Monthly Archives: January 2015

Review: Reading Backwards

Reading Backwards

“Only by reading backwards, in light of the resurrection, under the guidance of the Spirit, can we understand both Israel’s Scripture and Jesus’ words” (p 86).

Growing up, I didn’t know much about the differences between the gospels, or, at least the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Like many, I didn’t understand the reason for the multiple gospels besides the fact that they gave more/less information on different circumstances in the life of Jesus. I thought they were pretty straightforward. Jesus was born, He performed a bunch of miracles, he was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to the Father.

As my last review may have implied, I also barely read my Bible. As a kid and teenager, reading my Bible was on top of list of things I should do, but not so much on the things I will do. Even still, I didn’t have much of an understanding on the author’s point of view (most likely because I didn’t read enough. Sonic the Hedgehog doesn’t teach much besides speed reading).

I Could Have Used a Book Like…

I could have used a book like Hays’ Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. Granted, his book on Paul (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul) was written when I was three (leisure reading), but here Reading Backwards is about the Gospels. Hays looks at the stories of the Gospels that present us with a real, historical Jesus, the Son of Man, and the long-awaited Messiah.

But wasn’t the historical Jesus just a man? He never did miracles, he never made messianic claims about himself? In fact, didn’t the gospel writers (Evangelists, as they will be called here) mythicize Jesus’ life to bring about Christianity? Did they steal somebody else’s “sacred texts”?

Focus

Hays’ focus is to look at how the four Evangelists reread Israel’s Scripture in a way to fully represent Jesus as the long-awaited central figure of the Gospels. Just as Jesus interpreted Moses and all the Prophets the things concerning himself to the two on the road to Emmaus, so the Evangelists do the same thing for their audience.

The Evangelists looked at the Old Testament and showed how Jesus was pre-figured in Scripture. Figural readings don’t destroy the original meaning of the earlier text. They clarify it and affirm it’s reality in a new significance “beyond that which anyone could previously have grasped” (xv).

Summary

Chapter one is the introductory chapter which gives a framework over the issues in our discussion. Hays asks, “How does each of the Evangelists read Israel’s Scripture?” and “How does each one draw upon figural interpretation of the Old Testament to depict the identity of Jesus and to interpret His significance?” The Gospels teach us how to read the Old Testament, and the Old Testament teaches us how to read the Gospels. We read forwards from the OT and backwards from the NT.

Chapters two to four lead the reader through the distinctive of the Gospel.

Chapter two begins with Mark, the earliest gospel. Mark works with indirect hints and allusions; while he speaks of Jesus’ identity with God, he also speaks of His non-identity (p27). Parables are the mystery of the kingdom of God that is given to some but hidden to others. And like Jesus’ parables, Mark tells us about Jesus as we are able to hear.

Chapter three is on Matthew, who “is far more overt than Mark in his interpretive strategies…providing explicit explanations of Mark’s hints and allusions” (p 36). Matthew has a strong interest in the theme of fulfilled prophecy and shows you how to look at Old Testament context and read it as the New Testament intends you to read it.

Chapter four is on Luke. Some scholars think that Luke provides us with a “low”/”primitive” Christology with “no clear assertion of Jesus’ identity with God” (p 57). Hays shows us that Luke presents his readers with a high Christology seen through narrative identity. This basically means that we see Jesus’ identity throughout the narrative, with Him being the object of worship among many, the Son of God, and the awaited Lord of the new exodus.

Chapter five ends with John. John handles the OT texts in a much different way than the Synoptics. “If Luke is the master of the deft, fleeting allusion, John is the master of the carefully framed, luminous image that shines brilliantly against a dark canvas and lingers in the imagination” (p 78). “John’s manner of alluding does not depend upon the citation of chains of words and phrases, instead it relies upon evoking images and figures from Israel’s Scripture…. Rather than nullifying or replacing Israel’s Torah, Jesus “assumes and transforms them” (p 82).

Chapter six reflects on the similarities and differences in the Gospel’s hermeneutical approaches to the task of telling the Gospel story. Here Hays replays and summarizes the previous four chapters, while providing us with the strengths and weaknesses (or “cautions” for the readers) of each Gospel narrative. The Gospels are like a choir, sung with harmonies and, at times, dissonance. But the dissonance is not to be erased, for it brings tension resulting in the final resolution.

