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«Understanding the Kingdom of God in the Tension between Aphoristic and Apocalyptic Motifs: Towards a Hermeneutic of Liberation for Minjung Theology ...»

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Understanding the Kingdom of God in the Tension

between Aphoristic and Apocalyptic Motifs: Towards a

Hermeneutic of Liberation for Minjung Theology

Duk Ki Kim1

I. Introduction: A New Trend of Understanding the Kingdom of God

for A Dialogue with Minjung Theology

This paper aims to present a recent view of the Kingdom of God and to integrate it into a

constructive hermeneutic for liberation theologies. I will illustrate how Minjung theology,

a Korean version of liberation theology, can have a critical and constructive dialogue with the Kingdom of God proposed by recent biblical scholarship on the historical Jesus. I discovered in a recent study of the historical Jesus that non-apocalyptic aphoristic notion of the Kingdom of God is emerging as an important herneneutical motif of liberation.

The new approach to the Kingdom of God uses not only the historical-critical method for reconstructing its social background, but also the literary-critical method for reinterpreting its literary form and rhetocial feature of the Kingdom sayings and parables.

To show this shift in approaches to the historical Jesus, I have chosen the works of two biblical scholars: Norman Perrin and Burton L. Mack. Both scholars use the historical and literary critical methods at the same time. Norman Perrin concentrates on the Apocalyptic thought world of the Kingdom of God in the context of historical Jesus while Burton Mack focuses on the social history of the Kingdom of God in the context of Markan community.

Thus we can see a clue of the hermeneutical insight for liberation theology from the tension between apocalyptic and aphoristic motifs imbedded in both scholars’ exegetical, literary, and theological interpretations of the Kingdom of God. The literary—critical and historical— critical methods will be separately presented for this purpose. Mack’s Myth of Innocence is a major reference in this research.

With regards to Minjung theology, I will focus on some issues involved in exegetical, christological, and hermeneutical foundation, which the rst world theologians raised after critically reading the theological statements of Minjung theologians. Jung Young Lee noted various responses of worldwide theologians to Minjung theology in his book, An Emerging Theology in World Perspective. For making a constructive dialogue between the recent study of Kingdom of God and Minjung Theology, I will concentrate especially on the theme of eschatology and Christology in his book as well as the biblical foundation of Minjung theology in Byung Mu Ahn’s book, A Story of Minjung Theology.

Duk Ki Kim is Vice Professor of New Testament at Daejeon Theological Seminary and College, Daejeon, Korea, which is afliated with the Presbyterian Church in Korea.

II. Historical Critical Approach to Kingdom of God A. Eschatogical Kingdom of God as Individual Existence: Norman Perrin Minjung theologians pose an eschatological issue involved in the Kingdom of God and Messianism. Kingdom of God in the traditional theology is upheld by rulers and oppressors, while political messianism empowers the oppressed and the ruled.2 This sharp dichotomization between two Christian symbols manifests the biblical scholars’ shortcomings in understanding the symbol of Kingdom of God. Kosuke Koyama criticizes Nam Dong Suh’s misinterpretation of the dynamic symbol of the Kingdom of God,


My response to this is that unfortunately the church, as Suh Nam-dong indicates, misinterpreted the dynamic symbol of the Kingdom of God---. The kingdom of God is to do with the unexpected manifestation of the power of God in this world of ours, not the place the believer enters at death.3 Thus the richness of Christian eschatology represented in the symbol of the Kingdom of God needs to be claried by a survey of Jesus’ Kingdom sayings. In my opinion, Minjung theology tends to depend upon a thoroughly historical eschatology in the apocalypticmessianic tradition. Because of the urgent demand for a theological rationale of social justice, the signicance of the poetic and mythic function in the rich traditions of the kingdom of God and the millennium is by contrast devalued and misunderstood. This limitation can be found in biblical scholar Byung Mu Ahn’s understanding of Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God.

Byung Mu Ahn argues that the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of the minjung. He rejects the traditional understanding of the kingdom of God in western theological discussion.

