Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’
I recently finished reading this commentary for my PhD seminar on the prophetic literature. The commentary is technical in the sense that the reader should know biblical Hebrew (and maybe Aramaic) while reading it, but he/she can still engage the work without it as well. The Word Biblical Commentary series breaks up each section (or, chapter) into four parts: Form, Setting, Comments, Explanation. One strength of Goldingay’s commentary lies in the “explanation” section, even though it is somewhat redundant in following the “comments.” There, he thinks through the text theologically and expounds on the material in light of God’s unfolding revelation. The problem is that this is Goldingay’s only strength. Sure, one might gain insights from Goldingay on Daniel’s language, how other non-canonical writers were influenced by Daniel, or even Daniel’s use of the OT, but observations like these are few and far between. Goldingay, rather, thinks that chapters 1-6 are allegorical “historiography” (and thus not actual history), that Daniel was not an historical person, and that the book should be dated during the Maccabean era (c. 168 BC) instead of during the time of the Israelite exile (605-538 BC, as the book itself attests). This dating leads Goldingay to interpret Daniel through the lens of secondary Jewish literature rather than in the context of the Bible, which I believe to be a serious flaw. Furthermore, the meaning of the text is lost in oodles of material on the book’s form, some of which is helpful, to be sure, but liberal to say the least.
In the end, I wouldn’t recommend this commentary for pastors since it lacks that sort of quality. Perhaps students of the OT or of intertestamental literature may benefit, but the commentary is lacking theologically, and Goldingay particularly avoids interaction with conservative approaches. It’s also dated (1989). I haven’t read Steinmann or Lucas yet, but at this point I’m still partial to Baldwin, which is also dated and very short.
As an evangelical Old Testament student I see Tremper Longman’s name pretty frequently. I begrudgingly read his Introduction to the Old Testament as a junior in college but enjoyed it in the end. I also found his commentary on Proverbs somewhat helpful (though not in the Waltke sense).
However, I’m often at odds sometimes with much of what Longman says or writes. For instance, I remember Dr. Gentry dismantling Longman’s thesis in the NICOT series that Ecclesiastes is equivalent to fictionalized biography (i.e. Frame Narrative theory – see Duane Garrett’s refutation as well in his own commentary, 260-65), which I found to be a serious flap on Longman’s part. I also recently came across this interesting little clip of Longman commenting on the historical Adam, which just adds to my disparity:
For Longman, then, Adam’s historicity isn’t really the main point, and shouldn’t really affect our exegesis or theology. But that’s the question: Does Adam have to be an historical figure for the Bible to make sense, like Longman says? And, what are the implications for sin and headship if Adam is not? Biblical theology? Further, what would John Walton say (for those of you who have read his new book)?
I’ve been teaching through the book of Exodus at our Wednesday night Bible study at Kenwood. I picked up this book recently, mostly out of curiosity, to get a scientists take on the miraculous stories in the biblical account.
Summary: The subtitle of the book is, “A Scientists Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical Stories,” and the substance is exactly that. The books author, Colin Humphreys, is a Cambridge University physicists. Although he specializes in “materials science” his hobby is archeology. With that as his motivation he set out to explain God’s amazing victory in bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt using the scientific method. Humphreys not only examines the plagues, the natural phenomenon of the Red Sea crossing, and the location of Mt. Sinai, but also the date of the exodus, the crossing of the Jordan river (Josh. 3), and the location of the lost city of Etham (Ex. 13:20). Using modern science Humphreys concludes that all the events in the book of Exodus are explainable according to natural forces particular to the ancient Near East setting.
What I liked: First, I liked that Humphreys intent is to show that the biblical account is true. Nowhere in the book does Humphreys write that the exodus was false or the result of ancient myth, and for this he is to be commended. Second, Humphreys explanation of the locations of the Red Sea (in the Gulf of Aqaba) and Mt. Sinai (in Midian and not in the Sinai peninsula) is very convincing. I first heard this explanation in an exegesis course on Exodus I took during my M.Div., and after examining other resources I think that of Humphreys is more compelling and fits better with the biblical data. Lastly, the book is very easy to read and accessible for anyone at any level.
