Posted in Biblical Theology

Happy Easter!

May your family be blessed on this special day with so much more than chocolate and jelly beans! It’s a day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from death. This day is a reminder that we don’t serve some dead guy who was once a good teacher but the living Son of God. The resurrection of Jesus is not only one of the most verifiable events in history, it also creates an opportunity for humanity to encounter healing and love in relationship with our creator. God didn’t just send his Son to die so that we could live. He sent his son to live so that we could thrive, in relationship with him and each other.

Posted in Biblical Theology

Some thoughts on Levirate marriage, Tamar, and Ruth

This is an e-mail response I sent to one the leader of our women’s Ruth Bible study. She was asking about the connection b/t Tamar and Ruth (specifically in the case of levirate marriage).

It looks like Tamar was probably a Canaanite. After the death of her first husband she was involved in a Levirate marriage situation. The difference between her and Ruth is that the levirate marriage was an established custom of the surrounding area and only later (in the Mosaic Law) was it set in the Israelite system of ethics and standards that God laid down to preserve His people.

During the original formation of the people of Israel, Abraham to Jacob, you find a lot of things that were sketchy and would have been frowned on later (ie. polygamy, having kids through servants (Abraham), visiting prostitutes (Judah), murder (Simeon and Levi)).But if you look at the overall story that these people are situated in it hardly works out for them in a good way unless God intervenes on behalf of His Name.

You also find good things from the culture that God has sovereignly put into place and later makes them specific to the people of Israel. These things are always re appropriated somehow to define Israel as a specific people that carry His name (ie. circumcision, covenants, levirate marriage, temples, sacrifice, etc). In fact, when they are actually doing it in His name, as the law commands them to do, they are truly fulfilling the original purpose for which God sovereignly in the culture in the first place.

All that to say: levirate marriage existed in the surrounding culture of Judah’s day, Tamar has a claim to this based on the culture, Judah tries to circumvent this claim because his sons keep dying (scripture is pretty clear that they are dying because of their actions and not Tamar’s), Judah puts his own line in jeopardy because his sons keep dying, Tamar recognizes her claim and acts accordingly, and Judah repents for his mistreatment of her and declares her actions righteous (lining up with God’s intentions).

Ruth is different because she comes well after the formation of the people of Israel and the establishment of the law. The law limits things like levirate marriage to the people of Israel because it assumes that the people are following the law in the first place and not leaving the promised land and marrying outside of the people of Israel. Just like Judah the line of Boaz and the line of Naomi are in jeopardy, God fixes this through a Moabitess.

Posted in Biblical Theology, Spiritual Warfare

The balance between Social Science and the Word of God in Matters of Spiritual Warfare

Here is a mini-think piece I wrote for my Spiritual Warfare Class. I am attempting to answer the question:

What guidelines would you suggest for using the evidence of social science research and the teachings of the Word of God for finding a healthy balance toward understanding the presence and work of demons?”

It strikes me that social sciences’s a priori assumption (souls and spirits have no reality) is ultimately based on the disbelief in the possibility of divine revelation. Given this assumption, regardless of the persons belief in anything beyond the finite, the possibility of knowing exactly what is going on in the spiritual realm is only available through the observations of symptoms that are manifest by the demonized individual. The categorization of these symptoms (ie. seizures, supernatural strength, seemingly multiple personalities, etc.) serve only to quantify (by means of statistics, measurable social trends, cultic religious categories, etc.) what is currently not understood and give the non-believing social scientist an opportune springboard to explain away these symptoms. Through this explanation one would try to establish how these symptoms occur in the world naturally (as opposed to supernaturally). Since there is no absolute standard to diagnose these symptoms, we constantly find conflicting understandings of the actual source of these symptoms.

When discussing the balance between the Word of God and social science research we (believers) must recognize that it is only through the divine revelation of God’s Word that we can  begin to know the supernatural. God gave us his word as a basis for the interpretation of events that are beyond our human understanding. When a demon manifests itself we can recognize the symptoms found in a person in light of what God’s word has already revealed to us. In the same manner we can recognize that this demon is evil and the symptoms it is creating in a person are only part of a grander scheme held by a supernatural being bent on disrupting the will of God (Satan). Without divine revelation and left only to the social sciences, we can only qualify these symptoms as evil based on the disruption that takes place in the social order when these symptoms are manifest. Even then, as stated before, one could in no way assume these symptoms were supernatural or that they were purposed for a long term impact to the individuals life and the disruption of the surrounding community.

The balance between the social sciences and God’s Word must be found in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The social scientist must recognize that his tools to qualify the symptoms of a demonized person are limited at best. He must approach his specific field of study with the understanding that Satan seeks to systematically subvert the original purpose of creation (to glorify God as Creator) and copy/manipulate the ingrained symbols for his own diabolical purposes. This realization is grounded in the Word of God and worked out through the spiritual discernment that the indwelling Holy Spirit provides. In short, the Word of God reveals the existence of demons and the Holy Spirit shows where and how they manifest themselves.

