried in referential language to transmit information without relational significance (cf. sermons on ‘the seven last words’). Paul does not highlight God’s love in comparative human terms because God demonstrates the whole of his own love in the innermost (synistemi, Rom 5:8; cf. Col 1:17), and this goes beyond any measurement from within the universe (hyperballo, Eph 2:7). An incomplete Christology as revolved around the cross lacks the distinguished Face prior to the cross, whose ongoing vulnerable presence and relational involvement distinguished love conclusively. This Face emerges throughout this study to demonstrate the depth of his presence and involvement.


One demonstration is critical to distinguish at this point since the distinction attached to Jesus’ footwashing measures it only by comparative terms, thereby reducing its relational significance definitive for whole ontology and function (Jn 13:1-17). Even so, a comparison with Abraham’s relational response and involvement (Gen 18:1-10) and Jesus’ will be helpful for our understanding, since both contexts involved footwashing and table fellowship. Abraham became aware of the theophany unfolding before him and responded to the Lord and two others by providing water for them to wash their feet and food (a feast) for them to eat. This was a pivotal table fellowship together, from which God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition would unfold, yet Abraham only “stood by them under the tree.” Certainly, Abraham was a most gracious host who served but his primary involvement was focused on the situation (and its details) and only secondarily on these persons, consequently his presence and involvement were relationally distant. With his priorities of importance reversed and his preoccupation on secondary matters, in this key moment Abraham had yet to learn how to “walk before me and be whole” (tamiym), as God earlier made definitive to him for the primacy of relationship and not as a mere code of behavior (“blameless,” as tamiym is commonly rendered, Gen 17:1).


The presence and involvement of being whole in relationship was distinguished by Jesus at the definitive table fellowship just prior to the cross. The distinguished Face unfolded in God’s relational dynamic of ‘nothing less and no substitutes’. At this table fellowship Jesus would go beyond being a most gracious host providing water for the others’ feet; he himself would wash them because ‘no substitute’ (like a servant or others washing their own feet) could fulfill his relational action. Yet, Jesus was not focused on the activity traditionally connected to the situation of table fellowship. Jesus’ whole person would also go beyond just serving by doing something for them as menial as footwashing because ‘nothing less’ could fulfill his relational action. What then was Jesus’ relational action that no substitute and nothing less could fulfill? The opening narrative to this definitive table fellowship identifies the ongoing relational progression of Jesus’ distinguished love: eis telos, movement to the end, motion into completion, signifying either Jesus’ act of love up to the end of this time period or Jesus’ relational action of distinguished love progressing into completion (Jn 13:1). The latter is the only adequate interpretation for the distinguished Face, who distinguished love by how his whole person was vulnerably present and relationally involved with others at this integral table fellowship (beyond the traditional Communion) based on only what his whole ontology and function defined and determined in the primacy of relationship, not on what others, tradition or culture defined and determined. Therefore, the distinguished Face did not just serve others by washing their feet and sacrificing himself on the cross.


In contrast to Abraham’s primary response of serving in the situation at the pivotal table fellowship, Jesus’ relational response in this definitive table fellowship was not about serving but progressively sharing his whole person (not deeds or resources) vulnerably with others for the depth of relational involvement together—that which distinguished love in the primacy of relationship. This distinguished love, relationally progressing into completion by the distinguished Face, is the functional key Jesus embodied for the relationships together (signified by table fellowship) necessary to be whole as God’s family—initiated at this pivotal table fellowship and fulfilled at this definitive table fellowship. The whole process illuminates the distinguished love that the distinguished Face brings to the communion table for the fellowship around it to be definitive of and distinguished as God’s family. And how and what the distinguished Face shared with nothing less and no substitute, the Face seeks from others around the table in relationship Face to face (Jn 13:8; 17:2-3; cf. Jn 4:23). On the basis of this relational dynamic, Peter resisted the Face vulnerably distinguished before him in this defining interaction, and he also distanced his own face to be vulnerably involved in the nonnegotiable relationship Face to face (cf. Jn 21:15,21-22). Yet, the distinguished Face pursues our face and challenges us for face in order for the relational outcome together of Face to face (cf. Rev 3:20).


