Tagged: bible

If You Had Been There

Eden snake mural

Once upon a time –not quite “in the beginning,” but not too long after– a snake had a question. He sauntered up and posed it quite politely, and if you’d been there you’d have agreed that both his posture and his manners were impeccable.

He found the Mother of All Mankind minding her own beeswax in the middle of the arboretum, and he leaned his lanky limbs against the trunk of a tree, cocked his head a little to one side, and mused, “Excuse me, I was just wondering. Just a clarifying question here; just a little follow-up, just out of curiosity, just playing devil’s advocate for the sake of argument; I’m jusssst asssssssking.”

What Snakey was wondering was, “What did God really say? What were his words, and what do we think those words were worth? And when this God guy said, ‘Don’t eat this one fruit,’ how exactly did he say it? Did he act like he really meant it? I mean, what was his body language? Did he leave any, y’know, wiggle room?”

The Mother of Mankind –M.O.M., “Mom” for short—mumbled something about the fruit being poison. Old Snakey snickered, spit, and hissed out, “Excuse me, it’s just, I suspect he’s saving the best stuff for himself. I mean, just in general does this God character, whatshisname, seem like the sort of guy who’s got your best interests in mind? Because all I know is that this fruit is a world of fruity goodness, woman. You’ve heard of  awesome sauce: this is it. It’s like anti-poison. It’s the original eye-opener. One bite of it and you stay bit by it, baby. Trust me, eat it and you’ll get godlike superpowers; eat it for a performance-enhancing brain boost; eat it and bang! you’re an omnicompetent multitasker; will you eat it; eat it; eat it.”

As she listened, Mom found herself already staring hard at the tree, and it had long since begun to seem good, true, and beautiful to her. If you’d been there you’d have agreed. Ask Adam: he was there, and he agreed. In fact, for a while he claimed eating it had been his idea to begin with, but later on his story changed. Together they took the bait, gobbled it down, and in licking their lips they signed up for Team Snake.

Years later, in marriage counseling, Adam and Eve would look back on that furtive picnic as the last thing they really did together. They stayed married, of course, but it seemed like a lie, just keeping up appearances for the sake of the kids. Somebody had to raise Cain, and Eve was glad to point out that that was one thing Adam was good at.

They set up house together in a gated community way out east of Eden, but life was hard now, things were thorny, and something had obviously come between them. They both had long commutes in opposite directions, and traffic was always slow going both ways, which (as Adam regularly pointed out, rather too loudly) didn’t even make sense because people were a new idea back then.

Regrets? They had a few. “Maybe we bit off more than we could chew,” offered Eve.

“Maybe we had too many pets,” admitted Adam.

“Hey, whatever happened to that snake?” wondered Eve. “What got into him, anyway? Punk acted like he owned the place.”

They never really broke up, but they definitely grew apart. Everything grew apart now, because it seemed like in this new world they’d made, everything that rises must diverge.

Mainly they grew apart from God and tried to give the impression that they’d never really been that close to begin with. They tried having him over to the house a few times, but things were awkward. He didn’t really have what you’d call the gift of small talk.

But even though they couldn’t hang out with him anymore, they had to admit he had saved the day for them again and again. He was the one who had stepped in instantly to stop them from falling any further back on Crash Day. He was the one who took care of everything: new clothes, relocation costs, real estate, a job placement program. He was like a Father to them, not to mention a dietitian, personal shopper, travel agent, labor coach, legal counsel, child care provider, social services coordinator, and more. Food, clothes, and money were always showing up that nobody could account for. One of their nicknames for him was “The Fixer.”

But another nickname was “Old Thunderbear,” and another was “He Who Shouts and Promises,” and another was “Judgey Judge.” They had lots of nicknames for him, because Adam had a real knack for making up names. In fact, they had so many nicknames for him that they ended up forgetting his real name.

“Yeah, the Big Guy,” Adam said, looking out the bay window to see what the kids were up to in the far corner of the backyard. “Can’t live with him, can’t live without him,” he laughed. Eve laughed too, but it was the very death of mirth.

(What is this? An unusable bit of rough draft from a creative writing project that went another direction. Don’t expect any more of it any time soon, but I wanted to put it somewhere. Happy New Year, people of Earth!)

“All the Prophets Proclaimed These Days”

all them prophets from chartres

In Acts 3, near the end of his sermon in Solomon’s Portico, Peter says that “all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days” in which God would bring salvation in Christ.

Old Testament scholar R. E. Clements once pointed out that this New Testament text contains two crucial assumptions which run counter to much Old Testament scholarship: (1) that it’s possible to summarize what “all the prophets” said, and (2) that such a summary is a message of salvation.

