Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Lent 2009 with IVP

This Ash Wednesday sees the launch of the IVP Lent devotional service. Each day from now until Easter, IVP will provide a specially selected extract from one of their books.

They write:

‘Lent is traditionally a time when Christians are encouraged to prepare themselves, through prayer and reflection, to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter. Getting a renewed and deepened awareness of humanity’s status before God helps believers to appreciate more fully the amazing work of salvation that Jesus accomplished on the cross.’

Commentaries on Numbers

As part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible, Jeremy Pierce offers reflections on Commentaries on Numbers, well worth looking at for his summaries.

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on Numbers

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 54.

‘The significant part of Israel’s story we find recorded in Numbers had a long history in Israel’s memory (Deut 1-4; Neh 9; Pss 78; 105; 106; 135; Acts 7), stressing God’s faithfulness to his people despite their many failures, and the story continues to be sung in the Christian church (“Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”).’

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Derek Tidball on Leviticus (4)

Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to be Holy, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: IVP, 2005).

Leviticus, according to Derek Tidball, is ‘elegantly structured and carefully arranged’ (23). He notes Mary Douglas’ proposed ‘ring structure’, in which the book comes full circle with chapter 19 as the turning point, with the concerns of the opening chapters being matched by the concerns of the later chapters but in reverse order…

But he opts for a more linear structure, as follows:

Part 1. The manual of sacrifice: enjoying God’s presence (1:1 – 7:38)

1. Consecration to God: the burnt offering (1:1–17)
2. A gift for God: the grain offering (2:1–16)
3. Fellowship with God: the peace offering (3:1–17)
4. Forgiveness from God: the sin offering (4:1 – 5:13)
5. Amendment before God: the guilt offering (5:14 – 6:7)
6. Instructed by God: the priests’ responsibilities (6:8 – 7:38)

Part 2. The manual of priesthood: entering God’s service (8:1 – 10:20)
7. Anointed for service (8:1–36)
8. The glory of the Lord appeared (9:1–24)
9. Fire from Lord (10:1–20)

Part 3. The manual of purity: encountering God’s design (11:1 – 15:33)

10. Purity and the diet (11:1–47)
11. Purity and the body (12:1–8; 15:1–33)
12. Purity and disease (13:1 – 14:57)

Part 4. The manual of atonement: ensuring God’s forgiveness (16:1–34)
13. For all the sins of Israel (16:1–34)

Part 5. The manual of holiness: enacting God’s word (17:1 – 26:46)

14. God’s word about life blood (17:1–16)
15. God’s word about family health (18:1–30)
16. God’s word about society’s welfare (19:1–37)
17. God’s word about the penal code (20:1–27)
18. God’s word about spiritual leadership (21:1 – 22:33)
19. God’s word about times of celebration (23:1–44)
20. God’s word about safeguarding the sacred (24:1–23)
21. God’s word about radical economics (25:1–55)
22. God’s word about future prosperity (26:1–46)

Part 6. The manual of dedication: enamoured of God’s grace (27:1–34)

23. God’s word about consecration (27:1–34)


Catalyst is one of my favourite on-line resources for theology.

The most recent (February 2009) edition has the following essays:

Howard A. Snyder
Wesley the Environmentalist?

Wafik Wahba
Engaging Islam: Reflections on ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’

David Wilkinson
Christian Apologetics in a Post-Christian Culture

Henry H. Knight III
Consider Wesley

The articles are relatively short (normally no more than three-sides printed on A4), and they tend to contain handy distillations of larger areas of thought where a scholar who is working in a particular area summarises the state of play in that area.

Each edition also contains a very short piece on John Wesley (betraying the origins of the publication).

The collection of Back Issues has lots of good articles going back a number of years.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Ephraim Radner on Leviticus

Ephraim Radner, Leviticus, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2008).

Ephraim Radner contributes the volume on Leviticus to a series which is self-consciously devoted to offering a theological reading of the Bible as Christian Scripture.

Brazos have made the introduction to the commentary available online here.

Radner begins with a lovely quote on Leviticus from Origen:

‘If you read people passages from the divine books that are good and clear, they will hear them with great joy… But provide someone with a reading from Leviticus, and at once the listener will gag and push it away as if were some bizarre food. He came, after all, to learn how to honor God, to take in the teachings that concern justice and piety. But instead he is now hearing about the ritual of burnt sacrifices!’ (17)

For Origen, of course, we must understand ‘that the dull details are filled with promise’ (17).

Leviticus is among the least-read biblical books by Christians today, and the least-cited in the New Testament (albeit that 19:18 – ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – is significant in Jesus’ teaching).

Moreover, Leviticus has become a ‘dark bogeyman’ (18), in particular with its commands against certain forms of sexual behaviour, the interpretation of which is further complicated by other commands Christians have left behind.

Radner avers that, slowly but surely, interpretation of Leviticus has ‘narrowed through ever elaborated historical interest in the sociological details of ritual, to the point that the text’s even potential Christian character has disappeared almost wholly’ (18).

Even Origen’s exegesis of the book was a response to the widespread sense in his own time that Leviticus was difficult, irrelevant, or even hostile to Christian concerns. Origen’s ‘spiritual’ reading of the book sought to open its details ‘to the broad range of divine action and purpose in the world of creation and of history as a whole’. Important in this respect is the letter to the Hebrews, showing that ‘the spiritual reference of Leviticus would be primarily bound to the body and acts of Jesus as the Son of God’ (19).

Radner also highlights Blaise Pascal’s reading of Leviticus which follows Origen’s lead (20-22, 25).