This relational outcome was the focus of the ancient poet, who communicated the relational dynamic involved when his familiar words are heard correctly in relational language, not the words of referential language: “Let the words of my face [‘mouth’, peh] communicating the relational involvement [‘meditation’] of my whole person from inner out [‘heart’] be a delight to your Face [paneh], in relationship together distinguished Face to face [idiom of peh]” (Ps 19:14). When the ancient poet kept relational distance with the Face and was silent about it by putting a mask on his own face, he felt the relational tension lacking Face to face (Ps 32:3-5). Finally, he took action, “I will confess” (yadah). The term yadah can be observed in the limits of referential language to do something (confess) to transmit information (sin), or it can be fully seen in relational language to compose the engagement in the relational communication needed for involvement in relationship together Face to face. Yadah distinguishes only the relational language of ongoing communication to deepen the involvement in Face-to-face relationship. In this moment for the ancient poet, the yadah necessary was to confess; yadah also denotes to speak out, to praise, to sing, to give thanks, which are all necessary at different moments for the communication needed to deepen the relationship Face to face. Therefore, yadah, together in all its relational actions, is the relational language that integrally composes the primacy of relationship together with the Face and distinguishes the ongoing involvement in the worship of the whole of God.


As Peter demonstrates later in this study, he had difficulty engaging the Face on the distinguished terms of God’s relational response of grace rather than his own terms (cf. Mt 16:21-23)—a common difficulty for many of us. Much of this difficulty involves how well we listen and pay attention to what we hear from the distinguished Face, whose thematic relational response was initiated (grace) from outside the universe. Yet, grace is one of those common Christian terms which has lost much of its relational significance in referential language, and that must be recovered in relational language. Grace emerges in God’s relational dynamic with nothing less and no substitutes for the face of God in thematic relational response to the human condition from the beginning, though most notably in the incarnation (cf. 2 Cor 6:1-2). The face of God not only sent light to shine on us but came in person as the Light (Jn 1:4; 3:19; 12:46); and the Face was vulnerably present and relationally involved, distinguished “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Grace and truth are not mere static attributes of Jesus’ innermost substance, nor are they mere resources he can give as a gift, the gift of grace. The OT often renders the terms “grace and truth” in combination as “steadfast love and faithfulness” (cf. Ps 25:10; 40:10; Prov 16:6), which always involves covenant relationship. In these terms defined from relational language and not referential language, grace is interchangeable with steadfast love and always defined in the dynamic of relationship. Therefore, grace is not a mere gift to claim as our possession but the definitive relational response initiated by God to distinguish the whole ontology and function of the face of God, who is vulnerably present and relationally involved just for whole relationship together. Grace is inseparable from relationship in God’s relational dynamic and on this basis is integral both for the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition and for the relational outcome of whole relationship together (cf. Isa 42:5-6).


If the face of God did not initiate this relational dynamic—relational action defined by the term grace in relational language—distinguished relationship from outside the universe is nonexistent and its relational outcome is a false hope inside the universe. However, when the distinguished Face became embodied “full of grace and truth,” the common referential words “full of grace” is more accurately rendered “wholly involved in distinguished love” (pleres, wholly occupied with)—that is, that which the Face’s presence and involvement communicate in relational language. The functional reality of God’s relational response called grace is distinguished solely by the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement with persons in the human condition for the integral purpose not merely to redeem (deliver, save) them from their condition (i.e. for a truncated soteriology) but only for the relationships together necessary to be whole, God’s whole family on God’s relational terms (the full soteriology, Jn 1:10-13). Only when grace is restored to its proper relational language can grace be distinguished and clearly emerge as distinguished love in relationship. And, while in a very limited sense this can be considered unconditional love totally initiated by God, unconditional love is still perceived in comparative terms in the same category of all love which also includes conditional love. Unconditional love is certainly special in this sense, but that is inadequate to distinguish love and thus grace.


