Archive for the ‘bible’ Category
Ask any crowd of OT scholars and before you get any answers to your question, you’ll be told most emphatically that it doesn’t mean Isaiah was prophesying the birth of Jesus. The context of the passage and the historical situation of Isaiah will be invoked, and any hint of a New Testament reference will be stamped on before the words are out of your mouth. Isaiah, of course, had not read Matthew’s gospel, nor was his concern for events that were to happen hundreds of years after his death. And so, as we read Isaiah’s prophesy, we ought not to let our knowledge of later history or later texts shape our reading.
The problem is, of course, that we do. We have to be told not to. We have to be chastised and corrected for ‘reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament.’ We have to consciously set aside our Christian understanding and try to recreate the mindset of the original author and hearers, to discover what the prophesy might have meant to them. We are taught to travel back to Corinth, as Dick Lucas likes to call it.
What is not altogether clear to me is why. Why is it more important to try to discover what a text once meant, than to understand what it means now? A text like Isaiah 7:14 does mean something different now from what it first meant, precisely because of its later association with the birth of Jesus. Its re-use in a later text adds new layers of meaning, new associations, new connotations, to the older text. That’s not to say that the later text completely over-rides the earlier meanings and the original context, but it certainly develops and influences the meaning which the text now holds.
So when I read Isaiah 7:14, I will always think of Matthew 1:23. And I will be glad that the canonical context of Isaiah includes a later text which appropriates this verse in a new – and more glorious – way. And I will be glad to be a Christian reader of the prophesy, rather than an ancient Israelite facing the threat of the Assyrian army. I will be glad to sing hymns celebrating Emmanuel, God with us, and know that to be true not only partially for the Israelites as they faced their enemies, but wholly, wonderfully, perfectly true for us all in the person of Christ. That’s what Isaiah 7:14 means when I read it as part of the canon and from the standpoint of a Christian believer, in community with the church as it has read the scriptures throughout the ages. And it seems to me that meaning is at least as valid as any other.
Is that Isaiah’s meaning or is that Matthew’s meaning? It’s both. Or, probably better, neither. It’s the bible’s meaning, which is always more than the sum of its parts.
Tagged by Karyn:
Name the 5 books or scholars that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible.
I choose (in chronological order of when I read them or was taught by them):
1. N.T.Wright. Talks on Isaiah 40-55 at the OICCU in (I think) 1993.
2. David Jackman. Various talks and books, but most particularly his teaching on the Cornhill Training Course which I did in 1999-2000.
3. Robert Alter. I read The Art of Biblical Narrative first, then The Art of Biblical Poetry, then The Pleasures of Reading, and I’m reading his translations of the Psalms at the moment.
4. David Field. I enjoyed every class of David’s that I took at Oak Hill, but particularly influential on the way that I read the Bible were his modules on Biblical Theology and the Book of Revelation, and Puritan Perspectives on Ministry.
5. James Jordan. Lots of things but especially Through New Eyes.
I don’t much like choosing top fives. If you ask me this time next week I might well have a different list. I would say that all my biblical studies lectures have influenced the way that I read the Bible, as well as all my pastors and all those I’ve been in bible studies with over the years. If I had to recommend one book on how to read the Bible, it would probably be Through New Eyes. But I would warmly recommend all of Alter’s books and David Jackman’s books too. I’d recommend Tom Wright’s books as examples of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, too.
From Stephen Chapman’s essay ‘Reclaiming Inspiration for the Bible’ in Canon and Biblical Interpretation:
The decisive objection to the idea of propositional revelation is not that the biblical books fail to communicate concepts: it is instead that the biblical literature does more than convey concepts. The Bible also influences and forms its readers in a wide variety of more subtle ways, which are just as crucial to its literary impact. The Bible gives its hearers and readers a narrative world to live in. Its phrases and rhythms linger in the mind and its stories often provoke questions more than they provide answers.
One of the things that I was most shocked by during my time in the US was the prevalence of a certain kind of confessionalism (among some, but certainly not all or most of the people I met) which I had not previously encountered in the UK (which is not to say that it doesn’t exist here, just that I hadn’t come across it).
This blog post excellently illustrates the kind of thing I mean. Note especially this from the final paragraph:
If we really believe that it is a summary of biblical teaching, then it has no racial or cultural boundaries, anymore than the Gospel itself does. For if we confess that the Westminster Standards contain THE system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture (and not just A system), then we must equate our understanding of the Gospel with the Standards. The Standards are intended to be our confession of what the Gospel is.
