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A few months ago, my pastor and I decided to read and discuss a couple of NT Wright books. He chose “How God Became King.” I read “Simply Jesus.” NT Wright is certainly a controversial name in many evangelical circles, and the subtitle of Simply Jesus (A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters) does little to quell the uneasiness about his writings. When he finished reading his Wright book, my pastor said that he believed that Wright was a Christian – something he wasn’t sure about based on what he’s heard about Wright. He also found Wright’s writing powerful and insightful.

We could say the same thing about Simply Jesus. Powerfully written, insightful, useful. The main differences between the book I read and the book my pastor read is that He God Became King focuses on the messages of the four gospels while Simply Jesus reads sort of like a short biography. Simply Jesus aims at telling Jesus’s story while highlighting the significance of Jesus’s life on earth. Wright tells that story in such a way that it pierces through Modern thinking of history: “I think, to be clear: writing about Jesus has never been, for me, a matter of simply ‘neutral’ historical study (actually, there is no such thing, whatever the topic…).” He defies the Bultmanian (I think that’s a word?) division between the Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith. Wright makes no attempt to keep the two divided. His work is not merely academic, however. He writes for the person who wants to know the answer to the question: “Could you tell me about Jesus?” The question has no simple answer, but he tries to answer it as simple as possible.

He divides the book into three parts. The first part lays out what he calls “the key questions.” These questions relate to Jesus’s historical setting. We can’t think about history in a Modern, Enlightenment way (which even in the church tends to be deistic in nature). We must understand how Jewish people in the 1st century thought about God and his role in history, and we must understand what the role of the Roman government had in Israel at that time. We must do it in a way that is not biased against supernatural happenings. The second part is the meat of the book. This part attempts to answer: “What is Jesus doing?” Everything that Jesus does falls under the rubric of “God’s Kingdom Coming on Earth.” Jesus opposes the cosmic powers by casting out demons. Jesus fulfills biblical expectations of the Messiah by healing and forgiving sins – setting people free from all kinds of bondage. He defies improper thinking about the Messiah. They thought about the Messiah would inaugurate physical kingdom that would defeat the Romans. Jesus’s mission is concerned with much more than that. Jesus defeats the powers opposing his kingdom (political and cosmic, and sin and death) ultimately at the cross, that is, at his death. Evil is invited to do its worst and expends itself completely. Jesus conquers sin and diseases and opposing points of view with words and not swords. Jesus conquers death and the cosmic forces through humility and suffering and not with an army.  In the third part, Wright describes how Jesus is raised from the dead in victory and now rules the world through his people who are now tasked with carrying out the same mission to the world in the same way that Jesus did.

I think Wright’s work is valuable in that he corrects “Christian escapism.” Christians do not need bunkers. Christ is reigning victoriously, and we need to live as if that were true. The old phrase “Kingdom Living” applies here. How does my life right now reflect the fact that Jesus is ruling this world, and that evil is already (although not yet) defeated? We preach that Jesus is Lord and restoring all things in himself. We are ministers of reconciliation – loving God and neighbor in ways that were impossible without Jesus.

The biggest thing I wish he emphasized more was that living Kingdom lives means living holy lives. Thus we follow Jesus’s lead in obeying God. On the cross, Jesus deals with our first and biggest problem. Jesus graciously bore our sin on the cross. This fact makes the gospel so good and makes the ministry of reconciliation possible.

Consider reading Simply Jesus. I’m curious as to what you might have to say!

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been kicking around ideas for putting what I’ve studied and taught in Sunday School and at Southeastern into text. While I don’t think that what I’ll say is a “new” or “fresh” perspective on an issue, I hope that what I write provides a way for people who don’t have the time or resources to go to seminary to share in the benefits from my learning. My education would only really be a waste if I kept it to myself.

Here are a couple of the projects I’m thinking about right now:

Amos Today: How Amos’s words calls today’s church to action. I’ve been studying Amos in my Septuagint class.  In his message to Israel he describes the depth of Israel’s sin and coming judgment of God on his people. We are met by a holy God who cares about what his people do. His words are tough yet gracious since they since he reminds of the importance of how we live in his world. Even the “mundane” matters to God!

