Tag Archives: biblical studies

The Philosophy of the Hebrew Bible

I no longer find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Pasadena, rather I find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Jerusalem. So why am I here? To engage with a similar sort of project that the AT project is engaged with at Fuller Seminary; I am here to think through the relationship between Scripture, analytic philosophy, and the life of faith.

Jerusalem

On June 12th-23rd a group of Christian and Jewish scholars whose expertise range from biblical studies, to political philosophy, to analytic theology gathered to discuss Yoram Hazony’s book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.

In this book Hazony contends that western culture has made a major mistake in not seeing the Hebrew Bible as a significant philosophical work. Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and Plotinus’s Enneads are all part of the Western philosophical cannon, but why isn’t the Hebrew bible? Hazony argues the reason this is so is because the Hebrew Bible has been deemed a “work of revelation” as opposed to a “work of reason.”

 

YSSAccording to Hazony the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures are “in fact closer to being works of reason than anything else.” (Hazony, 3) He laments the fact that Western culture, due to Christian influence, has read the reason-revelation-dichotomy into the Hebrew scriptures. This dichotomy, in turn, has affected the standing of Hebrew Scriptures within public spheres. By turning back to conceiving the Hebrew Scriptures as a work of reason, Hazony hopes to restore its standing in public dialogue. Not only does Hazony argue that the Hebrew Scriptures are works of reason, rather he argues that “Hebrew Scriptures can (and should) be read as works of philosophy, with an aim to discovering what they have to say to the broader discourse concerning the nature of the world and the just life for man.” (4)

Hazony’s attempt at constructing a philosophy of Hebrew Scriptures has two major parts, which respectively, make up the structure of his work as an introduction to the philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. First, Hazony provides a methodological framework by which we can begin to read the Hebrew Scriptures as works of philosophy. He then proceeds to provide some examples of how the authors of scripture were engaging philosophical discourse. This latter part addresses topics like metaphysics, epistemology, and political philosophy. In addressing such topics, he provides plenty of fodder for further reflection by philosophers and analytic theologians.

Dome of the Rock

Over the next few days I hope to write a bit more about the sort of project Hazony is engaged in, so you can expect a few blogs either on the ideas in the book, or ideas that have come out of this workshop and the conference following the workshop.

Advertisements

Every Word Biblical Commentary Volume is on Sale for Just $9.99!


Right now, each Word Biblical Commentary is just $9.99!

For a brief time all WBC volumes are on sale at Logos, Accordance, Olive Tree, and WORDsearch. You’ll save an average of 70% off the original price!

Just act fast, because this sale ends soon. Here are the deals:

Browse at Logos

Browse at Accordance

Browse at Olive Tree

Browse at WORDsearch

WBC has more #1-rated volumes than any other commentary series (source: BestCommentaries.com, view the top commentaries). These essential resources feature top-rated scholarship by Richard J. Bauckham, William D. Mounce, Gordon J. Wenham, John E. Goldingay, Richard N. Longenecker, and many others.

Word Biblical Commentary delivers the best in biblical scholarship, featuring an international team of over 50 top scholars. These are the leading scholars of our day who share a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation.

The WBC series emphasizes a thorough understanding of textual, linguistic, structural, and theological evidence – equipping you with judicious and balanced insight into the meanings of the biblical text.

These widely acclaimed commentaries will help you build deeper theological understanding from a solid base of biblical scholarship.

If you know someone who would like this sale, please share this post with them.

(HT: Zondervan Academic Blog)

Jason Sexton’s Advice to Students – Serve the Church!

Jason Sexton, a Systematic Theologian who holds positions at USC and Cal State Fullerton and heads up the Theological Engagement with California’s Culture Project, advises those pursuing theological and biblical studies to serve the church consistently and faithfully in order to flourish during their education

Mushy Brains, Dry Brains

It sounds like the title of story book for hungry little zombie children. Don’t worry though its not, I haven’t broken the ground on the genre just yet. Mushy Brains, Dry Brains, is actually how I feel after reading certain books.

brain-books

The other day I was talking to a friend who teaches at Eternity Bible College about what books we enjoyed the most this year. As we got to talking it became clear that both of us have experienced the sort of spiritual dryness that accompanies reading a ton of academic books. He said that he tries to correct the imbalance by reading some “devotional” type books along the way, however many devotional books are just so lame! They are filled with fluff and bad theology, and they leave your brain mushy. I felt the same way. I told him that I try to read 1 ministry/devotional book for each academic book I read (and maybe about 5 fiction books per year). I found that this helps. But I think there is a real problem. Why can’t there be books that don’t leave your brain feeling dry or mushy?

