Is the HRM Legalistic?

Is the Hebrew Roots Movement (also known as the Messianic Jewish movement) legalistic? One has to acknowledge that there are a variety of views on particular aspects of the law even within the HRM. It is not a monolithic movement in regard to specific points about the law. Also, it is important to point out that there is more than one definition of legalism. One does not necessarily avoid legalism simply by saying that such and such law is not integral to salvation. For instance, if an HRM proponent claims that circumcision is necessary, but not for salvation, said proponent might still be legalistic, even if not so in the ordinary way. It is my contention that at least some forms of HRM are legalistic.

One would think that if an HRM proponent believes the Gospel, and sees that someone else is preaching the gospel, that great rejoicing on that account would result. For instance, I believe that Jesus Christ crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and in session at the right hand of the Father, is the only Lord and Savior of sinners. The salvation that was accomplished for us by Jesus Christ is applied to us by the Holy Spirit by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, to the praise of the glory of God alone, told to us in Scripture alone. If a person puts their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of their sin and turning to Jesus (which happens by the power of the Holy Spirit in effectual calling), that person is saved. This is redemption accomplished and applied. If a person believes in Jesus Christ in this way, he will be saved. Let any HRM people reading this blog know that this is what I preach.

Nevertheless, one HRM proponent in particular has accused me of having no light in me whatsoever, because my views on OT law are not HRM. According to this person, if a person is not HRM in their viewpoint, they have no light in them whatsoever. On three occasions in that thread, I asked the person to clarify his quotation of Isaiah 8:20 (here, here, and here). He did not choose to answer that question. Now, I don’t know why he chose not to answer it. However, in the context, the comment means that those who do not have the same view of the OT law as he does have no light in them at all. It doesn’t therefore matter whether I preach the true gospel or not. If I don’t have an HRM view of the OT law, then I am in complete darkness. I say this not out of defensiveness. I am not on defense right now, but most definitely on offense. Would not this view of non-HRM proponents qualify as a legalistic view? I do not believe in the erasure of any OT laws. I believe that the application of them has changed. So the question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is true. We do. The question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is still authoritative. We do. The question has to do with the interpretation of that Old Testament. Does Christ’s person and work change the application of the OT law, and if so, how? That is the question. I would simply argue that if an HRM proponent accuses a critic of having no light in them whatsoever because of a differing view of how the OT law applies, then the HRM proponent is not focused on Jesus Christ and the Gospel, but on the law. He is not preaching Christ crucified. He is preaching feasts, dietary laws, and Saturday Sabbath, which are not changed or affected by Christ’s coming. He is a legalist. He cannot rejoice in another’s preaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is de-centralized. I would argue that any view of the Bible that de-centralizes Jesus Christ’s person and work is legalistic. The reasoning for this is simple: anything that is not gospel is law in the Bible. So, if we are not preaching the gospel, we are preaching law. And if we preach law in any way that does not make a beeline straight to Jesus Christ, then we are not preaching the law correctly. We would be preaching the law legalistically.

Preaching law is essential, don’t get me wrong. But it must lead to Christ’s fulfillment of the law, or else we are not believing John 5 and Luke 24. We need to preach the law in its three uses: pedagogical (leading straight to Christ), civil (as a restraint on evil in the world), and normative because of salvation (the third use of the law). Of these three uses, while the second one is present in Scripture, it is not hugely emphasized. The first and third uses are of paramount importance, and both are Christ-centered, since the first use leads us to salvation in Christ, while the third use leads us from salvation in Christ.

Matthew 5:17-20, the Smoking Gun of the HRM?

There is no doubt of the importance of Matthew 5:17-20 in any discussion related to the law and its place in the Christian life. Indeed, there are few passages more important. However, what often happens is that this passage is simply quoted rather than explained. Sometimes, it seems to be treated as a smoking gun, as if people who do not agree with the HRM (Hebrew Roots Movement) have never read this passage before. The fact of the matter is that this passage is a minefield of difficulties, and is hardly as straightforward as the HRM seems to assume by simply throwing it at their adversaries (as has happened to me many times on this blog). The HRM folk have quoted this to me and then asked the double question, “Why do you hate the Torah so much?” Of course, this question makes a rather whopping assumption: that I do in fact hate the Torah, which is false. I love the law, since it is a reflection of who God is, and it teaches me about God, and because the essence of the law is love for God and love for neighbor. A couple of other preliminary questions need to be dealt with before we can address the exegesis of the passage itself.