Distinguished love clearly makes evident and conclusive the primacy of relationship, which the distinguished Face, embodied in human context, was “wholly involved in” to distinguish what is primary to God, rendering all else secondary. Anything less of love (e.g. defined as sacrifice or serving others) makes the behavioral deed of doing something for others what is primary. This conventional view of love engages a referential dynamic: the transmission of something to others; what is transmitted is primary and how it is transmitted is secondary. This dynamic is not focused on communication in relationship. It implies a dynamic that is more quantitative and consequently is focused on the outer in, both of the one giving and the other receiving. Such a dynamic diminishes both of the persons involved and minimalizes what transpires between them; and this can also describe the love in many marriages, families and churches. Most important, this dynamic of love is functionally disengaged from God’s relational response of grace (not necessarily theologically separated) since it is contingent primarily on what one does from outer in, not on what the person is from inner out. The former requires one’s own resources; the latter necessitates God’s own relational involvement.


In contrast, distinguished love involves the relational dynamic that is irreducible from the primacy of relationship and is nonnegotiable to any terms other than those making the relationship primary. This relational dynamic is more qualitative, which includes overt action without reducing it to outer in but rather focuses primarily from inner out on the whole person(s) involved. The relational dynamic of distinguished love further involves opening one’s whole person vulnerably to another whole person (whatever their need or desire) in the primacy of relationship (even if meeting for the first time)—in contrast to the mere transmission of something to someone, which in conventional love is often reduced to an exchange process of quid pro quo (cf. Jesus’ critique of different love, Mt 5:43-48).


The distinguished Face distinguished love entirely in the what and how of the whole of God, thereby always distinguished in the primacy of relationship. As long as the distinguished of Face and of love remain vague or ambiguous in the human context, they can prevail un-distinguished; and as a result we can continue to substitute our terms that reduce the primacy of relationship in order to circumvent the involvement necessary Face to face. This points to the issue of the unknowability of God that classical philosophical theology creates (intentionally or unintentionally) by constructing terms for the attributes of God with negative theology (defining God by what God is not). Vagueness and ambiguity further relate directly to our seemingly ceaseless interest and participation in electronic communication for relationships, which provides us substitutes for connecting with each other face to face.[7] These issues also define Paul’s critical presence and function in his synthesis with Jesus: his integral fight ongoingly both for the wholeness distinguished in the gospel and against any and all reductionism of who and what is whole.


Paul further distinguished the Face theologically as ‘from above’ and ‘inner out’ (2 Cor 4:4-6), who initially engaged (grace) Paul on the Damascus road and deeply involved Paul in relationship together Face to face (more grace). Paul first experienced relationally what he later learned theologically (ongoing grace) of the following functional reality: The distinguished Face embodied from inner out necessitates the reciprocal relational response of face from inner out that is compatible for the relational outcome of Face to face; compatibility is the convergence of God’s relational response of grace determining the distinguished Face’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement, with God’s relational response of grace determining ongoingly the face’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement with the veil removed. Accordingly, this qualitative-relational dynamic cannot be engaged on the basis of human terms from outer in, which Paul implies for various persons identified by “the rest were hardened” (poroo, make insensitive, Rom 11:7), “their minds were hardened” (2 Cor 3:14), “the futility of their minds” and “hardness of heart” (Eph 4:17-18), and which Jesus made definitive earlier by “the wise and the intelligent” (Lk 10:21). All of the above human terms include an epistemic process but, more importantly, lack involvement in the relational epistemic process—which makes the Face ambiguous and relational connection elusive.


Jesus, for Paul, was the distinguished Face who distinguished love in the primacy of relationship (Rom 5:8; Eph 2:4-5). Paul did not focus on the referential words of Jesus’ teaching—mostly absent in his corpus—but rather focused on the relational language of Jesus’ relational work (creative and communicative relational action) for the theology and hermeneutic of the whole (pleroma) of Jesus and the whole gospel. Integrally, this is what Paul embodied in his own face and distinguished with Jesus Face to face. And it is the distinguished for which Paul prayed to be the church family’s relational reality and experiential truth (Eph 3:16-19), echoing Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17:26). To be distinguished (Face) and to distinguish (love, as well as face) can involve nothing less and no substitutes.