‘Although the forms for reading Leviticus are not given in advance, we… know that any proper Christian reading of the text will somehow detail the redemptive work of the humiliated Christ upon the broken hearts of human beings and of the whole created order. “Figural” reading is the name we give to the outworking of this “somehow”’ (22).

Tertullian and Augustine tended to approach the book in terms of its place within the history of God’s teaching of Israel, but Origen’s spiritual exegesis dominated the interpretation of specific texts, and medieval exegesis largely followed suit – though increasingly Leviticus became little more than a handbook of Christian tropes, disconnected from salvation history (23-25).

Radner describes his own approach to Leviticus as that of ‘a Christian reading, bound to the life of the church and its reality as the body of Christ, but deeply informed by the Jewish discipline of treating the Scriptures as a still-inhabited universe’ (27).

Derek Tidball on Leviticus (3)

Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to be Holy, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: IVP, 2005).

The core message of Leviticus, according to Derek Tidball in the Introduction to his commentary on the book, is holiness – that which is set apart – and it flows back and forth in three currents through the book in a statement, a promise, and a command:

• The statement: God is holy
• The command: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’
• The promise: ‘I am the Lord your God, who makes you holy’

‘The summons of Leviticus leaps across the yawning cultural divide and the intervening centuries to call us once again to holy living’ (33).

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Derek Tidball on Leviticus (2)

Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to be Holy, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: IVP, 2005).

In the Introduction to his commentary on Leviticus, Derek has a section headed ‘direction-finders’ (25-31) in which he discusses four issues of orientation to the book.

1. The meaning of sacrifice
Derek notes that there may be shades of meaning in Leviticus in a number of different views on the meaning of sacrifice (e.g., anthropological explanations, thanksgiving meals, acts of communion), but ‘uppermost, in a way many wish to avoid, is the offering of blood to make atonement’ in order ‘to secure forgiveness, provide cleansing and restore a broken relationship with God’ (26).

2. The geography of holiness
Holiness is not a one-dimensional status but ‘a spectrum on which something may be more or less holy’ (26). Borrowing from Philip Jenson’s work, we may think of ‘grades of holiness’ – the Most Holy Place (where only the events of the Day of Atonement take place), the Holy Place (where routine sacrifices occur), the courtyard, the camp, and outside the camp.

3. Holy and common, clean and unclean
These terms are not synonymous. Holiness ‘is a status indicating that a person or object is dedicated to the service of God’; clean ‘is the normal state of things’; uncleanness may be temporary or permanent; common is (in the words of Gordon Wenham) ‘a category between the two extremes of holiness and uncleanness’ (27-28). There is a fluidity in the categories: something that is clean may be holy or common; clean things can be made holy; clean things or people can become unclean, etc.

4. Understanding the law
Derek points out the difficulties of holding to a ceremonial-civil-moral distinction in the law, not least because ‘all three strands are woven together in such a way as to make it hard to separate them’ (28-29). He follows Chris Wright in seeking to study the laws ‘in their original social context with a view to understanding the moral principles behind them all rather than assuming that only some continue to be relevant today’ (29).

While some interpreters (e.g., Richard Bauckham, J. Daniel Hays) adopt a ‘principlising’ approach to the laws, Chris Wright prefers to see Israel as a paradigm, ‘a model or pattern for other cases where a basic principle is fixed – which enables one both to critique other claims and to reapply the principle to other contexts’ (29). His paradigm gives weight to the theological angle of God’s choosing, redeeming, and covenanting with Israel, to the social angle of Israel structuring its life and relationships around the covenant, and to the economic angle of the land as promise, gift, and responsibility. Wright’s paradigmatic approach includes the isolation of principles (along the lines of the principlising approach), but ‘cannot be reduced to that alone, and ensures that the particular historical reality of which the Bible speaks is not lost sight of, as can easily happen if we are in too much of a hurry to look for principles’ (30).

C.S. Rodd argues against both principlising and paradigmatic approaches since neither, he holds, allows the text to speak for itself. He calls for the Bible to be abandoned as an external authority, and says we should visit the Old Testament as we would visit a ‘strange land’ and not try too hard to make it fit our own culture. The value in doing so, he says, is to open our eyes ‘to completely different assumptions and presuppositions, motives and aims’ that question our own (30, citing C.S. Rodd).

While Rodd’s approach reminds us of the ‘strangeness’ of the text, and warns us about moving to it too quickly, yet his structure ‘is based on a weak foundation of biblical authority…, plays up diversity and ambiguity, revels in complexities and questions, but yields very few answers and gives very few directions’ (31).

Derek himself concludes that ‘providing we exercise appropriate caution, the search for principles and paradigms is the most credible way to interpret Leviticus, and gives due weight to it as divine revelation and historical document and as having contemporary relevance’ (31).

Chris Wright on Psalm 119

Chris Wright delivered Bible readings on Psalm 119 at the 1998 Keswick Convention; these were subsequently published in David Porter (ed.), Truth on Fire: 1998 Keswick Ministry (Carlisle: OM Publishing, 1998), 13-99, and separately as Life Through God’s Word: Psalm 119 (Bletchley: Authentic, 2006).

Chris looks at the psalm under the following five themes, focusing on a particular portion of the psalm in each case, but also tracing the theme elsewhere in the psalm:

1. Personal sin and the word of God’s grace (Psalm 119:9-16)

2. Personal struggle and the word of lament (Psalm 119:81-88)

3. Personal guidance and the word of light (Psalm 119:97-105)

4. Personal commitment and the word of love (Psalm 119:57-64)

5. Personal renewal and the word of life (Psalm 119:153-60)

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Derek Tidball on Leviticus (1)

Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to be Holy, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: IVP, 2005).