One issue that needs to be addressed is the big picture of the Old Testament. What is the point of the Old Testament? According to John 5 and Luke 24, Jesus is the point of the Old Testament. Jesus flat out says in John 5 that Moses wrote about Him. What is so fascinating about that claim is Moses never directly talks about Jesus. The name of Jesus is not mentioned except by way of typology in Joshua’s name. And yet Moses wrote about Jesus. That was the content of Moses’ writings. All of Moses’ writings had a direction arrow saying “This way to Jesus.” As we will see from an exposition of Matthew 5:17-20, this includes the law. The law is not ahistorical, timeless and changeless, but has a telos, a goal. The law points forward to Jesus. It is sometimes objected at this point that the character of God forbids any change in the law. This does not follow. God created everything there is. Everything that God created reflects the glory of God in one way or another, and yet it changes, because it is created. Now, God’s character does not change. But time and people on earth do change, and the way God relates to His people does change in some ways over time. The law can therefore change. Hebrews says this explicitly: “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well.” The text is Hebrews 7:12, which in context is contrasting the order of Aaron and the order of Melchizedek, portraying Jesus as the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek. The implication is that when Jesus comes as the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek, there is a change of the law to match the change of priesthood. The word for “change” is “metathesis” which means an alteration from one state into another, or a transformation. So, that thing which the HRM says never happens to the law (i.e., change), Hebrews expressly and explicitly states does happen to the law. Verse 18 confirms this interpretation by stating that a former commandment is in fact annulled. The reason it was annulled is because it was weak and unprofitable (for the law perfected nothing) as verse 19 states. This does not mean that the law is bad, of course. It just means that the law cannot perfect people, and that when people think the law can do that, they quickly find that it is weak and unprofitable. The law needs to be used for its proper uses, and not for something it cannot do. The whole issue here in Hebrews 7 is the change of priesthood from Aaronide priesthood to Melchizedekian priesthood. There had to be a change in the law, since the law stated that a priest had to come from the tribe of Levi (this is the point of verses 13-14). This verse (as well as John 5 and Luke 24) has a great impact when we come to Matthew 5.

A second issue is the clarity of Scripture. HRM advocates often quote Scripture as if all Scripture were perfectly clear, and all that is needed is to quote it rather than discuss its meaning. The Reformed church has always believed that everything necessary for salvation is clearly revealed in Scripture in one place or another. But the Reformed church has never believed that because of the clarity of salvation issues, that therefore all Scripture is equally clear. This is proven conclusively by 2 Peter 3:15-16. The irony in those verses is clear. They clearly teach that not all Scripture is clear. Given the interpretive issues that have come up in the exegesis of Matthew 5:17-20, I would say that Jesus’ meaning in those verses is not initially clear, and must be carefully treated in context.

Matthew 5:17-20 seems to be directed against a possible misunderstanding of what Jesus is going to teach. What Jesus teaches about the law could give rise to a misinterpretation of His words that results in Jesus rejecting the law. The issue is not rejection, but fulfillment.

The form of verse 17 has the exact same form as Matthew 10:34 right down to verbal parallels, which are precisely the same. The form is this: “Do not suppose that I came in order to do X. I did not come in order to do X, but rather Y.” This raises the question of whether Matthew 5:17 is absolute or not (this point is raised by Carson in his commentary). No one would suppose that Jesus did not come into this world to bring peace of any kind. Of course He brought certain kinds of peace (most notably peace between God and man: otherwise, Luke 2:14 is meaningless!). Certain other kinds of peace He did not come to bring (such as peace between Christians and non-Christians). These kinds of statements need to be interpreted in their proper context. So, it is at least possible that what Jesus said in Matthew 5 does not have reference to all forms of abrogation. In this regard, Carson is extremely helpful: “The antithesis is not between ‘abolish’ and ‘keep’ but between ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill.'”