In an article that takes Clements’ observation as a starting point, H.G.M. Williamson puts it this way:

This understanding of prophecy seems to fly in the face of two of the most significant results of the study of the prophets by modern critical scholarship. On the one hand it presupposes that the prophets proclaimed a unified message, whereas any textbook on prophecy in ancient Israel is likely to concentrate on drawing out the distinctive message of each prophet or prophetic book, and on the other it makes clear that the prophets focussed primarily on a proclamation of salvation, whereas if we had to use a single word to summarize the content of at any rate the majority of the prophetic books, that word would be judgement.

(This is from H. G. M. Williamson, “Hope under Judgement: The Prophets’ of the Eighth Century BCE.” Evangelical Quarterly 72:4 (2000)291-306), at 291).

Both scholars turn their attention, in rather different ways, to navigating the gap between what they can say in historical or literary-critical mode on the one hand, and what they can say theologically on the other. The magic wand that gets waved here is the great word “canonical,” and despite its tendency to be overused and overlaid with new nuances of meaning as layers of scholarship sediment on top of it, it is indeed the right word: The prophets mean more together than they do apart.

Taken in isolation, a book like Amos seems relentlessly negative, a message of doom with almost no glimmers of hope. But if you read it as one entry in the larger unit, the so-called minor prophets or the “Book of the Twelve,” Amos is part of a larger story. It could be seen as the early, dark chapter in a multi-chapter book with a happy ending (or the promise of a happy ending).

This is especially the case when you consider Amos as a prophecy of doom for the northern kingdom of Israel, which is subsequently read and collected in the southern kingdom with an eye to its implications for Judah.

Williamson goes considerably further than this, employing redaction-critical arguments to find linking words in a close reading of the Hebrew text of Amos that point forward to Obadiah, words that stitch Amos into the Book of the Twelve. That stitching, or weaving, lets him keep his historical-critical credentials above reproach as he presses on to make larger claims about the one message of all the prophets, a message about salvation:

Even the most doom-laden prophets, such as Amos, conclude in their canonical form with a word of salvation, and regardless of the literary history which led to this circumstance –a history which has frequently led to such sayings being first dismissed as secondary and then ignored– we should recognize that they bear witness to a pattern of interpretation which has been woven into the very fabric of the prophetic corpus.” (292)

My purely doctrinal side wants to wave a hand impatiently and say, “You exegetes get this stuff figured out any way you want to, but the bottom line is we have to be able to read the prophets as a unified voice testifying to salvation in Christ.” But my Bible-meditating side wants to hear more about the actual arguments and conceptual tools the exegetes are working with as they win their way back to the ability to hear all the prophets say this one thing. Because all the prophets proclaim this message, but each of them does it differently, and their witness is more in the texts than in the men, and the texts in front of us have histories, and those histories are complexly intertwined with each other, and so on: All this fascinating stuff has become more fascinating in the last few centuries of sober exegesis. It’s certainly time to get back to the main thing, but the detour was far from useless.

Doctrine or Problem: Wainwright on the Trinity in the New Testament

wainwright trinity new testamentIn 1962, Arthur W. Wainwright published The Trinity in the New Testament, a helpful one-volume treatment of a vast subject. Wipf & Stock keeps it in print, and no wonder: Wainwright handled the material so well that only a few pages in it seems dated –though it’s more than fifty years old, and there has been much change in some of the sub-fields it reports on. If it doesn’t quite cover everything a reader could hope for, it nevertheless lives up to the promise of its clear title. These 270 pages deliver.

Here are some scattered notes from a reading of the first fourteen pages, where Wainwright sets up his approach. (I hope to post more notes from later sections in subsequent blog posts.)

The Problem of the Trinity

On the question whether the doctrine of the Trinity can be found in the Bible, Wainwright answers with a qualified no: what can be found in the New Testament is an awareness on the part of some of its authors that they are facing “the problem of the Trinity.” The problem, briefly and binitarianly, is that God is one yet Jesus is God and so is the Father. Add the Spirit to the mix and you have the set of data that demands explanation. “But whether the problem is binitarian or trinitarian in form, the crucial issue is the relationship of Father to Son, because the problem would not have been of practical importance if there had been no Incarnation. If the Word had not been made flesh, there would have been no stumbling-block for Jewish monotheism.” (p. 3)

Some New Testament authors show that they have seen the problem and are indicating an answer; here is where Wainwright distinguishes between problem and doctrine. “A statement of doctrine is an answer to a doctrinal problem.” (p. 4) What Wainwright will demonstrate in the book is that the New Testament surfaces the problem but doesn’t formulate the answer.

