Quick-Blog #13: Try Reading It Out Loud

Out LoudMy dad used to always tell me to try reading my papers out loud in high school in order to proof-read them. Sometimes hearing yourself say it helps you figure out what’s wrong with an awkward sentence, or figure out where a comma belongs. It’s advice I still try to follow today. Sometimes.

I was reminded of that little nugget of wisdom as I was reading R.T. France’s commentary on The Gospel of Mark. Scholars have remarked over the years on the inelegant and choppy style of Mark’s prose in comparison with the other Gospels. Mark has a lot of abrupt transitions and repetitive phrases, and the Greek is really, in many ways, elementary. For instance, if you’re familiar with the KJV translation, there’s a frequent use of the word “and”, that gets smoothed out in more recent, less literal renditions because of its seeming pointlessness. In the past this has served to sideline Mark as less sophisticated theologically or literarily.

France explains that recently it’s been noticed that Mark’s writing style probably served a different purpose, causing scholars to re-evaluate their earlier judgments:

It may seem obvious that a book is intended to be read. But modern scholars are apt to forget that in the ancient world not very many people could read. It has been recently estimated that literacy in the ancient Mediterranean world was ‘probably no more than 10 percent, although the figure may have risen to 15 or 20 percent in certain cities’. Unless Mark’s work was designed only for the benefit of the small minority who could read, he must have reckoned on its being experienced by most of his target group as an oral text, read aloud probably in meetings of the local church; E. Best describes it as ‘preaching’. Recent scholarship has increasingly recognized this factor, and it is relatively common these days to hear Mark discussed as an oral text, or at least as a text intended in part for oral presentation.

–The Gospel of Mark, pg. 9

France then goes on to point out how these for various features of the text mentioned above, as well as others, can be accounted for when taking into mind the aim of helping a hearer. Instead of Mark, the sub-literate writer, we are given Mark the master storyteller, Mark’s approach creates dramatic tension, is accessible to the largely uneducated 1st-Century congregation, and enables his hearers to keep the narrative in mind when there wasn’t a readily available text to flip back and forth to consult.

There are a lot of things that could be said about this little tidbit. I’ll limit myself to a two quick points:

  1. If you get bored reading the Bible, try reading some of it out loud. Most of it was written in an oral culture and was intended to be heard. Paul’s letters were supposed to be read to the congregations. The Psalms were read in worship. The Prophets consist largely of sermonic oratory. The point is, some of this stuff really sticks and shines when you hear it.
  2. Preachers, read the Bible our loud to your people in your sermons. They’re meant to hear it–large chunks of it. That’s where the liturgical churches get things right. It’s okay for your people to hear the Scriptures without you breaking down every detail of the grammar for them. Also, read them with passion. I heard Albert Tate speak up at Forest Home camp this last year with my college students and, aside from being a stud preacher, that man read the Scriptures like they meant something, not just as a set-up for his sermon. Often-times the it’s more important for your people to catch your attitude of reverence and passion about the Word, than your specific insights about it.

So, for what it’s worth: try reading it out loud.

Soli Deo Gloria

9 Reasons The Garden of Eden Was a Temple

the gardenG.K. Beale is a bit of an expert on the subject of the Temple in biblical theology. He did happen to write a whole book on it. Given that, it’s unsurprising that he devotes some space to exploring the significance of the Temple in NT theology in his recent New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New by sketching it’s structure and function in the OT. One of the more eye-opening claims he makes in this section is that the Bible pictures the Garden of Eden as the first Temple in the first creation. He gives 9 arguments/lines of reasoning for that point (pp. 617-621):