Thus it is not the new possibility. The kingdom of God cannot be interpreted in terms of a relative possible future as in the apocalyptic literature. He does not accept both the thoroughly historical eschatology in Schweitzer’s historical Jesus and the existential interpretation of Jesus’ parables. He rather emphasizes the social aspect of human participation, denying the predominance of the absolute authority of God upheld mainly in the western theology God.4 The kingdom of God, for Byung Mu Ahn, constitutes the aspiration of the suffering minjung, the inner-ridden cry of “Han” [unrelieved rage]. Thus, it is actually not a temporal matter of Kingdom of God’s arrival for scholar’s discussion, but an expression of the anticipation of Minjung in the midst of suffering and oppression. He Nam Dong Suh, “Historical References for a Theology of Minjung,” in Minjung Theology: People as the Subjects of History (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1981), 162-163; “While the Kingdom of God is a heavenly and ultimate symbol... while the Kingdom of God is used in the ideology of the ruler, the Millennium is the symbol of the aspiration of the minjung.” Jung Young Lee, “Minjung Theology: A Critical Introduction”, An Emerging Theology in World Perspective, pp. 14-15, and Kosuke Koyama, “Building the Horse by Righteousness”, The Ecumenical Horizons of Minjung Theology, 145-146.

See Byung Mu Ahn, Story of the Minjung Theology, 228-253.

prefers that Kingdom of God is somewhat present in our sight. Jesus’ minjung movement is a reality of Kingdom of God. In this sense the realized eschatology of C. H. Dodd is much closer to his emphasis on the present reality of the kingdom of God.5 Because Byung Mu Ahn’s understanding of Kingdom of God does not take a serious account of the signicance of its poetic and mythic function, it does not have any critical distance beween Minjung’s aspiration and Jesus’ proclamation of Kingdom of God. Is there no possibility that both temporality and literary features of the Kingdom of God can create social aspect of the Kingdom of God? For this exploration, we need to review the discussion of Norman Perrin regarding the two issues involved in the diverse interpretations of the Kingdom of God sayings described in its mythic and poetic expression: the relation between apocalyptic imagery and Messianism and the temporality of the Kingdom of God. I will illustrate Perrin’s interpretation of Jesus’ Kingdom sayings, which are already established as authentic by his criteria of “dissimilarity” for a quest of the historical Jesus.

Norman Perrin, in his book The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus, argues that Jesus repudiated the apocalyptic concept of history. Kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching does not focus on a preordained climax in the historical determinism of two ages, which is destined to nish with catastrophic end. Jesus restored a prophetic understanding of history. Kingdom of God is set forth as God’s activity in the eschatological event on behalf of his people. In the apocalyptic literature, the phrase “the kingdom of God” or its equivalent is used in reference both to God’s decisive intervention in history and to the nal state of the redeemed. The intervention of God is envisaged in the cosmic conict and with the imagery of a holy war as in the Qumran War Scroll. Perrin discovers the

usage in the two passages:

In the rst passage [IQM 6:6] the intervention of God is referred to in terms of the Kingdom which is manifested as God displays his might on behalf of his people, and in the second [IQM 12.7] the glory of the Kingdom is manifest in the activity of God and his angels in the course of the war.6 Also, in Qumran literature (IQSb 3:5, IQSb 4:25f) the Kingdom of God is used to indicate the nal blessed state in connection to the imagery of a sanctuary and the congregations of the holy ones and sons of heaven.7 By examining the kingdom sayings in (a) Mark 1:15, Luke 11:20 (=Matt. 12:28); Matt 11:12 (=Luke 16:16), Luke 17:20f and (b) the beatitudes in Matt.

5:3-12 (=Luke 6:20-23) and Matt. 8:11 (=Luke 13:28), Perrin conrms that the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching is found in the same two references: (a) to God’s decisive intervention Kee-Dek Song, “Recent Trends in the Minjung-Theology of Prof. Dr. Byung-mu Ahn: Critical Comments on Prof. Dr. Ahn’s New Book, Story of the Minjung-Theolog,” in The Theological Thought, Vol. 60, pp. 159-161. Regarding this understanding of the kingdom of God, Jung Young Lee expresses the danger of overemphasizing the experience of Minjung as the absolute norm of theology. The issue of source of authority in minjung theology also correlates to the “cultural particularity” and “favoritism” in biblical exegesis. This criticism is intensely suggested by the Old Testament African scholar, Kwesi A. Dickson. For this refernce, see, Jung Young Lee, Ibid., pp. 20-21, and Kwei A.