What the Psalms say about… A few months ago I team taught a 13 week series on various types of Psalms. Instead of dividing the psalms by their genre, we asked how the psalms address different situations in our lives, how they guide our worship, how they structure our prayers, and how they shape our understanding of God and faith.

In addition to these topics, I’ve been struggling with what the content should look like. I would like for this book to be useful in small groups.

How detailed should the book be? How much attention should the book pay attention to academic matters?

On the flip side, how devotional should the book be? How can both the “academic” and “devotional” elements be blended together?

If this book’s target audience is small groups, what kind of material would be beneficial for small groups?

The biggest question I have to answer is how much do I let questions we ask today shape the material?  The biblical text often (and ought too!) reshape the kinds of questions we ask and I need to pay special attention to that.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m hopeful that by God’s grace I can produce something that is useful to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of my assignments in my only class this spring semester is to present on Amos 2. The presentation covered everything  from  evaluating important textual issues to developing sermon/teaching outlines. It was fascinating to try to get into the mind of the Greek translator as he struggled to translate the Hebrew text accurately and present a version that his readers could understand. The presentation went excellently, and I just want to tip my hat to those who made this long process of research go smoothy.

First, my partner, Matt Christian, was a great cog in the machine that made this process go well. Our conversations about the little things (we spent an hour at least on one word during our first meeting) and the big things (we opened the library every Monday) was extremely valuable.

Second but not really second, My good friend, Jacob Cerone, always provided solid guidance and good recommendations for resources to consult for my research. This project would not have gone nearly as well without him. His friendship continues to be invaluable.

Thirdly, I’d like to provide an abbreviated annotated bibliography on a few works I found most helpful for this project.

Glenny, Edward. Finding Meaning in the Text: Translation Technique and Theology in the Septuagint of Amos.

If there is any book that I found helpful in getting my mind around what’s going on in the LXX of Amos, it was this one. He provides a detailed discussion on translation theory as well as a detailed overview of the changes the translator made and why he may have made them. This resource is excellent, and I think is helpful even if your research in the LXX is not focussed on the book of Amos.

Dines, Jennifer. “Stylistic Invention and Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of the Twelve.” Et sapienter et eloquenter: Studies on Rhetorical and Stylistic Features of the Septuagint.

I found anything that I read with Jennifer Dines’s name on it was gold. Her discussion here as well as her dissertation on the book of Amos were insightful. In this article, she lists rhetorical features that she finds in the Greek text but not in the Hebrew. She also gives her reasons why she thinks the translator may have added those rhetorical features. This short article was excellent and thought-provoking

Paul, Shalom. Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos.

Shalom Paul’s contribution to the Hermeneia Commentary series is a good one. His attention to the details of the Hebrew text (and the Greek!) really helped me think through many of the finer issues of translating, evaluating textual differences, understanding the meaning of words and difficult constructions, and comprehending the passage as a whole. Once again, I recommend this work for any serious study of the book of Amos.

Rudolph, Wilhelm. Joel-Amos-Obadja-Jona. Kommentar zum Alten Testament XIII/2.

This volume is dated, yet I still found his notes on textual issues informative and helpful. The details are amazing, and he helped me form an understanding of what was going on with the differences between the LXX and the Hebrew text.

Lastly, I just want to say that this project was one of most challenging that I’ve ever done. I’ve learned more about God’s Word in Amos than I’ve learned before (and I’m only at the beginning  of the book!). I’m looking forward to further discussions on what Amos has to say to us today.

Recently, my professor had everyone in my Ezekiel class read this helpful article describing parameters for identifying a) an inner-biblical allusion and b) the direction of dependence of that inner-biblical allusion. The scholarly community has demonstrated quite a bit of interest in the particular field of inner-biblical allusion. From my understanding, their interest extends beyond the OT into the Second Temple literature and the NT as well. Leonard’s criteria seems to apply to the OT best from my reading of his article (I would love anyone’s thoughts on how one would identify inner-biblical allusion in the NT).

