Being Studious So We Know What and Who the Gospel Is: ‘The Weapons of Our Warfare Are Mighty’

In light of tragedy I often hear pastors and teachers in our 21st century context downplay the Gospel; as if the Gospel ultimately is indeed some sort of insurance policy, but at the end of each day does not have the resource to confront the types of tragedies we are faced with on a daily basis as Christians. As if the Gospel itself is not effulgent with the life of very God of very God. Maybe one reason Christians think of the Gospel in these terms—in domesticated and muted terms—is because they have failed to appreciate that understanding the Gospel requires rigor and work. In other words, we live in a fallen state (still!), and as a result even though salvation is by grace alone understanding what grace alone entails requires great depths of work and study. Maybe pastors and teachers gut the Gospel the way they do, particularly in light of travail and torment in people’s lives, because they are simply lazy; as are most in the church. Maybe the Gospel actually is the power of God, and not in some mystical sense, just as the Apostle Paul has asserted (by the Spirit!). Maybe the Gospel has the resource to actually make the crooked straight even in the in-between we currently inhabit, and we ought to entrust ourselves to it (Him) more rather than less. Maybe if we committed to exerting the necessary energy of putting the work in we’d have a greater depth understanding of the Gospel and see it for what it actually is, and for what it actually has the capacity to accomplish in us and for us.

The late John Webster offers a challenging word on this front as he develops his theme on theological theology. He confronts the sin of laziness, and underscores how important it is for Christians to be studious in regard to gaining proper understanding of the fullness attendant with the Gospel. Webster ties study of the Gospel (he calls this theology) into ends and purposes; and notes the impact that the end has on purpose. But more than that, as noted, he wants to impress how if the Christian is to appreciate what they actually have in the Gospel they need to work and be studious. He writes:

Christian theology pursues scientific ends, that is, the acquisition of that knowledge of its matter which is proper to creatures, in accordance with its cognitive principles. Pursuit of scientific ends is an element of the fulfillment of our intellectual nature, and is a creaturely good. Human creatures are by nature studious. We have an appetite to acquire knowledge beyond what is necessary for the immediate fulfillment of our animal nature, and we possess intellectual powers which we apply to satisfy this appetite. Well-ordered, temperate studiousness is not self-derived or wholly spontaneous; it is creaturely, the exercise of powers which have been given and which are moved, preserved and fortified by a movement beyond themselves. Studiousness is the arduous application of these powers; it is not indolent or casual, but concentrated, determined, painstaking and resistant to premature termination.

All theological activity requires this kind of purposive pursuit of scientific ends: revelation awakens theological science. It is through study that God becomes actually intelligible, and defects in the acquisition and exercise of studiousness threaten the attainment of other ends in theology. However, pursuit of scientific ends is instrumental and interim: necessary, but not sufficient or final. Forgetfulness of the instrumental status of scientific ends arises from disordered intention: our purposes for this activity fail to coincide with its intrinsic ends, and excessive devotion to scientific ends inhibits attainment of the true ends of theological intelligence. Much harm to theology is done by this disordered purpose. Theology’s object becomes one which is ours to appropriate or master by scientia; its cognitive principles become naturalized; the dependence of theology on divine instruction is neglected. Some kinds of institutional setting in which theology is undertaken may provide opportunities for such distortions to flourish, but their chief cause is the crookedness and futility of our intellectual nature after the fall. Only with the restoration and regeneration of that nature can our purposes be taught to direct themselves to fitting ends; theology will be theological as it is caught up in this renewal.[1]

It is important to identify, as Webster does, the internal battle we all are facing as Christians. The struggle is indeed real, and we should not be naïve to this as Christian warriors. We are enveloped in the very life of the living God in Christ, and in this envelopment we have been given the mind and heart of Christ. This is where we have the ‘renewal’ to do genuinely theological theology. Meaning: this is where we have the ability to grow deep into the reality of the pleroma (fullness) of the Gospel. Webster’s points are well taken; sin retards our desire, even as Christians, especially as Christians to seek God while he might be found call upon him while he is near. But we must not give into the baser desires of the old nature that continues to seek to assert itself where it has been crushed like the serpent’s head that it is.

In an even more applied sense: as we continue to mourn the loss of Pastor Andrew I fear that Christians won’t allow this tragedy to forge them into the steely new creations they have been made in and through their gracious union with Jesus Christ. As Christians we are in a spiritual battle, and the means of our battle, the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds. But what does this really mean? Is this some sort of mystical appeal that we simply live ethereally into as a New Ager does in their transcendental reflections? No. The weapons of our warfare are exactly what Webster was referring to; it entails work and being studious around the Gospel; around growing into the grace and knowledge of God in Jesus Christ and who he is for us as he is eternally in himself. If we fail to sharpen these weapons, which requires labor, we will indeed reduce the Gospel to some sort of shallow insurance policy shorn of the very power of God that it actually is. Armed with such a Gospel we will remain impotent, and the attacks of the evil one will land hard and furious; we won’t know what hit us till we are on the brink of destruction (even as Christians).

As a brother in Christ I implore you, at the very least, to daily take up your Bible and read it; internalize it. More, I implore you to read sound theology, and learn the tools that will allow you to interpret Scripture in depth ways. The end is to know and love God; the purposes of our activity are to be shaped by this end. If so, if we take this to heart we will be constrained by the love of Christ (the end), and motivated in the proper ways toward reaching the end of who we are in Jesus Christ.

[1] John Webster, God Without Measure: Working Papers In Christian Theology: Volume 1: God And The Works Of God (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 219-20.

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Engaging with Doug Hamp’s Book: Corrupting the Image: Angels, Aliens, and the AntiChrist Revealed

I am going to begin a series of running posts that engage with a book written by Douglas Hamp; I believe it was accepted as his PhD dissertation at Louisiana Baptist University. Hamp’s book is entitled: Corrupting the Image: Angels, Aliens, and the Antichrist Revealed. As you can tell by the title it is not the usual fare I deal with here at the blog, but I think something like this warrants attention; if only because it is this type of literature that pervades the imaginations of many in the North American evangelical sub-culture. Beyond his PhD from LBU, Hamp also has an earned MA in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

When I was doing my undergrad degree I took a class called Hermeneutics; in that class my professor, as a warm-up, so to speak, would have us do hermeneutical builders where we would examine a sample piece of biblical (or other type of literature) exegesis done by various commentators and exegetes spanning the centuries and into the contemporary. In these builders we were to identify the hermeneutical principles said exegete was deploying in their exegetical work, and attempt to identify where he or she was in error (if they were); based upon what type of hermeneutic they might be following (e.g. wooden-literal, allegorical, higher-critical, etc.). The benefit of engaging in such an exercise is that the student’s skills in critically identifying problems in someone’s hermeneutic (if there were or are any) were sharpened. As we look at Hamp’s book consider this process as a sort of hermeneutical builder, one that I am doing, but that I am including you in as well.

Before we precede further let me offer a caveat. I have a loose connection with Hamp from years past. He was involved in a ‘school of ministry’ (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa School of Ministry) as an assistant instructor where he oversaw their online journal, among other responsibilities. He published a few of my past blog posts in that journal, and as such I made a connection (one that he apparently doesn’t remember). I attended Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and their Bible College back in the  years covering 1995 through 1998; and when I say ‘attended’ I mean I was at church probably five days out of the week. This represents a shared background with Hamp (even though we never physically crossed paths), and is why I ever came across Hamp to begin with; it was only within the last couple of months that I became aware that he has since left Calvary Chapel and established his own speaking, apologetics, online, debate ministry (not to mention a Messianic-like congregation in Denver Colorado called ‘The Way Congregation’). You can check out his many videos and presentations via YouTube. As you’ll see he has some pretty substantial reach among some of the masses in the broader sub-section of evangelicalism. It is because of this reach and impact that I feel somewhat compelled to engage with his book in an attempt to offer a counter-voice to what he is offering folks without the necessary training and thus critical capacity to discern where Hamp is coming from and how he is arriving at his exegetical conclusions. Let me just say upfront: as I have listened to many of Doug’s teachings (via YouTube) over the last many weeks, it has become apparent to me that he has some seriously aberrant views; and they are all related to his chosen hermeneutic.

