The Meaning of the Pentateuch

Stephen Dempster, Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, gives a good review of John Sailhammer’s magum opus The Meaning of the Petateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation (IVP 2010) on the Themelios blog.

Here is an excerpt:

There is a gold mine of information in this book, which is the result of the author’s many years of painstaking and fruitful study of this part of the Bible. In some ways this book is a compendium for much of the author’s distinctive themes and terminology: text versus event, literary strategy versus literary strata, Pentateuch versus Mosaic Law, Abraham versus Moses, poetic commentary versus narrative progression, Pentateuch 2.0 versus Pentateuch 1.0, big idea versus smaller details. Whatever one thinks of this book, it needs to be part of the conversation of Pentateuchal studies in the future, particularly among evangelicals. Personally, I have found it refreshing to read a volume on the Pentateuch concerned with the final form of the text’s surface structure rather than the layers of literary strata beneath it.

Agree or disagree with Dempster or Sailhammer, I have my copy, do you have yours?  I do need to get Dempster’s book though….

Quote of the day on Israel

From Bruce Watlke’s An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan, 2007).

Zionists who claim the Land on the basis of the Bible wrongly fail to distinguish between the cursed Canaanites and non-cursed Palestinians, between holy war and secular war, between covenant fidelity and the denial of its relevance, and above all, between being politically “in the Land” and its fulfillment of being spiritually “in Christ.”

I think Waltke is largely right with this quote. All too often we get the modern state of Israel confused with biblical Israel when they are not the same thing. It is that kind of thing that causes me to disdain the politicalization of it all by such groups as Hagee’s CUFI. If you want to reach Jews I think there are better ways to do that.

HT: Dale Brueggemann (the quote was put up on his facebook page and he quoted from his Kindle so I do not have the exact location at the moment).

on the Ten Commandments

as part of my recent amazon order I received Patrick Miller’s The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church in WJK’s Interpretation Series.  This is going to be an amazing and interesting read for me.  How many of us fully realize how much the Scriptures center around the Ten Commandments and any ethical and life implications that come from them?

What do you think about this quote from Luther?

This much is certain: those who know the Ten Commandments perfectly know the Scriptures and in all affairs and circumstances are able to counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters

From Large Catechism, in Kolb and Wengart, Book of Concord, 382, as quoted in Patrick D. Miller’s the Ten Commandments (WKJ 2009), 1.

If you have a solid understanding of the Ten Commandments and their basic meaning, an you pretty much know the Scriptures and provide solid pastoral counsel?

just ordered

thanks to the graciousness of a few folks I was able to use a couple gift cards (the rest will be for Debbie).   So I decided on the following:

Harold Hoehner’s Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker Academic, 2002).   This was a big chunk of the bill but I just could not go on not having it anymore.   Probably the only other commentary on Ephesians that I’ll be interested in from here out is the one by Clint Arnold in the Zondervan set.  So, for now it is Hoehner, Theilman, Gombis on Ephesians.

Patrick Miller’s The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church (WJK, 2009).  I first learned of Miller’s work when I had classes at the Fuller Seminary branch in Seattle on a class on the Psalms.  I like his stuff and wanted to get this work since the Ten Commandments have such widespread influence in how we understand our relationship with God, with others and with the Scriptures in general.

Christopher W. Morgan, et al., Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Zondevan, 2004).  With Hell being the “hot” topic at the moment (pun intended) I wanted something I could read up on for myself (though at the moment I am caught between the traditional (everlasting ongoing never ending punishment forever and forever) view and the conditional immortality (that eternal destruction (death) is ultimate and eternal “life” is granted only to believers) view (for which I will later have to consider reading Edwad Fudge’s book The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment).

So that was my order!

Is God a Moral Monster?

you can find out one way or the other watching a video interview (done by Skype) with the author Paul Copan here.

The book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker 2011) is mainly written against the claims of the the New Atheists who have supposedly leveled the accusation that the God of the Old Testament is nothing but a bully, a murderer, and a cosmic child abuser, etc, etc.  Apparently this viewpoint is even making inroads into the church?  So, Copan suggests ways as to how are Christians to respond to such accusations.  And how are they to reconcile the seemingly disconnected natures of God portrayed in the two Testaments?