In terms of the contents of the New Testament, this strikes me as good common sense, and pretty obvious: there aren’t chapters about the Trinity in the New Testament, there aren’t extended passages where an author grapples with the issues and presents a solution. Think of how Paul hammers away at the implications of Israel’s election in Romans 9-11, or how Hebrews reasons through the logic of the New Covenant, or how Acts reports on the apostles coming to terms with the implications of Gentile inclusion, and so on. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the elements of the doctrine of the Trinity laid out on the table and being made a matter of doctrinal reasoning and formulation. Wainwright admits that “the problem of the Trinity was in the minds of certain New Testament writers, and that they made an attempt to answer it. None of their writings, however, was written specifically to deal with it,” and, he goes on tellingly: “most of the signs that a writer had tackled the problem are incidental.” (p. 4)

So is the doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament or not? “In so far as a doctrine is an answer, however fragmentary, to a problem, there is a doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament. In so far as it is a formal statement of a position, there is no doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament.” (p. 4)

Wainwright deftly handles the preliminary question of what counts as a doctrine of the Trinity. If it means the word Trinity, then he pushes that off to the second century, in authors like Theophilus (trias) and Tertullian (trinitas). If it means the philosophical method of handling the truth claims, then he pushes that off until perhaps Clement and Origen. If it means the set of technical terms that grow up around these basic moves (person, essence, etc), then he admits this is a more extended conversation with semantic shifts occurring in all the usages.

The decision to say “the problem of the Trinity” is in the Bible is in part a rhetorical decision, a judgement about the artfully ordered presentation of the truth and the result it will have for the audience. Any presentation of the truth will raise certain questions and tend to suppress others. One of the questions Wainwright’s “problem” terminology raises is whether the New Testament knows that there is a challenge of consistency, or even a paradox, to be dealt with in monotheistic worship of Jesus. Emil Brunner notoriously drew a sharp line between the “simple testimony” of the apostles and the “mysterium logicum” of the One and the Three, posed by later trinitarian theology which “lies outside the message of the Bible.” Wainwright says many sensible things about this “kerygma vs. reflection” framing, admitting its partial validity but also (strikingly, it seems to me, for a book written midcentury) indicating that the distinction has only limited applicability. Here is how Wainwright draws the boundary:

While… the words ‘paradox’ and ‘antinomy’ do not occur in the New Testament, there is in the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel a clear awareness of the paradox of the relationship between Father and Son. The man who wrote ‘The Word was with God, and the Word was God,’ knew that his statement contained a paradox. (p. 8)

 

Unlucky Argument for Pauline Authorship of Hebrews

bullinger number coverE.W. Bullinger (1837-1913) was a quirky Bible teacher. I would caution anybody against a steady diet of his books, but as long as you’re getting most of your nutrition elsewhere, a little dash of Bullinger can be a piquant spice. You can count on wild uncle Ethelbert (that’s what the E. stands for) to come up with something that the responsible guild of biblical studies wasn’t going to suggest. Things about stars and constellations. About word order. About revelation. About prophecy (Bullinger championed a kind of dispensationalism that made the rest of the dispensationalists back off and say “don’t get weird about this stuff, man”). About structure. About numbers and numerology.

On Number in Scripture he wrote a whole book, and I can say this about it: Most modern exegetes are so nervous about biblical numerology that they refuse to acknowledge it even where the biblical authors are explicitly directing attention to it (with a few exceptions like Austin Farrer and Peter Leithart). Bullinger goes the other direction, seeing numerological significance in places where it cannot be.

He’s good enough with ancient languages and manuscript evidence to avoid the most egregious errors that evangelical numerologists tend to make (like counting word occurrences in English, or building arguments on chapter and verse numbers).  But it’s probably inevitable that, wanting so badly for the numbers to do their gematria dance, Bullinger would follow his program to laughable extremes sooner or later, and one place that stands out is his argument that Paul wrote Hebrews because the numbers work out so nicely:

The New Testament contains 27 separate books (3 x 3 x 3 or 3 cubed).

Of these 27 books, 21 (3 x 7) are Epistles.

Of the 21 Epistles of the NT, 14 (2 x 7) are by Paul, and seven by other writers.

In this lies an argument for the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Without it the Epistles of Paul are only thirteen in number, with it they are 14 (2 x 7).

