Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reflections on Hebrew Grammar II

Oh no, it's Hebrew Grammar! I jest - Hebrew is a beautiful language and holds huge emotional significance for the one who appreciates its role in redemptive-history. It's just that it is, well, more difficult than Greek and so sometimes it can be hard to love it (I have my suspicions that this is how Marcion started down his particular road!). I don't think that Mr Ross helps particularly here; he's not as user friendly as Mounce, not as ingenious with his learning paradigms, and not as encouraging. He's a bit dry to be honest, like an old stick.

Anyway, the quest for highlights settles this time on the exegesis paper for the course. This one was an exegesis of Genesis 4:9-16. As well as the exegesis, we had to produce a section on how the passage informs a biblical theology of divine judgement. I found it very interesting to consider the spatial language used in the expulsion of both Adam and Eve from the garden and Cain from the post-expulsion settlement area. Both expulsions are to the east.

As an aside, I took the unyielding ground not as the result of a supernatural ecological curse, but the result of Cain's being driven from fruitful land into the wastelands (both by God's command, but also by those seeking retribution for Abel's death); its an interesting question...

Anyway, in Gen 12, Abram is called from the east to travel west. In Gen 13, Lot makes his choice of land and travels east. Not good. Of course, Abraham travels the other way (note that the land they survey is good land - like the 'garden of the LORD', G13:10). Abraham is reversing the direction of the expulsion; he is travelling back to Eden.

This spatial component to judgement is found in the narratives surrounding the relationship of Israel to the promised land and also in the NT in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The wandering of Cain is also picked up by Jude as a motif. In Revelation, Babylon is located in the wastelands and those who are outside of God's salvation are excluded from the new creation. Hence...

the embryonic components of a biblical understanding of divine punishment are seen in Yahweh's response to the sin of Cain. First, the mercy and longsuffering of God are clear. Second, there is a spiritual separation from God which is an intense and painful reality. Third, there is an attendant spatial removal from the blessings of the physical earth and of life with God on the earth. We cannot overstate the case – we are here merely provided with a trajectory, and the principle of intensification observed within the Genesis narrative must be recognised. We have referred to this as geo-spiritual judgement, and a biblical concept of divine punishment must recognise separation at its heart and not allow platonic concepts of wrath to obscure this holistic representation.

Here endeth the Reflections.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Barth on Prayer

Dr Mike Bird has been blogging Barth's Prayers recently. He also has Barth on vegetarianism! In our dining room, overlooking our family devotions after dinner, we have this posted up:
To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world. Karl Barth

Friday, July 18, 2008

Reflections on Greek Texts I

Continuing the reflections on last semesters modules, we reach Greek Texts I. This course is taught by Dr Jamie Grant, who is an excellent teacher. The course uses Mounce's Graded Reader of Biblical Greek and, as always, it was good to be using Mounce's material. I had purchased the eBook version as part of the Zondervan Greek and Hebrew library, so I was evaluating the eBook experience as well as trying to get more familiar with Greek.
  • There are downsides to eBooks: it can be good to have paper in your hand, and it takes a while to get used to not having it; if references or directions are given in class ('third paragraph on page 16'), then eBook users are sometimes scuppered, depending on whether their reader or package shows page numbers; in a class of book-users, your laptop looks a bit out of place too!

  • But, the upsides are less cost, less shelf space, ease of access to material (if I have my laptop with me, then I have access to all of the IVP Dictionary series plus a number of Zondervan commentaries and the whole of the eZondervan Greek and Hebrew library, including Mounce. Of course, one huge advantage in eBook use for reference works is the ability to search, especially across mutliple volumes. For these reasons, I'll stick with eBooks if they are available at a lower cost than the hardcopy, especially for reference works.
Highlights are difficult to pick out, but definitely include exegesis of John 15 in the Greek: the Vine.