Hamp iterates over and over again that he follows a very literal hermeneutic when he interprets Scripture; I’d have to say I agree with him. In order to gain a grasp on Hamp’s hermeneutical commitments, and how those get applied and cashed out in his book, let me share at some length what he says about his hermeneutic in the preface of his book: 

MY METHOD

Due to my language studies in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, I have been able to do my own linguistic research throughout this book. I primarily conducted my own investigation of words and phrases using theWord Bible Software and therefore, I may not always cite a lexicon for authority. TheWord allowed me to search words in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic and trace their usage throughout the entire Bible. I used primary sources wherever possible and drew my own conclusions from those. However, I did frequently turn to secondary literature to demonstrate that there are others that have come to similar conclusions—therefore when I state that a Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic word means such and such, the conclusion is based on my investigation. If I cite another, then I state the source. I use extra-biblical material (e.g. the Book of Enoch and the Targumim) as I would a modern commentary—it is not sacred canon. However, unlike a modern commentary, those ancient works were often written by Jews who very likely had some insight that we do not. The method of discovery throughout this book will be to take the words as literally as possible and use the grammatical-historical approach of interpretation and we will find that doing so will make all of the pieces fit precisely.[1]

From the start we get a sense of Hamp’s approach; he emphasizes that he is able to do his own linguistic research in the original languages. The way Hamp seems to use this reality in his teaching and writing is to give his very ‘original’ (novel) insights an air of insider or special authority. But beyond that what I have emboldened above is what I primarily want to emphasize. When you read what Hamp writes about following a literal grammatical-historical approach this might not sound that radical; indeed it might even sound text-critical of the history of religions sort, or of the dispensational sort; it is neither. When Hamp writes ‘literal’ he means hyper-literalistically; in other words he believes the hermeneutical key to the whole of Scripture—and this is where he believes most of the history of Christian biblical interpretation has gone severely awry—is to take everything in Scripture to what I would contend is its literalistic breaking point. Some of the examples of how this works out in Hamp’s exegesis are: 1) he believes that God literally has hands, feet, a head, and a human body (which sounds more like Kenneth Copeland’s or the Latter Day Saints’ understanding of God); 2) he maintains that Christians are under the requirements of the Torah (in other words that we should be keeping the Mosaic Law inclusive of Sabbath keeping [which sounds more like Judaizing rather than following Christ]); 3) he holds to a form of British Israelitism,[2] albeit in a very idiosyncratically construed sense. In other words, he argues that when the Monarchy of Israel was divided into the Southern and Northern Kingdoms (the Northern=the ten tribes), that the Northern kingdom during the Assyrian exile were dispersed among the ‘Gentiles’ to the point that they, ‘the house of Israel’ (distinct in Hamp’s parlance from the ‘the house of Judah who are the real Jews), become representative of the Gentiles simpliciter canonically. Based upon this he argues that the New Covenant, made with the house of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) and the house of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) could only be fulfilled with ‘the house of Israel,’ or “the Gentiles” if God dies and thus reinstates a new marriage covenant that includes both Jew (the Southern Kingdom) and Gentile (the Northern Kingdom). He arrives at these conclusions based upon the idea that God gave ‘the house of Israel’ (the Gentiles) a certificate of divorce and that according to God’s Law of Marriage (which Hamp pulls from Romans 7:1-6; cf. Exodus) he could not renter covenant relationship with his divorced ‘spouse’ the house of Israel, or post-exile, now known as the ‘Gentiles’, unless he figured out a work-around his own law of marriage. Hamp argues that this is what God accomplished in the Incarnation; viz. God figured out a way to re-marry Israel/Gentiles by dying, thus freeing him from his inability to be in relationship with them per his Toranic marriage strictures laid out in Deuteronomy (i.e. that a spouse wasn’t free to remarry unless the former spouse died). As God died and rose again with a new ‘DNA’ in Christ, he was free to re-establish a blood cut covenant relationship with his lost house or the “commonwealth” of Israel (which is code for the Gentiles), and with Judah (or the Jews); thus reuniting the Ju-dahns and Gentiles in the one new humanity of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2);[3] 4) Hamp maintains that the Torah is ‘eternal,’ meaning that it apparently has its own ontological value vis-à-vis God (which oddly sounds more like the way Muslims think of the Qur’an).

These and other similar oddities, unmentioned, are examples of where Hamp’s literal hermeneutic takes him. They are harrying waters to be sure.

Let me close this post with Hamp’s basic thesis which he will unfold throughout the whole of his book. You will see, even in its very liminal form, given in his thesis statement, that his argument will very much so consistently fit with his stylized form of being ‘literal.’

Genesis 3:15 tells us of two seeds that will come upon the world—one will be the Seed of the Woman, which is Jesus. However, the other seed spoken of is Satan’s and that is where my research took off. I wanted to discover if the seed of Satan (Antichrist) would be an imitation of the virgin birth and if so, how that was possible genetically. What I uncovered was a war to destroy the image of God led by Satan since the earliest of times.[4]

And a little bit later as he is beginning to make his argument in this direction he writes:

Satan will use man’s desire to be his own god to deceive him into believing the ultimate lie—that his fallen messengers are both the Creators and saviors of man. He will not do this openly but will deceive mankind through demons which are masquerading as “aliens” who are spreading the message that the inhabitants of the earth can evolve to be like them and obtain transcendent powers. Finally, the seed of the Serpent will come; he will be a man who will be greater than his fellows, who will understand sinister schemes and shall rise up and become the Antichrist.[5]

What we will see as we engage with Hamp’s work is that he will attempt to read the Nephilim or ‘sons of God’, of Genesis 6 et al. as satan’s plan to enter humanity, ‘in the flesh’ which was hatched in ‘the days of Noah’, and in and through a hybrid (half demon half human) the spawn of the serpent, the AntiChrist will be thrust upon the world. This theory actually isn’t unique to Hamp, in fact if you google Nephilim I think you will find an abundance of ‘end times’ literature that posits the theory Hamp is arguing for; albeit in his own unique way (although his application of this to the production of the AntiChrist is unique).

I think what’s important to bear in mind as we work through Hamp’s book (we’ll see if I actually remain motivated enough to do that!) is that his study in this book represents what stands behind his PhD! As far as I can tell thus far, Hamp theorizes without engaging with any critical alternatives or theories to his own; he does his exegesis, as far as I can tell, without allowing any critical biblical scholars (in the guild) to challenge his work. In other words, as far as I can tell, Douglas Hamp’s mode is to simply press his study upon the untrained in the church without any sense or need to allow his work to be interrogated critically by other scholars with their PhDs or even MAs in the field. Hamp has engaged in live debate with quite a few folks, but as far as I can tell none of them are critical scholars. So Hamp’s work is primarily presented uncritically, even though he has a PhD based upon his study, and without any sort of critical push back. It seems to me that he will simply reject, out of hand, anyone who does not follow his form of doing “*literal*” exegesis. Be that as it may, this is why I have any sort of inkling to engage with Hamp’s work. It is not to elevate it, or give it undue attention; instead my hope will be to offer a critical voice in response to Hamp’s study for people who might be searching for such things online (if you do that now, as far as I can see, all you will find are uncritical responses to Hamp’s work).

This now ends the current hermeneutical builder.

 

[1] Douglas Hamp, Corrupting the Image: Angels, Aliens, and the Antichrist Revealed (USA: Defender Publishing LLC, 2011), 13 kindle [emboldening mine].

