September 10, 2012 by Jason Hood
Yes, I’m that species of dinosaur that thinks Moses might have had something to do with Genesis. (Footnotes: I’m not aware of an evangelical scholar who believes in “plenary” Mosaic authorship; everyone acknowledges the possibility of added editorial comments and updated language, not to mention the fact that Moses probably didn’t write about his own death. I’d wager that these stories were transmitted orally well before they were written. And people aren’t going to hell over whether these stories come from Moses or not.)
Rather than argue the case, let me show how Mosaic authorship can lead to an appreciation of the Mosaic agenda…which leads straight to killer NT application. We don’t have time for the whole text, so I’ll limit the discussion to the patriarchal narratives. And even here, we only have time to be partial in our description.
Genesis 11:31-32 The first generation stops along the way and fails to make it all the way to Canaan. That sounds vaguely familiar! Then in Genesis 12 God makes promises to a man who can’t accomplish them ( I will make of you a great nation…I will give you Land I will show you). God promises and then provides offspring and land miraculously, just as he does for the Israelites in Exodus 1 and Joshua. After 12:10, Abraham goes down to Egypt because of a famine. Like Moses, Sarai joins the royal court, then leaves it, just as Moses will centuries later. They return from Egypt after the Egyptians voluntarily give them riches, just as his descendants would do centuries later. And how does God facilitate the exodus (I can’t resist) from Egypt they didn’t earn? Genesis 12:17 has the answer. Boom go the intertextual connections.
A number of passages like chapters 13–14, 18, 36, etc., tell us about Abraham (Israel) and his (their) neighbors. The Canaanites are incredibly wicked, and God will work miraculously to bring judgment on them if they don’t repent, and if no righteous are found among them. Those who want to be righteous shouldn’t settle in their cities, as Lot and family illustrate; nor should the children of Abraham marry the children of Canaan, as Esau and Judah demonstrate. But other neighbors are to be respected and helped. Israel should strive for good relationships and shalom, not hostility.
The stories of Jacob and Esau, Jacob and Joseph’s brothers, Abraham and Lot, and Abraham with Melchizedek and Abimelech show us how Israel can expect to relate to its neighbors. For instance, Edom comes in for so much criticism in Torah and the Prophets because they’ve opposed and failed to help a brother (see especially Numbers 20, which shows how things should work in theory, and how they worked out in practice; Obadiah 10; Psalm 83; Amos 1:11). This interest in neighbors helps explain why we need an entire genealogy of Esau (Genesis 36).
So among other points:
“Genesis is surely suggesting to its readers that they too should forgive even their long-term enemies, if they show sincere contrition . . . . Thus Genesis is not simply a justification for Israel’s occupation of Canaan, it embodies a practical appeal as well. It urges brothers to make peace with each other and forgive past wrongs. It insists that Israelites should live peaceably with their relatives, with fellow countrymen of different ethnic origins, and implies that as a nation it should not be afraid to make agreements with surrounding nations when they seek peace” (Gordon Wenham, Story as Torah, 38-39)
It’s not hard to draw comparisons to the NT teaching on dealing with the family of faith and outsiders.
In Genesis 28 – 32, Jacob finds blessing despite being outside the land and “under threat”; like Isaac and unlike Esau and Judah, he marries within the family rather than with Canaanites. Moreover, Abraham and family are shepherds, not “city people,” a theme that becomes important for describing the relationship between Egyptians and Israelites (46:24 makes this clear). At the end of Genesis 34, Jacob is in fear of the inhabitants of the land. But he doesn’t need to be afraid. 35:1-5 shows that when his family consecrated themselves to YHWH, put away their idols, and trusted and obeyed YHWH, the Canaanite city folk were struck with fear. Again, all that should sound familiar to readers familiar with the rest of the Torah.
Genesis 37 – 50. Again, Israel goes down into Egypt because of famine…but isn’t supposed to stay there. The redeemer is an Israelite in Pharaoh’s courts. These stories give Israel a picture of tribal relationships—leadership roles belong to Judah (Caleb, later David) and Joseph (Ephraim/Manasseh, Joshua). And leadership is typified by wisdom (Joseph) and by laying one’s life on the line for the brothers (Judah; for more on this, see these posts on Judah).
And we haven’t even mentioned YHWH showing up as smoke and fire (Gen 15:17).
So here’s the thesis. Moses wrote Genesis not only to inform Israel of their origins, but to get them to see that Canaan, not Egypt, was their homeland, and to give them guidance for life in the land as one big family under covenant with YHWH, with distant relatives around them and enemies among them.
And as we read Hebrews 3-4 and 11:8-16, it becomes clear that the NT thinks this message matters to us. After all, we’re on the way out of slavery into the promised land of New Creation.
And we’d better not turn back, because Joshua has already secured our victory.13 Comments
August 8, 2012 by Jason Hood
Friend of SAET Jonathan Pennington has a new textbook coming out on the gospels: Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, coming in October 2012 from Baker Academic. I recently asked him a few questions about this work and his approach to the gospels. (For more on the book, including killer video introductions, see the book’s website.)
(1) You’ve been teaching gospels for how long now? What are some of the key elements you want students to take into the pastorate?
I’ve been teaching from the Gospels at several levels for about ten years now – everything from church seminars to Greek Exegesis of Matthew, from Sunday preaching to NT Survey courses.
I want my students and all readers of this book to grow in their love for the theological and literary depth and beauty of the Gospels – and of course, for the Subject of their narrative. I want students to learn how to read narrative texts well and how to apply the narrative portions of Holy Scripture theologically and personally. Most importantly, I want to see the Church rediscover the central role that the Gospels can and should play in all our teaching and preaching.
(2) I still have your ground-breaking dissertation, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (click the title for an impressive slate of reviews) on my desk for fast reference. What’s the connection between that work and this present work? Obviously one is a dissertation, the other a textbook; but are there links would someone see and identify as the seedbed of the “Pennington” school of thought?
Very funny and rather scary idea that there would ever be a “Pennington school of thought”! But it is a good question about what connections there are between my earlier work on Matthew and Reading the Gospels Wisely. The biggest difference is that RGW is written as a rather far-reaching, supplement textbook on how to read the Gospels overall.
There is a similarity in approach in that I still primarily read the Gospels through a literary and theological lens; this is evident in both books. But while Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew makes a sustained argument for the existence of a particular literary theme in Matthew, RGW covers a range of hermeneutical, historical, and theological issues concerning all the Gospels. In many ways it is really an ecclesial hermeneutics book for the Gospels.
(3) Your promotional video has a bit of a provocative edge to it, pushing back against “small” gospel. How do you situate your book with respect to the wider conversation in evangelicalism on the definition of the gospel? How does your experience as a professor of the gospels shape your definition of the gospel?
Yes, I suppose there is a bit of an edge in that video, but I hope a nice, smooth edge, not a jagged one! Though the scope of RGW is much wider than the issue of how to define the “gospel,” I do address this issue in the first couple of chapters and I do care about this important current discussion.
My study throughout the years has convinced me that the Gospels – intertextually rehashing Isaiah in particular – help us see that the “euangelion” (good news) of the Bible is the message of God returning to restore his reign. It is, to use Matthew’s unique phrase, “the gospel of the kingdom” (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). The shorthand version is that the gospel message of Scripture is the story of God’s reign coming from heaven to earth, from creation to new creation, centered in Jesus the Christ. There is no place in Holy Scripture where this is more clearly or fully developed than in the fourfold Gospel book.
Stay tuned for part two of the interview, coming tomorrow.1 Comment
May 2, 2012 by Jason Hood
Reflecting earlier this week on Lewis and Aslan and the Stone Table, I wound up tweeting, “It’s never dawned on me before today: Aslan’s stone *table* is a eucharistic thing (Low church = slow church I guess).” This garnered some discussion on my FB page. Some pointed out other ways in which the “table” should be interpreted, perhaps implying that more than one allusion wasn’t possible.
But “pictures are worth a thousand words,” not least because they can unveil more than one dimension. It’s often difficult for contemporary people to think or read in “layers,” and we must guard against “over-reading,” but Scripture (and Lewis) are probably best appreciated in this way.
This Sunday evening I’ll be preaching on Matt 28:16-20, which possesses not so much one OT allusion as a whole network of passages and concepts (Gen 1:26-28; 12:1ff; 49:8-10; Dan 7; etc.), in so doing providing a fitting conclusion to the OT story (1:1-17), of which the expanding reign of King Jesus is a great new stage.
