Archive for October, 2010

5.5.  This post is dedicated to the handful of folks who used to read my old blog, where I’d post occasional “5.5 Random Things”, often with links on various topics which may or may not be related to Bible geekdom.  Generally these are items of interest (to me, at any rate) that I don’t want to write a full post about.  I’ve decided pull this idea off the shelf, dust it off and give it a whirl.  Call it a comeback.

5. Matthew Montonini has posted an interview with J Ramsey Michaels over at New Testament Perspectives, specifically dealing with Michaels’ new commentary on the Gospel of John.  While I often wonder if it’s really worth the time and effort on the part of publishers to keep pumping out new commentaries, when I know of a respectable scholar who has been working for a couple decades on one, I pay attention.  Michaels’ commentary replaces the well-known commentary by Leon Morris in the NICNT, which is, in my opinion, the best commentary Morris ever wrote (and he wrote many).  Anyway, Montonini’s interview is in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

4. My co-blogger, Brian, recently won a free book.  In related news, Brian’s a jerk.

3. Over at Parchment and Pen, Tim Kimberly recently finished a series on the “Top Ten Biblical Studies in Archaeology.”  Not all will be convinced by his interpreation of the data, but I found it interesting nonetheless. 

2. In case you’re wondering, Pierce Baby #2 is due in 29 days.  If you’re familiar with these things, you know it could be 40 days.  I’m praying for a less biblical number.

1. Obama is the leopard king.  You know, of Daniel 7.  This guy says so, here and here.  Consider yourself informed. 

Side note: I love the reasoning behind this correlation, especially the connection between a leopard’s spots (two colors, black and white) and Obama’s mixed race.  The other beasts?  Monochromatic (sort of).  Nearly flawless logic. 

Side note to the side note: The logic would be closer to flawless if he argued his case in terms of primary colors.  Bear=black (for the sake of argument), lion=yellow, leopard=mixed (I realize black isn’t considered a primary color, but work with me here).  If he argued this, I’d cosign it in a heartbeat! 

Side note to the other side notesCousin Jeremy– is it possible that you missed this in all your years of studying the philosophy of race on the doctoral level?   Seriously, bro, let’s work on this.  I bet your problem is methodological.  You need to get a Casio and a video camera, hang out by a quaint river and let it come.  Trust me.

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Michael Coogan, an OT lecturer at Harvard Divinity School, has recently written an opinion article ostensibly exposing some “shocking” values espoused by the Bible.  While Coogan makes some valid points in this short essay, for the most part, I found his analysis to be a mixed bag at best.

As for the good, Coogan makes a wonderful suggestion that is essentially a call to good exegesis and hermeneutics:

Individual biblical texts should not be appealed to selectively: Such cherry-picking is all too easy because of the nature of the Bible as a multi-authored book. Rather, as with another formative text, the Constitution, one needs first to understand it historically — what did its words mean when they were written — and then attempt to determine what its underlying values are, not just what it says in a specific passage.

One wonders then, why Coogan is unable to take his own advice earlier in the essay, when he talks about issues like slavery, homosexuality and abortion.  In each of these, he tends to fall under his own judgment by being overly selective or superficial.

Coogan claims early in his essay that “the Bible itself makes clear [that] its authors were human beings.”  Here we have an error of omission, because the Bible also makes clear that its origin is ultimately divine (e.g., 2 Tim 3:16), unless we exclude the countless times (well over 500) formulae such as “the Lord said,” or “the word of the Lord came to…” introduce a text.  Coogan misses the fact that, much like Christ, the Bible understands itself as both human and divine.

Coogan continues his selectivity regarding slavery.  Indeed, supporters of slavery may have used the Bible to support their view, but so did the abolitionists.  What of the slave trade if William Wilberforce were never given a Bible?  What of William Lloyd Garrison’s (thoroughly Christian) first abolitionist address at Park Street Church?  It is so easy to stir up vitriol over human rights issues while forgetting that their origins in Western culture are actually Biblical.  The notion that all people have intrinsic worth and dignity does not have its roots in ancient Hellenism, or even the Enlightenment.  As David Bentley Hart so lucidly illustrates in Atheist Delusions (review here), Christianity is responsible for shaping the West with these ideals.

