Monthly Archives: May 2014

Review: A Mouth Full of Fire

A Mouth Full of Fire

“I am putting my words as a fire in your mouth; these people are tinder and it will consume them” (Jeremiah 5:14).

Andrew Shead presents to us the topic that in the book of Jeremiah, the vocabulary of “word” and “words” is not only prevalent, but is actually a blueprint marking divine speech with a role to give the book’s final form its narrative and theological shape. It is not Jeremiah, but the phrase “the word of the Lord” which is the main character in the book of Jeremiah.

Now Jeremiah has always had a confusing structure to many people, laymen and scholars alike. (A simple test: Outlining Jeremiah one day. Go ahead. Try it.) It’s clearly not chronological with it’s constant references to “the fourth year of Jehoiakim” in the second half of Jeremiah. So what’s a Bible lover to do? How can one understand Jeremiah’s main message?

Shead’s Outline

Introduction: Theological Interpretation [see following paragraphs]
Chapter 1: The Word and ‘words’ in Jeremiah
Chapter 2: Structuring Jeremiah
Chapter 3: Word and Speaker
+++++++how the speaker is completely absorbed by the Word
Chapter 4: Word and Hearers
+++++++how an all-powerful Word can be rejected by its hearers
Chapter 5: Word and Power
+++++++the power of the Word to build and to destroy
Chapter 6: Word and Permanence
+++++++how does Jeremiah and Baruch’s writing stand to be permanent Word?
Chapter 7: A Conversation with Barth

The Unity of the Bible

The NSBT series seeks “‘to analyze and synthesize the bible’s teaching about God… on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus’” (pg. 25, quoting Brian Rosner) believing there to be an inner unity to the Old and New Testaments and how it fits as “Scripture” and “God’s Word.”

“To what extent does the final meaning of the one, divinely authored Scripture shape the initial meaning of its various parts read in their own right?….There is a process by which God’s revelation unfolds across Scripture [read here for an excellent post on typology]…and this must be honored” (pg. 26).

“Biblical theology…may be defined as knowledge of God as God in the Bible” (pg. 28). Shead believes (which I must agree) that when we read/study the Bible we are not reading an ancient book about an ancient superstitious people who were trying to figure out who or what was up in the sky. Rather the book we have in front of us is one which reveals God in such a way that we may in fact know Him, His character, and His Son, the Word.

Chocolate Milk

•  In chapter 2 Shead shows the structure of Jeremiah and how the book isn’t a precise chronology, but an increasing theme of how the Word of the Lord tears down and builds up nations. “We might describe [Jeremiah] as the story of what happened when the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah” (pg. 38).
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Though the chapter can be tedious (the lingo of “Disjunctive Headings”, “atypical Disjunctive Headings”, and “Narrative Formulas.” I still don’t understand the difference), it comes with the purpose in showing how Jeremiah is structured.Shead’s outline and structure of Jeremiah gives way to pages and pages of note-taking (hopefully in your Bible too!). Jeremiah has a history riddled with confused outlines. This one might not be perfect (it might be?), but it’s an awfully good one.

•  The movie director illustration was a novel idea as a way to understand the use of the author’s ‘camera’ throughout Jeremiah. Movement 1 of Jeremiah gives us the point of view of the prophet. In Movement 2 the camera gives us the long shot of people, places, and times. In Movement 3, after we see a battle of words, but in Jer. 37 the camera pulls back, and “words are slowly overtaken by events, and Jeremiah shrinks to a figure in a wide-angled landscape shot of destruction until, in chapter 39, he is reduced to an incidental character, caught up with the rest of Judah in the destructive power of the word of God, finally unleashed on his feckless people” (pg. 90). In the final movement, the camera rises as high as it can go, and the word of the Lord sounds across all the nations of the earth.

•  The exegesis in chapters 3-6 was alluring. It may sounds funny saying exegesis is alluring, but I enjoyed read through Shead’s work seeing how Jeremiah’s use of “word” and “words” structuring and colored his (and Baruch’s) writing to their respective audiences (in both the MT and LXX) and gave a greater understanding to the meaning of portions of Jeremiah and his book as a whole.