  1. In the later OT the Temple was the place of God’s special presence where he made himself known and felt to Israel. That is exactly how his walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden is depicted. (Gen. 3:8)
  2. Adam is placed in the garden to “cultivate (abad)” and “keep (samar)” it (Gen 2:15). The same two words are translated elsewhere “serve” and “guard”, and when they appear together, they are either referring to Israelites serving or obeying God’s word, or more usually, to the job of the priest in guarding and keeping the Temple. (Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 1 Chron. 23:32) Elsewhere Adam is portrayed dressed in the clothes of the high priest, functioning as a high priest. (Ezek 28:11-19; see Beale, pg. 618 on this for more argumentation.)
  3. The tree of life served as a model for the lampstand, which was clearly shaped as a tree, in the Temple.
  4. Israel’s later Temple was made with wood carvings of flowers, palm trees, etc. meant to recall Eden’s garden brilliance  (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35); pomegranates were also placed at the bottom of the two stone pillars in the Temple. (7:18-20)
  5. The entrance to the Temple was to the east, on a mountain facing Zion (Ex. 15:17), just as the end-time temple prophesied in Ezekiel is (40:2, 6; 43:12). Well, turns out the entrance to Eden was from the East (Gen. 3:24) and in some places pictured as being on a mountain. (Ezek. 28:14, 16)
  6. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the ark of the covenant both were accessed or touched only on pain of death. Also, both were sources of wisdom.
  7. Just as a river flowed out of Eden (Gen 2:10), so a river is supposed to flow out of the End-time Temple (Ezek 47:1-12; Rev. 21:1-2)
  8. This one requires some serious argument so I suggest you consult Beale directly here (pg. 620-621), but just as there was a tripartite sacred structure to the Temple, Beale discerns a tripartite structure to creation with Eden standing at the center as a Holy of Holies.
  9. Ezekiel 28:13-14 refers the Eden as “the holy mountain of God” which everywhere else in the OT is Temple and Tabernacle language.

I have not come even close to doing justice to the exegetical work Beale does in this section, nor in the aforementioned book on the subject. Still, this rough sketch should be enough to show that there is a substantial case to be made for understanding the Garden of Eden as the first Temple in biblical theology.

What does this matter you might ask? The theological implications are actually so massive that I can’t go into all of them. I’ll just bullet-point a few that could be teased out into blogs in their own right (probably books too):

  • Creation — Why did God create the world? To inhabit it and dwell with people.
  • Anthropology — If the Garden is the Temple, then Adam is a priest. That has implications for our idea of human purpose and our relation to the rest of creation.
  • Israel/Covenant — God sets apart a people of Tabernacle and Temple-makers, who take up Adam’s original commission.
  • Christology — When we start to realize that Christ is the greater Temple, fulfilling all that the Temple was supposed to be, as well as the true Adam, it starts to fill in the picture on the aim of Christ’s work.
  • Ecclesiology — It follows from our thinking about human purpose, and our idea of Christ’s work that our theology of the church will be impacted by this idea as well.
  • Eschatology — If our theology of creation is impacted, then so is our eschatology, because God will fulfill his purposes at the end of all things.

The list could go on and on and on, but you get my point.  The Garden was a Temple and that’s big.

Also, if nothing else, it’s just interesting for Bible nerds and that’s good enough, right?

Soli Deo Gloria

G.K. Beale on the Presence of a Covenant in Gen. 1-3

Alright, I finally cracked open G.K. Beale’s 962 page beast, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New.  It’s been staring at me, tempting me with it’s theological awesomeness, so I finally gave in. At about 60 pages in I can safely say this is going to be a watershed work in New Testament studies. Describing the project in a short blog-post while doing it any sort of justice is next to impossible, especially when you consider the fact that Beale’s own description takes him about 25 pages. Still, the title alone points us to fact that one of the main thrusts of Beale’s work is to show how the New Testament can only be understood as the unfolding of the grand story-line of the Old Testament.

In order to do so, he opens with a summary and theological analysis of that story-line, beginning with a focus on the first 3 chapters of Genesis. He pays special attention to Adam, the concept of the Image of God,  and the eschatological thrust of the creational command to “conquer and subdue” the earth and “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), themes of crucial importance for understanding the rest of the tension and story-line of the OT.

