The Value of the Old Testament

Richard Hays opens his new Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels with the following quote from Martin Luther’s introduction to his translation of the Pentateuch:

There are some who have little regard for the Old Testament. They think of it as a book that was given to the Jewish people only and is now out of date, containing only stories of past times…But Christ says in John 5, “Search the Scriptures, for it is they that bear witness to me”…[T]he Scriptures of the Old Testament are not to be despised but diligently read…Therefore dismiss your own opinions and feelings and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines which can never be sufficiently explored, in order that you may find that divine wisdom which God here lays before you in such simple guise as to quench all pride. Here you will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies…Simple and lowly are these swaddling cloths, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them.

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Kingdom and Covenant, Part 6

I have been unpacking the biblical story that I summarized in one sentence here. Today I continue with Part 6: The Covenant with David and the Exile…

The Covenant with David: The King Promises to Send the True King

A. David

king-davidDavid was a good and wise king, a ‘man after my own heart.’ God made a covenant with David that was intended to continue the previous covenant promises. God promised that someone from David’s family would reign as king forever. This covenant has many similarities to the covenant God made with Abraham and shows that the promised seed of Abraham would also come from the family of David. This seed of David would be the one to restore God’s blessing, God’s family, and give face to God’s people.While David was a great king, his reign also has the stain of sin. His sin would lead to problems in Israel that eventually led to the division of the kingdom after the reign of David’s son Solomon.

Therefore, after Solomon died, the one kingdom of Israel became the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, each with their own kings. These kings were judged by God according to their faithfulness. Most of the kings were unfaithful. Yet, God remained faithful and continued to give his word to his people through his prophets.

B. Exile

Destruction_of_JerusalemBecause Israel and Judah were unfaithful to the covenant God made with them and
because they failed to fulfill their mission, God judged them through exile. Foreigners again invaded Israel, this time destroying the temple and taking the people away from their land. The land represented more than simply a place to live. It was the promised land, the land of safety and rest. In the exile, it was a land of destruction and punishment.

Despite all of this, God still remained faithful. He continued to send prophets to the people to proclaim his word. The prophet word normally contained two aspects: judgment and hope. The prophets made it very clear that the exile was a result of sin. God had not only allowed it to happen, but had order it as judgment against his people. Just like Adam and Eve, Israel was driven from their special place in shame because of their sin.

Kingdom and Covenant, Part 5

In the last few posts, I have been unpacking the biblical story that I summarized in one sentence here. In this post, I continue with part 5 of the story – the exodus, Sinai, and the conquering of the land…

The Covenant with Israel: The King Creates a People

A. Exodus

While the growth of the nation of Israel was a result of God’s blessings, it also caused problems with the Egyptians. The King of Egypt enslaved them and began killing their babies. They were completely helpless to change their situation.

moses-and-the-burning-bush-deana-harveyGod called Moses to lead the rescue of his people. Through Moses, God demanded the King of Egypt to ‘Let my son go that he may worship me.’ The son is the nation of Israel.

Pharaoh refused to listen to God, challenging God’s power to rescue his people. Therefore, the rescue of Israel would come through the judgment of Egypt. God sent 10 plagues upon the Egyptians to demonstrate his power, the last of which was plague of death. God decreed that the firstborn in every Egyptian home would die. However, distinguished his people by commanding them to kill a lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of their homes. When God went through the land of Egypt to destroy the firstborn sons, he passed over the homes that had blood on the doors.

Following this plague, Pharaoh let the people of Israel God. God rescued his people in great power.

B. Covenant

After leaving Egypt and crossing the sea, God led the Israelites to Mt. Sinai where he made a covenant with them. At first, the covenant was to be much like the covenant God made with Abraham. They were to love and obey God, just like the patriarchs were called to do. In fact, God said that the people of Israel were to be his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.

They were to worship and obey, like God demanded of Adam. They were to be priests to the world so that others would be blessed through them. They were to be holy – different, set apart for God’s special purposes.sinai painting

The problem, like before, was sin. Israel, the corporate son of God, refused to listen and obey. Therefore, God added law to the covenant. The law was given as a standard of God’s holiness in all areas of life. In addition, the law established Israel as a nation, setting them apart as the people of God.