Spoiled Milk

•  Chapters 5-6 are great in the exegesis, but I was bewildered once Shead moved from hermeneutics to theological explanation. Whether talking about ‘speech’ in the divine agency debate, Goldingay’s ‘model of scripture’ as inspired word, or the difference between prophetic speech and a prophetic book (to name a few), I didn’t always know if Shead agreed with an opposing position or not. And whether or not he did, I didn’t know why it mattered in the end.

•  Finally in chapter 7, Shead has a “conversation” with Karl Barth. Fortunately he doesn’t make Barth out to be the enemy (since he’s not). (Barth was actually more conservative than many of the liberal scholars of his time. He rejected much of his liberal training and went down a more conservative route).

Barth described his work to be a ‘theology of the Word’, which is exactly what Shead is aiming at in his book. What does Jeremiah teach us about the Word (message) of God and His (written) words? Barth, being so influential in 20th century Protestant theology, still had a ways to go in understanding this, and Shead tries to show that in the last chapter of his book.

However, this last chapter was the hardest to read. Again, the points of comparison in the theologies was pretty cloudy. [Disclaimer: I will add, though, that I’m no Barthian connoisseur, so I jumped into the section with very limited knowledge. Also, the NSBT series, though not out of reach for the lay person, it is not the most accessible either]. But, without the clarity, I had to reread portions to get the gist of what Shead was saying, much of which I’m still unsure.

There was still much to be gained in this section (I have plenty of underlinings). There was gold to be found, but it does take plenty of mining.

Recommended?

This book will not be for everyone. If you’re not interested in a scholarly discussion about the nature of the word of God and/or a structural study on the theology of the “word/words” in Jeremiah, then you wouldn’t be interested in this book. (Not really sure why’d you’d even be reading this review, really).

However, if you are studying Jeremiah, and you’d like to read an excellent book on his structure and power and place of the word of God (it is the main character), then this book is for you. It’s also not so dense that an intrigued reader couldn’t read it. If I ever taught/preached through Jeremiah I would surely use Shead’s outlined structure and work.

Lagniappe

  • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology (Book 29)
  • Paperback: 321 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 4, 2012)
  • Amazon

[Many thanks to IVP UK for providing a review copy of this book. I was not required to provide a positive review in exchange for this book]. 

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The Gospel According to Mark: Part V

Mark

Mark’s Parabolic Purpose

In Mark 4.1-34 we see Jesus’ use of Parables, what I’ll call Mark’s parabolic purpose. Why is this section placed here? And why are all the parables given at once? Did Jesus tell each of these parables one after the other? Or are they like a compilation album of His greatest hits?

Mark places this collection (in my opinion) of parables here to show that if Jesus is the King, there is a reason why there are some who don’t follow Him. Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God in the form of parables, how it is here, and how it is growing and will one day be consummated at the final judgment. There is a response to be made now.

1-20 The Parable of the Sower

We’re immediately introduced to a sandwich again.

A   The Parable of the Sower [1-9]
      B   The Purpose of the Parables [10-12]
A’   The Parable of the Sower Explained [13-20]

A

Jesus gives a parable in the form of an agricultural picture, one that fits an agrarian society. Parables like these are hard to understand for those of us who work a 9-5 job in air-conditioned office cubicles 5 days a week. But this fits the culture perfectly. Pretending that we are reading Mark for the first time, verses 1-9 don’t really tell us much about the kingdom of God… or anything else. We can understand the disciples question in v10. I’m asking for an explanation myself!

B

Yet, before explaining the parable, Jesus gives a foundational understanding to His parables. There are insiders and there are outsiders, which we see all over in Mark [ch’s 5, 6, 9, 10, 14] and in Matthew [11.25-30]. And, almost inconceivably, Jesus says that everything is in parables so that “…they may not perceive….not understand…lest they should turn and be forgiven.” There is a debate over the meaning of [ινα, hina {4.12}] and whether it means “in order that”, “so that”, “because otherwise they would see and not perceive….”, etc., etc.

The general consensus, though, agrees that those whose hearts are hardened against God will not know the meaning Jesus intends to give in His parables. Sure the Jewish leaders know what Jesus means in the parable of the wicked vinedressers [12.12], but they only have a cognitive knowledge. They do not know the meaning in such a way that they then respond by turning their hearts toward God. It’s good to recognize the eschatological nature of the Kingdom (it’s here and it is coming) so long as you understand the Christological nature as well (Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection have changed history. He is the King, and He demands a choice).