In fact, the meaning of the entire text hinges on the meaning of “fulfill” (Greek “pleroo”). Whatever the word means, it has to mean more than simply “do.” The reason for this is the inclusion of the prophets in Jesus’ purview. It is highly unlikely, incidentally, that the word “pleroo” reflects the Aramaic word “qum,” (which means “establish, validate, or confirm”) since the LXX never uses “pleroo” to translate that word “qum.” The LXX uses the words “histemi” or “bebaioo” to translate “qum.” The verb “pleroo” translates the Hebrew word “male'”. The meaning of the word in this context is therefore almost certainly “fulfill,” and not “establish.” However, even that word “fulfill” can have more than one meaning. Whatever meaning is correct must be able to account for the law and the prophets being in the text. This is where John 5 and Luke 24 help us out. Jesus is saying in those two passages that the entire Old Testament has a direction arrow pointing straight to Him.

An assumption that is gratuitous in the HRM is that change equals annulment. This is certainly not obvious. If a law changes in its application because of some great eschatological change, such as the coming of the person and work of Jesus Christ, that does not mean it is annulled.

This understanding of verse 17 allows verse 18 to have its full force without any equivocation: not the smallest part of the law will pass away. And it hasn’t. The whole law, in its entirety, and in every part, is still there for us, helpfully teaching us about Jesus, helpfully pointing us to Him, and teaching us important spiritual principles that are always valid. The law has a prophetic function. The word “Torah” points in this direction, with its common meaning of “teaching.” Again, notice the difference between “pass away” and “change.” The text does NOT say that no change will ever occur in the way the law is applied. It says that nothing in the law will pass away. That is, nothing in the law will be erased from the law.

Verse 19 must be understood in the light of what has already been said. Verse 19 does not prejudge the question of whether any change has happened to the law. It does rule out a Marcionite rejection of the Old Testament law. The upshot of the passage is that there are aspects of continuity and discontinuity with regard to how the law of God applies after the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus will illustrate how that works in the rest of chapter 5. In some cases, that means drawing out the meaning of the law that was already there in the OT, but in certain other cases, it means a modification of the law in its application. An example of the former would be Jesus’ treatment of the sixth and seventh commandments in verses 21-30. The implications of those laws are already present in the Ten Commandments. Any one of the Ten Commandments commands all the lesser virtues of the same kind, and forbids all sins of the same kind. However, examples of modification include the teaching on divorce, the teaching on oaths, and the teaching on the eye for an eye. Jesus offers serious qualifications to the law that were not present in the original setting. These modifications are based on Jesus’ own authority as the law-giver (see 7:28-29). He is the new Moses, giving an authoritative interpretation and modification of the law on the new Mount Sinai. Whatever is new in Jesus’ teaching has to do with what time it is: time for fulfillment, and the kingdom promised in Jeremiah 31.

This passage is fraught with difficulties. The meanings of the words “annul,” “fulfill,” “pass away,” and “accomplished” all have an impact on the meaning of the passage. Furthermore, the interpretation we wind up with must match the rest of Scripture, such as Matthew 10, John 5, Luke 24, and Hebrews 7. Any interpretation of Matthew 5 that states that there is no change that ever happens to the law will bring it into direct contradiction with other passages of Scripture.

Is the Name “Jesus” Anti-Semitic?

It has been argued by some people in the HRM that the English name “Jesus” is Anti-Semitic. I intend to show that this is false. It is not inherently any more Anti-Semitic than the name would be translated into any other language on the face of the earth. To illustrate the point, I will use a word completely on the opposite end of the spectrum of attractiveness: “nigger.” Some people, for instance, would probably call me racist even for bringing up this word. However, what if I used the word this way: “Anyone who uses the term ‘nigger’ today to describe an African-American is a racist.” I’m using the word, yes, but how am I using it? I am using the term to encourage people not to call African-Americans by that term, which they tend to find offensive. The word is not the same thing as how it is used, and it does not inherently convey a clear meaning all by itself. The word could be used in a racist way by one person and in a non-racist way by someone else.

To use a less charged word, take the word “lie.” There are two main definitions for this word possible, and they are not even remotely related to each other. I could lie down on the sofa, or I could tell a lie. The word is spelled exactly the same in both cases. But it changes meaning completely based on its usage.