Derek Tidball, former principal of London School of Theology (and, in the interests of full disclosure, friend and former boss), has written an excellent mid-level commentary on Leviticus for IVP’s Bible Speaks Today series.

The IVP (USA) site makes available as pdf excerpts the Preface, the Introduction, and the comments on 1:1-17.

This is how he starts:

‘Leviticus is good news. It is good news for sinners who seek pardon, for priests who need empowering, for women who are vulnerable, for the unclean who covet cleansing, for the poor who yearn for freedom, for the marginalized who seek dignity, for animals that demand protection, for families that require strengthening, for communities that want fortifying and for creation that stands in need of care. All these issues, and more, are addressed in a positive way in Leviticus’ (17).

The Introduction contains an opening section on authorship and date, in which Derek briefly surveys several views before concluding that ‘there seems to be no weighty evidence proving that the material of the book is later than the time of Moses’ (20).

In a section on the style of language and style of thought, drawing on work by John Sawyer, Mary Douglas, and Gordon Wenham, Derek notes that (contrary to popular conception), Leviticus is marked by an absence of imperatives and by an infrequency of statements of facts.

Leviticus address its readers by encouraging them ‘to use their imagination and conceive of an ideal society where, because it is ideal, certain things are done and certain things are avoided’. In Leviticus, God lives ‘exactly where Exodus (40:34-35) places him – right among his people – and he constantly finds a way of removing all obstacles that might hinder their relationship so that they can enjoy each other’s company’ (21).

In terms of forms of thought, ‘Leviticus works on the basis of analogies, with experience of the daily practice of religious rituals serving as a microcosm for Israel’s understanding of the larger picture of God’s relationship to his creation’, which means we need to look beyond immediate statements ‘for the larger analogy that lies behind them’ (22).

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Robert Cole on Psalms 1 and 2

Robert Cole, ‘An Integrated Reading of Psalms 1 and 2’, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 98 (2002), 75-88.

When Psalm 1 is read with Psalm 2, the principal focus – according to Cole – is not Torah or wisdom, but a ‘royal [cf. Deuteronomy 17:18-19] and Joshua-like [cf. Joshua 1:8-10] figure who is given absolute victory in battle’ (75).

The ‘blessed’ figure of Psalm 1 is further identified as Yahweh’s ‘anointed one’ in Psalm 2. The ‘wicked’ opponents of Psalm 1 are identified more specifically as conspiring rulers in Psalm 2. The promise of 1:5-6 elicits the ‘Why?’ of Psalm 2:1. Yahweh and his messiah respond to the earthly scoffing with laughter and derision from heaven, with Psalm 2 then concluding with a reaffirmation of the same judgment promised at the end of Psalm 1.

This eschatological perspective opens the Psalter and ‘sets the tone for all subsequent psalms’ (88).

Aspects of Theological Interpretation 1

[This is the first of twelve posts outlining a number of streams in the current interest in theological interpretation, paying particular attention to recent treatments. For earlier introductions to theological interpretation, see here, here, and here.]

#1 – Its uneasy relationship with historical criticism

Francis Watson notes that theological interpretation has ‘an obvious bearing on the historical-critical paradigm’ (Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994], 3). Theological readings have arguably flourished in seeming inverse proportion to growing dissatisfaction with historical-critical approaches.

In part, this has to do more generally with the change in the intellectual climate from ‘modernism’ to ‘postmodernism’ and the concomitant movement from ‘behind the text’ issues to ‘in the text’ and ‘in front of the text’ issues.

In this respect, Leo G. Perdue, The Collapse of History: Reconstructing Old Testament Theology, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), and Reconstructing Old Testament Theology: After the Collapse of History, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005) has written of the departure from ‘history’ as the controlling factor in Old Testament interpretation, opening the way for other approaches associated with ideology, narrative, metaphor, imagination, liberation theology, feminism and womanism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism.

However, even before the recent renaissance of interest in theological interpretation, and for some years now, historical criticism has been challenged from many sides, and even declared ‘bankrupt’ by some, who point to its inability to deal with the real issues of people in their daily lives, and bring about transformation (notably Walter Wink, The Bible in Human Transformation: Toward a New Paradigm for Biblical Study [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973]).

Those disaffected with historical criticism argue that it has not proved itself capable of nurturing theological readings. Stephen Fowl, for instance, avers that historical criticism necessarily entails the exclusion of theological and ecclesial concerns, and he criticises Brevard S. Childs for seeking to understand the discrete voices of the Old and New Testaments via historical-critical methodology.

[Stephen E. Fowl, ‘Theological and Ideological Strategies of Biblical Interpretation’, in Michael J. Gorman (ed.), Scripture: An Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005), 163-75, at 165; Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation, Challenges in Contemporary Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 27. See also Lewis Ayres and Stephen E. Fowl, ‘(Mis)reading the Face of God: The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church’, Theological Studies 60, 3 (1999), 513-28 for a criticism of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s ‘The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church’, for insisting that the historical-critical method is essential for biblical interpretation.]

Angus Paddison sets his proposal of a theological reading of 1 Thessalonians in the context of a critique of historical criticism as operating with ‘a limited notion of meaning and truth’, as ‘disabled by a historicism that fixes the language into a restrictively reflective relationship between text and original context’, and which ‘distracts… from the actual subject matter of the Biblical texts’ (Theological Hermeneutics and 1 Thessalonians, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 133 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005], 17-66, citations from 37).

It is not that some historical critics do not have a high view of Scripture or read it for its significance for faith, for such has been a staple of much biblical interpretation. John Barton maintains that (perhaps until very recently) the vast majority of Old Testament scholars have not perceived the discipline of biblical criticism to be divorced from Christian belief.