It’s at this point that I ran across a very helpful passage discussing the presence of a “covenant” in Gen 1-3. After some careful examination of the texts Beale notes that there are a number of considerations that point us to the idea that it is possible, indeed necessary, to speak of a “covenant” relationship between God and Adam in the Garden, despite the objection that the word “covenant” is not used in the passage. The passage is worth quoting at length here:

In light of these observations, we can speak of the prefall conditions as a “beginning first creation” and the yet-to-come escalated creation conditions to be a consummate “eschatologically” enhanced stage of final blessedness. The period leading up to the reception of these escalated conditions is the time when it would be decided whether Adam would obey or disobey. These escalated conditions indicate that Adam was in a covenant relationship with God. Although the word “covenant” is not used to describe the relationship between God and Adam, the concept of covenant is there. God chooses to initiate a relationship with Adam by imposing an obligation on him (Gen. 2:16-17). This obligation was part of the larger task with which Adam had been commissioned in Gen 1.:28: to “rule” and “subdue” creation and in the process to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Adam’s “ruling and subduing” commission included guarding the garden from any threat to its peaceful maintenance. In light of Gen. 2:16-17 and 3:22, Adam would receive irreversible blessings of eternal life on the condition of perfect faith and obedience, and he would receive the decisive curse of death if he was unfaithful and disobedient. Thus, the discernment of irreversible escalated creation conditions discussed above is the best argument for such a covenant notion.

Consequently, the argument that the word “covenant” is not used in Gen. 2-3 does not provide proof that there is not covenant relationship, just as Adam and Eve’s marriage relationship is not termed a “covenant” in Gen. 2:21-24 but expresses covenantal concepts and, in fact, is identified as a covenant elsewhere. Likewise, it is profitable that God’s covenant with Adam is referred to as a covenant elsewhere in the OT. The essential elements of a covenant are found in the Gen. 1-3 narrative: (1) two parties are named; (2) a condition of obedience is set forth; (3) a curse for transgression is threatened; (4) a clear implication of a blessing is promised for obedience. It could be objected that there is no reference to either party reaching a clear agreement or, especially, to Adam accepting the terms set forth in this so-called covenant. However, neither is this the case with Noah and Abraham, with whom God made explicit covenants. –A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, pp 442-43

Again, these conclusions come after a solid examination of the texts (pp. 30-41), and is followed by reinforcing argumentation (pp. 43-46). Still, I found this passage to be helpful in showing that to speak of God’s creational covenant with Adam, or a “covenant of works”, is not an obvious imposition of foreign concepts onto the text in order to fit it into a theological grid, as is so often charged.  Rather, something like this is positively required by a close, narratively-oriented reading of the text.

As I continue to dive into this ambitious, and already thoroughly rewarding work, I’m sure more excerpts and summaries will follow this.

Soli Deo Gloria

G.K. Beale on the difference between a “Literal” and a “Biblical” Hermeneutic of Old Testament Prophecies

G.K. Beale is quickly becoming one of my favorite New Testament interpreters. He has a long list of impressive works including authoring what is likely the new standard commentary on the book of Revelation, editing the New Testament Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, and delivering the recent tome that is A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. Needless to say based on the titles of these last two works, one of his specialties is the problem of the interpretation of the use of the Old Testament, especially prophecies, in the New Testament.

One of the main issues in this area of study is whether or not certain interpretations, both by the NT authors and their later commentators, seem to illegitimately “spiritualize” the fulfilment of a “literal” prophecy. Beale has a helpful passage on this very problem with respect to his interpretation of the Antichrist (“the man of lawlessness”) and the Temple in 2 Thessalonians in his work The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.  One of the central contentions of his book is that in the NT, the Temple is replaced by Christ and in Christ by the people of God.  Therefore, the reference to the Temple in 2 Thessalonians is a reference to the church. On this basis and many other exegetical insights he claims that the prophecies of Daniel being alluded to in the text about the man of lawlessness setting up his rule in the Temple are ultimately taking place in the Church, not in some reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem as is commonly thought in popular Dispensationalism.

