Thursday, January 31, 2019

What we expect vs. what we see

The kind of society that we expect Israel to develop would, for example, care for the most vulnerable (widows, orphans, and foreigners), prize justice and mercy, cultivate and care for the land in sustainable ways, encourage equitable and responsible economic practice, promote hard work and revitalizing rest, and so on—all of these as tangible manifestations of Yahweh’s kingdom and his royal character. The result and ultimate aim of such a society would be blessing: the blessing of God’s people, the blessing of the land, and even the blessing of the foreign nations.

The reality on the ground, or more appropriately in the promised land, is something altogether different.—David J. H. Beldman, Judges, Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming)

<idle musing>
And that is also true of those who claim to be Christians. The biggest difference being that Christians have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to make it happen. We are therefore "without excuse" for not making it happen : (
</idle musing>


When we consider similarities and differences between the ancient cultural river and our own, we must be alert to the dangers of maintaining an elevated View of our own superiority or sophistication as a contrast to the naïveté or primitiveness of others. Identification of differences should not imply ancient inferiority. Our rationality may not be their rationality, but that does not mean that they were irrational. Their ways of thinking should not be thought of as primitive or prehistorical. We seek to understand their texts and culture, not to make value judgments on them.—Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed., page 7

<idle musing>
We're starting a new book today, John Walton's Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd edition. The first edition was very good, but this second edition is even better. If you an interest in the ANE backgrounds to the OT, then this is the book to get!

I hope you enjoy the extracts over the next couple of weeks. Oh, and special thanks to Jeremy Wells at Baker for giving me a copy!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

It's cold!

From today, at 8:00 AM CST:
And the forecast:
That's just crazy! 80ºF difference in less than a week!


Basil’s primary interest is not in the events behind the text, and his understanding of the creation of humanity shows this. I have suggested that Basil is asking his listeners to be like Moses. This is synonymous with the restoration of humanity returning to paradise, which means a life “unenslaved to the passions of the flesh, free, intimate with God.”

Returning to paradise is the restoration and goal of the human life, and this is what the creation story ultimately shows. Consoling ourselves with material things keeps us from paradise. This is why the story of creation is “an education in human life” and why the story of creation should be read with an eye toward that end. The history behind the text does not concern Basil, but the theologia behind it does.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 324

<idle musing>
That's the final post from this book. If you've been following the posts, you'll have noticed that it is more how to read the church fathers in general than it is about Genesis 1. And it once again reinforces the idea that our questions are different from their questions. We are focused (as a culture) on the material and physical; they were more concerned with the spiritual, nonphysical side of things. And they knew those nonphysical things were just as real, if not more real, than the physical. I suspect we would do well to rediscover that truth! But that's just an
</idle musing>

Zombie nation?

Three generations from those foundational, identity-forming events of the Exodus from Egypt and the Sinai covenant, God’s people are in crisis. They have arrived in the promised land and are emerging as a nation, but the seeds of idolatry and injustice are in full bloom, strangling the image-bearing quality of the covenant people. The response to failure does not result in rooting out idolatry and injustice—in fact the people wrongly diagnose the problem (i.e., unstable political governance) and consequently propose the wrong solution (i.e., strong, perpetual leadership). We witness a seemingly unending cycle, in which the people of God are not dead, but they are by no means thriving and flourishing. Israel is a zombie nation!

In this way, Judges stands as a prophetic clarion call for the people of God today. To what extent have the seeds of idolatry taken root and choked out our call to bear the image of Christ in the context of the twenty-first century? Is our commitment to the idols of our day compromising our calling to be faithful witnesses to Jesus and his countercultural kingdom for the sake of the flourishing of all people? Are we looking for solutions in all the wrong places, retreating into pietistic isolationism, or putting our trust in the wrong things (e.g., authoritarian government)? It is possible that the church has become a community of zombies?—from the introduction of David J. H. Beldman, Judges, Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming)

Monday, January 28, 2019

We're missing the point!