Turn from the Face


As long as the face of God has not made a distinguished turn to shine on our face, we do not have to deal with the distinguished Face (cf. negative theology). As long as the face of God can be limited to an embodied Face, without qualitative-relational significance from inner out, we do not have the distinguished Face to engage Face to face (cf. philosophical theology, dogmatic theology). Regardless of how the face of God is perceived, there are always relational implications for either relational outcomes or relational consequences. This is what Paul illuminates, the clarity of which unfolds in this study.


The issue involving the face of God is of immeasurable significance for the embodied Face we listen to and what we hear. If what is heard from the Face is not distinguished beyond the words of referential language transmitting information about God, then the embodied Face is no longer distinguished in the primacy of relationship with communication in relational language. By implication, this deconstructs the relational context and process of how the Face was embodied and what of God the Face embodied, which then redefines who was embodied and thereby reconstitutes the type of relationship available with the Face. Perhaps what may be reconstructed is a Face of distinction in a distinction of relationship that may rank at the top of any comparative scale, yet be neither the distinguished Face nor distinguished relationship Face to face. In other words, the measure of both the Face and the relationship cannot be distinguished from human shaping and construction. This is the paradigmatic consequence because “the measure we use” determines as un-distinguished the Face we listen to and as indistinguishable what we hear, just as the process was defined unequivocally by Jesus (Mk 4:24).


The critical implication of the primacy of relationship that emerges within the distinguished Face is the reality that the primacy is not of just any type of relationship but the primacy of distinguished relationship unfolded by the distinguished Face. This critical relational implication necessitates that the distinguished relationship together is defined only by God’s terms and cannot emerge from human terms, despite how referentially certain its theological shape or doctrinal construction.


If in any way we diminish the relational context of God’s self-disclosure and/or minimalize the relational process of God’s communicative action, then the covenant and torah become ‘disembodied’, ‘de-relationshipped’ or un-distinguished from the whole of God’s formative intention for both the covenant and torah just for whole relationship together (cf. 2 Cor 3:14; Mt 5:17-18; Acts 13:14-16). That is, they become fragmented from God’s intentions for the covenant relationship of love and God’s whole terms for this distinguished relationship (Dt 7:6-13; 39:16), thus become rendered to human shaping (cf. Dt 4:2). Moreover, God’s self-disclosure from outside the universe in the incarnation within the human context, and his extension on the Damascus road, are also diminished or minimalized to mere event (e.g. the Christ event), situation and circumstance (e.g. Christophany), situated in their surrounding contexts. This reduction disengages from their integral relational dynamic composing the experiential reality and relational significance of God’s self-disclosure in thematic communicative action—in other words, disengaging from the relational dynamic that has been enacted by the whole of God even before creation and has unfolded since creation in God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement.


The issue then involving the face of God also involves the following: Either God’s face has turned relationally to us, or our face is turning relationally away from God’s, which includes keeping relational distance. The related question raised is whether we have received this turn from the distinguished Face or if we actually in relational function are turning from our own face that is distinguished by the whole of God’s creative and relational action. This raises related issues involving three of our most essential views:


  1. How we define the human person and determine relationships (our theological

  2. How we define the person of Jesus (our Christology).

  3. How we determine the relationship that connects Jesus’ person and human persons (our gospel).


How we define the person and determine relationships are interrelated issues at the heart of what unfolds both in human life and in the Face from outside the universe embodied in human context for the gospel. Theological anthropology, for example, is integral for imago Dei (image of God) that the face of Jesus distinguished conclusively (2 Cor 4:4,6), and that emerges from our face when distinguished by God’s creative-relational action (2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10; cf. Ps 139:14). Therefore, what unfolds further determines either the definitive identity formation of God’s family, or the making of an identity problem, even crisis. These are issues and questions by necessity addressed in this study because they were necessarily addressed by persons in Scripture, both human and divine.


Along with the counter-challenge question at the top of this chapter that is ongoingly raised ‘from below’, the face of God asks his own questions. These are questions which expose or reveal, depending on how they are asked. God’s questions are relational questions which either expose reduced ontology and function and challenge the underlying interpretive framework (the worldview from inside the universe), or they reveal the whole of God and the necessary interpretive framework (the worldview from outside the universe) to be whole with God, live whole in the human context and make whole the human condition.

