Mere Fidelity: What is the Relationship Between Biblical Exegesis and Systematics?

Mere FiOver the last year or so, I’ve had to give some greater thought to the question of the relationship between biblical exegesis and the discipline of systematic theology. Questions about which discipline stands closer to the text. Or whether there is a relationship of logical priority or necessity. Which one needs the other and so forth.

Well, on this episode we take up the question and basically Alastair and I fight about it for a while, Matt asks very reasonable questions, and we all come to an agreement that I’m right. Or something like that.

Also, we have theme music now!

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Soli Deo Gloria

The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures ed. D.A. Carson

enduring authorityD.A. Carson has spent his career studying and teaching the Bible, with work spanning across a wide range of commentaries, monographs, and articles. He has also been defending its authority as Christian Scripture, God’s Word, for the whole of that time, with multiple individual works and co-edited monographs like Scripture and Truth Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon.

Well, he’s apparently not done, as earlier this year witnessed the release of his massive edited volume (1240 pages!) entitled The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures. Which makes sense given the reality that controversy surrounding the subject continues unabated. Indeed, it seems to only progress in the level of sophistication and the scope of issues involved.

To get the job done, Carson enlisted the talents of 37 different Evangelical scholars across a wide range of disciplines and competencies in order to critically examine and defend the “formal principle” of Evangelical Protestantism. Within its pages, you’ll find essays on key historical figures and periods (Calvin to Roman Catholicism), theological principles (accommodation and inerrancy), specific textual challenges (OT history & myth), and sundry other questions you may never have thought to ask. It’s really a stunning piece of work.

Now, I have to admit, I’m writing this quasi-review having only read a couple hundred pages of the work, as I have been slowly picking at it essay by essay. But since I wanted to make notice of it this year, I figure I’ll note some high points, how the volume can be used, and one gap I would have liked to see filled.

Fun Essays

I have to say, given my own interests of late, I’ve had a fun time cruising through the historical essays featured in this volume. This is especially the case since it’s so common nowadays to have criticisms of Evangelical views of Scripture’s authority, inerrancy, and so forth come in some version of the form, “Well, you know that the (Fathers, Medievals, X other communion) doesn’t look at Y (inerrancy, accommodation, authority) that way. It’s just those modernist Evangelicals (ie. your Sunday School teacher).”

For that reason, I found Charles Hill’s essay “‘The Truth Above All Demonstration’: Scripture in the Patristic Period to Augustine” well worth the time. He helpfully charts the views of authors East and West on various issues like inspiration, authority, and inerrancy, providing large quotes and contextualized discussions that hew away from simple cherry-picking.

Another gem in the historical section is Tony Lane’s essay on “Roman Catholic Views of Biblical Authority from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present.” What was so illuminating about the work was his demonstration of the clear doctrinal development that’s taken place over the last couple hundred years. While current, Post-Vatican II views are much more fluid, open to historical criticism, and so forth, statements from Trent, Vatican I, and earlier documents paint a different story. Pope Leo’s statement in Providentissimus Deus 1893 basically out-Warfields Warfield on inspiration and inerrancy, giving the lie that this is some uniquely Evangelical doctrine.

Of course, Kevin Vanhoozer’s got an essay in the mix, this time dealing with the controversial issue of doctrinal development. “May We Go Beyond What is Written After All?” This is a perennially relevant issue for Protestants who must think through what it means to be “biblical” in our theology, even while we acknowledge that key doctrines (Trinity, Chalcedonian two natures, etc.) are conceptual developments of biblical material, rather than direct quotes from Scripture. Plus, it’s Vanhoozer, so he always makes it fun.

I would go on, but I’ll just emphasize again that there are solid bunch of scholars covering a wide range of issues. Henri Blocher has an essay on dual authorship, both human and divine. Graham Cole reflects on the nature and arrangement of the canon. Bruce Waltke has an essay on myth and history (which should maybe be read in tandem with Glenn Sunshine’s essay on accommodation). Mark Thompson covers the clarity of Scripture. Craig Blomberg tackles Jesus’ use of the Old Testament. James Beilby has an essay on religious epistemology (and there are more in this section). The list just keeps going.

