Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Virgin Birth in Isaiah

isaiah-6-chagall

This is part one of a two part set of posts on the virgin birth in Isaiah 7 and Matthew 1. It’s not going to be some kind of detailed exegesis on the chapters, but more so the thoughts of Rikk Watts taken from his Isaiah lectures. The usual question goes something like this, “Does the Old Testament really predict a virgin birth?” Watts says no, it doesn’t. In fact, he says it makes no such prediction, but rather, it points to Someone greater. So what I’ll do this time is cover the original context and then consider if the woman in Isaiah 7 is a virgin.

Original Context

While Ahaz is the king of Judah, Rezin (king of Syria) and Pekah (king of Israel) go to Jerusalem to make war. Yahweh sends Isaiah to tell Ahaz not to listen to these two puffs of smoke. He is told that if he is not firm in faith (if he does listen to them and fears them), then he “will not be firm at all.” In fearing them Ahaz is tempted to renounce his sonship under Yahweh (Ps 2.7) and become a son-servant to the King of Assyria (which he does in 2 Kgs 16.7).

Next, the Lord asks Ahaz to request a sign, but Ahaz refuses to “test” the Lord. But now Yahweh will give a sign of His choosing, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria (Is 7.14-17).

At first, Ephraim (Israel, a.k.a. “not Judah”) would have been destroyed in 65 years. Now, before this child can grow to the age of knowing right and wrong, the Lord will bring Assyria onto Ahaz. In fact, by chapter 8, Assyria will come before the boy even knows how to cry “My father” or “My mother.” Things are only getting worse for Ahaz, the hardened king of Judah who is fulfilling Isaiah 6.9-10, “And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’””

Things will be doom-and-gloom for some time, but eventually “the people who walked in darkness” will see “a great light” (9.2). Verses 6 and 7 famously tell the readers that a greater king is coming, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

We know this hope to be Jesus, as Matthew 1.23 and 4.16 quote Isaiah 7.14 and 9.1-2. Ahaz is not the final authority. Jesus will be The Davidic King, the true Son of God.

The Meaning of the Sign of the “Virgin”

Is the sign intended to point to a future virgin birth? Some say it is, but Watts disagrees. He says it’s about a timeframe, one that centers around the age of the child. Isaiah’s saying, “If you don’t change your ways, within x number of years, you’re going to experience deadly trouble from the Assyrians.“ Before this “Immanuel” (meaning ‘God is with us’) becomes of age, Israel will know what it means for God to be with them, and it will be a visit in judgment.

Who is this Virgin Woman?

While I don’t have the resources on hand to go over this, nor the proper linguistical knowledge, according to Watts, this word for virgin in the Hebrew (‘almah) means an unmarried woman. “Any woman of marital age would be a virgin” (Watts, Lecture #4). If a girl was unmarried, then she was likely a virgin. While many read “the virgin will conceive” and think it points to a virgin conception, “no one in Jewish literature read this statement as a virgin conception” (Watts, Lecture #4).

(As for Matthew’s use of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, Craig Keener says, “[T]he earlier Greek version’s term for young woman usually (albeit) not always meant virgin, as in Matthew.” However, I do not have the finesse to go into these kinds of Greek and Hebrew discussions. I can merely provide Watts’ discussion and some clarifying comments).

To reiterate,, if this word doesn’t mean “virgin,” but, instead, “young woman,” then what we have is a young, unmarried woman who will give birth to a child, one who will be a sign to Ahaz of God’s promised judgment on his and the people’s rebellious hearts (Is 6.9-10). It would make sense that this “woman” isn’t Mary, and that this soon-to-be-born “child” wouldn’t be Jesus for how would Jesus be a sign to Ahaz? How could he be a sign to Ahaz when Ahaz would have been dead for roughly 700 years by the time Jesus was born? There must be more to this story.

What then is Matthew’s purpose? Well, you’ll have to wait for part two.

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Review: Kingdom Come (The Amillennial Alternative)

Kingdom Come

Sam Storms is Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, OK, and the President of Enjoying God Ministries. He received his Th.M. at Dallas Theological Seminary, known for it’s dispensational, premillennial bent on theology. And Sam Storms… is an Amillennialist. What this means is that he believes we are in the millennium now. In fact, he believes the “1,000 years” spoken of in Revelation 20.2-7 aren’t literally 1,000 years. Interested now?

Amillennialism (referred to here as “Amill-“) has been around since the early stages of Christianity, but is becoming more popular due to the works of guys like G.K. Beale, Johnson, Kim Riddlebarger, and Sam Storms (to name a few). So what’s in this book? What is “The Amillennial Alternative”?

There are 17 chapters total, but various topics covered are a definition of Dispensationalism, the Disp- view of Daniel 9, Problems with Premill-, who the people of God are (Israel? Church? Both?), the Olivet Discourse, Romans 11 and the “future” Israel, the chronology of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments in Revelation, the binding of Satan and the first resurrection in Revelation 20, and the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13 and 17. There are a few more chapters, but these represent the beef of the book.

The Chocolate Milk

Besides a few special points here that may lower one’s guard against Amill- theology, I found Storms’ work very persuasive. While he understands he can’t cover every facet of the Bible, Storms is quite thorough in his exposition. A few disagreements can be found in the TSM section.

Foundations

He understands the Disp- Premill view (helpful terms when reading this book out loud to your wife. Trust me.) because he grew up holding to that theology. So, importantly, the first chapter gives “five foundational principles for the interpretation of prophecy.”

When we come to symbolic passages, how do we strike a balance between “objective photographic precision” and “a slippery subjectivism that treats the Bible like an impressionist work of art”? Storm’s briefly writes that Jesus fulfills the OT (temple, feasts, Sabbath rest, etc), the NT unpacks OT expectations, there is an overlapping of the ages, what many refer to as “Already” and “Not Yet,” the OT authors really did use metaphors in their writing, and typology (which is not allegory). These do help to provide the argument that Storms will read the Bible properly (though not as “literal” as some would like).

No Replacement Theology

Storms shows the contrast between the Amill- position and that of Replacement Theology [RT], proving that they are not one in the same. Whereas RT uproots the Romans 11 Israelite tree and replaces it with the church, Storms points to Scripture and shows that the Gentiles are grafted in. There is no replacing, but a unifying in Christ.

Church Fathers

Storms answers the question about which end-time view the church fathers held. None of the early church fathers believed in dispensational theology, but there was a mixture of both premill- and Amill- positions held among them. Yet, in the end, it remains inconclusive. One can’t prove their end-time beliefs based on the church fathers. We must look to the Bible.

The Spoiled Milk

You Won’t Read This in Kindergarten

This book is not for the average church goer, and Storms never claims that it should be. This is a book that will take time to process. It’s not a reading-out-loud, easy-listening kind of book (trust me, my wife and read it out loud. It ain’t easy). Storms says repeatedly, “In other words,” “In summary,” “In sum,” and, “Let me try to put this in easier and more intelligible terms.” I’m curious to know how much shorter this book (544 actual reading pages) would be if much of the wordiness would have been left out.

On the other hand, “clearly” is seen often throughout this book. In quoting Isaiah 13.9-10 Storms says, “Clearly these statements about celestial bodies no longer providing light is figurative for the convulsive transformation of political affairs in the ancient Near East, on earth. The destruction on earthly kingdoms is portrayed in terms of heavenly shaking” (264). This is only so “clear” because of the information he provides the reader in the previous page that “such language was used to portray not what is going on in the heavens but what is happening on the earth” (263). While I agree, I don’t think it’s always so clear, especially when it deals with the ancient Near East.

The Olivet Discourse

While his preterist view of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 is persuasive, I not only disagree with his stance but would like to know what the other amill- positions are. Granted, Storms can’t cover every base and position (you’ll have to head over to Menn’s book for that), but he has enough appendices at the end of many of his chapters that one here would have been preferred. Simply put, Storms gives the preterist position and I’d like to know what the general amill- position is.

Recommended?

Although difficult to read, Storms’ book is highly informative. Guys like Storms, Riddlebarger, and Menn whose books explain Amill- theology are a welcome edition to the evangelical library. Many Christians need to recognize that Amill- (and Postmill-) theology is not “the chosen perspective of humanistic liberalism and unworthy of evangelical consideration” (361). Rather than being a liberal threat to Christianity, Storms clears the path away from the theology of the TV personality, the New York Times, and Left Behind and points the reader to the Word of God.

Of course, many will disagree with Storms at some (or all) points, but his books presents a case for Amill- theology that needs to be reckoned with. Since this book is only two years old, it’s quite up to date. With the points Storms has made in his book, it appears that both Disp- and Historic Premill’s have some work to do. But if nothing else, I hope this book will serve to show just how difficult the discussion about the end-times really is. Deciding which position you really align yourself with isn’t quite as easy as one might think. Pick up this one, pick up your Bible, make a spot on the couch, and sit there for a long, long time.

Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Mentor (May 20, 2013)
  • Amazon: US // UK

[Special thanks to Derry at Christian Focus 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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Review: Deep Exegesis

DE

Can we reproduce the apostles’ exegesis? Some say, for the most part, no. “Where that exegesis is based on a revelatory stance, or where it evidences itself to be merely cultural, or where it shows itself to be circumstantial or ad hominem in nature, ‘No.’ Where, however, it treats the Old Testament in more literal fashion, following the course of what we speak of today as historico-grammatical exegesis, ‘Yes.’ Our commitment as Christians is to the reproduction of the apostolic faith and doctrine, and not necessarily to the specific apostolic exegetical practices” (33).

How are we to interpret the Bible? How are we supposed to know our reading is correct if we can’t always follow the apostles’ methods? Isn’t the historico-grammatical method the only way to correctly interpret the Bible? Leithart challenges the strict historico-grammatical structure and brings us back to a time of the patristic authors.

Structure

Leithart finds meaning in the text itself rather than in the intention of the author. His reasoning for this is that the meaning of a text changes as time goes on (much like when a “shooting” at 10 AM becomes an “assassination” at 1:00 PM after the victim is pronounced dead). One can think of this in terms similar to G. K. Beale’s description of the OT being given in seed form, and the NT results in the tree with it’s fruit (founded in Christ). Leithart covers typology (chapter 2), semantics (chapter 3), intertexuality (chapter 4), structure (chapter 5), and application (chapter 6).

Read any detective book. The information given in chapter one means something entirely different to you the second time you read the book. Why? Because you know the ending! You see all of the clues and what they point to (typology). “Texts must be read in the light of ’the way things turn out’” (67).

Each word (semantics) acts as a player on a stage. They interact with each other to give meaning and detail to sentences. A blind man receives his sight in John 9. For twelve verses we read about about the joyous miracle until we run up against the words “Pharisees” in verse 13 and, even worse, “Sabbath” in verse 14.

Jokes (intertextuality) feed of prior knowledge. A story is told. Your expectations are flipped. You are surprised, and thus you laugh. The NT authors grew up hearing the OT stories, and it is pivotal to know the OT background to read the NT correctly. The more you understand the “Old Joke,” the more you’ll understand the “New.”

Like classical music, texts have multiple layers that hold up the structure. John 9 is a story of a new exodus, where Jesus gives a blind man sight, and leads him out of the dead religion and to new life. It’s a story of Genesis, where Jesus makes clay and gives sight and life.

Going with a chiasm,

“A. Jesus heals a man born blind, who did not sin [9:1-7] ->
aaA’. What is more, the Pharisees are blinded by their sin [9:39-41].
B. The blind man confesses Jesus as his healer [8:8-12] ->
aaB’. What is more, the blind man comes to confess Jesus as Lord [9:35-38].
C. The Pharisees doubt and interrogate the blind man [9:13-17] ->
aaC’. What is more, they accuse Jesus as a sinner and cast the man out [9:24-34].
D. The Pharisees threaten the parents with expulsion [9:18-23]“ (167).

We could even says this (at least, Leithart does):

“A/A’ Jesus gives sight and blinds.
B/B’ What is more, the blind man confesses Jesus.
C/C’ What is more, the Pharisees intimidate but cannot silence him.
D What is more, the Pharisees threaten excommunication against anyone who confesses Jesus“ (168).

Hopefully you can see that in this one chapter, there are many things going on. John knows how to pack in meaning.

Of course, the Texts Are About Jesus (Application). What happens in the scenes of the text, and what does it have to do with us? It’s more than a simple “Don’t-be-like-the-Pharisees” command. We look at the layers of the evidence to see what John has put together. We take what he is telling us and work it out in our own lives.

Finally, in the Epiolgue, Leithart advocates a return to Augustinian exegesis where the whole Bible points to Christ and, since the church is the body of Christ, it is about the Church too.

Milk

Leithart is an engaging writer. His words ooze off the page (or through the computer) with imagery. He shows how one can read not only the Bible, but other books as well (using many examples from literature and movies, e.g., Pride and Prejudice, Canterbury Tales, the many works of William Shakespeare and Homer, Atonement, No Country For Old Men, Cast Away, Groundhog Day, and Heath Ledger in The Dark Night). Knowing how to read and interpret other works gives one practice in interpreting the Bible. If nothing else, Leithart has introduced me into the beauty and the brains of fictional works (I was not a big reader growing up).

While I would have liked to have seen this exegetical method played out in other biblical texts, Leithart stays in John 9 to show the reader how one simple text can have so many layers, how it connects other parts of John and the Bible to each other, and how these deep layers can bring us to spiritual maturation in Christ.

With Leithart there are times when I think his interpretations are stretched. Yet here he gives enough detail and evidence to make a convincing case for the parts that seem stretched. Are they really as stretched as I thought? Some interpretations still seem stretched. But others, perhaps, are not as stretched as I once thought they were. Sometimes novel interpretations (like Lucy Ricardo) just have some more splainin’ to do than others.

Recommended?

This book seems to be a defense of Leithart’s exegetical method, and for the most part he’s very convincing. I’ve always heard negative examples of the medieval interpretive method (simply look up Augustine’s interpretation of the Good Samaritan) and found it to be plain weird. Yet throughout this book, it seems (almost) completely natural. Here Leithart shows what is really going on:

“For the medievals, the literal sense of the text [the “what is happening here”] opened out into a christological allegory [what we are to believe], which, because Christ is the head of the body, opened out into tropological instruction [what we are to do] and, because Christ is the King of a kingdom here yet also coming, into anagogical [spiritual/heavenly] hope” (207).

His reading makes sense, though I don’t see quite how it is quite the same as the medieval conclusions (Augustine wasn’t the only one to make strange conclusions about that parable [and more]). Regardless, aside from chapter one (which, though difficult to read, is reinterpreted as you read the book), I found this book hard to put down. Leithart’s conclusions are easy to latch on to, most of his examples were easy to follow, and his style of imagery writing enviable. He will have an impact on your interpretive thinking, whether you agree with him or not.

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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