The Royal Narrative

In the first part, I did an overview of Paul’s “narrative of glory” in Romans 1-8 from the work Of Dr Haley Goranson Jacob in her 2018 book Conformed to the Image of his Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory. Dr Jacob through an extensive study of the biblical texts has convincingly demonstrated that glory is primarily associated with rule not and not some form of divine luminance. Now the “narrative of glory” that Jacob traces in Romans is anthropological. It is about God’s intention for human rule over his creation, which was finally inaugurated in the ascension of Christ the King. Since human glory comes from God’s glory, we need a theological narrative of glory.

God’s glory is his status as ruler over his creation. God is king but his plan was always to partner with humans and rule through them. Humans abdicated their God-given royal position, relinquishing control to other powers. These powers are in opposition to God’s policy to rule the world in partnership with his human vicegerents. So the reenthronement of humanity is integral to how God establishes his eschatological rule as the unopposed sovereign over his creation. I therefore suggest that the “narrative of glory” is part of a larger “royal narrative” that underlies the biblical canon as a whole. It is apt to describe it as “royal” because the language of glory falls under the larger category of royal themes, which are expressed in different ways throughout the Bible. As I have previously mentioned, “sonship” and “image” language have royal connotations too and so do many other important phrases and concepts across the Bible.

Two grand motifs that helped me recognize an overarching royal narrative are covenant and temple. Over the last year or so of exploring them as possible central narratives of the Bible, I realised they both had strong political connotations. The primary relationship in the Old Testament is the covenant and covenant actually connotes a political alliance between a king and a vassal. I learnt when it comes to temple, it not only has strong political connotations but the word itself has a political denotation as well. A temple is the house of a god and the Hebrew word for temple also means palace. So God was often portrayed in the Old Testament as a king sitting enthroned in his house (Psalm 99, 132, Isaiah 6:1.) This is part of the ancient notion that deity was royalty and royalty represented deity. Covenant and temple were things I along with most people would have put into the category of religious but I discovered they were extremely political as well. These indicated to me that there are other biblical themes and ideas that are traditionally “religious” but can be subsumed under the political heading of a royal narrative. These realisations were part of a growing sense, as I better understood scripture, of how fundamental the political was.

There are other examples that on a macro scale kingship shapes and dominates the landscape of both testaments. The main character in the Old Testament is God whose central identity is as king (p. 58.) The main character of the New Testament is Jesus the Son of God whose central identity is as the king ruling alongside his Father. The primary message of the New Testament is the gospel, which is about the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15.) His honorific Christ means he is the promised Davidic king who would rule the kingdom of God. God and Christ are coregents, the temple is the deity’s royal palace, the covenant is a royal contract, the people of God are a royal nation (Exodus 19:5-6, 1 Peter 2:9-10), and the gospel is about the kingdom of God. There other overarching biblical motifs that have significant royal connotations such as law, the word of God and even creation as I earlier hinted at (Isaiah 66:1-2.)

As with any form of narrative theology, I would be remiss not to mention there are limits to narrative and using narratival explanations. However, at least in terms of explanatory scope, as far as I am aware no one has provided a better category for doing biblical theology that faithfully represents and explains the canonical structure of the Bible. Also by highlighting royal themes, I do not mean everything is political. There certain things that are definitely not political. However, the ubiquitous presence of the political motif as well as its usefulness in framing how other motifs are biblically connected to one another make it an excellent rubric for making sense of the Scriptures as a whole. The story of the Bible can be told in many ways but I think the royal narrative best represents the narrative unity of scripture. The royal narrative is the story of God the king, how he created the world and through Israel’s Messiah finally established his sovereign rule over it in partnership with his human vicegerents as he had always intended.

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