The Chocolate Milk

Hays performs a job well done in his book. I look forward to his future work on the Gospels, which will hopefully cover more ground with great(er?) insights. Hays is dense, yet clear and cogent. He masterfully shows how the life of Jesus fulfills the OT seen under each Evangelist’s perspective. Even when the divinity of Jesus is not explicitly seen falling from His mouth, it is seen in His life and actions. The better we know and understand the Old Testament, the better we’ll understand Jesus. And the better we understand Jesus, the better we will know the Old Testament.

Hays understands the challenge of diversity among four gospels. Yet he says, “The very variety within the fourfold Gospel canon creates a stimulus and encouragement for us to carry on the story in our own voices, working out our own fresh ways of engaging Israel’s Scripture” (p 102).

Hays wants us to become better readers. “To read Scripture well, we must bid farewell to plodding literalism and rationalism in order to embrace a complex poetic sensibility. The Gospel writers are trying to teach us to become more interesting people–by teaching us to be more interesting readers” (p 105). Hays ends his book with a section called Gospel-Shaped Hermeneutics, ten ways the four gospels teach us to read Scripture.

The Eggnog (due to my personal distaste of the drink)

In chapter six, Hays looks at the strengths and weaknesses of each Gospel. While I imagine him putting on the persona of a book reviewer, I don’t really know what he means by a Gospel’s “weakness,” as if to say it has a legitimate weakness. However he does show us the difficulty in dealing with harmonizing certain texts in the Gospels.

Hays compares the strengths of the Gospels to our current Postmodern era. He says that “particular voices within [our] canon will be more or less useful in different times and places, as the church discerns the points of vital intersection between the Bible and its immediate cultural situation” (p 102). He declares his sympathies and says John is the “most problematical,” and Mark “the most theologically generative.” He is still trying to figure out what he thinks about Matthew, and chooses Luke as the church’s hermeneutical guide for the long haul.

With only 109 pages, I wish he would have spent more time on his thoughts about how the church should use Luke more than the other Gospels (given our Post-modern period), and how and in what way our culture would benefit from Luke’s gospel over the others.

But Hays returns to asking how the Gospels come together to complement each other. How can we find the common denominator between them to become more faithful readers of the Scriptures? And that is something, with the help of Hays’ book, other books, and the church’s own reading and studying that we need to be working to figure out. Whether Luke, Mark, John, or Matthew, how do we discern the voices of Scripture for the outside world?

Recommended?

Yes, Hays’ work is an excellent work, and it’s only a teaser! This book is his “progress report of sorts” for the work he’s been doing on the gospels. I would hope that one day he can finish his work and give us a full length treatment. That is one I would wish to have. Be aware of both the length of this book (chapters one to six cover a mere 109 pages) and the price ($30 on Amazon as of this writing). The information is good and clear, but I hope the price would come down due to the small size of the book.

I enjoy books that examine the focus of each individual gospel, and look forward to seeing Hay’s influence in works to come.

Lagniappe

[Special thanks to David at Baylor University Press for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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The OT in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Last time we looked at an example of the OT in Mark’s telling of Jesus cleansing the Temple and his implied spoken judgment of the Temple leaders (you can read it here). This example came from Richard Hays’ new book Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. Hays gives us two examples from the Gospel of Mark:

  • Jesus Cleanses the Temple and Curses the Fig Tree (Mark 11:15-19)
  • The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12)

The Synoptics and Thomas

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants is seen in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 12:1-12; Mt 21:33-46; Lk 20:9-19). Interestingly enough, when set side by side with the Gospel of Thomas, the pseudo-Gospel is lacking many of the OT allusions seen in the Synoptics.

The Gospel of Thomas 65-66

(65) He said, “There was a good man who owned a vineyard. He leased it to tenant farmers so that they might work it and he might collect the produce from them. He sent his servant so that the tenants might give him the produce of the vineyard. They seized his servant and beat him, all but killing him. The servant went back and told his master. The master said, ‘Perhaps he did not recognize them.’ He sent another servant. The tenants beat this one as well. Then the owner sent his son and said, ‘Perhaps they will show respect to my son.’ Because the tenants knew that it was he who was the heir to the vineyard, they seized him and killed him. Let him who has ears hear.”

(66) Jesus said, “Show me the stone which the builders have rejected. That one is the cornerstone.”

It would be good to compare this version with one (or all) of the versions seen in the Synoptic Gospels, but for our purposes here I’ll compare it to Mark’s version.

Mark 12:1-12

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower [Isa 5:2], and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.

Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son [Gen 22:2; Ps 2:7; Isa 42:1].

Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him [Gen 37:20], and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’? [Ps 118.22-23]”

And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

The pseudo-gospel lacks OT allusions such as:

  • the planting and preparation of the vineyard, recalling Isaiah’s song of the vineyard (Isa 5:1-7)
  • the reference to the vineyard owner’s son as being a “beloved son” (recalling Gen 22:2; Ps 2:7; cf. Isa 42:1)
  • the tenants’ declaration “Come, let us kill him” (a verbatim citation of Joseph’s brothers in the LXX, Gen 37.20)
  • the concluding citation of Ps 118:22-23 which declares that the stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone

In Context

While some scholars think Thomas’ version is more historically accurate, it actually takes the parable out of it’s Jewish historical setting, tearing it from the cultural and religious setting in which Jesus lived. Our canonical readings want us not to recognize only the allusion to Isaiah 5.2, but to read further ahead to what comes next in v7:

Isaiah 5.7

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

In the beginning of the parable the reader can already see that this is a word of augment to Israel’s leadership. They have failed to yield good fruit to the Lord, the rightful owner. Instead they have stolen the fruit for themselves.

Identifying Jesus as the “beloved son” (Mk 12:6; Lk 20:13) links him both to Isaac (the beloved son who was called upon to be sacrificed by his father Abraham) and to the Davidic king (the beloved son whose kingly ruled is proclaimed in Ps 2.7-9). The death of Christ is not the result of a tragic misuse of power and violence, a poor soul who was given the wrong lot. His death will have saving significance for Israel, and for the whole world.

Ps 118.22-23

That Jesus’ death with have saving significance is confirmed by the use of Ps 118.22-23, which looks forward to the resurrection of God’s saving act:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.

Joseph was put into the pit due to the raucous jealousy of his brothers. Yet he was rescued from that same pit and eventually exalted to a position of power, just under the Pharaoh. In this position Joseph was ultimately able to save his people from an untimely death.

Is There Meaning to be Found?

In contrast to the Synoptics, the Gospel of Thomas gives us a colorless, dull version left open to be read however the reader may choose. “Thomas” makes it into a gnostic message, detaching the reader from the “evil of the world.” Yet the ultimate true meaning is lost to the reader.

The Evangelists [the Gospel writers] don’t want us to avoid pain. They want to know that Jesus went through the pain, the suffering, and the judgment for us. And he did it to save us from this world. Who is the “authentic caretaker and heir of Israel’s traditions”? Jesus is. Who has the authority to read and interpret Scripture? Is it the scribes and the Pharisees? No, it’s Jesus.

“The parable thereby places the story of Jesus within the unfolding story of Israel and presents his death as the climax of a pattern of unfaithfulness and judgment familiar to any reader of Israel’s prophetic literature. The pattern is as old as the story of Joseph’s resentful brothers” (p 12).

Significance in Mark

Jesus tells a parable to the religious establishment of Jerusalem to point out to them who he is and how evil they are. Even in telling them that he is the beloved son, the Kingly Davidic king who will rule, we see their evil hearts. Rather than bowing down to worship him, they leave him only to come back and test him in effort to trap him in his words. They are like Joseph’s brothers who hate hearing that he will rule over them. They think the landowner isn’t paying attention, yet when he looks (Isa 5.7), instead of finding justice and righteousness, he finds bloodshed. And now, the blood of his own Son, however, it is shed for his own people.

The builders have rejected this stone, yet he will be come the chief cornerstone. The work God does in resurrecting Christ will be marvelous before the eyes of all. He will be the beautiful King set high above all thrones, rulers, and principalities, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.

Significance for Us

Again, reading the Bible is reading the tip of an iceberg. The Gospel writers carefully show how Jesus lives out the life that Israel was supposed to live, one of love, justice, and righteousness. Yet, because they didn’t live this way, he comes down to live it for us, to die a wrongful death, yet in doing so saves the lives of those, even the religious establishment, who believe.

Jesus words have deep meaning packed into them. They are spoken to bring images to mind and a profound meaning to who he is.Reading and understanding this deepens our understanding of the Bible as a whole, and ought to give us a greater love for our Lord, the King. The King who loves. The King who died. The King who lives and reigns.

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The OT in Mark’s Cleansing of the Temple

I was given the chance to read Richard Hays’ new book Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. I found it a very compelling look at how the Gospels teach us how read the OT, and how the OT shows us how to read those very same Gospels. Christ is pre-figured in the OT, and he lives out Israel’s history as the Second Adam, the perfect man. Hays gives us two examples from the Gospel of Mark (the first seen in this post, the second in the next):

  • Jesus Cleanses the Temple and Curses the Fig Tree (Mark 11:15-19)
  • The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12)

Christ’s Prophetic Action in the Temple (Mark 11:15-19)

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.