[2] Frankly, ‘British Israelitism’ is the closest parallel idea I can think of when attempting to identify what is going on in Hamp’s theory in regard to the Northern Kingdom or ‘The House of Israel’ being assimilated into the Gentile world to the point that in Hamp’s world this reconstitutes them, canonically, as The iteration of what it means to be “Gentile;” say in the Apostle Paul’s mind (see Eph. 2). It is interesting that Hamp doesn’t follow through on this logic when the Southern Kingdom, or ‘The House of Judah’ is exiled into the Babylonian empire; one wonders why they maintained their seminal Jewish identity while in the case of the Northern Kingdom’s exile they ostensibly were unable to keep their Semitic lineage. Further, it is also interesting, based upon Hamp’s purported ‘literal’ hermeneutic, that he seemingly glosses the Northern Kingdom by figurally re-reading them as representative of what it means to be Gentile in a Jew-Gentile complex. Presumably, the blood-line of the Southern Kingdom, while in Babylon, likewise became “corrupted” and “Gentilized” while there. This is evidenced by their adoption of the Aramaic language, and their practice of intermarrying with the Gentiles as evidenced in Ezra-Nehemiah. Hamp’s theory seemingly breaks down in a variety of ways; this, I would contend would be one of them.

[3] I will give Hamp credit for extra-vigilant novelty in his theorizing. I can honestly admit in all my years of formal and informal training in studying the bible and the history of interpretation I have never heard of such a thing. Yes, fragments of parts of Hamp’s theory, but not pulled together in such a unique, and frankly, inane sort of way.

[4] Hamp, Corrupting the Image, 13.

[5] Ibid., 23.

The UnChristianity of ‘Jesus Studies’: He Constructs Us We Don’t Construct Him

Jesus Studies attempts to think the Christ in ways that are necessarily non-Christian; they attempt to think Christ as a profane artifact of human history, and only after the fact ascribe to him his divine qualities (viz. that is if the practitioners are so inclined by way of religious disposition). How in any way is this a Christian exercise?! As Christians our very existence is determined by the confession that Jesus is Lord; the confession itself determined by the subject of God’s life for us in Christ breathed afresh into us by the spiration of the Holy Spirit. In other words, as Christians our existence is not an abstract existence, instead it is either grounded in the life of Jesus Christ’s vicarious humanity, and thus determined thereby, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t then we are not Christians, and thus might engage in the work that Jesus Studies engages in as a career of profane historiography.

Karl Barth rejects Jesus Studies, and as such is one more reason why my spirit continues to resonate with his in so many ways. Paul Molnar, in another context emphasizes these points in poignant ways.

.[1]

I think the Feuerbach link is very telling and important. Jesus Studies is a mostly Feuerbachian endeavor wherein the studier imposes his or her religious affection upon the Christ only after they have established by reconstructing him who he might have been. This is inane and absurd. We don’t prove God; we don’t prove Jesus Christ; he proves us. Without him we are nothing and this world dissolves in upon itself in an implosion of the sort that takes place in gardens, and in Adams and Eves.

[1] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 368-70.

*Please excuse the formatting of these quotes recently. I have found it to be much easier, when I have electronic copies of certain books, to simply use my snipping tool and place them into my posts this way; at least when I want to post long sections like these.

The Enlightenment, Biblical Studies, and the Development of the Dispensationalist and Hebrew Roots Hermeneutic (With Reference to Doug Hamp)

Here’s a repurposed post. I originally applied this to Dispensationalism. This time I want to expand its reach and application to another form of biblical literalism I’ve been exposed to from a guy I had contact with back in my Calvary Chapel days. He has since changed his positions, and leans heavily into the Hebrew Roots or Messianic movement; all in the name of reading the bible “literally.” It’s interesting, because the method for interpreting the bible literally isn’t really determined canonically, but instead by a foreign sense of what “literalness” entails prompted by an Enlightenment impulse. The person I’m referring to is a guy named, Doug Hamp. For example of what I’m referring to you can watch an interview he took part in in the following video click hereYou will have to take the principles I apply to dispensationalism and apply them to Hebrew Roots. There is an inherent primitivism to the hermeneutic, one that actually takes Lessing’s ‘Ugly Ditch of History’ in reverse and simply leaps back to the first century church as if church history is absent. I see Hebrew Roots, and like movements in ethos, as something like the millennarian sects like we find in the LDS or JWs; the idea that an ‘awakening’ happens with the implication that all of the preceding church history has been in the dark. There is a serious history of religions feel to the whole movement; an emphasis upon a type of biblical progressive evolutionary process. To be clear Hebrew Roots is not dispensationalist, indeed, Hamp has renounced is dispensationalism. But what hasn’t been abandoned is the Literal, Grammatical, Historical (LGH) type of hermeneutic that indeed funds dispensationalism and Hebrew Roots just the same. It’s pretty ironic.

I just found this buried in my saved documents in Word. It gets into some reasons why I have abandoned Dispensationalism as my hermeneutic (which I did approx. twelve years ago), as it tries to draw attention to the impact that the Enlightenment had upon the context within which Dispensationalism developed as a system of biblical interpretation. I don’t think I have ever shared this post before here at the blog, but maybe I have. Either way I think it is apropos to share this given the two videos I just did today on Dispensationalism on FaceBook Live.

There is no doubt a retreat, or migration as it were of evangelicals from engaging with doctrine, but insofar as doctrine is still present for many evangelicals of a certain era anyway, what informs them most, at least hermeneutically is the hermeneutic known as Dispensationalism. It was this hermeneutic that I was groomed in myself, not only as a kid, but in and through Bible College and Seminary (of the Progressive sort). Dispensationalism, without getting into all of the nitty gritty, is a hermeneutic that prides itself on using the ‘literal’ way of reading Scripture in a ‘consistent’ form as they claim; it is a hermeneutic that maintains a distinction between Israel and the Church (in its classic and revised forms); and it is a hermeneutic that simply seeks to read its understanding straight off the pages of Scripture in the most straightforward ways possible (again ‘literally’ with appeal to Scottish Common Sense Realism[1]). One of its most ardent proponents says it like this:

Literal hermeneutics. Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of literal interpretation. This means interpretation that gives to every word the same meaning it would have in normal usage, whether employed in writing, speaking, or thinking. It is sometimes called the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation since the meaning of each word is determined by grammatical and historical considerations. The principle might also be called normal interpretation since the literal meaning of words is the normal approach to their understanding in all languages. It might also be designated plain interpretation so that no one receives the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech….[2]

The Dispensationalist’s hermeneutic springs then from a philosophy of language that holds to the idea that language corresponds to real and perceptible things in reality, and as such, based upon this assumption attempts to, in a slavish way (to this principled understanding of language and reality) reads Holy Scripture in such a way that comports with language’s and history’s most basic and simple and normal component parts (i.e. as it can be reconstructed through critical and rationalist means).

It is no surprise that Dispensationalism developed when it did, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when what it meant to do Biblical Studies and exegesis of Scripture was to engage Scripture through developmental/evolutionary criterion for reconstructing Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) history (the periods that Biblical Scripture developed within), and using various other literary criteria for determining Scripture’s origination and the cultural-societal-rhetorical contexts that gave it rise. In other words Dispensationalism developed in a context wherein things are only true insofar as they comport with the canons of observable and empirical protocol. G.C. Berkouwer describes this development this way:

We now confront the noteworthy fact that, during the rise of historical criticism, concentrated attention to the text of Scripture was considered vital and necessary. Criticism protested against every form of Scripture exposition which went to work with a priori and external standards. It wanted to proceed from Scripture as it actually existed; it sought to understand Scripture in the way in which it came to us in order thus to honor the “interprets itself.” This is what it claimed in its historical exposition of Scripture: something supposedly free of all the a prioris of dogmatic systems or ecclesiastical symbolic. In that way justice could be done to Scripture itself.[3]

Maybe you noticed something in the Berkouwer quote, he is implicitly noting something that happened in the 18th century—again remembering that this is the context which the Dispensationalist hermeneutic developed within and from—there was a split (as a result of Enlightenment rationalism among other forces) between doing confessional/churchy biblical interpretation/study from the kind of biblical interpretation/study that came to dominate what it meant to do ‘critical’ biblical study. This split was given formalization in the mid-1700s first by publications from Anton Friedrich Büsching and then most notably by G. Ebling; Gerhard Hasel summarizes it this way:

Under the partial impetus of Pietism and with a strong dose of rationalism Anton Friedrich Büsching’s publications (1756-58) reveal for the first time that “Biblical theology” becomes the rival of dogmatics. Protestant dogmatics, also called “scholastic theology,” is criticized for its empty speculations and lifeless theories. G. Ebeling has aptly summarized that “from being merely a subsidiary discipline of dogmatics ‘biblical theology’ now became a rival of the prevailing dogmatics.”[4]

Dispensationalism developed within the new ‘critical’ approach to doing biblical studies, although it was attempting to still honor its pious commitment to Scripture as Holy and God’s. But it did so under the ‘Modern’ constraints provided for by Enlightenment rationalism; its philosophy of language (i.e. the literalism we have already broached), grounded in Scottish Common Sense Realism, was very so much so moving and breathing in and from a non-confessional, non-dogmatic mode of doing biblical study. Hasel once again describes the ethos which the Dispensational hermeneutic developed within:

In the age of Enlightenment (Aufklärung) a totally new approach for the study of the Bible was developed under several influences. First and foremost was rationalism’s reaction against any form of supernaturalism. Human reason was set up as the final criterion and chief source of knowledge, which meant that the authority of the Bible as the infallible record of divine revelation was rejected. The second major contribution of the period of the Enlightenment was the development of a new hermeneutic, the historical-critical method which holds sway to the present day in liberalism [dispensationalism] and beyond. Third, there is the application of radical literary criticism to the Bible …. Finally, rationalism by its very nature was led to abandon the orthodox view of the inspiration of the Bible so that ultimately the Bible became simply one of the ancient documents, to be studied as any other ancient document.[5]

It might appear that what was just described sounds nothing like who the practitioners of the dispensational hermeneutic are (i.e. evangelical Bible loving Christians). That would be correct, but the point is to note that dispensational hermeneutes don’t ever really abandon the Enlightenment principles nor the split from confessional hermeneutics that the Enlightenment produced between the disciplines. Instead dispensationalism attempts to work with and from the material and rationalist principles provided by the Enlightenment;  primarily meaning that the Dispensational hermeneutic hopes to be able to go immediately to the text of Scripture, through its grammatical and historical analysis under the supposition that biblical language simply functions like any other literary language does under its plain and normal meanings without any pretext or reliance upon its (potential) theological significance. Instead its theological significance can only be arrived at after abstracting that out from the plain meaning of the words of Scripture.

Conclusion

John Webster summarizes what happened during this period of development this way (and what he describes applies to the development of the Dispensational hermeneutic as well):

To simplify matters rather drastically: a dominant trajectory in the modern development of study of the Bible has been a progressive concentration on what Spinoza called interpretation of Scripture ex ipsius historia, out of its own history. Precisely when this progression begins to gather pace, and what its antecedents may be, are matters of rather wide dispute. What is clear, at least in outline, is that commanding authority gradually came to be accorded to the view that the natural properties of the biblical text and of the skills of interpreters are elements in an immanent economy of communication. The biblical text is a set of human signs borne along on, and in turn shaping, social religious and literary processes; the enumeration of its natural properties comes increasingly to be not only a necessary but a sufficient description of the Bible and its reception. This definition of the text in terms of its (natural) history goes along with suspension of or disavowal of the finality both of the Bible and of the reader in loving apprehension of God, and of the Bible’s ministerial function as divine envoy to creatures in need of saving instruction.[6]

Whenever you hear someone say they just interpret Scripture ‘literally’ dig deeper to see if what they mean is ‘literalistically’ under the constraints of what we described provided for by the Enlightenment.

To be clear, following the Enlightenment does not, of course, nor necessarily terminate in the Dispensational hermeneutic, in fact a case can be made that what the Enlightenment did to biblical studies, in some ways provided for some fruitful trajectory as well (insofar as it highlights the fact that the Bible and its phenomenon cannot be reduced to historicist or naturalist premises themselves); but we will have to pursue that line later. Suffice it to say, Dispensationalism is not the pure way to Scripture that its adherents want us to think that it is. It does not spring from Christian confessional premises, and in fact ignores the fact that indeed Scripture study and exegesis is actually a theological endeavor at its heart. The only way to get a plain meaning of Scripture is to read it through the lens of God’s life revealed and exegeted in Jesus Christ.

[1] See Thomas Reid, “If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them — these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.” The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Reid (2004), 85.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism. Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 80.

[3] G.C. Berkouwer, Studies In Dogmatics: Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 130.

[4] Gerhard Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues In The Current Debate. Revised and Expanded Third Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1989), 19.

[5] Ibid., 18-19 [Brackets mine].

[6] John Webster, The Domain of the Word: Scripture and Theological Reason(London/New York: T&T Clark, A Continuum Imprint, 2012), 6.

The Go Eat, Drink, and Be Merry Way of Reading the Bible: Robert Jenson Helping Us Read the Bible Confessionally Once Again

It isn’t that we haven’t referred to this at the blog before, but I like the way Robert Jenson discusses the futility of late-modern biblical scholarship’s enlightened drive to deconfessionalize their reading of Holy Scripture; as if they can read it purely historically (history-of-religions), without reference to the very reality that has held it together from its genesis—the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s as if we can apply the Apostle Paul’s logic and argument from I Corinthians 15 to modern biblical scholarship’s mode; indeed, such scholars, after they finish dissecting the Bible for the day might as well go eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow they die along with the rest of us. Robert Jenson writes:

There is yet a further question: Is there in fact “the” biblical narrative, running through all the Scriptures’ historical discontinuities and non-narrative genres? Israel and the church have supposed there is because they have seen one chief agent throughout. If we say the Christian God is the God identified by the biblical narrative, we must also say there is “the” biblical narrative only as we read the temporally, culturally, and religiously various documents in Scripture as witness to the continuing action of one and the same agent.

The circle just traced is benign. We will follow the one biblical narrative, to identify the one biblical God, only as we read the Bible by the purpose for which the church assembled this book in the first place, to be in its entirety and all its parts witness to Jesus’ Resurrection and so to a particular God. Whenever someone has tried to construe the unity of Scripture otherwise than by the identity of this God, the book has fragmented, first into Hebrew Scripture and New Testament and thereupon into traditions and genres and redactions within each. And when communities other than the church—in modernity, the communities of various ideologies and particularly the surreptitious such community of supposedly autonomous scholars—try to appropriate the Bible for their own purposes, the book falls into more shards—to which, of course, anyone is welcome.

The insistence of late-twentieth-century hermeneutics on the determining role of “communities of interpretation” is fully justified. What is sometimes not then faced is that some bodies of text, like the Bible, were created by specific communities for interpretive purposes, and have no unitary entity at all apart from those communities’ antecedent interpretation of them. The final reason that one cannot interpret the Bible independently of the church and its dogma is that without these there is no such book. The modern attempt to interpret Scripture “historically” has been intrinsically self-defeating and has now defeated itself, since it has curiously supposed that to interpret the Bible historically we must abstract from the history for whose attestation the church assembled this collection in the first place, the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.[1]

One aspect of this, in order to avoid us from collapsing this into a strictly ecclesiocentric reading of Scripture, is to end where Jenson ends: “the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.” What is given determinative ultimacy for the church’s reading of the text, for any reading of Holy Scripture, is not some sort of magesteria of the church, but indeed the all constitutive event of God’s life being in becoming in the Incarnation to the Resurrection. In this way the hermeneutic and approach to Scripture reduces back to Christmas and Easter, Pentecost and Ascension; to the person of Jesus Christ himself, the telos of all creation and thus of Scripture as a special aspect of that creation.

It is hugely unfortunate that what Jenson is calling the church back to is still not being taken to heart, even by people who say they are the primary of us all who hold the highest view of Scripture of all; i.e. the evangelicals (of which I am reluctantly one), with their doctrine of inerrancy in tow. The evangelicals, among other sub-communities within the church (and outside of it), have adopted the fragmentizing ways into Scripture foisted upon it by the very folks Jenson is referring to. They are attempting to read the Bible from a community that has sharded the Bible into various forms and redacted pieces, and subsequently created a whole hermeneutic around such proclivities, which has resulted in a field of biblical studies that is strangely (but not so strangely) at odds with what has held the Bible together for millennia in the Christian church; the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why would I want to read the Bible like that? Why would I want to borrow tools from communities that subjectively project their own histories upon the canon of Holy Scripture, and read it that way? I don’t want to.