[See his ‘Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective’, in Christopher Rowland and Christopher Tuckett (eds.), The Nature of New Testament Theology: Essays in Honour of Robert Morgan (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 18-30, explored more fully in his The Nature of Biblical Criticism (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007).]

But to begin from a position of alleged neutrality is already to concede that Scripture can be read apart from a faith perspective. That supposed neutrality, it is argued, has now been exposed as an illusion, along with the recognition that historical criticism is not the monolith it has sometimes been thought to be.

[See, inter alia, Luke Timothy Johnson and William S. Kurz, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: A Constructive Conversation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), passim. Also from a Roman Catholic perspective is Sandra M. Schneiders, The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture, 2nd edn. (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1999) who wrestles with the notion that Scripture is both the ‘Word of God’ (and thus ‘sacred’) and ‘historical’ (and thus dependent on the findings of historical criticism).]

It is important to recognise that Fowl, Watson and others do not so much want to undo the work of historical criticism as to resist it as the sole or even most important criterion for providing legitimacy to an interpretation.

Likewise, A.K.M. Adam: ‘I do not propose to throw out historical criticism altogether… I simply want to stress that the degree to which historical criticism is the source of legitimation for biblical theology is determined not by the dictates of modern reason’ (Faithful Interpretation: Reading the Bible in a Postmodern World [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006], 34).

Hence, many of the critiques are arguably not directed to the historical-critical method as such, which many still employ to some extent, but to its underlying historical positivism.

Texts are products of humans working in history and cultures, and history and cultures leave their marks on the texts, which would suggest that study of such elements is essential.

[See Max Turner, ‘Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of the New Testament’, in Joel B. Green and Max Turner (eds.), Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 44-70 for an argument that historical-critical study of the Bible remains a vital component of theological interpretation.]

Not least because of the ‘Third Quest’, New Testament studies has seen a renewed interest in historical methods and associated disciplines, such as cultural anthropology.

[See Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study, Studies in Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 40-47, though we might note his caution that ‘a romantic epistemological optimism continues to underlie a surprising amount of even the best historical research’ (45).]

Even those favourable to historical criticism are seeking to reconceive it in the light of postmodern challenges.

[So John J. Collins, The Bible after Babel: Historical Criticism in a Postmodern Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).]

Recent years have seen calls for a renewed historical criticism which is not historicist, which is open to the transcendent and, within the context of a specifically Christian approach to Scripture, respects the ‘otherness’ of the text, allowing the text to challenge the interpreter’s own worldview.

[E.g., F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp, ‘Rethinking Historical Criticism’, Biblical Interpretation 7, 3 (1999), 235-71; Joel B. Green, ‘Modernity, History, and the Theological Interpretation of the Bible’, Scottish Journal of Theology 54, 3 (2001), 308-29, esp. 313-20; Karl Möller, ‘Renewing Historical Criticism’, in Craig Bartholomew, Colin Greene, Karl Möller (eds.), Renewing Biblical Interpretation, Scripture & Hermeneutics Series Vol. 1 (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000), 145-71; Peter Stuhlmacher, Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Toward a Hermeneutics of Consent, trans. Roy A. Harrisville (London: SPCK, 1979).]

Contemporary literary and cultural theory has also been marked by a ‘historical turn’ in some quarters – with the so-called new historicism. More a sensibility than a methodology, it questions the view which sees literature as an autonomous realm of discourse, and shows how the production and interpretation of texts are intermingled with contexts and ideologies.

[See Gina Hens-Piazza, The New Historicism, Guides to Biblical Scholarship (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002).]

For further reflection on the relationship of history and historical study to theology and biblical interpretation, see Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephen Evans, Mary Healy, Murray Rae (eds.), ‘Behind’ the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation, Scripture & Hermeneutics Series Vol. 4 (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003); Murray A. Rae, History and Hermeneutics (London: T&T Clark, 2005); Lawrence W. Wood, Theology as History and Hermeneutics: A Post-Critical Conversation with Contemporary Theology (Lexington: Emeth, 2005).

Friday, 13 February 2009

David Noel Freedman et al. on Psalm 119

David Noel Freedman with Jeffrey C. Geoghegan and Andrew Welch, Psalm 119: The Exaltation of the Torah, Biblical and Judaic Studies Volume 6 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1999).

The first chapter looks at acrostic psalms, which are treated in pairs – 111 & 112, 25 & 34, 9/10 & 37, 119 & 145 – with an overall concern to show the acrostic as ‘a legitimate option for Israelite poets rather than as the refuge of uninspired epigones’ (vii). The authors also argue that metrics, syllable counts, colon length, and symmetry within and between psalms ‘provides the foundation for further considerations of the psalms’ theology and poetics’ (vii).

The bulk of the book (chs. 2 and 3) looks at the structure of Psalm 119. Essentially it is a simple symmetrical structure based on the alphabet, but with a series of ‘refinements and elaborations’ (25).

The first part of the discussion (ch. 2) considers the number, frequency, and distribution of the key words for ‘torah’ (‘all roughly synonymous or sharing an extended semantic field’, 78) in each of the psalm’s 22 stanzas. The eight-line fixed stanza is extended to include eight key words, although there is ‘extensive variation in the distribution and arrangement of these words in the poem itself’ (55). Four of the lines do not use one of the ‘torah’ words (3, 37, 90, 122), while some have two key words (16, 48, 160, 168, 172), demonstrating the ‘principle of compensation, whereby a deficiency in one place is made up for in another place’ (79).