These two examples illustrate a common fallacy making the rounds today: the word-concept fallacy. This fallacy (see the excellent discussion in D.A. Carson’s book Exegetical Fallacies) makes words equal ideas and ideas equal words. For instance, just because the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible doesn’t mean that the idea is absent also. Conversely, just because the Greek word “dikaioo” is being used in a text doesn’t mean that the text is talking about justification. Words have a semantic range, and do NOT always mean the same thing everywhere they are used. To argue otherwise shows a lack of understanding of how language works.

In the New Testament, the word “nomos” (law) is an excellent example of semantic range. When Paul says (Romans 7:23), “I see another nomon at work in the members of my body, waging war against the nomo of my mind and making me a prisoner of the nomo of sin at work within my members,” we can see easily that if Paul means Torah in all three uses of the word “nomos” (the differences in ending are only differences in case endings) then Paul is setting the Torah against itself. It would make the passage absolute gibberish. Words cannot possibly mean the same thing in all contexts. This fact makes it exceptionally dangerous to say that we are going to build our theology based on a concordance. If we say that our theology of law is going to be based entirely on the word “nomos” we would be screening out passages that DO talk about the law and including passages that may NOT be talking about the law. It would be to commit the word-concept fallacy. Meaning is not just in words, but in how words are used.

The arguments concerning the Anti-Semitism of the name “Jesus” that I have seen make this word-concept fallacy. That there are many incorrect ideas about Jesus out there is undeniable. He was a Jew, not a Caucasian. This means that He almost certainly did NOT have blond hair and blue eyes, and look like a girl with a beard. This is one (among many) reasons I am opposed to pictures of Jesus. If He was a Jew (and He certainly was), then He almost certainly had black hair and black eyes, and quite possibly swarthy skin. The long hair one usually sees on pictures is also a misrepresentation, since the point about Nazareth is not that He was a Nazarene, but that He was from Nazareth, the town. We do not know how long His hair was. The Bible never tells us.

Be that as it may, the misconceptions referred to in the previous paragraph cannot possibly be attributed to the fact that people use the English name “Jesus.” That would commit the word-concept fallacy. That, in short, is my argument. That some people have such an Anti-Semitic conception in their heads when they use the term “Jesus” is quite likely. The solution is education, not panning the name “Jesus” and labelling those who use it as Anti-Semitic.

We must go further, however, and speak of the nature of translation. Some HRM proponents believe that the NT was originally written in Hebrew. The only book of the NT about which this can reasonably be argued at all is the book of Matthew, and the arguments are slim when set against the vast manuscript collections of Matthew in Greek that we have (in addition to the fact that all the Hebrew manuscripts are much newer than the Greek). The manuscripts support a Greek original. There are no Hebrew manuscripts of the NT surviving in the first ten centuries A.D., to my knowledge, compared to thousands of Greek manuscripts. Almost all NT scholars today agree that the entire NT was written in Greek, even Matthew (notwithstanding the testimony of a very few early church fathers). Are there Semitisms in the NT? Of course. Lots of them. For most of the authors of the NT (being Jewish!), Greek was a second language. They spoke Greek with an accent, if you will. Some, like Luke, have very few Semitisms in their writing at all.

The reason I bring up this issue is that if the NT was originally written in Greek, or any part of it that uses the Greek name “Iesous” (which is a direct transliteration of the Greek letters), then “Iesous” cannot be inherently Anti-Semitic, since then the accusation would have to be levelled against God Himself for inspiring authors to use the Greek instead of the Hebrew name for Jesus.

Lastly, I simply note that older English translations usually translated Greek iota with a “J.” Witness “Jehovah” instead of the more correct “Yahweh.” That gets us to “Jesous” if we use the older transliteration style. It is quite simple to see that only the omission of the omicron gives us the English name “Jesus.” Folks, this is a matter of translation and transliteration that goes back hundreds of years (and therefore predates modern evangelicalism’s misunderstandings about Jesus’ appearance!).

One last word. I have zero problem with anyone saying “Yeshua” instead of “Jesus.” It still communicates to me perfectly well the Person about whom we are conversing. I wouldn’t expect native Hebrew speakers to use any other name than “Yeshua,” unless it be “Yehoshua.” I sometimes wonder if it not used in an effort to be “holier than thou,” but I make no assumption that such is the case. People can come to use that name for a variety of reasons, some better than others. I have a real problem with people accusing users of the name “Jesus” of Anti-Semitism. That is not likely to gain a sympathetic audience, especially among those who, like myself, know that they do not use the name “Jesus” in an Anti-Semitic manner. For just as surely as people can use the name “Yeshua” for a variety of reasons, so also can people use the name “Jesus” for a variety of reasons (just witness taking the Lord’s name in vain for a very negative example!).

