It is common now in Old Testament studies for scholars to think that they are studying the Old Testament when they are in fact studying Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) parallels. I was reading a book on an OT book this morning (which will remain anonymous) that had some really excellent essays on the theology of the book, but which also had some essays on the ANE background of the book. There seems to be an assumption that if it was written anywhere near the time of the biblical book, and it was written anywhere near the location of Israel, then it must be relevant to our understanding of that particular book. I believe some serious qualifications of this idea are in order.

First up, the context of ANE documents and the biblical books cannot be assumed to be the same. For one thing, the biblical books are addressed to God’s people, whereas ANE documents are not. Furthermore, the biblical books are inspired by God Himself, whereas the ANE documents are not. The context of the recipients and the method by which the books are made are vastly different. This should give us great pause. I am not saying that background studies of this type are completely irrelevant or useless. However, we need to be quite a bit more cautious about applying our understanding of ANE documents to the OT books.

A second qualification I would offer is this: background documents seem to be much more helpful in understanding the biblical text when there is an apologetic in the OT text against the ANE background texts. As an obvious example, I would point out the apologetic intent of Genesis 1 against the various ANE understandings of how the world was created. Genesis proclaims that God created this world by His speaking it into existence, not by some kind of cosmic battle (like the Enuma Elish claims, for instance). Also, the sun and the moon are not the origin of anything, but were created by God (witness Moses calling them “the greater light” and “the lesser light” instead of their more common but also potentially misunderstood nouns; shemesh is the name of an ANE god of the sun).

Thirdly, it is really irritating to me to read stuff on the ANE background of the OT that never draws any conclusions about why their study is relevant to our understanding of the OT texts in question. They often simply point out a parallel without saying how that parallel actually affects our exegesis of the text. Sometimes, the scholar seems to be saying “Well, I’ve read all the relevant ANE texts, so therefore my understanding of the OT book must be correct.” Even worse is when the ANE background text is used in preference to the OT book’s own literary context in order to change, diminish, or twist the biblical text.

Two Interesting Comments From Jewish Scholars

I was reading along in my Exodus commentaries on the last part of chapter 32 (the incident of the golden calf). The Levites are ordered to bring God’s judgment on the rest of the Israelites, and they kill 3,000 people that day, which is half of one percent of just the males. I have wondered why it is that so few died. Surely just about the entire nation had gone astray. Now, there was a plague that took more people, as the end of the chapter tells us. However, we are not told how many people died in that plague. The stress of the passage seems to be the smallness of the number of people who died. A lot of people have the wrong idea about the 3,000, thinking that it is such a huge number of people. However, we should be thinking of that number as incredibly small, given the offense to God that the idolatry represented, not to mention the derision of the nations to which Israel’s sin made them subject (verse 25). The entire people deserved to perish.

Enter in this startling comment by a Jew (Umberto Cassuto), on page 421 of his commentary: “It is better that a few Israelites lose their lives rather than that the entire people should perish.” Anyone who knows the New Testament at all will recognize the startling similarity this comment has with Caiaphas’ remarks about Jesus’ death. There is no way to tell in the context whether this similarity was intentional on Cassuto’s part or not. This brings us to Moses’ request, which is basically that he be a substitute for the people, a request that the Lord denies. Another Jewish commentator (Nahmanides) notes the similarity of this passage with the ideas present in Isaiah 53, particularly verse 5: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” They seem very close to the truth, don’t they? The difference between Moses and Jesus (and the reason why God refuses Moses’ request, according to Ryken’s commentary) is that Moses was sinful, whereas Jesus was not.

Hebrews 10 and the LXX

(Posted by Paige)

So, who is up on recent developments in manuscript studies of the LXX?

I encountered an intriguing difference as I read through Hebrews commentaries in chronological order, focusing on the use of Ps. 40:6-8 in Heb. 10:5-7, specifically the line, “But a body you have prepared for me.” This rendering of Ps. 40:6 differs from what our MT-based OT says, whether “But ears you have pierced for me” (NIV) or “But you have given me an open ear” (ESV), each a paraphrase of the literal Hebrew “But ears you have dug for me.” Sure enough, when I checked my copy of the Septuagint, I found that it matches with what is written in Hebrews 10:5, “But a body you have prepared for me.”