The exegesis paper for the course was a definite highlight: exegesis of Romans 8:12-17. Dunn's commentary was very helpful, along with Moo and Cranfield of course. Ridderbos and Jewett also made an appearance! But most helpful of all was preparing the required section discussing Divine Adoption. Tim Trumper's work for his PhD, published in SBET, on Adoption was fantastic to read through. His presentation of adoption as primarily a redemptive-historical concept just immediately made so much sense and rang true with some of my own previous thoughts. It's great stuff. Tim is a friend who I've not seen for years - a native of Wales, he trained at the Free Church College and New College before doing time at Westminster (a good pedigree!). He's now minister at 7th Reformed Church, Grand Rapids.

Here's the conclusion from the paper:

Thus, adoption for Paul is a redemptive-historical privilege of Israel – in Christ the benefits of adoption are realised for those who participate in Christ, Jew or Gentile. In this way adoption ‘is not to be viewed in such a way that…(it) is a secondary gift that proceeds from the primary gift of the Spirit. It is rather that the adoption of sons represents the new state of salvation that has come with Christ in its all-embracing and eternal destination’ (Ridderbos, Paul, 200).

This is the explanation of Paul’s linking of adoption with inheritance as consummation of the sonship, especially linked with the Abrahamic and Davidic promises; with the Holy Spirit, who in the prophets would be a defining feature of the new eschatological age, and who maintains the inward communion of God with believers; and with the future aspect of the redemption of the body.

For Paul it is God’s unique Son, Jesus Christ, who has made believers’ adoption as God’s children possible. That adoption takes place through their Spirit-mediated identification with Christ, and entails participation in God’s restored people and (as heirs of God and of Christ) in the blessings and benefits of the promised time of eschatological salvation (Ciampa, 'Adoption' in NDBT).

And so, adoption is both ‘the privilege of the church as the true people of God’ and also a status that ‘affects the individual believer in the deepest motives of his existence’ (Ridderbos, Paul, 204). If the church has struggled to find a place for adoption in a systematic ordo salutis, it is perhaps because its true significance can only be found within a redemptive-historical context.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reflections on Protestant Reformation

The Reflections on last semesters modules continue with the Protestant Reformation module, taught by Dr Nick Needham. Dr Needham studied theology at New College, Edinburgh where he also taught a course on the life and works of Zwingli. No surprise then that one of our essays was on Zwingli and his relationship to Humanism. The main texts for the course were Dr Needham's own book (deep breath) 2000 Years of Christ's Power, Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation, along with readers by Hillebrand and Janz, together with works by Lindberg, McGrath and Chadwick.

The first part of the course examines the Renaissance setting for the Reformation. A lot of this was new to me, I must admit, not being a historian in any sense of the word (I did sciences at school). But, understanding the Renaissance is hugely important for understanding the Reformation, something that came out clearly in the essay question on Zwingli, entitled: Zwingli: Humanist Reformer? My answer was, basically, yes...

Zwingli was a humanist Reformer. His education introduced him to the Scriptures in their original languages and to the Church Fathers, and provided the tools to engage with them. It gave him the ideal of Christianismus reniscens – and what is this but an ideal of reformation? Whilst Zwingli undoubtedly developed his thought in an evangelical direction, leading to his Reforming zeal in Zürich, he followed this path largely because of his humanist ideals and the tools with which humanism had furnished him....the Scriptures provided the impetus for Zwingli’s Reforms at Zürich, which affected not only the Church, but also society. McGrath writes that ‘the influence of humanism upon the Swiss Reformation was nothing less than decisive’.

Historians have often treated Zwingli in contrast to, and in the shadow of, Luther. Attempts to replicate Luther’s crisis conversion experience as a paradigm for Zwingli’s life is testament only to the romantic power of Luther’s story. Zwingli deserves to stand on his own as a Reformer with a broad vision of the power of the Word of God and the God of the Word. For him, the issue of Reformation was one affecting all mankind: ‘the church of the pontiffs is the church of the devil, the enemy of man’.