It is significant that the statement is made here, as it is in Homily 9, not in the context of explaining the creation of humanity proper but rather in the context of the Godhead: “It says, ‘Let us make,’ that you may recognize Father and Son and Holy Spirit.” In fact, it draws the hearers away from fixating on the “how” of creation and toward focusing on who is creating—the historia points to God. Basil sees it as a call to worship the Creator who creates as Trinity. This is a vital connection for Basil because “the prelude to our creation is true theology [theologia].”

The use of theologia here and in Homily 9 should not be understood as it is commonly used today. That is, today theology is a general term meant to indicate study about God. Basil does have this in mind, but there is more at work here than just a simple description like “the study of God.” He is using it in the context of a technical distinction from something called oikonomia. Theologia, as it was understood by fourth-century Christian writers like Basil, was used in a restrictive sense and concerned the divine nature (who God is). In Basil, it is a “mode of insight into the nature of God,” which is connected to seeing beyond material reality or the “material—sounding phraseology” of some passages in Scripture.”—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages317–18

Friday, January 25, 2019

Imago dei and St. Basil

Twice within the same paragraph in Homily 9 Basil uses a form of the word theologia. Noteworthy here is that, even though the context is one in which Basil has promised to speak of the origin of humanity, he focuses on the Father and the Son. Further, it is not on the works or actions of creating humanity but rather on the identity of the Father and Son. Thus, he asks his listeners to consider what “in our image" means. Since it is in reference to the divine, it cannot mean a bodily shape but a special reference to the Godhead. Citing various New Testament passages that refer to Christ as the image of the Father, he emphasizes that intimate connection.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 316

Thursday, January 24, 2019

About that historical-critical method and the church fathers…

One would be very hard pressed to find in the earliest interpreters of sacred Scripture an approach that is intent only on finding direct one-to-one correspondence with strictly historical occurrences. Instead, one finds Scripture interpreted in a manner that emphasizes a call to a deeper spiritual life wherein the salvation of humankind and the ultimate goal of seeing God (contemplation) are overarching.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 303

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Augustine on Answers in Genesis

In Homily 260c Augustine compares the promises of Isaiah 57:19, “peace upon peace,” with the sabbath day of rest that is contained "in this temporal round of days.” God rested on the seventh day in order to indicate the eternal rest of his saints. This is foretold in Job 5:19, “He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no harm shall touch you." The reason Genesis does not indicate an evening on the seventh day is because it moves into the eighth of eternity. But the eighth day is not the only thing that should be an indicator of eternity for Augustine. He chides “lovers of this world” who do not consider the “symbolic meaning of the days.” Failure to do so shows that their focus "is not the rest of a spiritual sabbath, from which their thoughts could also be directed to the eternity of the eighth." Rather, they are "given over … to the round of temporal thoughts, unable to entertain any idea of the eternal."—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 296–97

<idle musing>
Quite an indictment. I suspect Augustine would have these same words for those who are fixated on a scientific interpretation of the Genesis 1–2. Something to think about, at least, isn't it?

Just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Morning and evening as Augustine sees them

In the days we experience, light declines as we get closer to sunset and we call that evening. Also, light returns as we get closer to sunrise, and we call that morning. But since we have a “surer light,” we also have a “surer day” and, therefore, “both a truer evening and a truer morning.” It thus makes perfect sense to Augustine that a spiritual evening occurs when there is a turning away from contemplating the Creator, and a spiritual morning when there is a move from knowledge of the Creator to praise of him. For Augustine, this is actually a literal interpretation, not allegorical. He recognizes that some may not be satisfied with “the line which I have been able in my sma11 measure explore or trace.” He encourages those who disagree to find another explanation, but it must be “as a strict and proper account of the way the foundations of this creation were made." In other words, it must also be a literal interpretation.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 285–86 (emphasis original)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Augustine had more sense that we do…

There is, he [Augustine] states, just one day, and it should not be understood in the same way we understand days that are measured and counted by the sun’s circuit. The day that was originally repeated three times before the creation of the sun and moon on the fourth repetition is not the same kind of day we experience. Thus, the night and day that God divided in Genesis 1:4 “are to be taken in quite a different sense from this night and day, between which he said that the lamps he created were to divide, when he said, And let them divide between day and night (Gen 1:14). The fourth day was when God fashioned the kind of day we know. But the day that was originally created had already gone through three repetitions before the lights were created on the fourth repetition.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 285 (italics in the original translation)

<idle musing>
And don't try to tell me he was influenced by Darwin and therefore compromised! He lived 1400 years before Darwin was around. And by the way, this was from his "literal" commentary.
</idle musing>

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Does anybody who knows Greek proofread the covers?