Now, commentators from Calvin through F. F. Bruce (1990) and Peter O’Brien (2010) have been concerned to harmonize the difference between the MT and the LXX in some way, explaining the diversity by way of paraphrase. Ears, after all, are body parts; ears being “dug” certainly suggests listening or paying attention, but it could also refer to the formation of the ears in the first place – so, “Body parts you have created (or prepared) for me.” One more step gets to, “A body you have prepared for me,” which became the version happily appropriated by the author to the Hebrews, who wanted to present the obedient, bodily sacrifice of Christ as superior to all the animal sacrifices prescribed by the Mosaic Law.

And maybe it happened just so. But in Beale & Carson’s splendid tome on the NT’s use of the OT (Baker Academic, 2007), I encountered a different explanation, offered by George Guthrie in his chapter on Hebrews. On the textual background of Heb. 10:5-7 (Ps. 40:6-8) Guthrie writes:

“In 10:5c we find sōma (“body”) rather than the LXX’s ōtia (“ears” [also in LXX La(G) Ga]). Although it is true that LXX B S A have sōma, these probably should be read as corrections by scribes wishing to bring the manuscripts in line with Hebrews’ quotation.” (p.977)

In other words, according to this explanation the variation originated with the author of Hebrews, NOT the LXX, and was subsequently absorbed into later copies of the LXX.

Is anyone aware of which of the above explanations is current scholarly consensus? Do you find Guthrie’s suggestion compelling, based on the dates of the different LXX manuscripts, or are you satisfied with the harmonization approach?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you have on this.

The Unique Priesthood of Moses

(Posted by Paige)

We’re working in Hebrews 9 now in my Bible study, and I have been struck afresh by the unique priestly role that Moses has in Israel’s history.  I’m wondering if any of you have remarked on this unique priesthood or taught or read about it.  I’d benefit from your observations about its features and redemptive-historical significance.  Would it be fair to say that Moses’ priestly work of intercession, mediation, & consecration  (esp. Ex. 19-20, 24, 29, 33-34) is something of a cross or a bridge between the patriarchal priestly roles and Aaron’s high priestly line?  It’s fascinating to me that when we think of Israel’s first priest we think of Aaron — but Moses was the priest who installed him!

Thanks in advance for your thoughtful ideas.

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!

Feasts For All Times?

One argument from the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM) that I have heard goes something like this: God does not change, therefore none of His laws will change, and therefore none of the feasts are abrogated. The problem with this kind of argument is two-fold. In one sense, none of the OT laws are abrogated: they still exist to teach us principles of godliness, and to point us to Jesus Christ (this I say in opposition to those who claim we are abrogating the OT law if we say that we do not follow the OT laws in the same way today). They are still written down in the Old Testament. Not one of those words will pass away, not a jot, nor a tittle. However, that does not mean, in and of itself, that the observation and application of those commandments can never change. They can if God says they do. But can God do that? If God doesn’t change, then can His laws change? Well, let’s look at some examples of God giving a commandment for a certain time and place that would not have universal applicability. God told Isaiah to walk around naked. That is a direct commandment from God that had an equally direct (and merciful!) expiration date of three years. This, of course, does not prove (in itself) that any of the Torah had an expiration date. But it does prove that God can give a command that does not last forever. God also told Hosea to take an adulterous wife. Now, scholars debate whether she was unfaithful before or only after marrying Hosea, but it doesn’t really matter. Hosea still knew that her character was an unfaithful character when he married her. This was a very specific commandment given in a particular time and place. Surely, we would not want to say that all prophets of God should marry wives of unfaithful character! There was a specific purpose in what God was doing with that commandment. Again, this does not prove that any particular law in the Torah is expired, but it does prove that God can give a commandment that has an expiration date on it. God has given commands in the past that have limited applicability.