Obviously, for those advocating a strictly “literal hermeneutic” this will be a hopelessly spiritualizing interpretation that violates the principle by which all Scripture is to be interpreted. His responses to this charge are instructive both for general biblical hermeneutics as well as the specific problem of prophecy:

First, a ‘literal hermeneutic’ is not the best way to describe a biblical hermeneutic. Perhaps a ‘literate hermeneutic’ that aspires to the broad literary meaning in the canonical context is the better way to put it. We should want to follow an interpretive method that aims to unravel the original intention of biblical authors, realizing that that intention may be multi-layered, without any layers contradicting the others. Such original intentions may have meaning more correspondent to physical reality (hence so-called ‘literal interpretation’) while others may refer to ‘literal’ spiritual realities…”

So, there is a difference between reading something “literally” and “literately”. Kevin Vanhoozer has elsewhere said that if we want to talk about what the Reformers meant, and we ought to mean, by the term “literal interpretation”, we should speak of a “literary interpretation.” Basically, if the author intended a statement to be taken as a straightforward description, “the tree is outside”, we should understand it that way. But, if the author says, “the tree was a skyscraper”, we shouldn’t understand him to be saying that the tree is actually “scraping” the sky.  So, if a text is meant to be taken spiritually, then to read it appropriately is to read it spiritually.

“Second, the progress of revelation certainly reveals expanded meanings of earlier biblical texts. Later biblical writers further interpret earlier biblical writings in ways that amplify earlier texts. These subsequent interpretations may formulate meanings that earlier authors may not have had in mind but which do not contravene their original, essential, organic meaning. This is to say that original meanings have ‘thick’ content and that original authors likely were not exhaustively aware of the full extent of that content. In this regard, fulfilment often ‘fleshes out’ prophecy with details of which even the prophet may not have been fully cognizant.” (pg. 289)

So, a prophecy about the Temple, the dwelling place of God on earth amongst his people, can ultimately fulfilled in the church, who are now the dwelling place of God on earth amongst his people. For a prophecy to be fulfilled this way is not disruptive or illegitimate because the essential, organic content of the prophecy is preserved and grows naturally out of the original. Beale uses the example of a father in the year 1900 promising to buy his son a horse and buggy when he gets married, but by the time the son has grown up 30 years later, he ends up buying him a Ford. (pg. 291) The essential content of the promise is fulfilled even if the form is somewhat altered in a way the original utterer of the promise was unaware of.

I found these insights helpful. I pass them on to you with the hope that they will aid in your understanding of the scriptures and the surprising way that all of God’s promises “find their Yes in him.” (2 Cor 1:20)

The Gospel According to Luther

So, another confession I have to make: Martin Luther’s a favorite of mine. So sue me, I’m a Protestant. He’s an atrociously flawed man, but the more I read him, the more I love him despite the flaws. He is easily one of my top 5 “Dead Guys I’d love to have a Beer with.”

Despite the fact that he’s been dead for over 500 years and he’s a favorite whipping boy in many wings of Biblical studies, he’s kind of a must-read for anyone trying to get a handle on the New Testament or the Gospel. This absolutely brilliant passage on the Gospel is one of the many reasons why:

One should thus realize that there is only one Gospel, but that it is described by many apostles. Every single epistle of Paul and of Peter, as well as the Acts of the Apostles by Luke, is a Gospel, even though they do not record all the works and words of Christ, but one is shorter and includes less than another. There is not one of the four major Gospels anyway that includes all the words and works of Christ; nor is this necessary. Gospel is and should be nothing else than a discourse or story about Christ, just as happens among men when one writes a book about a king or a prince, telling what he did, said, and suffered in his day. Such a story can be told in various ways; one spins it out, and the other is brief. Thus the Gospel is and should be nothing else than a chronicle, a story, a narrative about Christ, telling who he is, what he did, said, and suffered-a subject which one describes briefly, another more fully, one this way, another that way.

For at its briefest, the Gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as a Lord over all things. This much St. Paul takes in hand and spins out in his epistles. He bypasses all the miracles and incidents [in Christ’s ministry] which are set forth in the four Gospels, yet he includes the whole Gospel adequately and abundantly. This may be seen clearly and well in his greeting to the Romans [1:1-4], where he says what the Gospel is, and declares, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the Gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” etc.

There you have it. The Gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the Gospel in a nutshell. Just as there is no more than one Christ, so there is and may be no more than one Gospel….

– excerpt from Martin Luther, A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels’