Thursday, June 20, 2013

Critics of a Lesser Mind

What are critical scholars, who tear apart the text into disparate fragments and postulate that they must have been written by diverse people, but people who don't know how to read literature?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Pentateuchal Framework and Christology of the Fourth Gospel

The interesting thing about the Gospel of John is that it presents Jesus as YHWH of the Pentateuch. It does not present Him as a different God, a kindlier, more accommodating God, than that of the Pentateuch, but rather the God of the Pentateuch, along with the Father and the Spirit.

Hence, it begins with the same words with which the Pentateuch begins: Ἐν ἀρχῇ "in the beginning" (both in Genesis and in John there is no article on ἀρχῇ).

We are then told that the Son is the one through whom all things were made, and that nothing was made apart from Him.

John uses a priority argument to say that the Son is the preexistent Logos upon which the Law is based, and so the Word of the Law is based upon the Word of God, the Son. The Law was revealed through Moses, but grace and truth, and the Father Himself, is revealed more fully through the Son. It is not that the text is contrasting the Law and the Word, therefore, but Moses and the Word, and the necessity of the Son, as YHWH, to put the Law in the context of what He now reveals.

We then see a discussion that presents John the Baptist,a prophet of prophets, and Elijah come again, as far below Christ.

In Chapter 2, Jesus turns water into wine as God turned the waters of Egypt into blood. Wine represents blood in the Gospel.

We then see Him on a mountain arguing for the Sinai Theology of the Pentateuch (a theology that runs throughout the Gospel of John) that it is not through a physical image, or in this case, place through which God is worshiped, but through Spirit and truth. Hence, God must be worshiped through His Word, and this is why Jesus is called the "Word" and His body is referred to as the temple back in Chapter 2. The tabernacle in the Pentateuch houses the 10 Commandments, the Law, i.e., that which represents in Second Temple Judaism the whole of the Word of God. Hence, as the tabernacle/moveable temple housed the word, the Son becoming flesh is referred to in Chapter 1 as the Word "tabernacling" among men.

We are told that He is like the serpent that is lifted up in the wilderness to heal those afflicted.

Christ then tells us that He has come to set the slaves free, but whoever the Son sets free will be absolutely free, not just in the physical sense, as were the slaves in Egypt.

He then tells us that He is the manna from heaven. And, unlike the manna that fell from heaven that only nourished people for a moment, He is the eternal manna.

He then tells the Jews that Moses would have believed in Him because he spoke of Him, a reference likely to all of the Pentateuch, not just a couple prophecies therein.

After this, Christ reveals Himself to have seen Abraham, the primary patriarch for Israel in the Pentateuch, and refers to Himself with the phrase, I AM, indicating, again, that He is YHWH of the Pentateuch, who spoke to Moses in the Wilderness.

The commandment to love one another, a commandment given in the Pentateuch, is emphasized as the great commandment Christ leaves His people, and one that must be obeyed by adhering to His words. By His words abiding in us, He abides in us. Hence, it is the words He speaks that are spirit and life, His words are eternal life, His words are the words of the Father and the Father's Word is truth that cleanses, the Spirit is the Spirit of truth and will speak and convict the world of Christ's words, etc. Hence, Pentateuchal theology and motifs are used to show that the Son is YHWH and He must be known through what He speaks, as YHWH must be worshiped through what He spoke in the Law.

So while Jesus reveals more to us, He does so for us to understand what He has already revealed, not as a way to negate what came before. He is YHWH of the Pentateuch, not a different religion. He is the Word that creates and gives life. The Father, who is God, testifies of Him and the Spirit, who is God, witnesses to Him. From before creation, in the beginning, to the miracles of Egypt, from the setting of the people free to the mountain and wilderness, and finally to the revealing of God through the Law, Jesus is YHWH come in the flesh, and unless we believe that He is I AM, we will die in our sins. But he who eats of this manna will never go hungry again.

Monday, June 17, 2013

But Who Is the Victim?

The key to reading biblical texts from the standpoint of the victim is identifying who the victim is. This comes down to believing or disbelieving the Bible. If we make the Bible's villains out to be the victims, we are merely choosing to side against the Word of God when it decides the identities of people.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Who Is My Neighbor?

I got into a small conversation (really not much of a conversation actually) at Justin Taylor's blog, challenging the unchallenged notion that Christians are to give their resources (mainly financial) to unbelievers.
Of course, Christians are to love unbelievers by giving them the spiritual resource of the gospel. Once they enter into the kingdom, they have access to its resources provided by its covenant members; but to do this beforehand is to convey to them a false gospel, much like not disciplining professed Christians in sin conveys a false gospel to them (i.e., you can still have the benefits of the kingdom without repentance and coming to obey the Son).