While we’re on the topic of slavery, if I may digress, we must remember that because of our own history, Biblical slavery is often thought to be equivalent to the African slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries.  This post cannot adequately discuss the Biblical view of slavery.  I will remark, however, that Biblical slavery knows countless differences over and against the slavery in our own recent history.  Not all slavery was cruel, forced, unremitting labor, and numerous Biblical injunctions enforced that.  The starting point to the discussion of slavery, then, oughtn’t presuppose an ancient Near-Eastern Simon Legree capriciously and viciously abusing slaves while enjoying God’s approval.  The text of the Bible, and the careful cultural exegesis that should accompany it, simply does not allow it.

With homosexuality, Coogan makes the common mistake of applying the same hermeneutics to laws governing diet and dress, rather than understanding the function and intent of these laws in their particular place in Scripture.  Moreover, his hermeneutics are embarrassing, viz., we don’t like these laws any more, therefore we should reconsider them.  Coogan takes the stance that often under-girds anti-Bible rhetoric:  He stands in judgment over it.  If we are to take the Bible on its own terms, it should judge us.  If not, then it is effectively impotent to tell us anything at all, since we get to determine for ourselves what of it is good or bad.  This is the crucial first step in approaching the book; our interpretive outcome hinges upon it.  If we understand the Bible as an authority above ourselves, then it doesn’t matter if its teaching runs against our own opinions or cultural milieu.  I cannot reject a teaching of the Bible simply because I do not like it, or because it is out of vogue.  If that is my posture, why bother read it?  I’m determining right and wrong for myself, whether the Bible agrees or disagrees is of no consequence.

Coogan ultimately claims that the Bible’s authority rests on its underlying message; “equal, even loving, treatment of all persons, regardless of their age, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”  In other words, the Bible has authority because its underlying message conforms to modern sensibilities.  Moreover, he completely misses the point, because the underlying message, the meta-narrative of the Bible, is not some trite (however agreeable) ethical mandate.  It is not simply a collection of commands to obey unto salvation.  It is the message of a good, just, loving God, who redeems a sinful, fallen world through the death and resurrection of His Son.  To read the Bible and miss Jesus is to miss the point.

In the end, Coogan rightly accuses too many public figures for being lazy (or unwarranted) in their application of Biblical texts.  His call to uncover the original meaning of a text before applying it to our lives today is right on.  It seems, however, that he has missed his own mark, ultimately missing the point all together.

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Newer than the New

Keeping up the new theme of new news (except this is not so new, I suppose), it has been announced that the new New International Version will have its text be posted on Biblegateway.com starting November 1, in anticipation of the “physical” release in March 2011.  For fans of the New International Version, you’ll no doubt want the newest.

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New Interview, New Bible

It’s probably not new, but “new to me” counts towards my naming trend.   I recently watched this interview of Gordon Fee by Mike Feazell of Grace Communion International.  In it, Fee discusses his latest commentary on Revelation, though he arguably devotes equal time to how we ought to read the Bible.  For readers of Fee, much of what he says will sound familiar, but I still found it to be a refreshing half-hour very well spent.

I was particularly intrigued by his comment that Biblica (formerly IBS) has published a TNIV without verse and chapter designations in the text, allowing the reader to read the text naturally, as it was intended to be read (and originally written!).  For $9 (c.f., $44 on Amazon!), this is probably one of the best Bible study tools available.  Mine is in the mail.

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New Sermon

Continuing my new trend of naming all new posts with the most powerful word in advertising (i.e., “new”), here is a link to the audio file for the sermon I preached at our new church this past Sunday on Psalm 107:4-9.  It’s new.

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Chided again by Danny’s subtle wit, I thought I’d finally post something.  For spite.

This summer I joined a church planting team sent from CFCF to plant a church in Waltham.  The River Church, now a little over a month old, is therefore my new church home.  Being part of a church planting team has been an exciting experience, for sure.  There is always a certain excitement that comes from beginning something new; building something from the ground-up.