Also important to this discussion is that the Holy Spirit provides that means to combat the source of the symptoms being manifest in a demonized person, the demon itself. These symptoms can be: measured and quantified in an individual or community through the work of a social scientist (or a questionnaire ie. Wagner), evaluated and qualified in light of properly interpreted scripture, and combated through the power of of the Holy Spirit. Notice that the Holy Spirit is at work in all three aspects. He guides a social scientist in his/her research. He grants discernment through the evaluation process. And it is by His authority (due to Christ’s atoning work in a persons life) that a person can remove the demonic influence from a demonized person.

In order for a healthy balance to be maintained throughout the spiritual warfare process of identifying and combating demonic manifestations, one must keep his perspective on his own limitations and trust God to apply His supernatural power to combat the demonic forces in the supernatural realm. Through this process one must also realize that God is further revealing Himself to finite people who are witnessing the alleviation of supernatural symptoms. In effect, God is continuing His original purpose of revelation that began with His Word, accentuated with the incarnation of Christ, and continued by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

Posted in Biblical Theology

The Purpose of Paul’s Letters

What if the actual purpose of Paul’s letters was to explain OT scripture to a predominately Gentile church that was steeped in the OT? Is this a funny thought? We know that the early churches scripture was the OT. We know that conversion to the Christian faith was essentially acceptance of the Jewish Messiah as Savior and Lord. We know that Paul consistently quotes the OT to create context for his explanation of the Christian life in the midst of immense Gentile influences. We know that Paul relies on the covenant meta-narrative to represent a picture of Christ as the eschatological fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise to save all nations. Why then would we not assume that Paul is writing to explain the past history of Israel, it’s present state of Jewish and Gentile oneness in Christ, and the ultimate eschatological fulfillment of the Kingdom of God? The New Perspective spends a lot of time trying to differentiate between the audiences in Paul’s text in its inclusion strategy. The Old Perspective spends an inordinate amount of time trying to conjure up discontinuity between the Testaments.

The fact is that something has change between the Testaments but to call this change a discontinuity belittles God’s sovereignty and defines his grace in unrealistic hierarchical  structures. In the OT the people of Yahweh were defined by His presence as He dwelt in their midst. In the NT the people of Yahweh are defined by His presence as He dwells in their hearts. In the OT God’s purpose was local to the promised land and he sanctified a specific people for the task of making His name great among the nations. In the NT God’s purpose is a global, to all the nations, and he again sanctifies a specific people for the task of spreading His gospel among the nations.

But just what is this gospel? For John the Baptist it was that the Kingdom of Yahweh was at hand. For Paul it was that Yahweh is fulfilling what He promised He would accomplish through His people. The death of Christ on the cross, His resurrection, His ascension, His promise of the Holy Spirit; all of these things speak of presence.  The presence of Yahweh with His people as mediated through the Holy Spirit, as made possible by the blood of Christ, is once again possible.

The effects of the Fall and the ensuing banishment from the Garden are no longer binding because of Christ. Continuity is found in the fact that we are once again reconciled to our Creator and able to fulfill our ultimate purpose as we worship Him for who He is and what He has done to make this worship possible.

Posted in Biblical Theology

Paul’s Scripture

In my quest to understand the gospel of Paul I have first decided to research how he used OT scripture. Following this, I want to understand Paul’s expectation that his audience would understand his use of OT passages. My preliminary thoughts on the matter lead me to assume that Paul expected the recipients of his letters to know the OT thoroughly enough so that when he did cite an OT passage it would refer them back to the contextual meaning of this passage.

So in using a pithy statement of scripture, Paul intended to evoke a broad context that established the foundation for the context of his own citation. In other words, when he quotes a passage from the OT it is not for the purpose of taking a scripture out of context to prove his point. He is not using his apostolic authority to rearrange theological concepts. What he is doing is creating the setting for a continuum between OT and the his own ministry of the gospel of Jesus.

Since the beginning of my time in academia I have been taught that because Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles he was obviously contextualizing the Gospel for the predominantly Gentile church. This contextualization was evident in the way Paul structured his letters, the imperial metaphors he used, the way he took OT scripture and quoted it to suit NT purposes, and the structure of the house churches he established. The predominately Gentile churches that Paul continued to minister to were very Gentile in their approach to this new religion of Christianity.

But what if the opposite were true? What if these churches were actually a lot more Jewish then we assume them to be? I have heard it taught that the Jewish influence started to fade from the churches, especially in Rome, as persecution against the Jews increased and they had to flee for their lives. With the lack of ethnic Jewish influence the church became predominately Gentile in ethnicity and therefore more Gentile in their approach to the interpretation of scripture. This is evident in early patristic writers such as Origen. To him the OT was a source from which to make Christian allegory. But before Origen, in the apostolic period, the OT was held as the divinely inspired scripture for the Christian in and of itself, without need to allegorize its contents.