Now the question is this: are there any limitations on the commandments given in the Torah? The Ten Commandments are universally binding moral law. This is the same law that is written on the human heart by God. I will not, at this point, argue the change of day of the Sabbath commandment. That is a subject for another post. But the Ten Commandments are universally binding for all people everywhere (not just for Israel). As that particular point is not really in dispute between the HRM and Reformed theology, I will move on to other areas of laws.

There do appear to be limitations set on other areas of commandments. Deuteronomy 4 is vitally important here. The redemptive-historical situation is that Moses is giving his last will and testament, if you will, to the Israelites before they enter the promised land. In the course of this, he makes a distinction between the Ten Commandments, on the one hand (4:13), and the “statues and ordinances” in 4:14, which are tied to the land: “At that time the Lord commanded me to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to follow in the land you are about to cross into and possess” (emphasis added). The order of Ten Commandments first, followed by statutes and ordinances is then immediately followed in chapter 5 (the second giving of the Ten Commandments and its summary in chapter 6) and the statutes and ordinances that follow. It is revealing that only after the Ten Commandments are given does Moses give specific instructions concerning the holy warfare that is to come (chapter 7). This separation of the statutes and ordinances from the Ten Commandments by the commands concerning holy warfare underscore again the connection of the ordinances that follow with the ownership of the land, as well as the distinction within OT law between the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects of the law. Now, it is not quite as simple as this, since there are reiterations of the moral law scattered throughout Deuteronomy. This does not negate the point of the literary separation between the Ten Commandments and the civil and ceremonial law as a whole.

Now to the feasts in particular. Three feasts are limited to the place that God shall choose: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths. Deuteronomy 16:16 is quite clear on this point: “All your males are to appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place He chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths” (emphasis added). That place that God would choose is, of course, Jerusalem. In other words, these feasts cannot be celebrated outside of Jerusalem. They must be celebrated in the place that God chose. There is no commandment later on telling the people that they can celebrate it anywhere else. There is no biblical example of the people of God celebrating those feasts anywhere other than Jerusalem. In fact, we have the exact opposite example in the case of the Exile. During the Exile, the people of God celebrated no feasts of God at all. Why? Because they were exiled from their land. There is no reproach laid on them for not celebrating the feasts while they were in exile. Those feasts are tied to the land of Israel, and in particular, Jerusalem. It is arbitrary to claim that we can celebrate them anywhere else, as long as we follow the specific instructions. Let us not forget either that these three Feasts required gifts to be given to God (Deuteronomy 16:17). We can conclude from this that these feasts had limitations of space set on them, at the very least.

From Isaiah, we learn that God gave a commandment bounded by time limitations. From our exegesis of Deuteronomy 16, we find that God can give a command that has a limitation of space put on it. Therefore, we can conclude from this that a law that is not of the moral law can have a built-in expiration date attached to it. This is not abrogation, as the HRM argue. Even the most die-hard dispensationalist could still agree that there is a relevance of even the most dated commands for God’s people. It is in that sense that not a jot or tittle shall pass away from the law until all is fulfilled. This should make it equally clear, by the way, that if our exegesis of Deuteronomy 16 (not to mention the example of Isaiah!) is correct, then Iesous’ (to use the Greek spelling of Jesus’ name used in the NT where the name Yeshua is NEVER used) words cannot mean what the HRM thinks it means. The HRM says that Iesous’ words mean that the application of the law can never change. It is the argument of the Reformed position that only God can change the application of His own law. No human tradition can do that. But it is also the Reformed position that Iesous Himself changed the application by His words in the NT. That is a subject for another post, however.

PCRT Seminar: Major Approaches to Creation, Part 1 (Derek Thomas)

(Posted by Paige)

[I owe this to Lane in return for a delicious Italian meal, good company, and the privilege of hearing him sing “And Can It Be” – just amazing. Sorry this one wasn’t live; I still don’t know how he does that, even after watching!]