The face of God exposes and reveals by asking these questions:


1. “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) Emphasis is added because this is not a referential question seeking information about their location. This question exposes how those persons have redefined their person from the inner-out whole person in the image of God to the outer-in reduced self of human shaping and construction; and how these redefined individuals attempt to determine relationship with God on their reductionist terms, at a relational distance—“because I was naked, redefined from outer in, and I hid myself relationally” (v.10). The relational consequence is fragmented, separated or broken relationships: the human condition and problem.


2. “What are you doing here?” (1 Kgs 19:9,13) Emphasis added on the same basis as above. The question exposes Elijah’s theological anthropology in doing what he was—a position that was contrary both to the whole ontology of who and what he was and to the whole function of how he needed to be to live and make whole in his human context, not relative to his situation and circumstances. When one’s theological anthropology does not determine whole ontology and function from inner out, then these become defined and determined by terms from outer in, as from the surrounding context.


3. “Who is this that speaks for me by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) As discussed earlier about Job, this question is less an epistemic issue than a relational issue that exposes Job’s lack of direct relational involvement Face to face in the relational epistemic process and its relational consequence; thus Job’s use of referential words for information only about God which he used as a substitute incorrectly for knowledge of God. The question also reveals the necessary epistemic process to know relationally who, what and how God is, and the necessary interpretive framework to engage God in this relational epistemic process.


4. “Why are you talking about that? …still not perceive or understand [syniemi, put the pieces together for whole understanding]? …hearts relationally distant? …eyes and fail to see other than outer in? …ears, and fail to hear relational language and messages? …not remember my whole person involved in relational work? Do you not yet syniemi?” (Mk 8:17-21). The dynamic involved here is in contrast to his interaction with the Samaritan woman. Jesus exposes their interpretive lens determining what they pay attention to and the primary matters they ignore, thereby reducing their epistemic process to a hermeneutical impasse unable to syniemi, that is, to integrate Jesus’ relational work, relational language and words for whole understanding. What Jesus exposes then is critical for how the person (human and divine) is defined and how relationship together is determined. His following questions further expose reductionism.


5. “Do you also wish to have relational distance?” (Jn 6:67) This question was relational language focused on their whole person that the disciples answered with only referential language, which exposed their limited basis for how they defined Jesus (by having “the words of eternal life”) and determined their relationship (by “believe and know” in referential terms, not relational terms, vv.68-69). In spite of their commitment to follow Jesus, the implication of their reduced ontology and function resulted in the following relational consequence of major significance that should concern all engaged not only in intensive discipleship but also in biblical studies and the theological task.


6. “Don’t you know me, even after I have been vulnerably present and relationally involved with you such a long time?” (Jn 14:9, NIV) Jesus exposes the insufficiency of conventional epistemology focused on referential terms from outer in, and he reveals the necessity of the deeper epistemology in relational terms from inner out. “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” The Father is distinguished only in the qualitative interpretive framework of the whole of God’s relational context and process. Any disciple or scholar must by nature have both compatibility with this relational context and congruence in this relational process in order to know the whole of God in relationship Face to face. Any other epistemic context and process is referential merely for the transmission of information, of which these disciples had a large quantity about Jesus without knowing him. The primary issue here is relationship, and epistemology is only second to it since the deeper epistemology can emerge just from the depth of relationship engaged.


7. “Do you love me more than any and all love?” (Jn 21:15-17) Jesus was not asking for love in comparative terms that exceeds all others. The distinguished Face distinguished love in relationship together only on God’s relational terms, which the Face communicated with his vulnerable presence and relational involvement both while on the cross (i.e. by his relational words, not referential words) and during his footwashing. In both moments Peter’s own face made a turn from the Face and maintained his relational distance—relationally turned from the Face equally as much in his denials at the cross as in his refusal to let Jesus wash his feet, in spite of his earlier referential confessions and declarations of faith (e.g. Jn 6:68-69; Mt 16:16; Mk 14:29,31). Now the distinguished Face challenged Peter’s interpretive framework and theological assumptions both of his own anthropology and of Jesus himself, which signified Peter’s attempt to determine their relationship together on Peter’s terms, not God’s. This is the whole relational context and process of Jesus’ question. And Jesus reveals by his relational language: The reciprocal nature of God’s terms for relationship is the ongoing depth of relational involvement constituted by distinguished love; nothing less and no substitutes distinguished the reciprocal relational involvement in whole relationship Face to face—made definitive from the beginning in the covenant of love, with the summary commandments of love and ultimately by the distinguished Face embodied in human context.