A’

Jesus then explains the parable, again showing the disciples to be insiders [4.11], and the parable is about how the seed (the word of God, the proclamation of the King and His kingdom) can be received or rejected based on the soil (eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, hearts that do not ask for forgiveness). The sower’s job is to sow the word.

There are three soils which (eventually) reject the word. They hear the word, but then Satan takes it away [Judas], or stoney hearts [Pharisees] don’t let the Word take root, or riches [rich young ruler] and the world [King Herod {6.26}; Pilate {15.12-15}] choked the Word out.  And there is one soil which receives the word and produces abundant fruit [12.9; cf. Mt. 21.43]. 

21-25 A Lamp Under a Basket

Jesus describes Himself as one hidden under a basket. “Does a lamp come [Greek word here actually means ‘come’ and not ‘brought in’] to be put under a basket…?”

Jesus came to be made manifest and to be brought out into the light [4.22]! Yet for now, He is like a hidden lamp. And to those who hear, with the measure they use it will be measured against them, either positively or negatively. The more you know, the more you’re responsible for. Yet if you do have and understand, more will be given to you. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you” [Mt. 6.33]. If not, the little you do have will be taken away [4.15].

26-29 The Parable of the Seed Growing

Mark shows us two more parables after this. Whether you respond positively or negatively to the proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God [1.15], your choice will not prevent the Kingdom from coming. The man plants and does nothing, the earth produces, and the full grain grows. This doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing, but it also means that the coming of the Kingdom isn’t all on our shoulders. If one thing is for sure, the Kingdom will come in its entirety.

30-32 The Parable of the Mustard Seed

And as the Kingdom comes, it will pervade. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard shrub because of the immense size difference between the beginning and the finished product.  This isn’t a freakishly overgrown plant representing Satan’s minions in today’s church (while waiting for the Kingdom to come). The Kingdom is here! (though not yet realized).

The Kingdom started small like a mustard seed, but it will continue to grow and, like mustard shrubs which are left alone, will pervade the land in an unstoppable manner. So much so that the birds of the air will make nests in its shade. These birds may be represented positively as Gentile nations which will be included in the Kingdom under Christ [Ezek. 17.22-24; cf. 31.6; Dan 4.12, 21]. The Kingdom is for the whole world [Jn. 3.16].

33-34 Use of Parables

And Jesus spoke as the crowds were able to hear it. But He explained the parables to His disciples who, ironically in Mark 8.18, will be questioned and likened to those in 4.12. The parables were not an end in themselves. They were a means to an end. The Kingdom came like a small mustard seed, unrecognized by Rome and the Jewish leadership. They cannot conceive that the wedding has begun [2.19-22] and includes the harlots, publicans, poor, and blind [Lk. 14.21, 23]. But in the end, when the kingdom is consummated, it will be great indeed. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Cor. 6.2]. Right now Jesus is like a hidden lamp, but in due time when He is lifted up, resurrected, and ascended the disciples will go out into all the world and proclaim the name of the King who reigns.

Having taught on the Kingdom of God, the soils who receive and reject the word, and the overpowering effect of the Kingdom, the King will go on to show the power of His Kingdom over that of our world: nature, demons, illness, and even death.

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Summer Review

2014 Summer Reading

Summer’s review books are here to read, and I have plenty of catching up to do. Having co-taught Mark last semester, I have a number of commentaries to review/compare, along with a few other books to put up here. I’m excited to say that I’ll be teaching 2 Corinthians at CCBCY for the Fall 2014 semester. It’s a book that’d held my interest for the past few years, and I’m very much looking forward to studying/teaching it.

In the meantime, aside from studying for that class, I have a number of books to read for the summer.

Herald Press/MennoMedia

Believers Church Bible Commentary Mark – Timothy Geddert

B&H Academic

Recovering Redemption – Matt Chandler
The End of the Law – Jason Meyer

WJK Press

An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus – Robert Stein
The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teaching – Robert Stein

P&R Publishing

Antinomianism – Mark Jones

Along with Biblearcing, studying, reading, and leading the occasional Bible study, I’ll have plenty to do this summer. And I’m looking forward to all of it.

