I Am Going to Enjoy This

Robert W. Jenson wrote the Brazos commentary on Ezekiel in 2009. I am really going to enjoy reading this commentary, even though he is not a conservative in his theological outlook. The reason I am going to enjoy this commentary is that he doesn’t hold with the prim and proper divorce of theology and exegesis. Instead, he refreshingly allows (even demands!) his doctrinal categories to determine the direction of his exegesis. Of course, everyone actually does this. In fact, the more that people protest that they don’t, the more viciously non-self-aware those scholars are. Jenson also injects his commentary with humor. He says:

The proposition that exegesis of the Old Testament might call up points of Christian doctrine of course offends the modern exegetical academy’s chief dogma. That, vice versa, Christian doctrine should shape interpretation of Old Testament passages offends it even more deeply. But the exclusion of the church’s doctrine from interpretation of the church’s scripture is after all a very odd rule on its face; and it is indeed as Christian scripture that the church reads what she calls the Old Testament. How the academic community came to be committed to an antidoctrinal, and thus in this case ironically ahistorical mode of exegesis, is an often told tale that need not be repeated here.

The present commentary, like the others in the series, thus offers alternatives to the modern academy’s prejudices. I will not often argue theoretically the legitimacy of christological or trinitarian or ecclesiological readings I present, but will mostly allow them to convince readers by their own sense and appropriateness to the text at hand-or not. I do ask for suspension of a priori incredulity-who knows, the church might be right about how to read her own scripture (pp. 25-26).

Lastly, Jenson issues a serious (!) warning about reading his commentary:

The purpose of a commentary is to assist readers’ involvements with the text. Perhaps readers should therefore take warning before going further. Attention to a text can turn into experience of its matter, and the judgments and promises of God as given through Ezekiel are so extreme that they can easily undo ordinary religiosity-to say nothing of the disastrous spiritual adventures that might be ignited by his visions (p. 30).

I find myself wishing that more commentators wrote like this.

Corporate and Individual Responsibility: An Introduction

I want to write some posts about corporate and individual responsibility in the Bible. This is an extremely thorny issue. At the moment, I am only beginning my investigation of the biblical texts. Thus, this post will raise more questions than answers. In the future, I will be focusing major attention on Ezekiel 18, and what it does and does not say. Other related passages are Joshua 7 (the account of the failed attack on Ai), 2 Samuel 21, Deuteronomy 24:16, 2 Kings 14:5-6, Daniel 9, and Exodus 20:5-6. Assessing how these texts relate to each other to form a coherent picture is a very thorny task. The reason I am addressing this issue is that the PCA has addressed and will be addressing corporate responsibility regarding the race issue.

What are some categories that the Bible uses to address the question of corporate and individual responsibility? The first category is a distinction between guilt and consequence. Obviously, guilt is one consequence of sin. However, there are other consequences that can be incurred by someone who has no direct guilt. This might be a helpful way of understanding why it is that 36 men get killed in the attack on Ai for something that they themselves did not do. One might say that Achan murdered those 36 men by transgressing the ban.

A second category distinction is between human retribution and divine retribution. Who assesses the punishment, in other words? Does human retribution apply to corporate guilt, or that only the purview of God? Bear in mind that this particular distinction is not the same question as repentance, and whether repentance needs to be corporate or individual.

A third category distinction is between sins of omission and sins of commission. This one should be familiar to most of my readers. A sin of omission is something that we (or I) should have done but failed to do, whereas a sin of commission is something that we (or I) should not have done, but did anyway. This has a bearing on possibly composite sins. On the racism issue, for instance, if a church committed racist acts, and the presbytery of which it was a part failed to discipline that church for said actions, then the presbytery incurs the guilt of omission. While the presbytery may not, as a whole, have committed the action itself, it is still responsible for its required and biblical response. The same is true on a denominational level.

The fourth, and perhaps stickiest question of all, is the question of covenantal continuity. There is a tension between the continuity (on the one hand) that the true church has with itself in all generations, regardless of denominational boundaries; and the discontinuity of governing bodies that are directly responsible for the discipline of members within its scope. In the case of the PCA churches that Sean Lucas has in mind, for instance, the question will revolve around some of these questions: have these churches ever repented? Did the southern presbyterian denomination repent before the founding of the PCA? Is there continuing sin on the matters of racial equality? If so, what is the responsibility of current bodies within the PCA, and is the whole denomination at fault, or only some presbyteries?

A fifth question to ponder is a very important question: what constitutes racism? I have addressed this question briefly before. Having read a bit more, and done a bit more thinking, there are some things I might say differently. For instance, the question of how the biblical passages relate is a far more difficult question than the previous post would seem to indicate. I still hold to my position on affirmative action being inherently racist. I also hold that evolution and a theory of polygenesis (that we do not all come from Adam and Eve) open the door to racism.

Why talk this way about all these careful distinctions? One reason is that we want to tell the truth. It is not truth to confess to sins for which we have no guilt any more than it is truth not to confess for sins of which we are guilty. We need to assess carefully and biblically what guilt we have in the question of racism. Whatever truth of guilt we have can then lead us to repentance and restoration.

I attended recently a memorial service for the Charleston Nine at a black church in Winnsboro. It was a wonderful experience. I was afraid at first that the talk would all be about social justice. Instead, it was focused on Jesus Christ and the gospel, while mentioning racial issues in the context of the gospel. Yes, there was much talk about the unity that the church has in Christ, as was appropriate. But it did not sideline the gospel, for which I was very thankful. As was mentioned by my black brothers at GA this year, any repentance that we do needs to have feet, so that actual change can happen in our churches. Some churches are further ahead in this process than others. Some degree of compassion and understanding will need to be present.

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.