8. “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) Jesus’ relational question exposes where and what Paul was as a person at that point in his faith, thereby exposing his theological assumptions of anthropology and of God. And Jesus reveals directly to Paul who the whole of God is, what God’s whole ontology is, and how God’s whole function is by the relational messages implied in his question that identified his own person as relationally being directly persecuted. This exposure and revelation converged for the relational outcome unfolded in Paul’s whole person solely because of the qualitative significance of God’s revelation in relational language, not referential language. In referential terms, the question could easily have been ignored, dismissed, or even refuted by the counter-question, “Did God really say that?” Instead, in relational terms Paul received hermeneutic correction for syniemi and thus epistemological clarification of the whole, God’s whole family on God’s relational terms.


In the above questions, Adam, Elijah, Job and Paul experienced the depth of God’s presence and involvement, which integrally exposes reduced ontology and function and reveals their wholeness. Along with this, Peter and the other disciples experienced the depth of reciprocal relational accountability and the qualitative interpretive framework which God’s presence and involvement necessitate in relationship together. This relational dynamic and outcome make evident the relational purpose of the whole of God’s creative and communicative action from the beginning in three key definitive issues for all practice inside the universe:


  1. The significance of the person God presents in self-disclosure to others—distinguished and whole from inner out, nothing less and no substitutes, thereby the vulnerable presentation of the whole person.

  2. The integrity and quality of God’s communication to those others—in whole relational language, not fragmentary referential language, therefore whose word can be counted on to be true to his whole person (what is referred to as righteous).

  3. The depth level of relationship God engages in the relational process of self-disclosure and communication with those others—vulnerably present with his whole person to be relationally involved in intimate relationship together Face to face.


These three key definitive issues for God are also key issues for all human practice in the created order and notably of faith, whose importance will further unfold in this study.


God asks these questions, even of us today, because the face of God has been distinguished in his presentation, communication and level of relational engagement. God wants us to pay attention to the turn from this distinguished Face for the new relationship together in wholeness—neither to miss the turn from the Face nor to turn from the Face. This raises questions for God which also need to be asked and addressed openly, open even in one’s presuppositions or with a hermeneutic of suspicion yet not with the predisposition of the counter-challenge question. These questions involve the identity of the distinguished Face embodied in the human context.


While the embodied face of Jesus was distinctly Jewish, and his predominant surrounding context was Jewish Galilee and Judea, the person Jesus presented (who and what) and how he interacted at the various levels of social discourse were a function not of the dominant Jewish identity. That is to say, Jesus functioned in a qualitatively different way than prevailing Judaism, yet he was fully compatible with OT faith and congruent with the relational teaching of Scripture—to be distinguished from the referential terms commonly used for Scripture. Jesus was uniquely both part of and distinguished from the religious mainstream. As a result, his identity clearly distinguished his significance from the prevailing majority, including from the broader context pervaded with Greco-Roman influence. It is insufficient, therefore, to define the whole of Jesus’ identity from human contextualization.