One Thing I’d Have Liked To Have Seen

When it comes to ecumenical discussions, Evangelicals have been typically concerned with two groups: liberals and Roman Catholics. And this book seems to have the issues raised by both covered fairly well. What we haven’t concerned ourselves with enough (in my humble opinion) is Eastern Orthodoxy. This is partly because of the little contact we have typically had with the tradition due to simple geography as well as formation of the Reformation tradition in the West.

Understandable as that is, I think this is a gap because Orthodoxy, first of all, is still a major theological tradition. Second, it has been slowly but surely been exerting greater theological influence worldwide and in the North American academy. It even seems to have a unique appeal for a certain type of younger Evangelical, especially once they encounter their somewhat distinct, non-Roman Catholic, yet non-Protestant position and critique of Protestant views of Sola Scriptura. A survey and analysis of Eastern Orthodox views of Scriptural authority, especially in relation to tradition, would have been helpful for remit of defending the “formal principle” of Evangelicalism as well as in filling out the already broad range of engagement.

That said, on the defensive end, a judicious study of the patristic essay, understanding the actual positions of the Reformers, the clarity of Scripture, doctrinal development, and so forth covers a good many of the issues.

How to Use the Book

Let’s be honest, the odds are that you’re not going to read the book cover to cover. This is so just because of the length as well as because some of the essays probably won’t strike you as immediately interesting. What I would recommend, then, is one of two things.

First, if you kind of already know some issues you’re interested in (say, Karl Barth’s view of Scripture), just cruise through the table of contents and read whatever you like.

If you’re not quite as sure, though, read Carson’s introductory essay (you should probably read it anyways), and then jump to the back. There you’ll find an article by Carson which basically summarizes a great deal of the content of the various essays in short responses to frequently asked questions and challenges. This is so helpful because (a) it’s a bit of a preview of what you’re getting, (b) you start to get a feel for where and when this sort of information is useful, and (c) they’re just good summaries that are immediately useful.

In sum, this is a magnificent piece of scholarship that I’m sure will be a great resource for pastors and scholars in the coming years.

Soli Deo Gloria 

Gandalf, Job, and the Indignant Love of God

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” (Job 38:1–3)

gandalf-job-and-the-indignant-love-of-god_350_233_90Easily one of the most bracing passages in Scripture, God’s words to Job are exhilarating in their majestically aggressive grandeur. After 36 chapters of divine silence in the face of Job’s comforters and Job’s passionate self-defense—indeed, his prosecution of God’s justice and character—the Holy One opens his mouth and reduces Job to stunned, repentant silence.

At first glance, of course, it’s easy to see these speeches simply as magnificent assertions of the Lord’s raw power over human puniness. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who determined its measurements—surely you know! What were you doing when I was pinning up the stars like twinkle lights, little fella?” It sounds like an old man putting a young buck in his place: “I was working this job before you were in your mama’s womb.”

God seems downright salty here.

You can read the rest of the article here at The Gospel Coalition.

Atoning for the Altar? Medieval Honor Culture and Leviticus

One of the oddest puzzles in the Law comes in the Day of Atonement ceremonies outlined in Leviticus 16. On this great and holy day, the sins of Israel accumulated throughout the year were cleansed and atoned for in the sacrifices offered up by the high priest in the Holy of Holies. There are a progressive series of sacrifices to be offered up for the high priest, his family, Israel as a whole, the mercy seat, the Tabernacle, and even the altar:

Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses…Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel. (Lev. 16:16, 18-19)

This may initially strike some of us as peculiar. We typically would think that persons needed to have their sins cleansed and expiated and taken away. But the Holy Place and the altar itself have committed no sins–they are inanimate objects–so why should they need atonement?

leviticus as lit pictureJewish scholar Jacob Milgrom has forwarded an influential theory about the contagion of impurity and sin that causes the uncleannesses of the people to sort of pile up throughout the year around the Holy places of the Tabernacle. Sin is brought in regularly and it also penetrates through, polluting the Holy places rendering it in need of cleansing if God is going to dwell in blessing with his people.