Perhaps, one of the most misused passages in the Bible is that of the parable of the Good Samaritan. This becomes a great lesson for us, however, in contrasting American folk religion with biblical Christianity, so let's look at the way the passage is sloppily understood by the social gospel that is so prevalent within our popular religion and then read the passage in context.

The passage appears in Luke 10:25-37:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’
And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  
Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The very first thing we need to note about the parable is that it is given in response to a question that asks, What should I do to inherit eternal life? Christ answers that one must love God with his whole being and his neighbor as himself. This leads the man to ask, Who is my neighbor?

So Jesus is identifying for this religious Jew, per a command given to the covenant people to love their neighbor, who the neighbor of the covenant individual is. In other words, this is asking who the neighbor of the believer is. It is not a general command to all people in the world, regardless of whether they are believers. 

The second thing we need to take note of, however, and probably the biggest slight of hand that our folk religion makes with this passage is that the question at the end of the parable is not whether the Jewish man who is hurt is the neighbor, and therefore, anyone in need is your neighbor, but rather which one of the passersby's is the hurt covenant member's neighbor. The answer isn't, EVERYONE!

Notice what Jesus says: So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The answer is that the Samaritan man is the neighbor. He proves himself to be a fellow believer. The priest and the Levite are not said to be neighbors. Instead, they prove themselves to be false believers. So the answer is not that everyone in need is your neighbor, nor is it that everyone is your neighbor. The answer is that those who have eternal life love God and their fellow believers and they prove themselves to be believers when they take care of other believers. That is a central message in Jesus' earthly teaching (indeed, even in His heavenly teaching through His apostles). 

So the passage itself is an argument that one needs to be concerned with being a neighbor to his fellow believers. The Samaritan is the only one who is. Hence, the only neighbor here is the Samaritan. The neighbor is not the hurt Jewish man. The neighbors are not the priest and the Levite. The neighbor to the covenant believer is the Samaritan. 

There is no way, therefore, to get from that that everyone in need is your neighbor, or everyone in general is your neighbor. This is, as is consistent in Jesus' message, the same thing that the Gospels have been teaching throughout: that true believers show themselves to be true believers by their love for God and one another. By this (i.e., your love for one another) you prove to be His disciples (John 13:34-35). It is by doing these things to the least of these brothers of His (Matt 10:42; 25; Luke 9:48). It is the seeing of your brother in need and giving to him that is the working out of our faith (James 2:14-17) and the manifestation of the love of God within the true believer (1 John 3:13-17).

Hence, one inherits eternal life through his relationship with God and His children, not through his relationship with the world. This text simply has nothing to do with unbelievers. Will proper contextual exegesis convince those entrenched in folk religion? Probably not. People still like to envision the angels singing to the shepherds long after they are told that the passage says nothing about that. The problem with the Good Samaritan passage is not only that it doesn't say what the social gospel wants it to say, but it actually says the exact opposite (i.e., that not everyone is a neighbor to the believer). There are a host of evils performed, however, in twisting this passage, and that is the truly sad thing about it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review of a Review of Revisiting the Days of Genesis in JESOT

The New JESOT is out and my book, Revisiting the Days of Genesis is reviewed in it by Sung J. Park, who I believe is an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I appreciate Park taking the time to review the book. However, there are some important clarifications needed in certain areas of my argument that I think he misunderstands (and, of course, it's always frustrating to be criticized for something that you're not even doing).

First, I just want to say that I did not follow Dr. Walton in his view of Genesis 1 as temple. A lot of people think this because my book came out after his first one. But I actually came to this conclusion independently of Walton. In fact, when I had read his commentary for NIVAC, where he merely mentioned the idea from Levenson and was clearly not developed, I approached him at a conference in (I believe it was) 2000 and said to him, "The key to Genesis 1 is the temple." And I encouraged him to pursue that. I'm sure he was doing that anyway, but my point is that I had already come to that conclusion from my thesis that was working in ancient Near Eastern creation texts and comparing them to Genesis 1. In fact, you can see that observation in my thesis. I was actually in the middle of writing my own book arguing for that very thing when Dr. Walton's book came out. That's why my chapter on Genesis 1 is so long, because it is simply that book edited down to a chapter, since I could no longer come out with a book arguing the same thing (of course, because I did develop it independently, I have some arguments for it that Dr. Walton did not use). Hence, the evidence that Genesis 1 is presented as a cosmic temple seems clear, as many scholars are coming to that conclusion, not because it is trendy, but because it's really there.

Second, the suggestion that I'm arguing that bdl refers to purification in Genesis 1, and therefore is applied to the same things, is not even close to what I am arguing. My only point, which is a minor argument in the host of other arguments made, is that priestly language is being used. I'm not saying it is applied the same way. Obviously ritual separation of something is different than separating the sea. How else would one incorporate priestly language in a temple context without applying it to the actual things created? So I think there is a confusion on Park's part concerning language and referent. I'm arguing the former not the latter with that specific word.
Furthermore, that the language of Genesis 1 is priestly is not really a disputed idea. If Park wants to dispute that, that's fine, but the point, once again, is not that the objects separated are the same, but the language used to speak about them is. By itself, this may mean little, but together with the cumulative case that I'm making (and that's how I'm arguing here), it becomes more solidified in my mind.