Announcing the New Covenant

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a curious question that arose in our Hebrews study recently (starting our second year at ch. 8!):

We understand that the Old Covenant was inaugurated with blood (Ex. 34) and its terms were verbally established for God’s people through the giving of the Law. If the New Covenant was similarly inaugurated with blood (Luke 22), when was its content verbally established?

I suspect possible answers might include one or all of these: at the articulation of the Abrahamic Covenant; in Jeremiah 31; whenever Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand; whenever the gospel was/is proclaimed after the resurrection of the Son. More? How does the NT itself fit into this picture?

Just curious how any of you would frame an answer, and what you would choose to emphasize as the verbal establishment for God’s people of the terms of the New Covenant. Thanks!

Job and Bunyan Versus The Shack

I am reblogging this book review of The Shack (originally posted January 7,2009), as it was a post most people found to be helpful.

The book entitled The Shack has been a marketing phenomenon among “evangelicals.” Blurbs compare the Shack to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am here to tell you that the hype is a bit forced. Let’s do a bit of comparison, first with the book of Job, then with Bunyan, interjecting a bit of C.S. Lewis in for fun.

The Shack is the story of a man whose beautiful daughter is brutally murdered. The man leaves the faith, only to receive a message from God to meet him at the shack, the very place where his daughter was murdered. He then meets God. The Father is a big jolly black woman, the Son is a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is a wispy, mysterious Asian woman (we’ll get to that blasphemy in a moment). The upshot of the plot is that God explains to the main character the why’s and the wherefore’s, and the man is healed. The theological upshot is that God is good, but not all-powerful. Young takes Rabbi Kushner’s prong of the dilemma. What is important to notice here is a combination of rationalism and experientalism. On the one hand, Young tears at the heart strings, making the reader bleed for the main character. On the other hand, in order for the man’s faith to be “restored,” God has to explain himself.

Contrast Job. Job lost much more than the man in the story (ten children!), and it was due to the prince of demons being opposed to him, not a mere man, even if Job didn’t know that. He lost all his possessions, and then finally his health. He had much more to complain about than the man in The Shack. He too wanted God to explain. He wanted to vindicate himself as well. But when God finally has His say, He tells Job that He does not have to come to the bar of human reason. Humans have to come to the bar of God. This is where C.S. Lewis comes in. In his brilliant essay entitled “God in the Dock,” he makes the point that the really important thing for autonomous man is that he is the judge, and that God is in the dock. The man may very well be a kindly judge and acquit God of wrong-doing, if God shows Himself up to the task of defending himself. But the really important thing is that man is the judge, and God is in the dock (on trial). Job shows us that the reverse is true. God is the judge, and man is in the dock.

Rationalism always results in God losing one of His attributes. If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how come evil exists? The Bible does not allow us to lessen the difficulty of this question by jettisoning one of these attributes. The reason the problem is so acute for the believer is that God is both all-benevolent and all-powerful.

Just to begin an answer (and not leave the readers hanging), God allows evil to exist for various reasons, but evil will not continue to last. God has dealt with the problem of evil on the cross and the empty tomb, and will finally eradicate the very presence of evil in this world in the future. No other religion, by the way, or atheism, has an answer to this question. Pantheism believes that evil is naturally part of the world. No hope of eradication there. Atheism cannot define right and wrong, so his faith in his own reason becomes shockingly apparent when he confidently talks about the problem of evil. Deists don’t believe that God has anything to do with the world. These all lack hope and eschatology.

Bunyan and Young go in fundamentally different directions. Christian’s journey is to the bar of judgment as a defendant whom God will acquit based on the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to him. The man’s journey in The Shack is to the bench, where he magnanimously acquits God of wrong-doing, once it becomes evident that God is really powerless to stop it. Of course, if God is powerless to stop evil, then He is also powerless to eradicate evil, and so that road is also a dead end eschatologically speaking.