And thirteen, of course, is unlucky not just because thirteen apostles would be bad, but because Genesis:

It occurs first in Gen. 13:4, where we read `Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and the thirteenth year they REBELLED.’ Hence every occurrence of the number thirteen, and likewise of every multiple of it, stamps that with which it stands in connection with rebellion, apostasy, defection, corruption, disintegration, revolution, or some kindred idea.

QED, am I right? It’s hard to tell when Bullinger is being serious and when he is being playful about these proofs. That is one (1 X 1) of the problems with his program.

Hermeneutics with Samuel Johnson

Saml Johnson readingSamuel Johnson gives some excellent advice in his Preface to Shakespeare (1765) that applies to reading in general, and especially well to Bible reading. Johnson advises readers to plow straight through a Shakespeare play, keeping up a good pace even when passages aren’t clear. To slow down and investigate the unclear passages more carefully would be to lose the momentum and lapse out of the literary flow.

And above all, Johnson warned, don’t check the footnotes! Commentators are inevitably offering you help with details (glosses, etymologies, textual emendations, cultural context, explanations of allusions), but before you need details, you need to experience the whole. Read on, read on:

Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. and when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators.

“Notes are necessary,” says Johnson, “but they are necessary evils.” They provide valuable clarification, but “the general effect of the work is weakened” because “the mind is refrigerated by interruption.”

I take Johnson to be making two major points. The first is about the experience of the reader, who can only grasp the book’s complete flow by committing to experiencing it in sequence, page by page, steadily. Stopping at every bit that needs to be clarified will in fact add knowledge of the bits and pieces, but inevitably robs you of the flow.  And in many forms of literature, what you get from the flowing experience is what makes the detailed knowledge worth pursuing. The plot carries you along, or the character development, or (in non-fiction) the intellectual unfolding of an idea or progress of an argument and its entailments.

The second point can be put more philosophically: meaning comes from the whole and informs each part. No individual bit, no matter how much you clarify it, can in isolation deliver the work’s meaning. Johnson is explicit about this in his Preface:

Parts are not to be examined til the whole has been surveyed. There is a kind of intellectual remoteness necessary for the comprehension of any great work in its full design and its true proportions; a close approach shows the smaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is discerned no longer.

The ideal way to work out this part-whole dialectic is, I suppose it’s obvious, to read and re-read the text. Once you have achieved the “intellectual remoteness” of having the entire work in your mind’s eye, you can then investigate whichever “smaller niceties” seem most important or interesting. That was Johnson’s plan with Shakespeare, and it also makes sense as a plan for Bible reading.

 

“English Bible” did not mean “Dumbed Down”

inductive bible study coverEarlier this year I noted the premiere of a new journal, the Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies.  The second issue is out now, and among the essays published there I especially enjoyed the autobiographical piece by David Bauer entitled, “My Journey with Inductive Bible Study.”

Bauer was one of my first Bible professors at Asbury Seminary (and the journal’s editor, Fred Long, was actually the T.A. in that class on Matthew’s gospel in 1991). Years later, I’m still using and teaching a lot of the techniques he taught under the heading of “English Bible,” a form of close reading that occupies an interesting position between the academy and serious lay Bible study. It goes by different names in different traditions: “Bible Exposition,” “inductive Bible study,” etc.  Bauer taught directly from Matthew, with support from Robert Traina’s book Methodical Bible Study. I admit I struggled with the tone of Traina’s book, and only warmed up to it very gradually. Fortunately, Bauer has brought out a new volume, Inductive Bible Study, co-authored with Traina and effectively replacing it in a way that will commend it to the next generation.

If this is beginning to sound like a mash note to former teachers, it’s because that’s what Bauer’s “My Journey” essay is, also. Tracing a little of the lineage that came down to him, Bauer relays a report from Ralph Thompson about Howard Tillman Kuist’s teaching of English Bible at Winona Lake School of Theology: “at the end of one day of instruction, the students were so overwhelmed by the power of the message of Jeremiah that all of them were unable to move from their seats for a half hour after the class ended.”

Friends, that is some serious Bible teaching!

Bauer gives his own testimony to Traina’s teaching at Asbury Theological Seminary. He says of his first class with Traina, “Every aspect of the course—both inside and outside the classroom—was meticulously planned, one might say almost choreographed. And yet the class felt free and fresh.” He also admits –something I never heard him admit when he was using the book in his courses– that it wasn’t love at first sight for him and the Traina book:

as an undergraduate I had found Methodical Bible Study to be a bit dry and pedantic. My enthusiasm was also somewhat dampened by the fact that the inductive Bible study classes Dr. Traina taught were named “English Bible” courses; I wanted to work seriously with the original languages.