Context

In the first 10 verses the long-awaited Son of David makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people cry, “Hosanna!” yet when he enters the temple, none of the religious leaders greet this King. In v11, Jesus looks around, leaves, and goes to Bethany.

In vv 1214 Jesus curses a fig tree because it had produced no fruit. We will see in vv 20-21 that the tree has withered away. This sandwich tells a great deal about the purpose of Jesus’ cleansing in vv 15-19.

A House of Prayer

In Mk 11.17, Mark fuses OT texts from Isaiah and Jeremiah.

And he was teaching them and saying to them,
“Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”

The first quotation comes from Isaiah 56:7, which belongs to Isaiah’s vision of a restored Jerusalem to whom God’s deliverance has been revealed (56:1). One special feature of this redemption is that both Jews and Gentiles will come to Mount Zion to worship God.

Isaiah 56.7-8

these [foreigners] I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,

“I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”

In scatting this portion of Scripture, Jesus indicts the temple authorities for allowing the Temple to be turned into a market, turning the court of the Gentiles (which shouldn’t have been there in the first place) to be too cluttered and busy to be a house of prayer. Jesus is clearing the Temple for all people, even Gentiles, to be able to worship God.

As a contrast, instead of composing God’s house into one of prayer, they have made His house “a den of robbers.” This brings thoughts of Jer 7:1-8:3. In this passage, “God instructs Jeremiah to ‘stand in the gate of the Lord’s house’ and deliver a scathing denunciation and prophecy of destruction” (p 8).

A Den of Robbers

Jeremiah 7:3-4, 9-11a

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’…

Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?

Jeremiah’s oracle ends with a declaration that the Lord has every intention to destroy the very temple (7:13-15) they put their arrogant confidence in. No doubt, when Jesus storms into the Temple, overturning tables and chairs in the process, his words would invoke the understanding of Jeremiah’s wider context, his criticism and his prophecy of a future temple destroyed (later prophesied in Mk 13:1-2).

Jesus’ actions both inside and outside of the Temple were demonstrations of it’s future end. His cursing the fig tree frames his cleansing of the Temple. It is a live-action parable of the coming judgment on the Temple. What was supposed to bring forth fruit can only provide empty, withered branches. This scene echoes Jeremiah 8:13

When I would gather them, declares the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.”

“Just as Jeremiah had spoken of Israel as unfruitful, withered fig tree, Jesus performs a symbolic tree-withering act that prefigures the fate of Israel – or, at least, of the Temple. Just as Jeremiah condemned the prophets and priests who spoke false deceptive words of peace and comfort while practicing injustice and idolatry, so Jesus takes up the mantle of Jeremiah to condemn the Temple establishment once again” (p 9-10).

Significance in Mark

In this we see the full significance of Jesus’ action in the Temple. He’s not simply denouncing their greedy business practices, that rather than being a witness to the Gentiles they’re stealing their money. But the leaders in charge of God’s chosen people, those who were to be holy as God was holy, had wholly and completely pushed God out of the life, mind, and actions and are living just like the world they are to be separate from.

Rather than worshiping God, and rather than being a light to others to worship God, they are as unjust as the faulty leaders who they read about daily in their own Scriptures.

The Lord would gather them, but what would he receive in return? Empty, dead, rotten, branches, which as a result will be burned. Just as before, the leaders still have not been doing their job. In fact, we will see just what they were doing in the next post on the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

Significance for Us

Reading the Gospels (and all of the Bible) is reading the tip of an iceberg. There is much meaning packed into what they say. This post may be a bit long, but it shows a bit of just how much goes into two phrases that come from the mouth of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t use his words lightly, but what he says has an intended, important meaning. It is important to read Jesus words and see what they mean in the immediate context, but also in the way they allude to the OT. The statements are not taken out of context, but have a meaning to them. Reading and understanding this deepens our understanding of the Bible as a whole, and ought to give us a greater love for our Lord, that He desires holiness because he has graciously saved us from sin and death that we might no longer live for ourselves but for Him…who died and was raised (2 Cor 5.15).

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Review: I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible

idyntbmwtb

“If it’s weird, it’s important” (p 39).