I was checking a bibliographic reference yesterday and ran across this:
The accent in σὖν is impossible, and, besides, the word σύν makes no sense in the context. It should be οὖν. The worst of it is that it has ended up in OCLC, the database that drives interlibrary loan, as sun instead of oun—and that's how it ended up that way in the bibliography I was checking.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Children of the day

The knowledge of the angels being connected to evening and morning simply repeats itself in the days of creation. Morning indicates knowledge of their own spiritual “higher” order, albeit not what God is, while evening indicates a “lesser degree of knowledge”—that is, a knowledge of the lower order of creation. For Augustine, knowledge of a thing in the Word of God is “day,” while knowledge of its own specific nature is “evening.”—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 283

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Even Augustine!

On the seventh day God rests from all his works and sanctifies that day. Augustine explains that just as the first six days are not to be understood in their literal sense, neither is the idea of God resting: “We are not to understand this in a childish way, as if God labored at his work.” Rather, God spoke and the heavens and earth were created (Ps 33:9; 148:5). In keeping with Augustine’s belief that this word was intelligible and eternal rather than audible, God’s rest signifies those who rest in God.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 275

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

St. Basil on the prowl

Basil points out various scientific theories about the shape of the earth and how each one overthrows the previous. He labels the purveyors of these theories as employing “foolish wisdom.” But his reason for this accusation is not because Moses' account trumps those scientific explanations. In fact, he concedes that Moses does not discuss them in Genesis because they are “useless for us, things in no Way pertaining to us.” [Basil, Hexaemeron 91] Scripture simply does not speak about these things in a scientific manner—this is not the architecture of Scripture. Basil claims value for “our version of creation” because they are the “words of the Spirit” that give us not scientific theories but “things . . . written for the edification and guidance of our souls.” He is critical of those who go beyond what Moses himself has written and give it a dignity on that basis. Scripture needs to be “understood as it has been written” because adding to it with translational allegory or scientific theories goes beyond its scope and intent.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 198–99

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Fourth–fifth century hermeneutics

“Their [the 4th–5th century fathers] understanding of biblical exegesis,” he explains, “remained that of the more ancient period, a more discontinuous, confessional, and event—centered typology on the Christ-event.”[McGuckin, "Patterns of Biblical Exegesis," 38] The determinative pattern for the Church’s reading of Scripture is found in Jesus himself, and the Christocentric principle that governs patristic exegesis for Basil and other Fathers is found, par excellence, in the narrative of the journey to Emmaus.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 195

Monday, January 14, 2019

Parachute drop!

Part of the point I am trying to make is that we cannot simply parachute into the context of the Fathers and disregard it by plucking out quotations that appear to support our conclusions. Great care is required to understand world into which we enter, and this entails addressing some foundational issues. When modern assumptions about biblical interpretation are projected onto the Fathers, we run the risk of making them champions of some idea or concept that they simply were not. To assume that the Fathers read “literally” in the same way we mean “literal” is a misrepresentation of their context.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 158

<idle musing>
How many of us are guilty of using the &rqquo;parachute drop“ version of hermeneutics? And not just with respect to the church fathers, either! The whole concept of proof-texting is based on a parachute drop hermeneutics!
</idle musing>

Friday, January 11, 2019

What then shall we say?

It is apparent that the traditional distinction between Antioch and Alexandria along the lines of literal/historical versus allegorical reading cannot be applied here, at least in the way it has been traditionally understood. Origen and Eustathius actually had some important things in common in their understandings of biblical interpretation. Both are convinced of Scripture’s inspiration by the Holy Spirit. They were also both convinced of Scripture’s contemporary relevance to the Christian. The difference between them lay in Eustathius’s challenge to Origen’s application of Scripture. From our perspective, both interpretations were anachronistic in the sense that they paid little attention to the author’s intended meaning. Since Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit, he was seen as the true author, and this broke down the historical anchoring and distancing common in our modern approaches.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 153

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Is this a legitimate reading?

Recall here John MacArthur’s condemnation of his very first sermon, based on the text “And the angel rolled the stone away,” in which he preached about the stone of doubt, the stone of fear, and the stone of anger.“ MacArthur condemned the sermon because he believes that in doing this he had betrayed the historical referent—“That is not what that verse is talking about; it’s talking about a real stone.” The emphasis on the “rea1 stone” has kept MacArthur anchored in the past, the horizontal plane, and thus maintains the distance and gaps that he emphasizes throughout his entire book. But a vertical reading seeks to eradicate those gaps by inviting the interpreter to be a participant. I dare say that the Alexandrians would have actually commended MacArthur’s reading of the text in his first sermon. Surely this example is not making the Bible into a fairy-tale book from which we get “all kinds of crazy interpretations."—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 141–42

<idle musing>
What do you think? Is this a legitimate reading of the text? My seminary training tells me that it isn't. But, 1600 years of church tradition begs to differ with me. Have we lost something by throwing away more figurative readings of the text? Can we get more from a text by allowing what he calls the "vertical reading" back in?

I'm in the process of revisiting my hermeneutical assumptions, and I'm leaning toward allowing the vertical back in. I've always said that the Holy Spirit can take a text and make it real to a person in a way that isn't necessarily the "original author's intention." For that matter, the entire New Testament and early Christian literature is an exercise in that! As I recently heard Richard Hays say, "The New Testament writers would have flunked out of a seminary hermeneutics class!" Indeed, his books are an exercise in exploring the vertical reading of scripture, as is the Eisenbrauns series JTI Supplements, which I generally really like.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Hidden in plain sight

Both [Antiochene and Alexandrian] expected a deeper sense, and neither was concerned with the reference to the events behind the text or the human author’s intended meaning. The Antiochene (ikonic) approach expects a mirroring or imaging of the deeper meaning in the text as a whole, while the Alexandrian (symbolic) approach was seen by the Antiochenes as destroying the story, or coherence, of the text because it involved using words as symbols or tokens. “What is different is the [Antiochene] assumption that the narrative provides a kind of ‘mirror’ which images the true understanding, rather than the words of the text providing a code to be cracked.” [Young, Biblical Exegesis, 123] The issue is much deeper than the simple conclusion that the Antiochene insistence on typology was the result of its historical anchoring in events, while Alexandrians preferred allegory because of their disdain for history.“ The fact is that all early Christian reading of Scripture is, in some sense, figural.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 139-40

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Anachronisms abound

Antiochene exegesis is anchored in rhetoric, and this makes any attempt to characterize it as the precursor to the modern critical approach problematic. To speak of any sort of grammatical-historical exegesis in antiquity is actually anachronistic, and equating the historia employed by Antiochenes with our modern understanding of history is equally so.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 137

Monday, January 07, 2019

Bedazzled by God

A very good post over at Catalyst Resources on being bedazzled by God (with a part 2 forthcoming). Good advice for all, not just seminary students. Here's the opening two paragraphs:
My second favorite line from Les Miserables is something Hugo writes about the bishop in the first fifty pages: “He did not study God; he was dazzled by him.” Great advice for all seminarians, theologians, and human beings.

In my experience, there are days it does not feel like this. There are days when it feels like you can’t see any higher than the stack of books piled up on your desk, all due tomorrow, along with that exegesis paper. There are days when it feels like Greek verb structures obscure your view. There may even be days when it feels like the Son is just too bright and you’ve been blinded rather than dazzled. Let me encourage you on those days to look through the page, over the shoulder of the author who is doing his best to point out the glory he sees. Let me encourage you on those days to blink and squint at the verbs until they form a window for you. Let me encourage you on those days to borrow some sunglasses from Gregory of Nyssa and keep on with it. Remember that God is dazzling.

<idle musing>
Great advice! There were definitely days in graduate school where just getting through the day seemed a struggle—let alone figuring out how it related to anything : ) But it was definitely worth the effort!
</idle musing>

What's really important?

Distinguishing between what the text meant (authors original meaning) and what the text means (application) was not a concern. Interest was more in the effect the text produced, which is why we cannot draw a straight line from this approach to grammatical-historical or even historical-critical methods of interpretation. Since the intent of criticism was to effect a response, ancient exegetes expected literature to be morally uplifting. This entailed the exercise of moral judgment (krisis), which included literary, or rhetorical, evaluation. Questions of authenticity, dating, and the like were raised here, but it was much less critical in our sense, and the moral search for virtue was predominant.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 133

Friday, January 04, 2019

Not for the reasons you thought

It is often thought that symbolic allegory, as practiced by philosophers, was the universal way of reading literature in the educational system of the ancient world. But this was not the approach taken by the grammar and rhetorical schools, which had more influence. The rhetorical approach was intent on deriving ethical models, useful instruction, and moral principles from the study of literature. The reaction to Alexandrian symbolic allegory by the Antiochenes was informed by this rhetorical approach rather than a concern for what we would call a GH [grammatical-historical] approach. The Antiochene exegetes had a rhetorical education and certainly would have been influenced by the ideals of that approach to reading literature.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 128–29

Thursday, January 03, 2019

The gap is huge

One problem With attributing the tension in the early church to a difference between a literal/historical and an allegorical approach to Scripture is that it assumes the literalism of the Antiochenes is the same as modem historicism. But as Frances Young states, “We can see how this historical emphasis was recognizably culturally specific to the modem world.” Antiochenes, Young explains, could not have even imagined
explicitly locating revelation not in the text of scripture but in the historicity of events behind the text, events to which we only have access by reconstructing them from texts, treating them as documents providing historical data. This is anachronistic, and obscures the proper background of the Antiochene’s protest [against allegory].
The proper background for understanding the tension between Alexandria and Antioch is the Greek education system, which was based on the study of literature and practical exercises in speech making. Christianity was inevitably affected by this educational system because of its significant influence on the society and culture into which the early Church was born.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, page 127

<idle musing>
Yes, the gap is huge, but it isn't between Alexandria and Antioch. It's between both of them and our obsession with historicity. Both schools of thought would flunk out of a basic hermeneutics class in our seminaries!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

About those easy dichotomies

For many years the prevailing conclusion was that Antiochenes rejected the Alexandrian approach to biblical interpretation because of their diametrically opposed view of allegory and concomitant emphasis on the literal/historical aspect that was believed to be reflected in typology, Allegory was thought to be poor interpretation because of its callous treatment of history, while typology was thought to be good interpretation because it takes history seriously. In the past half century or so, there has been a reassessment of the traditional antithesis between allegory and typology and its foundation in historical connection. The reassessment has concluded that Alexandria and Antioch represent complementary rather than contradictory or competitive viewpoints.

Reflecting this reassessment, Theodore Stylianopoulos bemoans any sharp distinction between the Alexandrian and Antiochene exegetical traditions. Rather than seeing these approaches as mutually exclusive, he avers that they are both “fundamentally metaphorical and symbolic.” The desire of both approaches in reading Scripture was spiritual edification. By the same token, neither had any desire to abandon the literal sense (as they understood it).

Similarly, Karlfried Froehlich explains that while there is little doubt the Antiochenes did have issues with the excesses of Alexandrian spir- itualism, he also warns that it is problematic to make a sharp dis- tinction between Alexandrian and Antiochene exegesis. To claim that only the Alexandrian fathers allegorized while the Antiochene fathers adhered only to the literal meaning of the text is incorrect.—Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, pages 125–26