Who Is My Neighbor?

Yesterday a comment on the Internet[1] sparked some reflection about the nature of neighbor-hood and the people who inhabit the Middle East. The comment in question seemed to conflate America, and particularly its Christian inhabitants, with an idealized version of Israel on the one hand, and Middle Eastern peoples, particularly devout Muslims, with Israel’s OT enemies on the other. In doing so, the commenter was saying both that we should take care of our neighbors –fellow Americans – and keep at bay those who hold to Islam because the Arab peoples can only ultimately be consigned to idolatry and violent hatred for Isaac and Jacob’s descendants.

There are a number of issues here, but I will focus on two. I think they can be summarized in two questions – who is my neighbor? And, who is Israel?

Regarding the first, Jesus makes it plain in the Gospels that if one wants to discern who counts as a neighbor, he should first think of the person with whom he has the most enmity and work from there. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan is chosen because to a Pharisee that would have been the most theologically and ethnically offensive choice. Jesus’ point is that neighbor-hood is not nationalistic – the Samaritans were viewed as outside Israelite society; it is not ethnic – the Samaritans were viewed as a sub-par ethnically mixed group by “pure” Israelites; and it is not about theological correctness – the Samaritans were viewed as worshiping incorrectly by citing Mt. Gerizim, not Jerusalem, as the proper site for worshiping Yahweh. In other words, the definition of neighbor-hood starts with the person I least want to be my neighbor and then works from there. In 21st century rural Deep South America, I’d imagine the epitome of someone who is the opposite[2] of a resident of that area in terms of nationalism, ethnicity, and theology would very likely be an undocumented Syrian refugee. That is the starting point for neighbor-hood for a Christian.

This, I think, is fairly easy for many Christians to grasp. What may be harder to work through is the subsequent statement about Middle Eastern peoples only being able to produce idolatry and hatred towards Isaac and Jacob’s descendants. In other words, the idea is that in the Old Testament Israel was the faithful worshiper of Yahweh, and now, since America is Israel, we are the faithful Christian nation. Conversely, in the OT the descendants of Ishmael and Esau were always idolatrous and at enmity with Israel, and now, since the Middle Eastern nation-states are Ishmael and Esau, they can do nothing but produce idolatry and enmity.

I don’t know any other way to say this – that is just a very poor reading of the Old Testament. In fact, I’m not sure anyone with this view has read the Old Testament very much(not a shocking proposition in light of the incipient Marcionism in many churches). In the Old Testament, Israel commits idolatry over and over and over again.[3] Israel is unfaithful to Yahweh and Yahweh almost destroys them many times.[4] Conversely, it is the nations that many times exhibit obedience to Yahweh in contrast to Israel’s disobedience. Rahab in Joshua 2 and the Gibeonites in Joshua 10 are prime examples. Further, God in the OT Prophets promises to save not just Israel but the nations – the Ishmaelite nations particularly – as well. The promise of salvation that Christ fulfills is not for an ethnic group but for all people. Justification by faith is for Jews and Gentiles, Jacobites and Ishmaelites alike. There is nothing inherent in anyone aside from our common inheritance of Adam’s sin nature.

To claim that Americans, or Germans, or Brazilians, or Chinese, or Kenyans, or anyone else has some kind of advantage over any other ethnic group with respect to the way Adam’s sin has affected us all is unbiblical. To claim that the gospel of Jesus Christ is in some way not for another ethnic group is unbiblical. To claim that a certain ethnic group is not my neighbor based on our political, nationalistic, ethnic, or theological differences is unbiblical. This kind of thinking has no place in the kingdom of God or his Church.


[1] I will not link to or quote this comment for two reasons: 1) I have no desire to draw any more attention to it that I already am, and 2) the sentiments expressed are by no means held only by this one person. Through personal experience and observation of our current culture I am certain this kind of thinking is prevalent throughout the USA.