I chose Derek Thomas’s seminar because I’d just finished reading his Job commentary with my 14-year-old, and I only belatedly realized I’d assigned myself to write up what Thomas dubbed a particularly “complex, difficult, divisive issue.” (That is a short “i” in the middle there; he’s Welsh.) So, here goes. Please don’t shoot the messenger. Please do read everything with a Welsh accent.

There was a lot of content in this presentation, so this will take two parts.

To begin with his endpoint: as the PCA study committee also affirmed, there are several views of creation that can be held without threat to inerrancy. While Thomas would personally subscribe to about 1.5 of the views he presented (on which see part two), he acknowledged that several other views were the convictions of scholars he respects. That said, there are lines in the sand past which inerrancy is no longer viable. The three non-negotiables he mentioned were creation ex nihilo, the special creation of man, and the historical, biblical individual named Adam. (I suspect there may have been more examples in his mind, but he didn’t get to them before Q&A time.)

Before describing any particular views of creation, Thomas dwelt on the tension that exists between biblical and scientific worldviews regarding the nature of the universe. He noted that evolution was not really a scientific theory, but rather “a philosophy, a worldview, an epistemology that affects ethics, morals, and standards.” Even the Big Bang theory moves beyond science and into theology when it tries to address origins (i.e., what happened before this singularity?). “Theologians should get antsy when scientists do theology – generally they do it pretty badly.”

Still, as the church we don’t want to commit another embarrassing error along the lines of geocentrism; it may be healthy to be skeptical of science, but “not to the extent we look foolish.” Thomas acknowledges that we trust science for many things (e.g., “If they’re going to cut me open and remove bits of me, I am going to have to trust the science”). Yet there is no way to reconcile even a generous 7-Day-Creation age of the universe (50,000 years ago? 200,000?) with scientific claims – 13.77 billion years – without doing something radical to the biblical account. And this we may not do.

In any case, “we need a degree of modesty when talking about these issues.” Science may be wrong; it is changing, not a constant. And theology may be wrong – the Bible is inerrant, but its interpreters are not.

Thomas also cautioned us to remember that there is a distinction between the Neo-Darwinian viewpoint (represented by Richard Dawkins) and the worldview of Darwin himself. Darwin’s deism was “ungodly, he had no gospel”; and yet he posited that God creates a few primal forms and always assumed a fixity of species (i.e., he did not advocate trans-species evolution). “That is 13.77 billion years away from Neo-Darwinism,” which has no fixed point of origin and traces “an unbroken line from mollusk to man.” This view is now the most dominant philosophy in modern thought…and it introduces the absorbing question, What might man ultimately become??

Speaking of evolution, we must remember that any so-called Christian view of creation that calls into question the historical, biblical Adam has dropped away from inerrancy. Thomas stresses the adjective biblical here because there are those who suggest that “there was a [historical] dude called Adam that God singled out from other hominids” to endow with the divine image. He referenced Dennis Alexander [dates??] who believed that hominids were around for a couple hundred thousand years (and had acquired language!) before any one of them was singled out by God for homo divinus status. John Stott unfortunately adopted this view. It introduces the conundrum of whether Adam & Eve’s parents were human – or a source of food. (And what happened to all those other hominids? What did they become? Hmmm.)

Closer to home we have Peter Enns asserting that Paul’s endorsement of the historical, biblical Adam can be disregarded because Paul was an ancient man, a product of his times…and we know so much better now about human origins. In Derek Thomas’ wry assessment, “That isn’t just a slippery slope – that’s an Alpine slope!”

Stay tuned for part two…

Third Plenary Session: Adam, the Lord of the Garden (Liam Goligher)

Genesis 2:4ff is the text.

A hermeneutical point: we start with a completed canon, and so we start from the end.

The garden of Eden is a proto-tabernacle and proto-temple (this insight comes from Beale). The image-bearers of God are required to multiply the image of God and fill the earth with God’s image. The image-bearers would extend Eden to include the entire earth. Adam was to serve and to guard in the garden. He is more than gardener. He is required to do what the priests would later do. Again, these insights come from Beale. The words “serve” and “guard” are only ever used together when referring to priestly activities, guarding and serving the tabernacle and temple. They are supposed to keep out unsanctified beings from the Garden. This is why Adam’s very first sin is actually letting Satan into the Garden of Eden at all.