The second part of the discussion (ch. 3) deals with quantity and metre, concluding that there is ‘an underlying or overriding pattern, and with it considerable deliberate variation and deviation controlled by target numbers, the goal of symmetry, and the principle of compensation’ (79). An old tradition sees the poem as consisting of ‘hexameters of sixteen syllables’ (79). Although there remain too many which deviate from that for it to be a rule for every line, there does seem to be an effort ‘to match up long lines with short lines, so that they pair off at the mean or average’, once again demonstrating ‘the principle of balance, and the method of compensation or pairing, to achieve symmetry’ (80).

‘In sum, the poem is a mechanical and technical marvel, with an intricately worked structure, within which the poet exercised considerable freedom to express his originality and creativity, while keeping within the self-imposed boundaries of the overall construction’ (80).

Chapter 4 deals more briefly with the theology of Psalm 119. Scholars have denigrated its repetition and lack of originality, even accusing it of being monotonous; but, according to Freedman and Welch, it is ‘endlessly inventive – but not according to contemporary standards’ (87). ‘The creativity of Psalm 119 is the creativity of the puzzle-builder, the craftsperson, mathematician rather than metaphorically complex’ (87-88). Its construction is unique in known ancient Near Eastern literature.

They aver that wordplay augments the theological message of the psalm, so that the ‘artificiality’ can be seen ‘not as a stultifying structure that kills the poet’s creativity, but as the broadest canvas possible for the poet’s skill in making the psalm’s form assist its function, the praise of tôrat yhwh’ (88).

The A to Z structure of the psalm shares with other acrostics ‘a clear message of totality and completeness’ (88). From A to Z, Yahweh’s torah is the psalmist’s joy and delight, light, wealth, and life itself. The acrostic form reinforces this, along with the message that a blessed life ‘can be found only my immersing oneself’ in it (89). Much more than a set of laws by which Israel should live, torah ‘has become a personal way to God’ (89).

In fact (according to Freedman and Welch), Psalm 119 gives torah ‘virtually the status of a divine hypostasis, like wisdom… in Proverbs 8’ (with which Psalm 119 shares some similarities) (89).

In terms of comparison and contrast, Psalm 19 has five of the key ‘torah’ words and makes nearly identical statements to Psalm 119, but Psalm 19 links torah to Yahweh’s power and revelation in creation. In Psalm 119, they argue, creation as an analogy has all but disappeared: ‘in Psalm 119, only Yahweh’s tôrâ manifests Yahweh. Tôrâ is unique among Yahweh’s creations’ (90).

Likewise in Deuteronomy, torah is grounded in Yahweh’s mighty acts; but Psalm 119 contains no mention of the Exodus or the promise of land, or even the covenant [and here I would have to plead that it is surely implicit throughout]. Although in Deuteronomy torah is a direct revelation of Yahweh, in Psalm 119 it is more: ‘the perfect expression of Yahweh’s nature and character, divorced from Israel’s history, without Moses as mediator. Tôrâ is unique among Yahweh’s mighty acts’ (91).

Thus – creation, patriarchal promises, covenants (patriarchal, Mosaic, Davidic), temple, Davidic dynasty past or future, Yahweh’s mighty acts of salvation in Israel’s history – are all significant by their relative absence from Psalm 119. ‘Only tôrâ is left as the theological category of Yahweh’s revelation and activity in the world’ (91).

Freedman and Welch ask whether the psalmist has rejected these other things, and conclude no – not if torah includes the Pentateuch with its narrative and law, poetry and prose. Even so, the eight key words used show that ‘the essence of tôrâ is Yahweh’s revelation of his teaching: the precepts, commandments, laws, words, stipulations and pronouncements’ (91). Other things are subsumed under torah.

Although recognising the difficulty of delimiting exactly what the Psalmist is referring to, torah is ‘the sacred, authoritative, written revelation of God’, and seen as ‘the specific revelation of God’s will in the various instructions that the sacred text contains’ (92).

Jesper Høgenhaven on Psalms 1 and 2

Jesper Høgenhaven, ‘The Opening of the Psalter: A Study in Jewish Theology’, Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 15, 2 (2001), 169-80.

Links between Psalms 1 and 2 have often been noticed:

• Neither has a title or superscription.
• Psalm 1 begins with a blessing (1:1), and Psalm 2 ends with a blessing (2:12).
• The word translated ‘plot’ in Psalm 2:1 is the same word translated ‘meditate’ in Psalm 1:2.
• Psalm 1 ends with individuals being judged and perishing; Psalm 2 envisages nations perishing.
• Psalm 2:12 says ‘you will be destroyed in your way’; Psalm 1:6 uses that same language when it speaks of the way of the wicked perishing.
• Thematically, there is a contrast between the righteous and the wicked in Psalm 1, and a contrast between the rebellious nations and the Lord and his king in Psalm 2.

The two Psalms have regularly been read as one introduction to the Psalter.

The link has suggested to some that Psalm 1 be interpreted in the light of the ‘royal’ Psalm 2 (so that the figure of Psalm 1 who delights in the law is understood to be a kingly figure), whereas Høgenhaven suggests reading it in the opposite direction – Psalm 2 in the light of Psalm 1 (172).

Both psalms, according to Høgenhaven, show an interplay between different levels of time – the present and the future. The righteous person of Psalm 1 delights in the law of the Lord and anticipates the great separation at the final judgment, while Psalm 2 declares that blessed are all who take refuge in the Lord, who will one day make all nations serve his anointed one.

It is ‘the reference to the eschatological future as the necessary corollary to the statements made about the present [that] unite the two first Psalms’ (178). Høgenhaven sees Psalms 1 and 2 as ‘concerned with relating a present situation and the problems it poses for the righteous students of the divine tora to an eschatologically perceived future’ (178). In both psalms, ‘the troubling present is viewed in the light of the eschatological future, and in this light the proper attitude and the proper conduct for the present is laid out’ (179).