Dr Needham's emphasis that the Reformation was the action of one part of the Catholic church in securing reform, his highlighting of contemporaneous evangelicals in the Roman Catholic tradition, and his contrasting the views of the Reformers with the type of thing that often passes unchallenged as bona fide Reformed teaching today were all very helpful antidotes to the simplistic jingoism that sometimes seems to associate itself with the topic.

One of the joys of Church History courses is reading the primary sources. The earthiness of Luther would put a blush on many a contemporary ministers face. Whilst Luther was often brusque and rude, I think we need some of his earthiness today. He said that 'while he and Melancthon were drinking beer together, the Word struck a mighty blow against the papacy' (my paraphrase) and also apparently, 'if I break wind in Wittenburg, they smell it in Rome' (phooey!). But, my man is Zwingli. He was more measured than Luther, more of a gentleman, like Calvin. On Calvin, Dr Needham writes:

Calvin was basically a gentle, quiet, longsuffering person, who hated controversy and took part in it only when a high sense of duty compelled him - he had none of Luther's love of a good fight...He rejoiced in the earthly gifts of God. Natural beauty, food, drink, family, friendship, art, music: these things were very good - Calvin had no doubt of that. Yet the kingly service of Jesus Christ and His Gospel was infinitely greater and more glorious. p219

I look forward to sharing a cognac with Calvin and Zwingli, and perhaps even a beer with Luther!
The other essay on the course this year was on the Radical Reformation, specifically the Rationalists and the Spiritualists. Of course, the Anabaptists were the largest movement in the Third Reformation: rioting, protesting, disrupting sermons and generally doing the extremist thing. Well, we've learned to live with it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reflections on Pauline Theology

It's time for reflections on last semester's modules and first up is Pauline Theology. The module is taught by Dr Mike Bird, author of The Saving Righteousness of God (Paternoster) and A Bird's Eye View of Paul (IVP). Paul is a man who is close to Mike's heart and so having him as tutor means that you enter a thoroughly Pauline world in the lectures - visiting key themes and questions (old and new) in a thoroughly refreshing way.

The course is a 50/50 mix of exegesis in Galatians and Pauline Theology. The required texts (there's plenty more reading outside, especially from the ever-useful Dictionary of Paul and his Letters) are Gorman's Apostle of the Crucified Lord, either Schreiner or Dunn on Paul (I went for Dunn) and either Witherington or Longenecker on Galatians (I went for Longenecker). My brief reflections on the course include the following highlights:

  • I enjoyed my first prolonged encounter with Dunn. OK, he takes NPP a lot, lot further than I, but nevertheless Dunn is helpful on so many points and eminently readable.
  • Yet again, the socio-historical background to Paul has been invaluable. A little thought about Paul's background in Pharisaism, the world in which he was educated and within which he ministered pays huge dividends when it comes to interpretation. For example, compare Paul's argument in Romans 5 with 4 Ezra 7.118:

O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants.

  • Discussing Paul's Conversion and Call and its relationship with his encounter with the risen Jesus outside Damascus.
  • Discussing Paul on the Law. One new line of thought was seeing that so often 'keeping the Law' is identified with moral perfection in Reformed theology. However, large parts of the Law are given over to instructions on sacrifices to atone for sin. So, the Law presupposes sin and keeping the Law cannot then equate to moral perfection. Sanders' proposal of law observance as Covenantal Nomism rather than legalism has great value in this regard.
  • Longenecker on Galatians. Analysis of the situation in Galatia has spawned a diverse range of explanatians. I like many of Longenecker's arguments in his commentary. Try this on 2:15-21:

Of particular significance is the fact that in 2:15-21 Paul deals with both 'legalism'...and 'nomism'...In 2:15-16 Paul presents in abbreviated form the case against the former; in 2:17-20 he deals with the latter, with 2:21 being a summary conclusion incorporating both. So in reading the probatio of 3:1-4:11 we must be guided by such a twofold argument and not just take it that only one point is being made (as commentators usually assume). Likewise in reading Galatians for spiritual profit, we need to recognise that both 'legalism' and 'nomism' are being dealt with...(p95).