Following the making of the covenant, God led Israel into the wilderness where he protected them and provided for their needs. He commanded them to build the tabernacle, a tent that symbolized God’s presence with them. Despite all this, the people rebelled in the wilderness. They, like Adam, rebelled against their loving father and brought shame on themselves. They broke their covenant relationship with God and lost his blessings. Therefore, God punished them by not allowing any of the first generation of Israelites to enter the promised land.

Nevertheless, God was gracious. He continued giving them his word and promised that the second generation would enter the land that God promised to give Abraham and his descendants.

Despite the failure of Israel, God’s promises remained. Throughout the story of the wilderness wonderings, God reminded the people of the coming one – the seed of the woman who would be a prophet and king. He represented hope. God also promised that a new Moses would come – a prophet like Moses who would perfectly speak God’s word.

C. In the Land

rh-fallofjericho3After the death of the first generation, including Moses, God was ready to fulfill another part of his promise to Abraham. God chose Joshua to lead the people of Israel into the land that God promised to give them. Joshua courageously led the people into Canaan where God gave them the land. The conquest of the land included many miraculous victories that demonstrated God’s presence and power with his people.

However, Israel quickly forgot God’s mighty acts for them and demanded a king so that they could be like the other nations. God gave them a king, Saul. At first, Saul seemed to be a strong leader, but soon his heart turned from trusting God to trusting himself. God removed his Spirit from Saul and chose another, David.

Kingdom and Covenant, Parts 3 and 4

As noted in the last two posts, I am unpacking the biblical story that I previously summarized in one sentence here. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here (part 1) and here (part 2). Today we continue with parts 3 and 4…

3. The Covenant with Noah: The King Renews His Purposes

After the shameful rebellion of Adam and Eve, sin and evil filled the world. God decided that a new beginning was in order. He destroyed the earth and everything in it with a flood. Yet, in his grace, he spared one family – the family of Noah.

Benjamin_West_-_Noah_Sacrificing_after_the_Deluge-450-webAfter the flood, God made a covenant – an agreement between a king and his people involving promises of blessings, as well as conditions – with Noah, his family, and the entire world. In this covenant, God blessed Noah and his family with the same blessings given to Adam and Eve at creation. People were again to be God’s special people. They were to fill the earth with more people made in God’s image. Though people rebelled, God remained faithful to his purposes for his created world.

4. The Covenant with Abraham: The King Makes a Promise

Though the covenant with Noah was a like a new beginning, it was not completely new. People continued in sinful rebellion against God. If the world was going to be restored, God would have to do something big.

God promised to do so when he called Abraham to leave his home, his family, and everything that was familiar to him to go to a new place that God show him. God also made big promises to Abraham.

These promises have clear connections to the blessings of creation. God promised to give Abraham a great family (nation), to give him face (great name), to bless him, and through him to bless all the people of the world. This is even more incredible when we consider the fact that when God called him, Abraham had no family of his own and was already an old man.

abrahamstarsThese promises were made sure through God’s covenant with Abraham. God promised to
restore his original purposes of creation through the family of Abraham. God promised that Abraham’s family would outnumber the stars of the sky. God would also give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s family. The promised seed coming to restore God’s people and God’s world would also come through the family of Abraham. Best of all, God promised to be the God of Abraham and his family.

The covenant promises were passed from Abraham to his son Isaac and to his grandson Jacob. Near the end of his life, Jacob moved his entire family to Egypt. In Egypt, Jacob’s family was given good land and began to increase in number.

 

Kingdom and Covenant, Part 2

As I mentioned last week, I am unpacking the biblical story that I summarized in one sentence here. Here’s Part 2 of the story:

Fall: The King’s People Rebel (Genesis 3)shame2

The glorious beginning is obviously not our experience today. Rather than enjoying life as
God’s children in the beautiful garden, Adam and Eve chose to rebel against their Father the King. An enemy of God crept into the garden and tempted them to disobey God’s word. Adam and Eve chose to listen to the voice of the creature rather than honoring their Father.