What I didn’t like: Where I mainly disagree with Humphreys is in his qualifying presupposition to explaining all the miracles of the Exodus; that is, that natural forces explain everything rather than supernatural ones. In Humphreys’ view, science is able to explain everything, and thus the miracles are only supernatural from Israel’s own perspective. Therefore, what happens in Exodus are miracles of timing. To give one example, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night – the presence of God leading the Israelites out of Egypt – is explainable as a volcano that erupted at the just the right time. This volcano just happens to be Mt. Sinai, which can be seen from 300 miles away in Egypt. The Israelites follow this cloud each day and night and are thus led by it, according to Humphreys. I think this view demotes the aspect of God’s intervening on the Israelites behalf (which God intended to do from the beginning), and also leaves for a high probability of chance. The same can be said about Humphreys’ take on the plagues, which I think can be disputed on the basis of his own analysis – timing.
Final Analysis: Humphreys has written a good book that was enjoyable to read. It is simple but not overly simplistic. I appreciated his desire to show the truthfulness of the Bible, especially with respect to the factual evidence of Scripture that is so easily disregarded. However, Humphreys demotes the aspect of God’s supernatural intervening on Israel’s behalf, and shows more faith in science than in the biblical record. Therefore, while I would highly recommend the sections on the Red Sea crossing and the location of Mt. Sinai (and other equally commendable chapters), I cannot recommend the sections on the plagues or the pillar of cloud and fire.
Year three marked one of the more satisfying years academically. After going through a year of Hebrew language study I took my first exegesis class with Dr. Peter Gentry. His influence on my understanding of the Old Testament and my love of the biblical languages far outweighs any other. It was during this class (Exegesis of Isaiah) that I made conscious decision to study the OT to a greater degree, with the hope of resurrecting the OT in preaching and teaching in the church. It has been my observation that most church members, young and old, limit their own understanding of the OT to the Psalms and Proverbs, with a splattering of the great stories of Abraham, Moses, and David (just take a look at many of our Bibles: the NT with Psalms and Proverbs). Rarely does one find a pastor preaching through a book of the OT on Sunday mornings. Additionally, the influence of John MacArthur (whom I love and admire) has somehow convinced many pastors in reformed circles that the church is only to be taught from the NT, and that the OT is limited to illustrative purposes. This was, and is, not satisfying to me. As I understand the task, pastors are to preach the whole counsel of God. The church cannot and must not limit themselves to being practical Marcionites. God has made himself known in his Word, and for all our battling to preserve the authority and inspiration of the Bible, we must act and preach like the whole of it, and not individual parts, is worth the battle. Pastors are never called to preach only the New Covenant (as some might say). Pastors are called to preach the Word.
This leads me to further recommendations. First, do not wait until your final year of seminary to begin Hebrew and Greek. Most seminarians start off with Greek but avoid Hebrew like a plague. In fact, there is a common notion among seminarians that it is unwise to take Hebrew and Greek in the same semester. While there are certain factors that may prohibit this (e.g. full-time job), it is not insurmountable. The earlier you can take the biblical languages the better. Then, as you progress, you can continue to take exegesis courses to improve your skills, and by the end of seminary you should have a good grasp on both languages. Second, study in small spurts and not big chunks. For instance, if it’s Monday and you have a Hebrew vocabulary test on Thursday, don’t wait until Wednesday to begin and don’t work on all 50 vocab words at a time. Rather, divide the words into groups of 10 and put them in your pocket. As you walk to class, sit at lunch, wait for an appointment, etc., get the cards out and go through them a few times. Our brain is more inclined to remember these things if they come in doses, and not all at once. Most of us, including myself, can’t remember everything at first glance. Therefore, help yourself out by studying throughout a day instead of all at once. Third, don’t be content to spend all of your time working on vocabulary and syntax only to lose everything you’ve worked on in a year or so. Continue to work on these things periodically. It will be well worth your effort.