Commentaries on Leviticus

Jeremy Pierce who blogs as Parableman occasionally provides very helpful reviews of commentaries on biblical books. A few years ago, he profiled Leviticus here, which is worth looking at for his succinct summaries of the major English-language commentaries on Leviticus published up to July 2006.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on Leviticus

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 48.

‘Leviticus is the part of God’s story where the Israelites are given instructions on how to be holy, on how to be truly acceptable to God and in good relationship with one another – which they could not achieve without his special provision.’

Stephen G. Dempster on Exodus and Biblical Theology 2

Stephen J. Dempster, ‘Exodus and Biblical Theology: On Moving into the Neighborhood with a New Name’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12, 3 (2008), 4-23.

Dempster divides the book of Exodus into three major sections:

• Deliverance (1:1-15:21)
• Covenant (15:22-24:18)
• Presence (25:1-40:38)

Deliverance (Exodus 1:1-15:21)
The first section comes to a climax in the deliverance of the people, with the Lord’s power celebrated in the Song of the Sea (15:1-21).

Covenant (Exodus 15:22-24:18)
The second section leads to the mountain where God makes a covenant with the people. The family of Abraham has now become a nation, and the covenant God makes with the people is a continuation of the covenant made with the patriarchs. Exodus 19:5-6 is programmatic, stressing ‘that obedience to the covenant will lead to a unique relation to Yahweh and a unique relation to the rest of the nations’ (13). Israel is to be a kingdom of priests ‘whose congregation is nothing less than the globe’ (14). Israel is a ‘holy nation’ – set apart for God and ‘visible as such to the rest of the world’ (14).

Presence (Exodus 25:1-40:38)
The final section establishes the theme of the Lord’s presence taking up residence with the people – one of the main goals of the covenant (25:8; 29:42-46). Garden of Eden imagery is used in paraphernalia of the tabernacle showing that what is at stake ‘is a model of a new world with God at the center, living with his people’ (18). When the tent is finished, the new year begins (40:17). Exactly a year before Israel was in bondage in Egypt; now they begin the new year ‘with the most important reality of all: the divine presence’ (19).

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

On Exploring Exodus

Brian S. Rosner and Paul R. Williamson (eds.), Exploring Exodus: Literary, Theological and Contemporary Approaches (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008), 234pp., ISBN 9781844743131.

This collection of essays on Exodus arises out of papers given at the 2007 Moore College School of Theology. The contributions I’ve read so far (about half of them) deal more with the ‘literary’ and ‘theological’ rather than the ‘contemporary’ aspects mentioned in the subtitle, but there is lots of good material, ranging from close analysis of particular passages to exploration of larger themes in the book as well as its place in biblical theology more generally.

IVP (UK) provide the introduction online which nicely summarises the content of each of the essays.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Elmer A. Martens on (Exodus 5:22-6:8 and) Old Testament Theology

Elmer A. Martens, God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology, 2nd edn. (Leicester: Apollos/Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994).

Martens’ theology of the Old Testament takes its starting-point from Exodus 5:22-6:8 as a pivotal text concerning ‘God’s design’ in a fourfold sense:

• Deliverance
• Covenant community
• Knowledge of God
• Land/blessing

He writes:

‘My claim is that the overarching theme of the Old Testament is God’s design, a design that incorporates four components: deliverance, community, knowledge of God, and the abundant life. The design is articulated at the exodus, implemented and tested in the monarchy, reaffirmed in the post-monarchy period, and continued into the New Testament’ (3).

The first edition of the book was published in 1981. In this second edition, Martens responds to criticisms that his schema ignored creation (which he here links with the more dominant theme of salvation history). He also responds to criticisms of too narrow a focus on Israel as a people by showing how the ‘particular’ (God’s plan for Israel) is related to the ‘universal’ (God’s plan for all nations and for creation).

Insightful and useful though it is is, the schema still tends to marginalise the wisdom tradition…

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Jack Schultz on Culture and the Christian

Jack Schultz, ‘Culture and the Christian’, Modern Reformation 18, 1 (January-February 2009), 23-24.

The January-February 2009 issue of Modern Reformation contains several pieces devoted to the theme of ‘Christ in a Post-Christian Culture’.

William Edgar, ‘Culture and Calling: The Open Question’.
Michael Horton, ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’
David F. Wells, ‘Living in the Matrix’.
Jack Schultz, ‘Culture and the Christian’.
David Gibson, ‘Text, Church, and World: A Theology of Expository Preaching’.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, ‘Flying for Jesus’.
John Warwick Montogomery, ‘God at University College Dublin’.

Schultz begins by noting that culture is one of those concepts ‘that everyone knows what it means as long as they don’t have to define it’ (23).

E.B. Tylor (1871) saw it as ‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society’ (23).

Clifford Geertz (1973) saw it ‘as a set of control mechanisms – plans, recipes, rules, instructions (what computer engineers call “programs”) – for the governing of behavior’ (23).

And for Schultz himself: ‘Culture is… a complex, dynamic system of patterns of action and interactions that a loosely bounded group of people share in a particular environment’ (23).

Our church institutions, he points out, are culturally situated, and we remain in a dialogue in which we are both producer and product of culture; but ‘there has never been a comfortable relationship between Christianity and culture’ (24). Moreover, ‘our faith is ultimately a connection between individuals and the Living God. Our cultures provide a framework, a language, a location for living that relationship, but we must not confuse one for the other’ (24).

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Stephen G. Dempster on Exodus and Biblical Theology 1

Stephen J. Dempster, ‘Exodus and Biblical Theology: On Moving into the Neighborhood with a New Name’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12, 3 (2008), 4-23.

