Exegetical Response to Leithart, Part 1

I am now going to start the exegetical challenge to Leithart’s article. I plan on covering most of the passages which Leithart deals with in any depth. I will cover them in the order in which they appear in the article. First up is Genesis 30:33. The immediate context has clear boundaries, stretching from verse 25-43. The setting is Laban’s trickery, and Jacob’s “honesty.” Laban is motivated by greed, as is clear from the entire context of the Jacob story. He is only in this relationship for himself. He wants to keep Jacob as a hired hand, since Jacob has done such a good job, and “the Lord has blessed (him) because of (Jacob)” (vs. 27). Then follows a deal-making discussion where Laban desires to keep Jacob, whereas Jacob wants to have his own property and provide for his own family, rather than taking care of someone else’s (vs. 30). Jacob makes a condition that allows him to start providing for an estate of his own, while still looking out after Laban’s property. That condition is that any sheep that was spotted, speckled, or black, would belong to Jacob, whereas all the white sheep would belong to Laban. This would be a very easy way to tell whose sheep were whose. This point is crucial, since it informs the meaning of “honesty” (tsedeq). Laban would be able to judge Jacob’s integrity by whether there were any white sheep in Jacob’s flock. It is as sure a method of differentiation as branding would be today. The evidence of Jacob’s integrity would be the differentiation of the flocks (vs. 33).

Now, Leithart argues (pp. 210-211 of _Federal Vision_) that this passage does not take place in a courtroom setting, an opinion which is not quite as evident as Leithart believes. Jacob is invisaging the possible accusation of Laban that Jacob had stolen sheep from Laban. Jacob could, at that time, point to his innocence by pointing to his sheep. He would then be in the right in the court of common opinion. Again, there is other evidence of courtroom language here as well. The word “stolen” often appears in a judicial context. Gen 31:19 is judicial, arguably (especially after Laban tries to police Jacob into humility), and Gen 44:8 is quite judicial, as is Exodus 21:16, and Exodus 22:11. This raises the question as to whether this passage really is “covenantal” or “ethical-social,” or whether it is judicial in Genesis 30:33. However, even if we were to grant Leithart’s point here, that still does not negate the fact that he uses improper hermeneutics to arrive at a broader definition of justification. He says quite explicitly, “‘Justification’ in these passages is flexible enough to include not only ‘counting someone as legally innocent’ but also ‘counting someone as a loyal friend/servant'” (p. 211).  This claim is demonstrably false. Jacob is concerned about his own integrity when accused of stealing by Laban (hardly an unlikely event, as the outcome proved). Jacob is not concerned here at all with being counted as Laban’s friend. Leithart has not proved his point with Genesis 30:33.  

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28 Comments

  1. anneivy said,

    June 25, 2007 at 10:48 am

    Y’know, something I was thinking about that I hope isn’t too off-topic for this post is how dicey is the assumption that merely adding Y to X doesn’t change the nature of X in a significant way. Which is pretty much the argument from the FV, is it not? They’re not removing any doctrines, only adding a bit to some of them?

    It’s been a constant fascination for me, how the LORD has set up His creation so that it demonstrates His broader truth, and I’m having a hard time thinking up a situation in which adding Y to X doesn’t significantly effect X.

    Take mathematics. If we have the number 10, and add to it the number 2, while it’s true the number 10 is still present what we actually have now is the number 12.

    If we take oxygen and add sufficient hydrogen, what we’ll wind up with is water. Again, it’s true the oxygen’s still present but it wouldn’t be advisable to try to breathe the resulting mixture unless one has gills.

    If we have a half cup of sugar then add to it a couple of tablespoons of water, it’s true the half cup of sugar hasn’t left, but it’s no longer in a state suitable for sprinkling over sugar cookies.

    Adding additional elements to “salvation”, “justification”, etc. does change those doctrines, even if the original definition is – in some sense ;-) – still present.

    Or so it seems to me, at least.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 25, 2007 at 10:56 am

    Yes, Anne, good point. I will be arguing later on that in this case, addition is actually subtraction.

  3. pduggan said,

    June 25, 2007 at 11:27 am

    “Now, Leithart argues (pp. 210-211 of _Federal Vision_) that this passage does not take place in a courtroom setting, an opinion which is not quite as evident as Leithart believes.”

    Leithart: “Neither passage takes place in a formal courtroom setting”

    “He would then be in the right in the court of common opinion.”

    Me: very interesting *metaphorical* use of court language.

    Leithart: “Jacob is in a sense asking Laban to “judge” him, but strictly speaking, Laban is acting an employer, rather than a judge”

    “Jacob is concerned about his own integrity when accused of stealing by Laban (hardly an unlikely event, as the outcome proved). Jacob is not concerned here at all with being counted as Laban’s friend.”

    Leithart: after discussing a case of Jacob AND a case of David and Saul: “counting someone as a loyal friend/servant”.

    You show evidence of courtroom language, but not a courtroom.

