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Special thanks to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.

I mentioned at the end of last year that I had received a copy of Greg Beale’s book We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry and that I was genuinely excited to get a chance to read it.  In fact, I’m so excited that this will end up being a multi-part review, probably 4, if I had to guess.  This first review covers the first 2 chapters.

The first chapter helpfully sets out Beale’s thesis and approach.  His thesis: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (p16).  Not surprisingly, Beale starts with the assumption that Scripture coheres, and that biblical writers intentionally pick up passages and themes from previous contexts (sometimes in quotations, sometimes in allusions), and still respect the original context (intertextuality).  He considers himself a “maximalist” in regards to intertextuality, a refreshingly honest admission in a day when spaghetti-spined scholars want to paint themselves as “middle of the road” and “best of all worlds” kinds of guys.

He also openly admits to doing “hyperegesis,” which is “going beyond the Old Testament authors’ conscious original intention, not violating it but trascending it by creatively developing it in the ongoing light of progressive revelation and consistently within the parameters of the willed type of the original utterance” (p32).  Undoubtedly, some will not be convinced by this approach and wonder about its validity.

Two aspects of Beale’s approach are somewhat (though not entirely unique).  First, he tries to see where later OT writers used earlier OT writers.  Since most of the focus has been on the NT writers’ use of the OT, it’s interesting to see someone pick a slightly different path (though Beale isn’t the only one doing this, Douglas Stuart does this is in prophet commentaries).  Second, instead of arbitrarily picking a theme to study in Scripture, Beale opts for a text (in this case, Isaiah 6) and shows how it is developed.

Occasionally, you’ll find annoying caveats like, “I suspect there will be moments in the remainder of this chapter that some readers will have to exercise patience in following my discussion” (p22).  This, to me, is akin to a preacher starting his sermon, “Just a heads-up, this will be long and boring, but if you pay attention, you’ll get something good out of it.”

In one sense, it is odd that Beale opts for Isaiah 6 as his base text.  After all, Psalm 115 (and 135, with almost the exact wording) states his thesis clearly.  But, his point isn’t simply to prove the truth of his statement, but to show its importance for the biblical understanding of idolatry.

More than that, as noted above, Beale isn’t simply trying to trace a theme, but to trace a text (Isaiah 6) and its use in the rest of the Bible.  And Beale’s reading of Isaiah 6 is that it is a judgment of Israelite idolatry, and the punishment is becoming blind, deaf and unable to understand.  Take a second and read this chapter, especially vv9-13, in your English translation and you’ll probably wonder how he gets this reading from these verses.  Well, that’s what chapter 2 is for.

Beale notes that the “sensory-organ malfunction” language in Isaiah is applied to idols and those who worship them (42:17-20; 43:8,10; 44:17-18), as in Psalm 115.  Thus, the similar language in Isaiah 6 shows that the problem is idolatry, and the punishment is becoming like the idols being worshipped in place of God.  Beale also argues that the language in v13 (“subject to burning,” “terebinth,” “stump”) are words linked to idolatry elsewhere (see “terebinth” in Isaiah 1:29-31).  Thus, what we have here in Isaiah 6 is a denouncement and necessary punishment of Israel’s idolatry, becoming like the idols they revere.  I’m leaving out a lot of the discussion, largely because it’s rather dense.  Instead, I’m simply laying out Beale’s thesis and understanding of this passage.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first of this take on Isaiah 6.  But after reading this passage, I really feel that Beale may be on to something.  I would like to see an evaluation of a more established OT scholar, though endorsements on the back cover from Douglas Stuart, Bruce Waltke and T Desmond Alexander do count for something (though we all know endorsements don’t mean wholesale agreement, either).  There are enough connections with other passages on idolatry, both conceptual and lexical, that make his reading plausible, if not probable.

The next portion of the review will cover the next 2 chapters on other portions of the OT.

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