Josh Philpot

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Archive for the ‘Interpretive Challenges in the OT’ Category

Richard Hays on Gospel-Shaped Hermeneutics

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Last weekend I attended a lecture by Richard B. Hays at the Lanier Theological Library. I read Hays’ new book, “Reading Backwards,” last year and it’s excellent. This lecture was an overview of that book. The library usually posts their lectures for free here, but this most recent one is not up yet. The central thesis or aim of the lecture of the view that the Gospels teach us how to read the OT, and—at the same time—the OT teaches us how to read the Gospels. Or, as Hays reiterates over again, we learn to read the OT by reading backwards, and—at the same time—we learn how to read the Gospels by reading forwards from the OT. In the lecture, Hays offered Seven Proposals for Gospel-Shaped Hermeneutics: 

  1. A Gospel-shaped hermeneutic actually requires us to “read backwards,” and the meaning of the narrative of the OT can only be understood in retrospect. Hays was careful to point out that this hermeneutic does not require the view that the OT authors knew the full implications of their words. 
  2. Scripture must be interpreted in light of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. 
  3. The diverse use of OT texts in the Gospels summon us to read their narratives creatively and not rigidly. 
  4. In the view of the Gospel writers, Israel’s scripture told the true story of the world, and thus we must give care attention to the large, narrative arc of the Bible. 
  5. Reading Israel’s story in retrospect (i.e. in light of Jesus) is not a negation of Israel’s history but a transfiguration and continuation of that history. 
  6. The diverse references and allusions to the OT are “metaleptic” (metalepsis), which Hays explains as the literary phenomenon that occurs when an author cites or alludes to a text in such a way as to bring the entire context of the citation into view. 
  7. The more deeply we probe the Jewish and OT world of the Gospel writers, the more we come to see that they understand Jesus to be the embodiment of Israel’s God. 

Hays did mention at one point that although he uses the term “figural” instead of “typological” he means essentially the same thing. He said that he avoids the term “type” so as not to add to the debate between typological and allegorical readings of the Bible. 

Written by Josh Philpot

May 26, 2015 at 11:49 am

Tom Schreiner on the Differences between Biblical and Systematic Theology

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In the new issue of Themelios, Tom Schreiner writes a response to Gerald Bray’s critique of his biblical theology, “The King in His Beauty.” In the first few paragraphs he offers a clear and helpful overview for how biblical and systematic theology differ but complement one another. He also lambasts Bray for totally misunderstanding his book. I was at the panel discussion at ETS last November where Bray’s review was presented, so I’m glad to see Schreiner’s rejoinder here. Many of the attendees at that presentation were likewise confused with Bray’s response. In Schreiner’s own words, 

The fundamental problem with Bray’s review is that he misunderstands both my book and biblical theology. He seems to think that I am trying to write a systematic theology, for he emphasizes that biblical theology is only a prolegomenon to a systematic theology. Here’s the rub: I agree! Systematic theology is a culminating discipline that includes exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, and philosophy. Bray critiques me as if I were attempting to write a culminating work, a systematic theology, and by doing so he veers off course from the outset of his review. I agree with Bray that Christian theology reaches its apex in systematics. I didn’t think anyone would read my book as if I were trying to compose an alternative to a systematic theology.

Nor is it evident that Bray understands what biblical theology is in distinction from systematics, or perhaps he believes there isn’t any place for biblical theology, because he doesn’t commend it in his review. We need both systematic and biblical theology, for in the latter the story of scripture is rehearsed, the narrative of scripture is unfolded for the reader. Such attention to the historical outworking of God’s plan (the establishment of his kingdom!) ensures that we are reading the scriptures contextually and canonically. For instance, Bray doesn’t devote much attention to the historical unfolding of God’s revelation in his book. But it is clear in reading the NT that the Mosaic covenant was an interim covenant, that it was meant to be in force for a limited period of time. We learn from this that it is imperative to read scripture epochally. We don’t offer sacrifices or wear clothes with only one kind of fabric since such regulations are part of the Sinai covenant, and we aren’t under that covenant since the new covenant has arrived in Jesus Christ.

