A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology, Take Three

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a link to a 30-minute talk that I gave at a Bible study conference this October. It’s another introduction to redemptive history, this time tracing the theme of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles through the Old and New Testaments. I also play around with a connection between the Syrophoenician woman and Paul’s words about the “mystery” of Gentile inclusion in Ephesians 3. It’s on YouTube this time NOT because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made slides to illustrate the audio. Please listen if you like, and pass the link on to others who might benefit, especially those who are just getting to know the Word.

Soli Deo Gloria!

The Old Testament God

It has become rather commonplace to denigrate the God of the Old Testament (usually assuming from the outset that He is a different God than the God of the New Testament). For instance, Richard Dawkins says about Him the following in a now rather famous quotation from his book The God Delusion:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

I was just reading a book of Ezekiel essays, and a few of those essays say much the same thing, if a bit less rhetorically high-handed.

There are a number of things one could say in answer to these charges. The first thing I want to draw attention to is the most quoted Old Testament verses in the Old Testament. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what that quotation is? That’s right, you guessed it! Exodus 34:6-7, which say this: “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” These verses, or parts of them, are quoted in the following places: Numbers 14:18, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 111:4, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, and possibly Micah 7:18. It seems fairly plain, when once these passages are looked up, that there is a significant difference (to understate things rather drastically!) between Dawkins’s understanding of the Old Testament God and the Old Testament’s view of the Old Testament God.

It is important to notice that Dawkins seems to be laboring under the (mis)impression that, if there is a God, He owes His creatures something. The facts concerning the Fall into sin make it rather plain that God owes humanity nothing. The fact that any humans at all get to breathe, live, eat, and procreate is a marvel of grace in and of itself. Anything less than annihilation of the human race (which would have been perfectly just!) is pure grace. What, after all, should the God of the universe do when His creation spits in His face, and tries to take Him off His rightful throne, and usurp His place? Instead of destroying mankind utterly, God not only let them live, but He provided a promise of salvation right in Genesis 3, that there would one day come a seed of the woman which would crush the head of the serpent. This alone ought to answer the questions about the supposed “ethnic cleansing.” A closer look at the passages dealing with the Israelites’ destruction of the Canaanites reveals that God delayed His judgment on those sinful people by many long years, giving them opportunities to repent (“the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” for instance, in Genesis 15:16). The wickedness of the people driven out is constantly the reason for judgment. God owes them nothing.

Is God jealous? Yes, but what definition of jealous are we meaning by the term? The Bible says that God’s name is jealous (Exodus 34:14). But we tend to import our human understanding of jealousy into the word, and then refashion God into our own image. God’s jealousy is for our good. He does not want us to worship any other god, for the other “gods” are all false. If we have a relationship with the one true God, then we have the greatest good of all. God does not want to share that relationship with anyone or anything else. It is similar to the proper jealousy of a spouse: a spouse does not want to share that exclusive relationship with anyone else.

Does God hate women? No doubt today’s radical feminists would disagree with me here (as would Dawkins!), but I would have to say no. Woman is clearly represented as a full image-bearer, having the image of God stamped on them, just like men (Genesis 1). Just because they are not heads of the marriage does not mean they are hated, any more than a colonel is hated just because he is one rank below general. There is to be love and understanding between a husband and wife (Genesis 2).

Does God hate homosexual people? More and more when I get this answer, I just direct people to Rosaria Butterfield’s book, which says it SO much better than I ever could. Read that book and you will understand what God says about it in His Word, and how Christians, incidentally, should treat the homosexual population. I will only say this: God loved all His children, even while they were yet His enemies.

Is God racist? This is really the most puzzling one of the bunch. All races come from Noah, and all races come from Adam. The main promise of the Old Testament God to Abraham is that God would make him a blessing to all nations. Exactly how is this racist? The fundamental covenantal structure of the Old Testament is that God’s solution to Adam’s messing up the world would include bringing about a salvation that has equal scope.

Dawkins probably got the “infanticidal” from the story of King David and his son, which is the only possible place I could even imagine such a charge coming up. But what does God owe to any human being? Does the potter owe anything to the pot? No, the pot owes everything to the potter. Besides, why should Dawkins object if God simply weeds out someone would probably (under Dawkins’s belief system) be not the fittest? Survival of the fittest targets infants as weaker people. Dawkins is much more akin to infanticidal than God ever thought of being. With God, an infant is a human being, created in God’s image right from conception. With Dawkins, an infant is a piece of tissue until birth. Which view is more infanticidal?

Filicidal? How does Dawkins get that from the Old Testament? Yes, there is the promise of the suffering servant, and yes, Jesus is present in the Old Testament, according to the New Testament. But usually this charge is directed against the New Testament God for “killing His Son.” But the Son laid down His own life. No one took it from Him. It was a sacrifice for sins so that we might have salvation.

Is God capricious? No. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness, and yet not allowing the guilty to escape punishment. This one would need to address specific passages that Dawkins had in mind, and since we don’t know those passages, it is fruitless to try to answer his query. From the standpoint of one who believes in the Old Testament God, I find God to be amazingly consistent, and the very farthest thing from arbitrary. I will say this: just because God does not always explain His reason for doing such and such a thing, does not mean that a reason is non-existent. He may have a reason that He does not choose to tell us. This is, in fact, the burden of God’s message to Job in the last part of that book. God is not answerable to human beings. We are answerable to Him.

Some Thoughts on Ezekiel

It is a well-known fact that Ezekiel, in addition to being a prophet, was also a priest. However, it is not usually asserted that Ezekiel also performed some kingly functions as well. For instance, as I look at the infamous passages of 16 and 23, I wonder whether or not those passages (which are surely covenantal lawsuit passages) are meant to portray Ezekiel as exercising some kingly functions in addition to prophetic. Of course, he would be acting as Yahweh’s proxy in the prosecution of the case. But who judges cases in Israel? It is true that the priests were supposed to carry out this function. However, when the kings came along, they took that role for themselves. We find Solomon being the judge in Kings. In exilic Israel, the role of judge would certainly be seen as a kingly function, not so much a prophetic or priestly one.

If this is true (and I haven’t yet done a lot of research on it to lay out the argument), then Ezekiel is a prophet, priest and king. This might help enlighten for us not only the reason why God calls Ezekiel “son of man,” but also why Jesus found the title so very appropriate for Himself. Most people tend to think only of Daniel as being the background material. However, a good case can be made that Ezekiel is more in the background of Jesus’ self-designation than Daniel, or at least that they are equal.

Daniel Block has made a strong case that the phrase in Ezekiel means “mortal human being” (or something very like: I don’t currently have Block’s book in front of me). If so, then a comparison with Daniel’s use of the phrase (which certainly points to deity) yields the following interesting result: Ezekiel’s use of the phrase points out the human side, and Daniel’s use points out the divine.

Put all these thoughts together, and you have a perfectly clear portrait of why Jesus would use the phrase to describe Himself. It is just ambiguous enough not to cause immediate riot because of blasphemy (people would remember Ezekiel’s use of it to describe himself), and yet has enough background meaning to cover not only the offices of Christ, but also His natures. Throw in the additional tidbit that Ezekiel might point to humiliation, and Daniel to exaltation (this is a very tentative point on my part), and you have the perfect set of OT backgrounds for Jesus all wrapped up in the phrase “son of man:” three offices, two states, and two natures.

Backgroundism

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…

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