Holy War in the Bible


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I’m really excited that another resource has come out from my friend Heath Thomas. Heath is Associate Professor of Old Testament and PhD Director at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. His latest publication is an edited volume (along with Jeremy Evans of Southeastern and Paul Copan of Palm Beach Atlantic University) on Holy War in the Bible. I’m sure this will be a welcomed resource on an important theological and ethical topic. You can order the book here.

 

 

The Bible is About Jesus

The entire Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, is about Jesus Christ.

Let me give a few reasons why I believe that is the case, as well as a few clarifications about what that means.

First, reasons:

  1. I suppose #1 ought to be the fact that Jesus says on numerous occasions that the Old Testament is about him. Below are a few examples:
    1. John 5:46 – “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.”
    2. Luke 24:27 – “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
    3. Luke 24:44-48 – “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
    4. I am not saying here that literally every single verse of Scripture is about Jesus, nor do I think Jesus is, but more on that in the clarifications section.
  2. If the entire OT doesn’t point to Christ, then why should Christians read it? What makes our reading any different from a Jewish reading? This probably should be a guiding question in how we discuss what the Old Testament is about. At the end of the day, if we can stand up on a Sunday morning and preach a sermon from the OT that would sound exactly the same as a message from a motivational speaker, then we need to ask ourselves if it is a truly Christian message. And the fundamental distinction between the Christian message and all other messages is that we believe Jesus is Lord through his righteous life, atoning death, death-shattering resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and one day through his return and that the work of Christ has application for believers. If Christ’s person and work is not central to our message, and indeed to our Scriptures, what is the difference?
  3. The entire Bible points to Christ because it is the Spirit’s job to testify to the Son so that through the Son we might see the Father. The assertion that the Bible is about Christ is a Trinitarian one, not a Christomonic one. The reason why the Bible is about Christ is because it is through Christ that we know the Father. The Spirit inspires the written Word to reveal the Incarnate Word so that through him we might know the Father.
  4. 2 Tim. 3:14-15 clearly indicates that the Old Testament was able to make Timothy wise unto salvation in Christ. This is but one example in the entire New Testament where the authors of the epistles indicate that the Old Testament is a treasure trove of doctrine (not just Christology proper but also soteriology, hamartiology, etc.), doctrine that ultimately leads to Christ and salvation in him.
  5. A related point to the previous sentence is that theology finds its hub in Christ. Again, this is not to be Christomonic, but simply to note that if we are talking about human beings, our image is summed up in Christ. If we are talking about sin, it is dealt with in Christ. If we are talking about the Spirit, his job is to testify to Christ and apply his work to our hearts. If we are talking about the church, we are his body, bought with his blood. If we are talking about eschatology, from an Old Testament perspective we’re looking for Christ’s first coming and from a New Testament perspective we’re looking for his second coming.

Now for some clarifications:

  1. I am NOT saying that literally every verse in the Old Testament points to Christ. But that is also, in my mind, the incorrect way to phrase the issue. When the OT writers wrote their books, they were not splitting their work up into verses but instead viewed their book as an integrated whole with a unifying message. Further, they viewed their book as integrally related to whatever other parts of the OT were written at the time. They connected their books to previous Scripture and also connected the different parts of their own book(s) together. Both of these types of connections are textual – the authors of Scripture quoted, alluded to, and echoed previous Scripture to connect the message of their book with the message of the entire Bible. This means that even if one particular verse does not have much to say about Christ, it is still connected narratively and textually to the rest of the book and the entire Bible, which IS about Christ.
  2. Some would object and say that there are points at which the human author of a book may not have intended for the passage to be as Christocentric/eschatological as we are reading it. Two things here:
    1. Per the previous point, the writers of Scripture ALWAYS connect the smaller parts to the larger whole, and thus if we pay attention to the literary context of the particular passage, we recognize that context as eschatological and Christocentric.
    2. The ultimate author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, and he knows exactly why he’s inspiring the human author. Again, his job is to point to Christ, and so we should expect that he does so. Everywhere.
  3. Finally, a Christocentric reading of Scripture does not preclude an emphasis on application. To the contrary, reading the Bible Christocentrically actually gives us proper grounding for application. For it is through knowing, seeing, and savoring Christ that we can properly respond to (apply) the Word of God to our lives. When we divorce application from intent, we’ve missed the intent of the Bible – to transform us into the image of Christ. And it is by seeing Christ that we are transformed into his image (2 Cor. 3:17-18). So for the Bible to be properly applicable it must be Christocentric.

Paul Joyce appointed to Samuel Davidson Chair–Kings College London

Back in April, Paul Joyce was appointed to the Samuel Davidson Chair at Kings College London. Paul was previously at St. Peter’s College Oxford and has garnered international acclaim for his work in Ezekiel. I’ll always remember my first SBL in New Orleans when I was invited to the Oxford reception and I was introduced to Paul. He spent several minutes engaging me with questions about school, and introducing me to a number of other Old Testament faculty. There were many other (read: more important) figures at this reception and I was very humbled by his patience and his charity. He is more interested in lifting those around him up, rather than himself. If all Christian scholars were like Paul, Biblical Studies would be a healthier, less insecure environment.

Kings conducted an interview with Paul about his background and goals as the new chair. You can read the interview here. His post begins September 2012 and I am sure he will be great at Kings. Good luck Paul.

Michael Kruger on the basis of distinguishing heresy from orthodoxy in the early church

Over at Canon Fodder (which is the best name I’ve heard for a blog), Michael Kruger has been discussing misconceptions of the NT Canon. In his latest post he discusses the basis for distinguising heresy from orthodoxy in the early church. I really enjoyed what he writes concerning the role of the Old Testament in the early church.

 Routinely overlooked by those in the Bauer camp—ironically in a Marcionite fashion—is the decisive role played by the Old Testament amongst the earliest Christians. M.F. Wiles once declared, “There was never a time when the Church was without written Scriptures.  From the beginning she had the Old Testament and it was for her the oracles of God.”[1]   Aside from the numerous examples of Old Testament usage within the New Testament itself, quotations from the Old Testament are abundant within the writings of the apostolic fathers and other early Christian texts. Thus, right from the outset, certain “versions” of Christianity would have been ruled as out of bounds.  For example, any quasi-Gnostic version of the faith which suggested the God of the Old Testament was not the true God but a “demiurge”—as in the case of the heretic Marcion—would have been deemed unorthodox on the basis of these Old Testament canonical books alone.  As Ben Witherington has observed, “Gnosticism was a non-starter from the outset because it rejected the very book the earliest Christians recognized as authoritative—the Old Testament.”[2] So, the claim that early Christians had no Scripture on which to base their declarations that some group was heretical and another orthodox is simply mistaken.   The Old Testament books would have provided that initial doctrinal foundation.

[1] M.F. Wiles, “Origen as Biblical Scholar,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to Jerome (ed. P.R. Ackroyd and C.F. Evans; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 454.

[2] Ben Witherington, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magadelene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 115.

You can read the entire post here.

Book Notice: Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address

A book to keep your eye on if you are interested in theological interpretation is Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address (Eerdmans) edited by Craig G. Bartholomew and David J.H. Beldman. In the Preface Bartholomew and Beldman lament that the Old Testament is for the most part unknown by the majority Christians and that there are far too few books to assist Christians to feast upon it as Christian Scripture. Their response to the famine is this edited volume with the goal of listening for God’s address through the Old Testament:

At the heart of the hermeneutic advocated in this book is the belief that our love for the Old Testament and our desire for God will come together only when we make the goal of our interpretation to listen for God’s address. If Scripture is God’s Word, then any other goal is inadequate.

Hearing the Old Testament boasts an impressive collection of contributors beginning with Bartholomew’s opening chapter, “Listening for God’s Address: A Mere Trinitarian Hermeneutic for the Old Testament.” Part II of the volume concerns methods in interpretation and is appropriately named, “Learning to Listen.” Essays from Part III are involve listening to the different sections of the Old Testament.  Part IV concludes the volume with, “Hearing and Preaching the Old Testament.”

What stands out about this volume is the careful editorial process. Contributors to Part II, “Learning to Listen” first read Bartholomew’s chapter on Hermeneutics and then were invited to interact either positively or negatively with his essay. Contributors to Part III were asked to write their chapters after reading Bartholomew’s chapter and the chapter’s on “Learning to Listen.” Part IV was then written in light of the Parts I-III. This type of editorial planning should bring a certain type of cohesion that normally lacks in an edited volume. I only hope that future volumes may follow suit.

The List of chapters and authors:

  1. Listening for God’s Address: A Mere Trinitarian Hermeneutic for the Old Testament by Craig G. Bartholomew
  2. History of Old Testament Interpretation by Al Wolters
  3. Philosophy and Old Testament Interpretation by Bartholomew
  4. Literary Approaches and Old Testament Interpretation by David J.H. Beldman
  5. History and Old Testament Interpretation by Tremper Longman III
  6. Biblical Theology and Old Testament Interpretation by Mark J. Boda
  7. Canon and Old Testament Interpretation by Stephen G. Dempster
  8. Mission and Old Testament Interpretation by Christopher J.H. Wright
  9. Ethics and Old Testament Interpretation by M. Daniel Carroll R.
  10. Hearing the Pentateuch by Gordon J. Wenham
  11. Hearing the Historical Books by Iain Provan
  12. Hearing the Psalter by J. Clinton McCann Jr.
  13. Hearing the Old Testament Wisdom Literature by Bartholomew
  14. Hearing the Major Prophets by Richard Schultz
  15. Hearing the Minor Prophets by Heath Thomas
  16. Hearing and Preaching the Old Testament by Aubrey Spears

Ehrman, Canonization, and the OT Prophets

After teaching through the Latter Prophets and Writings this past quarter, I was continually struck by two things – the fact that the prophets were generally ridiculed, persecuted, and ignored, and the fact that the entire Old Testament canon is a coherent whole, continually tied together textually. Each author appears to relate his work to previous material in the OT and especially to the Torah.

Couple that with the fact that Bart Ehrman has been on my mind recently (I blame Dan Wallace and the Mark fragment), and you know why I’ve been thinking about canonization. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the entire worldview Ehrman has attempted to construct (or, rather, glom off of Walter Bauer) concerning the formation of the biblical canon. Ehrman would have us believe that the canon is the product of the “orthodox” winning against Gnostics and others whose writings were of a completely different character from what we find in the New Testament. Of course, Ehrman’s focus is on the NT but I would imagine he might say something similar of the OT canon’s formation.

Back to the Latter Prophets – I just don’t see how Ehrman’s view of canonization fits, especially with the prophets. The prophets were not popular, and even after the exile their message probably would not have been especially well received. This doesn’t fit with Ehrman’s view that the “popular crowd” wins out in canon battles.

More importantly, though, I simply don’t see how Ehrman’s view fits given the organic growth of the canon. Scholars like Brevard Childs, Stephen Chapman, and Christopher Seitz have demonstrated again and again that the Old Testament was formed through continually re-appropriating the received text in light of new situational circumstances. The people of God continued to receive a fresh word, but it was always a fresh word tied to the word that had already been received.

Furthermore, I don’t see why we shouldn’t view the New Testament’s formation this way as well. It wasn’t as if the NT authors’ message was wildly popular among the larger Roman population, and though it was much more accepted by the time of Athanasius’ festal letter, evidence suggests that the canon was quite stable well before that point (see David Trobisch, The First Edition of the NT).

Additionally, I understand that Seitz argues that the New Testament canon was formed in much the same way as the Old in his new book (although I haven’t been able to get to it yet). And by studying the way the New Testament uses the Old I think this makes abundantly more sense than saying that a council 400 years (or 600 if you want to take Ehrman’s most ridiculous proposal) after the fact chose the 27 books of the NT. The NT clearly uses OT texts, narratives, and themes to interpret Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, commissioning of the Church, and eventual return. The books of the NT were written for the same reason and using the same approach as the OT. God had done something new, this time decisively and finally, in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit inspired the authors to interpret that event in light of the received word of the Old Testament.

So the fact that both the OT and NT are the products of organic growth flies in the face of Ehrman’s assertion that the canon is a disparate group of writings that fit with what the “orthodox” felt needed to be included.

Great is Thy Faithfulness?

I wanted to highlight a recent project that came out in November. The book is an edited volume on the book of Lamentations entitled, Great is Thy Faithfulness: Reading Lamentations as Sacred Scripture (Pickwick) edited by Robin A. Parry and Heath A. Thomas. Heath is a friend of mine and has a steady stream of projects in the queue for the next couple of years–you’ve been warned (in a good way).

The book seeks to assist the reader in how to read Lamentations as Scripture. Personally, I do not know if I’ve ever heard a sermon based on a text from Lamentations let alone Lamentations even used as a cross reference. To this, Parry and Thomas write:

Lamentations has never had a place of honor at the table of Christian spirituality. It is not one of those texts that everyone wants to converse with—a John’s Gospel, an Exodus, an Isaiah, a Romans. It is one of those texts people feel uncomfortable around, not quite sure what to do with. Indeed, were it left to us, it may well not have had a place at the table at all. Rather, like the desolate character of Lady Jerusalem sitting alone as people pass by on the other side of the road (Lam 1), the book of Lamentations itself has been passed by, ignored by the other guests (xiii).

Great is Thy Faithfulness is a welcomed contribution to the dinner party described. One strength about this project is that it addresses Lamentations from Jewish, Messianic Jewish, Christian, and Artistic/Contemporary reception history. This becomes an ideal work to show how reception history can help inform and shape the way the church approaches Lamentations as a word from God.

The need of the project is coupled by essays from accomplished scholars. Part 1 begins with a chapter from Heath Thomas (Southeastern Seminary) on the interplay of Scripture and Hermeneutics followed by Part 2 with a chapter on the theology of Lamentations by Paul House (Beeson Divinity School). Part 2 then proceeds with Jewish reception history,  with essays from:

Lamentations in Isaiah 40-55 by Lena-Sophia Tiemeyer (Kings College, Aberdeen)

The Character and Significance of LXX Lamentations by Kevin J. Youngblood (Harding University)

Targum Lamentations by Christian M.M. Brady (Penn State University)

Lamentations Rabbati by Jacob Neusner (Bard College)

Introduction to Rashi’s Commentary on Lamentations by Mayer I. Gruber (Gurion University)

Lamentations in Jewish Liturgy by Elsie R. Stern (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)

Lamentations in Modern Jewish Thought by Zachary Braiterman (Syracuse University)

Following Jewish reception history is a chapter on Lamentations in Messianic Jewish reception history.  Holocaust Theology in the Light of Yeshua? Messianic Jewish Reception of Eikah by Richard Harvey (All Nations College)

After Messianic Jewish reception history is Lamentations in Christian reception history with essays by:

Lamentations in the Patristic Period by Heath Thomas (Southeastern Seminary)

Christian Interpretation of Lamentations in the Middle Ages by David Hogg (Beeson Divinity School)

John Calvin’s Interpretation of Lamentations by Pete Wilcox (Canon Chancellor at Lichfield Cathedral)

Lamentations for the Lord: Great and Holy Friday in the Greek Orthodox Church by Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou

Lamentations and Christian Worship by Andrew Cameron-Mowat SJ (Heythrop College, University of London)

Part 2 ends with a section on Artistic and Contemporary reception:

Musical Responses to Lamentations by  F. Jane Schopf (Rose Bruford College)

Lamentations in Rembrandt van Rijn: “Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem”  by Heath A. Thomas (Southeastern Seminary)

Psychological Approaches to Lamentations by Paul Joyce (St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford)

Feminist Interpretation(s) of Lamentations by Heath A. Thomas (Southeastern Seminary)

Part 3 of Great is Thy Faithfulness is a chapter by Robin Parry (Wipf and Stock Publishers) on Wrestling with Lamentations in Christian Worship.

Part 4 is a chapter on pastoral theology with Confession and Complaint: Christian Pastoral Reflections on Lamentations by Ian Stackhouse (Senior Pastor of Guildford Baptist Church).

Great is Thy Faithfulness is a needed volume for the field and is worthwhile to anyone who wishes to read Lamentations theologically. You can purchase the book here.