The Gospel = the Westminster Standards.
Now, I happen to be in general agreement with the Westminster Standards. I happily and willingly signed up to the Confession when I was teaching at WTS. I am not arguing for any particular overhaul of the Standards.
I am, however, suggesting that the Standards are not the Gospel. They are not necessary for saving faith. Indeed, full understanding of the Standards will by no means save anyone.
I am also suggesting that the Standards are not above question. This seems to me to be the huge problem with confessionalism as it exists at the moment. Arguments are settled in some circles, not by recourse to what the bible has to say on a matter, but by recourse to what the Confession has to say. This is even more problematic since the Confession, like any text, needs to be interpreted and it is not always immediately obvious what the Westminster Divines, writing over 300 years ago in a wholly different ecclesiastical and social context may have intended. Further, even if their intention could be established, this is no guarantee that they were right. On a number of relatively minor issues, in fact, it is clear that they were wrong. For strict confessionalists, this is hugely problematic.
And thirdly, I am suggesting that the Standards are historically, geographically, socially, politically and ecclesiastically conditioned. Even if we were to agree that they contain within them the best possible expression of Christian doctrine for the needs of the church in England in the late seventeenth century, this would not mean that they become the best possible expression of Christian doctrine for the needs of the church everywhere at all times. Just as with the ancient creeds, the Standards were formulated against the pressing needs of the day. They do not say everything that there is to be said about every doctrine. They say what needed to be said to guard against the errors of that time.
So, unlike several of the original commenters on that post, I shall not be directing my energies to providing translations of the Westminster Standards to be sent out to churches around the world. I’d rather give my money to Wycliffe Bible Translators.
It’s been a while since those stories first started circulating about crazy nutters who have organised for their bodies to be kept in cryogenic suspension after their death, in the hopes that one day medical science will have improved sufficiently to be able to revive them. I think I’d written it off as yet another Hollywood craze, like the Atkins diet or adults having braces fitted. But it appears there is a growing group of active campaigners who claim that we ‘owe it to the people of the future’ to have ourselves preserved.
Transhumanists are not fond of death. We would stop it if we could. To this end we support research that holds out hope of a future in which humanity has defeated death. Death is an extremely difficult technical problem, to be attacked with biotech and nanotech and other technological means. I do not tell a tale of the land called Future, nor state as a fact that humanity will someday be free of death – I have no magical ability to see through time. But death is a great evil, and I will oppose it whenever I can. If I could create a world where people lived forever, or at the very least a few billion years, I would do so. I don’t think humanity will always be stuck in the awkward stage we now occupy, when we are smart enough to create enormous problems for ourselves, but not quite smart enough to solve them. I think that humanity’s problems are solvable; difficult, but solvable.
For Yudkowsky, death is: defeatable, a technical problem, a solvable problem. Clearly he represents a fairly extreme end of the spectrum. And yet…
The language that he uses and the mindset that represents really isn’t that different from what we see in the mainstream of society. We talk about doctors ‘saving lives’; we use statistics that say certain groups of people are ‘less likely to die’; we put our hope for the future in technological advances. All of which construe death as something which can be defeated through scientific advancement. Clearly there have been great scientific advances in the last 100 years, which have dramatically improved life expectancy. This is a good thing. We are looking forward to the time when the young man shall die a hundred years old.
But Yudkowsky is missing one crucial point. He recognises that death is a great evil but he does not recognise the inherent inability of man to overcome this evil. He’s right to feel that ‘death is not part of the plan’ and that this is not how it ought to be. The bible tells us that death is the consequence of humanity’s sinfulness. It is punishment and protection. It is imposed upon us because of our wickedness.
And that’s the problem with Yudkowsky’s solution. He asks us to have hope in the future but offers no basis for this hope. Why should we suppose that future generations will be any less wicked than our own? What reason is there to think that they will be any more successful at throwing off the bonds of death than any previous generation?
I came across the links to Yudkowsky’s articles on a blog I occasionally read, written by a physicist working in a good university in the US. He is not a crackpot. He is an atheist who likes to claim he thinks rationally. He read Yudkowsky’s articles and immediately signed up for cryogenic suspension, then blogged, urging his readers to do the same. People want hope for the future. They want to believe their lives matter. They don’t want to believe in death.