In talking with one of my friends, he made the very interesting point also about faith. What moves Christian? It is the scroll, the evangelist, the Interpreter, the fellow believers he meets on the way, the key of faith in Doubting Castle. It is the means of grace which compels Christian to a life of faith. In The Shack, it is a one-time rationalistic showdown where God pleads and begs with the man (in effect) not only to give Him a hearing, but to acquit Him of wrong-doing. Ultimately, the man’s faith is in himself.

My friend also noted the contrast between the way in which God is portrayed in the Bible as opposed to how God is portrayed in The Shack. The God of The Shack is hardly a God with the least little hint of awe and majesty. He is not the God of the whirlwind, which is how God treated Job. He is not the God before whom all bow their faces to the ground. Instead, He is a God whose booty sways to the music. Anyone who cannot see the blasphemy and rank heresy of this portrayal of God is seriously lacking in discernment. God is Spirit, and only the Second Person of the Trinity has a human body which exists only in hypostatic union with the divine nature, and is currently a glorified body. I choose to believe the God of the Bible, who will eradicate evil because He is completely omnipotent and completely free of sin.

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology

(Posted by Paige)

I’m pleased to be able to share this resource with those of you who are involved in Christian instruction at your churches. Last October I had the privilege of giving a thirty-minute overview of biblical theology as the opening speaker for World Reformed Fellowship’s Women in the Word Workshop, held at Calvary PCA in Willow Grove, PA. (Note that though the context was a women’s conference, the content of my talk was not gender-specific!) This little talk, and the pages I created to go with it, might be useful to someone you know who is not familiar with the redemptive-historical approach to reading the Bible, but is ready to learn more. Give it a listen and see what you think, and then please pass it along:

“Beginning With Moses: Jesus’ Story from Genesis to Revelation”

These are the handouts that I reference in the talk:

* A partial outline of my talk, with vocabulary words & timeline
* A page for independent investigation of how biblical authors retold the story of redemption
* A self-evaluative exercise for assessing one’s familiarity with different parts of the biblical story

 This was my first public speaking opportunity outside of past classroom teaching experiences, and I enjoyed it a lot. I’m looking forward to more. (Though it was disconcerting to this introvert to realize after I spoke that now I couldn’t just vanish into the crowd…)

Soli Deo Gloria!
Posted in honor of RE Greg Donovan, father in the faith (d. 2/17/13).

The Devil in his Redemptive-Historical Context

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a pair of theological questions related to the “fear of death” topic and deriving from the same pair of verses, Heb. 2:14-15. One of my curious laypeople asked about it in our Hebrews study:

In what sense did the devil ever hold “the power of death”?

How was this power altered by Christ’s defeat of the devil?

We are looking for a way to speak accurately about the “Before” and “After” of the devil in redemptive history. Any insights?

The Hebrews verses again are:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

Recent P&R Books I Have Received

I have received a number of books from P&R for review purposes, and I’d like to say a few words about them. The Bavinck biography deserves its own post, so I will wait on that one a tad.

Almost deserving of its own post also is the Festschrift for Al Groves. I loved him dearly. He was one of those people who gets his way into your heart and won’t let go. However, it was often almost unconsciously done. I was far more affected by his death than I thought I would be. I was very happy to see a volume come out in memory of him. His contributions to scholarship are also more on the hidden side. He was a wizard with computers, and was a clearing house for information on the new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible (the Biblia Hebraica Quinta). So, I commend this series of essays, written by colleagues and students who loved him.

Most of these sermons are available in other formats (although some are occasional sermons for Easter). However, it is very nice to have them all together in one place on one topic, especially if you are trying to find help on the resurrection for your sermons. Anything Boice writes is worth reading.

This book has a very intriguing message. By our beliefs and by our actions, we often treat Jesus as less than He is. The picture on the front is a dog-tag with the title of the book on it, a very clever idea. And the writing itself is also clever. Consider the title of the chapter “Yawning in the Presence of a Mighty God,” a chapter on complacency in worship. This is a book to give to Christians who have grown up in the Christian world, since they are the ones most susceptible to this kind of sin. Prepare to be shocked again by how big our God is.

The cross of Christ is always the most astounding thing about the Christian faith. Rather than sentimentalize it, we should revel in its sheer “foolishness.” For the “foolishness” of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. We should not marvel that God is just. We should instead marvel that God is merciful, even to worms like us.