I’d say that Lewis was probably also interested in multiple allusions. Clearly Lewis is interested in the destruction-fulfillment of Law in death, and the stone-as-Mosaic-law being broken. I think it’s possible that, in the midst of that allusion, he mentions table and in so doing doubles down on allusions. I find it hard to imagine that a high-church Anglican like Lewis would miss the chance to create a eucharistic association between table and sacrifice.
(Richard Hays has noted some “guidelines” for determining the likelihood of allusions, so as to limit the tendency to read allusions into a text which an author did not intend. In this instance, a google books search shows that Paul Ford and Bruce Edwards have also proposed the association; I am unaware of any “table of the law” theme in Lewis that would otherwise account for the use of the word “table”; he was “high church” Anglican; he is elsewhere interested in Eucharistic imagery; etc.)
April 23, 2012 by Jason Hood
One of the leading arguments for acceptance of alternative sexualities is the argument from trajectory: later parts of the biblical story overturn earlier pieces as the Spirit speaks to the church (“continuing revelation”). For example, the Ethiopian eunuch would once have been excluded (for race, sexual abnormality, etc), but now he is included. The early church had to discern by the Spirit the temporal nature of the Law (Acts 15), so that circumcision, diet, calendar and like legislation were no longer determinative.
In the same way, some are arguing, we need to hear the Spirit’s voice guiding us into a new dawn where we can accept…well, it depends on who is speaking…some want us to accept merely gay covenant relationships,while the majority want us to accept gay, bisexual, and gender-change, or serial monogamy, and the discouragement of fidelity/chastity for young people. (And we could–and some would say should, and I can’t see a logical argument against this on the logic of progressive sexuality–add polygamist and other sexual practices and approaches to sexuality.)
I can’t fully engage this argument at the moment, it’s a big hermeneutical issue (see William Webb, discussed here by Hiestand), but here are a few thoughts. Apart from other weaknesses, this approach presupposes that the Story itself has elements that are a problem to be overcome. But the weaknesses actually belong to the human condition, not the Story (which may stoop to address us as we are, but never leaves us as we are).
After all, the Ethiopian eunuch no doubt read this passage:
For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:4-5)
Paul and others appeal to “one family” language that undergirds the removal of laws that divide, and the pre-circumcision status of Abraham as justified, so that what God began with all humanity Adam is beginning to come true in the Last Adam, and one can be right before God without the marks of Torah.
From such vantage points the problem is not the Redemption Story but our own brokenness, rebellion, and uncleanness. According to the NT there are two determinative points about the story of sexuality:
(1) the Story is grounded in Genesis: one man, one woman (Matt 19:8).
(2) The story ends not with sex, but with the union to which sex points (Matt 22:30; Eph 5:25-32, Rev 21:2).
Sexual desires (whether heterosexual, same-sex, or other) will never have the last word over our identity and destiny, unless we rebel and make it so. Then our sexuality belongs not to the apex of redemption, but the nadir of tragedy.2 Comments
November 24, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
I’ve been writing an essay on premarital sexual ethics, and have been interacting with William Webb’s book, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. Below is copy from the paper…
Webb’s hermeneutic, like Christian Smith’s, is concerned with navigating between the world of the Bible and our own. Key to Webb’s thesis is the idea that we must observe the “movement” of the biblical text as it relates to its host culture. In some cases (e.g., slavery) the Bible represents movement away from the host culture toward a more generous ethic. In other cases (e.g., homosexuality) the Bible moves away from the host culture toward a more restrictive ethic. This “movement” of the Bible in relation to the host culture helps us discern the spirit of the text with a view to application in our contemporary context. When we see the Bible adopting a consistent posture toward the culture on a given topic, we appropriately project and apply this posture in our current context. Webb ultimately concludes in his book that the movement of Scripture as it relates to homosexuality is consistently restrictive, thus we should not attempt to override this movement in our contemporary context. The Bible’s stance on slavery and women, however, suggests the opposite. Webb notes that the Bible consistently adopts a more generous posture than the host culture on both of these issues, and thus the spirit of the Bible is in favor of abolition and egalitarianism.