Instead of enjoying the honor given to them by God, Adam and Eve sought their own honor apart from God. The result was just the opposite – rather than obtaining their own honor, they brought shame upon themselves. Immediately they hid themselves in fear andshame. They began having problems with one another. Most significantly, their relationship with God was broken.

gen 3.15God responded to all of this in judgment and grace. God threw them out of the beautiful garden and they were forced to work hard for food. They would eventually die. Nevertheless, God was gracious to them. First, he promised that someone would come from the human family that would make all things right again. He would defeat God’s enemy forever and restore God’s people. This is the hope of all people. Second, God made clothes for them. Adam and Eve attempted to make their own clothing out of leaves, but these were worthless. God made new clothes out of animal skin. These clothes symbolize the covering of their sin and the restoration of honor. Just as a king places a special robe on his child, so God clothes his children with special robes, symbolizing that their position of honor has been partially restored. The full restoration awaits the coming one.

Kingdom and Covenant, Part 1

Some time ago, I posted my summary of the biblical story in one sentence. Over the next several posts, I will unpack the story with a little more depth. I am trying to keep the story at a manageable length so that it can be useful while unpacking some of the primary biblical themes. Here’s part 1:

Creation: The King Creates His Kingdom (Genesis 1-2)

CreationThe biblical story begins with the Creator-King creating his kingdom. The climax of the
story is the God’s creation of his people – Adam and Eve – who were made in the image of God. God especially blessed his people and provided everything for them – a beautiful garden filled with food; safety; and best of all, close personal relationship with him. God’s people lived in harmonious relationship with him. He was their father and they were his children. People were also in harmonious relationship with each other and with the world.

So, the King’s children lived in the King’s garden and everything was very good. People were also given a command and a mission. The mission was to fill the earth with more people made in the image of God and thereby flood the earth with little reflections of God’s glory. They were to rule God’s world under the authority of God. The command was to obey the word of God, which was given to them for their protection and joy.

eden paintingThus, people were given the highest honor by being created as the family of God. The first man and woman had no shame before God or each other. In fact, they were naked in the garden, yet felt no shame.

John the Baptist and the People of God

St__John_the_Baptist__1Matthew’s Gospel presents Jesus as Israel’s Messiah who comes to redeem and restore the people of God – a people that would include the nations. Indeed, the first chapter announces him as the one who ‘will save his people from their sins’ (1.21). That is, the mission of Jesus is the (re)creation of the people of God.

John the Baptist is the forerunner, the one who ‘prepares the way’ for Jesus (3.3). As such, we should expect the message of John to prepare people to hear and respond to the message of Jesus. Therefore, John’s preaching should point forward to the message and mission of the Messiah. In other words, John’s ministry anticipates Jesus’s ministry both in content and focus.

Though sometimes overlooked, John’s message was really about the people of God. Here I focus on Matthew 3.1-12. Notice a few important points:

First, John came preaching the Kingdom, which is inherently a corporate message. In Matthew, John preaches virtually the same message that we hear from the lips of Jesus in Mark 1.15: ‘Repent for the kingdom is near.’ Of course, the kingdom of God is an important theme in the Gospels, but it is interesting that John prepares the way by announcing the kingdom. He is getting people ready for the arrival of the King. This is a message concerning the people of the kingdom – those who would repent and follow the King.

Second, John is identified as the one Isaiah said would prepare the way of the Lord. That the prepare the wayquotation from Isaiah was about Yahweh’s return raises questions about the identity of Jesus. The voice in Isaiah prepares the way for Yahweh, yet Matthew says that John (who is that voice) prepares the way for Jesus. This is part of the subtle divine Christology of the Synoptic Gospels.

In any case, the context of the quotation (Isaiah 40) is a message of comfort for God’s people. Their God and King is returning, which is an occasion for rejoicing because he is coming to restore his people. Therefore, John prepares the way for the Messiah to come as the King who restores God’s people.

Third, Matthew emphasizes the Jews coming out to John. A minor point, but it is interesting that Matthew is clear that ‘Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him [John].’ He could have said that ‘many people’ or ‘crowds’ were going out. Instead, Matthew seems intent on showing that many Jews were going out to John – note the repetition of ‘all.’

Fourth, John confronts the Pharisees and Sadducees concerning the true people of God. John calls the Pharisees and Sadducees ‘the offspring of snakes’ and says that they are not the children of Abraham. Perhaps these words echo those of Genesis 3.15, where there would be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman is also identified as the seed of Abraham in the narrative of Genesis. In any case, clearly the distinction is between those falsely claiming to be the people of God and the true people of God.