The biggest problem I have with the review, however, is that it says something about my methodology that is just plain false. He argues that I attempt to make a "one-to-one correspondence" between the OT texts and the ancient Near Eastern texts. I've done no such thing, nor have I ever thought that way.

He implies that I am arguing that the Bible corresponds, point for point, with ancient Near Eastern ideas, but that is not my argument at all. My argument is that all of the ancient Near Eastern presentations (including those found within the Hebrew Bible) stem from a generalized way of thinking about these issues. I don't believe the specifics are always the same. They sometimes are and sometimes are not. For instance, it is silly to suggest that the number seven means something different to the Israelites than it does to other ANE cultures. I go to great lengths to show that it is the same concept, but obviously, the temple in Genesis 1 is cosmic, not local, communicates the sovereignty and existence of one deity, not many, and defines chaos as having to do with mankind, rather than the gods. As Walton has convincingly argued, the cognitive environment, including the conceptualization of its language, is the same. Its theology and ethics are very different.

I further found the argument he gives that you usually have fire involved for purification to be odd. This simply ignores all of the biblical evidence I gave using the number and the purification of the altar that does not involve fire at all. Fire is used in certain texts, such as the Baal Cycle, as a representation of purification, not the standard context of purification. Ironically, that would be to make a one-to-one correspondence between the OT and ANE literature. For instance, blood sacrifice, not fire, over seven days, purifies the altar in Exodus 29. Solomon's temple, likewise, is purified twice, paired in two periods of seven days, by sacrifice, not fire.

Park, again, misconstrues my argument when he discusses my presenting the times as literarily symbolic. The numbers 7 and 40 seem clear enough, but I make it very clear that the 150 days of the deluge may be literal, or they may simply be numbers plugged into the text to keep the narrative moving. I don't say they are symbolic in the sense of referencing some specific concept, other than being representative of a time that the author does not know. My point is that the numbers thus far in the Primeval History have been symbolic, rather than literal, and hence, maybe these numbers are just plugged into the narrative as well to represent a time period of which the author is not aware, even though they are not referencing any conceptually symbolic idea. I argue that, as details of a speech is often plugged into a text when an author doesn't really know what was said in detail, so time periods may be plugged in for narrative purposes more than for the purpose of recording the literal time with mathematical certainty.

I try to make all of this clear (perhaps I failed to do so), and I realize that when one reads a book for review, he may not catch everything that is said, but these are huge chunks of my arguments that have been missed. A lot of material that supports all of my conclusions above are simply not mentioned at all. And that is probably my biggest issue with this review. It seems to nit-pick small issues that are clarified by a host of other supporting evidence that is never mentioned. My argument from bdl is misconstrued, but it is only one of a host of other points made to support the claim. The same goes for everything else I argued in the book. I realize in a review one wants to be critical, but it needs to be focused on whether the main point of the book is supported, even if you disagree with a few of the details.

I do thank Park for pointing out that there is still a typological error of the Hebrew on pg. 80, which I caught right after it was published and thought it was fixed. I'll have to email the publisher on that. It could be that he got an earlier copy that was not corrected as well. My typesetter worked hard to understand what the Hebrew looks like, but to anyone who is just learning Hebrew, the kaph and the beth look almost identical, so I don't fault her for that. The spacing was something we worked hard to rectify as well, but it was a difficult task and we did the best we could on that. As for the transliterations, I could have used some examples. The only inconsistencies I'm aware of is when I would quote other scholars who had other schemes of transliteration. But by the standards of quotations, one does not change the spelling of what is quoted. If there are any inconsistencies in my own scheme, it would be helpful to know it.

I'm not saying I don't appreciate the review, but I would have just appreciated it more if it was more careful with what I was actually arguing.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

There Is No Intellectual Problem with Biblical Christianity

Yep, that's what I said. I get tired of people suggesting that there is. It's ALWAYS, not just usually, but ALWAYS the case of a person suggesting this who doesn't understand how ultimate beliefs work.

The problem is a worldview conflict. The problem is in your necessary beliefs. Cognitive dissonance takes place when you hold secondary beliefs that are in conflict with your necessary beliefs (usually ingrained within you from early childhood on) concerning the nature of reality and what authorities have the ability to interpret that reality (which will also be determined by your ultimate beliefs concerning reality).