In her work Leviticus as Literature, Mary Douglas finds Milgrom’s work helpful, but she says it’s too materialist in its discussion the accumulation of sin and uncleanness. Instead, she draws some comparative work between the logic of impurity in Leviticus and the discourse of honor in European cultures connected to the virtue of women or the honor of a knight (146).

She notes that the Bible itself presupposes a patronal structure where the client is concerned for the honor of the patron. God is the covenant Lord who has brought separated Israel out from the nations and made it his own people (Ex. 19; Deut. 7:6-10)–they are holy to him.

Defilement as a violation of holiness is a particularly apt expression for an attack on the honour of God perceived as a feudal Lord. The word for holy has the sense of ‘consecrated’, ‘pledged’, ‘betrothed’, as ‘sacrosanct’ in modern English, something forbidden to others, not to be encroached upon, diluted, or attacked. (147)

The Lord has saved Israel into a special relationship of dependence, loyalty, and love. This means they are to be obedient to him and keeping from insulting his honor and glory.

“This power also protects his people or his things and places, and to insult any of them is an insult to his honour.”

Douglas sees this as key to understanding the logic of the defilement of the altar:

In the courts of chivalry a warrior would recognize that his armour is dishonoured if he himself is impeached: as well as his children, and father and mother, his helmet, his coat of arms, his house, all are tainted and made worthless by the contagious dishonour. Blood washes off the major taint, a noble gift cancels a minor fault. In the same way, bringing uncleanness into the Lord God’s sanctuary makes it impure since the place shares in the insult to God. (148)

Of course, I’m obviously delighted to see a 21st century, anthropologist partially vindicate St. Anselm’s appeal to the logic of feudal honor codes to explain atonement. But beyond that, I find the analogy intrinsically persuasive. There is a clear logic of moral identification at work throughout Scripture such that an attack on God’s things is an attack on God and vice versa.

Leviticus is different that many other books–even from it’s closest kin, Deuteronomy and Numbers–but it is not utterly divorced from their moral, covenantal universe. Cleansing the altar, then, is another way of recognizing and reinforcing the holiness, majesty, and glory of the God who has chosen to dwell with Israel.

Soli Deo Gloria

Should Adam Have Atoned for Eve?

mountain of the LordReflecting on the nature of sin and desire in his Confessions, St. Augustine speculated that Adam sinned alongside Eve out of the bonds of natural human love. Eve was tempted by the Serpent and fell out of a lack of knowledge, but Adam knowingly chose to go down with her, since he could not bear to be parted with her. Reading Augustine’s account, we’re immediately sympathetic, recognizing the force of our bonds of love, whether married or not. My wife is “flesh of my flesh”, how would I not be drawn in with her?

Which raises an interesting question: what should Adam have done? To choose any created thing over God is idolatry. But what could he have done differently? Cut himself off from her? Let her suffer judgment alone in devotion to God? That also seems problematic for different reasons. Or maybe just difficult.

In any case, L. Michael Morales has a fascinating little excursus on the subject in his new book Who Shall Ascend to the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of Leviticus.

But first, a word about the book. Leviticus is an oft-ignored book, shunted to the side in popular devotional reading and preaching largely because it appears to the book of arcane, pointless laws connected to the now-defunct sacrificial system. This is tragic because Leviticus is the heart of the first five books of the Bible and, in many ways, the heart of the story-line of the Bible.

Morales aims to open up the dense, confusing text by placing it in the broader story of the Scripture. Drawing on many of the advances in our study of the Ancient Near East as well as our undersanding of the narrative structure of Genesis, Exodus, and so forth, the sacrificial system of Leviticus stands as the answer to the question, “Who shall ascend to the Mountain of the Lord?” After our fall and expulsion from Eden and the presence of God, who will bring us back into his presence, into the House of the Lord? And how can we do so?