Naturally, all of us on the core team understand that Christ is the one who builds His church (c.f., Mt.16:18), and we’re not starting something new so much as continuing in a faith already thousands of years old.  Still, there are the brick and mortar decisions: What does our corporate worship service look like?  What are small groups going to look like?  Where do we meet?  How do we reach out to the community? Etc.

The overwhelming emotion I’ve experienced throughout all of these decisions is one of humility.  It is easy to talk about what a corporate worship service should look like, (doubly-so in the accountability-free, anonymous cocoon of the internet), but very difficult to actually plan for a time of corporate worship.  There is always in our lives the tension of what ought to be and what is.  Our tidy monographs on the church (some of which I’ve written), often seem far less useful when we’re dealing with real people and real circumstances.

All this to say that my church planting experience thus far has reminded me of the charity with which we should discuss, philosophize and even criticize the church in America.  We tread this space often on BBG, hopefully with due humility.  I think said charity ought to wax even larger when discussing matters with which we are not intimately involved.  To use the worship example again, criticism of corporate worship practices are much more weighty if they come from people who are actually involved with a corporate worship team in some way.

This doesn’t mean that a non-participant has nothing meaningful to say.  A single pastor can provide sound marital counsel to a couple.  However, nothing beats real experience for seasoning this counsel with charity and grace.  This pattern has repeated itself throughout my life:  As I thought ahead to marriage, there were certain things I thought I’d never do; similar thoughts ran through my mind as I looked forward to the birth of my first child.  As much as my pre-marital, pre-parental self might have confessed that marriage or parenting are difficult things to do, it has taken my experience of them to really appreciate just how difficult.

The experience-induced slice of humble pie oughtn’t dull our ideals, however.  Indeed, when the rubber met the road, I was not the husband or parent I thought I’d be.  (My wife and I often laugh at our pre-parental discussions on child-rearing; all of which were held in the quiet of our living room as we anticipated a restful night of sleep.)  We can still strive towards our highest ideals.  Sometimes, though, life gets messy and we realize that we forgot to kiss our wife good-bye, sat our son in front of the TV so we could get 15 minutes of quiet, and haven’t posted to our blog in ages.  Here’s to trying our best again tomorrow.

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A quick note before I begin.  We here at BBG by and large opt to avoid prominently controversial topics in our posts.  There are a number of reasons for this: they rarely accomplish anything other than getting people riled up, once someone disagrees with your position on one topic they may ignore anything you say on any topic, we don’t want anyone thinking our opinions reflect those of our churches, and so on.  So, I write this post with a little apprehension.

Few topics are as controversial in our day as the one of women’s roles in ministry and the home.  There are long and detailed arguments on both sides of the issue that delve deep into biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, cultural analysis, and plenty of other areas.  I want to ask a question dealing with only one specific argument that I frequently hear from complementarian circles.  So, please, for the sake of my sanity, don’t take this as a chance to spout off on anything related to this topic.  Keep it to this specific argument.  Okay, thanks for sticking with me thus far.

One of the common complementarian arguments is that the authority of man over woman is rooted in the created order.  This is potentially significant, because if it can be determined that man’s authority is a result of the fall, one could argue that Christ’s work has undone the punishments of the fall (death, for example), including the authority of a man over a woman (though this argument is in desperate need of nuance).  There are various arguments that go into this, but there’s one that I’ve been thinking about lately.

It has been claimed that “naming” someone or something is the right of authority.  That is, Adam is given the right to name the animals of the Garden because he is in authority.  Parents are given the right to name their children, God gives new names to Abram and Jacob, and so on.  You can read this sort of argument in Bruce Waltke’s commentary on Genesis.  Adam names the woman in Genesis 2:23, which “entails his authority in the home” (p95).

I’ll point out quickly that some would argue that he does not really name the woman in Genesis 2:23.  Instead, he names her in Genesis 3:20- after the fall.  The footnote (number 18, Genesis 2:23) in the NET Bible gives a linguistic argument against the idea that Adam is naming the woman in case you care to read it (sorry, I don’t know how to link to a footnote in the NET Bible, but the sidebar is easy to navigate).  But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Adam is naming the woman in Genesis 2:23.