This is what the Samaritan woman discovered in a critical interaction with Jesus that disclosed the strategic shift of the thematic relational response by the face of God. The person Jesus presented to her was more than countercultural when he asked her for a drink. Despite the prevailing constraints at this level of social discourse, the whole of Jesus’ identity emerges and is clearly distinguished because neither Jesus kept the expected relational distance nor the woman avoided this unique and significant opportunity to engage him further and deeper—that is, much further and deeper than she or his disciples could have expected. In response to his request, she responded: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jn 4:9-26). This person engages Jesus in an epistemic process with a referential question that defines two key issues: (1) her self-definition of being less than Jesus based on a theological anthropology of structural outer-in distinctions in a comparative system of inequality; and (2) she defined Jesus merely on the basis of human contextualization, shaped by the interpretive lens of her theological anthropology. The face of God, however, is disclosing the strategic shift of God’s thematic relational response in this critical interaction, in which she is given direct access to the Face to engage in the relational epistemic process. She responds without caution: “Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who saw God face to face?” Emphasis added to understand the relational dynamic unfolding. Without letting her theological assumptions determine the answers, she openly engages the Face in the relational epistemic process with both an epistemological question and an ontological question. The relational outcome was the hermeneutic correction of her theological anthropology and the epistemological clarification of her theology of the face of God, which deepened the theology of Face to face from Jacob’s experience because of the whole of God’s strategic shift in the distinguished Face embodied—from a place (“called Peniel,” and “this mountain…Jerusalem," v.20) to the person (“I am he,” v.26).


While this is the expected relational outcome for those who engage Jesus for his full identity, there is also an expected relational consequence for those who engage Jesus in a limited identity. To define Jesus on the limited basis of human contextualization—which could include church tradition—becomes problematic for his followers own identity. This can perhaps even precipitate an identity crisis since Jesus’ identity will be definitive for who his followers are or become. The clarity and depth of Jesus’ identity then become a christological contingency that defines his followers’ identity and determines their discipleship. This, of course, makes the significance of their life and practice (even in the academy) contingent on their working Christology, whether or not it involves the distinguished Face for involvement in relationship together Face to face, and whether or not it may lead to an identity problem.


An identity problem begins to emerge when the identity (or relational truth, not referential truth) of Jesus is incomplete of the whole person he distinguished—for example, focused only on his referential teachings or examples disengaged from his whole person in relationship. A fragmented or refracted face of Jesus has neither the clarity nor the depth necessary to be whole to avoid an identity problem. This process is demonstrated by Jesus’ early disciples. After multiple occasions of witnessing Jesus healing various diseases and cast out demons, his disciples had a dramatic experience of Jesus disarming a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mk 4:35-41). Their collective response was “Who is this?” Their question is to be compared and contrasted to Jesus’ query of them later about his identity (Mt 16:15). Both queried the identity of Jesus. Yet, Jesus focused on a relational epistemic process for a deeper epistemology (cf. Mt 16:17) in contrast to an apparent conventional epistemic process the disciples utilized. Their actions suggest an imbalanced dependence on reason. Rather than pursue this question with Jesus and God’s self-disclosure, the disciples pondered it among themselves. This was a consistent pattern by them, which cannot be adequately explained by sociocultural practice or by the tradition of rabbinic students because how Jesus was with them radically altered both of those constraints. Yet, in numerous situations they failed to understand what Jesus meant or what was happening to him, and each time they refrained from engaging him in the relational epistemic process (see Mk 8:14-16, Jn 4:27,32-33, Mk 9:32, Lk 18:34, Jn 12:16, cf. Lk 24:12). Each of these interactions was an opportunity for the disciples to deeply understand the identity of who Jesus is, but they failed to pursue further their initial query: “Who is this?”


Though certainly unexpected to happen to Jesus’ original disciples—a more reasonable expectation for the Samaritan woman—the relational consequence is predictable as Jesus’ questions above exposed. And even though Jesus distinguished his Face to them in relational terms for the deeper epistemology, they only heard referential language transmitting information about him in a conventional epistemology to signify their incomplete Christology. In spite of the ongoing turn from the Face vulnerably extended in relational involvement with them, it can be said that in actual relational function their faces turned from the Face to avoid the relational involvement together Face to face, even if unintentional (cf. Peter at his footwashing). This is the relational consequence of an incomplete Christology, which may be well-defined in referential terms but lacks the clarity and depth of wholeness to be qualitatively-relationally significant, either for Jesus or his gospel.