I think we have an obligation, as Christians, to confront people with the reality of death. Not everyone needs this reminder, but increasingly it seems that as a society we are living in denial. Death is hidden away from sight. In the UK, I think we can still use the language of death, but in the US I only ever heard it referred to euphemistically – Americans don’t die, they pass. We need to hold on to the language, and hold on to the reality. We can’t allow death to be re-imagined purely as a technical problem for the scientists.
But let’s also remember the real hope that we do have to offer of death defeated – not by our efforts, but by the glorious resurrection of our wonderful saviour:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:22-26
You don’t have to read many books on the Song of Songs before you become thoroughly sick of reading Rabbi Aqiba’s comment on it from the mid-second century AD: ‘All the writings are holy, but this one is the holy of holies.’ Most commentators simply note this as evidence for the Song’s acceptance within the canon and move on.
Larry Lyke draws out a more interesting implication of Aqiba’s comment.
Aqiba associates the Song with the most sacred and restricted area of the temple, the holy of holies. Aqiba seems to suggest that the Song is the equivalent of the holy of holies, understood by extension as the temple. This is significant on several levels. Recall that the temple was the traditional locus of God’s presence in Israel. This is especially true of the holy of holies which only the high priest was allowed to enter once a year.
Aqiba seems to imply that it is the interpreter who must now enter that sacred domain rather than the priest. Aqiba’s remarks on the Song suggest the reality that Scripture, and especially the Song of Songs, could replicate the role of the temple as the locus of God’s presence. In particular, it shows the centrality of the Song in Aqiba’s understanding of how to maintain intimacy with God. In addition, Aqiba’s comment may suggest that in his mind and in his world, the role of the interpreter was understood to replicate the former role of the priest in the sacred domain.
I Will Espouse You Forever, 91-92.
In The Priesthood of the Plebs, Peter Leithart notes the parallel between the Sinai Covenant and the priestly ordination rites (p.76). He concludes that ‘this parallel suggests that within the covenant with all Israel, Yahweh entered, through the ordination rite, into a priestly covenant with Aaron and his sons.’ I am sure Leithart is right in this, but I also wonder if it works the other way round. What if we read the book of Exodus as the ordination process of the kingdom of priests (19:6)?
The ordination process (Exod 28-29, 39-40) involves these stages:
The book of Exodus shows the Israelites going through (almost) all these stages:
What do you think? I think the parallels between the speeches at Sinai and the instructions for ordination are suggestive, too:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (19:4-6)
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (20:2)
Compare that with:
I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. (29:44-46)
So my two questions are, when are the Israelites washed in preparation for their consecration? Does the crossing of the Red Sea fulfil that role? Or is the washing of the garments and abstinence from sex sufficient?
And second, is there an anointing process for the Israelites or is that unique to the Aaronic priesthood?
is a great book. Allert exposes the inadequacies of many evangelical accounts of the relationship between the bible’s historical development and the doctrine of inspiration. He claims, deliberately provocatively, that the common evangelical view of scripture is not high enough.
For the most part, evangelicals seem unconcerned with how we actually got our Bible, and when we do show interest, we rarely relate the implications of this concern to how this might affect a doctrine of Scripture. This is ironic since evangelicals have been quite loud in proclaiming the ultimate authority of the Bible; surely that proclamation should be informed about how the Bible came to be. This book is about how a historical understanding of the formation of the New Testament canon should inform an evangelical doctrine of Scripture.
My position is that a high view of Scripture demands an understanding and integration of the Bible’s very formation. The Bible’s living authority in the life of believers is implicated in this formation because the Bible was formed and grew within the community of faith. This means that the Bible did not drop from heaven but was the result of historical and theological development. (pp. 11-13)
I’m currently reading the chapter on Canon and Ecclesiology.
The Bible both grew in and was mediated through the church; hence, the Bible is the church’s book. This is why Tertullian refused to argue Scripture with the heretic: the heretic had no right to claim Scripture because it was not his own, he was interpreting it outside its true home. This is relevant for us because by accepting the Bible as authoritative, we must also accept the process and means through which it came to be.
Allert’s book is focussed on the formation of the NT canon, but this principle applies equally to the OT canon. The historical issue there is made harder by the lack of extra-biblical evidence for the formation process, but that there was a lengthy process of formation of the OT canonical books is indisputable. The bible that we have, OT and NT, is the bible God wants us to have and its complicated history along with it.