Has there been no value created by modern biblical studies? I wouldn’t go that far. But at the same time, to attempt to read the Bible from directions that are anti-thetical to Scripture’s very reality makes no sense.

 

[1] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 58-9.

How to Read the Book of Revelation: Against Modern Day Astrological Numerology and other Aberrations

Given that according to some prognosticators the world is facing certain apocalyptic and cataclysmic reorientation starting in September 23rd, 2017, I thought I would reshare something I wrote awhile ago that engages with how to interpret the book of Revelation. Since these prognosticators are tying their predictions and prognostications to their interpretation of Revelation 12, it only seems fitting to test such an approach against a critical baseline for how the book of Revelation was originally composed, and for whom. If we push into this “baseline,” I contend, that what we will find will show these modern day prognosticators for who they are; i.e. hucksters (maybe even with good intentions) who haven’t taken the proper time to understand basic hermeneutical rules when it comes to interpreting biblical literature. So in an attempt to help address this issue, I give you the following (realizing that this is only a blog post with major space limitations; so a fuller development cannot be provided here, but hopefully it will provide enough grist for the reader to have some critical hooks to hang their hats of discernment on in this evil age).

Richard Bauckham’s books The Theology of the Book of Revelation & The Climax of Prophecy are resources that all Christians should avail themselves of. Let me provide an introduction, of sorts, into the basic argument of Bauckham’s book[s].  And of course, given the nature of my blogging pattern and style, I will also be reflecting upon the theological and exegetical issues that Bauckham’s writing is touching upon—as well as the more applied and correlative issues that Bauckham’s work only implicates, that is, the popular issues of dispensationalism, amillennialism, premillennialism, & postmillennialism. That said, let me wade us into what Bauckham thinks constitutes the basic trajectory and original purpose for writing the book of Revelation (which will implicate all kinds of things). Here is what Bauckham writes on the original audience and purpose of the ‘Epistle of Revelation’, and then a bit on how Bauckham thinks this reality cashes out in application (theologically and pastorally):

Thus it would be a serious mistake to understand the images of Revelation as timeless symbols. Their character conforms to the contextuality of Revelation as timeless symbols. Their character conforms to the contextuality of Revelation as a letter to the seven churches of Asia. Their resonances in the specific social, political, cultural and religious world of their first readers need to be understood if their meaning is to be appropriated today. They do not create a purely self-contained aesthetic world with no reference outside itself, but intend to relate to the world in which the readers live in order to reform and to redirect the readers’ response to that world. However, if the images are not timeless symbols, but relate to the ‘real’ world, we need also to avoid the opposite mistake of taking them too literally as descriptive of the ‘real’ world and of predicted events in the ‘real’ world. They are not just a system of codes waiting to be translated into matter-of-fact references to people and events. Once we begin to appreciate their sources and their rich symbolic associations, we realized that they cannot be read either as literal descriptions or as encoded literal descriptions, but must be read for their theological meaning and their power to evoke response.[1]

We leave off from Bauckham with a bit of a teaser; he goes on and provides some examples of what he describes in the quote paragraph of above. Suffice it to say, it can readily be observed that Bauckham, even in the small notation above (the quote), is getting at two popular, and I would say, erroneous, ways of reading the book of Revelation. Bauckham is getting at a naked idealism way of interpreting Revelation (as it has been in the history) which usually involves a presupposition of dualism; meaning that the book of Revelation is often construed as an ethereal book that depicts a cosmic struggle between good and evil. While there is an aspect where this is true for Bauckham, we can obviously see that he sees much more particularity, unity, and concreteness to the message and theology and history that make up this book than the classic idealism approach does. And then in the next breath, we also see Bauckham challenging what I will call the futurist, premillennial, dispensational reading of Revelation (the kind given popular expression in ‘The Left Behind’ series of books by Lahaye and Jenkins). He thinks it is in error to read Revelation as if its primary semantic and conceptual pool is predictive in nature; in other words, he sees it as highly problematic to read current events (like ours) into the book of Revelation, as if this was what John and the Holy Spirit had in mind when it was originally penned. Bauckham does not see the book of Revelation as a secret code book awaiting the decoder key (current events) to, in fact, decode it. No, he sees all of the events, people, and picturesque language of Revelation as grounded in a labyrinth of inter-related complexities that bubble up from the Old Testament apocalyptic genre (like that found in Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc.); and then he sees this context being applied to the ‘current’ events of the Roman empire of which the seven churches addressed in the Revelation are located.

There is much more to Bauckham’s thesis about the book of Revelation; like he sees the point of the book of Revelation as most pertinent to the Christians in the Roman empire who were suffering great tribulation and suffering, to the point of martyrdom. He sees the point of the book as primarily something to provide comfort and perspective for those being killed by the Roman persecution of the Christians. He sees the vindication of the Christian martyrs as the crux for understanding the composition of Revelation; and all of the apocalyptic language in the book, as providing God’s perspective over against the secular, mundane Roman perspective which these Christians were inhabiting. Bauckham sees the book of Revelation as predictive, in the sense that God’s people (all of us) will be vindicated at his coming (the second time, based on the first), as he crushes the powers of the nations, but not as the world would think, but as ‘the lamb slain before the foundations of the world’. So we see Bauckham’s vision of Revelation as correlative with the trajectory already set throughout the canon of the Old Testament apocalyptic literature; something like Daniel 2 comes to my mind:

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands —a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

It is this kind of motif that Bauckham thinks shapes the book of Revelation, but not in light of its promise (like we leave it in the book of Daniel), but in light of its fulfillment, and thus reinterpretation ‘in Christ’. There is much more to say (and I will), but this should be enough for now.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 19-20.

 

The 2nd Adam as the Ground and Reality of the 1st Adam: Reading Romans 5 With or Against Barth

I was just reading Everett F. Harrison’s commentary on Romans in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; in particular I was reading his coverage of Romans 5:12-14, I was motivated to look over some commentaries I have on hand because of the discussion surrounding the historicity of Adam amongst some contemporary biblical exegetes (like Peter Enns and others). Of course, and rightly so, most commentators are not going to be engaging in speculation about whether Adam was a historical personage or not; instead, the steady exegete will seek to lay bare the intent of the particular passage’s message as understood (intratextuality and intertextually) through the theology, in our instance, of the Apostle Paul. In light of this, I wanted to focus on Harrison’s own exegesis of Paul in Romans 5:12-14 juxtaposed with what he thinks is Karl Barth’s reading of this same pericope; in particular, what Harrison thinks of Barth’s understanding of the person of Adam vis-á-vis the person of Jesus Christ as Paul’s ‘second Adam’. Here is the text in question, first in English and then the Greek text:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned — 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. –Romans 5:12-14 (NIV)

12 δια τουτο ωσπερ δι ενος ανθρωπου η αμαρτια εις τον κοσμον εισηλθεν και δια της αμαρτιας ο θανατος και ουτως εις παντας ανθρωπους ο θανατος διηλθεν εφ ω παντες ημαρτον 13 αχρι γαρ νομου αμαρτια ην εν κοσμω αμαρτια δε ουκ ελλογειται μη οντος νομου 14 αλλα εβασιλευσεν ο θανατος απο αδαμ μεχρι μωυσεως και επι τους μη αμαρτησαντας επι τω ομοιωματι της παραβασεως αδαμ ος εστιν τυπος του μελλοντος –Romans 5:12-14 (GNT)