  4. jared said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    anne,

    The problem with your comparisons is that FV isn’t adding substantially to justification or salvation. When you add two to ten you’re changing the substance of the ten by a factor of two. When you add hydrogen to oxygen you’re changing the substance of the oxygen (gas to liquid). When you add water to the sugar you’re changing the substance of the suger (solid to liquid-ish). This is not what the FV is doing.

    For example, when you say that “x” member of the visible church is “elect” by virtue of belonging to the body of the “Elect One” (a status which they can lose) and then you say that “y” is “elect” by virtue of God’s choosing before the foundation of the world (a status which they cannot lose), well, you really haven’t changed what “elect” means at all but you have expanded upon the concept by including “x” as an elect member. Adding the understanding of election in “x”‘s case doesn’t change or affect any truth about “y”‘s election though, does it? I don’t see how it would. In this particular instance the FV isn’t changing anything.

    As for justification, it seems that in Leithart’s case he wants to bring the mind of systematic theology to bear on the organic relationship between justification and sanctification. He doesn’t believe justification works differently than the traditional position says it does, i.e. justification really does refer to Christ’s work being the basis for our salvation. In fact, it seems quite in line with common sense that the act of justification would, at the same time, also deliver one from the bonds of sin. Now that I’ve been declared righteous I can actually be righteous. Not only this, but I really am righteous having been definitively sanctified. Is there something anti-gospel about this formulation?

  5. Matt said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    “He says quite explicitly, “‘Justification’ in these passages is flexible enough to include not only ‘counting someone as legally innocent’ but also ‘counting someone as a loyal friend/servant’” (p. 211). This claim is demonstrably false. Jacob is concerned about his own integrity when accused of stealing by Laban (hardly an unlikely event, as the outcome proved). Jacob is not concerned here at all with being counted as Laban’s friend. Leithart has not proved his point with Genesis 30:33.”

    Leithart said “loyal friend/servant.” You attack only the friend bit, and do not deal with the example of David at all. David is the example of “friend.” Jacob is the example of “servant.” Your “refutation” is accomplished by taking Leithart’s example of “loyal servant” and arguing that it is not an example of “loyal friend.” Non sequitur city. Genesis 30:33 does indeed show Jacob’s concern to be counted a loyal servant by Laban. Leithart is absolutely right, and your criticism doesn’t touch him.

    And even after the break with Laban, it is demonstrable that Jacob is sstill concerned to be counted loyal:

    He says to Rachel, “You know that with all my might I have served your father.”

    He says to Laban himself, “These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.” (38-41)

    Thus Jacob presents himself as the faithful and righteous partner in the master-servant relationship, and casts Laban as unfaithful and unrighteous.

    None of this takes place in a law court. It is in discussion between Jacob and Laban themselves. Gen. 30:33 envisions the discussion occurring “when the subject of my wages comes before you,” not “when you sue me before the elders of the city gate.”

  6. greenbaggins said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    First of all, I said I was dealing with one text at a time. Secondly, my exegesis works just as well against the idea that Jacob was trying to prove himself a loyal servant. I have the further added point that Jacob was trying to *get out* of being a servant. He didn’t want to be a servant of Laban any longer. That’s why he says what he says. So, your criticism falls wide.

  7. pduggan said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    You say: “I have the further added point that Jacob was trying to *get out* of being a servant. He didn’t want to be a servant of Laban any longer.”

    You also say “Jacob makes a condition that allows him to start providing for an estate of his own, while still looking out after Laban’s property.

  8. pduggan said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Lane, have you checked the Seifrid reference Leithart is basing his ethico-social categorization of tzedeq language on?

  9. greenbaggins said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Yes, but Paul, the point is that the issue is not one about his loyalty to Laban. Jacob’s point is rather about the evidence of his own integrity and honesty. Therefore, I do not regard Leithart as having proven his point.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Paul, I have checked it out, but the quotation in JVN, vol 1 doesn’t say a thing beyond what Leithart already quoted. What about it?

  11. pduggan said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    A servant who serves a master “honestly” is honest w.r.t. himself, and not the relationship he has with his master?

    Is he not “doing unto others”?

  12. pduggan said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    “Jacob is envisaging the possible accusation of Laban that Jacob had stolen sheep from Laban. Jacob could, at that time, point to his innocence by pointing to his sheep. He would then be in the right in the court of common opinion.”

    He would also be “in the right” in the face of his master Laban, which is his concern: “when *you* come”

  13. Matt said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    You’re free to deal with one text at a time, but it’s totally fallacious to fault Leithart for not drawing his conclusions about “friend” from his example of “servant”.

    I recently left a job, and got my former boss to write a letter of recommendation for me because I had been a loyal employee. And this despite the fact that I didn’t want to be an employee in that job any longer.

    In the same way, there’s no contradiction at all between Jacob’s desire not to be a servant, and Jacob’s desire to be thought to *have been* a faithful servant during his time with Laban. That is, one can be counted to have been a righteous or unrighteous partner in a partnership that no longer exists. This is obvious, and Leithart has assumed that everyone knows it. Why don’t you get it?