There are several good books on parenting that have come out recently. This book re-orients our parenting back to the central truths of the Gospel. This book reminds us that, instead of being overwhelmed at the enormity of the task (which is very easy to do!), we should overwhelmed by the centrality of the Gospel. If we do that, we will have all the resources of God’s grace to combat the forces of evil that seek to undermine the family.

The focus of this book is different, in that it looks at all the different stages of growth, and analyzes how parents can address the heart issues of their children. This book is heavily dependent (healthily so, in my opinion!) on the book by Tedd Tripp. Highly recommended for those seeking help on a particular stage of childhood development. There is an especially good chapter on the situation of children who rebel in major ways “When Things Don’t Go As Planned.”

Picking up where the previous book left off, what about parents of adults? To date, I have rarely, if ever, seen a complete book devoted to the parents of adults, and how to handle adult offspring. That’s where this book comes in very handy, indeed. I would also strongly recommend it to pastors who don’t have adult children, but need to have some help in counseling parents of adults. I love the title: “You Never Stop Being a Parent.” All too often, parents of adults simply let go entirely. Obviously the relationship is different, but how can parents of adults help without interfering? This book helps us navigate these difficult waters.

A book sorely needed today is one that seeks to expose and counteract our modern age’s obsession with materialism and greed. It is worth clicking through to look at the cover, which is a not-so-subtle reference to the glass empty or glass full, a matter of Gospel perspective. Barcley relies heavily on the definitive Puritan treatment of the subject, as he should. In fact, you can think of this book as an update of Burroughs.

The entire series “Basics of the Faith” are good things to have on your church book table to hand out to people. The one I received was the little booklet on belief in God. In our day, where the new atheism is gaining quite a militant public hearing, we need all the help we can get on this, and not just for pastors, but also the people in the pew need to hear why these views are wrong.

Lastly, but not least, this book on eschatology does such a wonderful job of bringing the subject into the realm of the practical. The volume is solidly Amillenial, and argues for a present understanding of “these last days.” For pastors, I would particularly direct them to Richard Phillips’s essay on counseling those who are about to die, and the bereaved. But all the essays are important and needed, particularly since pastoral treatments of eschatology seem to be a bit rare. If there are any out there who do not believe that eschatology can be practical, then read this book. You will revise your opinion, I assure you.

Sailhamer’s Meaning of the Pentateuch, Take Ten

(Posted by Paige) (Edit: I just noticed this one is TEN, not ELEVEN. Not that anybody really cares. :)

Still plugging away at this tome – only three chapters to go after this one!

The first comment below provides a brief summary of each chapter, and links to my previous reviews. Links to biblical references within this post fetch up the ESV.

Chapter 9: Is There a “Biblical Jesus” of the Pentateuch?

As suggested by this chapter’s title, Sailhamer’s interest here is in identifying and tracing whatever message the Pentateuch may contain about a Coming One, known to us via the NT as the historical Jesus, but anticipated since the beginning of the story as the Savior of Israel and the world. (Sailhamer notes that by calling this figure the “biblical Jesus” he means to be “transparently anachronistic ,” not credulous about the OT writers’ prior knowledge of a specific man by this name.) In keeping with the overall thrust of the book, this chapter investigates in some detail how the deliberate composition of the Pentateuch contributes to a theological message of expectation that points to Jesus. Sailhamer offers both innertextual (within the Pentateuch) and intertextual (between other biblical books and the Pentateuch) studies to support his conclusion that Moses intended his audience to anticipate a singular “seed” of Abraham who would also be a king from the tribe of Judah.

To start off, Sailhamer reviews his theories about the “making” of the Pentateuch, reminding us of his conviction that an individual author used his own compositions as well as other sources, connecting these texts in a meaningful way. In particular, the poems that occur at the “compositional seams” between major blocks of narrative act both as literary glue and as clues to the theological intent of the Pentateuch. “The next aspect of the making of the Pentateuch,” he writes, “involved weaving into these narratives a series of theological motifs or themes (theologomena)” (466). Ultimately, the echoes of these themes by way of “learned quotations” both within the Pentateuch and in the writings of later psalmists and prophets reinforce the original theological intentions of the author.