He gives 8 guidelines:

1. Shared language is the single most important factor in establishing a textual connection. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. If one text is going to allude to another, the texts need to possess the same (or similar) lexemes in order to indicate that allusion.

2. Shared language is more important than non-shared language. If the texts do not share significant terms or phrases but not all of the same terms or phrases, the terms or phrases that are not shared do not  have much impact on the possibility of an inner-biblical allusion.

3. Shared language that is rare or distinctive suggests a stronger connection than does language that is widely used. Again, fairly self-explanatory. The rarer the terms or phrases, the higher the probability of an allusion.

4. Shared phrases suggest a stronger connection than do individual shared terms. Establishing an allusion based on a couple of shared terms can be tenuous.

5. The accumulation of shared language suggests a stronger connection than does a single shared term or phrase. The more shared language, the better.

6. Shared language in similar contexts suggests a stronger connection than does shared language alone. The probability of that one text is alluding to another increases if the two contexts are talking about the same thing using the same language.

7. Shared language need not be accompanied by shared ideology to establish a connection. With #6 in mind, that being said, authors bring their own ideas and purposes to the text. Therefore, the language from text A alluded to in text B may serve another purpose in text B than it did in text A.

8. Shared language need not be accompanied by shared form to establish a connection. E.g. A psalm can allude to a narrative in the Pentateuch.

After laying out all these guidelines, Leonard stresses that just like Textual Criticism, establishing an inner-biblical allusion is as much an art as it is a science. Thus, no magic method exists to determine a connection.

He provides 6 criteria for establishing which text is dependent on the other:

1. Does one text claim to draw on another?

2. Are there elements in the texts that help fix their dates?

3. Is one text capable of producing the other?

4 .Does one text assume the other?

5. Does one text show a general pattern of dependence on other texts?

6. Are there rhetorical patterns in the texts that suggest that one text has used the other in an exegetically significant way?

I still have a few questions:

1. While shared language is the most important criteria, I think that exegetical purpose would come in close second. If one cannot come up with a reason for an allusion, how can one call it an allusion? I taught Psalms 1 and 2 at my church. While most scholarly articles I read seem to think that Psalms 1 and 2 share a strong connection, two of the criteria were the use of the word for meditate (הגה – a fairly rare word) and the inclusio about the blessed man. I still think that connection is tenuous at best.

2. How much do our presuppositions about how the canon was shaped determine what can and cannot be dependent on the other? Is Ezekiel, a pre-destruction of the temple prophet, dependent upon the P source (a supposedly 6th century document) or vice-versa? With the plurality and complexity of source models that exist in the scholarly world today, the area of inner-biblical allusion just adds more complexity.  Personally, I think a more conservative model makes better sense of the evidence. It also seems to me (I speak ignorantly) the conservative model greatly simplifies the task of establishing inner-biblical allusions too.

All of this is very exciting. I do look forward to reading more about this topic. I hope clarity comes in the research! I welcome any thoughts about this subject in both the OT and the NT!

Ezekiel 2 contains the speech of God’s calling Ezekiel to become a prophet. As I was translating through Ezekiel 2:1, I came across a very surprising form of verb.. The whole verse reads:

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֵלָ֑י בֶּן־אָדָם֙ עֲמֹ֣ד עַל־רַגְלֶ֔יךָ וַאֲדַבֵּ֖ר אֹתָֽךְ

And [the voice] said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet and I will speak with you”

How, I asked, is a verb that appears to be a wayyiqtol (וַאֲדַבֵּ֖ר) translated with volative force? I understand that if the verse read

And [the voice] said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet.” And I spoke with you.

the verse would not have made much sense at all, but, at first glance, the form of the verb seemed to necessitate that translation. On top of that problem, BHS does not specify any variant readings for the verse. Obviously, my “first glance” was the problem.