Does that necessarily mean, however, that Adam is in authority over her?  I realize that is the assumption of many complementarians, but I have my doubts.  I’ll give one example of someone giving a name who is obviously not in authority over the recipient.

The she (Hagar) called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’… (Genesis 16:13).

This text indicates to me that is would be hard to argue that naming someone else necessarily implies authority.  Here we have a person giving a name to God.  A lesser being naming a greater one.  Again, this wouldn’t be a “take down” of complementarian arguments of hierarchy in the created order, it would simply counter one specific argument.

Now, here’s why I’m writing this post.  I’m wondering if anyone has encountered (or has one of their own) a complementarian argument that can answer this.  Bruce Waltke, to pick one example, is a brilliant OT scholar and theologian.  I have my doubts he’s so dense that he’s missed something like this.  He even notes the unique nature of this event.  Yet, I haven’t come across a counter-argument (admittedly, have not read much of the literature out there on this) to what I’m presenting here.  Is Hagar simply an exception?  Or is there really no rule to begin with?

I’ve been around long enough to know that few people actually spend the necessary time to investigate arguments for various positions.  We often assume that the scholars we respect have done the requisite homework and weeded their way through the positions.  That simply isn’t true all the time.  The “naming” argument sounds plausible on the front end.  In the words of Proverbs 18:17, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”  But I’ve also been around long enough to know that counter-arguments seem right, too, but are in need of refining.  So I’m throwing it out to my reader(s)- what do you think?

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Sometime ago, Brian, my fellow infrequent contributor to BBG, offered up a post on five resources to help people understand the Pentateuch in a posted titled “Five Books for the Five Books.”  I wholeheartedly agree that the resources he listed are helpful, and would even now agree (I didn’t then, as you can see in his original post) that T D Alexander’s book, From Paradise to Promised Land, is the best book I’ve read on the Pentateuch.  The person not interested in source criticism would do well to skip the first 100 pages or so, but otherwise it’s a fantastic overview of what the Pentateuch teaches.

A few years back I picked up a copy of another study on the Pentateuch at a CBD Warehouse Sale.  I bought it because I recognized the author’s name from my Exegesis in Genesis class with Duane Garrett (and I’ll explain why he stood out to me a in a minute), and because the sale price was $6.79 (normally priced $24.99).  The Pentateuch As Narrative was my first introduction to OT scholar John Sailhamer’s works.  It took me a while to sit down and read through it a bit, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in it.  He has since gone on to write another book on the Pentateuch, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, which received a hearty endorsement from John Piper.

Sailhamer, who essentially gives a running commentary on the Pentateuch in this book, is at his best when he’s pointing out easy-to-miss connections throughout the Pentateuch.  For instance, Sailhamer shows verbal parallels between Noah and Abraham, demonstrating that they each “represent new beginnings in the course of events recorded in Genesis.  Both are marked by God’s promise of blessing and his gift of the covenant” (p128).  The same goes for parallels between the story of Abraham going in and out of Egypt (chapters 12-13) and the story of Israel doing the same (in the Joseph story and in Exodus 11-12).  “By shaping the account of Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt to parallel the events of the Exodus, the author permits the reader to see the implications of God’s past deeds with his chosen people” (p142). 

I could probably list off a couple dozen other examples (connections between the flood story and purification laws, brilliant!), not all of which are entirely convincing, in my opinion.  But the effect of all this is in demonstrating that there is a narrative unity to the Pentateuch.  Whatever else one wants to say about the sources behind the Pentateuch (safe to say that Sailhamer is hardly convinced by Documentary Hypothesis advocates), the final form of the text is intended to be seen as a unity.

That is not to say, however, that I always find Sailhamer’s analysis correct.  I’ll give one quick example to make my point.

I mentioned earlier that Sailhamer’s name rung a bell with me for a specific reason.  In my aforementioned Exegesis in Genesis class, Dr Garrett mentioned Sailhamer’s view of the “days of creation” in Genesis 1.  I was quite familiar with the 24-hour view and the indefinite-period-of-time view (or whatever it should be called), and even the framework hypothesis.  But I hadn’t heard Sailhamer’s view before.