Back to my third year: things changed dramatically for me at Kenwood during this time as well. In December of 2007 our preaching pastor left the church to take a professorship in a different state. The following week our other associate pastor, whom everyone assumed would take the preaching role, was called to military duty, also out of state. This left me for the care of the church. I began preaching every Sunday morning and teaching every Sunday and Wednesday evenings. While the responsibilities were difficult to maintain as a full-time student, and while there were certainly bumps in the road involving church members, I loved the work and grew as a Christian.
One of the best things that happened to Jenn and I this year was catching up with fellow Liberty grads who were at Southern. I had no idea that so many of us were in one place! Noah and Brandy Lee, Asa Hart, Brad Swartz, Randall and Bethany Breland, and Andy Miller have all been great friends that have challenged and loved both of us during this time. Additionally, Michael Naak (not from LU) and I grew very close as we met each week for accountability and encouragement. He was, and is, an extremely good friend who graciously supported me during many tough months at Kenwood, prodding me to continue to persevere and preach the Gospel, even when it might be offensive to some.
Here are some pictures from year three – a reenactment of our engagement in Cincinnati (2nd anniversay), Naak bowling, the LU guys and gals, New Attitude conference with my in-laws (now called “Next“), a big snow storm, and my parents trying on some hats at Lynn’s Paradise Cafe:
There are many textual difficulties in the OT, to be sure, most of which take lengthy essays or articles to explain. The task in this series, “Interpretive Challenges in the OT,” will be to examine these puzzling texts, survey the conclusions proposed by other writers and scholars, and arrive at a succinct and cogent explanation. Pray for me…
One of the first problems one might face when reading through the Bible from cover to cover (if he or she does that) is the question of who God is addressing in Genesis 1:26. In particular, who is the “us” and the “our” in God’s words, “Let us make man in our image.” Before delving into the text itself I want to briefly summarize the many options proposed to explain the “us.”:
- “Us” refers to a various gods in the ancient Near East, and thus perpetuates the mythological origins of Genesis.
- “Us” refers to the creation itself, which means that the creation not only has life but personality and will.
- “Us” is an honorific plural, much like Elohim (“God”), which is a plural word that speaks of a singular God.
- “Us” refers of God’s self-deliberation (a “plural of self-deliberation” was first proposed by Gesenius).
- “Us” refers to the Trinity.
- “Us” refers to the divine council, i.e. angelic beings in God’s presence.
The first two views can clearly be set aside since the whole aim of Genesis 1 is a polemic against polytheism. The third view is not likely since honorific plurals occur only with nouns (like Elohim, “God”) and not pronouns (like “us”). The fourth view may be discarded on the basis that no other text supports God self-deliberating within himself. The fifth view, however, is another kettle of fish. Traditional orthodoxy has asserted “us” as being a reference to the Trinity. This makes sense theologically on a number of grounds. First, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all identified as Creator (Job. 33:4; John 1:3; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). Second, it seems that the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Gen. 1:2 – “And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.” Third, it would make sense that the Hebrew name for God, Elohim, would be a plural word since the Trinity is three distinct persons.
However convincing the Trinitarian perspective may be, the arguments are flawed to some extent. For instance, while the Spirit is clearly present in creation based on later texts it is hardly possible that Moses, writer of Genesis, had a multi-personed view of God at the time of his writing. Based on the antecedent context the only possibility of a plurality of deity is Gen. 1:2, but even that verse is more likely translated “wind from God” (cf. the recreation in Gen. 8:1 and the “wind” that blows over the waters after the flood). Furthermore, it is against the rules of grammatico-historical exegesis to read the theology of later texts into early ones. While the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly attested elsewhere in Scripture, it is faulty to try and locate ambiguous texts to support that doctrine when they are not clearly present. Be minded, I am not denying the existence of the Trinity nor their role in creation. But based on the text it doesn’t seem like the other persons of the Godhead are mentioned until later revelation.