Dickson, “And What of Culture?: An African Reection on Minjung Theology”, in An Emerging Theology in World Perspective, 176-180.

Norman Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus, 170.

Ibid., 181-185.

in history and human experience, and (b) to the nal state of the redeemed.

In contrast with the common factors, the big difference between the usage of Jesus and that of the apocalyptic literature is clearly discovered in the view of history. In prophetic eschatology history is seen as the arena of God’s revelation and activity, while the apocalyptic view of history puts emphasis on a wholly new order. In this prophetic tradition God acted in certain historical events. Thus God would intervene in history on their behalf. However, apocalyptic literature understands the concept of history as a universal whole or a unied process in which the beginning of paradise, the middle of cosmic-eschatological conict in the primeval chaos, and the predetermined climax in the end are consecutively connected with each other in mythic imagery and cosmic metaphor.

It is primarily preoccupied with the calculation of the end and with signs of the end.8 Jesus emphasizes the kingly activity of God rather than “the consummation”, “the end of days”, the age to come, the periods and epochs of world history, without describing the eschatological events in mythological-apocalyptic imageries. For Jesus God encroaches into history and human experience in a sudden and unexpected manner, challenging us to be prepared to have the perfect relationship with God and to be in the perfect blessed state. Jesus proclaimed God’s abrupt intervention in the redemptive activity without using the specic mythic imageries and forms.9 The temporality of the kingdom of God has been an issue in the tension between the present and the future. Norman Perrin discovers two kinds of tension in the interpretation of the Kingdom of God. One is that the Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching arrives both at present and in the future in separate kingdom sayings. Another is that in the same saying the present and future aspects of the kingdom’s arrival can be discovered. The rst kind of tension stresses the concentration upon the experience of the individual. Kingdom is accomplished in Jesus’ exorcisms, his challenge of forgiveness of sins as one makes the ultimate decision in response to the challenge. Even in the future arrival of kingdom, e.g. in ‘apocalyptic son of man sayings’ (Matt. 24:27) and ‘parables of contrast’ (the Beatitudes in Matt 5:3-12) the kingdom of God does not indicate any specic time in future consummation. Perrin interprets that future aspect of the Kingdom just as he does the present aspect of Kingdom.

Thus the believer cannot avoid the eschatological tension between present and future for

his mode of human existence. Perrin summarizes his interpretation as follows:

To experience the kingly activity of God one must have faith, i.e. one must interpret the event aright and commit oneself without reservation to the God revealed in the event properly interpreted. Then, and only then, does the Kingdom become a matter of personal experience. But it does become present as personal experience, and so the Kingdom as present in the teaching of Jesus mean, in effect, the Kingdom as potentially-actually present in the personal experience of the believer.10 In the second kind of tension Perrin illustrates the motif of temptation in the Lord’s Prayer.

Ibid., 176-178. For the secondary source for Perrin’s interpretation of Jesus’ kingdom, see Calvin R. Mercer, Norman Perrin’s Interpretation of the New Testament, 77-80.

Perrin, Ibid., 176-178; Mercer, Ibid., 78.

Perrin, Ibid, 187.

Perrin sees both distinctive element and equivalent element in this temptation motif in comparison with that of its contemporary literature of the ancient Jewish prayers (such as the Eighteen Benedictions and Qumran literature: IQM 1:12). In the prayer of Jesus, forgiveness of sins and the motif of temptation are interconnected in our daily experience.

The eschatological conict is sharpened under the attack of Satan. It is distinctive that the cosmic struggle between God and Satan is highlighted in the eschatological and experiential tension between present and future. The blessed state of forgiveness of sins and the consummation of the Kingdom of God will be resolved in the future, while in the present believers are caught in their personal and existential experience of temptation.

Perrin interprets the temptation motif as follows:

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