But after actually internalizing the inductive method, with its diagramming, relationship-naming, and attention to structure, Bauer became a lifelong advocate of its potential. In fact, he says, “it became clear to me the very first day that “English Bible” did not mean “dumbed down.”

It seems to me that for most people Inductive Bible study, under whatever name, still gives off a whiff of amateurism, a suggestion of down-market or sub-academic engagement with Scripture. On the one hand, I would gladly embrace the stigma of spreading Biblical investigation to a broad audience of serious Christians, of propagating rigor without demanding expertise. If this be stigma, I aspire to be stigmatic. On the other hand, with practitioners like Dr. Bauer involved in it, it can hardly be called non-academic. It helps to know that Bauer is one of the most well-read professors I ever took a class with, and that when he turns to English Bible it is with full knowledge of the other approaches available in the methodological toolkit of Biblical Studies as practiced in the modern academy. But it also helps that Bauer has given some attention to tracing the pedigree of the movement, and it goes back to academic royalty of no mean rank:

Part of my sense of calling to inductive Bible study has been to help make the inductive approach known within the academic biblical guild. I hope that my dissertation and my other academic publications have assisted in the accomplishment of this goal. People often, and perhaps even typically, associate inductive Bible study with non-specialist lay reading of the Bible. They fail to realize that inductive Bible study emerged from the work of William Rainey Harper, a Yale Professor of Old Testament and the founding president of the University of Chicago and his associate and student Wilbert Webster White, a Yale-trained Semitist and Old Testament scholar, and the founder of a significant theological seminary, The Biblical Seminary in New York. Nor do they realize that inductive Bible study has been taught at such prestigious institutions as Princeton Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, and Fuller  Theological Seminary. Inductive Bible study continues to have a significant contribution to make to the academy. And generations of students, both from Asbury and elsewhere, testify it its value in professional ministry, pointing to its importance in seminary curricula.

 

Amateurs Needed for the School of Translators

Sayers and Lewis

Last year, four professors from Torrey gave brief talks on some of our favorite 20th-century Christian thinkers (Chesterton, Sayers, Tolkien, Lewis). Videos of the talks are here; the whole thing was pretty obviously an excuse to collaborate with Chris Mitchell on a project where he could share his expertise with the whole Biola faculty.

But “expertise” is an interesting word for this series on non-experts. Although we tend to categorize them as “Christian thinkers,” all four were conspicuously not professional theologians, pastors, or spokespersons for official ecclesial bodies. Tolkien and Lewis were academics in non-theological fields: literature and philology. Chesterton was a journalist/writer, and Sayers was an advertiser, novelist, playwright, and translator. Two Catholics and two Anglicans, more or less good churchmen, but not an ordination or pastoral-theological degree among them.

It is crucially important that it was amateurs, laypeople, who contributed so much to midcentury public awareness of Christian doctrine. It is no accident that these non-professionals are the ones who reached such a wide audience, and the ones who are still with us in so many ways.

A friend wrote to me over the weekend and pointed out this passage from my talk introducing Sayers:

She was convinced that Christianity had a magnetic power of attraction if only it were stated clearly…Sayers was actually an advertiser…She recognized that what Christianity needed most was not to be redesigned, tweaked, updated, defended. What Christianity needed most was to be sold and Sayers devoted her skills to getting the main ideas of Christianity into the public mind by any means necessary. She didn’t often argue in defense of the faith in traditional apologetics, instead she developed an apologetic of simple presentation. If people simply see and understand what the church has been claiming all these years, they’ll be drawn to it. The dogma doesn’t need to be made exciting, there’s no way to add any drama to it from the outside.

What my friend experienced in that passage was moment of recognition, a clarity about his vocation as a Christian communicator. The task before him is not to become increasingly professionalized in an authorized pastoral or academic role, even when these options are available. The major task is to communicate what he knows, creatively and persuasively, to a wide audience that doesn’t expect to hear it from non-experts.

One of the most touching moments of vocational reflection in the life of C.S. Lewis is in a letter he wrote about the future of communicating Christian ideas. After considerable success in this arena, Lewis had a kind of mid-life anxiety about whether anybody was going to join him in the work of being a non-expert translator of Christian ideas into everyday language:

People praise me as a ‘translator,’ but what I want is to be the founder of a school of ‘translation.’ I am nearly forty-seven. Where are my successors? Anyone can learn to do it if they wish…I feel I’m talking rather like a tutor—forgive me. But it is just a technique and I’m desperately anxious to see it widely learned.

(See Jeremy Mann’s reflection on these lines here).

Lewis was great at what he did. Where are his successors? The school of translators that he hoped to found is still too sparsely staffed. “Anyone can learn to do it if they wish… it is just a technique.” Graduates of that particular school of translators, the Lewis and Sayers school, will not be the professional theologians and pastors. They will be amateurs who do something else for a living, and who find their voices and their audiences in surprising ways unavailable to the professionals.

 

One of Those Critters

Bob Warrens ABCsHere is a link to some footage of Bob Warren, who died last week, doing his thing: teaching.

This is vintage Bob –although in one sense this footage is not characteristic of him, in that he doesn’t have his Bible open and he’s not digging away at a text.

In every other way, though, this session displays so much of what I remember about Bob from the years I spent studying with him in Kentucky (1986-1990): the homespun affability, the intensity, the immersion in Biblical patterns of thought, the excitement of learning directly from Scripture, the deep concern to connect with his audience, the unhurried pace. There’s also the fact that this is amateur footage with a slightly restive baby being patted near the microphone.

In this talk, Bob gives part of his testimony, with just enough basketball and rags-to-riches (“I chased the wrong rabbit”) to draw people in. He shares how surprised he was to find out that most people who show up to hear a basketball player talk about the Bible don’t really want to hear about the Bible. He tells how he learned in his 60s that he has dyslexia, and how that diagnosis made sense of so many of his struggles in life.

And he also explains the spiritual dynamics that he calls “the Law of the Circles.” It’s a wide-ranging insight, not easily summarized and in some ways peculiar to a small-town Bible Belt setting, or other subcultures where Christianity can be presupposed and taken for granted. The basic idea is that many believers have a cramped and tightly circumscribed notion of what the Christian life is: basically accepting Jesus so they are forgiven and heaven-bound. But others seem to move in a larger spiritual world, to understand more about God’s ways and words, to see that there is something out there beyond forgiveness-now-and-heaven-when-I-die.  Christians of this type are among us, and as Bob says, “all you gotta do is meet one of those critters, and your life will never be the same.” They call you out of the ruts of circle A into the larger world of circle B. And there’s no route back from B to A; horizons expanded in this way never quite contract again.

It is certainly a problem that circle A is so small and densely populated. But the real problem Bob sees is that there’s a circle C, wherein believers relegate their faith to some sort of subjective commitment, and resolve (consciously or unconsciously) not to think about it anymore. Theologizing, connecting the dots between the great doctrines, meditating on the underlying unities of all of Scripture –these modes of thought are dangerous for circle C, since avoiding them is the whole point of being in circle C and getting on with your life. This resolution also requires that you can only do certain very limited types of Bible study: a thought for the day, perhaps, or a word of encouragement without context.

Some of the residents of circle C have made the whole trip: they became Christians in circle A, grew into circle B, and, worn out by the intensity of B, spun out to C. That’s sad enough. But some of the C people came there straight from circle A. In fact, one of the reasons this is worth attending to is that Bob saw this happening to Christians in their college years: they leap straight from a minimal, reductionistic version of Christian faith to a subjectivized, compartmentalized version of it. They never even saw the big picture.

This is not the main burden of Bob’s life of Bible teaching. That main burden would be much more like the big, central ideas of Scripture itself, to which he was quite devoted. But it is an insight that he reports from a unique location, as a sensitive observer and a committed parachurch Bible teacher, and one that he returned to time after time to account for the vagaries of Christian behavior. He describes it, quite obviously, as a non-academic, and no footnotes are forthcoming at any point. You’ll probably need to paraphrase this into your own terms for your own setting. But if you’ve got an hour to listen to a Bible teacher from Hardin, KY who talks a little bit like Andy Griffith, looks a little bit (as he points out) like Dick Van Dyke, and had a pretty good run in professional basketball, give this a listen and see what you think.

I will miss Bob Warren greatly. He was one of those critters you never get over meeting; whose life and conversation communicated something of a larger world.

Erasmus Milks Ephesians

ErasmusErasmus of Rotterdam taught the Renaissance world how to take a thought and expand it, expound it, extrapolate it into a fountain of new expressions and novel turns of phrase. His “abundant style” bore much fruit for the students who learned it from him. But the most fruitful use to which Erasmus himself put his powers of expression was probably his series of paraphrases of the New Testament, which were enormously popular in the sixteenth century. Written in Latin, they were early translated into English and became required reading especially in the reforming churches of England.

Just a taste here: the first two verses of Ephesians, elaborately developed into a page or two of theology and morals, by Erasmus:

I, Paul, the ambassador not of Moses nor of any man but of Jesus Christ in whose interest I act, an ambassador, moreover, not as a result of usurping the office myself, nor by human appointment, but by the authority and bidding of God the Father who, through his Son, bade me be the herald of the gospel teaching among the gentiles.