One of the key insights he builds on is the increasingly widespread recognition that there is a link between the Garden of Eden, the Mountain of God at Sinai, and the Tabernacle/Temple. Genesis 1-2, in differing ways, depict the creation of the world and especially the Garden as a cosmic house, the holy mountain where God himself intends to dwell. (I’ve listed 9 reasons the Garden was a Temple here).

In a sense, the two realities are mutually-informing. The Tabernacle and Temple both were to function as a renewed, miniature cosmos, with all kinds of creational imagery built into their structures. Much of the liturgy of the sacrificial system is aimed at restoring the relationship of worship and communion intended by God from the beginning. Honestly, I’m barely scratching the surface of all the various texts and theological problems this sheds light on.

Returning to the problem of Adam and Eve, one of the major takeaways from this recent Eden/Tabernacle connection is seeing the Priestly nature of Adam and the Adam-like nature of the High Priest. Humanity was created to be a priesthood within the Tabernacle of creation. The High Priest stands in the Tabernacle entering into the presence of God as a representative New Adam, of sorts, while the first Adam was an un-fallen high priest.

It is precisely here that Morales makes the suggestion that the text presents us with the possibility that Adam should have acted precisely as the priest he was, making atonement for Eve in his own self-sacrifice (181). While that can seem a bit speculative at first, Morales marshalls a number of arguments along that line, which I’ll briefly touch on.

First, Morales points out the priestly dimension to the reality of Adam and Eve’s “one-flesh” relationship. We have often missed how much of Genesis 2 points the priestly realities (gold, onyx, etc. are mentioned and just so happen to be material for the Tabernacle/Temple). Morales suggests that Adam naming the animals and recognizing that none are suitable helpers, none are ‘flesh of his flesh’, is at the heart of why it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats can take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). This is at the heart of the repetitive nature of the Levitical priesthood which only finds its fulfillment i Christ. But at that point, unfallen Adam is flesh of Eve’s flesh.

Second, the fact of the matter is that throughout the Torah the theme of sacrifice or the attempt to offer self-sacrifice by Adam-like figures is fairly frequent: Noah offering sacrifice after the ark, Abraham and Isaac, Judah’s offer to take the place of his brother Benjamin, or Moses offering himself up after the Golden Calf incident. It’s certainly not out of place in a literary sense, then, and theologically it’s certainly not (182).

Finally, there is the point we’ve already made: Adam is the “archetypal high priest” in the holy of Holies of the Garden of Eden. If not him, then who? Morales goes on to say, “arguably, the original audience would have readily seen Adam’s omission” (182). Indeed, given the fact that the Second Adam came to give himself for his bride (Eph. 5), is too wild to think this could have been an option for the First Adam?

I don’t know that I’m settled on this interpretation. I wonder about issues like Adam’s presence at the time of Eve’s temptation and sin. Or whether he was responsible for driving the Serpent from the Garden even before that. But the suggestion it’s fascinating nonetheless. I know I’ll be mulling it in the future.

In any case, I hope this has whet your appetite to pick up Morales’ book. It’s really a fantastic bit of biblical theology that’s illuminating, not only for the way you read Leviticus, but Genesis, Exodus, and the whole story-line of Scripture.

Soli Deo Gloria

Francis Turretin on Early Divine Christology

Francis-TurretinTheology is a historical practice. We’ve been reading the Bible and thinking about it for a long time. While that doesn’t entirely rule out advances, it does mean we shouldn’t be so surprised when we find that some of our modern studies (biblical, systematic, and practical) are at times only catching up or reworking old variations on a theme that’s been played throughout the history of the church. I’ve said something like this before, but I’ve been reminded of it recently with the recent works on Christology (teaching about Christ) in New Testament studies I’ve been digging into lately.