While I appreciate Webb’s focus on the movement of the biblical text, I find his overall approach unsatisfying. Webb (not unlike Smith) asks us to consider the possibility that Scripture is pointing to an “ultimate ethic” beyond the pages of Scripture. “What we should live out in our modern culture…is not the isolated words of the text, but the redemptive spirit that the text reflects as read against the its original culture…As Christians we should be very careful not to become gridlocked with the isolated words of the text so that we miss reapplying the redemptive spirit that produced the text in the first place” (33). Thus for Webb, in many instances we will need to “move beyond” the teaching of the Bible and develop an ultimate ethic that captures the “spirit” of the original text. He feels this needs to happen for both slaves and women.
Webb is to be commended for grappling with the difficult reality that the Bible’s ethic (particularly as it relates to the Torah’s statements about women, slavery, war, etc.) often seems less judicious than that of contemporary society. But Webb’s methodology of moving beyond the text is ultimately unnecessary as a means of redressing the Bible’s more difficult aspects. Webb does not sufficiently consider how the “intra-canonical” movement of the Bible (explicated in well-formed biblical theology) can provide an “ultimate” ethic without moving beyond the pages of Scripture.
For an extended critique along these lines, see Thomas Schreiner, “William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: A Review Article,” SBJT 6 (2002): 46-64. Schreiner observes, “[Webb] does not clearly explain the salvation historical character of the scriptures in which the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the climax and fulfillment of all of redemptive history…. many of the cultural examples cited by Webb can be solved rather easily once we have a grasp of redemptive history.” (54). For alternative methodologies that demonstrate sensitivity to the “intra-canonical” movement of Scripture, see Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine, and N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1992), 121-44.6 Comments
October 27, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
(From a paper I’m writing on sexual ethics. If you’ve read Smith’s book, I’m interested in your thoughts.)
For many, biblicism is nothing more than a naïve, acultural application of the Bible. Fair enough. We should all work to avoid that sort of biblicism. But for Christian Smith, biblicism, it seems, occurs any time we ask the Bible to do anything other than witness to Christ. One is left with the strong impression that for Smith, the problem is not simply naïve application, but application itself.
For Smith, the mere fact that Christian publishers are selling books on marriage, finances, and racism is sufficient evidence that biblicism is alive and well (The Bible Made Impossible, 110). The Bible has not been given to us to tell us how to behave, Smith argues, but rather to point us to Christ (109-11).
“It may be not only that God, in giving us the Bible, does not intend through it to inform us about topics like biblical cooking and stress management. It also may be that God does not even intend the Bible to provide us with direct, specific, “nonnegotiable” instructions about things like church polity and government, the “end times,” the ethics of war, divine foreknowledge, the “scientific” aspects of the Genesis creation, the correct modes of baptism, proper elements of correct Christian worship, the exact nature of sanctification, or the destiny of the unevangelised. Perhaps by making the Bible provide us specific, definite answers to such matters we are forcing the Bible to be something quite other than what it intends to be: a witness to Jesus Christ and the gospel of salvation from sin. . . . Further, perhaps God wants us to figure out how Christians should think well about things like war, wealth, and sanctification by thinking christologically about them, more than by simply piecing together this and that verse of scripture…” (112-13).
Smith’s “Christocentric” hermeneutic, while offering a helpful resource for biblical interpretation, need not be viewed as an either/or alternative to traditional evangelical readings of the Bible. Christ has not come simply to save us from our sins, but also to teach us what it means to be truly human here in this world—and the Church has rightly looked to the Scriptures for information about what tangible shape that must (and must not) take. Certainly Smith is correct that there are many things in Scripture of which God has not given us the full picture (e.g., the end times). But when it comes to subjects that the Bible does indeed address directly (wealth, sexuality, family, etc.), Smith seems to suggest that even here we should not look to the Bible for direct guidance. Remarkably even the (overly) culturally sensitive methodology of William Webb would fall under Smith’s critique, in as much as Webb very much intends to use the Bible as a source of authority for application.
The implicit takeaway from Smith’s project is not simply that we should avoid trying to make the Bible speak to issues it doesn’t directly address, but even more radically, that we avoid trying to make the Bible do anything other than witness to Christ. For Smith, the Bible teaches us about Christ, and we are then to use that vision of Christ to think about everything else.