The issue I want to consider, relative to Harrison’s reading of this text juxtaposed with Barth’s, is the critique that Harrison offers of Barth’s ‘theological-exegetical’ reading of this passage; in particular the ‘image of God’ in the theology of the Apostle Paul. Harrison, somewhat in passing, notices that Barth understands Paul’s usage of Adam in a way that is only typological of Paul’s real point about the image of God, that Barth thinks should really be in reference to the ‘second Adam’, or Jesus Christ. Harrison summarizes, and questions Barth’s reading in this way:

In his book, Christ and Adam (Harper, 1956), Karl Barth has advanced a provocative interpretation of Adam as a type of Christ. He has attempted to reverse the order: “Man’s essential and original nature is to be found … not in Adam but in Christ. In Adam we can only find it prefigured. Adam can therefore be interpreted only in the light of Christ and not the other way round” (p. 29). It should be evident, however, that Paul’s thought here is not moving in the orbit of man as made in the image of God and therefore in the image of Christ who is the image of God. To import the preexistence of Christ is to introduce an element foreign to Paul’s purpose and treatment in this passage….[1]

Harrison may be right, de jure or in principle, that Paul’s own orbit of thought may have not been fully articulated, even to himself, in regards to a full blown, what we might call, Chalcedonian Christology (or even a Johannine one); but, de facto, or in actual fact, Harrison, I think is wrong to suggest that Paul’s own unarticulated theology does not invite the exegete and theologian to step deeper into the theological trajectory that Paul’s occasional writings presuppose. In other words, I think Harrison is wrong to assert that Paul’s ‘orbit’ of thought cannot be driven further than even the Apostle Paul drove it in his own context. I float this, because much of Paul’s own theology, delimited as it is by the type of literature he was inking ‒ Epistle – by definition is going to remain unarticulated and enthymemic (or some of his premises are unstated and just presumed on his part). So for Harrison to suggest what he has in regard to Paul’s thinking about the ‘second Adam’ as primary to the ‘first Adam’ relative to understanding, theologically, the function that the image of God language ought to play in Paul’s accounting; I think is highly presumptuous.

Karl Barth is obviously committed to a theological exegetical approach to interpreting scripture. He is committed to what some have called a ‘principial’ and intensive christocentrism in his reading of holy writ; such that he seeks to ground all of his reading of scripture, as if scripture’s reality (res) only is realizable when couched in its teleological (‘purposeful’) shape provided by Jesus Christ himself.

So the question is: Is Barth playing fast and loose with scripture, imposing his own theological grid and ‘canon’ on the canon of scripture; thus morphing it into a re-imagined wonder world of modern theological impulses? Or, is Barth following the trajectory that Jesus himself set in the reinterpretation of the Old Testament scriptures as if those scriptures were really all about him? Not just about him at a surface glance, but about him in all of his depth and reality as the ‘eternal Logos’, and the second person of the Trinity.

I think Harrison sets up a false dilemma, placing a historical-critical reading (Harrison’s) in competition with a depth theological reading that Barth follows. These approaches don’t need to be seen as discordant, one with the other, but instead they can (and ought to) be understood as mutually implicating and complementing one of the other. Such that the historic-critical realities of Paul’s own textured thought are what lead us (by their own presupposed theological depth and context) to the kind of reading that someone like Barth or even John Calvin have offered in regard to Paul’s letter to the Romans (and elsewhere).

I originally wrote this post back in 2012, but I thought I would share it again. If you’re interested in reading further with reference to Barth’s thinking about the Logos asarkos and how his theology of the pre-temporal Christ functions in his theological exegesis, then check out what he has to say in CD IV/1.

 

[1] Everett F. Harrison,“Romans,” in 10 Expositors’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, edited by Frank E. Gæbelein, p. 63.

 

Salvation By Allegiance Alone: Introducing a Book Review Series and Some Engagement with Scot McKnight

I plan on doing a type of dialogical review of Matthew Bates’ recently released book, Salvation By Allegiance Alone, through a series of posts. I wanted to introduce the book to you all by quoting, at length, part of the foreword written by Dr. Scot X. McKnight. McKnight works and thinks from a largely Wesleyan/Arminian perspective, and so you will understand why he is so excited by Bates’ proposal; which you will see the basic lineaments of that proposal described by McKnight in the following quote.

Allegiance, then, is at the heart of grace as it was perceived in the ancient world. Grace was not simply—or ever—pure gift in spite of what some say today. One must define terms by their usage not by our contemporary beliefs or usages. Grace can both be one hundred percent gift and at the same time summon the gifted person with an obligation, a heartfelt and intentional duty, to respond in gratitude and behavior in accordance with the new social bond created by the gift-giver’s gift. This grace runs right through the Old Testament, through Judaism, and into the New Testament. What distinguished the kind of Judaism that did not believe in Jesus and the one that did was not the appearance or absence of grace itself but how grace was understood. It is, then, a popular misunderstanding of Paul to conclude that grace did not obligate the Christian—the one who received God’s gift of Christ and redemption—to respond to God through real behavioral change. Grace in fact required a life of gratitude, praise, and—here’s the language from Matthew Bates’s outstanding book—“allegiance to Jesus as king.”

Some theologians (past and present) think that any kind of obligation attached to grace must somehow entail a dangerous works righteousness. Such people are wrong. But you’ll have to read Salvation by Allegiance Alone to see how deftly and biblically Matthew Bates dismantles this worry about works while simultaneously offering fresh proposals regarding how a gospel-infused allegiance connects with righteousness.

I want to approach the obligation of grace from another angle, that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a college student I became a voracious reader and, so, as a sophomore I began reading Bonhoeffer, beginning with (what was then called) The Cost of Discipleship. Perhaps his most enduring contribution to Christian theology, at least Christian ethics, is his section on “costly grace,” a concept that put into words my deepest convictions and concerns about the church I was then witnessing. The church was marked by sanctimonious attendance, judgmentalism on all outsiders, expressed certitude of the security of the believer because of a single act of accepting Christ into one’s heart, and rigor in theological propositions. It was also a church pockmarked body-wide with a lack of love, a lack of genuine holiness, and an inability to foster discipleship in the heart of the true believer. Sadly, what it lacked was created by its deficient gospel: “if you just believe” was its watchword and safety net. But “believe” meant mental acceptance and a single act of reception, and never meant what the term also means in the whole Bible: the kind of faith that is also faithfulness.

The superficiality of American evangelicalism’s gospel-obsession with security and assurance has led me at times to wonder if we should not teach justification by discipleship. Or justification by faithfulness. But Matthew Bates has landed on a beautiful and biblically sound term: allegiance. When Jesus first called the four disciples along the Sea of Galilee he didn’t say “receive me into your heart” but “follow me.” When a crisis arose among his followers he didn’t say “you’re safe” or “get your orthodoxy on” but “deny yourself and take up your cross.” Moreover, when he finished the greatest sermon on earth, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus didn’t say “Repent and believe these things” but “the one who hears these words of mine and does them.” So, too, the apostles Paul, Peter, and John called their listeners to a life swamped by the Spirit, a life of holiness amidst suffering, and a life of living in the light of love. These apostolic expressions are all condensed in this book into the term “allegiance.”

King Jesus summons people into a kingdom where he alone is king, and kings expect one thing from their subjects: allegiance.[1]

I have only read a few pages beyond the foreword thus far, but I have been listening to and reading some interviews (and a debate) that Matthew has done since the release of his book. I am also “friends” with him on FaceBook and have gotten to get more of a feel of where he is coming from that way as well; particularly as that is based upon the folks who are commenting in favor of his book and where they are coming from theologically.

One thing I will note, inchoately, is that based upon my impression, what potentially may be missing in this whole mix is an adequate development, in regard to Bates himself, of a theological ontology as the basis of his hermeneutic in general. My concern is that the theological in exegesis is not adequately addressed, and that what we are given then is just more of the type of ‘naturalist’ engagement with the text that I would say even attends the work of N.T. Wright in his exegetical conclusions. In other words, if Christology, for my money, is not the framework from whence Bates comes to his exegetical conclusions, particularly as his book deals directly with both soteriological and theological-anthropological issues, then the proposal itself will not be as fruitful as it could have been or should be. If McKnight’s comment—“When a crisis arose among his followers he didn’t say “you’re safe” or “get your orthodoxy on”—is indicative of the tone we are supposed to expect from Bates, then I am afraid, I, at least, am going to be very disappointed with what Bates presents.