What happens is that most people, especially Westerners, hold all sorts of conflicting ideas because we pick up ideas from here and there from various places. This is even worse in a pluralistic, global atmosphere, where ideas are adopted as you were just looking for things that struck an emotional cord or thought were interesting, but have now treated ideas like an all-you-can-eat Vegas buffet. Forget the fact that chinese noodles don't really go with hot dogs in beans. Pile it on.

The problem, of course, usually occurs when one is confronted with his inconsistencies. This often happens in school or by reading a particular book or hearing lectures on the internet. It can also just occur by one's own growth in thinking about what he believes. This is where cognitive dissonance kicks in.

The individual now realizes that those secondary beliefs that are in conflict with his ultimate beliefs no longer make sense in light of them. He often doesn't realize that is what he is doing. Instead, he's largely ignorant of his ultimate beliefs and their absolute determination of what he views as viable in light of them. Instead, he'll often just pit secondary beliefs that stem from those ultimate beliefs that he now views as absolutely true against other secondary beliefs that do not stem from those ultimate beliefs, or are not compatible with them, in order to refute the validity of those secondary beliefs that cannot be true if his other set of secondary beliefs are true.

This happens a lot in religious circles in the West, simply because our primary religion is a secular humanism based in ultimate beliefs that are largely naturalistic (atheism, agnosticism, deism). That's why the academy (the Western tribal prophet) has convinced everyone that the closer your conclusions follow a naturalistic train of thought, the more it is you are doing true scholarship, coming to the objective truth of a matter (as if holding a legion of beliefs based upon an ultimate belief that is self refuting somehow gets you closer to truth, but it does get you closer to academic excellence in the cultic Western mind).

What then occurs is doubt and unbelief in those secondary beliefs. The individual, again, thinks that he is coming to see reality more clearly and that what he believed before can no longer be sustained within the framework of self evident truths (again, truths that are self-evident as long as you assume the ultimate belief system that supports them, but he doesn't usually realize this).

What you end up with is a bunch of people whining about how they need to reconfigure Christianity to make sense in light of those "truths," which is really nothing more than turning Christianity into a spiritual form of secular humanism that includes some sort of belief in a Jesus that is more accommodating to his ultimate beliefs that are largely in conflict with those the Bible would have given him.

This is what occurs in liberalism. This is why so many atheists are being made in our culture. I say this from an intellectual standpoint. The Bible is clear that God gives people who think they are wise in their worldviews, wiser than God's Word, to the foolishness of them, and hence, their minds are darkened. But from an intellectual standpoint, if one truly understands the nature of ultimate beliefs, he realizes that doubt and unbelief are not intellectual problems. They are epistemic problems. Ergo, there is no intellectual problem for Christianity. There is only an epistemic problem that will continue to create false Christians when they never realize that their beliefs and practices are based upon a belief system that is completely hostile toward Christianity, or apostates who think that they have jettisoned orthodox Christianity because they can't make sense of it as a viable belief system within the framework of what they "know to be true."

It's sad really. Not because they choose a different path, but because they don't know why they've chosen it. Indeed, they've been so deceived that they now think they could choose no other. In this way, their ultimate beliefs have not given them greater academic freedom, but an enslavement that has cut off all other choices but that which is either incoherent and mystical when they want to hang onto some form of Christianity or complete unbelief when they do not.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reading Scripture with Charity

Everyone wants to be read with charity these days, but no one wants to read the Bible with charity. I thought these words from Pinnock and Callen were appropriate.

Something needs to be said about the use of the Bible that is appropriate to the Scripture principle, about the preunderstanding that is the foundation of good hermeneutics. First, there should be a spirit of openness to the text. If the Bible is not merely a human product but is the Word of God, without exhausting that Word, then it follows that the believers will choose to accept the discipline of its teachings and seek to walk in the light of its statutes . . . The Bible, not merely a product of Near Eastern culture, is also the written Word of God and the canon of the church. Therefore, it ought to be approached in a spirit of faith, in the context of the believing community, and received as a reliable witness to God and his relationship with us. For the church to be apostolic means that it will live under the discipline of the normative Word of God.

This attitude brings one into conflict with the pretensions of much contemporary biblical criticism that often is suspicious of the text and prepared to overthrow it in the name of critical freedom. Criticism is faulty when it lords it over the text instead of submitting humbly to the text and serving it. It very easily becomes a technology of deconstruction that exalts the judgment of the scholar and demeans the authority of the Scriptures. Criticism is useful when it illumines the meaning of the Bible, and it is harmful when it seeks to overthrow what the text was given to tell us. No one can be wiser than the Bible, the book that owes its origin to the activity of God. As a divinely willed language deposit, the Scriptures are the place to stand in order to hear God speak and a central means of grace in the life of faith. They can be effective only when the reader approaches them in a spirit of openness and faith. The crucial things is a determination to know and love and serve God under the authority of his Word (The Scripture Principle, 91).

Parental Advice from the Puritans