The exodus, ‘the central salvation event in the Old Testament’ (4), shaped the imagination of subsequent biblical writers for their thinking about faith, history, law, and ethics.

Exodus 20:1 – ‘I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage’ – could be a short-hand creed for Israel. The same language could be used to interpret Abraham’s earlier ‘departure’ from Ur (Genesis 15:6-7) as well as to express future salvation (e.g., Isaiah 11:15-16; chs. 40-55; Hosea 1:11; Micah 4:6-7). The exodus ‘changed how Israel even thought about time’ (4-5), it being the date from which major annual feasts would be marked, as well as being seen in the weekly rhythm of work and rest (Deut. 5:12-15). The exodus was also the great indicative which provided the basis for the great imperatives, rooting ethics and law in salvation from oppression, a salvation itself rooted in the the character of God.

According to Dempster:

‘Astonishingly, the goal of the Exodus was that the great Creator and Redeemer of his people would come and live with them, as it were, “move permanently into their neighborhood,” and bring a bit of heaven to earth’ (cf. Leviticus 26:9-13) (5).

Exodus language also pervades the New Testament (see 5-6), coming to a culmination in Revelation:

‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God”’ (Revelation 21:3).

Dempster deals with what he calls ‘interpretive impasses’ with Exodus. One approach sees it as the first in a series of mighty acts of God, which overlooks the fact that the exodus ‘is part of a larger biblical narrative’ – not its beginning, but the continuation of a narrative that precedes it (6).

The second interpretive dead-end isolates the book from its preceding and subsequent contexts and turns it into ‘a paradigm for how oppressed peoples can think about their plight’ or ‘a devotional aid that helps individuals trust in God when going through difficult times’; the larger context, however, shows that Israel ‘needs far more than just a political and economic salvation or spiritual guidance’ (6).

The third mistake is to suppose that the events narrated in the book are ‘simply literary creations’. Theology and history, however, do not have to be at odds with one another, says Dempster; everything looks different from a theological perspective, where the name of the Pharaoh is unimportant while the names of the two Hebrew midwives is important (7).

Before dealing with the larger structure of Exodus, Dempster looks at the first paragraph, ‘the story of Exodus in the context of the story of Scripture’ (7). The first paragraph begins with ‘and’, reminding us that the story is part of an ongoing larger story, and Exodus 1:1-7 brings to mind themes and vocabulary of the larger biblical story.

‘Thus, as Exodus opens, we are introduced to a story that is part of a larger story, which is indeed the story of the world. A family of seventy individuals that have gone down to Egypt and who have multiplied prolifically have a mission to the world. They are part of a new creation, a creation that is going to bring about universal blessing to a world in dire need’ (7).

Dempster divides the book as a whole into three major sections – Deliverance (1:1-15:21), Covenant (15:22-24:18), and Presence (25:1-40:38) – which will be summarised in a subsequent post.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Life Beyond Debt

Yesterday I attended the Life Beyond Debt conference organised by the Evangelical Alliance, sponsored by Kingdom Bank, in partnership with Stewardship and the Salvation Army.

The day brought together a number of Christian agencies along with some church leaders who are active in helping people face debt issues, with the aim of encouraging what is already being done as well as challenging churches to do more.

The initiative is supported by the Government, and Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government also spoke at the conference, recognising the good and necessary work carried out by faith groups, but making it clear that public money would be for public use and not for faith groups to ‘proselytise’ others. (See report here.)

A public statement was released during the day, which is available on the campaign’s website (which will run until November 2009), where further information and resources are available.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Chris Wright on The God I Don’t Understand

Always a cause for notice, Chris Wright has a new book out…

Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 224pp., ISBN 9780310275466.

The ‘tough questions’ in this case have to do with suffering and evil, with the book exploring four in particular in its four parts:

(1) What about evil and suffering?
(2) What about the Canaanites?
(3) What about the cross?
(4) What about the end of the world?

A short sample is available here.

More significantly, the book has its own page – Tough Questions of Faith (with a video introduction to the book by Chris) – which contains a downloadable study guide for the book as well as short videos of Chris introducing every chapter.

There are already a significant number of reviews available online, including:

• By M. Daniel Carroll R.
• By Tony Cartledge
• By Michele Howe
• By Donald Kim
• By Scot McKnight
• By Maer dos Santos
• By Charles Savelle

There is also an interview with Chris about the book here.

In addition, several people are blogging through the book: here (Phil Monroe), here, here, and here.

Last but not least, Zondervan academic are hosting a blog series, starting today (4 February 2009).

Monday, 2 February 2009

David F. Wells on Living in the Matrix

David F. Wells, ‘Living in the Matrix’, Modern Reformation 18, 1 (January-February 2009), 19-22.

The January-February 2009 issue of Modern Reformation contains several pieces devoted to the theme of ‘Christ in a Post-Christian Culture’.

William Edgar, ‘Culture and Calling: The Open Question’.
Michael Horton, ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’
David F. Wells, ‘Living in the Matrix’.
Jack Schultz, ‘Culture and the Christian’.
David Gibson, ‘Text, Church, and World: A Theology of Expository Preaching’.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, ‘Flying for Jesus’.
John Warwick Montogomery, ‘God at University College Dublin’.

‘The church is part of this culture and yet it must stand apart from its culture. It is rooted in what never changes, Christ, and yet it must live in a world that is constantly changing, and it has not hiding place from that change. This is simple to state but, as we all know, complex to work out’ (19).


Culture ‘is what forms a network of fabricated understanding in the workplace, in our neighborhood, and in the nether-reality into which the Internet takes us. It is the Matrix. It is pervasive and intrusive. And it is increasingly global…’ (20).