Scholars like Chris Tilling, Richard Bauckham, Crispin Fletcher-Louis, Larry Hurtado, and others have bee mounting a case in that earliest Christology we have (in the New Testament documents) is a divine Christology. Unlike so many liberal scholars have thought, it’s not a matter of slow development moving from “low” to “high”, but that Paul, John, and the other apostles were already up in the nosebleed section of Christology, so to speak. They all are moving along a certain trajectory, focusing on the way the New Testament either ascribes worship to Jesus as only God should, has him doing the things only God in the OT did, receives the Name that God alone has, and so forth.

All of this reminded of Francis Turretin’s defense of the deity of the Son against the Socinian heretics in the 17th century in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Third Topic, question 28, paragraph V.:

That the Son is true God, both consubstantial and eternal with the Father, these four things ascribed to him (and belonging to God alone) invincibly prove: (1) the names of God; (2) the attributes of God; (3) the works of God; (4) the worship due to God.

And from there he goes on in precise, compact, scholastic manner to show the various names, works, attributes, and worship that are ascribe to God in the Old Testament being given to the Son in the New.

Now, of course, Turretin is not doing all of the careful work comparing the New Testament texts with parallels in 2nd Temple Judaism, nor are there extensive studies in the Greek (though he does treat a number of text-critical issues). What’s more, certain specific texts, we might want to read differently in light of recent work (like the fact the Son of Man is more of an exalted, divine title, and the Son of God, more of a royal, human, kingly one). The structure and much of the basic argumentation present in modern, New Testament studies is there all the same, though.

So, long before Richard Bauckham suggested we consider the divine identity in terms of the God-world relation, or the narrative history of God’s mighty acts, Turretin argued that the ascription of divine works to Christ (creation, redemption, etc), should be seen as proof of the deity of the Son.  Indeed, some of Turretin’s work on the issue of Christ sharing divine attributes seems to be underplayed in contemporary scene. Do a little digging in contemporary works on the 2nd Temple period and you’re well on your way to opening up a new line of inquiry in Christology.

Among other things, this is one of those reasons I’m grateful for the increasing attention certain biblical scholars and theologians are paying to the reception history and historical theology. We have nothing to lose in drawing on the exegetical and theological insights of our forebears and everything to gain.

Soli Deo Gloria

Spotting Jesus as God in 1 Corinthans 10

divine ChristologyLast year I had the privilege of studying 1 Corinthians with my college students, or, as I like to call it, “The Book of Very Hard Sermons.” Among the most difficult and rich texts to preach from is chapter 10, where Paul is wrapping up a lengthy discussion about whether church members ought to grab a bite to eat with their pagan neighbors at the local temples. While I knew the passage had fascinating and challenging implications for issues like the sacraments (10:1-5, 14-22), temptation (10:6-13), other religions (10:14-22),  and Christian liberty (10:23-32), I hadn’t fully grasped their relevance for the issue of Christology in the New Testament.

Enter Chris Tilling’s fantastic, recent work Paul’s Divine Christology. For those of you who have been reading lately, Christology has come up a bit this year, both in relation to Crispin Fletcher-Louis’ recent Jesus Monotheism and Wesley Hill’s Paul and the Trinity. Both figures have been contributing to the recent discussion initiated by Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and others around the way the New Testament authors viewed Christ as central to the “divine identity.” While Fletcher-Louis’ and Hill’s contribution have been quite stimulating, I’m so glad to have found Tilling’s work because he adds a helpful, quite expansive dimension to conversation.

To recap, Hurtado has argued that it’s clear on the basis of the “pattern of devotion”, prayer, worship, etc. witnessed in the New Testament, that Jesus Christ was worshipped as God. Bauckham has argued that Jesus is included in the divine identity in the New Testament because he is depicted as having the relationship to the world (creator, redeemer, etc) that Jewish monotheism only reserved for God. Much of the debate around their thesis then becomes an issue of whether or not you can spot similar devotional patterns of worship, or a fuzziness in monotheistic theology of 2nd Temple Jewish texts, with various intermediaries. Tilling argues that one missing dimension in the discussion is a focus on the way that Paul explicitly depicts the believer’s relationship to Christ in the same fashion that the Old Testament does that between and God.