To put it another way, systematic theologians need biblical theology, for otherwise they may make claims that violate the intention and purpose of the texts cited. Biblical theology as a mediating discipline supports systematics. Systematics may stray from the scriptures in constructing doctrines, and biblical theology serves systematics by tying us to the biblical text and by ensuring that we interpret the scriptures in its epochal framework. The structures and themes unpacked in biblical theology undergird (or should undergird) the work of systematic theologians. Biblical theology, like systematics, plays a vital role in our understanding of the scriptures. Let’s take one example of what concerns Bray. He complains that I don’t unpack the Trinity, but he misconstrues my book and biblical theology. The Trinity is central to Christian theology, and any systematic theology that doesn’t make the Trinity prominent is woefully deficient. But I didn’t write a systematic theology, nor am I claiming that the work of biblical theology is a culminating discipline. Still, biblical theology provides the raw materials for the doctrine of the Trinity by showing that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all divine, while also emphasizing that the scriptures teach that there is only one God.

You can read Schreiner’s review of Bray’s “God is Love” here. The contrast between the two reviews is startling.

Written by Josh Philpot

April 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Ardel Caneday on Peter Enns and the NT Use of the OT

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At the Credo Magazine blog, NT scholar Ardel Caneday completed a series on the NT use of the OT, and particularly with recent arguments from OT scholar Peter Enns. Enns was dismissed from Westminster Theological Seminary a few years back (he may have resigned; I can’t remember) over the hermeneutical position he took in the book, Inspiration and Incarnation. The articles from Candeday are long but worth the time for anyone interested in the topic, especially the last two which deal with Enns in particular:

On the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament (part 1)

On the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament (part 2)

Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical? (part 3)

Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical? (part 4)

While not dismissing the value of some of Enns’ works on the OT (his Exodus commentary in the NIVAC series is excellent, as are some of his contributions to Wisdom Literature studies), his more recent works have only confirmed why WTS dismissed him (rightly, in my opinion) from their faculty.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm

The “Voice” of Moses in Deuteronomy

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In his new collection of essays, The Gospel according to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy (Cascade, 2012), Dan Block has a helpful chart delineating the “voices” in Deuteronomy, which I’m providing below. The content comes from a previously published article, “Recovering the Voice of Moses: The Genesis of Deuteronomy,” JETS 44 (2001): 385-408. Based on internal and external evidence, Block argues that three particular voices are clear: (1) Yahweh’s voice, (2) Moses’ voice, and (3) the narrator’s voice.

  1. Yahweh’s Voice in Deuteronomy—31:14b, 16b-21, 23b; 32:49-52; 34:4b
  2. Moses’ Voice in Deuteronomy
    1. Moses’ Lone Voice—1:6-4:40; 4:44-26:19; 28:1-69 [Eng 29:1]; 27:11-26; 29:1 [Eng 2]-30:20; 32:1-43, 46b-47; 33:2-29
    2. Moses’ Accompanied Voice—27:1-8, 9-10
  3. The Narrator’s Voice in Deuteronomy—1:1-5; 2:10-12, 20-23; 3:9, 11, 13b-14; 4:41-43, 44-5:1a; 10:6-9; 27:1a, 9a, 11; 28:68 [Eng 29:1]; 29:1 [Eng 29:2]; 31:1-2a, 7a, 9-10a, 14a, 14c-16a, 22-23a, 24-25, 30; 32:44-46a, 48; 33:1-2a; 34:5-12

Block holds the traditional view that Moses is the author/speaker (the main “voice”) of the majority of the book of Deuteronomy, and I think his article is convincing on this point and helpful, especially as I read through the biblical book. Block has also published a companion volume prior to this one, How I Love Your Torah, O Lord!: Studies in the Book of Deuteronomy (Cascade, 2011). Both volumes are great to have in my personal library, and I look forward to his forthcoming commentary on Deuteronomy in the NIVAC series, which is slated to be released in August 2012.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm

A few thoughts on Exodus 34:29

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  1. Moses’ second descent from Sinai is much different from the first. This time he has two new tablets and a changed complexion: the skin of his face is “shining” (from Heb. qrn) because he had been talking with God. The use of qrn here is odd since it usually means “horns,” not “to shine,” as depicted in Michelangelo’s statue of  Moses in the church of San Pietro, Rome. Michelangelo based his depiction of Moses on the translation of qrn in the Vulgate (“he knew not that his face was horned“).
  2. Scholars differ on the interpretation of qrn in Exod 34: Jirku (“horns”), Propp (“disfigurement,” or blistered skin), Sasson (“horns”), Stuart (“rays”), Sanders (“light”), Cassuto (“rays of light”), Childs (“rays of light”), Enns (“afterglow”), etc. The LXX has, “the skin of [Moses’] face had become glorified.” Paul follows the LXX: “The Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory” (2 Cor 3:7).
  3. While it is true that qrn normally means “horns” (see HALOT, vol 3, 1144), in this case we must consider alternatives. The verbal form here in Exod 34 literally means “to show horns,” not “to shine.” But consider this analogy: my kids and I drew a picture of the sun today with yellow crayons. Like most kids do (and adults too), we drew spikes, or “horns,” around the sun to show that it emanates light and that it’s really hot. Perhaps what we have in Exod 34 is similar. The skin of Moses’ face shines just like the sun shines. Instead of saying that Moses’ face “was shining” (using the normal language of illumination) the author of Moses depicts Moses’ face much like we would draw the sun: he had horns of light (a similar analogy would be the head of the Statue of Liberty); that is, rays that reflect the very brightness of  Yahweh’s own presence. As Cassuto writes, “Something of the divine glory remained with [Moses], and on an infinitesimal scale he also had rays at his side—enveloping his countenance.”
  4. Habbakuk 3:4 substantiates the interpretation of qrn as rays of light: “[God’s] brightness was like the light; beams of light (qrn) come from his hand; and there he veiled his power.”

Written by Josh Philpot

July 13, 2011 at 2:02 am

Pun from Judges 16

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The Old Testament is full of literary and rhetorical devices, most of which are only obvious if you know Hebrew. I’m still working on Hebrew so I don’t always notice these things when I’m reading through a text. But one such literary device that is usually recognizable is the “pun,” which in some cases adds tremendous interpretive weight to a passage. A pun is a play on words which at times yields funny results.

Consider the following passage from Judges 16 that Charles Halton pointed out in a recent article in JBL (“Samson’s Last Laugh” in JBL 128.1 [2009]: 61-64 ). This is, of course, the famous story of Samson and the Philistines. After being deceived by the promiscuous Delilah, Samson is tortured by the hands of his captors and forced to do hard labor. In 16:25-27 the Philistines desire to get one last laugh over  Samson, and it is here that we see the pun: “And when their hearts were merry, they said, ‘Call Samson, that he may entertain us.’ So they called Samson out of the prison, and he entertained them. They made him stand between the pillars . . . Now the house was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about 3,000 men and women, who looked on while Samson entertained” [ESV].

Halton shows that the majority of English translations miss the significance of the pun. The verb “to entertain” can also be rendered “to crush,” since the only difference in the Hebrew root is a sin (which would mean, “to entertain”) and a shin (which would mean, “to crush”). These two letters are indistinguishable in an unpointed text, so Halton suggests that the author of Judges makes a play on words; that is, the italicized text above means both “entertain” and “crush” to communicate two different things. And, of course, we all know how the story ends. Halton concludes,

“The author of this pericope used the ambiguity of the verb in Judg 16:25, 27 to articulate two points of view. The masoretic tradents follow the perspective of the festive Philistines as they vocalized shq to convey the notion that Samson’s captors brought him into the temple in order to entertain them. The second point of view is that of the narrator. The narrator injects an element of dark comedy into this account stating that the Philistines summoned Samson in order to crush themselves. Like other figures in the Bible, Samson destroyed a pagan sanctuary and crushed the cultic idols to bits. This time, however, the crushed cultic objects were the Philistine men and women.”

Fun stuff! In a sick sort of way…

Written by Josh Philpot

June 26, 2010 at 1:47 am

Interpretive Challenges in the OT #2 – JPS Translation of Gen. 3:15

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serpent-and-foot-ktWhile reading through my JPS Torah I came across this translation of Gen. 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They shall strike at your head, and you shall strike at their heel.