[2] Of course, the Samaritans were not the opposite of the Pharisees; they were closely related to one another in many ways. A closer analogy might be African Americans, particularly in the mid-twentieth century, but really throughout American history. You could also posit a non-English speaking undocumented Hispanic immigrant. The list goes on.

[3] E.g. Exodus 32, Joshua 7-8, Judges 8, 2 Kings 12.

[4] See for instance Exodus 33, and Joshua 7-8 and Judges 20-21 when the herem (command of total destruction) is placed on tribes within Israel. This command is given to Israel to destroy the nations in Canaan but in these and other instances Israel is so unfaithful that Yahweh turns the command on their heads.

Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar 2015

Worldview and the Old TestamentAs ETS/SBL/AAR/etc approaches, I want to invite those interested to this year’s Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar and to the newly formed Scripture and Doctrine Seminar. The theme for the former is The Old Testament and Worldview, and Al Wolters, Raymond van Leeuwen, Koert van Bekkum, Jamie Grant, David Beldman, and I will be speaking on various aspects of that topic. The schedule for our meeting is:

1:00 – 1:10      Welcome and Introduction – Heath Thomas (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, USA)

1:10 – 1:15      Opening  – William Olhausen (St. Mathias’ Church, Ireland)

1:15 – 1:35      Worldview and the Old TestamentAl Wolters (Redeemer University, Canada)

1:35 – 1:50      Pentateuch and WorldviewRaymond Van Leeuwen (Eastern University, USA)

1:50 – 2:05       Worldview, Historiography and OT NarrativeKoert van Bekkum (Theologische Universiteit Kampen, The Netherlands)

2:05 – 2:20      The Psalter, Worship and WorldviewJamie Grant (Highland Theological College and University of the Highlands, UK)

2:20 – 2:40      BOOK LAUNCH and BREAK

2:40 – 2:55      Wisdom and Worldview – Dave Beldman (Redeemer University, Canada)

2:55 – 3:10      Old Testament Worldview and Early Christian Apocalypses Matthew Emerson (Oklahoma Baptist University, USA)

3:10 – 3:40      Questions and Discussion

3:40 – 3:45      Closing

We will also be launching the most recent publishing project of the seminar, A Manifesto for Theological Interpretation, edited by Heath Thomas and Craig Bartholomew.

A Ph.D. student at SBTS, Brian Renshaw, has helpfully linked to the relevant information and registration pages here.

For convenience I’ve linked to the individual pages below.

Registration for the Seminar – http://www.eventbrite.com/e/scripture-and-hermeneutics-seminar-at-sbl-2015-tickets-15974778994

Registration for the (new) Scripture and Doctrine Seminarhttp://www.eventbrite.com/e/scripture-and-doctrine-seminar-tickets-17338075651

Registration for the dinner – http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/st-georges-centre-for-biblical-and-public-theology-dinner-2015-tickets-18907036455

If you can make it to any or all of these, we would love to see you there.

Please also feel free to pass this along to anyone else you think may be interested.

Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar 2015

Worldview and the Old Testament The Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar, which has produced the 8-volume Scripture and Hermeneutics Series with Zondervan, as well the upcoming Manifesto for Theological Interpretation with Baker, will host its annual meeting this year in Atlanta, GA (in partnership with IBR) on the topic of Worldview and the Old Testament. Speakers include Al Wolters, Jamie Grant, Koert van Bekkum,  Raymond van Leeuwen, and David Beldman. I’m also honored to present (on apocalypse and OT worldview).

In my own life, both academic and devotional, the seminar has been and continues to be incredibly influential. Craig Bartholomew, the seminar’s founder, as well as Heath Thomas, the current committee chair, have made a point to show how rigorous scholarship can and should be wed to deep devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ, reliance on the Spirit, and to the aim of glorifying our heavenly Father. Of course, the seminar has produced scholarship that is beneficial even if one does not take such an approach to academic work, but for my part it has not just been the quality of the scholarship but also the spiritual depth of the seminar’s leadership that has been particularly influential for me.

I’d encourage you to register and attend.

Holy War in the Bible


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