Growing up, I thought the Bible was a bit boring. A large bit. In fact, even in college anything I read was boring and/or just difficult to understand. “Why is this word right here?” It had relevance for me, and I knew that. Sure, I was interested in the stories, but let’s get real: after a while, reading about a basket baby floating down the Nile River is no longer interesting. A non-burning bush on fire? Cool. 10 commandments? Yes, I could tell you all about them. We know who Moses grows up to be. Is it really that important having to hear about it over and over in church? Much less have to read it?

What about reading on the scapegoat used for the Day of Atonement? It’s in the middle of Leviticus. How many people do you suppose really have their heart strings tugged on when they read about that poor, innocent scapegoat?

And so Heiser has written a book for the less learned to show how the is Bible interesting. The information here comes in in snippets and comes from Bible Study Magazine. Different features in the Magazine were called “I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible,” “Weird, but Important,” and “What They Don’t Tell You in Church.” This book is a compilation of Heiser’s contributions.

Summary

There are really only two sections. Part One is on the Old Testament, and Part Two, the New. Part One consists of thirty sections, and Part Two of twenty-seven sections.

Here are a few of the topics discussed in his Old Testament section:

  • Moses in the basket, similarities to ANE writings, yet one glaring deficiency in Moses that points to Yahweh as the true God.
  • Zipporah’s courage in the strange circumcision scene of Exodus 4.
  • The scapegoat of Leviticus 16 and related goat demons.
  • The ‘love potion’ from Numbers 5, the (possible) adulterous wife, and the (definitely) jealous husband.
  • The “sons of God” in Deuteronomy 32.8 and the division of Babel (Gen 11).
  • The confusing census of David in 1 Chronicles 21.1-2 and 2 Samuel 24.1-2.
  • Slaying the sea monster of Psalm 74 and Isaiah 51.
  • Why the ark of the covenant will never be found according to Jeremiah.

And a few of the topics discussed in his New Testament section:

  • Jesus saw Satan fall like lightning….when?
  • Why walking on water is so significant.
  • Will we ever find Paul’s lost letters?
  • Angels with Moses on Mt. Sinai.
  • Abraham met Jesus.
  • The rapture.
  • Baptism is spiritual warfare.

The Chocolate Milk

Dr. Heiser is well known for his interests in the strange and bizarre facts of the Bible and ancient Near East (ANE). Dr. Heiser has his PhD in Hebrew Bible and Semitic languages and also holds an MA in ancient history (ancient Israel and Egyptology studies). But his book isn’t dry (that would defeat the purpose of the title!). In fact, it’s quite the opposite! He starts off by explaining the worldview of the ancient Israelites and their cultural neighbors, explaining their thoughts on the universe (three tiered: heavens, earth, underworld), their entire worldview wasn’t handed down by God, and they even had similar rituals to pagan counterparts!

But Heiser goes on to explain that, as he discovered in school, he “needed to think like an ancient Israelite to understand the Old Testament. Israelite religion had some significant divergences from the religions of other surrounding nations, but on the whole, there were more similarities than differences…. [T]he context for understanding the Bible is the historical, literary, intellectual and religious context in which it was written” (p 9).

God didn’t change Israel’s culture when He gave them His law and His truth. If He had given them iPads, thick-rimmed glasses, and rainbow lights for worship, no other culture would have understood Israel and their God. Heck, I can hardly relate to [some] churches like that. God chose to communicate to Israel in a way that was similar to the ways everyone else lived, the only difference was that Israel had the one, true God. When there are differences in Israel’s theology from the rest of the culture, those very differences are pulling the reader in to discover the author’s intentions.

I enjoyed this book and found it very easy to read. In fact, I read it in just a few days! The sections are short enough that once I finished a few, I then moved on to finish a few more. If I was standing around waiting, I’d try to see how many more sections I could finish off before the time was up! This wasn’t simply a “get-it-done” feeling, but a “I want to see what is next!” attitude.

WIthout getting too technical, he very deftly puts the cookies on the bottom shelf. The snippets are just that, short snippets of information, but you come away with a greater understanding of Israel’s culture, and it helps you to want to know more. You see that there are explanations for the oddities in the Bible, things that seem pretty wild but also that make sense.

The Spoiled Milk

Overall I enjoyed the Old Testament section more than the New. Some of the snippets seemed either unnecessary, or weren’t very interesting. And with 57 different sections, it’s reasonable that not every section can be mind-blowing.

“Counting the 10 Commandments,” “How Many Times is Jesus Coming Back?,” and “What’s Jesus Waiting For?,” are a few that I felt were lacking.