A more coherent explanation of Gen. 1:26, I believe, is view six; that “us” refers to the divine council/angels. This view is affirmed by most OT commentators (cf. Waltke, Sarna, Wenham, Gentry, and others; contra V. Hamilton, Mathews, Alexander). Waltke (“The Bruce”) notes the contextual support for this view by taking Gen. 3:5 into consideration:
“The Serpent, who becomes identified as Satan in later revelation, tempts the man and woman to eat forbidden fruit to gratify their pride: ‘You [plural] will be like divine beings [Elohim], knowing good and evil.’ Conceivably, Elohim here is another honorific plural for God, but its attributive modifier, ‘knowing’ (lit. ‘knowers of’), is plural.”
Normally, whether a word is plural or singular is decided not only by its form but also by its accompanying modifiers. For example, for the first clause at the beginning of 3:5, “God” (Elohim) and the modifier, “knows,” are both singular, which clearly means Elohim is to be taken as singular. But at the end of the verse Elohim takes a plural modifier, which means Elohim should be rendered, “divine beings”, instead of the usual, “God.” This is confirmed in Gen. 3:22 when God says, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” Without understanding the final clause in 3:5 as “divine beings” v. 22 would make no sense. The Serpent knows of the divine counsel, and thus his temptation in 3:5 refers to that very group. Additionally, we must keep in mind that there are two other passages in the OT that mention God in the plural but do not seem to be referring to the Trinity (Gen. 11:7; Isaiah 6:8). Out of these I think that Isaiah 6:8 is the strongest evidence against a Trinitarian understanding of “us.” In that passage God is surrounded by heavenly Seraphim who constantly bring him praise, and Isaiah hears God asking them, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (6:8). This is not God self-deliberating, nor is it a reference to the Trinity, but a scene in which God acts jointly with the heavenly court (Seraphim). In sum, all four uses of “us” in conjunction with Elohim in the OT refer to divine beings and not a plurality of deity (i.e. the Trinity).
But does this mean that Gen. 1:26 says humans are made in the image of God and the angels, and not just God? Far from it! That stance is flawed theologically. Humans are not made in “their” image, but only God’s (1:27 – “his image”). However, when God addresses the angels it does not mean they are taking part in the creation or part of the divine image. Rather, God is the addresser of his court: the addressees. He is the primary actor, so to speak, but acting in concert with the divine beings.
One final point may help my argument, which comes from Psalm 8:5-8:
“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings [Elohim] and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
It has been argued elsewhere that this passage is a commentary on Gen. 1:26-28, to which I agree. Regarding Elohim as noted in this Psalm, it must be maintained that our oldest translation (LXX) has “angels” and not “God” in the first sentence. The writer of Hebrews also goes this route in 2:7. Moreover, throughout the Psalm David refers to God in the second person (“your”). It would be odd for him to suddenly switch (e.g. “Yet you have made him a little lower than yourself“). I believe, then, that David, drawing his thought from Gen. 1:26-28, understood the “us” suffix as referring to the heavenly court and not as a plurality of deity.
To conclude, while interpreting Gen. 1:26 as Trinitarian may be attractive in light of the NT data, this view is textually and contextually flawed. All OT examples of Elohim in the plural refer to divine beings, as well as David’s meditation on this passage in Ps. 8:5-8. A better route would be to see “us” as referring to the divine council/heavenly beings, an interpretation that is justified on solid exegetical grounds and grammatico-historical exegesis. Although this present essay is not exhaustive, my hope is that it has stimulated your thought on this difficult matter and helped you in understanding the text.
Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology and Genesis: A Commentary
Victor Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, in NICOT
Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, in NAC
Peter Gentry, Kingdom Through Covenant: Humanity as the Divine Image, in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Vol. 12 No. 1
Nahum Sarna, Genesis, JPS Torah Commentary
Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15, in WBC
I found this quote from the blog at Reformed Reader helpful in thinking about preaching Christ in all of Scripture. Many pastors, young and old, continue to do a disservice to the OT text by bludgeoning Christ upon every jot and tittle.To those who make it their practice to do so, I think these wise words from Sidney Greidanus are instructive:
The christocentric method complements the theocentric method of interpreting the Old Testament by seeking to do justice to the fact that God’s story of bringing his kingdom on earth is centered in Christ: Christ the center of redemptive history, Christ the center of the Scriptures. In preaching any part of Scripture, one must understand its message in the light of that center, Jesus Christ.
It should be clear by now that our concern is not to preach Christ to the exclusion of the “whole counsel of God” but rather to view the whole counsel of God, with all its teachings, laws, prophecies, and visions, in the light of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it should be evident that we must not read the incarnate Christ back into the Old Testament text, which would be eisegesis, but that we should look for legitimate ways of preaching Christ from the Old Testament in the context of the New.
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, pgs. 227-28.
A solid reminder that while we must not allegorize Christ all over the OT, as though we could make him explicitly mentioned in every verse, we must recognize that every verse providentially exists where it is as part of a canonical Bible that centers around God’s redeeming work in none other than Christ himself. Thus to preach a given verse as though it had nothing to do with Christ and his finished work is to misunderstand the OT as Christian Scripture.
Walter C. Kaiser Jr., distinguished professor of Old Testament and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is an excellent scholar and leader in evangelicalism. Before coming to Gordon-Conwell he served at TEDS and as president of ETS, which alone vounch for a positive repuation. There he wrote one of his most significant publications, Toward an Old Testament Theology, which I read this week while off from school. Although some may consider his work passé (it was published in 1978), Kaiser is still masterful in presenting the canonical shape of the Hebrew Bible, exhibiting keen insight and exegetical skill throughout the book. The division of the book is threefold, and I want to make a few observations for the interested reader, all of which occur in the first section of the book.
I – Definition and Method (the best section of the book)
II – Materials for an Old Testament Theology (walks through each section of the Hebrew ordering of the Bible and explains the theology)
III – The Connection with New Testament Theology (a helpful transition into the Christian era)
An initial observation deals with the nature of the Bible. Kaiser makes clear that, at the time of his writing, biblical theology had failed to restate and reapply the authority of the Bible (as was the case with Gerhard von Rad and Walter Eichrodt). It is therefore his intention to do so. The OT is not a set of detached periods with little or no unity, says Kaiser. Rather, the OT is God’s inspired and infallible Word, as it claims to be, and should be treated as such:
The nature of the theology of the OT…is not merely a theology which is in conformity with the whole Bible, but it is that theology described and contained in the Bible and consciously joined from era to era as the whole previously antecedent context becomes the base for the theology which followed in each era (9).
The most useful way to confirm this authority lies in an inductive reading. In contrast to the method used by systematic theology called the Analogy/Rule of Faith, Kaiser utilizes what he calls the Analogy of Antecedent Scripture to approach his task. In his own words,
While the Analogy or Rule of Faith is deductive and collects all materials regardless of its relative dating, the Analogy of [Antecedent] Scripture is inductive and collects only those antecedent contexts which were in the Scripture writer’s mind as he wrote this new passage as indicated by the same terminology, formulas, or events to which this context adds another in the series (19).
For Kaiser, the text begs to be understood and set in a context of events and meanings. To that end, the exegete must depend on the theology of the periods preceding his given canonical text. Otherwise, he will be using new material in the NT or subsequent OT passages in trying to grasp the meaning of a given text. Kaiser asserts that this would be “an outright rebellion against the author and his claim to have received divine authority for for what he reports and says” (19). On the other hand, by employing the Analogy of Antecedent Scripture the exegete will come to understand the theological core of the canon, which is absolutely crucial to Kaiser’s method. In my own research, albeit limited, I’ve found this method to be very helpful and true to the original intent of the author.