Adam is given a covenantal role. The word “covenant” is not used in Adam’s relationship. Neither is it initially used in David’s covenant. Goligher’s take is that the word is much more used later on in history, and it would be somewhat anachronistic for Moses to have used the term. However, Adam’s situation is still truly called covenantal. This covenantal relationship is a matter of life and death. The meaning of the tree of life is suspended until the book of Revelation: it means eternal life, resurrection life, transformation of the universe. (LK: did Adam not then eat of the tree of life? The evidence seems to point to Adam eating of the tree before the Fall: it is possible, of course, that the tree of life in the respect that Liam means, is a sacramental tree, as Calvin would say. In this sense, the tree did not itself bring those things, but signified them).

The first covenant was a covenant of works: eat of the tree and you die (that’s a work!). If Adam had obeyed, he would have filled the earth with image bearers, and expanded the garden until it covered the whole earth. We have to exclude foreign elements from the church. Elders need to guard the church from false teaching.

Eve was the first theological liberal: she added to God’s Word in the temptation, and paraphrased. We do not paraphrase when we are quoting God. The command is changed into something jealous, small, and mean. Knowledge is the lure for Eve. The first doctrine that is ever denied explicitly is the doctrine of judgment. Denial of Hell and judgment is nothing new, obviously. Temptation attacked reason first. Sin is an assault on the truth of God. If we want to look at sin, don’t look first at the whorehouse, look at the academy. This is why Enns has fallen for the lie of the devil, when he says that science has a consensus on evolution, and that therefore biblical theologians must follow suit. Why is the academy more authoritative than God?

Second Plenary Session: The Case for Adam (Joel Beeke)

Trueman has said that the historicity of Adam is the most important doctrinal issue facing the church today. Beeke means by the historical Adam that a real human being existed who was the progenitor of the human race. The alternative that many Christians claim today is that there were a thousand hominids in the beginning. Genesis 2 is then a symbolic allegory of the entrance of the human soul into a previously soulless animal world. Enns, for instance, believes that evolution is scientifically proven. And therefore the interpretation of the Bible must conform to what science has irrevocably proven. Beeke’s specific focus is go back to what the Bible itself says about the historical Adam. He will make an historical case for Adam from the Bible (4 points), and then a theological case for Adam from the Bible (6 points).

Historical case 1: Genesis portrays the creation of Adam as an historical event. To overcome this historical interpretation, opponents raise three points. 1. They say Adam is a symbol for man (given the name for Adam). Answer: but the Bible distinguishes between man in general and Adam in particular. the reason Adam was given the name he has is because he is the progenitor of the human race. 2. Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 1. Answer: they are not contradictory, but rather describes the same events from complementary perspectives. 3. The serpent talks: it must therefore be symbolic. Answer: the Bible tells us that the devil was not the snake, but that the devil used the serpent.

Historical case 2: Biblical genealogies present Adam as the father of other historical persons. Genesis 5 is not myth, but historical record. 2 Chronicles 1 follows Adam to Abraham, to David, and to the exile. Luke 3 traces the lineage of Jesus back to Adam. This latter is particularly crucial. Luke 3 is nonsense if Adam is not historical.

Historical case 3: Christ himself spoke of Adam and Eve as historical persons. Jesus’ teaching concerning marriage quotes Genesis 1-2.

Historical case 4: If Adam is not a real man, who else is not real in the Scriptures? Why not make Abraham, Moses, and even David into mythical figures? Skepticism makes a tidal wave that covers over all the Bible. In what chapter of Genesis does historicity begin in Genesis? Will you not eventually deny Christ’s resurrection?

Theological case 1: Adam is not just an interesting figure, but is foundational to our theology. If Adam is myth, then our view of human identity and human sin (and through the parallel to Christ) our Savior. The historical Adam is the basis for believing in humanity’s original nobility. If Adam is myth, then there is no difference between humanity and the animals. The image of God is part of our very constitution, not an add-on. We will treat man like animals and animals like man if we lose the historical Adam.