Fifth, John points forward to Jesus in new covenant terms. Finally, John says that the Messiah will baptize people ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ These are likely new covenant terms. When God makes a new covenant, he will put his Spirit within his people (Ezekiel 36). Fire is often associated with covenant making in the OT (Abraham in Genesis 15 and Sinai in Exodus 19). Therefore, the Messiah will make a new covenant with his people.

In short, John prepares the way by setting the stage for the recreation of the people of God in the Messiah.

Article in the Journal of Asian Evangelical Theology

I’m very pleased to see my article “Unity and/in/or Diversity?: A Survey of Recent New Testament Theologies” appear in the latest issue of the Journal of Asian Evangelical Theology (JAET). JAET is a great journal covering all matters theological in an Asian context.

Here’s my introduction:

Recent years have witnessed an unprecedented explosion in the publication of New Testament theologies (NTT). This is likely due to a number of factors, including the growth of interest in biblical theology that moves beyond the mere historical- grammatical investigation of the text and especially the surge of concern for the theological interpretation of Scripture. Whatever the exact cause, though, students of NTT can be grateful for the multitude of options now available to them. Yet the proliferation of those options can make it difficult for those outside the discipline, and even scholarly insiders, to stay current with research.

While recent contributions have been diverse in style as well as approach, one common feature is their attention to the issue of the unity and diversity of the NT. The purpose of this article is to briefly survey some of the more important recent contributions to NTT, highlighting the ways in which they address this topic. I will argue that although the theme of unity and diversity has been treated in nearly every NTT publication, it has yet to be articulated in a way that does justice to the unifying narrative structure of the NT message while simultaneously taking account of the unique contribution of each NT document.

In order to make that argument, I will first examine a few recent NTTs, not attempting full-scale reviews but instead focusing on the treatment of unity and diversity found in each. I will conclude with observations on recent trends in NTT and suggestions for future study.

You can read the rest here.

Text and Context

‘By a strange paradox, Paul may be most significant today when he is most carefully re-situated in his own original context.’

-John M.G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift, p. 7

I have received my copy of John Barclay’s new book, Paul and the Gift and it looks to be a game-changer for Pauline studies. I’ll have more to say about this important book in the future, but for today, the last sentence (quoted above) of the prologue got me thinking about exegesis, biblical theology, and communicating biblical truth across cultures.

Barclay’s primary subject is Paul’s theology of grace, understood in terms of gift. His strategy is careful exegesis of the biblical text, understood within its first century context, particularly Paul’s Jewish heritage. Here, Barclay argues that while the biblical text is primary, proper exegesis must take background study into account. Doing so clarifies the meaning the text and, consequently, illuminates it’s significance for the contemporary church.

I want to add one thought to this: responsible exegesis set within the textual and historical context of the biblical text also aids in communicating biblical truth across cultures. 

context-matters

There are at least two reasons this is so:

1. First, biblical truth was revealed in particular cultures.

To appropriate the words of John Donne, ‘No text is an island.’  The Scriptures did not fall from the sky as a set of propositions, but were revealed over time and in particular cultural contexts. Thus, the words of Scripture are best understood within their cultural contexts. Of course, I am not saying that texts and historical contexts carry equal value. Indeed, the biblical text is sufficient in and of itself. And, primary interpretive weight is given to the biblical context.

Nevertheless, historical contexts are important for rightly understanding the meanings of particular words and phrases. Thus, background study helps us rightly understanding authorial intent and meaning.

This point is significant in teaching cross-culturally because no one reads the biblical text as a blank slate – i.e. without their own cultural lenses. Historical context helps guard us from importing foreign meanings into the biblical text.

2. Second, placing texts in context helps illuminate the concreteness of truth.

Removing texts from historical context often results in the abstracting of the message of the text, which inherently makes it more difficult to understand. While some theological truth is abstract in nature, most biblical theology is communicated in concrete stories. In choosing this manner of self-revelation, God contextualized truth so that humans could understand and apply.

It is helpful for us as readers of texts to see the way in which God has acted in history, the way in which these great historical acts were understood by believers, and the way in which believers’ lives were changed as they applied the gospel to real life situations. Concreteness communicates cross-culturally.

Reading biblical texts in historical context helps us to see the concrete reality of biblical theology. This is the point at which truth is truly life-changing and worldview building.