Sailhamer then offers a series of detailed studies of texts where such “learned quotations” and cross-references occur, beginning with innertextual connections within the Pentateuch itself (see pp.464-481 for details). He identifies a link between Gen. 12:3, Gen. 27:29, and Gen. 49:8-10 that to him suggests a deliberate effort to associate Abraham, the blessing of the nations, and the promised “seed” with the royal line of Judah. Additional examples of “learned quotations” from Num. 24:5-9 and Deut. 33:4-7 reinforce these connections. Sailhamer explains,

It seems clear that these learned quotations of the promise narratives within the Pentateuch’s poems are intentional. Their intent is to identify the “seed” promised to Abraham (Gen. 12) with the “scepter from the tribe of Judah” (Gen. 49) and Balaam’s victorious “king” (Num. 24). The “king” in each of these poems is thus linked directly to the promise of the “seed” of Abraham. (476)

Emphasized in all of this discussion is Sailhamer’s conviction that the author of the Pentateuch means his audience to understand Abraham’s promised “seed” to be a singular rather than a collective figure, as Paul asserts in Gal. 3:16. “To be sure,” he concedes, “at numerous points in the promise narratives, the identity of the ‘seed’ of Abraham is clearly understood collectively. But, as true as that observation is, it is not the whole story” (478). In fact, Sailhamer insists, careful reading of the Pentateuch by the later biblical writers resulted in a reinforcement of a singular interpretation of the “seed,” as evidenced by learned quotations throughout the rest of the Tanakh. Hannah’s prayer for a future king (in 1 Sam. 2; see especially v.10) is cited as a demonstration that “later readers of the Pentateuch were aware of the prophetic meaning of these early poems in the Pentateuch” (471). Sailhamer also examines Jeremiah 4:2 – “The nations in him will be blessed” – in its immediate and canonical context (see pp.481-499); Psalm 72 (which quotes the same text; see pp.499-510); and the intriguing singular/plural pronoun puzzle of Num. 23:22 and Num. 24:8 (see pp.518-521). Perhaps my favorite of his supporting arguments concerns Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1, which, Sailhamer insists, was applied metaphorically by the Evangelist precisely because Hosea had already assigned a metaphorical meaning to the historical exodus event, in light of a coming king (see pp.510-518).

Sailhamer concludes this chapter with a respectful appreciation of John Calvin’s understanding of the singular “seed” promised to Abraham, and he leaves us with his studied opinion that even the earliest books of Scripture contain God’s call to faith in the singular Coming One. He writes,

Abraham’s faith (Gen. 15:6) was grounded in the work of an individual (singular) descendant (“seed” [Gen. 22:18]) of Abraham, through whom God’s primeval blessing (Gen. 1:28) and eternal life (Gen. 3:22) would be restored to all humanity (Gen. 49:10). In the patriarchal narratives and poetry, religion of the patriarchs is cast as essentially a pre-Christian version of NT faith – a faith in an “individual seed” of Abraham who is identified as a coming king from the house of Judah who was the mediator of the Abrahamic covenant. This was the king from Judah who is the focus of the Pentateuch’s poetry and narrative symbolism. (533f.)

If you read just one chapter of this large work, I’d suggest you read this one, both for a taste of Sailhamer’s exceptional “compositional” approach and for the detailed innertextual and intertextual studies he offers to support his convictions.

Two Verses, Twelve Questions

(Posted by Paige)

Here’s a whimsical Bible puzzle for you to bat around. These two verses have recently caught my attention and raised a handful of questions in my mind:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Here are twelve of my many questions. Tackle any that interest you, too!

1. What did the disciples assume about faith?

2. Were they correct in their assumption?

3. What did they assume about Jesus?

4. What did they expect Jesus to accomplish for them?

5. Is Jesus’ response intended as an affirmation or a correction of their request?

6. What does Jesus imply about faith?

7. Why a mulberry tree? Is there any symbolism here?

8. Is Jesus describing something that might literally happen, or is he using poetic hyperbole?

9. If hyperbole, what’s his point?

10. Is this the same message that Jesus intends in Matt. 17:20 (“…if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”)

11. Why is this exchange recorded here in Luke (i.e., in this particular location in the Gospel)? Are the apostles reacting to something, or has Luke collected similar material together?

12. How is this exchange related to what has come before and what will follow?

Bonus question: What would you emphasize if preaching from this passage?

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