Theological case 2: The historical Adam is the root of mankind’s unity. This is not just Israel’s story (contrary to Peter Enns). Genesis 3:20 says specifically that Eve is the mother of ALL LIVING. Acts 17:26 says that all are made from one blood (some translations say “from one man”). Christ takes on Himself common human nature, not the nature of part of humanity. Our unity in Christ depends on the historical Adam. How shall we stand up against racism if we are not from one origin? True philanthropy depends on the unity of the human race.

Theological case 3: the historical Adam is the foundation of gender relationships. The Bible loses its authority to tell ALL humanity what God’s will is in regard to sexuality (or anything else, for that matter) if we lose the historical Adam. We need an historical basis for our sexual ethics.

Theological case 4: The historical Adam is the basis for understanding the Fall. Paul says that death reigned from Adam to Moses. Paul means (among other things) that Adam is just as historical as Moses. Otherwise, Paul’s entire argument in Romans 5 is meaningless. We can’t understand the second Adam in His person and work unless we understand the first Adam. We lose the doctrine of original sin. We lose his imputed guilt, which then means that we lose the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Theological case 5: The historical Adam is a type of the Savior. Paul says explicitly that Adam is a type of Christ who is to come. Paul is not just using Adam as a cautionary tale, but rather Adam and Eve is the story on which all history hinges.

Theological case 6: The historical Adam is a test-case for biblical authority. Without the lenses of Scripture, our sin-clouded eyes will only see what the world sees. Enns actually says that we do not need to follow Paul in his statements about Adam, because he is an ancient man, and we know better. What is the husk and what is the kernel, and who gets to choose which is which?

Are we going to believe the Bible and are we willing to endure the shame that the world heaps on us for believing things that the world believes is completely outdated (and that is only the kindest term)?

First Plenary Session: The Bible’s First Word (Derek Thomas)

The text is Genesis 1:1-2. The centrality of God in the very beginning teaches us that our hermeneutical human-centeredness (“what does this passage say to me?”) is fundamentally wrong-headed. We need to ask, “What does this passage teach about God?” Leibniz says that a great question to ask is, “Why is there something, and not nothing?” For the Big Bang theory to happen, there has to be something before that. But the Bible states that the Triune God created by His powerful Word.

The creation account exalts God. Our culture seems to exult in the weightlessness of God (a la David Wells). The vastness of space ought to give us an inkling of how great God is. He notes the apologetic slant to Genesis 1 (vis-a-vis the Egyptian cosmologies, which worshiped the created sun and moon). The creation is Trinitarianly created. All the external operations of the Godhead are indivisibly the work of all three persons of the Trinity.

If someone says that the creation happened through a singularity, then we ask, “What was there before the singularity?” Nothing at all. Out of nothing everything came. (Why then can’t they believe in the resurrection?) This is irrational. Some people say that gases existed before the singularity. Some claim that electro-magnetism existed. This also is absurd. Science can be trusted when it comes to airplanes, cars, and surgery, but when science attempts to invade theology and philosophy, it becomes absurd. Before creation, there was God. Why is there something and not nothing? Because God is.

The creation account emphasizes the Creator-creature distinction. One of the best things that we can learn is that there is a God, and then we are not Him, or the fourth person of the Trinity, contrary to human tendencies. The biggest problem with the Egyptians gods is that they don’t exist (!).

The biblical doctrine of creation teaches the essential goodness of creation and matter. The constant refrains of God’s approval “God saw that it was good” militates against a Platonic rejection of matter as inherently evil, or of the body as the prison-house of the soul. This world will be restored, not obliterated. There are some things more beautiful (“good” versus “very good” in Genesis 1). God is the judge of what is truly beautiful. Grace is always restorative.

The biblical doctrine of creation is the basis for morality and ethics. What God has separated (genes, for instance) let not man join together. When we forget we are creatures, then we make our own morality.

The biblical doctrine of creation is the basis, ground, and motivation for worship. We were made to worship God.

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