Seems like a good book to pick up some time.

for a less positive view from a newly minted OT Scholar go here.

on the intertextuality of Philippians 2:14-18

if you are into this kind of stuff, which can be pretty interesting to see how it works, Gordon Fee says its “quite unlike anything else in the Pauline corpus” (241-242).  Here goes from Fee’s Philippians commentary in the NICNT set (a must have commentary):

The abrupt way is ministry is brought into the sentence, with it eschatological focus – also a recurring theme in the letter – is perhaps best explained on the basis of its most striking feature: the sudden and profuse influx of echos from the OT, which is quite unlike anything else in the Pauline corpus.   So unique is this that one scarcely knows what to make of it.  A maximal  view would see it as intentional intertextuality, with distinct language from a series of LXX text that recall the story of Israel from its origins, through the desert, to its eschatological hope.  A minimal view would see it as the outflow of a mind steeped in Scripture and Israel’s story as it has been regularly applied to the new people of God.

The data: It begins with v. 14 with Israel’s “murmuring” (Exod 16:12 et al.): the Philippians are urged not to do so.  The reason for the prohibition is first expressed in the words God spoke to Abraham at the renewal of the covenant in Gen 17:1; as with the father of the covenant, the Philippians are to “become blameless” before God.  This concern is then repeated in the language of Deut 32:5, where in the Song of Moses Israel is judged on account of its rebellion as “blameworthy children, a crooked and perverse generation” (LXX); but for the new covenant people of Philippi all of this is now reversed: by heeding to prohibition against “murmuring,” they become “God’s blameless children,” and the opposition in Philippi the “crooked and perverse generation.”

Finally, in Dan 12:3 Israel’s eschatological hope takes the form: “the wise shall shine as luminaries (phosteres),” with the parallel clause in the Hebrew (MT) adding, “and those who lead many to righteousness as the stars” (for which the LXX has, “those who hold strong to my words“); from the perspective of Paul’s “already/not yet” eschatological framework, the Philippians, as they live out their calling as God’s blameless children, already “shine as stars” as they “hold firm to the word of life.”

The eschatological context of Daniel in turn accounts for Paul’s concluding with a word about the “not yet” side of eschatological realities: the Philippians must persevere (now) in this kind of obedience or Paul will have no “boast” at the end; indeed, he will have “labored in vain” (yet another clause echoing OT language [esp Isa 65:23, “my chosen ones will not labor in vain“]).   Finally, in contrast to that, and now with no specific text in view, he images his ministry and suffering, and their faith and suffering, in terms of the levitical sacrifices (242). 

It’s breathtaking really.  I take the minimalist view on this: Paul was a person who lived and breathed the Old Testament story of God’s people and that this narrative merely reflects that reality.  Fee goes on to share:

But what to do with this phenomenon?  On the one hand,  both its uniqueness in the corpus and the sudden profusion of language not found elsewhere in Paul suggests something more intentional than otherwise; moreover, it seems to “work” too well to be mere chance or coincidence.  On the other hand, this might be just our discovery, with nothing intentional on Paul’s part at all; afterall, he is a man steeped in the story of Israel and is quick to see its application to the people of God newly constituted by Christ at the Spirit.

Perhaps there is a middle way, that this reflects something sermonic or some former teaching (and is thus intentional in that sense), of a kind that Paul can draw on at will, and weave into a single, meaningful sentence that specifies the kind of obedience his is calling them to, while at the same time placing the imparative within the larger biblical framework that assures the Philippians of their place in God’s story (242-243).

Perhaps it’s just me, but I read this some time ago and it has been amazing to me to think about and it comes back to me now and again.

Too much Bible Science?

I am getting back in to reading Ross’ book The Genesis Question to finish it and carry on with the rolling review I started on it a while ago (when I got blasted for supporting the changes to the AG paper on the doctrine of Creation).   Here is a passage I came across:

That so many Christians today believe the Bible is largely devoid of scientific content is, at least in part, a reaction to the last two hundred years of dialogue between science and theology in which Christian theology appears to have been bested repeatedly by secular science.  The Bible, unlike any other book, is intended to be read and understood by people living in eras spanning at least 3,500 years.  This places some serious constraints on the quantity and kind of science it can contain.