  14. greenbaggins said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    Yes, Laban would be included. I don’t see how that disproves my point. He will be vindicated against the false charges that his master brought against him.

  15. greenbaggins said,

    June 25, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Matt, you didn’t even remotely answer number 6.

  16. Xon said,

    June 25, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    He seems like he answered it to me, Lane. Not to pile on (sorry); I’m just wondering if you could spell out how you think Matt’s answer falls short.

    Also, Pduggan’s #3 (while confusingly formatted) seems to make a similarly good point to Matt’s. You argue that the passage is too a courtroom setting b/c it’s the “court of public opinon.” But this is, at best, a metaphorical sense of “court”. And, futhermore, the meaning of the metaphor is that a person is trying to vindicate themself–to show themself to be of upstanding character (one might say they are showing themself to have “integrity”?). So your opposition of “human” contexts for tsedeq and “divine” contexts for tsedeq seems to collapse at just this point that you are trying to hold it up. When we speak of a “court of public opinion,” we are doing precisely the thing which you ironically are arguing against here: we are conceptually/metaphorically connecting righteousness outside a courtroom (i.e., human characteristics of integrity or honesty) with the concept of righteousness inside a courtroom (i.e., the divine or just the civil reckoning of righteousness in an ‘official’ setting). You invoke a phrae against Leithart that only bolsters his point.

  17. pduggan said,

    June 25, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Your making the charges and vindication exist independently of the relationship

  18. pduggan said,

    June 25, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    10: just curious: hadn’t read it myself and was wondering if there were more there

  19. pduggan said,

    June 25, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Leithart claims:

    a. Jacob defends his actions *as a servant* in Laban’s house
    b. He describes this faithful service as tzedeq
    c. His later fuller defense of his service emphasizes he went beyond strict duty
    d. Jacob bore the costs of his servcie that he could have passed on, which testified to his righteousness

    Which of these is incorrect? I get the impression you would say “b”.

    But that seems to be because you’re construing Jacob just to be speaking of a future evaluation of his service, rather than a way of speaking of his service over the full course?

  20. Xon said,

    June 25, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    I don’t think Lane is denying b., Paul. I think rather that he is saying that, while yes the word ‘tsedq’ is used by Jacob to describe his faithful service, that this constitutes a completely different usage of “tsedeq’ from its “proper” meaning pertaining to justification. tsedeq about divine things is what we want to look at when formulating our doctrine of justification; tsedeq about human things is something entirely different. And it’s an exegetical fallacy to take the meaning of tsedeq in these human contexts and apply it to a doctrine of justification, just because the word ‘tsedeq’ is used.

  21. A. Dollahite said,

    June 25, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    Lane,

    It’s hard at times like these not to sound like I’m also piling on, but I have to agree with Xon in #16, who was agreeing with Matt in #13. It would be helpful to us all if you would point out how Matt “didn’t even remotely answer number 6.” As I see it, this is how the exchange went:

    Lane in #6: “First of all, I said I was dealing with one text at a time.”

    Matt in #13: “You’re free to deal with one text at a time, but it’s totally fallacious to fault Leithart for not drawing his conclusions about “friend” from his example of “servant”.

    Lane in #6: “Secondly, my exegesis works just as well against the idea that Jacob was trying to prove himself a loyal servant. I have the further added point that Jacob was trying to *get out* of being a servant. He didn’t want to be a servant of Laban any longer. That’s why he says what he says. So, your criticism falls wide.

    Matt in #13: “I recently left a job, and got my former boss to write a letter of recommendation for me because I had been a loyal employee. And this despite the fact that I didn’t want to be an employee in that job any longer.

    In the same way, there’s no contradiction at all between Jacob’s desire not to be a servant, and Jacob’s desire to be thought to *have been* a faithful servant during his time with Laban. That is, one can be counted to have been a righteous or unrighteous partner in a partnership that no longer exists.”

  22. Xon said,

    June 26, 2007 at 10:27 am

    I think Lane(‘s wife) might be having a baby. That just occurred to me.

  23. greenbaggins said,

    June 26, 2007 at 10:56 am

    She’s due at the end of July. I plan on answering, but today is my day off. So, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

  24. Xon said,

    June 26, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Ah, sorry jumped the gun on the newest bundle.

  25. A. Dollahite said,

    June 26, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Lane,

    That’s wonderful news (I just learned) about the little one on the way. Blessings.

  26. greenbaggins said,

    June 27, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Don’t worry about piling on, guys. I was fighting at least twelve guys at a time on the Wrightsaid group, and when I was there, there was practically no one who say anything (although several did encourage me by private emails). I’m quite used to it. That’s common experience for a TR.

  27. Xon said,

    June 27, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Fairly common for FVers, too, sometimes!

  28. A. Dollahite said,

    June 28, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Lane,

    Did you ever find the time to explain (#23) where Matt missed the mark in #13, or #5. ISTM that those were pretty strong rebuttals to your criticisms of Leithart, but I’m still interested in your response.


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