This was not the process, experience and outcome for Paul from the Damascus road. When the Face turned and distinguished his person to Paul, Paul asked openly, even with his presupposition of Jewish monotheism, “Who are you?” (Acts 9:5). Paul was not asking for a mere explanation of the charge against him implied in Jesus’ question (v.4). He wanted the clarity and depth of the identity of the distinguished Face confronting his face in the relational significance beyond what was common to Paul, even to his Jewish mysticism. The question Paul asked openly in relational terms was wholly and ongoingly responded to by the vulnerable presence and relational involvement of the distinguished Face to compose Paul’s complete Christology (cf. Acts 26:16; Eph 3:4-5; 2 Cor 4:6; Col 2:2-3). This was the full identity of the whole of Jesus, whose distinguished Face transformed Paul’s identity in the necessary whole ontology and function (cf. Col 2:9-10; 2 Cor 3:18); and on this basis, Paul further embodied the theology and hermeneutic for the whole gospel—nothing less of Jesus and no substitute for his gospel.


Christology is at the heart of the face of God who turned and shined, therefore at the heart of all theology and of the identity of those receiving the turn from the distinguished Face. Any reduction of Christology by a fragmentation or refraction of the whole face of Jesus creates an identity problem. Accordingly, the response to such questions as “Who is this?” “Are you greater than?” and “Who are you?” needs to have complete theological determination. Such a determination requires the interpretive framework compatible for the relational epistemic process to syniemi the complete Christology definitive of the qualitative and relational significance distinguished by the face of Jesus and his gospel. This necessitates having the theological anthropology that at its heart integrally involves the complete Christology. The questions God asks and those asked of God converge in the integral relational dynamic to expose and reveal what is needed to define the depth of our theology (i.e. our Christology) as well as to determine the depth of our relational response (i.e. our theological anthropology) to the turn from the Face with our face in nothing less and no substitute of relationship together Face to face. Therefore, these questions are critical to address and should not be diminished or minimalized—or ignored at the risk of unintentionally making a turn from the Face.


The above questions, and variations of them, are important to listen to, to pay attention to what is heard, to answer and also to ask, even for us today. Their relevance for us is to help bring to light our own theological assumptions, most notably of theological anthropology and Christology; and then to examine these assumptions to disclose any need for their further clarity and depth—perhaps, just as for the Samaritan woman and Paul, for epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction.


Such questions from God, or variations, as “Where are you?” and “What are you doing here?” ask us to define who and what we are, based on our theological anthropology. To ask “Who is this?” is a theological question from us, and “Who are you?” is more of a relational question; “Are you greater than?” involves both. Yet, these questions, or variations, from us involve our working Christology and our assumptions about the gospel; and they need to be pursued in the relational epistemic process with the compatible interpretive framework for the further clarity and depth necessary to distinguish wholeness in our theology and practice. This wholeness is necessary: for our theology to confidently answer Jesus’ question in relational language, “Do you also wish to have relational distance from the distinguished Face?”; and for our relational response to be vulnerably present and relationally involved in wholly answering the Face’s question Face to face, “Do you love me in distinguished relational terms, not comparative referential terms?”


Either the turn from the Face or a turn from the Face is the challenge facing us to meet. As the Samaritan woman experienced with the Face’s disclosure in the relational epistemic process of the whole of God’ strategic shift—and had her theological anthropology corrected and theology of the Face clarified and deepened—she would have sung with the poet, ‘the Face’:


You are not in ‘place’

You are the face,

less Object to observe

O, Subject to receive—

      openly present, relationship involved.

Your face turned to us

and shines on us,

bringing change for the new

relationship in wholeness together

     with the Face—Face to face.



“Did God really distinguish his Face?”





[1] In a short overview, David Wenham looks at the various questions and issues that scholars and others have raised about Paul and Jesus. Did St Paul Get Jesus Right? The Gospel According to Paul (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2010).

[2] See a discussion on two horizons by Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 42-46.

[3] This composite term is taken from what more accurately defines the process not as a circle but as a ‘hermeneutical spiral’, which James D.G. Dunn describes as a ‘three-dimensional cone’. “Criteria for a Wise Reading of a Biblical Text” in David F. Ford and Graham Stanton, eds., Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom (London: SCM Press, 2003), 51.

[4] McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary.

[5] Steiner, Real Presences.

[6] For a discussion on the hermeneutics of suspicion and retrieval, see Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, 344-78.

[7] For a discussion on how we are changed by this process, see MIT professor Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011).



©2012 T. Dave Matsuo

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