Notice anything different? I mean, besides the obvious bold and italicized font? At the heart of this problem is whether “offspring” is an individual, referring to a specific child, or whether it is to be taken as a collective singular, referring to many children. The Hebrew term for “offspring/seed” (zera’ – I’ll use the 2 English words interchangeably) is a masculine noun but is somewhat flexible. In Gen. 4:25 it clearly refers to one person (Seth), whereas in Isaiah 41:8 it refers to Israel as a nation. If one takes “offspring” as referring to an individual (as in the Christian tradition), then the following pronouns (in bold) would be “He shall strike…” and “his heel.” If one takes “offspring” as a collective singular then the JPS translation can be substantiated.

How do we figure this out? Well, rather than deliberately retrojecting the NT understanding of “seed” into Genesis lets first argue from the text itself. In the OT, “seed” seems to follow both lines of thinking mentioned above. Since the woman’s seed struggles against the Serpent’s seed, we can infer that it has a collective sense. But since only the head of the Serpent is represented as crushed, we can expect an individual to deliver the fatal blow and to be struck uniquely on his heel. Additionally, biblical Hebrew employs a grammatical gender (“he,” “she”) agreeing with its it’s antecedent. In other words, “seed” is a masculine noun and should thus be followed by masculine pronouns – “He shall strike” and “his heel.” But that only eliminates whether or not the phrase should be translated “she”, which is totally out of the question (but used some older Catholic translations!). The real problem is if it should be translated “they” or “he”. The most impressive evidence against “they” is the Greek Seputagint (LXX), our oldest translation of this text (third or second century B.C.), which translates this phrase with “he” (autos). This is noteworthy given that the Greek antecedent is neuter (sperma), which means that the oldest translation of Genesis deliberately avoided “it” and understood 3:15 as referring to one person (see R.A. Martin, “The Earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15” JBL 84).

Who, then, is the seed of the woman? The immediate seed is probably Abel, then Seth (Gen. 4:25 – “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel”). The collective seed is the holy offspring of the patriarchs (Gen. 15:5; 22:17). After Genesis we do not hear again of the promised seed until God promises David a seed (2 Sam. 7:12), which should also be understood in both ways. Moving to the NT, the unique fulfillment of this seed promise, however, is Jesus Christ, who comes into the world through the seed of the woman: the patriarchs and David. Paul refers to the seed of Abraham as the individual Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16) but then also includes the church in Christ as Abraham’s seed (Rom. 16:20; Gal. 3:29).

Conversely, the seed of the Serpent is/are not little snakes, nor demons (since Satan does not father demons), but most likely those who are in rebellion against God. There are the elect, who love God (John 8:31-32), and the reprobate, who love themselves and are of their father, the devil (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8). Each main character in Genesis, then, is portrayed as either the seed of the woman (like Abel and Seth) who carries on God’s promise of Gen. 3:15, or the seed of the Serpent (like Cain) that reproduces the Serpent’s unbelief. In the end, although both individuals will be grievously wounded (“strike” and “crush”), this struggle with the Serpent is ultimately won in the suffering of that Seed (Isa. 53:12; Luke 24:26, 46-47; Rom. 16:20; 2 Cor. 1:5-7; Col. 1:24; 1 Peter 1:11).

Therefore, I believe we can agree in part with the JPS translation (and others) of “they shall strike” and “their heel,” but only if they mean a collective seed and are not simply avoiding the singular notion for fear of adopting a Christian worldview (of Jesus!). The better translation would keep the singular intact, “he shall strike” and “his heel,” which suggests a promised offspring that will project a new spiritual race into this fallen world.

Written by Josh Philpot

April 21, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Interpretive Challenges in the OT #1: Genesis 1:26

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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…

creation_of_adam1

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.”:

  1. “Us” refers to a various gods in the ancient Near East, and thus perpetuates the mythological origins of Genesis.
  2. “Us” refers to the creation itself, which means that the creation not only has life but personality and will.
  3. “Us” is an honorific plural, much like Elohim (“God”), which is a plural word that speaks of a singular God.
  4. “Us” refers of God’s self-deliberation (a “plural of self-deliberation” was first proposed by Gesenius).
  5. “Us” refers to the Trinity.
  6. “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.

Resources:

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

Written by Josh Philpot

April 13, 2009 at 12:42 am