  • I think Longenecker is correct here, with the caveat that the 'nomism' that is being opposed is specifically Mosaic 'nomism'; the principle of obedience is enshrined in the New Covenant (as Paul himself refers to the Law of Christ in 6:2).

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Plagues and the Passover, part II

On the relationship of the tenth plague to the previous nine, Waltke writes:

The severity and universality of the tenth plague, its manner of accomplishment by a direct act of God instead of by Moses' staff...and the unique celebration of the tenth plague as a lasting ordinance underscore the importance of the event in Old Testament Theology (OTT, 381).

Clearly Waltke sees the discontinuity as well as the continuity. The circumstantial nature of the tenth plague is clear: it addresses Pharoah's attempt to kill the male Israelite children. But, it also transcends the circumstantial, becoming paradigmatic. The judgement that falls is universal and predicates a universal judgement on all mankind, without distinction. So, it is interesting that Waltke mentions the work of Paul Wright who notes that the pattern of the ten plagues is 3+3+3+1.

This schema of 3+3+3+1 appears to form the basis of the plague series found in the book of Revelation. Paralleling itself to the plagues in Exodus, Revelation takes on a similar framework in the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls, where the three sets of three have become three sets of seven culminating in the smiting of the nations.

The judgement of the tenth plague is universal, only the slain lamb's blood turns away the Destroyer. Could this idea of a ransom of redemption also secure the immunity of the Israelites from the other plagues, which are actually also essentially universal? If MT Ex8:19 does in fact read ransom (pdt) then perhaps this idea is expressed there. However, Kaiser (EBC) thinks that the MT has been wrongly transcribed at this point...

the letter d was omitted by haplography from the text that originally read prdt from the verb prd "to separate" in the Hiphil (EBC)

Even so, when we think of Plague Ten, we ought to recognise its distinct universal nature as a paradigm of the global judgement to come at the eschaton. Not only is there a link to Revelation, but also to the words of Jesus in Jn12:31, spoken so soon before Passover and his own atoning redemptive death as the Lamb of God...
Now judgement is upon this world, now the ruler of this world is cast out.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Plagues and the Passover, part I

A few weeks back, we celebrated our communion weekend here in Lochboisdale. The previous week, our minister had preached on the Passover. That got me thinking: we tend to think of the plagues as being targetted at Egypt and hence at Pharoah himself. However, the picture is a little more complex. Some plagues appear universal (the first three) but others appear not to effect the land of Goshen where the Israelites dwell. The first sign of an ethnic (or geographic) division is in the fourth plague (swarms of insects), where in Ex8:22 Yahweh tells Moses to announce that in Goshen there will be no swarms (to show that Yahweh is in the midst of the land). Enns writes that:
this is the first plague to make a disctinction between God's people and the people of Pharoah...This distinction is maintained throughout the remainder of the plagues (except for the locust plague), either explicitly or implicitly, and culminates in the tenth plague... NIVAC, Exodus
But I'm not sure this is wholly correct. Whereas in the fourth plague and onwards there is an ethnic (or at least a geographic) distinction - this is seen especially in the ninth plague where we read (Ex10:23)

They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings

- such a distinction does not occur in the final plague: the Destroyer is indiscriminate in his work, he does not recognise ethnic divisions, only the blood turns him aside. Enns does recognise this later on and links it with Yahweh's right to the firstborn. But the fact remains that the distinction in plagues four to nine (excepting the locusts) is not maintained in the last plague. The last plague is universal in its effect and only the faithful obedience of Israelite families will save them from it's effects.

Obviously, this is related to the concepts of redemption and God's right to the firstborn. But I also wonder whether Ex8:23 offers something: the Hebrew (BHS Ex8:19) literally being
and I will set a ransom (pdt) between my people and your people
This is part of the announcement of the fourth plague. Interesting. More thoughts on this later...