First, the word is not a wayyiqtol. Wayyiqtols take the ּ וַ (waw + patach + doubling of the next letter). The word has וַאֲדַבֵּ֖ר the waw + patach, but with compensatory lengthening, we would expect a waw + qamets (long “a” vowel) instead. What is actually happening is a waw + shewa is prefixing the word. The shewa cannot stand next to the compound shewa, so the shewa becomes whatever vowel makes up the compound shewa. In this case, that vowel is a patach. The form is not a wayyiqtol at all; it’s a weyiqtol.

While this observation clears up most of my confusion, I still wanted to know why the form (according to Accordance and all the the translations I checked) is a cohortative rather than a 1cs yiqtol form. The cohortative usually takes a final ה, but that ה is lacking from the form in the text. Why should it be translated as a cohortative at all?  The answer lies in the previous verb. The word עֲמֹ֣ד is an imperative. When a weyiqtol follows a cohortative, the weyiqtol takes on volative force. Van Pelt (17.6.2) provides a great example from Jeremiah 11:6:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֵלַ֔י קְרָ֨א אֶת־כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֤ים הָאֵ֙לֶּה֙ בְּעָרֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה וּבְחֻצ֥וֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר שִׁמְע֗וּ אֶת־דִּבְרֵי֙ הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֔את וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אוֹתָֽם

And Yahweh said to me, “Call out all these words in the cities of Judah and outside Jerusalem saying, ‘Hear (imperative) the words of this covenant and obey (weyiqtol) them.'”

Lesson learned: One vowel makes a huge a difference.

 

 

 

Define “Sarcasm” –  the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny (Merriam Webster).

Example: I love very few things more than memorizing enough vocab to win at German scrabble.

While my use of sarcasm also contains a heavy dose of overstatement, I really do not love to memorize words. This statement shocks no one, I’m sure. I, however, was home schooled. Typically, we home schoolers have (at least) the entire English dictionary memorized by the time we reach high school. I never grasped the practice.

Since I am a student of both Greek and Hebrew, I know the immeasurable benefit of memorizing words, namely, being able to read. I am now in the process of learning another language: German. In the first two weeks, I have memorized the English glosses of nearly 500 German words. Trust me, the fun is in the reading. Actually, memorizing Worten hasn’t been too schlecht. Plus, the more vocab you have memorized, the easier time you have in figuring “fun stuff” of syntax.

Let me tell you something. Prepositions put the Furcht Gottes in any potential language learner. German is no exception. My vocab memorization was going a lot like a Schiff in guten Wetters…until I got to prepositions. Then my nice Schiff hit some scharf rocks. Sure, April Wilson tells you that the discussion on prepositions is overwhelming and that the material is really only reference material. If you’re really going to learn a language, you’re going to have to learn the prepositions. No question. It still hurts when you come across a Wort wie “gegen.”

While prepositions are nasty in any language, German loves to stick it to you. Apparently, German prepositions can change the meaning of verbs, come after the object of preposition, or even be split up in the phrase. Yes, fun stuff indeed. I feel a little hypocritical at this point since a non-English speaker accused English of similar crimes. Non-English speakers, ich leide mit dir.

Don’t let this somewhat negative post deceive you. Ich leibe Deutsch. I love learning languages. I love the prospect of being to read and enjoy the language (even the nasty prepositions). I only hope to communicate that memorizing viele Worten, as painful as it is, is probably one of the most best ways of truly learning a language. It will remove many road blocks and lead to a more satisfying experience.

In the last post, I dealt briefly with how God’s role as Creator and Sovereign impacts how the psalmist reacts to good or bad occurrences in his own life**. Now, I want to examine how the psalms portray God’s role as Covenant Keeper and Deliverer and those roles play out in different “life” contexts.