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The Gospel According to Mark: Part IV

Mark

Upon our last venture through Mark, we looked at the 5 conflict stories that pitted Jesus against Jerusalem’s leadership. Mark puts this early on in his gospel (chapters 2-3 for us) to show us early on that Jesus’ ministry was fraught with conflict from the beginning. As we move through these 5 conflicts, each intensifies to the point that the Pharisees, the ones who keep the law of the Lord, show their defiled hearts [7.21] by meeting with the Herodians to plot the death of Jesus [3.6].

Mark 3.7-12

Jesus and the disciples withdraw to Galilee where, again, a great multitude from a range of locales (Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and even up north from Tyre and Sidon) comes to Him. And in these 6 verses not only do we see Jesus being popular with the crowds, but we also see Him clean out an unclean spirit right after we see the unclean spirits of the Pharisees/Herodians [3.6; 8.15; 12.13]. Yet here, even the unclean spirits recognize who Jesus is and obey Him.

Unclean spirits: 1
Pharisees: 0

Mark 3.13-19

Jesus makes a new “Twelve” of Israel. Just as the tribes of Israel were to proclaim the goodness and mercy of God to the Gentile world, so the 12 apostles will proclaim the Kingship of Jesus to both the Jewish and Gentile world. He appoints them and gives them power to heal sickness and demons (this includes Judas – [Mk. 14.18-21, esp. v19]). They will be doing the will of God by following after Jesus [3.35].

Sandwiches

Mark gives us a sandwich from 3.20-35:

A  Family Matters  [3.20-21]

Mark tells us that “His own people” thought He [Jesus] was out of His mind. Whether for appointing the twelve [3.14] or for being surrounded by a great multitude [3.20], they thought what Jesus was doing was shameful to the family name. “He is out of His mind.”

B   Blasphemy  [3.22-30]

Verse 22 gives us the first reference of any animosity from Jerusalem, and we will see more of this as Mark’s gospel goes along [7.1; 10.33; 11.27]. They claim that Jesus does the work of the devil, and casts out other demons by Beelzebub (lord of the dwelling/lord of the flies) himself.

But Jesus says that a house divided cannot stand, and for Satan to commit civil war on Himself would make no sense. If a kingdom is divided against itself, it will not stand. And surely neither the kingdom of Satan nor the Kingdom of God is divided against itself. A house divided will not stand [3.25; cf. 3.19; 14.18, 45]

In 3.27 Jesus tells that He is the strong man. He binds Satan and is able to heal and cast out demons. This is not because of Satan’s crafty plan, but because Jesus is the King! Yet the Jerusalem leadership is denying Jesus’ Kingdom-ship. In fact, while they accused Him of blasphemy in 2.7, they are actually the blasphemers here [3.28]!

This unpardonable sin is not a ‘one-off’ sin that a Christian commits and is forever lost. The Jewish leadership is committing the unpardonable sin by attributing the acts of the King to that of Satan himself. They have an “unclean spirit” [3.6; 7.21] which they are not cleansed from (like others [3.10-11]), and yet they accuse Jesus of having the spirit of Beelzebul [3.22].

A’   Family Matters  [3.31-35]

Mark brings it back to the family where Jesus’ real mother, brothers, and sisters are those who do the will of God, which would be recognizing that He is the King, not that He is out of His mind. The problem of the family is set around the unpardonable sin of the scribes showing that even Jesus’ own family is culpable of committing the unpardonable act of rejecting Him as King. Who are Jesus’ real family? Those who accept His Kingship [12.30]. What Jesus was doing wasn’t shameful to the family name, for it is what His Father wanted.

Markan Themes

Betrayal drips from this chapter and sheds light on a major Markan theme: Nobody understands the King. Not the scribes from Jerusalem, not the people (they don’t understand what His messiahship entails), not His disciples, and not even His own family understand who Jesus is. It seems like only those who understand Jesus’ status are the Father and the demons.

Yet Mark will explain this paradox in chapter 4. Through parables Jesus will show that there are some who are ready to listen, and some who are waiting to deny the coming Kingdom.

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