For the Bible to adopt the scientific paradigms or language of any age would compromise the ability of the text to speak to earlier or later generations.  But, because the Bible does have the capacity to communicate to all generations of humanity, many Bible interpreters are tempted to read into the text far too much of the science of their time.  For example, I have received more than ten unsolicited manuscripts from individuals who are convinced that Genesis 1, properly understood, gives a detailed exposition of the origin and structure of the various families of fundamental particles even though no word in the text even hints of particles.

from Hugh Ross’ The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Navpress, 2001), 14-15.


So basically, the Bible isn’t a scientific text so quit trying to make it out to be one.  If it happens that modern science can support some aspect of the Genesis creation narrative, cool!  If not, don’t try to wedge it into the text and make it fit.  Let the text be as it is and let it speak for itself!

Understanding Old Testament Narrative

In light of all the Genesis stuff, I am reposting the following essay I wrote in seminary on understanding Old Testament narrative for a class I took on the Chronicles (from a conservative evangelical point of view of course).


One of the primary things to keep in mind when studying the historical books of the Old Testament is the theological message presented in narrated form.  The Bible is a spiritual book and it contains a spiritual message.  History may be present but it is history shaped by theological intent.  The central focus of the historical books is both history and theology.  Therefore it is important to keep in mind the relationship between history and theology when reading narrative material.  The historical books’ authors are not just giving the reader a rehearsal of historical events; they are interpreting them as well.  It is narrated history and unlike standard reportorial history, the Bible writers present history in a particularly nuanced and ideological manner.

The history of the Old Testament is theocentric.  Because the Bible is the Word of God, God is the focus of its message.  The story of the Bible is the story of God’s dealings in the world and in the lives of his people.  It is God’s story.  Since it is God’s story and it is a message about God’s dealings in the world, the history of the Old Testament is also a tendentious and selective history.  It is a theological history of the people of Israel and so highlights only those people and events that highlight God’s activity in the world and the development of the nation of Israel as the people of God.  It is not an economic history nor is it a political history; instead it is a theological history that tells of the relationship of God and Israel in history.

Another feature of the historical books of the Old Testament to keep in mind is historiographyHistoriography allows for supernatural events as part of the historical fabric of the story.  Theological history is the combination of real historical and supernatural events that communicate the message of the Bible.  It assumes the existence of God and his supernatural interventions in human affairs and integrates these into the historical narrative.  The writers of the Old Testament integrated supernatural events in the historical narrative because they felt they lend credence to the story.  The biblical writers intended for the reader to believe the events were real and to consider them in their understanding of biblical history.

Another important distinction to keep in mind when reading the Old Testament is the distinction between Old Testament history and the history of ancient Israel.  This was mentioned already in that the history of the Old Testament is not a social, political, or economic history of Israel but rather a theological and interpretive history of God’s dealings with the people of Israel and the nations around them.  This distinction is important because without clarifying the difference one can become confused about the nature and intent of the Old Testament.  The focus of the Old Testament is on the history of God’s people, their relationship to him, and his actions and expectations for them.  It is an overall history more than a chronological history.  This helps in understanding the differences between the various accounts of Israel.  The differences between the Kings, and Chronicles do not make for contradictions but instead they are complimentary and seek to highlight specific events and happenings to communicate a certain theological message.  I & II Kings presents the primary history of Israel before the Babylonian exile whereas I & II Chronicles presents a secondary history of Israel that retells the story from the vantage point of post exile, so the messages are different.  The writers of the Gospels take a similar approach; each of the Gospels present a somewhat unique view of Jesus as the Messiah.  More than history, the Old Testament is historiography and its overarching aim is to paint a picture of God’s dealings with his people that truly represents and interprets the significant parts of Israeli history.

To become an effective interpreter of the historical parts of the Old Testament three things are needed of the OT student.  The first is literary competence.  One is literarily competent when one has developed an awareness of the conventions and writings of a given literary corpus and also is able to discern what kinds of claims a given corpus may be making.  For example one needs to see how the story is being told so one can know what the story means both for the past and the present.  Through the story of Solomon asking for wisdom over riches the reader becomes aware that God often goes beyond human expectations when he answers prayer.  The story of Jabez is similar.  It is more about answered prayer than about a “get-rich-quick” scheme.