The psalms that focus on God the Covenant Keeper often have an eye on the past. Psalm 136 (the “his steadfast love endures forever” psalm) begins by praising God for his goodness and sovereignty (over both divine and human rulers). The psalm then moves to describe his past acts in creation, deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and victory over the kings of Canaan. All these acts demonstrate that his חסד, a term often associated with covenant faithfulness, endures forever.  The psalmist employs this phrase as a drummer would bang on a drum.  The phrase resonates with every reflection on past faithfulness. The psalmist brings all these past acts forward into his own time in the next section of the psalm:

It is he who remembered us in our low estate
his steadfast love endures forever
and rescued us from our foes
his steadfast love endures forever
he who gives food to all flesh
his steadfast love endures forever

That very same God who remembered his covenant in the past remembers it now. The psalm itself is a call to remembrance – after all, people often forget before God does. In response to this memory of God’s faithfulness, the people are to worship God continually. With every beat of the drum (His steadfast love endures forever), give thanks to the God of heaven, now and forever.

God as Covenant Keeper also comes up in several lament psalms as well. The psalmist celebrates God’s faithfulness to his covenant to such a great extent that the lament part often takes us by surprise. Psalm 44 is a good example. The psalm begins with, “We have heard with your ears what you have done” and begins to describe all the great victories that God had won for Israel. In response to God’s great acts of faithfulness, the people boasted in God not in their abilities. The psalm then turns downward to describe their current condition: “But You have rejected and humiliated us.” Their enemies trample them down. They suffer evil continually. The fault, they maintain, is not their own: “All this has happened to us, but we have not forgotten You or betrayed Your covenant.” Contrary to what God had promised to do for the faithful, God seems to have left them to their enemies. Yet, worshipers cry out for Yahweh to save Israel because of his steadfast love (חסד). They maintain that God is still the covenant keeper despite their feeling of abandonment! They found their hope for the future not in the present but in the past. No present situation diminishes God’s role as the One Who Keeps His Covenant.

Lastly, we should give some attention to God’s role as Redeemer. God’s strength is demonstrated by his acts in Creation and the successful execution of his will in this world. His faithfulness is demonstrated by the work he did on his people’s behalf in the past and present. These truths about God motivate the psalmists’ bold requests for help from Yahweh and establish their confidence in his salvation. Psalm 62 begins with:

I am at rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will never be shaken.

The psalmist asserts that his salvation comes from God alone.  No need to beg for mercy from the rich and power. No need to sacrifice to any other gods. God alone is sufficient. God will move on behalf of the faithful and cannot be stopped. Not all psalms are like psalm 61 in their expression of such confidence. Yet, even the ones that seem to end so bleakly, they always maintain hope for salvation in some way. Psalm 89 is a punch in the gut but still calls for Yahweh to remember them and manages to finish with: “May the LORD be praised forever. Amen and Amen.” If anyone has hope, may they hope in God. He alone is able to save even when our present is in ruin.

While the picture I have presented about God’s attributes in the psalms has come no where close to exhausting the material of the psalms, I hope that the picture I have presented is enough to begin to understand the attitude the psalms demand from people who make use of them in worship (whether by reading, praying, or singing).  The psalms are beautiful. The writers were masters of imagery and parallelism. They give expression to a great range of human emotion and experience. What I think makes the psalms majestic, however, is the fact that each psalm expresses the wonderful truth that such a great God would bend his ear to hear the cry of his people and answer.

**NOTE: I do not intend to limit the meaning of the psalms to a single writer. The poets and editors of the psalms intended that all people who sang these psalms as a part of their worship. In a more limited sense, the worshiper would understand meaning of the psalms in the light of their everyday life as well. Psalms 25 and 51 are examples of individualistic psalms which move from the individual to the corporate confession and praise in a couple of lines at the end of each psalm. These moves transform an individualistic prayer into an expression of corporate hope making these songs even more appropriate for use in worship and prayer. We would do best to remember this feature of the psalms when interpreting and applying them. The psalmists’ reflections on the character and roles of God embody not only their own cares and concerns but also those of the people who would sing and pray them in worship. In this way, they bend our twisted minds and attitudes back into proper shape: humans living as humans were made to live.

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