Why can’t there book books that are both academic and devotional? Why can’t there be books that touch both the head and the heart?

I think there are certainly some of those kinds of books out there. So with that I give you my list of 8 awesome books (I’m limiting myself to “modern” books) that will not leave your brain feeling dry or mushy.

  1. Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright – This book changed my life. It was also the book that brought me into historical Jesus studies. Now I would say that most historical Jesus studies deflate the reader spiritually. Not this one though. Wright presents such a compelling picture of Jesus and his mission, more specifically a picture of Jesus as the promised King of the OT that you won’t be able to keep yourself from putting the book down in order to worship Jesus on the spot. It might be a hard read for some, but its well worth the effort.
  2. The Mediation of Christ by T.F. Torrance – This is a condensed version of Torrance’s theology on the person and work of Christ. It’s a systematic explanation of the gospel: The second person of the trinity took on human flesh, uniting the divine nature with human nature in order to bring reconciliation between the two. The reconciliation which began in a manger climaxes on the cross and extends into eternity as the God-Man reigns at the right hand of the Father. Again, the way he presents his theology of incarnation and atonement will cause you to worship. In fact I found myself shedding a few tears while reading this academic book.
  3. Holy Scripture by John Webster – Its exactly what it sounds like, a dogmatic account sketching out a doctrine of Holy Scripture. It is not meant to be a comprehensive account of Holy Scripture, thus it is just a sketch. Also it is a piece of dogmatic theology, thus it is a piece of theology which exists within the bounds of recognized church dogma. As I read Webster’s theology I was personally edified, and was drawn into a deeper fellowship with the God whose communicative actions was what this book was all about. Ultimately Webster embodies what the proper task of the theologian: to instruct, guide, and form the disciples of Jesus Christ.
  4. Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden – This is the authoritative biography on Edwards.  In my opinion there is something moving about reading biographies of spiritual giants that just builds up our faith. Although its academic (and long), this biography encouraged me to be a better shepherd and to love God with my mind just like Edwards did.
  5. Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright – This book changed my life. It brought me into Kingdom theology, and I have lived there ever since. In it Wright paints a picture of what Christian eschatology is all about, through deep exegesis and sweeping big picture theology Wright writes that our life desperately matters for the next life. He concludes the book with some thoughts on what a robust eschatology does for the mission of the church.
  6. Prayer by Karl Barth – I know a lot of evangelicals cringe when it comes to Barth, but not me. This is one of the books that reassured me that I made the right choice in accepting (some of) Barth’s theology. Who would have thought, the guy who wrote a 6 million word long dogmatic theology could have written such a beautiful and moving book on the theology of prayer and the role of prayer in the life of the church. There is a lot of gold in this little book.
  7. Atonement by T.F. Torrance – No book has done more to shape my Christology and understanding of the gospel than this book. Torrance follows other reformed guys like McCleod Campbell and Jon Edwards, as well as church fathers like Athanasius in understanding the atonement through the vicarious humanity of Christ. More than anybody else, Torrance’s work here is theology that preaches. Pick this long book up and I guarantee you will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the gospel. It’s a bit complicated, but if you can grasp what he is saying it will move you to tears, and more importantly it will move you to worship your Savior.
  8. The Gospel of the Kingdom by George Eldon Ladd – Biblical Studies was not a friendly field for evangelicals when Ladd was writing, it was dominated by liberals and fundamentalists, but Ladd broke the glass ceiling so to speak. This is a great intro to Kingdom theology, but more importantly for me, I was personally challenged to live according to the way of the Kingdom while I was reading this. I can vividly remember where I was when I read some of the most challenging parts. I was in a car on the 395 on the way back from Mammoth. As I was reading I put the book down to pray that I would truly be kingdom focused. This book will do that to you.

What are your favorite academic books with “heart?” I would love to hear your answers. Comment below!

Book Review: Jesus on Every Page by David Murray

A few weeks ago Ed Stetzer began a series of blogs written by professors and pastors called Preaching Jesus from the Old Testament. The purpose of the series was to get people who have the responsibility of bringing the word week in and week out to their congregations to engage with these blog posts and to engage with different views on preaching Christ from the Old Testament. The second guest blogger was Dr. David Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Professor David Murray was in the process of publishing a book called Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament. I was fortunate enough to have been sent an advance reader’s copy of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it as a good starting point for lay people and up and coming preachers who want to begin wrestling with the issue of preaching Christ from the OT.

Today I would like to review Professor Murray’s book. I will summarize its key points, provide what I take to be the best insights in this book, and finally I will present a short critique of Murray’s hermeneutical presuppositions. Having said this, keep in mind the fact that I am reviewing an “uncorrected advance reader’s copy,” so the things reviewed might actually end up changing a bit in the published version.

Summary

The book is divided into two parts – Part 1:My Road to Emmaus and Part 2: Spiritual Heartburn. Part 1 reflects Murray’s journey towards finding Christ in the OT. Here is what Murray says:

In the first part of the book, I tell the story of my own Emmaus road – how the Lord gradually taught me to see more and more of Jesus in the Old Testament. (2)

His journey reflects the journey of many who are convinced that we must preach Christ from the OT. He reflects upon reasons why the OT is ignored among scholars and Christians. He also reflects upon the results of ignoring the OT. In the next few chapters he makes a case for finding and seeking Christ in the Old Testament. We should note that Murray is hesitant about saying “finding Christ in the OT,” he prefers to use the phrase “finding Jesus in the OT.” This is a bit puzzling because the incarnate second person of the trinity, Jesus Christ, is not actually in the OT. Jesus of Nazareth was not born yet. Nevertheless he makes a case for finding Christ in the OT by examining the words of Jesus, the teachings of Peter in 1 Peter 10:12, Paul’s position in Galatians 3-4 and 2 Corinthians 3, and concludes this part of the book by examining the apostle John’s theology of Christ in the OT.

Having established that we can find Christ in the OT, part two focuses on ten simple ways to seek and find Jesus in the OT. He shows how Jesus is revealed in Creation, in the lives of OT Characters, in Christ’s theophanies. Then Murray shows how Christ is found in different genres and sections of scripture. In chapter 10 he shows how Jesus is found in the OT Law, in chapter 11 he shows how Jesus is found in the OT historical books, in chapter 12 he shows how to find Jesus in the prophetic literature. Then Murray has an insightful chapter in discovering Jesus through OT types. This chapter that seems a bit out of place, in terms of the order and structure of the book. Personally I would have chosen to place it near the chapter on discovering Jesus in OT Characters, instead of placing it between chapter 12 which is examines prophetic literature and chapter 14 that examines Christ in the OT covenants. He concludes the book with two chapters on finding Christ in wisdom literature, he shows us how to find Christ in Proverbs and how to find Christ in OT poetry.

Positive Aspects of the Book

There are many things in this book for which Professor Murray should be commended:

  1. The Inclusion of Discussion Questions. The fact that he included discussion questions will help people who have no familiarity with finding Christ in the OT to engage with this new concept. The questions are a good resource to make sure that people will engage with the material in a meaningful way as opposed to simply breezing through the book. These questions also make sure that the reader engages with Scripture itself rather than simply taking Murray’s words as authoritative. I could easily see myself using these questions as I process the concept of preaching Christ in the OT with some of the upcoming preachers in my ministry.
  2. The Inclusion of His Own “Emmaus” Journey. I think that many who read this book will have a story similar to Murray’s (other than being asked to teach OT at a seminary… this sort of reflects my own journey though. The first time I taught at Eternity Bible College I was asked to teach the OT even though I had told Preston Sprinkle that I have focused my study on the Gospels). It helps that Murray included his own personal journey and his own personal objections to this method, because many will have similar objections when approaching this subject.
  3. The Case for Preaching Christ from the OT. I honestly believe that he presents a clear and simple case for preaching Christ from the OT. Its based upon Scripture, and he doesn’t resort to proof-texting, which is something that many who want to preach Christ from the OT have resorted to doing in their own arguments.
  4. His understanding of OT Literary Nuances. I especially appreciated his discussion of the ordering of the OT books in the Septuagint and the ordering of the OT books in the Masoretic text. How we order the books of the OT gives us a framework for understanding the OT itself. Murray shows that both ways of ordering the OT books actually points to Christ. The Septuagint leaves us hoping for the restoration of God’s people, which is found in Jesus alone. The Masoretic Text ends with Chronicles, basically showing that Israel is not as it should be, it awaits the day when God’s people will actually live and act as God’s people were intended to be.
  5. His Chapter on Typology. Typology is dangerous. Murray teaches us how to use typology wisely without falling into the many traps that are associated with the use of typology. He wisely roots typology in the fact that the types are historical realities as opposed to simply spiritual realities (the trap of allegory). I really believe that this is the best short introduction to typology I have read. It is extremely helpful that he walks us through the process of using types to find Christ.

A Couple of Critiques

Let me lay out a couple of critiques that I had regarding Murray’s hermeneutical presuppositions.

Murray believes that Jesus used New Testament light to interpret the Old Testament Scriptures. In order to illustrate this belief he approvingly quotes Graeme Goldsworthy (15):

We do not start at Genesis 1 and work our way forward until we discover where it is all leading. Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in light of the gospel. The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goal and meaning.

I’m am not to sure about using this method for interpreting Scripture, it seems to elevate one part of scripture as more authoritative over another. All of scripture is God-breathed, all of scripture is God’s revelation, all of Scripture reveals Christ. However, I really believe that we cannot know and understand Christ without the Old Testament. The Old Testament, without knowledge of the NT, gives us a worldview and the language that will be used in the NT. Without understanding what sacrifices mean in and of themselves in the OT, we don’t get what Jesus’ sacrifice is about. Without the OT understanding of priesthood taken on its own, we get a deficient view of how Jesus is the ultimate priest. Basically what I’m saying is that we shouldn’t privilege the NT over the OT, we need to be engaged in a dialectic between the NT and OT, with Christ being the center of interpretation.

My major critique of this book lies in Murray’s understanding of OT believer’s faith. In essence I think that Murray’s understanding of OT faith has OT believers believing way too much.

In his chapter on Christ in Poetry he lays out three thesis about OT faith (190):

  1. No Old Testament believer enjoyed the extraordinary light that NT believers have since Jesus died and was resurrected, and the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost.

  2. Every Old Testament believer had sufficient light to trust in a future Messiah who would suffer, die, and be glorified.

  3. Every Old Testament writer knew that his messages of salvation by grace through faith in the Messiah would be much clearer to future generations.

I can agree with thesis one and two, but I am not too sure about the third thesis. Its just not clear to me that justification by faith alone was being preached in the OT. It doesn’t even seem like an overwhelming concern to the NT writers either. Yes the doctrine is there, but the NT writers (as well as the OT writers) seem to be focused upon the fact that YHWH through the Messiah is a deliverer, that he is a sacrifice for sin, and that he will reign everywhere and forever.  Much of what passes for preaching Christ out of the OT boils down to preaching a gospel of justification by faith alone from the OT instead of preaching a full orbed gospel of the messiah as the fulfillment of God’s OT promises. I believe that if we make belief in justification by faith alone a requirement for OT faith then we run into some trouble because the truth is that we are saved by faith in the messiah alone, not by “faith alone in the doctrine of faith in the messiah alone.”

Conclusion

There are a few presuppositions that Murray holds that I disagree with, but its nothing that would prevent me from recommending this book to others. Part One and the chapter on typology make this book worth purchasing. So as soon as this book is released on August 20th, go out and buy this book. I know I will buy a few copies of this book to give away to a few people whom I know are interested in this subject.

By the way thanks to LifeWay and Ed Stetzer for sending this book to me and thanks to Professor David Murray for being willing to give out advance reader’s copies of this book!

Jesus on Every Page

How To Read the Bible (I’m Not Being Snarky!)

The last post in this series of posts on hermeneutics was titled: How to Read Your Bible (or How You Actually Read the Bible), I must admit that that the title was a bit snarky. You probably thought I was going to tell you about ways to read your bible but I fooled you and showed you how you actually read your Bible. I’m sorry about that. This time I will actually outline a few methods for reading the Bible. There are at least three rather obvious places where we can find meaning in the text of the Bible. When you read you probably find yourself engaging in trying to find meaning in all three” locations” Here are the three:

  1. Behind the Text
  2. In the Text
  3. In front of the Text

Behind the Text

  • This way of approaching the texts attempts to locate the meaning especially in history. This has been the dominant approach in biblical studies for centuries. When reading this way the reader attempts to isolate the historically intended, correct meaning of the text. It attempts to inquire into the historical situation/background of the text. It places a majority of its emphasis on what is going on during the actual writing of the text. This type of reading makes use of other discipleins like “Historical Criticism,” “Extracannonical Jewish Text Studies,” and “Classics.” The key word for this type of reading is “History.”

In the Text

  • In the text methods (obviously) attempt to focus on the text itself, its form, its structure, its consistency, etc.  Many times this sort of reading will make use of other disciplines like “rhetorical criticsm” or “Genre Analysis” or “Linguistics.” The in the text reading” is where we might locate the blooming discipline of “new testatment use of the old.” This discipline fits into this way of reading scripture because it focuses on how some texts make use of other texts. This type of reading (new testament use of the old) makes use of intercannonical liteary themes. Thus it limits itself to the study of the text itself. The key word for this type of reading is “Literature.”

In Front of the Text

  • This way of reading scripture takes very seriously the questions, “who is doing the reading?” This method emphasizes the fact that the reader is not an empty receptacle for meaning, rather as the reader engages with the text, the reader contributes (baggage) to his/her reading of the text. In-front-of-the-text readings do not pretend to be neutral, rather they recognize that all our readings come from a particular vantage point, that is, there is no “view from nowhere.” This way of reading scripture makes use of other disciplines like “Feminist Criticism,” “African American Criticism,” and “Latino/a Criticism.” Interpretation for the sake of Christian Ethics might also fall into this sort of reading, namely because Christian Ethics is about the response of the reader and his/her understanding of the text. The key word for this type of reading is “Response.”

This was just a really short outline of three ways we approach scripture. Although professional scholars usually engage primarily in one of these methods (N.T. Wright would be considered “Behind the Text” and Walter Bruggeman would be considered “In the Text”) the truth is that when we read scripture we actually end up using all three methods. When reading a tough passage you probably have asked yourself:

  1. What did this passage mean to them 1000’s of years ago?
  2. What is the “big picture” truth?
  3. What does it mean for me today?

In a rough way these three questions parallel the three methods outlined above. So in one sense you are a biblical scholar engaging in complicated hermeneutical methods!

How to Read Your Bible (or How You Actually Read the Bible)

Today I want to continue our (unofficial) mini-series on hermeneutics. I never intended to start a series on interpreting the Bible but I guess thats what ended up happening. Last time we kicked off the series by looking at the parable in Luke 15:11-32. In doing this we saw how our different vantage points lead us to say different (although responsible) things about a text. The fact that there is a good amount of leeway for what makes a responsible interpretation led us to claim that interpretation is an art with certain sensibilities, and not exactly a science with a prescriptive method. Today we turn to two different ways to read a text, also Kevin Vanhoozer helps us consider the reader’s role in interpreting texts.

In Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation Kevin Vanhoozer sets the stage for understanding the role of the reader in New Testament interpretation. He helpfully points out that

“Reading is not merely a matter of perception but also of production; the reader does not discover so much as create meaning.” (13)

At first glance there seems to be something that’s off putting about thinking that the reader creates meaning with the text. In fact this quote might horrify some of you. (You might even think I am off my rocker and have bought into some sort or relativism.) Usually we think that we have to draw out the texts meaning by using objective, scientific methods. However the truth is that there are certain elements that prevent us from being capable of giving an objective reading of the text. The reader always brings some baggage to the text, whether that is the place of the reader, the gender of the reader, or the race of the reader. (This is exactly what we saw in our last post: That’s Not in the Text!!! )

Taking into account that the reader cannot be neutral to the text, the reader is faced with two options to make meaning, Vanhoozer lays them out as: the relationship of “reader-respect” and “reader-resistance.”

There is no way around it…. you bring your social, cultural, economic baggage to your interpretation. So when you read, you allow your “baggage” to create what you take to be your meaning. So you are left with two options:

  1. You can approach the text respectfully, that is, you can try to allow the text to speak to you on its own terms.
  2. You can resist the text, that is, you can push back against what the text is saying because it doesn’t fit your cultural paradigms.

So how do you read the scriptures? Are you a respectful reader or a resistant reader?

Kevin Vanhoozer: Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Kevin Vanhoozer: Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School