Tilling points out, as many others have, that the distinctive feature of Jewish monotheism wasn’t primarily a metaphysic, but a covenantal relation. YWHW is Israel’s God and Israel is YHWH’s people. That’s the heart of the 10 Commandments, the covenant as a whole, and the chief confession of the people of God in the OT, the Shema (plus a verse):

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

This “relational monotheism”, the sort of relationship that has love, fidelity, devotion, and jealousy as correlates, is what it means for Israel to worship one God. So, alongside all the key texts that link Christ with statements of pre-existence, deity, creative power, and so forth, Tilling says we’ve missed the heart (or at least a key dimension) to Paul’s very divine Christology if we don’t analyze the believer’s relationship with Christ as part of the evidence.

It’s not for nothing, then, that he begins his case by using 1 Corinthians 8:1-7 to kick off his study. It contains the key verse, 8:6, in which Paul splits up the Shema to include Jesus in the confession of Israel’s God:

For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:5-6)

While other scholars have noted the importance of those verses (and spilled a great deal of ink doing so), Tilling points out that really, the whole section of 1 Corinthians 8-10 is framed in terms of the proper worship, love, and knowledge of God (8:1-3). Paul is challenging the Corinthian believer’s appeal to freedom and knowledge to eat idol meat, to consider the implication it has for their relationship with Christ in ways that are only suited for Israel’s God. What is need is a “relational hermeneutic” (87), to properly see the way Paul’s argument progresses.

Now, I can’t summarize or reproduce his argument here, in full, but I did want to highlight a few exegetical nuggets on along these lines.

First, there’s the rather curious line about the way going to eat Temple meat and wounding your brother’s conscience is a “sin against Christ” (8:12). At first, it seems like the point is that by sinning against your brother, you’re sinning against Christ, because you’re sinning against the body of Christ. But Tilling points out (among a number of other things), that if that’s what Paul meant, he could have said so explicitly as he does elsewhere (1 Corinthians 10:9, 22). Instead, it seems appropriate the read the relationship more directly as an example of Paul treating Christ as God. Much as David confesses that his sin with Bathsheba against Uriah is directly against God (Ps. 51), Paul’s “simple and natural reflex” was to see this sin against a brother as directly against Christ (94).

Jumping ahead to chapter 10, in his warning against idolatry, Paul cites a gnarly string of Old Testament narratives where YHWH judges the Israelites, ‘our ancestors’ in the faith (10:1-5), for various sins such as idolatry, sexual immorality, grumbling, testing the Lord, etc (10:6-10).  What’s fascinating about these texts where Paul says, “we must not sorely test Christ, as some of them did” (10:9), is that here, “Paul…associates the relation between Israel and YHWH in the Pentateuchal narratives with the relation between the risen Lord and believers in Corinth” (96).

Continuing on, the same relation can be seen in Paul’s warnings about drinking from the cup of Christ and the cup of demons (10:14-22). In these verses, Paul is explicitly identifying  eating meat in the pagan temples with idolatry and urging them to stay away from it (10:14). Why? Because even if there is no real “god” behind it, these meals are still communion meals, acts of “participation.” It’s an act of devotion that in the Old Testament was reserved for the Israelite and YHWH in the feasts and Temple cult. And yet, here we have Paul speaking not of the cup of “God”, but instead warning:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:21)

Just as the Israelites were not supposed to provoke God by worshipping other gods, Christians should not “provoke the Lord to jealousy” (10:22), by trying to have it both ways. “Koinonia with respect to Christ…becomes the expression of covenant loyalty, of monotheistic loyalty without idolatry” (100).

Again, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Tilling’s argument (I’m only halfway through the book), but as the kids say, “what has been seen cannot be unseen.” Indeed, once you get a grip on Tilling’s basic argument, it becomes rather intuitive to begin to see it all over the place in Paul. And it seems that’s rather the point. Paul’s divine Christology is not only an affair of key, isolated proof-texts (as helpful as some of those are), but rather form the warp and woof of his whole thought.

Soli Deo Gloria