In a nutshell, Sailhamer argues that the days of creation in Genesis 1 are not referring to the creation of our planet (he does see that in Genesis 1:1, just not what follows).  Instead, these days refer to God’s creation/preparation of the “land” (read: Promised Land) for Israel.  You can find a more detailed presentation of his argument summarized by Matt Perman (who is actually summarizing Sailhamer’s argument in Genesis Unbound– apparently one book making his point isn’t enough!) at the Desiring God website.  One of the alluring features of this view is the use of “land” (eretz, in Hebrew) in Genesis 1 and the rest of the Pentateuch.  “The Land” is a common thread in the Pentateuch.  God had promised it to Abraham and his descendents (Gen 12:7) and much of the rest of the Pentateuch is centered around the theme of God preparing them to live in the Land. 

My reaction, though, is that Sailhamer reads the evidence backwards.  While I appreciate the verbal and thematic connections between Genesis 1 and various other places in the Pentateuch (God separating the waters on Day 3 and with the Red Sea), I would argue that the Red Sea account points back to the creation of the world, rooting Israel’s story (the creation of Israel) in God’s total creative power.  I’m intrigued, but not convinced (but could be, I suppose).

So The Pentateuch as Narrative would not be my first book to recommend to someone on the first five books of the Bible.  From Paradise to Promised Land still holds the #1 slot for me.  But I think it’s good for me to have someone throw a few curveballs.  That someone is John Sailhamer.  He comes to the text with a different set of eyes, picking up on details that I never would have seen.  While I may disagree, I’m rarely disappointed.

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There are some parts of the Bible that make perfectly good sense to me.  When I read Matthew, I have (or think I do) a pretty good grasp of what is going on, why the author does things a certain way.  Job?  Not that confusing, really, once you have a decent orientation to what’s going on. 

This doesn’t mean, of course, that there aren’t confusing parts of these books.  No one has all the answers, mostly certainly not a 31-year old with some education and a blog.  For instance, I still scratch my head at the “doubling” effect Matthew has in his gospel when compared to some others (e.g., the two demon-possessed men of 8:28-34).  But by and large, Matthew’s gospel does not leave me perplexed.

But there are some that do.  Here is a quick list of three books of the Bible that confuse me.

1) Daniel.  I have a decent grasp of bits and pieces of Daniel.  But then you get things like the seventy “sevens” (9:20-27) or these random angels/princes/whatever they are.  And I have no clue how the book as a whole fits together.  I’ve been putting off studying this book of the Bible (for which I was named, by the way) for a while.  I had hoped to do an independent study on Daniel at Gordon-Conwell with Dr Duane Garrett, but he left for Southern Seminary before I could jump on it.  My ignorance remains.

2) 2 Corinthians.  Again, I know bits and pieces of this letter fairly well.  But I find chapter 3 confusing, same with most of chapters 4 and 5.  2 Corinthians is treated like the Fredo Corleone of the Corinthians letter family (okay, bad analogy, since 1 Corinthians is the only other member of the family).  I can’t keep up with all the good 1 Corinthians commentaries out there, while 2 Corinthians begs for someone to notice.  Let’s try a different analogy- 1 Corinthians : 2 Corinthians :: Marcia Brady : Jan Brady.  Better?

3) Colossians.  What exactly is the problem Paul is addressing here?  What false teachings were happening?  What I find most interesting is that I know Ephesians fairly well, and despite the fact that scholars are so quick to point out there similarities, I still find Colossians a bit more confusing.  I’m starting to think they are more different than many realize.

So there you go.  The issue with these three books is this: I haven’t taken the time to study them.  A year ago Ezekiel would have made this list, but since I determined to spend time in it I’ve grown to understand what is going on.  This is why my list may be entirely different from someone else’s.  I know many would put Leviticus or Numbers on their list, and certainly Revelation.  But I’ve spent more time studying the Pentateuch and Revelation than just about any other section of Scripture.  So while portions of Revelation still leave me wondering, it is not a complete mystery.

What about you?  What books of the Bible do you find most confusing?  Any plans to rectify this problem?

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