The second thing one needs is theological comprehension. This is necessary for responsible historical reconstruction.  One needs to realize the central focus of the Old Testament is God and his dealings with people.  Through the OT we learn God is both immanent and transcendent in human history; he is the Lord of history.  With this how are the various claims of history to be interpreted?  One needs to realize claims of divine intervention are not grounds for dismissing historical texts.  Instead one need realize historical claims of divine intervention are the basis for many actions, positive or negative.  While one may not understand the claims of divine intervention or think them inappropriate, one with solid theological comprehension will understand their importance to effective historical reconstruction.  If one wishes to understand the history of Israel, one needs to take into consideration the plentiful claims of God’s intervention.  Human influence was not avoided necessarily because the biblical writers show how the various Kings contribute to history.  However, the biblical writers maintained a tension between human responsibility and divine sovereignty in showing that while history is in the frail hands of people, it is also undergirded by the sovereign hand of God.

Finally, to be an effective interpreter of biblical history one needs to use proper historical method.  In the case of biblical history students of the Bible are to follow the common rules of historical criticism.  While the biblical writers present biblical history from a certain theological viewpoint, it is still presented as a true story where real events happened in the lives of real people.  In light of the literary aspects of the Old Testament historical books, one needs to take their historical truth claims seriously.  Because the Bible consistently presents theological truth as intrinsically bound to historical events it is important to acknowledge the Bible’s historical truth claims for both theological and historical reasons.  This will allow for competent literary reading of the Old Testament and theological reflection on its message.

In sum, realizing the Old Testament historical books are narrative theology one will see that the biblical writers present a certain theological understanding of human history.  This understanding then helps the reader learn about the nature of God and his expectations for both individual people and nations.  From the texts of I & II Chronicles the reader can discern principles for life and living in the present world in light of the ancient past.  Because God never changes one can rest assured that the same grace God extended to the people of old will be extended to his people today.  Perhaps the circumstances are different, but God is the same and his grace is never ending.  In preaching and teaching the Old Testament the preacher/teacher is to focus less on the specifics of particular events and instead highlight how God is working in the events and help people see the character and nature of God and how he works through historical events and in people’s lives.  The preacher/teacher is to help people apply what they know of God to their lives in a modern context.

will you run with the horses?! (or, how to live your best life now)

Eugene Peterson has a book by this title based on his thoughts on the life of Jeremiah that I think is a much better approach to “your best life now” than Joel Osteen’s approach (or even Warren’s Purpose Driven Life) – probably because there is a world of difference between how these to men approach pastoral ministry.   Peterson writes in the first chapter:

Life is difficult Jeremiah.  Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition?  Are you going to retreat when you find that there is more to life than finding three meals a day and a dry place to sleep at night?  Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God?  Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence.  It is easier, I know, to be neurotic.  It is easier to be parasitic.  It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average.  Easier, but not better.  Easier, but not more significant.  Easier, but not more fulfilling.  I called you to a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny.  Now at the first sign of difficulty you are ready to quit.  If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic  mediocritics, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence?  What is it you really want, Jeremiah?  Do you want to shuffle along with the crowd, or run with the horses?

This is enough to think about as it, but he goes on.

It is understandable that there are retreats from excellence, veerings away from risk, withdrawals from faith.  It is easy to define oneself minimally (“a featherless biped”) and live securely within that definition than to be defined maximally (“little less than God”) and live adventurously in that reality.  It is unlikely, I think, that Jeremiah was spontaneous or quick in his reply to God’s question.  The ecstatic ideals for a new life has been splattered with the world’s cynicism.  The euphoric impetus of youthful enthusiasm no longer carried him.  He weighed the options.  He counted the costs.  He tossed and turned in hesitation.  The response when it cam was not verbal but biographical.  His life became his answer, “I’ll run with the horses.”

I think this is the key question for all of us as I believe God has called all of us to a life of excellence in one form or another.  That question is this:

Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God?  Are you going to live cautiously or courageously?

And his is right, we are called to live our best and he is right, it is easier to live below the level of excellence than to press forward to whatever it is God has called us to do and live.

I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence.  It is easier, I know, to be neurotic.  It is easier to be parasitic.  It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average.  Easier, but not better.  Easier, but not more significant.  Easier, but not more fulfilling. I called you to a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny.

What about you, are you willing to run with the horses of excellence?  I look forward to reading the rest of the book and learning to run with the horses!