Materially, when someone can assert/argue that someone in union with Christ today could not be in union with Christ eschatologically or in the final salvation, all this reduces down to, traditionally, is no more than the classically Arminian view that a person can ‘lose their salvation’; or on the classical Calvinist side, it boils down to the notion that ‘someone who may have professed Christ or even looked like they were “saved” were never really saved to begin with.’ Bates believes people can be in union with Christ today, but at the same time may well not be in eternal union with Christ when that final day comes. Is his conclusion any different than the Arminian’s? No. How he gets there might well be more innovative and creative relative to the way he marshals the “biblical data,” but his conclusion is tried and true throughout the centuries; whether that be within a Roman Catholic or Protestant expression.

What I would hope to be present is something like Karl Barth’s and Evangelical Calvinism’s Christologically conditioned doctrine of election and union with Christ. What I would hope to be in the hermeneutical mix, for Bates, is a heavy commitment to the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. If “allegiance,” as Bates interprets that, was somehow located objectively in the vicarious humanity, in the vicarious faith and faithfulness of Christ for us, then what he is communicating might not be so problematic theologically. But I am getting the sense that all of that “theological ontology” is missing within Bates’ offering; I’m getting the sense, particularly from McKnight, that Matthew is simply engaging in the work, ostensibly, of biblical studies—and that understood from the deconfessionalized mode bequeathed by the Enlightenment etc.—and that these highly important theological and inner-theological connective tissues are not really present. That’s what concerns me most about what I am sensing about Bates’ offering. Maybe he’ll surprise me.

Stay tuned. As I read through Matthew’s book, as I noted, I plan on doing a running and critical kind of review of his book. Again, I hope I am moving too fast and jumping to unfounded conclusions too early. But I’m thinking I’m not.

[1] Scot McKnight, “Foreword,” in Matthew Bates, Salvation By Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and The Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2017), 11 Scribd version.

Reading the Bible For All Its Worth: Protestants and sola Scriptura Against Wooden-Literalist Bible Reading Habits

I just recently had a discussion with someone I know, a pastor, who took pride in the fact that I labeled his approach to biblical interpretation as wooden-literal. I have written against this approach for many years, and so when it came down to this little exchange I was having with this pastor it became real;  it became real because he was arguing from such a literalist approach that holy_biblehe wouldn’t even admit a women could potentially teach a man, even as a prophetess of Yahweh (i.e. Huldah). He claimed that because the word ‘teach’ is never used with reference to what Huldah communicated hortatorily to King Josiah that this in itself could not be used to illustrate a woman teaching or even authoritatively communicating God’s Word to a man or men. This exchange left me somewhat dumbfounded although not totally surprised.

The questions though are these: Does the Protestant commitment to sola Scriptura (‘Scripture alone’) mean that Protestants, historically, are committed necessarily to a wooden-literal mode of interpreting the Scriptures? Does it mean that Protestants have no regard for the history of biblical interpretation, for the ecumenical councils of the church (i.e. like where we get our orthodox grammar for God as Triune, and for Chalcedonian two-natures one person Christology, etc.), and that we must simply be slavishly and rationalistically tied to the biblical words themselves; as if they have some sort of structural meaning inherent to themselves? No, nein! This is not what Protestants have been committed to in their reading practices of the Bible. This is not what sola Scriptura entails. Instead, what my pastor friend is actually working from, ironically, is what rose up out of the Enlightenment and 19th century biblical studies; a ‘de-confessionalized’  historical-critical approach to reading the Bible. Gerhard Hasel identifies when this way of reading the Bible happened, and who signaled it most decisively:

The late Neologist and rationalist Johann Philipp Gabler (1753-1826), who never wrote or even intended to write a Biblical theology, made a most decisive and far-reaching contribution to the development of the new discipline in his inaugural lecture at the University of Altdorf on March 30, 1787. This year marks the beginning of Biblical theology’s role as a purely historical discipline, completely independent from dogmatics. Gabler’s famous definition reads: “Biblical theology possesses a historical character, transmitting what the sacred writers thought about divine matters; dogmatic theology, on the contrary, possesses a didactic character, teaching what a particular theologian philosophizes about divine matters in accordance to his ability, time, age, place, sect or school, and other similar things….”[1]

It is this split between theological (i.e. dogmatics) or churchly (i.e. confessional) readings of the Bible that is informing my pastor friend’s understanding of reading the Bible in a wooden literalistic way. It is an overreaction, by some, to fear of being drawn back into the Roman Catholic church (which is my pastor friend’s fear directly, since this was his background) and having a magisterium tell you what the Bible means coupled with an enlightenment rationalizing mode towards reading the Bible in a way that might have any connection whatsoever to the historical interpretations of said texts found in Holy Writ. So it isn’t an outright appropriation of all of the 19th and 20th century accretions of the biblical studies ‘movement,’ instead it is a selective appropriation of that such that an emphasis on the rationale of the bible reader’s individualistic reading of the text of Scripture dominates in such a way that in extreme cases only the very words themselves (almost without reference to the broader canonical context either intertextually i.e. the whole of the canon or intrattextually i.e. particular books of the Bible being studied have any say in how various words, sentences, and paragraphs ought to be understood).

Angus Paddison helpfully describes this type of dilemma, and how the Protestant understanding of sola Scriptura itself militates against the mode of interpretation my pastor-friend finds himself deploying as he reads the Bible. Paddison here is talking about how Christology ought to implicate our reading of Scripture, how that impacts sola Scriptura, and how this even impacts John Calvin’s own reading of Scripture (hermeneutically and exegetically). Paddison writes at some length:

The prime responsibility of Christology is not first to be original but faithfully to read the ‘divine address’ that is Scripture. In order to fulfill this task, theology does of course need resources other than Scripture. This is to recognize with Robert Jenson that if we think sola Scriptura means understanding Scripture ‘”apart from creed, teaching office, or authoritative liturgy’” then we are resting on an ‘oxymoron’ (think of the obvious contradiction of the church that says it has no creed but the Bible). If the first responsibility of talking about Christ is to evince an attention to Scripture, we need to be more precise about the nature of doctrine and its relationship to Scripture.

Calvin himself, to alight upon a theologian firmly associated with a sola Scriptura approach, was keenly aware that theology always needed to deploy extra-canonical words and resources. That we use words and concepts not found in Scripture itself – in a bid to help us understand this same text – is not a sign that we have departed from the fabric of Scripture. Writing against his opponents Calvin writes that if

they call a foreign word one that cannot be shown to stand written syllable by syllable in Scripture, they are indeed imposing upon us an unjust law which condemns all interpretation not patched together out of the fabric of Scripture … [i]f anyone, then finds fault with the novelty of the words [Calvin is talking of such words as ‘Trinity’ and ‘Persons’] does he not deserve to be judged as bearing the light of truth unworthily, since he is finding fault with what renders the truth plain and clear.

When Calvin’s counsel is not heeded, sola Scriptura often mutates into biblical scholarship alone. Understanding the Bible in this way of thinking is wholly defined by reference to its (often putative) context of production. It is as if we are reading a text that has had no impact, a text without any subsequent readers. Writing more than 50 years ago G.E. Wright’s diagnosis (not espousal) of this mindset common among ‘biblical Christians’ drawn to biblical scholarship is still remarkably apposite:

When one has the Bible, what need is there for subtleties and sophistries of theology? In evangelical Christianity, the Bible is typically read with scant  regard for the long and intricate dialogue with the Bible that is the history of Christian theology. Many (most?) Protestant biblical scholars are attracted to the field in the first place by an evangelical piety of this kind – whatever else is abandoned under the notoriously destructive impact of so-called “historical-critical method” – the abstraction of the biblical texts from their theological Wirkungsgeschichte is tenaciously maintained.