Those looking to put space between the indicatives of Scripture and their contemporary application will find Smith’s proposal attractive. But in my estimation, Smith’s hyperbolic fear of biblicism truncates the Bible’s capacity to speak definitively and objectively about ethics and morality–something the church sorely needs today.3 Comments
August 4, 2011 by Jason Hood
Pop quiz (as a former schoolteacher, I can’t help myself): which statement is true?
(A) Preachers, teachers, and individuals readers should use God’s redemptive actions (even supernatural miracles) to teach and learn about extending grace and mercy to others.
(B) It cheapens God’s great miraculous acts when we use them to inspire our not-so-miraculous works.
I suppose both of these could be true at times; they are not entirely opposites. But for those who answered (B), it is important to remember how Paul encourages “natural” generosity in 2 Corinthians. He spends two chapters on his fundraising for the poor in Judea, using the supernatural of Jesus as a model along the way (8:9). Somewhere in the middle of the spurring and arm-twisting, a second supernatural event becomes a model:
“As a matter of fairness [are my kids right after all?] your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’”
The last sentence is a quotation from Exodus 16, a description of the perfectly equitable conditions that existed when God provided manna. God’s miraculous provision for his people leads is being used to guide his people’s approach to generosity.
God’s perfect provision becomes a goal for the covenant community, across continental and ethnic boundaries, and essentially across denominational lines as well, given that the Jewish Christian recipients of this gift kept Torah. Many early Christians took the objective of “fairness” or “equality” seriously and used their abundance to meet the needs of their brothers and sisters.
We may not part the Red Sea, we may not die for sinners, but we can respond to divine generosity with generosity. And God will get the praise and credit, just as he did on the Canaan-side of Egypt. Paraphrasing 2 Cor 9:13:
Because of the service by which you have proved the authenticity of your love (see 2 Cor 8:8), others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and your koinonia-style generosity for them and all others.
October 6, 2010 by Matthew Mason
Mark Thompson’s essay on Barth’s doctrine of Scripture (in Engaging with Barth), strikes a very happy balance between firm critique and genuine appreciation. The following comment stood out to me as a place where Barth can reorient evangelicals to their Reformational heritage:
Barth…has been instrumental in ensuring that a new and proper emphasis has been placed on God’s presence in and with his word: the Bible, unlike any other piece of literature, is always read in the presence of its author. An influential contemporary account puts it this way: ‘To read [Holy Scripture] is to be caught up by the truth-bestowing Spirit of God.” (189, my italics; Thompson is citing John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, 95).
In other words, we must remember the Spirit’s role in illumination as well as in inspiration. In Christ, we share in his Spirit, and therefore the historical distance between us and the writing of Scripture does not equate to a personal distance between us and Scripture’s Author. When engaging Scripture, we are not simply reading an ancient text, nor interpreting God’s Word before making applications to our current context. First and foremost, we are being caught up by God’s personal address as he is present with us in the act of reading.0 Comments
September 27, 2010 by Matthew Mason
Literal (the most fundamental level);
Allegorical (perhaps better, typological: how does the text point to Christ and his body the church?);
Tropological (or moral: what are we to do?);
Anagogical: (or eschatological: what does the text say about what we are to hope for?).
The classic illustration is Jerusalem:
Literal: a city in Palestine, the capital of Israel
Allegorical: the church
Tropological: the Christian as a city in which God dwells
Anagogical: the New Jerusalem
As a hermeneutical tool, the quadriga tends to get a pretty hard time from evangelicals, being regarded as a threat to responsible grammatico-historical exegesis and given to wild flights of fancy. Two observations to the contrary, one theological, one practical/experiential:
Theologically, Peter Leithart observes that something rather like the quadriga is a necessary consequence of a Christ-centred approach to Scripture, particularly if one also has a robust doctrine of union with Christ:
For the medievals, the literal sense of the text opened out into a christological allegory, which, because Christ is the head of his body, opened out into tropological instruction and, because Christ is the King of a kingdom here yet also coming, into anagogic hope. (Leithart, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009, 207).
Practically, I have discovered that in preparing to preach, asking what light each aspect of the quadriga sheds on the passage is an excellent way of generating applications that speak to a range of issues in our congregation.0 Comments