We have moved from a secular-humanist impulse in the 1980s and 1990s to a situation where 80 percent of Americans consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’, and this ‘newly spiritual are not anti-anything except a God who is transcendent and objective to them, before whom they are accountable’ (21). However, evangelicals have been tempted, says Wells, to see them as friends, potential allies.


Our situation in the West today has arguably brought us closer to the religiously diverse world of the New Testament period, but ‘the apostles thought in categories of in or out, light or darkness, knowing God or not knowing him’ (21).

‘There is a line between God and ourselves… His salvation is not within our grasp, it is not on the market as another product, nor is it emerging from deep within the self… This line is crossed only from his side, not from ours. It is crossed only by him and never by us because in crossing it he must do for us what we cannot do for ourselves’ (21).

The Church

‘The church stands between these two coordinates in our mind, Christ and culture’ (22).

‘It is tempting to think that in order to be successful we must recast the church in the form that culture is taking but, actually, success lies in doing exactly the opposite… Are we… going to take seriously the message given to the church, a message as distinctive as is the Christ who is its center and substance’ (22)?

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Graeme Goldsworthy on Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching (Leicester: IVP, 2000), xv + 272pp., ISBN 085110539X.

[The following post began life as a book review in Anvil, probably sometime in 2001.]

This work by Graeme Goldsworthy demonstrates the strategic place of biblical theology in Christian interpretation and appropriation of the Bible, and although it has the particular task of the preacher in mind, all concerned readers of Scripture will find it full of insight and relevance.

The bulk of the book is divided into two equal parts. Part 1 seeks to answer the sorts of questions that might be asked about biblical theology and preaching (e.g., What is the Bible? What is biblical theology? What is preaching?). Biblical theology has to do with the big picture of the Bible as it describes the unfolding of God’s purposes of redemption, culminating in Christ. Along with a high view of the Bible (as the one written word of the one God about the one way of salvation – and so as a book about Christ) goes a high view of preaching, which is rooted in God’s own proclamation to human beings, and exemplified in the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles. Jesus’ own teaching (e.g., John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44-45) and the testimony of the early church to the gospel of Christ should shape our approach to Scripture.

Part 2 seeks to apply this biblical-theological method to the various biblical genres (narrative, law, wisdom, etc.). Each chapter here follows the same format: the setting of the literary type in the biblical-theological context, with some illustrative treatments of texts; general literary and historical considerations; reflections of a more practical nature on planning sermons on the genre under consideration. Among many other points deserving mention, Goldsworthy frequently expresses concern that preachers not moralise from the biblical text (whether with narrative, law, or the prophets) without regard for the framework of the gospel of grace.

All in all, then, there is much here to profit from, and any criticisms are of the ‘friendly’ kind from one who is in agreement with the broad agenda of the work. Goldsworthy repeats the formula from his earlier works (e.g., Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament [Exeter: Paternoster, 1981]) that the ‘essence of the kingdom is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule’ (87). But the formula may pose problems. A little like the jewelry shop owner who sets the clocks in the window by the clock on the town hall over the road, not realising that the clock keeper sets the town hall clock by those in the shop window, it’s not always easy to see what’s establishing the agenda! It also means that some material can be overlooked. For instance, Goldsworthy arguably marginalises the exile, which in his treatment tends to be swallowed up in prophetic eschatology. One doesn’t have to be at all swayed by the current interest in the motif of exile in contemporary theology to acknowledge its significant place on the biblical landscape, not to mention the New Testament’s descriptions of believers as those in ‘exile’. The book of Esther, for instance, is set entirely in the Jewish dispersion, and provides a glimpse of the dangers God’s people might have to face in exile, a pertinent point (from a biblical-theological perspective) for contemporary Christians to acknowledge.

Furthermore, for all the emphasis on following the flow of redemption, one wonders whether Goldsworthy actually neglects the significance of salvation history in some cases. The first page of the New Testament is explicit in linking Ruth to Christ, and we need to read the book which bears her name in the wider biblical context; but to reduce it to a ‘missionary text’ (146) might put the cart before the horse. When one places Ruth within the flow of salvation history as a whole, how do we account for the seeming newness of what comes with Christ and the church? How does Ruth as a ‘missionary text’ relate to Jesus’ ministry to Israel, and then the sending out of the disciples to all nations in the power of the Spirit, and the portrayal in the early church of just how radical a notion this was to some, even after embracing the gospel for themselves? The concern is that we run the risk of making the Bible say things before it really says them, of flattening out salvation history.

Of course, all biblical texts are embraced by the gospel, and Goldsworthy does a great job reminding us that Wisdom and Psalms (for instance) are connected with Christ – because Jesus has been made our wisdom, and he is the king and the faithful Israelite who prays. Once again, however, those with a high view of Scripture will want to do justice to the celebration of sexuality in Song of Songs (say) as much as to Christ’s love for his church.

Finally and significantly, there’s very little wrestling with the theological significance of the Bible’s literary forms. These are made ‘the vehicle for the theological truth of biblical revelation’ (p. 135), which sadly gives the impression that the lorry of the literary form can be ignored once we get our hands on the theological freight it is carrying. Indeed, the nature of the various literary types is largely reduced to the salvation-historical contexts in which they occur, thus begging the question as to why the material is organised according to genre in the first place.

Such points aside, however, it would be difficult not to recommend this book. It’s surely difficult to imagine any person engaged in any form of Christian ministry who would not want to do proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is declared in the pages of Scripture as a whole. Anyone interested in the place of biblical theology in the tasks of theology and ministry will benefit from this strong exhortation to pay attention to the shape of the Scriptures – Old and New, New and Old – with Christ at their centre.