“Counting the 10 Commandments” seems to be there just to tell us that Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans count the “10 Words” differently than the Reformed and Greek Orthodox. And there’s no much more to it than that. One way or another we wind up with ten commands.

The other two deal with the rapture, and Heiser does well in presenting both sides of the argument. There may be a rapture, there may not be (at least not how some think of it), but what’s more important is how we discuss and treat each other even if we disagree. Yet still, I would have liked Heiser to explain what he thinks on the rapture, since this is a book about not being bored with the Bible and seeing conclusions (or some manner or another).

Unfortunately, there’s no bibliography or external resources at the end of the book. Besides his own websites (which have plenty of material), it would be nice to know where he gets some of his information, or at least more places for the reader to go to in search of more.

Recommended?

Dr. Heiser’s ministry, or “heart,” is for those “whose worldview is molded by occult, paranormal, and esoteric beliefs” (p 218). He’s seen and concluded that many who have adopted these “alternative” worldviews were formerly traditional theists and Christians who left the faith when their questions on difficult passages and topics went unanswered, or when spiritual leaders failed to address experiences they had had.

You would do well to read (and discern) about what Heiser says. This book is a good book to pick up to get started with the oddities and supposed discrepancies in the Bible. I encourage you to look up Heiser’s blogs and see what you think. They are linked at the bottom of the page.

Lagniappe

[Special thanks to Scott at Lexham Press for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

“We cannot honor God’s choice of communication strategies if we refuse to ignore the deep worldview connections shared by both Israelites and pagans” (p 9).

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Questions on Mark 13

Jesus, Temple, Son of Man

In an unsuspecting turn of events, I’m posting on a book I’m not reviewing. For some, you might be thinking the twist is that I’m writing anything at all (or maybe that’s just what I feel like). Christmas time has come and gone, and one book that has remained was Robert Stein’s Jesus, the Temple, and the Coming Son of Man, a Commentary on Mark 13.

Stein’s goal is “to understand what the author of Mark sought to teach his readers by the Jesus traditions that he chose to include in this chapter [Mark 13], his arrangement of these traditions and his editorial work in the recording of this material” (p 45). Essentially, why did Mark place this chapter here, what does it teach Mark’s audience, and what does it teach us.

Mark 13 is the Mark’s version of the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24. As with anything in the Bible, especially the Olivet Discourse, there are difficulties for those of us today who seek to find the meaning of the original text. In Mark 13.4, the disciples ask Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Some of the questions the reader faces are [p 18]:

  • In 13.6 did Jesus mean that false teachers would come claiming to be him (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ) or the Jewish messiah longed for by non-Christian Jews?
    n
  • Was the prophecy of 13.10 fulfilled already in apostolic times (cf. Paul’s statements in Rom 16.26 and Col 1.6, 23 that the gospel had become known “to all nations”), or does it still await its fulfillment?
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  • What does Jesus mean by the “abomination of desolation” in 13.14. and does his/its appearance involve the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 or the future coming of the Son of Man?
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  • Is the language of 13.24-27 to be understood literally or figuratively? Is Jesus using this imagery in the same manner as the Old Testament prophets (cf. Is 13.9-11; Jer 4.23-28; Ezek 32.5-8; etc) – that is, metaphorically?
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  • Does Jesus teach in 13.24 that his return as the Son of Man would occur immediately after the fall of Jerusalem in 13.14-23?
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  • What does Jesus mean by “this generation” in 13.30, and was he wrong in his prediction?
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  • How do Jesus’ other sayings on this subject, such as Mk 8.34-38 and Mt 25.1-46, and the additional comments we find in parallel accounts (Mt 24.1-51 and Lk 21.5-36) help us understand Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13?

Yet, what we can ascertain at least is this [p 33]:

  • The temple and the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed in the lifetime of the disciples.
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  • Wars, natural disasters, false prophets and messianic pretenders would arise, but these were neither signs nor immediate precursors of the temple’s destruction but part of the natural order of things.
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  • The followers of Jesus would face persecution and, either through or despite this, spread the gospel to all nations.
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  • In their persecution the Holy spirit would be with them and aid them in their defense.
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  • An “abomination of desolation” would precede Jerusalem’s destruction, and the believing community should take this as a sign to the flee the city immediately.
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  • The Son of Man would come fro heaven and gather his elect from throughout the world.
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  • No one knows the time of his return but God alone, and as a result believers should live a life prepared fro his arrival.

The exegetical basis for Stein’s conclusions can be found in chapters three to seven in his book. I used Stein’s commentary when I co-taught through Mark last spring, but I’m really looking forward to see what other insights Stein brings in this commentary. Hopefully there’s some new stuff in there. From what I’ve seen so far though, it’s pretty easy to read with no redaction criticism to be found.

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Who Took Verse 4 Out of My Bible?

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Thanks to Lexham Press, I was able to read Michael Heiser’s I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible on Logos. While teaching at a Bible College, Heiser was challenged not to bore his students with the Bible. Truly understanding the Bible means digging into it, not simply reading it. While reading it is certainly important, studying it on your own time brings more understanding, growth, maturity to your life. One thing is for certain, according to Heiser, “If it’s weird, it’s important.” I would conclude that ‘weird’ is a broad term, meaning that if the Bible says anything that is outside of your Christianity 101 knowledge, it’s weird, thus, important.

John 5.1-9

Take, for instance, the story of the blind, paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda. It’s a story your likely to be familiar with but there’s something you may not have noticed before (depending on your translation).

1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.”  

If you don’t notice anything too out of the ordinary, count the verses from the beginning and see what you can find. Odds are you’ll quickly realize that verse 4 is missing! Heresy!? Should we now throw away our NIV and ESV Bibles (and our NSRV, CEV, NLT, and NET versions)?

No, no. It’s not heresy.

The translations mentioned above simply don’t put verse 4 in the Bibles. NASB and NCV place the verse inside brackets, and KJV and NKJV treat the verse normally right along with the rest. In case your version doesn’t have the verse, the omitted words read: “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted” (John 5.4, NASB).

So Why is John 5.4 in Some Bibles and Not in Others?

There is a disagreement between manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. I’m not going to get into anything technical here, and neither does Heiser, so don’t stop reading now. The omitted verse of John 5.4 is not found in the earliest and most accurate manuscripts of John’s gospel. Textual critics (scholars who make a careers of comparing manuscripts, and, yes, there are conservative ones too), “have discovered that in roughly two dozen manuscripts scribes put asterisk marks at the verse to warn the next scribe who would copy the manuscript that the verse was likely not original” (p 136). Most likely it was added by a scribe for whatever reason and then left in the text, though marked as unoriginal.

So What’s the Significance?

The problem with the story isn’t the angel. The Bible has plenty of stories with angels. The problem is the superstition surrounding angels (just like how, today, many are superstitious of black cats. Yet it doesn’t matter the color of the cat. Black cats, white cats, speckled cats, they all taste the same).

The idea that an angel stirred the waters at a given time during the year was one such superstition. John 5:7 mentions the stirring of the water but does not mention the angel. It’s likely that John knew of the belief about the waters of Bethesda but chose to leave it out for a specific reason. Perhaps he does not wish to endorse that an angel was stirring the water. By excluding the popular belief about the angel, John focuses his readers on the healer who was indeed present—Jesus” (p 137).

What Can We Learn?

Not stopping with the facts, Heiser moves to give practical application, even on such a trivial matter as this.

  1. We ought to train ourselves to read the Bible closely. If we can miss something so clear as a verse number, what else might we be missing?
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  2. It pays to compare Bible versions. Why does the NKJV say this when ESV says that? How does the NLT and NIV differ on a particular verse? Why do we have The Message at all? By looking at the wording of another translation we will often see something we’ve missed in a text we’ve read 100 times.
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  3. Our preaching and teaching should have a secure footing in the text. “God moved people to spend their lives transmitting the biblical text; the least we can do is pay close attention” (p 137).

No matter what you think about textual criticism, Christians can and do disagree on this issue. We may disagree with the method, but we should not attack the character of those with whom we disagree with. We all want to know the original wording of the Bible, and issues like these should be discussed with grace, respect, and love.

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The Gospel in Ezekiel

Over the last few posts we’ve been looking into the first chapter of Daniel Block’s By the River Chebar. We’ve seen what is important for the preacher to know: the prophet, his audience, the nature/structure of the book, his message, his rhetorical strategy. Finally, the preacher must plan carefully by preparing his congregation for Ezekiel.

Now, by looking at the opening section of Ezekiel 16, we can hopefully see what benefit this would have for the church today.

Block says vv1-14 are “the opening section of the longest literary unit in the book. At around 850, this chapter  alone is longer than half the [individual] Minor Prophets (Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai) and only slightly shorter than Malachi” (p 21). Most wouldn’t ordinarily teach Jonah in on go, and neither should they in Ezekiel 16. Block suggests that 16 should be split up into at least two or three sessions.

Outline

(I’m using Block’s outline found on p 22).

A. The Call for Jerusalem’s Arraignment (1-3a)

B. The Indictment of Jerusalem (3b-34)

  1. Jerusalem’s Lowly Origins (3b-5)
  2. Jerusalem’s Exaltation (6-14)
  3. Jerusalem’s Shamelessness: Her Response to Grace (15-34)
    1. Her Religious Promiscuity (15-22)
    2. Her Political Promiscuity (23-34)

C. The Sentencing of Jerusalem (35-43)

  1. A Summary of the Charges (35-36)
  2. YHWH’s Response (37-42)
  3. A Concluding Summary (43)

D. The Analysis of Jerusalem’s Problem (44-52)

  1. The Indicting Proverb (44)
  2. Jerusalem’s Family Portrait (45-46)
  3. Jerusalem’s Shameful Personality (47-52)

E. The Doubly Ray of Hope for Jerusalem (53-63)

  1. The Bad Good News: The Qualification for Grace (53-58)
  2. The Good Good News: The Triumph of Grace (59-63)

Big Questions

The congregation will be confronted with many of Scripture’s big questions:

  • the nature of grace
  • the innate human condition
  • our tendency for ingratitude and rebellion
  • the cause and nature of divine fury
  • the triumph of grace

But Ezekiel also poses challenges in dealing with society and ethics:

  • What are the boundaries of appropriate rhetoric? How far should one go?
  • What does the text say about gender relations?
  • What are we to make of its portrayal of God?

We can’t simply answer these questions, and we can’t simply reduce God’s word to a few formulas to figure life out. God can’t be put into a box, and we must work to figure out His word and His world.

Contention

While the chapter is framed by good news (vv. 1-14 and 60-63), three-fourths of the chapter consists of “relentless accusation and disturbing pronouncements of the divine response” (p 23). Jerusalem was born from her “Amorite father” and “Hittite mother” (remember the Invention point in Ezekiel’s rhetorical list here), but was rejected by them and left for dead. YHWH came, rescued her from the wild animals, and lavished her with praise. She grew and was able to survive. When vulnerable from human predators, YHWH would save her again and again. At Sinai, he married her, entered into a covenant relationship with her, and gave her “all His resources  and [elevated] her to the status of his queen” (p 23). She was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19.6).

Literally, this text concerns Israel’s fame and fortune. But on another level, how God deals with Israel can show us how He deals with humanity. Ezekiel recounts the OT version of the gospel, announcing all of the elements of today’s gospel that Christian proclaim.

  • Is God’s perspective on history different than our “perfect” histories? Chapter 16 is written to those who claim to be God’s people. “Have we, like Israel, trampled underfoot his grace, and used all that he has lavished on us for selfish purposes and wicked ends?” (p 23).
  • Like Jerusalem, all of humanity is destitute and without righteousness. We see Paul say the same thing in Romans 3.23 and Ephesians 2.1-3. Apart from God’s grace we are doomed to our own failings and sinful horrors.
  • “Apart from common grace, the sentence of physical death hangs over humanity.
  • Survival does not mean our problems are solved. It is possible to live physically, but still lack spiritual life, which is possible only through covenant relationship with God.
  • God’s grace is the only hope for a lost humanity. By nature destitute, this is the only solution for the human condition.
  • Covenant relationship with God is the highest privilege imaginable.
  • As the objects of God’s saving and covenant grace, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:14).
  • As the undeserving recipients of God’s grace, we are called to joyful and faithful living, as trophies of his grace proclaiming the excellencies of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous life (Deut 26:19; 1 Pet 2:9-10)” (p 24).

Final Point

This leads to on final point that the pastor must remember: In order to preach from Ezekiel with authority and clarity for the church, we need to link his message with that of the New Testament responsibly.

The same YHWH who rescued Israel in her hopeless condition in Egypt is seen in the incarnate Jesus Christ who saved us from the core of our problems, sin, and who freely gives his blessings on us.

This concludes my sessions on Block’s chapter “Preaching Ezekiel.” I hope you’ve found this encouraging, whether you intend to preach through Ezekiel or not. What helps me is seeing how others apply scripture to today’s world, and, just from reading this, I can trust Block to do just that (even more so in Deuteronomy (NIVAC)Judges/Ruth (NAC), and his 2-volume set on Ezekiel (NICOT; 1-24; 25-48).

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