As such, I am writing this Epistle to all who live at Ephesus, and who live in such a way that they are zealous to keep themselves clear of this world’s foul vices, and that with a sincere heart they believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, while they hope for the reward of innocence and holiness from no source other than from the model they have chosen, and await the culmination of their happiness from none other than the source from which it began.

Meanwhile I desire for you not what is generally desired by the people who measure their happiness by the security this world provides, but I desire that God may daily increase in you the kindness by which he has gratuitously freed you from the offences of your former life and changed wicked people into cultivators of innocence and justice, for he is the author of all good things, whom now we too are able to call ‘our Father,’ not only for the reason that we were created by him, but much more because, grafted onto the body of Christ, we have been co-opted into the rights and privileges of sons. May he guard the harmony of your relationship so that you may be of one mind with each other.

Once and for all you have been reconciled to God; may you be on your guard, lest by sinning again you shatter the covenant entered with him, entered indeed through Jesus Christ his Son, through whom and with whom he bestows all things on us.

Deservedly shall we henceforth call him our Lord after he has rescued us from the tyranny of the devil at the price of his most sacred blood, has claimed us for himself, and has received us, emancipated from servitude to the devil, into his own jurisdiction.

Happy servitude by which we are firmly bonded to Christ!

 

 

The Suffering of the Christ in the Psalms

As soon as Jesus had confirmed to his disciples that he was “the Christ, the son of the living God,” he went on to tell them that it was necessary that he would suffer and die at the hands of the leaders of his people (Mat 16:16, 21). Peter was taken aback, and his disciples could not understand what he was talking about. Even after his death, his followers were slow to believe that if he were really the Christ, the one they had hoped would “redeem all Israel,” he would have to suffer and die, condemned by Israel’s leaders (Luke 24:19-21, 25). Even after his resurrection, Jesus had to explain to them that it was “necessary that the Christ should suffer all these things these things.” He did this by interpreting the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call the Old Testament): “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27).

The disciples had Jesus himself to interpret the Scriptures, but those reading the gospel accounts are left to wonder where in the Old Testament does it say does it say that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer?

There are no specific passages that explicitly predict that a person called the Christ will have to suffer. In fact, it’s quite difficult even to find a passage that clearly predicts that person called the Christ is coming (Daniel 9:25-26 perhaps comes the closest). Christians know that from the earliest times the followers of Christ have used Isaiah 53 to understand the significance of the Jesus’s suffering and death. However, the suffering figure in that passage is not referred to as the Christ but as “the servant” of the Lord (Isaiah 52:13, 53:11).

Among the Hebrew Scriptures, the book that presents the clearest picture of a suffering Christ is the Psalms. It’s interesting to note than in Luke’s account of Jesus explaining his death and resurrection to his disciples, Jesus says that these things happened to fulfill “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (24:44).

Psalms 1 and 2 serve as an introduction to the book, and Psalm 2 introduces the figure of the Christ. (There is good reason to think that the “blessed” man in Psalm 1 also refers to the Christ though less explicitly). The first explicit reference to the Christ comes in Psalm 2:2 though it is easy to miss in English translations: “The kings of the earth set themselves…against the Lord and against his anointed.” The word “anointed” translates the Hebrew word mashiach, from which we get the word “Messiah.” A couple of centuries before the birth of Christ when Hebrew text was translated in to Greek, this word was translated as khristos, from which we get the word “Christ.”
The Lord’s anointed, or Christ, is his representative. As the psalm continues, it becomes clear that in opposition to kings of the nations, the Christ is the king established by the Lord. The Lord says to the other kings: “As for me I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (2:6).

Since “Zion” is a way of referring to the city of Jerusalem (or more specifically the hill it’s built on) and Jerusalem was the capital of the kingdom of Israel, “king on Zion” refers to the ruler of Israel, like the “president in Washington” refers to the ruler of the United States. The king of Israel was called the “Lord’s Christ,” either because he was directly anointed by one of the Lord’s prophets or priests, or because he was a descendent of David, whom God chose as king by sending Samuel to anoint him. Thus in its original historical context, the reference to the Christ in Psalm 2:2 (and seven other references to the Lord’s Christ in the Psalms) does not primarily refer to someone to come in the future, but the present king of Israel.