The second (and most important) observation is in Kaiser’s identification of a canonical theological center in the OT. He sees the problem many face as twofold: 1) Does a key exists for an orderly and progressive arrangement of the subjects, themes, and teachings of the OT?, and 2) were the writers of the canon aware of such a theme (20)? Many attempts have been made to answer these questions but Kaiser finds them unsatisfactory and ambiguous. Therefore, he sets out to do so from the text itself and without the critical presuppositions others have brought to the table. Simply stated, God’s unifying plan is bound up in the terms “promise” and “blessing,” for “the divine promise pointed to a seed, a race, a family, a man, a land, and a blessing of universal proportions – all guaranteed, according to Genesis 17, as being everlasting and eternal. In that purpose resides the single plan of God” (see Gen. 3:15; 9:25-27; 12:1-3 as the key OT passages on the promise). The promise is textually confirmed in the vocabulary of the canonical books themselves, as well as certain epitomizing formulae which summarize the central action of God in a succinct phrase or two. Kaiser calls this the tripartite formula of promise – “I will be your God; you shall be My people, and I will dwell in the midst of you.” This formula is repeated in part or in full in Genesis 17:7-8; 28:21; Exodus 6:7; 29:45-46; Leviticus 11:45; 22:33; 25:38; 26:12, 44, 45; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 4:20; 29:12-13; et. al. Later it appeared in Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:27; Zechariah 8:8; 13:9; and in the NT in 2 Corinthians 6:16 and Revelation 21:3-7 (33-34). Therefore, according to Kaiser the promise is the theological center of the OT. It is indeginous to the text itself, united and supported in all parts of the canon.
This answers the first question, but what about the second? Were the biblical writers aware and actively working according to this promise? Without going into too much detail, the organic unity of the text is rooted in history through the work of the authors. Thus, history is the unifying principle. This is clear in that the entire focus of the OT lies in the content and recipients of God’s covenants. God has promised in the biblical authors that he would freely do or be something for all men as he did in the past. His “oaths,” “pledges,” “declarations,” and the like all attest to his promissary “word” that he has acted in the past, is acting in the present, and will act in the future.
At this point I’ve mentioned only positive details about Kaiser’s work, the reason being that I didn’t find too much to be critical about. I will mention, however, that Kaiser fails give attention to the literary structure of certain key passages, which, as I’ve learned from Drs. Gentry and Garrett, aid immensely in interpretation (passages like Gen. 1-2; Exod. 15; poetic forumlae in the Proverbs; resumptive technique in Isaiah; the chiastic structure of Zephaniah, etc.). Kaiser also limits his treatment of the Psalms to a few pages, breezing over key ideas and themes so clearly present. Yet Kaiser generally comes to the same interpretation nonetheless. It is understood from the beginning that Kaiser does not intend to write a biblical theology in toto, such as in the works of Brevard Childs, Gerhard von Rad and Bruce Waltke (much later, of course). Instead, he has given us a concise theology, much like Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty. As an aside, it would insteresting to compare Kaiser’s work with Dempster, but that study will have to wait, and this blog is already long enough! At this point I would probably recommend Dempster over Kaiser, but mainly because Dempster draws upon Kaiser’s previous (antecedent!) work, and is more up to date.
In the end, while reading Kaiser I was constantly reminded of the truthfulness of God’s Word in the OT, indeed the whole Bible, and the confidence Christians can have in handling it rightly. If we only had preachers to lead them in this task! I highly recommend this book for pastor’s, scholar’s and seminarians, but not necessarily for lay people. The language is often technical (but readable) and a knowledge of biblical Hebrew is a must.