Such endeavors help identify historical-criticism, the engine of much biblical scholarship, as the modern attempt to “start over” in a manner that left behind the gifts of the past’. Accordingly, historical criticism is notoriously restricted in what history it is interested in. Fundamentalism and historical criticism both presume that the church and the church’s teaching is an obstacle, not an aid, to reading Scripture well.[2]

Conclusion

We have surveyed how current day bible reading practices have come to be among both evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians alike. We have noted that for such readers, those who engage in this type of Bible reading, that it has more to do with Enlightenment rationalism, and a certain theory of linguistics and historicism than it does with the Protestant sola Scriptura principle and how Protestants ever since the 16th century have engaged in the reading and exegesis of Holy Scripture.

If the above is so, it would behoove my pastor-friend to reconsider how he is approaching Scripture. He might want to ask: “Am I reading the Bible in a way that fits better with Protestant confessional historical Christianity, or am I reading it from certain impulses that are actually antagonistic to that? The ultimate goal, of course, is to ‘read the bible for all its worth.’ I contend that confessional Christianity offers the best resources for doing that; particularly when it sees Christ as the rule and key for understanding all of Scripture. That said, I am not against paying attention to philology, semantics, literary realties in Scripture, history, so on and so forth; it’s just that appealing to that in slavish and rationalistic ways is not going to yield, in my view, the best exegetical conclusions.

 

 

[1] Gerhard Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 21-2.

[2]Angus Paddison, Scripture a very Theological Proposal (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 66-7.

An Exegetical Analysis of the Word anti in Matthew 20:28, and Its Argument for Substitutionary Atonement

Here is an mini-exegetical paper I wrote for my advanced NT Greek class in seminary back in 2002. I argue that the Greek word anti fits better with the idea of ‘substitution’ versus an exemplary view as an alternative. There isn’t any real theological exegesis going on here; instead, just straight lexical analysis and engagement with some critical commentators. In fact, back then, I didn’t
christcrucifiedeven know what theological exegesis was. Here it is:

Matthew 20:28 provides teaching that has been the point of much controversy. There is argument over what anti, should mean. Depending on the meaning of this word, there is support for the notion of Christ’s death as substitutionary for all humanity; or rather that Christ’s death was only “for the sake of”—i.e. as an example for how others should live their lives before God.

Therefore understanding the way this word can function will provide necessary insight on what position of the atonement this passage supports: substitution for example. Hence this study provides lexical analysis of anti, as well as interaction with particular scholars; for the purpose of ascertaining the best reading of this word (i.e. anti), and passage (i.e. Matt. 20:28).

Thesis Statement:

Jesus’ ultimate gift of service was to provide comprehensive substitutionary atonement for all humanity.

My Translation:

Just as the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom in-the-stead of the many. Matthew 20:28.

Observations:

The broader context of Matt. 20:28 is found in the preceding verses 20-27. In vss. 20-23 the mother of James and John approaches Jesus and requests that her sons be allowed to sit and rule with Jesus in His coming kingdom. Verses 23-28 provide the response of the other ten disciples as they realize James and John are trying to get on the inside track of everyone else in the company of Jesus. Verse 28 is the climax of Jesus’ response back to the apostles, and what it means to be a true follower of Him.

Lenski points out, in vs. 28, that Jesus’ attitude was not how much He could get (i.e. like the disciples were demonstrating, cf. vss. 20-24), but rather how much He could give for others (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 792). Thus the language of service and servant-hood substantiates Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth. Many scholars agree up to this point (see Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 792; Leon Morris, The Gospel According To Matthew, 512-13; Robert Gundry, Matthew, 404; Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8—20, 546).

The difference arises after the epexegetical kai. (See Lenski, Matthew, 792) is given. Luz argues that the intent of the passage is only to highlight the example of service that Jesus provides for the disciples to follow. And that this passage does not heavily emphasize the idea of lytron (=ransom, BAGD=price of release, the ransom money for the manumission of slaves, 483). Nor does this passage, according to Luz, emphasize anti (=in the stead of or substitution, see lexical analysis provided later in this study). Note Luz:

For Matthew the idea of a ransom or “substitute” is probably less important here than the radical nature of Jesus’ service. Jesus took his service to others so seriously that he gave his own life for “many.” (Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8—20, 546).

To the contrary many other scholars believe that this passage has everything to do with the notions of both ransom and substitution. The thought reflected is that lytron and anti explicitly point to the fact that Jesus truly served as the substitutionary ransom to the Father. And that this in fact serves to provide the substance for “what kind” of service Jesus came to provide. Note Blomberg’s comment as representative of this position:

The word “ransom” (lytron) would make a first-century audience think of the price paid to buy a slave’s freedom. “Life” is the more correct translation here for psyche, which in other contexts sometimes means soul. Though it has been disputed, anti (“for”) means instead of or in the place of. (Craig Blomberg, Matthew, 308; see also Leon Morris, Matthew, 512-13).

Therefore Blomberg represents this passage as a straightforward statement of Christ’s substitutionary atonement.

Lenski similarly comes to the same conclusion as Blomberg, but he does not believe that anti can be translated as “instead of,” rather he believes that contextually the relationship of the two substantives lytron and pollon point to the substitutionary understanding in this passage. Note Lenski:

On the root idea of anti.: “face to face,” . . . “The idea of ‘in the place of’ or ‘instead’ comes where two substantives place opposite to each other are equivalent and so may be exchanged.”—thus the ransom is exchanged for the many. . . . “These important doctrinal passages teach the substitutionary conception of Christ’s death, not because of anti of itself means ‘instead,’ which is not true, but because the context renders any other resultant idea out of the question.” . . . The efforts to overthrow these findings are to a great extent not exegetical but dogmatical . . . . (Lenski, Matthew, 794).

Thus Lenski provides nuanced argument, from the context, of how and why anti should be highlighting the substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement. This is not in disagreement with Blomberg, but rather points out how the context, as a principle, determines the precise meaning of anti.

Lexical Analysis of anti

Liddell and Scott, 153:

Liddell and Scott provide the semantic range from the classical perspective as:

. . . of place, opposite, over against, formerly quoted from several place of Hom. . . . in Hom. often to denote equivalence . . . he is as good as many men . . . a guest is as much as a brother . . . to denote exchange, at the price, in return for . . . for money paid . . . in preference to . . . .

The classical meaning can carry the notion of in exchange or in return for. This provides legitimate semantic domain for the nuance of substitution as some argue for in Matthew 20:28’s usage of the word.

BAGD, 72:

Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker provide the semantic domain from the Koine perspective:

. . . in order to indicate that one person or thing is, or is to be, replaced by another instead of, in place of . . . in order to indicate that one thing is equiv. to another for, as, in place of . . . Gen. 44:33 shows how the mng. in place of can develop into in behalf of, for someone, so that av. becomes=uper . . . lytron av. pollon a ransom for many 20:28; Mk 10:45 . . . .

BAGD substantiates the discussion provided by Lenski, that the two substantives, lytron and pollon in relationship with anti indeed provide this word with the notion of substitution.

Synthesis:

Provided the two positions presented above (i.e. Luz and Blomberg/Lenski), and coupling these positions with the lexical analysis; it is the belief of this study that indeed 20:28 is explicitly discussing the substutionary nature of Christ’s ultimate service for humanity.

Luz’s and the other scholar’s position, show a position that is informed by a dogmatic theological position. And each of these scholars proceed to impose their dogmatism onto passages such as Matthew 20:28, thus producing an interpretation that fits their presupposed theological grid (i.e. Christ was only providing an “example” to follow, not the nature of  His atonement).

The plain reading of the passage is to recognize that indeed Christ is emphasizing service, but that that service is defined by His substitutionary atonement at the cross.

 

Selected Bibliography

Bauer, W. A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament: And Other Early Christian Literature. Translated by W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1957.

Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of

Holy Scripture NIV Text. The New American Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

Gundry, Robert H. Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1994.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1960.

Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. Great Britain: Clarendon Press, 1968.

Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 8—20. Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Helmut Koester. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdman Publishing, 1995.

________. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Eerdmans Publishing, 1956.