However, there is a second historical context important for understanding the meaning of the Psalms. Although most of the individual psalms were originally composed during the time of monarchy (from the tenth to the seventh century BC, when Israel or Judah was ruled by king David and his royal descendants), the book of Psalms was put together, arranged, and included as part of Jewish Scripture in the post-exilic period (after the exile of Judah in the fifth century BC, when the Jews were ruled by foreign emperors). In this setting when Israel no longer had their own king in Jerusalem, the numerous psalms about David or the Davidic king (sometimes called the Lord’s Christ) take on new meaning.

Why would a people with no king produce of book of songs that in which a king is a central figure? One possibility would be that they wanted to remember the past when they had a king. But there is more important reason in this case. These songs express Israel’s hope that God would restore the Davidic monarchy.
Israel’s hopes were based on the Lord’s extravagant promises to David that his house (or dynasty) would rule forever (II Sam 7:16, Psalm 89:29). Furthermore the Lord had said he would take David’s son (his descendant who ruled in his place) as his own son (II Sam 7:14). This is why “Christ” and “Son of God” can be understood as referring to the same person. Psalm 2 spells out the primary significance of the Davidic king being the “Son of God.” The king says: “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son….Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage” (2:7-8). The king of Israel is the Lord’s heir, and since the Lord (as creator) owns the nations of the world, they belong to the king of Israel as his rightful inheritance.

For those who collected the psalms and gave book of Psalms its present form (including putting Psalm 2 at the beginning as an introduction), references to David, the king, and the Lord’s anointed do not merely refer to historical figures in Israel’s past. They point to a coming king who will fulfill the Lord’s promise that David’s house would rule the all the nations of the world forever. It is in this way that Psalms speak of a coming Christ.
Now it can be seen in what way the Psalms show that it is “necessary that the Christ should suffer.” Psalm 3, a “Psalm of David,” is the first of many psalms in which the “Lord’s anointed,” “the king on Zion” introduced in Psalm 2 is the principal speaker. Given the exalted picture of Israel’s king as the rightful ruler of the nations in Psalm 2, the heading and first verse of Psalm 3 come as somewhat of a shock: “A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son. Oh Lord, how many are my foes!” Psalm 3 is the first of dozens in which David cries out to God in a time of distress and suffering. Many of them have titles like: A psalm of David “when the Philistines seized him in Gath,” or “when he fled from Saul in the cave,” or “when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.” They remind the reader again and again, that David, the first King on Zion, the Lord’s Christ, was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

For those who composed the book of Psalms, the suffering of the Lord’s Christ was not limited to the suffering of David, it included the suffering of David’s dynasty, in particular dethronement and exile. They looked forward to the time when God would restore the throne to a son of David who would rule the world as the Son of God. But when this Christ came, he would have enemies and it would be necessary for him to suffer.

Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies

I’m intrigued and encouraged to see the first issue of the Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies, a new journal scheduled to appear twice a year and devoted to

promote the hermeneutical approach to the study of the Scriptures generally known as Inductive Biblical Studies. By Inductive Biblical Study (IBS) we mean the hermeneutical movement initiated by William Rainey Harper and Wilbert Webster White that was embodied in the curriculum of The Biblical Seminary in New York founded in 1900.

The first issue can be downloaded free from Asbury Seminary’s “ePlace” library resource site. Go check it out.

What’s unusual about this journal is that “inductive Bible study” seems more like a technique or style of popular-level, that is to say non-academic, interaction with Scripture. But by using the phrase “Biblical Studies” in the journal title, the editors are signalling that this is a Bible study movement that has come of age and is ready for more critical reflection, methodological self-awareness, and –who knows– intellectual respectability.

One of the editors, David Bauer, is the professor who taught me the methods of intense, inductive Bible study in a class on Matthew’s Gospel at Asbury Theological Seminary. It was a technique of structural analysis that made immediate sense to me, and helped me turn my personal Bible study into preparation for an academic ministry.

This issue looks very good. An article by theologian William Abraham article is the most thought-provoking, and does a great job pushing Inductive Biblical Studies into dialogue with movements like the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. But the three articles by Walters, Lyons, and Dongell are the place to start if you want to see the method in action.

This issue also features an article by Fred Long (a friend who was a few years ahead of me at seminary) that explores the history of IBS and spells out some of its key categories more fully. Check out this interesting chart that takes a shot at tracing some of the lines connecting the various manifestations of IBS in the 20th century:

 

inductive bible study network chart

One of the developments to look froward to as JIBS gets established is the filling out of this chart more completely. Inductive Bible Study has been vastly influential, but has occupied a strange twilight region so far, not well enough recognized in academia to present itself as a self-conscious force; and not clearly branded enough to be called the same thing from place to place at the popular level.