Tag: Old Testament

Revelation: Choose your city, choose your king

This is an amended version of a sermon I preached at City South Presbyterian Church in 2021. If you’d prefer to listen to this (Spotify link), or watch it on a video, you can do that. It runs for 37 minutes. This is the final sermon in the Revelation Series.

Revelation is like a good movie.

Throughout this series, as we have been looking at John’s apocalypse, his unveiling, I have been thinking about “The Wizard of Oz” and how when the curtains get pulled back, he is a bit of a disappointing little man with a machine.

And of course, our series title has a connection to the classic “Beauty and the Beast” – where the Beast was a guy who was cursed to become beastly until he could learn to love, and he loves the beauty, Belle, and is restored.

Today, I could not help but think of Disney’s “Tangled” – it is telling of the Rapunzel story; you might know it. Beautiful princess. Locked in a tower where her golden locks – her magic hair – becomes a ladder for prince charming. In Disney’s version, her golden hair is magical, and the wicked witch uses it to stay young and beautiful; she treasures this youthful vitality and guards this treasure by locking Rapunzel up in her tower. Until it all goes wrong for her and we discover what she really looks like. Underneath the magically beautiful exterior, she is a wicked witch. She is quite beastly.

You do not want to be on her team, or embrace her way of life. Rapunzel is the hero; the beauty.

Revelation is a bit like a movie – pointing its lens at all sorts of characters and inviting us to see life differently.

Its big focus is inviting us to decide what to worship – to see that our pattern of worshipping demons – spiritual beings – and the idols they use to corrupt us – and the political and economic systems these idols create, and the behaviors that this idolatry produces – violence, sexual immorality, theft, and magic arts – demonic spirituality (Revelation 9:20-21). Just remember this list because it will come up later. Revelation wants us to see these patterns are beastly, and to worship God as we see him revealed in the book instead (Revelation 14:7).

We have to choose between two kingdoms. Two heavenly cities.

God’s city, or Babylon. One rises and the other falls (Revelation 14:8).

From chapter 14 onwards, we start to see the downfall of the beastly city of Babylon – which is not the actual city of Babylon, it is picking up Old Testament imagery for the most beastly regime opposed to God’s people. The city of exile. The destroyers of the temple. The beast-worshipping enemies of God.

And it is inviting us to see other cities that share Babylon’s violent, greedy, idolatrous patterns as Babylons too. Babylon is the city of beast worshipping – and those who choose citizenship there face judgment; the “wine of God’s fury” (Revelation 14:9-10).

By the end of the book, it is clear Babylon the Great is not that great (Revelation 16:19). God’s judgment gets poured out. And the story invites us to choose our city; to choose our citizenship.

And we will see how Revelation unveils these cities – but it uses a pretty awkward metaphor to do it. It is an M-rated metaphor that draws, again, on the Old Testament…

Cities are not just presented as places to live – but as women who choose to use their bodies in particular ways as they choose who to become one with – the beauty of the lamb, or the beastliness of Satan and his beasts. So in chapter 17, we do not just meet Babylon, a city, but a great prostitute – who the kings of the earth commit adultery with (Revelation 17:1-2). An intoxicating temptress – just like lady folly in Proverbs; who leads the world astray with her intoxicating nature. The woman sits on the blasphemous beast – she is dressed as a royal queen. Purple. Red. Gold. Precious stones – she is a parody of the bride of Jesus we read about in chapter 21; the heavenly city (Revelation 17:3-4).

She holds a cup filled with abominable things; the filth of her adulteries.

The beast she is sitting on has seven heads. We will come back to that. Like the book said would happen, the beast’s name is written on her forehead. She is marked by Babylon (Revelation 17:5).

She is a beast worshipper, she has given herself to Babylon and has become one with Babylon – we are told she is drunk with the blood of God’s people; the ones who bore testimony to Jesus (Revelation 17:6).

So, if we are thinking cities, we have already met a city like this last week (Revelation 11:8).

This woman is sitting on a seven-headed beast, and those seven heads are seven hills (Revelation 17:9). Now, we have seen a bit of Rome in the background of John’s vision for first-century Christians – and Rome is a city famously built on seven hills. This woman has become one with Rome. Rome is Babylon the Great and it has marked her as his. And this woman who looks like a queen on the outside, is corrupt and beastly.

And the problem for this woman is that when the final conflict comes, Rome does not love her – the Beast does not love her – she is just going to get destroyed. Revelation describes this cosmic battle between Satan, the Beast, and his minions – and the lamb (Revelation 17:14). Things are going to be alright for the people of the lamb, because the lamb is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and he just wins.

But they are going to be horrid for the woman. She is surrounded by all the peoples, the multitudes – the kingdom of the false king – but the beast – that Roman power – is going to turn on her and destroy her (Revelation 17:15-16). That is what beasts do. You play with beasts and you get exposed and devoured and burned up.

That is what beasts do. And now we get another decoding moment; the woman is the great city (Revelation 17:18).

Now, there are three viable options here – I think – for what the great city is – Babylon is obviously a thing of the past when the letter is written, and these three are not exclusive – it could be all of them.

The first option is that the woman is the city of Rome, and the beast is the empire – but we have just been told the empire – the beast – hates and destroys the city.

The second option is that the woman is Jerusalem, and there’s some cosmic geography at play here where John is seeing the rule over the kings of the earth as a mirror of the lamb’s rule; idolatrous Jerusalem actually set the course for everyone else by rejecting Jesus. It became Babylon.

The third option is that it’s a lens that fits any city that opposes God in this way so that those caught up in its economic, political, and religious systems—like the kings of the earth—will be judged.

The unviable option, I think, is that it’s either a literal Babylon or a specific and particular future city way beyond the horizon of the original audience. I lean towards it being symbolic, and to John seeing all these so-called great cities coming together as Babylon—but also that this symbolism has to include Jerusalem because it is the city where Jesus was crucified. And that John is drawing on some pretty significant Old Testament imagery to condemn Jerusalem for being in bed with beastly Rome, and warning Jerusalem that Rome will turn on it and destroy it, because you can’t tame a beast.

This idea that Jerusalem—and as a result—God’s people—become unfaithful and beastly Babylon—a prostitute—is found everywhere in the prophets.

Isaiah 1—the faithful city—Jerusalem—has become a prostitute (Isaiah 1:21).

Jeremiah 3—you—Israel—have lived as a prostitute with many lovers (Jeremiah 3:1). In fact, it’s both Israel and Judah—the two kingdoms within Israel—commit adultery with idols—idolatry is spiritual adultery (Jeremiah 3:9-10). In Ezekiel, the accusation against God’s chosen people is that they prostituted themselves to the beastly empires around them. Egypt, Assyria, and then Babylon—the land of merchants (Ezekiel 16:26, 28, 29). That’s interesting language that’ll get picked up in Revelation.

You might have wondered why I keep zeroing in on capitalism and the economy and greed here, when I’m talking about beastly systems not other things like sex—which is where we might feel like beastly regimes oppose God’s kingdom, it’s because economic realities—worldly wealth—seem to be at the heart of beastly power, while how we use our bodies and pursue pleasure is part of the package. Sexual immorality is part of the picture Revelation talks about. It’s wrapped up in an idolatrous grasping over the pleasures of this world. It’s the metaphor here of adultery, rather than faithfulness, but the lure seems to be about luxury and wealth and power rather than sexual pleasure.

And what could be a bigger example of Israel being unfaithful—jumping in bed with worldly power—than that scene we saw last week from the trial of Jesus; “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15-16). That’s from Israel’s religious and political leaders.


It’s all coming down. In this choice, Israel’s leaders chose the wrong city. The wrong empire. The wrong king. The wrong gods. In John’s vision, Babylon is over—it’s a dwelling place of demons and unclean things that must be destroyed (Revelation 18:2).

And it has pulled all the nations with it (Revelation 18:3).

And with the Old Testament background in the mix—this is exactly what the nations did with Israel.

Jerusalem was meant to be the center of God’s rule—the city that drew the nations in to discover God’s love, and wisdom, and peace, and blessing…

But instead, it’s a city where people conspired to kill God’s Messiah, as its leaders jumped into bed with the rulers of Rome.

“We have no king but Caesar…”

And again it’s wealth and luxury that is part of the pull for the “merchants of the earth.” And it’s all coming down.

These cities opposed to God will fall. They’ll be judged. And God calls his people to come out—to disconnect from Babylon—to avoid being swept up in her sins (Revelation 18:4); to not give our hearts and our bodies, to come out of the religious system of Jerusalem, and of Rome, and of any regime opposed to God.

And so to not receive the judgment that falls; plagues reminiscent of the plagues in Egypt—the Passover—the exodus—God’s people must come out and be created as a new nation; a kingdom of priests again. Or when it all falls down, it’ll fall on you.

What’s your Babylon? What kingdom or false god is pulling you from Jesus? It will topple. It will disappoint. It will come under judgment and will not stand. Come out. Flee.

This false city; this false woman; like Lady Folly she’s a false queen who will lead you to destruction in her pursuit of glory and luxury if you get intoxicated (Revelation 18:7).

She thinks she’s a queen, but she’s a wicked witch.

Her pride comes before a fall. Babylon is coming down. And when this destruction comes there’ll be weeping and mourning from everyone in bed with this beastly regime (Revelation 18:9). The kings and rulers, they’ll weep. They’ll come undone.

The leaders of the economy — the market — the merchants — those who get rich from idolatrous grasping of the things of this world — John gives a whole list of the things they buy and sell — gold, silver, precious stones, purple, scarlet cloth — all the stuff the prostitute dressed herself in as she jumped in bed with Rome — all the things that pulled her in. These merchants will be sad because the whole system comes crashing down (Revelation 18:10-11); with all the stuff they loved and put their hope in. Even the captains of their ships will mourn (Revelation 18:17). We met the beasts of earth and sea — here’s the people who get rich riding on their backs.

But the whole system crashes. The whole economic and religious and political regime comes under judgement; and it all gets revealed as hollow. Empty. A house of cards. It’s riches to ruin in an instant.

It’s exposed. It’s empty. Ruinous. Beastly.

Get out (Revelation 18:11). The city is collapsing — the important people. The wealthy. Those who create the idolatry that pulls people away from God — that leads beastly powers to kill God’s holy people… his faithful witnesses (Revelation 18:23-24). Revelation exposes this system. And it says God is coming as saviour and judge.

The great prostitute who has — by her corruption — corrupted the earth — leading the kingdoms of the world away from God, rather than towards God, has been condemned (Revelation 19:1-2). Revelation puts the lens on Babylon.

On Rome.

On Jerusalem.

On any false heaven and false city, and it says there is no life or future there….

Do not put your trust in princes or princesses. Do not put your trust in the market.

Do not be lured in by the bright lights of the cities of this world.

Do not give your hearts to that.

Do not be pulled there by your passions and desires and loves.

Life is not found there.

Babylon is coming down.

But the message of the book does not end with judgment on Babylon.

And a new kingdom is coming up, as a heavenly city comes down.

The false bride of God is going to be destroyed with her lover.

The real bride of God will come down.

The old Jerusalem is being destroyed to be replaced with a new Jerusalem.

And we have to choose.

The beauty or the beast. The prostitute or the bride. Because God’s victory involves a new bride. A new woman — not lady folly who leads to destruction, but the bright and clean glorious bride of Jesus, the lamb (Revelation 19:6-8).

The wedding of the lamb has come, and he is not marrying the prostitute riding on the back of the beast, but a new people… dressed in white, given by God, rather than the trappings of idolatry, bought from the merchants. But first we see the groom — the one who is called faithful and true (Revelation 19:11).

The one who rules with an iron scepter — this is the baby the dragon tried to devour — the one called the king of kings and lord of lords (Revelation 19:15-16).

This is Jesus — the lamb — but revealed in glory.

The serpent slayer. In Revelation’s climactic scene, the beast, the kings of the earth, all the powers and principalities opposed to God — Babylon in all its might — line up against the rider (Revelation 19:19).

And maybe we are used to the idea that spiritual warfare is evenly matched; that the forces of good and evil are held in some sort of delicate tension. Ying and yang.

Chaos and order.

Light and dark.

But they are not. The fight is a non-event. Babylon comes down. The beasts are chucked in the fire (Revelation 19:20). And it is not just the beasts, but the dragon.

Just when the battle lines are drawn and God’s people are surrounded — it is not a big battle like at the end of a movie. There is no moment when it could go either way.

Fire comes down and devours God’s enemies (Revelation 20:9-10).

The devil gets chucked into the fire with his cronies. The victory is breathtakingly fast and total.

The choice should be easy. Babylon or the new Jerusalem. Live like the harlot or the bride. Choose the beauty or the beast.

It is not a new choice; there is an Old Testament context here — this has always been the choice facing God’s people. Be God’s beloved bride, or be unfaithful. Isaiah describes God, the maker, the almighty, as the husband of Israel (Isaiah 54:5). Through Jesus, he invites the nations to be his covenant people too — his bride.

To be his covenant partners, like in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:8),

Clothed by God, beloved by God, dressed in fine linen by God (Ezekiel 16:10) — the vision we see again in Revelation 19 of the people of the lamb, dressed in white.

Israel is described as God’s beautiful queen, drawing the nations in on account of their beauty and faithfulness and relationship with God (Ezekiel 16:13-14).

We can choose to embrace this reality as the bride of Christ — the bride of the king — or be the beastly queen who gives herself to the nations instead of God.

The beauty, or the beast.

Choose who you unite yourself to — where you turn for metaphorical clothing, who gives you meaning and purpose and satisfies your heart, who you worship.

God, or the world.

The lamb, or the dragon.

This is the story of the Bible, but presented as a stark choice.

The prophets call Israel to return to faithfulness, to be the bride, because God is the husband (Jeremiah 3:14), but when Jesus, the bridegroom, turns up, they kill him.

Jerusalem chooses judgment and God gives his kingdom, his presence, his Spirit, his glory, to those who accept the proposal. And those from Israel who recognize Jesus as king are returned and restored, while the kingdom expands to include the nations. The prophets long for a new Jerusalem in this moment of restoration. They see Jerusalem as the great city at the heart of the world. Jerusalem is meant to be the throne of the Lord, the meeting point of heaven and earth. The city all the nations come to to know God’s name and be healed, where they will receive new hearts (Jeremiah 3:17). And the prophets picture Jerusalem rebuilt by God as a city encrusted with jewels and precious stones (Isaiah 54:11-12).

And this is what John sees at the end of his vision, at the return of Jesus, the bridegroom, as he delivers this victory and destroys the beastly regimes and the dragon, Satan. As he reverses the curse and brings not just a new Eden but a new creation (Revelation 21:1). This is Genesis 1:1 all over again, only without the chaos sea in the picture. And in the new creation, John sees a new city, a new Jerusalem, a new woman, a bride prepared for her husband (Revelation 21:2).

Not a beastly woman, but a beauty. It’s a picture of the restoration not just of the peace of Jerusalem, where God dwelled in the temple, but the peace of Eden, where God dwelled with all humanity (Revelation 21:3).

The sad things are coming untrue.

The curse of Genesis 3 replaced with the blessing of Eden.

It’s a happily ever after. The victorious king killing the dragon and uniting with his princess in love forever (Revelation 21:4). It’s restoration and recreation without the threat of the serpent or anything that might pull us from God, because Jesus is the victorious king, and God, the almighty, is reigning unopposed (Revelation 21:5).

The victorious Jesus comes to give life to his people, satisfying our thirst, fulfilling the desires of our hearts that leave us drinking from all sorts of other wells.

I can’t help but think, in this moment, of the woman by the well in John’s Gospel, the woman who meets Jesus and suddenly finds what she’s been looking for so that she is restored to life (Revelation 21:6).

That woman is us, if we also come to Jesus like a fairytale princess coming home to her beloved king. But those who choose Babylon and idolatry, they are shut out; all those demonic idolatrous practices, we saw this list before, to live that way is to choose the beast, to choose Satan, and to choose his destiny (Revelation 21:8).

Destruction. This is what happens to those who worship the beast and its image (Revelation 14:9-10). Those who choose the beast, like the prostitute of Babylon, and live in his city.

And so we meet the new bride, the restored Jerusalem, the city of God. And we’re invited in (Revelation 21:9). It’s a city that has all the beauty and riches that pulled the unfaithful woman, the idolatrous people, away from God. Fake heavenly cities echo this real deal.

It’s a city that fulfills the vision of the prophets. Isaiah with a city covered in precious stones (Isaiah 54:11-12, Revelation 21:10-11). And even Ezekiel, which sees these same jewels as echoes of Eden, the garden of God on his holy mountain (Ezekiel 28:13-14, Revelation 22:1-2).

And John is picturing Eden restored with this jeweled temple, and the river of the water of life surrounded by the tree of life, where God dwells.

The choice is stark, choose between the city of destruction that will be destroyed; all its worldly riches, and idols, and violence.

Or choose the city of life, the new Eden, and the presence of God, and living water, and beauty and glory.

Choose the false city and its false gods, and Satan behind the curtain pulling the strings, and share in its fate, his destruction. Or choose the city of the lamb, and share in his life (Revelation 20:10, 21:8, 22:1-2).

Choose to be the ugly witch in the story who destroys others for her own sake.

Or to be the princess, to join together with our king forever.

So there are two imperatives from all this.

First is to come out of Babylon (Revelation 18:4). Don’t give your heart to idols. To wealth. Power. Sexual immorality. Pleasure. Figure out how to not live as citizens of a city opposed to God, a beastly regime. Refuse to bow the knee to the beast, don’t share in its sins.

And come in. Come into God’s new city. Become the bride (Revelation 22:17).

That’s the message of Revelation. It paints the choice facing all of us in stark relief.

It exposes life as it really is, not just the desires of our hearts, and where they take us, but the nature of those who offer to satisfy these desires and the kingdoms they create.

And we have to choose, worship Satan, chase the things of this world, chase life without God, become beastly and be destroyed.

Or worship Jesus, take your thirst, the desires of your heart to be known and loved and satisfied, to him, and receive life as a free gift forever. The beauty or the beast.

Which will you choose?

Friendship and Redemption in Hell’s Kitchen: Daredevil, Job, and Jesus

“Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response;
    though I call for help, there is no justice.
He has blocked my way so I cannot pass;
    he has shrouded my paths in darkness.
He has stripped me of my honour
    and removed the crown from my head.
 He tears me down on every side till I am gone;
    he uproots my hope like a tree.” — Job 19:7-10

The writers of Daredevil sure know their theology.

In season 1, Matt ‘Daredevil’ Murdoch went toe-to-toe with Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk with both initially identifying themselves as the ‘good samaritan’ — reaching out to help the beaten and bloodied citizens of Hell’s Kitchen out of a ditch… only for Kingpin to end up declaring himself the ‘man of malicious intent’ (identifying with the characters in Jesus’ famous parable who put the poor, bloodied, citizen in a ditch, before the good samaritan came by). Plenty of people ‘generalise’ the figure of the Good Samaritan, as a picture of the ‘good neighbour’ — the sort of heroic person we’re all called to be, but this heroic figure who does what the religious leaders of Israel can’t, or won’t do is the archetypal good neighbour in Luke’s Gospel — a Christ figure; a picture of the despised outsider who pulls broken humans out of the ditch to restore them… This was pretty sophisticated stuff identifying Matt Murdoch with a certain messianic vision – superheroes are often thinly veiled Jesus figures, with Daredevil the veil is essentially transparent.

In season 2, Daredevil identified himself with the ‘suffering servant’ — taking the pain and suffering of his people on his own shoulders; sacrificing and suffering to deliver his people, believing there was some good in them, where The Punisher and the sinister ‘The Hand’ were more hellbent on slaughter. Isaiah’s ‘suffering servant’ is another messianic/Christ figure. Daredevil has consistently been Christlike in his Netflix iteration — right up to his apparent ‘victorious’ sacrificial death on behalf of his team, and the city, in The Defenders.

This is the opening image of season 3 — where a cross visually resolves itself into Matt’s cruciform body, emerging from flames, through water, and back into the land of the living. Matt has been through his own personal crucifixion. Death. Hell. Resurrection. But has he kept his soul? That’s in many ways, the driving question behind the narrative in this season.

Season 3 of Daredevil is every bit as theologically rich as the first two outings, while there’s a fascinating problem with a show being both deliberately theologically astute, and having a messianic protagonist who occupies the place of Jesus in the narrative (who can’t turn to Jesus to understand God’s character and plan)… this season links Matt to the Old Testament character of Job, in order to consider suffering, the question of God’s apparent absence, and the place of friendship.

Across three seasons Daredevil invites us to connect Matt Murdock, and so, by extension, Jesus, with the Good Samaritan, the Suffering Servant, and now Job. This is a rich reading of the narrative unity of the Bible — in fact, it’s cutting edge Old Testament scholarship to see a connection between Job and Isaiah’s servant — and if the writers aren’t making that connection deliberately, they are certainly providing rich fodder for viewers to explore how the Bible holds together… so long as Matt manages not to lose his soul. 

Old Testament academic (and now faculty member here in Brisbane, who, disclosure, is also a friend and member of my church), Dr Doug Green, gave a series of guest lectures in Brisbane while I was at college where he proposed a link between Job and Isaiah’s suffering servant (I wrote his lecture up here). He points out several linguistic links between the portrayal of both the Servant, Job, and righteous, God-fearing, Israelites in exile — those who shared the fate of disobedient Israel, and suffered, while still being faithful. He also makes the case that Job’s restoration is framed as a ‘return from exile’ — a resurrection. Job, and the suffering servant, become the figure who will lead Israel out of exile from God — death — and into life. A shared resurrection. The Good Samaritan is this sort of figure too — if the person in the ditch is also exiled Israel. In his lecture notes (that he provided, which were received in thanks) Doug says:

“Just as the Suffering Servant points forward to the intercessory – and more deeply, the atoning work of Christ – the same is true for Job. And because of this parallel to the Suffering Servant, as we see Job praying for his friends, we get a faint picture of Christ’s intercession on our behalf. In fact, Job’s prayer on behalf of his friends finds an echo in Jesus’s prayer for those who crucified him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).”

“…we should not interpret Job as a stand-alone piece functioning as a sourcebook for theological reflection on the general problem of human suffering. Instead it should be interpreted in close connection to Israel’s covenantal history. Combine this with the numerous connections to Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant, and that inclines me to understand Job (the character) as a righteous Israelite who experiences suffering (a metaphor for exile) but is brought out the other side to experience a double blessing (a picture of the end of Exile and the Age to Come). And ultimately this experience of inexplicable suffering in some way makes him fit to function as an intercessor (or mediator) for those who are the object of God’s anger…

… this intertextual and prophetic reading of Job as Suffering Servant allows us to at last draw a connection between Job and the eschatological suffering Servant, Jesus Christ (and ultimately to Christ’s Suffering people). It allows us to go back and read it as a pre-told story of Christ – the truly righteous and blameless one who suffers “unfairly,” as it were.”

This framework makes Daredevil‘s theological arc, across three seasons, particularly rich, and yet, having Matt operate as the Jesus-figure, participating in an essentially Christ-less Christianity, in the story creates a mind-bending paradox. There are plenty of crucifixes on display around the place, so it’s not that Daredevil invites us, visually speaking, to ignore the place of Jesus in Christian practice, but he is curiously absent from the overt displays of religion — he’s not mentioned in Father Lantom’s homily, he’s absent in Matt’s musings about the place of suffering for the righteous, and, in many ways, he’s absent from Matt’s messianic vision — beyond bearing the suffering of the innocent while punishing (though not executing) the redeemable guilty. Matt, as ‘the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’ doesn’t embody the cruciform pattern of Jesus life — though Matt the lawyer, the Matt who looks for non-violent solutions and justice, is perhaps closer to the mark.

When we’re tackling questions of theodicy — God’s relationship to suffering, evil, and violence, in the real world — you just can’t do it without appealing to God’s self-revelation in Jesus; Daredevil’s answer is profoundly theocentric (particularly centered on God the father) and anthropocentric (particularly centered on humanity’s position with regards to evil and suffering). Jesus, in his full divinity and full humanity holds those two aspects of any answer to the question in tension. He’s more than just ‘God’s soldier’ acting in suffering, in the cross, God himself suffers. What Daredevil is good at, so long as we recognise the big answer to the big question of suffering involves this tension, is focusing on the humanity of suffering — and how Jesus is an archetypal sufferer. The servant. The Samaritan. Job. Daredevil. They are all ‘types’ that provide anticipation or echoes of the human life of Jesus. It’s legitimate for us to ask why suffering and evil happen, and where justice will be found if God appears to be stepping back — questions Daredevil explores — but, these questions are profoundly answered in the life of Jesus. The experience of Job, and righteous Israelites suffering in exile (the suffering servant), anticipate the suffering of Jesus.

Job is not just an account of suffering — but of exile from God, and restoration. It’s not just a theodicy, but is specifically connected to the suffering of the righteous. It’s legitimate for us to ask why the righteous suffer — as Matt does… but we have to consider that none of us can claim the righteousness of Job. But on with the show… which is also most rewarding if it’s not just about suffering — but about whether Matt is able to function as a hero while he is in exile from God.

At season’s opening, Matt has lost his mojo — more specifically, his powers that he saw as part of God’s calling, what made him a ‘soldier’ for God; capable of delivering justice, opposing evil, facing death, and helping the residents of Hell’s Kitchen out of their ditch. His loss of these abilities, and questions about what happened to Elektra in The Defenders’ finale, sets up a conversation with the nun looking after him in his convalescence (another Good Samaritan; though it turns out this nun has significant vested interests in his wellbeing, both spiritual and physical). Matt frames his crisis as ‘finally understanding’ where he stands with God. And he launches into a retelling of Job with himself as the ‘telos’ of the narrative; the one Job’s experiences point to… he is a new, and different, Job.

“The book of Job. The story of God’s perfect servant Job, who prayed every day at dawn with his knees on the ground and his face in the dirt. Slaughtered ten goats. One for each of his children, and burned them at the altar in God’s honour. Of all God’s soldiers, Job, he was the most loyal.

Sister: I know the story Matthew.

Matt: Well, then, you know what happens next. God murdered all ten of his children in cold blood, scorched every inch of Job’s land, lashed at his body until his skin was covered in bloody welts. God rained shit and misery on the life of his most perfect servant, and still, Job would not curse him. You know what I realised. Job was a pussy…

See. That was me sister. I suffered willingly. I gave my sweat and blood and skin without complaint, because I truly believed I was God’s soldier. I don’t any more. I am what I do in the dark now. I bleed only for myself… I’d rather die as the devil than live as Matt Murdoch.”

Matt has lost his connection to God; he’s now explicitly not a Christ figure… or at least, he bleeds ‘for himself’ and not for God… but somehow still wants to heroically bleed for others. He is not God’s ‘suffering servant’… He is not Job; or he is, but a different kind of Job. A Job who can’t fathom God’s plan and so, in his suffering, in God’s apparent absence — in exile — Matt turns his back on God… or tries to.

In the story of Job, Job is visited by a bunch of friends who try to explain Job’s suffering. Friends who visit him in his misery, and, rather than being a comfort, pile on more misery… mostly by giving horrible advice. Job’s friends speak as ‘wise’ voices from the nations around Israel… all except Elihu; who speaks with the pious, naive, voice of an Israelite who claims to speak for God. These friends seek to uphold God’s goodness, and blame Job… while Job defends his righteousness. Job is ultimately vindicated by God, he is a ‘righteous sufferer’ — a ‘suffering servant’. He is not suffering because he did something wrong. God has not abandoned him. And yet… he suffers.

Where Job, for the most part, is devastated, bemused, and conflicted by his suffering — and afflicted by his friends — while remaining confident of God’s goodness even in suffering, Matt goes another way, losing confidence with God… and where Job’s friends are useless in guiding him to a right way of understanding his suffering, Matt’s friends are redemptive and useful. And it’s his friends and their relentless presence with him in his suffering — and their good advice — that chart the path to redemption; in their faithfulness to Matt, they start to taste redemption for themselves.

The central moral dilemma in this season is the question of what should happen to Kingpin. There’s lots to this season around the development of a foe for Daredevil — Bullseye — who, incidentally, is the only character to don the red leather suit in this season — and there’s the thread around the mysterious nun and her interest in Matt… but Matt’s real dilemma isn’t how to take down Bullseye, or how to deal with the secrecy around this nun; it’s whether to stray from the path of righteousness; to truly enter the darkness.

In an interaction Karen Page has with Father Lantom while taking refuge in the church building, Father Lantom, Matt’s priest, articulates Matt’s theological vision — “whatever it is that you’ve done, or haven’t done, it can still be redeemed” — Karen says “I’m not so sure I believe that.” As Matt embraces the darkness he tries to push his friends away — he isolates himself from their counsel — like most of us do with our wise friends, or even that internal voice that says ‘stop’ as we embrace sin… he has decided to kill Kingpin, and doesn’t want to be told otherwise. He says he’s pushing them away in order to protect them from what he might become, to keep them ‘innocent’… While Karen and Foggy Nelson, Matt’s two friends, are initially convinced that Matt’s vigilante justice is not the answer, and that he should go ‘through the system,’ Karen starts to think that Matt should kill Kingpin. But Foggy… Foggy knows what straying from the path of righteousness would do to Matt’s soul — and, what it would do to their friendship as a result. His friends are true friends in the face of suffering — they won’t let him go, even when he tries to push them away, they are determined to be there for him, and to lead him out of darkness into the light — not just because he depends on that, but because their friendships do. His friends are faithful.

Foggy: Matt’s Matt because he believes that everyone deserves a shot at redemption.
Karen: Except Fisk.
Foggy: Everyone. It’s a Catholic thing. That’s why he doesn’t kill people. If he crosses that line Matt will never be able to forgive himself.
And being around us will just remind him of who he was and what he’s done.
Karen: Yeah, we’d really lose him, wouldn’t we? — Forever, this time.

From this point, Matt’s friends are relentless in their counsel that this would be disastrous; profoundly because it would represent him truly abandoning God, and his claims to be a righteous, suffering servant… for Matt to kill Fisk would represent his becoming Fisk. The visuals throughout this series on this note, where Fisk is presented in white (and as obsessed with a particular white artwork) and as a ‘warrior of the light’ — operating under 24/7 scrutiny as an FBI informant, while Matt dons the black, and occupies the shadows, are compelling. The tension in the narrative, shaping Matt’s decision, is the question ‘is there anything ‘white’ in Fisk? Is there anything that can be redeemed? And once he decides that there is, he can’t kill him — and in this, Matt finds his own redemption.

Matt’s showdown with Fisk is his apocalypse — it reveals who he truly is, and where God really is in suffering — that God is at work in redemption, forgiveness, and friendship. Where he has Fisk truly at his mercy, in that crucible moment, he stays his hand.

God knows I want to, but you don’t get to destroy who I am.

From this moment on the tension in the series is resolved; it’s the denouement, much like the epilogue at the end of the book of Job. Matt is restored. His relationships are mended. His rediscovery of his faith — his compass — doesn’t just put him back on the path of light, but Karen and Foggy are now linked with him again, sharing in the light and life of Matt’s discovery. He returns to the light. Bloodied. But restored. Truly resurrected. He has listened to his wise friends — and in his restoration, his redemption, they are all redeemed. They all discover the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Much like Job ends up making sacrifices to restore himself and his friends to relationship with the life-giving God. And much like Jesus, the suffering servant, offers himself as a sacrifice to restore us to life and relationship with God and one another…

Matt connects his suffering to the moment that made him — the moment he was blinded as a child. There’s still no Jesus explicitly found in his theodicy, but there is the answer Job receives from God amidst his questions; that God is the artist and architect of this world, and our sight, like Matt’s, is human and limited.

See, I was pretty angry at God and bitter towards his world.
How could a loving God blind me? Why? Anyway, he told me God’s plan is like a beautiful tapestry.
And the tragedy of being human is that we only get to see it from the back.
With all the ragged threads and the muddy colors.
And we only get a hint at the true beauty that would be revealed if we could see the whole pattern on the other side as God does.

Matt realises that God’s redemptive plans for the world might involve a suffering servant; that they might involve a faithful Job, a Good Samaritan… it’s not just an ‘everything happens for a reason’ trite answer, but rather a discovery of who he — and we image bearers — were made to be in a world where suffering and evil exist. That we were made for life-giving friendships that allow us to enter in to the suffering of others, and to stand against evil, as we reflect God’s presence in his world.

“I realise that if my life had turned out any differently, that I would never have become Daredevil. And although people have died on my watch, people who shouldn’t have, there are countless others that have lived. So, maybe it is all part of God’s plan. Maybe my life has been exactly as it had to be.”

Matt realises that his priest, Father Lantom, modelled sacrificial love — the death of self — and that this sort of posture is freeing; that it drives out fear in the face of suffering. Matt can be the ‘man without fear’ again. Matt is now free to be Job; free to trust God. Free to suffer. Free to be a servant. God’s soldier… He is truly restored. Finally resurrected.

But Matt’s answer would be richer and fuller if he wasn’t totally occupying the place of Jesus in the story; if he, like Job, could respond to suffering — even suffering as one who is righteous by trusting God as redeemer, looking forward, like the rest of the Old Testament, to the truly righteous suffering servant; the Good Samaritan. Light in the darkness. God’s true answer to suffering, and the moment we see the real picture woven in the tapestry of our existence. Jesus.

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me! — Job 19:25-27

In Jesus we see real redemptive friendship. We see God. We see God, our friend, stepping in to our suffering — and taking on suffering, death, hell and exile, for us, to bring not just his resurrection, but ours, to end our suffering, exile from God, and death, by giving us life with God forever, so that we might face what comes without fear. Because our redeemer lives, and so shall we.

Why I only eat “God Certified” food (and why I am not worried about Halal Easter Eggs)

My Facebook newsfeed is awash with discussions about Halal food. Today it’s Halal Easter Eggs (from Cadbury). Last week it was people speculating about links between Halal food and funding for people trying to introduce Sharia Law to Australia, or funding for terrorism.

I think all food is certified by the true and living God, provided it is “received with thanksgiving,”

“They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”— 1 Timothy 4:3-5

And, the ultimate key to “certified,” God-approved, food,” is Jesus, who calls himself the “bread of life.”

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval… “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” — John 6

Halal Easter eggs are a great opportunity to love your Muslim neighbours and share the message of Easter with them. But getting to that conclusion, and dealing with some of the objections Christians have to Halal food, might take some doing…

Halal is an Islamic term that means “permitted” it is the opposite of Haram, which means not permitted. I’m not going to claim to be an expert on Halal, I’m not a Muslim. It would be odd for me to do so. But, from what I gather, for a food to be permissible for a Muslim (Halal) it simply needs to not be haram — there are certain foods, especially meat, where there are guidelines that must be met to ensure certain boxes are ticked. Outside of this, it seems most foods (those not forbidden) are fair game.

Here’s what the Australian Food and Grocery Council says about Halal certification.

Many Australian food manufacturers seek Halal certification of their facilities and processes, in order to label their products as Halal and ensure they are able to be enjoyed by Muslim consumers. In the same way that food labeled as vegan or gluten-free is suitable for consumption by a broad range of consumers, Halal certified foods are commonly enjoyed by non-Muslims.

For a product to be Halal, it must be as a whole, and in part:

  • free from any substance taken or extracted from a Haram animal or ingredient (e.g. pigs, dogs, carnivorous animals, animals not slaughtered in compliance with Islamic rites);
  • made, processed, manufactured and/or stored by using utensils, equipment and/or machinery that has been cleaned according to Islamic law (e.g. not cleaned with alcohol); and
  • free from contact with, or being close to, a Haram substance during preparation, manufacture, processing and storage (e.g. blood, alcohol, poisonous and intoxicating plants and insects such as worms and cockroaches).

Many foods and drinks, particularly those that do not contain meat or alcohol, are inherently compliant with Halal criteria. Official certification, which may be granted by accredited religious authorities in Australia, any claim of certification is however required before products are able to be labelled as such.

Halal certification is a gateway into a massive industry, a Monash University study estimates the Halal industry’s global value at $3 trillion, and growing, with the Halal food market a relatively small $700 billion per year segment of this industry. This primer on Halal certification from The Conversation suggests it’s $1.75 trillion. It makes sense (and cents) for Australian food producers to try to sell their products to a large portion of the international population.

I get the impression that Halal certification is simultaneously a semi-unnecessary marketing tool, and part of an increasingly global marketplace — it seems to me that the Islamic world survived pretty well for a long time without labels on food. But setting up businesses to make it clear that particular food stuffs are free of contaminants is a clever business model for serving the Islamic world.

Business sense aside, there seems to be some “Christian” concern out there about halal food on the shelves of grocery stores in Australia, and in the pantries of non-Muslim households.

These concerns seem to operate on a few levels. At least so far as the social media campaigns and anti-halal campaigners are concerned (I won’t link to these campaigns because I don’t think they need the oxygen).

  1. The costs imposed to “Aussie” businesses and passed on to non-Islamic consumers.
  2. The supposed links to terrorism and Sharia Law.
  3. That Halal food is “food sacrificed to idols” so Christians shouldn’t eat it.

It’s the third point that I think is most interesting, but I’ll deal with the first two first.

It seems to me that Aussie businesses who pursue halal certification are doing so in order to increase their profits, to expand their markets, I’d hope that this means the benefits outweigh the costs and that rather than passing on costs to the non-Halal audience, the costs of Halal certification are covered by being able to sell their goods to people who would not otherwise buy them. I’m yet to see anyone offering anything like proof, and a few spurious economic arguments that seem to ignore the massive commercial benefits for entering this industry, for the idea that these increased costs will impact consumers.

Halal certification is carried out by a range of organisations, some, it seems, are businesses that have set themselves up to supply services according to this new market, presumably, these businesses are operated by Muslims, who, as a result of their faith, give a portion of their income as zakat (much like a Christian might give to their church), others, like Muslims Australia are a specifically religious institution that invest income generated through their certification into Muslim institutions (mosques, schools, etc).

Consumers in Australia (and everywhere, really) are free to make decisions about what they consume, just as businesses are free to make decisions about how best to open up their products to new markets, deciding who to sell, or not sell, to.

Should Christians oppose Halal?

If Halal products are, directly or indirectly, supporting Muslim institutions, and the expansion of Islam, should we, as Christians, not buy Halal? How should we decide what products to buy, beyond this debate? How do we shop in a way that is consistent with our faith?

Part of making this decision will include being educated about what cause the money that goes to a certain company might support, but where do we draw the line? Why are Christians not campaigning about companies giving money to workers who use it to buy cigarettes, or pornography, or who choose to gamble it? Or companies that profit from these industries? Are they not equally harmful to the end user in terms of the soul? And, more harmful, in terms of the body?

Consumer ethics are a pretty massive minefield, and it’s hard to know where to start drawing a line, saying “boycott X, because X is bad,” it’s hard to know whether or not metaphorical fruit that comes from a metaphorical tree we buy from is poisonous because of its roots. It’s harder still to find fruit that isn’t tainted in some way in a poisonous world full of people who do things that are opposed to God, and for their own benefit (not the benefit of others), by nature (though when it comes to frozen berries that carry hepatitis these concerns about poisonous fruit might be justified and non-metaphorical).

It’s good to shop ethically. It’s good to be informed. It’s good to support people who are doing good. It’s also good, I suspect, to support people because you want to love them well and see them be able to put food on the table for their families. But where is the line when it comes to companies supporting religious ideologies? Do we eat Certified Kosher meat? It hasn’t been prayed over during the sacrifice, but presumably the Kosher certification bodies are funding Judaism? What about businesses run by Christians whose teaching you disagree with? I don’t particularly like some stuff Hillsong says, but that’s not what stops me buying Gloria Jeans coffee (the lack of quality does). I think the Seventh Day Adventists teach a pretty messed up version of Christianity, with a harmful approach to the Old Testament, but this doesn’t stop me buying Sanitarium products. I don’t ask every owner of every business how they’re going to spend their profits. If an Islamic business wants to fund their version of Islam, by allowing a non-Islamic business to sell food to people who trust their certification process, then this seems to be the product of a free market. The non-Islamic business is free to make educated decisions about who certifies their food, for whom, and there are plenty of options out there.

We have great freedom, as consumers, to choose what to buy, and what to eat. More freedom than, historically, anybody has ever enjoyed.

I’m not really interested, in this post, in convincing you not to exercise this freedom. Quite the contrary. But I do think it’s important that we’re consistent in how we exercise this freedom, and that we’re not doing it out of fear, or worse, hatred. It’s downright bad for the Gospel when Christians take part in campaigns against companies and people who exercise this freedom when we are operating out of fear or hatred of the other – rather than love.

I think it’s great when Christians campaign against certain sorts of consumption out of love for people (eg when we stand up against gambling, or pay day loans, or pornography, or prostitution, in a way that loves those whose lives these insidious industries destroy). I think false religions — as a form of idolatry — are destructive, but I don’t think the right response to destructive false religions is hate, or fear, but love.

The loving answer to false religions, is Jesus, not wiping out the food supplies as though these religions are a city under siege.

It seems to me that one way to love our Muslim neighbours is to allow them to eat food in good conscience, just as we might feel loved if we are allowed to eat food in good conscience. If halal certification allows that, then I can’t see how, generally, this is a problem.

As Christians we shouldn’t be on about poisoning the proverbial waterhole — limiting a Muslim’s access to food they can eat— but we should be on about holding out the bread and water of life. Jesus.

There is no way that we can equate campaigning against halal food with God’s work. It is not what we’re called to do… God has his own seal of approval, his own certification method, his own version of certified food — it’s from Jesus, and it is Jesus. Here’s a thing Jesus says, just after he’s fed the 5,000 in John’s Gospel.

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered, The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” — John 6

Bacon is part of the good news of the Gospel (Why Christians don’t follow the Old Testament food laws)

As Christians, our great desire for people is that they enjoy their freedom, we should, I believe, be promoters of freedom. Promoting the freedom to enjoy the goodness of God, that comes through the good news of the Gospel, news where your standing before God doesn’t depend on keeping a bunch of rules and regulations about what you eat, but on God’s good gift to people in Jesus.

The Old Testament contains a bunch of regulations, like the Halal/Haram food laws in Islam, that guided God’s people before Jesus.

Christians don’t have to worry about food laws. And that’s good news. Christians can speak about finding freedom in following God and truly mean it. Hopefully in a way that shows that certification plans for perfectly tasty food are a bit of a rort.

Ultimately, Jesus being the bread of life, the one who gives life, the one who defines “clean” and “unclean” is going to transform the way the people of God approach earthly food. The Old Testament was full of food laws that marked Israel as different from the nations around them, like this, from Leviticus 11:

And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.

“‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to regard as unclean. And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you. —Leviticus 11

No bacon. No lobster. No prawns. No prawns wrapped in bacon.

But Jesus is a game changer. Here’s a few important bits of Bible.

Jesus says it’s not what you eat that defines you as a person in God’s eyes. You aren’t what you eat, you are the product of your heart.

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)” — Mark 7

What separates God’s people from here on in is not that they avoid mixed fabrics and bacon, it’s that they follow Jesus, are shaped by the Holy Spirit, and love people, one another, and people who don’t yet follow Jesus.

Here’s what a heart like that will look like. Here’s John, who had that stuff about Jesus being the bread of life before, talking about what it looks like to follow Jesus…

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  — John 13

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” — John 15

And here’s some stuff from Matthew

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” — Matthew 22

Both John and Matthew are recording words of Jesus from before his death, before his resurrection, before his people are given the Holy Spirit, and all of these statements anticipate the way Jesus loves people at the cross. Just in case we think John is talking about something else, later, in one of his letters, he writes:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. — 1 John 4

Why all this love stuff? What does love have to do with Halal food? What does love have to do with bacon? Hopefully that’ll become clearer, but it’s worth seeing that love, shaped by the way Jesus loved us when we were his enemies, is the foundation for any Christian response to any ethical issue. We do this so that people will know we are his disciples, that we are his children.

This also explains (apart from the fact that most of us aren’t Jewish) why we don’t follow the food laws. The Christian approach to food unites, rather than divides. Sharing food with someone is way of loving them.

There were some pretty major fights about food in the early church. Food was a big deal in both Jewish and Roman culture. It limited who Jewish people could associate with — the food laws in the Old Testament made it difficult to get out and about in Roman culture. Food was an identity marker then, as it is now (Halal food is an identity marker for Muslims, just as freedom to eat anything is an identity marker for Christians). Josephus, the Jewish historian, brags that Jewish food practices are consistently observed throughout the world:

“For there is not any city of the Grecians, nor any of the barbarians, nor any nation whatsoever, whither our custom of resting on the seventh day hath not come, and by which our fasts, and lighting up lamps, and many of our prohibitions as to our food, are not observed. — Josephus, Against Apion

Philostratus, a Roman writer, says this approach to food alienated the Jews from the Roman world.

“For the Jews have long been in revolt not only against the Romans, but against humanity; and a race that has made its own a life apart and irreconcilable, that cannot share with the rest of mankind in the pleasures of the table nor join in their libations or prayers or sacrifices, are separated from ourselves by a greater gulf than divides us from Susa or Bactra or the more distant Indies.” — Philostratus, Life of Apollonius

This sort of distance is likely to get in the way of the spread of the Gospel to the non-Jewish world. Which explains what happens to Peter as God tells him to go and see Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, in the book of Acts.

“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him,“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.” — Acts 10


Now, I’m pretty sure the food stuff isn’t just a symbol of the bigger point of Gentiles being included in God’s people through Christ, it’s also part of the means by which this will happen. When the church has to start grappling with how Jews and Gentiles co-exist in the body of Christ a few chapters later, they do away with almost all of the Old Testament food laws, with the exception of some that are linked to the practice of idolatry (and feasts in idol temples).

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

There’s a good case to be made that this is sort of shorthand for saying “Gentiles need to steer clear of idol-worship,” and that these are the steps that are required for Jewish Christians who are still keeping Torah (perhaps, like Paul when he visits Jerusalem, in order to preach the Gospel to Jews) to share what’s called ‘table fellowship’ with Gentile converts.

The apostle Paul applies the framework from Acts 15 in apparently different ways in different contexts – in Rome, and in Corinth. I wrote an essay on this in college which you can read online, the conclusion, in sum, is that in both situations Paul wants his readers to promote the Gospel in the way they eat, to eat with love for the other, whether that be eating in a way that is loving to people whose consciences don’t allow them to eat certain things, or eating in a way that allows you to share in the lives of non-believers.

“…if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” – Romans 14

“And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 8

Here’s Paul’s advice specifically about food sacrificed to idols, which, in Corinth, was just about every bit of meat sold in the marketplace (it comes just after Paul tells Christians not to join in idol worship and idol feasts in temples, possibly specifically referring to emperor worship in the Imperial Cult temple in Corinth.

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” — 1 Corinthians 10-11

There’s an interesting tension here, publicly participating in idol worship, in a way that suggests that false gods are real is a problem, but going to a non-Christian’s house, and eating with them, is great, unless they try to make dinner in their house something akin to an idol worship session, and it appears this is only an issue for Paul because it harms Christians who are bothered by it.

The other thing that I’ve always found interesting about these passages is that Paul talks about issues of conscience as being divides between the weak and the strong, but he, one of the leaders of the church, who is writing Scripture, takes a position on these issues that must surely have the affect of persuading some of the weak to alter their position.

Paul warns about people who will try to limit people’s freedom to enjoy the goodness of God. He may well be talking about bacon (although, it’s probably he’s talking about anyone who comes along saying that certain foods are off limits).

“They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”— 1 Timothy 4:3-5

Is Halal meat “food sacrificed to idols” – and what are the implications for Christians?

I think this collection of Bible passages has some interesting implications for Christians as we participate in discussions about Halal food. There’s a whole heap of Halal food that just falls into the “permissible” category for Muslims that doesn’t have anything especially religious done to it. It’s just certified because it’s not banned (and in some cases because it doesn’t contain banned ingredients, where it might). I can’t fathom why Christians are opposed to Halal yoghurt, or chocolate (I can fathom why Islamophobes are, because fighting against Halal certification in any form is striking a blow for that ideology). Halal meat, on the other hand, is meat slaughtered following a process called Dhabīḥah. There are some interesting bits of the Qur’an governing this process, one bit says:

“Forbidden for you are carrion, and blood, and flesh of swine, and that which has been slaughtered while proclaiming the name of any other than God, and one killed by strangling, and one killed with blunt weapons, and one which died by falling, and that which was gored by the horns of some animal, and one eaten by a wild beast, except those whom you slaughter; and that which is slaughtered at the altar and that which is distributed by the throwing of arrows [for an omen]; this is an act of sin.”— al-Māʼidah 5:3

I’m not an expert on interpreting the Qur’an, but the clause “while proclaiming the name of any other than God” has some interesting implications, it has been held to mean that a specific prayer must be uttered as the animal is slaughtered, or, failing that, the slaughter is to be conducted by a “person of the book”— which includes Christians and Jews — so that there is no possibility the animal has been sacrificed to an (Islamic) idol.

Interestingly, except for the prayer to Allah, this process is pretty much what the Old Testament, and Acts 15, calls for to keep Jewish food laws enough to enable table fellowship between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians. To be clear, I think the freedom the Gospel brings includes the freedom to eat a medium rare steak, but I wouldn’t do this with a Jewish Christian (or a vegetarian Christian), if exercising my freedom in this way caused them to stumble. Even if I would write something like this to outline why I think it’s ok (good even) to eat a medium rare steak as an act of appreciating something delicious that God made. 

If the above approach which outlines a consistent treatment of idol food in the New Testament is right, then there are some interesting implications in the Halal debate. Just to sum up in case it wasn’t clear above I’ve suggested that non-Jewish converts were urged to avoid meat linked to idolatry for the sake of fellowship with Jewish Christians (Acts 15), Paul then upholds this instruction in cases where a Christian brother or sister might be lured into idolatry, or disunity, and have their faith destroyed (1 Corinthians 8, 10-11, Romans 14-15), while essentially agreeing with those who take a position that emphasises Christian freedom — provided the food is received with thanksgiving, and eaten for the glory of God (which, could be, in a sense, said to be something of a spiritual trump card that wipes out the prior idolatry, perhaps), and both in Acts 10 and 1 Corinthians 10 the eating of previously ‘unclean’ food, and, food sacrificed to idols is part of the spread of the Gospel to non-Jews (provided it doesn’t lead them to get confused about the validity of idols).

The guiding principle is conscience —exercising Christian freedom should never come at the expense of your own conscience or the conscience of others. This seems to be behind Paul’s specific instruction, regarding idol meat in the market place (which was probably all the meat except the Kosher stuff), or, perhaps, Halal meat in the shopping centres.This meat sold in the Corinthian market place was typically meat from the many sacrifices in the many idol temples of Corinth. Presumably the market vendors bought this meat from these temples, presumably the proceeds were funding these temples, and yet Paul says to “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” 

Paul expects Christians to eat this meat with non-Christians. I’m not sure that there were idolators in Corinth who were so pedantic about the source of their meat that they would only eat meat sacrificed to their idol, so it’s interesting to ponder whether or not Paul would have served idol meat to such a person in order to dine with them, and whether that means we should serve Halal meat to Muslims in order to dine with them. But I suspect he would have. He was keen to behave like a Jew to win the Jews, and like a Greek to win the Greeks (1 Corinthians 9), and would obey Jewish laws (presumably including food laws) in order to reach Jews (even though there’s some confusion in Jerusalem, from the crowd in the Temple, as to whether this is the case in Acts 21), and, I think (and this is speculative), given the importance of conscience in his framework, he would want Muslims he was sharing the Gospel with both to see the freedom from food laws that is caught up with the message of Jesus, and for them to act according to their conscience until such time that they wanted this freedom for themselves.

It’s probable that Paul wouldn’t have rocked up in the local mosque to join into the slaughter of an animal in any way that affirmed the truth of Islam, but beyond that, he’d have been keen to win Muslims to Jesus, and to enjoy the delicious meat God made in all its deliciousness as an act of thanksgiving to God for his goodness.

Are Halal Easter Eggs “food sacrificed to idols” and what are the implications

But what about Halal Easter Eggs? If the meat question is a grey area, Halal certification where no sacrificial prayer is offered to Allah, but the certification is purely an indication that nothing Haram is involved is much more black and white.

Halal Easter Eggs are an incredible opportunity to include Muslims in your celebration of Easter. Presumably, as a conscientious Christian consumer you’re not buying into the commercialism, or idolatry, of chocolate at Easter, but you’re enjoying the opportunity to talk about Easter as a celebration of new life, and eggs as a symbol of that celebration, you know, the new life found in Jesus, through his death and resurrection. If that’s the case, and there’s no sense that you might be mistaken for a follower of the idolatrous God of crass commercialism, then I’d recommend buying up big on Halal Easter Eggs and sharing them with the neighbours in your street — Muslim or otherwise — inviting them to enjoy the good news of Jesus, bacon, and chocolate. But mainly Jesus.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The bones of my Wisdom Literature = cultural evangelism argument

I’m getting closer to putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for my Old Testament essay that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I still haven’t found many scholars who take the line I’m taking – and those that do come from a particular “missional” bent when interpreting scripture.

But here’s the flow of my logic – feel free to critique…

  1. God, from the very beginning, has been Lord of the whole world
  2. He selected Israel to be his chosen people.
  3. His promises to Abraham, involving Israel’s choseness included a promise that Israel would be a blessing to the nations – 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;  and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
  4. Israel’s laws included laws for dealing with sojourners – those foreigners who chose to become Israelites.
    • Exodus 12: 48 An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. 49 The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.”
    • Leviticus 17 suggests that these converts are “his people”: “8 “Say to them: ‘Any Israelite or any alien living among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9 and does not bring it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to the LORD -that man must be cut off from his people.”
    • Numbers 15: “For the generations to come, whenever an alien or anyone else living among you presents an offering made by fire as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, he must do exactly as you do. 15 The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the LORD : 16 The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.'”
  5. We see examples of foreigners coming into citizenship of Israel, and testifying to YHWH’s rightful position because they’ve heard of God’s greatness. For example, Rahab, as Israel occupy the land of Canaan: “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
  6. The nations are most blessed, throughout the Biblical narrative – including in the Old Testament – when they recognise YHWH’s position via Israel’s faithful example.
    • Deuteronomy 4:5-8: “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
      Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’
      For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”
    • Micah 4:2 seems to me to hark back to the glory days of Solomonic rule (at least as it’s reported in 1 Kings – and I’ll get to that soon) – 2 Many nations will come and say,  “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,  to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 3 He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
  7. On this basis I think it’s fair to assume that Israel was to have some sort of interaction with the surrounding nations where they would notice this difference.
  8. The wisdom literature borrows content and ideas pretty heavily from surrounding, contemporary philosophies – and corrects them, offering “the fear of the Lord” as the beginning of true knowledge and wisdom.
  9. It seems that in the era in which the wisdom literature was produced sages and wise people were popular, schools of philosophical thought may have been operating around the traps, and ideas were flowing across national boundaries.
  10. It follows, in my mind, that these works from Israel’s wise people may have been a contribution to this international conversation – offering the fear of YHWH as this basis for wisdom.
  11. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (and the Song of Solomon) are linked to Solomon – whether he actually wrote them or this is a fictive link is irrelevant. I think we’re meant to read them in the light of Solomon’s reign, as documented in the Bible. I’d also suggest that the accounts of foreign dignitaries and thinkers flocking to hear Solomon’s ministry of wisdom confirms both points 9 and 10 above.

    • Solomon’s dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8 is a starting point: “ 41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name- 42 for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name…59 And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, 60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. 61 But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”
    • 1 Kings 10 provides a picture of Israel’s Golden Age under the reign of Solomon – where the Abrahamic promises of Genesis 12 appear to be fulfilled – somewhat temporarily. The Queen of Sheba, on the basis of Solomon’s wisdom (and his relationship to YHWH) makes the following declaration: 9 Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.””
    • Towards the end of the chapter the description of Solomon’s reign focuses on his global impact (his blessing of the nations): 23 King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. 24 The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.”
  12. Psalm 72 appears to link Genesis 12 with Solomon’s reign…

    15 Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
    May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long.

    16 Let grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
    Let its fruit flourish like Lebanon;
    let it thrive like the grass of the field.

    17 May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.
    All nations will be blessed through him,
    and they will call him blessed.

    18 Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel,

    who alone does marvelous deeds.

    19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.

  13. The fear of the Lord is an important idea developed throughout the Old Testament – and often linked to the nations. It’s essential for Israel (see Deuteronomy 6), and Israel’s kings (1 Samuel 12). But it’s also the appropriate and expected response from the nations. For example, Egypt’s problem in the Exodus is that their officials do not fear the Lord. Joshua 4 links Israel’s conquest of the land with God’s desire for the nations to “fear the Lord.” Leviticus 19, quoted earlier, also contains instructions to “fear the Lord” (this link is tenuous – but it’s in a passage about “loving your neighbour” which deals with how to treat sojourners and converts). It’s what happens when Israel’s kings do the right thing (1 Chronicles 14, and their calling when Israel does the right thing in 1 Chronicles 16 – “tremble before him, all the earth“). There are other passages that link “the fear of the LORD” with the nations not taking certain actions against Israel (2 Chronicles 17). It’s also the particular focus of Proverbs (Proverbs 1, and then about a million other verses), a bunch of Psalms (eg Psalm 19, Psalm 22) the reason Job is held up as righteous (Job 1:8, 2:3), and the theological turning point in the book (Job 28:28), and the closing words (and “duty of Man”) in Ecclesiastes (Ecc 12:13-14).

So, my theory, is that rather than being riddled with inconsistent “acts-consequences” (eg you reap what you sow) theology (Proverbs) and the suffering of the innocent (Ecclesiastes, Job) – the wisdom books serve a unified, dual purpose. Firstly, they’re didactic for Israel – encouraging them to live out their obligations as a testimony to the nations of true wisdom, and a participation in an international “wisdom dialogue” advocating the fear of Israel’s Lord as the beginning of knowledge. And they’re to be read in the light of Solomon’s legendary reign and ministry of wisdom to the whole world.

What do you reckon?

Doug Green on Job

Doug Green, another member of faculty from Westminster Theological Seminary, is guest lecturing on Job now. This is some of his speculation. Let me stress, speculation, on Job. Here are my notes…

Questions of authorship and date are pretty irrelevant (Doug Green has shifted in his thinking on this). Job seems to be an ancient story, and the text of Job in our Bible seems to be the “God ordained” version of the text… the question he asks is: What is it about Job that encouraged or invited its readers to consider it worthy of its spot in the Bible?

How did they discern that it was actually scripture. What is it about the book that when we read it we say “it’s Biblical” – this question was settled long before any modern councils (or post AD councils) – Israel valued Job the same way it valued Torah and Prophets.

Theologically it doesn’t “become” Scripture. It is Scripture. But it takes people to discern that. The path to canonicity for the “writings” was more rocky than the law and the prophets. In the redemptive historical tradition in which he stands is that the Bible is an unfolding story of redemption (ie following Geerhardus Vos). The Bible is the product of, and gets its shape from, the great narrative of redemption. At its core the Bible is a history book – the history of a covenentally structured relationship. This relationship has an ethical dimension to it.

The Bible tells a story to people living in a story and tells them how to live in that story.

The Psalms are not just a hymn book, but a prophetic book and a redemptive history of Israel…

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon – don’t seem to be reflections on redemptive history but on a creation theology. The first verse of these books all have a hook on them to redemptive history. The beginning of these books says “make a connection between these books and Solomon” – there’s something that connects them to this figure from Israel’s history. Could there be a post-exilic use of Solomon to make a point for post-exilic Israel? Doug hasn’t found the connection yet. I reckon it might be something to do with this

Job is an anomaly. He’s not Jewish, he’s not connected to Israel in any particular way, and yet the book is both now, and historically, part of Scripture.

Job is a blameless and upright man. He contends for his innocence in chapter 31.

The Satan in Job is not the devil, but rather the leader of the opposition.

Job’s friends appear to be applying Deuteronomic theology to Job (if you’re righteous God will reward you, if you’re suffering you’ve done something wrong). They work backwards from his suffering to prove that he is not blameless and righteous.

Job steadfastly maintains his innocence and calls for his day in the celestial court. Job eventually earns YHWH’s rebuke. But initially YHWH comes down on Job’s side (between Job and his friends). Nothing in the book suggests that Job is anything but blameless or innocent (this doesn’t mean sinless). He’s sacrificing, so he’s probably atoning for sin…

Job’s life moves through three stages – from the good, to the bad, to the better. That’s the Bible’s redemptive story in a nutshell.

Job’s recovery from his calamity involves a metaphorical resurrection from death. It’s proto-resurrection language. The concept of exile and the concept of death are closely related concepts. For example, the Garden of Eden – on the day you eat this you will die – he didn’t die, but he did get exiled. This opens up interesting readings of Ruth also – if exile = death and return = resurrection…

The transition from the bad to the better is summarised in 42:10 – the Hebrew should best be translated “The Lord turned/repented the captivity of Job” – elsewhere in the Old Testament this phrase is used with reference to Israel’s return from exile (Deuteronomy 30:1-3). This (Deuteronomy 30) is how Israel’s story will end. The language is picked up and used throughout the prophets to describe Israel’s return/restoration from exile.

By using this same language to describe Job’s return from his conditions is the author/redactor encouraging us to read Job as a parable of the righteous remnant of Israel as they join naughty Israel in exile. Does it answer the problem of why the righteous are lumped in with the unrighteous?

Is it expressing Israel’s hope of a blessed return from exile.

Objections to this treatment of Job are based on the Hebrew words in question – it’s only elsewhere used to discuss the treatment of nations, this is the only use of the word with regards to an individual.

Doug wants to avoid illegitimate totality transfer – but he thinks the original readers were more likely to draw parallels between this use of language and its common use with regards to national restoration.

Job’s description as a “servant of YHWH” could possibly, possibly, be a link with Isaiah’s suffering servant…

Job’s speeches throughout the book contain syntactical and lexical similarities to the suffering servant language in Isaiah.

Are our current readings of Job to sober – we’re trained as moderns to read very carefully and with discipline. Ancient Jewish readers draw connections between texts that we think are a little too long a bow to draw. They read with much more abandon…

Is there anything in the text that links Job to the suffering servants or to exiled Israel. Reading Job either as a type of the suffering righteous member of Israel in exile has been dismissed by sober “enlightened” readers who want one particular meaning or interpretation. Some have said this view doesn’t account for the richness of Job.

But are there enough things in Job that suggest we should read it in line with the Suffering Servant and Israel’s exilic context. The Targum (early Jewish interpretation) depicts Job as a Torah keeping Israelite. Perhaps even a righteous Israelite.

This pulls Job into the great narrative of redemptive history – like the latter part of Isaiah, and Daniel – books that are commentaries on the conundrums of exile – the suffering of righteous members Israel. It’s a reading that turns into an additional commentary, not just a generic commentary on suffering, but on this non-covenental treatment of the righteous members of Israel. Who should have expected to remain in the land…

Doug concludes: There is a huge circle in his argument – the assumption of redemptive history filtering through Scripture effects the way he reads Job. It’s not necessarily developed by the text itself without this framework.

But if it’s right – Job isn’t purely a “wisdom book” it has a connection to the history of Israel’s redemption. It’s a theological account of Israel’s experience. It can be read as a parable of the experience of the righteous suffering in Israel. It gets pulled into the orbit of the Suffering Servant prophecy. It takes on a prophetic nature when read in dialogue with Isaiah (eg Isaiah 53) we can now draw a connection between Job and Jesus. Christian readings are always Christotellic (directed to Christ) – not Christ under every rock, but a story that ends up with Christ. Christ is the archetypal innocent sufferer.

Christological ramifications – the incomprehensible sufferings of the righteous, the question of why the righteous suffer sits unanswered until Christ comes.

Job has this intriguing role as intercessory for his friends – “go to Job, he will pray for you”… there’s a hint that the suffering servant’s job is to mediate for the unrighteous.

One of the intriguing things at the end of Job is that the three daughters are named, and the sons are not… another striking thing about the three daughters is that they get an inheritance. Normally this happens when the sons are dead. But in this ending of Job (a picture of the age to come – perhaps) the daughters are named, and inherit alongside the sons. Job, the feminist. It’s an intriguing “age to come” ending.

He calls Psalm 44 “Job’s Psalm”…

Did ancient Israel do mission?

I’m working on an Old Testament essay at the moment. On the wisdom literature. And I’m wondering if the wisdom literature – particularly Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs functioned as pro-Yahweh propaganda for the surrounding nations. Other nations had comparable wisdom literature (and indeed Israelite wisdom literature borrows directly from some of these surrounding documents providing a bit of a theological corrective – namely that knowledge starts with the fear of the Lord). Solomon’s dispensation of wisdom to the nations (in 1 Kings) seems to be the most fitting pre-Christ fulfilment of the Genesis 12 promise that Abraham’s descendants would be a blessing to the nations.

Part of my thinking is that Ecclesiastes and Proverbs are either written by Solomon, or presented as being written by Solomon, which I think makes a pretty compelling claim for reading them alongside the accounts of Solomon’s reign – where nations gather to experience his wisdom (somewhat vicariously – at the very least rulers of the other nations come to see Solomon).

Trouble is, I can’t find anybody (in the academic world) who agrees with me yet. And unfortunately, the question is “evaluate the proposal that Ecclesiastes and Job are protest literature” – some scholars think they’re basically a corrective of Proverbs – particularly the idea that material blessings flow from our actions (it’s called the acts-consequences nexus). So I have to show that I think the three are theologically united and serve this missional purpose. If I still think this is the case tomorrow.

What do you reckon the place of mission was in Israel? There were provisions to look after “sojourners” there are Psalms about the nations coming before God… that was also part of the messianic framework that developed in Israel prior to Christ. But, other than Jonah, there doesn’t seem to be too much direct preaching to gentile nations in Old Testament times (Obadiah’s prophecies about Edom might be an exception).

AACC Liveblog: Robert Gordon on the Former Prophets

Former Prophets (Joshua to 2 Kings) – Robert P Gordon

Called Former Prophets because they talk a lot about prophets, like Samuel and Elijah etc. In Jewish tradition (the Talmudic period) the idea was that the prophets wrote these books – Josephus thought Samuel wrote 1 and 2 Samuel. The term “former prophets” may owe a lot to assumed authorship.

Turning Points – Judges to Kings: Repentance in the Deuteronomic History

Martin Noth suggested the Deuteronomic history were works produced to explain why/how Judah found trouble. The book of Deuteronomy proceeded this material, it played a part in the formation of these books.

Deuteronomy is the engine pulling the books along – Deuteronomic language and theology imbues the following books.

It’s common to say that in Judges chapter 2:6-12 there’s a scheme at play that operates throughout the rest of the book.

Defection/Defeat/Repentance/Deliverance – a cycle.

Gordon says there’s no repentance in Judges 2.

Subsequently Israel calls out in despair, and they’re delivered, but they don’t “repent.” The verbs that would traditionally be used in a context of repentance are not used in the book of Judges. Except in chapter 2 (v18) where it is used to described God having compassion on Israel, and Israel returning to their corrupt ways. The verbs are used in close juxtaposition – perhaps a deliberate inversion/irony. Israel doesn’t repent, but a case could be made for translating the verb as God repenting.

In Chapter 10 the Israelites confess their sin against the Lord, but they are rebuffed, because God is literally “fed up” with them. This is the best you’ll get in Judges in terms of Israel’s repentance.

The question of Israel’s polytheism isn’t really relevant, or dealt with, within the text of Judges.

1 Samuel

Eli and Samuel continue the judging tradition. The issue of repentance comes up in chapter 7. “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts…” (shades of Deuteronomy 30). The Israelites aren’t lamenting about their own circumstances at this point but rather the situation with the Ark of the Covenant being held by the Philistines.

The narrative is portraiture not rather than photography. The text contains generalisations and hyperbole in order to make theological points. We have to be careful to understand what the aim of the text is. We can do this while still maintaining a high view of scripture.

What is the point of the Deuteronomic History?

Depends on your view on dating – is it a Josiaic composition withan exilic editor? Is it early? Is it to paint Israel as abject failures? To present post exilic theological options?

What are Israel to do in the hour of judgment? They are to turn and repent. Even after Josiah’s repentance God’s anger burns against Israel and seems to be a repudiation of the kingship in total.

Repentance is important and unavoidable in the New Testament – both John the Baptist and Jesus preach it first up, Hebrews 6:1 makes it a pretty foundational doctrine. It was also held to be very important in Hebrew theology. Repentance, in Jewish theology, converted unforgivable sins into ritual sins addressable through the law. “Great is repentance, for deliberate sins are accounted as sins of ignorance” – the Talmud. The Targum follows this pattern – repentance leads to forgiveness.

The age old question…

Al Mohler is the thinking evangelical’s favourite Southern Baptist, he’s reformed, he’s intelligent, he’s eloquent. He seems like a nice guy. But in a talk at the Ligonier Ministries conference in the US he basically did the anti-Wattke (Wattke was the OT scholar who moved institutions after publishing his views on the possibility that Genesis 1 might be compatible with evolutionary theory). Mohler (as reported at Challies.com) says it’s not. And furthermore, that not holding to a young earth, 6 day, 24 hour, view of creation leads to theological disaster.

If there’s one thing I dislike more than stupid theological debates that can’t be resolved, it’s people who make such debates the yardstick of theological orthodoxy. There are people I love, and respect, on both sides of this debate. And I’m pretty sick of posts like this that caricature opposing views in order to attack them. There’s a word for that logical fallacy. It’s a strawman.

Here’s the first “strawman” from Challies’ post – it’s a rebranding of the “literary theory” that is pretty narrow, and doesn’t look like the literary theory any reformed evangelical I know holds to while questioning the function of Genesis 1-11:

“The literary theory. Here we take the first eleven chapters of Genesis as literary, understanding that the Creation story is merely myth, a story as understood by ancient Hebrews.”

It’s almost never held to be “merely myth” – any literary theorists will affirm essentially the same theological truths as the six day young earth adherent. This is a nasty carricature that pays no heed to the complexities of the debate, and certainly rules out any knowledge that we may bring to the text based on ancient Hebrew literature…

Mohler’s (or Challies’) conclusion based on that first strawman is another fallacy:

“The literary theory has to be rejected out-of-hand since it otherwise contradicts inerrancy. We cannot hold to a robust theory of biblical inerrancy and interpret the chapters in this way.”

Why does reading the Bible as literature, or at the very least, pondering the genre of the received text, rule out a “robust theory of biblical inerrancy”? It seems that by including the qualifiers “robust” in this sentence, and “merely” in the first, Mohler can dismiss anybody who agrees with him 90% of the way by lumping them in with the people who disagree with him 100% of the way. This shouldn’t be a question of semantics – a “plain reading” of Mohler’s views is that unless you hold to a young earth six day creation you think the Bible is an errant myth. This just isn’t true of most of the reformed guys I’ve read this year (and in the past) when it comes to disagreements on Genesis 1. Every big name in American reformed circles seems to have a different view on the question – Piper, Driscoll, Mohler, Keller… the reason thoughtful people reach different conclusions is simple – we weren’t there at creation (and neither was Moses), we weren’t there when Genesis was written, and any postulation on the question of the mechanics of creation (past the “God did it by his word” idea) is purely speculative. It’s guesswork. Some guesses may be more educated than others. But to make this some sort of yardstick for theological orthodoxy is perilously stupid.

This is the kind of issue people lose their jobs over. Because of this ludicrous desire to see the issue at front and centre. The bit I think is the most frustrating is the clamouring over the “reformed” label for your view – as though disagreement on the issue is new. Here’s what Calvin said (in a commentary on Genesis 1:16), if you want to be reformed you at the very least want to be agreeing with Calvin. Right?

“I have said, that Moses does not here subtly descant, as a philosopher, on the secrets of nature, as may be seen in these words. First, he assigns a place in the expanse of heaven to the planets and stars; but astronomers make a distinction of spheres, and, at the same time, teach that the fixed stars have their proper place in the firmament. Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend.”

Old Testament 101: Judging Judges (Webb)

Barry Webb, in his seminal work analysing the structure of Judges, departed from Noth’s view that it fit into a deuteronomistic history. Noth believed the Judges period began in Judges 2:6 and ended in 1 Samuel 12, this overlap between books meant that few saw Judges as a piece of literature in its own right.

Arguing for the literary cohesion of Judges as a stand alone text does not dismiss its place in a framework of Biblical Theology.

Webb believes Judges is internally coherent. That it deals with two primary characters God, and Israel. God is angry at Israel for disobedience but continues to show faith to his promises. Webb suggests the dynamic is more complex than a simple “repentance/deliverance” cycle. That it is more the case of consistent mercy in the face of apostasy.

Webb says the emergence of the monarchy is the next major narrative movement at the end of Judges. Judges ends “to be continued.” He sees “now after the death of…” as a common biblical means for introducing a new chapter in Israel’s history. From Moses (Joshua), to Joshua (Judges), to Samuel, to Saul (2 Samuel 1), and to David…

Webb suggests any approval of the monarchy in Judges is an approval of the Davidic/Judaic monarchy. Webb argues that the monarchy isn’t fully realised until Yahweh’s chosen king (based on Deut 17), David, takes the throne. Saul is “a king like the other nations” while David is a king after the Lord’s heart. But he sees the monarchy as a secondary issue to the relationship between Israel and Yahweh.

He sees a parallel in the downward spiral of kingship with the downward spiral of the judges, comparing Othniel to David.

Webb’s structure of Judges

Webb, like Wenham, identifies Chapter 1:1-3:6 as a prologue, or Overture.

1:1, opening with “after the death of Joshua” represents both continuity and discontinuity. Chapter one concludes essentially revealing the hopelessness of Israel’s attempts to meet the expectations as laid out. The overture climaxes with the meeting with Yahweh’s messenger who makes it clear that they are not to make agreements with the inhabitants of the land (2:1-5), and God’s speech in 2:20-22 about his faithfulness.

Chapter 2:20-22 lays out Yahweh’s rationale for not giving the whole land over to Israel as promised. They failed their end of the bargain. The structure of the overture is:

  1. Israel comes to terms with the Canaanites (1:1-2:5)
  2. Israel is ensnared by their Gods (2:6-3:6)
  3. Israel is now in conflict with Yahweh (2:20-22)

Webb identifies the same pattern of “The Israelites did what was evil” – six times throughout 3:7-16.31. He identifies motifs like improvised weaponry, worthless fellows, seizure of the fjords of the Jordan, weak women overcoming male heroes, and flaming torches that emerge throughout the narrative. And the following issues as thematic:

  1. Israel’s special status as a nation separated to Yahweh (a holy people)
  2. Israel’s going after other gods in willful violation of this status,
  3. The implied contest between Yahweh and those other gods
  4. The freedom of Yahweh’s activity compared to Israel’s presumption that it can use him as required.

Samson epitomises the Israelite condition – he is set apart, chases foreign women, and calls on Yahweh when he gets into trouble.

Webb calls the concluding chapters (divided along the same lines as Wenham) a coda, because he sees it as bringing balance to the book in terms of literary symmetry. He sees some chiastic closure with Judah receiving prominence in chapters 1 and 19, Jebus/Jerusalem and the Jebusites in 2:1-5 and 19:10-12, the weeping at Bethel and the weeping at Bochim (2:1-5 and 20:18, 26), and the Danite migration in 19 as closure for Dan’s failure to secure territory in 1:34.

Old Testament 101: Judging Judges (Wenham)

For my next trick, I’ll tackle the question of how the structure of Judges impacts interpretation. I’ll be interacting with two texts on the subject – Wenham’s superb “Story as Torah” and Webb’s “Judges: An integrated reading”.

Wenham seeks to extract ethical principles from Old Testament narrative. Ethics have traditionally been ignored in interpreting these narratives because the narrator often passes no explicit judgment on the acts reported, he simply reports and the events speak for themselves.

Wenham applies historical, literary, and rhetorical criticism to these narratives. He recognises that ethics ultimately don’t rely on the historicity of the text but the literary approach. If only I’d read this when writing my violence essay… that would have been another footnote. Essentially I agree with him. Though I didn’t know it at the time…

Wenham notes that the narrator of the Old Testament is omniscient – aware of the thoughts and feelings of characters in the story. Some use this as justification for seeing the narrative as fiction, others as part of the case for divine inspiration.

Wenham suggests the first readers of the text read them as though they were historical, which legitimises the approach of extracting ethical principles from the stories as though they are indeed historical…

Wenham on the structure of Judges

Judges opens with Israel’s inability to conquer the land (and thus their inability to meet God’s requirements), and closes with the gloomy “in those days there was no king in the land, and everybody did what was right in their own eyes.” These ideas bookend (and perhaps technically bookbegin) the book.

The stories within the book are intended to shock the reader, and beg the question “what should this character have done” (which I think is one of the best ways to understand the spiraling despair of Judges – 2 Kings, and probably any narrative, it’s one of the first questions I ask – the second is the hypothetical “what would things have looked like if they had” because I like speculative ideas).

The stories in Judges follow a pattern of conquest by foreigners, an agent of delivery acting in Israel’s interest, followed by a period of stability, followed by their deaths, followed by Israel “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Wenham argues this idea is tied to Deuteronomic principles (I reckon Deuteronomy 30 is a pretty key interpretive rubric for these passages – Israel’s national autonomy is linked to their obedience to God).

Wenham identifies three sections in Judges:

  1. The prologue: 1:1-3:6
  2. The Core “Book of Deliverers”: 3:7-16:31
  3. The Epilogue: 17:1-21:25

The epilogue and prologue are split into two parts. The prologue contains a summary of the conquest (failed) of the land (1:1-2:5) and a commentary on the constant apostasy of Israel in the Judges period (2:6-3:6). The epilogue deals with a disturbing civil war and essentially a chaistic repetition of chapter 1 with the repetition of “who shall go up? Judah shall go up” (1:1-2, 20:18).

The six major judges in the middle of the book arise in a formulaic manner – the people do what is evil, they are sold into enemy hands, they pray for deliverance, and the Lord raises up a judge.

These judges follow a downward spiral from Othniel who escapes uncriticised to Samson who is the ultimate flawed hero.

The narrative represents the narrators dismay with the state of Israel’s faith, but delight in the actions and methods of deliverance. Within Judges we see people killing enemies with ox goads and jaw bones, stealth (and toilet humour) and after setting fire to fields using foxes tied together by their tails.

Judges 2:2-3 provides a useful interpretive schema for the whole book: “I [God] said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land… But you have not obeyed my command… So now I say I will not drive them out before you but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare for you”

This becomes a key theme in the book.

Judges 1 contrasts Joshua 1 while dealing with the same circumstances. Wenham says Joshua is celebrating the success of the conquest while Judges paradoxically declares it a failure. This represents the different literary/rhetorical purposes of the narratives.

Critical wisdom suggested that the epilogue came from a different hand, but it seems more valuable to read it as a commentary on the preceding chapters using the closing refrain as a literary marker (first in 17:6). Wenham argues that it is entirely consistent with the rest of the content. He suggests “doing right in their own eyes” mirrors “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord” but represents an evolution (or devolution) from that position.

Wenham sums up his commentary on the structure as: “Judges portrays Israel becoming progressively more lax in its religious practice, and ever more prone to disunity between the tribes, it reaches a climax with outright idolatory amongst the Danites and a civil war that could have destroyed the nation (nb. which also incidently foreshadows the ten tribes semi-rebellion under David in 2 Samuel and the eventual split of the kingdoms). The reader is driven to conclude that this must not continue, if the new nation is to enjoy harmony at home and peace abroad. A new way of life under new leadership is required…”

Wenham on the date of Judges

A variety of theories – most plausible seems to be for a composition under David prior to his capture of Jerusalem and shoring up of authority (due to a repudiation of Benjamin and Gibeah – Saul’s tribe and birth place), while a post Assyrian editing under Hezekiah (because 18:30 refers to the “capturing of the land” – this editing possibly took place to explain why the southern kingdom survived while the north didn’t) is also plausible if 19-21 are downplayed. The first view almost relies on the capturing of the land being a mistranslation of “the capturing of the ark”…

A timeline of (post documentary hypothesis) Old Testament Theology

1870s – Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis (Source Criticism): Identifies JEDP – the four voices alleged in the Pentateuch. Breaking the texts into parts based on their use of names for God, theological focus (on ritual, or law), and on literary style. This followed about 100 years of source criticism.

Here’s what the breakdown of the text looks like (from Wikipedia):

1890s – Vos takes up a position as a professor of Biblical Theology in Princeton in a move designed to combat the emergence of text criticism as the dominant interpretive paradigm. Princeton was apparently looking for someone familiar with the German school and committed to a framework of Biblical Theology, Vos, having studied under the German school was perfect.

1940s – Noth and Von Rad (following Gunkel) introduced the idea of common oral sources (form criticism) for significant moments in Israel’s history. Noth also pioneered “the Deuteronomistic History,” the idea that Joshua to Kings represented a cohesive sociological-historical account of Israel for post exilic (7th century BC) use, at the same time both he and Von Rad saw Joshua as part of the same unit as the Pentateuch, arguing for a hextateuch (to me it seems like only a small step from Joshua to Judges which would make a septicheuch).

1941 – Cassuto, a Jewish Rabbi who wrote in Italian, offered a substantive criticism of the Documentary hypothesis that was not translated into English until 1961. He proposed that the Pentateuch was a single text, written by one author in the tenth century BC. His dating was a subsidiary to his criticism of the Documentary Hypothesis. He demonstrated that textual criticism – the notion of examining inconsistencies in the text to identify separate voices – was essentially cultural imperialism reading modern mores into ancient writings – and that the style of writing presented in the text was entirely consistent with Hebrew literary structure.

1976 – Schmid (another German) almost singlehandly removes the notion of the Jahwist voice (J), and some see him as having done away with all but the Deuteronomist.

1977 – Rendtorff went a step further than Schmid, he did away with both J and E, suggesting a Deuteronomic School was the most likely final editor of the OT, though allowing for a later “priestly” redactor.

My thoughts

Given my bias for Biblical Theology (ie a unified view of the text and an emphasis on inspiration), I’m glad the Documentary Hypothesis is on its way out the academic door. But I think it has provided useful insights (provided it sits under the umbrella of divine inspiration).

So here’s what I think.

The Pentateuch was probably around in some sort of oral/written form pretty early on, which was discovered (and possibly edited into a more cohesive form) under Josiah (there’s reference to a book of law being found in the temple under his reign so it must have existed before then), though compiled in its final form, and attached to the “deuteronomistic history” post exile as Israel struggled to come to terms with its identity. I think the Old Testament as a whole is a subjective retelling of Israel’s history so sociological and literary approaches to the text are useful, historical criticism is useful only insofar as it assumes the accounts will be flavoured in favour of Israel and genre is taken into account.

Biblical Theology: Tying it all together

So, in summary, if I was answering a question like “how is Biblical Theology useful for understanding the Old Testament?” I would make the following points (probably with reference to Goldsworthy, Scobie, Dumbrell and Demster):

1. It grounds us in the notion that the Bible is a unified text not a hodgepodge of disparate parts strung together because no other documents existed.

2. It puts other forms of literary criticism in their place as subsets of this view (here I would reference Von Rad, Brueggemann, Barr, the documentary hypothesis and anything else that would demonstrate I knew what was at stake in terms of viewing the Bible as a loose collection of texts).

3. It helps us chart the development of God’s redemptive plans for creation from go to woe. Starting with creation and the fall, through the creation of his people with covenant obligations, the development of kingship, and ultimately culminating with the new creation and Jesus as king.

4. It reminds us that themes carry on, and develop through the Biblical text that are helpful for guiding our exegesis and our preaching.

None of the ideas put forward as unifying concepts for the Bible are entirely satisfying on their own, they all miss something of the complexity of the text (any simplification or summary will inherently do that), but they all play a role in shaping our interpretation. Pointing out linking themes is useful. Provided you don’t want to turn it into the only thread that holds the Bible together.

Old Testament 101: Biblical Theology: background, pros, and cons

I promised my wife I’d do some reading up on Biblical Theology for the both of us… This is a long post. Feel free to just skip it.

What is Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology is a framework, or the attempt to create a framework, that sees the Bible not as a set of disparate texts brought together by chance and the say so of a council of clergy centuries later – but rather as a consistent piece of revelation. One work that outlines God’s interaction with his creation from beginning to end. It is different to systematic theology, which seeks to bring pieces of the Bible together in order to approach particular topics, but good systematic theology stems from solid Biblical theology.

Geerhardus Vos, apart from having a cool name, described Biblical Theology as the art of drawing a straight line through Biblical texts, where Systematic Theology draws a circle.

He also, when taking the chair as Princeton’s inaugural professor of Biblical Theology, made the following statements about the value of Biblical Theology.

First, he defined the anti-supernatural readers (textual critics) that he says Biblical Theology counters:

“Revelation [by their definition] consists in this, that the divine Spirit, by an unconscious process, stirs the depths of man’s heart so as to cause the springing up therein afterward of certain religious thoughts and feelings, which are as truly human as they are a revelation of God, and are, therefore, only relatively true… The people of Israel are held to have possessed a creative religious genius, just as the Greek nation was endowed with a creative genius in the sphere of art…Writers of this class deal as freely with the facts and teachings of the Bible as the most extreme anti-supernaturalists. But with their evolutionistic treatment of the phenomena they combine the hypothesis of this mystical influence of the Spirit, which they are pleased to call revelation. It is needless to say that revelation of this kind must remain forever inaccessible to objective proof or verification. Whatever can pretend to be scientific in this theory lacks all rapport with the idea of the Supernatural, and whatever there lingers in it of diluted Supernaturalism lacks all scientific character.”

I especially like the last bit.

Then he uses this analogy of the intricacy of the human body (with a hat tip to the argument from design) to describe why Biblical Theology opens up exciting new possibilities for understanding the Bible:

“In the Bible there is an organization finer, more complicated, more exquisite than even the texture of muscles and nerves and brain in the human body; that its various parts are interwoven and correlated in the most subtle manner, each sensitive to the impressions received from all the others, perfect in itself, and yet dependent upon the rest, while in them and through them all throbs as a unifying principle the Spirit of God’s living truth. If anything, then, this is adapted to convince the student that what the Bible places before him is not the chance product of the several human minds that have been engaged in its composition, but the workmanship of none other than God Himself.”

Recognising the unity of the Bible is not a priori a reason to dismiss analysing its individual parts (provided you recognise that they have a larger role to play), there is, to stretch the analogy, value in studying the anatomy and physiology of the human hand (or the eye – if you want to follow the traditional path of the argument from design). The Biblical body is both the sum of its parts, and greater than the sum…

Vos saw Biblical Theology as the antidote to what he perceived (writing in the late 19th century about ten years after Wellhausen had proposed the “Documentary Hypothesis” – that there were four separate writers, or schools of writers, responsible for the Pentateuch)…

“Biblical Theology is suited to furnish a most effective antidote to the destructive critical views now prevailing. These modern theories, however much may be asserted to the contrary, disorganize the Scriptures. Their chief danger lies, not in affirmations concerning matters of minor importance, concerning errors in historical details, but in the most radical claims upsetting the inner organization of the whole body of truth. We have seen that the course of revelation is most closely identified with the history described in the Bible. Of this history of the Bible, this framework on which the whole structure of revelation rests, the newest criticism asserts that it is falsified and unhistorical for the greater part. All the historical writings of the Old Testament in their present state are tendency-writings. Even where they embody older and more reliable documents, the Deuteronomic and Levitical paste, applied to them in and after the exile, has obliterated the historic reality. Now, if it were known among believing Christians to what an extent these theories disorganize the Bible, their chief spell would be broken; and many would repudiate with horror what they now tolerate or view with indifference.”

Cons – Problems with Biblical Theology

The effect of holding to no consistent theological framework or understanding led Carl Trueman to make the following observation about the state of modern “theological” studies in universities:

With no coherent epistemological or ontological basis to hold itself together, the university discipline has long ago collapsed into an incoherent mish-mash of courses of the `Theology and ….’ variety, where you insert your own particular concern or interest, be it women, ecology, politics, vegetarianism, or Tom and Jerry cartoons. Hey, it’s a postmodern world, cartoons are as worthy of time and energy as starving children, and the unifying factor in our disciplines, if there is one, must be found in our own little universes, not in the God of revelation.

Ouch. I guess I’ll be shelving plans to write “Theology and Coffee”…

Trueman offers a valuable critique of Biblical Theology – a corrective from a self styled theological revolutionary (from his first paragraph)… in his sights is the redemptive history movement championed on the global stage by Australian’s like Graeme Goldsworthy through Moore College. He thinks, in the circles that he moves in, this framework has become the “establishment” and because he self identifies as a “Marxist” when it comes to challenging establishments he wrote the following critique:

“First, there is the problem of mediocrity. It is one thing for a master of biblical theology to preach it week after week; quite another for a less talented follower so to do. We all know the old joke about the Christian fundamentalist who, when asked what was grey, furry, and lived in a tree, responded that `It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer to every question is `Jesus’’.

One of the problems I have with a relentless diet of biblical theological sermons from less talented (i.e., most of us) preachers is their boring mediocrity: contrived contortions of passages which are engaged in to produce the answer `Jesus’ every week. It doesn’t matter what the text is; the sermon is always the same.

Second, the triumph of the biblical theological method in theology and preaching has come at the very high price of a neglect of the theological tradition. The church spent nearly seventeen hundred years engaging in careful doctrinal reflection; formulating a technical language allowing her theologians to express themselves with precision and clarity; writing creeds and confessions to allow believers over the face of the earth to express herself with one voice; and wrestling long and hard with those aspects of God which must be true if the biblical record was to be at all coherent or make any sense whatsoever.”

His closing statement (in an online debate that Goldsworthy subsequently responded to)…

My fear is that the biblical theology movement, while striving to place the Word back at the centre of the church’s life, is inadequate in and by itself for the theological task of defending and articulating the faith. Reflection upon the wider church tradition is needed, creeds, confessions and all, because this is the best way to understand how and where the discipline of biblical theology and redemptive history can be of use to the wider picture without it usurping and excluding other, equally necessary and important theological disciplines.

A paragraph from Goldsworthy’s response to Trueman is useful when assessing the importance of Biblical Theology when reading the Old Testament:

Biblical theology is necessary to prevent this de-historicising of the gospel by anchoring the person and work of Christ into the continuum of redemptive history that provides the “story-line” of the whole Bible. The only thing that can rescue systematics from such abstractions is biblical theology. In fact, systematic theology is plainly impossible without biblical theology. Biblical theology is the only means of preventing every biblical text having equal significance for Christians (eg. we need it to sort out what to do which the ritual laws of the Pentateuch). It prevents us from short-circuiting texts so that we isolate them from their theological context and then moralize on their application to believers.

Old Testament 101

Greek is done and dusted. So now its on to the Old Testament. Which I like. Much. Much more. I dug up some past exam questions in the library today, and our exam is on Thursday, so I’m thinking I might engage in a little learning through blogging exercise…

Our first Old Testament subject covers Genesis to 2 Samuel (I think). Which means the following academic “chestnuts” are sure to feature strongly:

1. The creation account(s)
2. The flood (though this has been covered by an essay topic)
3. Something about the covenant promises to Abraham.
4. The patriachs/creation of a nation.
5. Something about the law
6. Something about violence (though this has also been covered by an essay topic)
7. Something about the historicity of the Genesis-Joshua accounts of occupation of the promised land.
8. Something about Judges
9. Something about Biblical theology
10. Something about kingship (1-2 Samuel, and probably, to a lesser extent, Judges).
10. Something about the documentary hypothesis (source criticism), form criticism, sociological criticism, literary criticism etc or the structure of the Pentateuch…

There’ll be eight questions, we’re expected to answer four. I like all of these topics. Does anybody have any recommended readings for the next 32 hours that will see me through?

Cool stuff that you notice after doing a bit of Hebrew

Melchizedek (Genesis 14) is a cool king of Salem (Jerusalem) who blesses Abraham. His name, in Hebrew, means either “king of righteousness” or “righteousness is my king”.

Adoni-zedek (Joshua 10), is also the king of Jerusalem, who summons an army of other kings to fight Israel. His name, in Hebrew, means “lord of righteousness” or “righteousness is my lord”…

Bit of a contrast there…