In the early churches the OT was the sacred source of understanding God’s plan for the redemption of mankind through the Son, Jesus Christ. It was this Scripture that Paul established his apostolic authority on due to his encounter with the risen Jewish Messiah. It was this scripture that was taught and spoken aloud in the house church meetings. “… the scriptures that were taught in the house churches and quoted by Paul were the Jewish Scriptures that proclaimed a Jewish Messiah. The central pillars of the new movement hailed from Jerusalem and, like the synagogues of the Diaspora, members of the Christian assemblies understood themselves to be part of a larger, translocal religious movement.” (Hubbard, Christianity in the Greco-Roman World, 2101, pg 207)

OT use wasn’t relegated to the obligatory Psalm during worship or the systematic compiling of proof texts for the Messiah. It was considered the word of Yahweh to his people, the same people who were once pagans that worshiped multiple god’s with many forms of idolatry. Now these former pagans are members of the New Covenant, a covenant that finds its foundation in the OT scripture as it reveals Yahweh’s relational methodology between Himself and his chosen people, Israel.

When Paul uses the OT he links the Christian to the foundational theological moorings found in Yahweh’s plan for redemption. A plan that has been in process since the beginning of time. Paul’s scripture cannot be discovered from the apocalyptic context of 2nd Temple Judiasm. It must be interpreted through Torah centered hermenutic of the OT Writings and Prophets.

Posted in Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology

In my study toward my thesis I ran into an interesting article by Marvin Tate from 1981. Sadly, in my opinion, not much has changed in the field of Biblical Studies. Thanks to pioneers like N. T. Wright, the field is now opening up to actual conversation about what true Biblical Theology entails. Yet, we are still a long way from viewing theology from a Biblical lens, one that truly recognizes that God’s purpose in His progressive revelation has to be seen across the Testaments. The OT is just as important as the NT because it lays the foundation for God’s methodology as He relates to humans. This methodology is grace, not just specific dispensations of grace but an overarching theme of grace.

“The departmentalization of biblical studies in colleges, universities, and seminaries has fostered a situation in which biblical study is done quite unbiblically, since neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament composes the Bible of the Christian church.”

This is especially true where I attend seminary, although it is subtle in its definition of what the departments encompass. We have a NT, an OT and a Biblical Exposition department. Each are harbingers of separate degrees. We also have a Theology department which has its own niche areas (ie. Systematics, and Historical Theology). There are also a few degrees programs that are jokingly called “create you own adventure” degrees. These degree plans have the basic core classes (OT and NT Survey, Historical Theology, Systematic Theology, etc.), yet the student is free to mix and match different elements from different departments (with the guidance of a Faculty advisor). This seems to be the only way a student could gain a degree that focuses on Biblical Theology. Sadly, even then the student would have to sit through NT and OT classes, navigate through the dogmatic structure of the series of Systematic courses, explore niche seminars on different OT and NT topics, and then step back from it all and look at what they have learned while attempting to integrate all of it from a Biblical perspective. Seminary doesn’t train you to do this. It trains you to compartmentalize what you learn.

Tate thinks that the reformers started off as Biblical theologians yet their progeny did not hold the same values. “Dogma increasingly shackled biblical study, and biblical theology became the willing handmaiden (concubine would be the better word) of elaborate confessions of faith and the footnotes of weighty tomes of systematic theology, whose authors were sure that they could not only think the thoughts of God, but could express them in satisfactory Latin as well. Biblical theology degenerated into a “kept” exegesis of proof-texts designed to support the various articles or sections of the confessions of faith and the erudite arguments of the learned theologians.”

For me this became completely evident as I sat through a Systematic Theology class and listened to the instructor, a very reformed individual, bring to bare several OT proof texts of NT concepts that disregarded any form of hermeneutical approach. At first glance some of these texts seemed to do nothing but strengthen that theological concept given, yet as I thumbed back into the OT and explored the context of some of these proof texts I was confused. The surrounding scriptures seemed to be speaking of something completely different. I asked this question in class and was dismayed at the answer. The instructor was befuddled, why would it not be OK to rape and pillage OT texts to prove a NT point? Don’t we find the same thing happening in the inspired writings of the NT? As I pressed the issue, asking about hermenutical methodology and its application in regard to systematic theology, I was referred to the church fathers and councils and the dogma they had created. Needless to say I stemmed the tide of my questions as I shakingly stood  in the theological presence of such great men, ….. or maybe I stopped asking questions because I realized the fruitlessness of such a discussion. The later is was probably the case. It seemed as if I was operating from a different paradigm. A paradigm that desired that the OT make sense in and of itself. Then, in recognition of such “inspiration” I would look to the NT to continue making sense in continuity with its predecessor. I believe that this is Biblical Theology.

Tate likens the split between OT and NT to an estate with two houses. “The manor house was the New Testament but the old house (Old Testament), which had been used while the new house was built, was kept, at least as a tourist attraction (with particular attention to the prophets).” I reached maturity in the manor house but still remember fondly those narrative attractions as we visited the old house in Sunday School. Surprisingly, as I revisited the old house in my youth I found that I had been strangely naive about the quality of the OT’s contents. While Sunday School teachers had made the OT stories bright and exciting, when read on their own, I found them to be dark and confusing. Not to mention the long sections of legal code that had absolutely nothing to do with my normal everyday life.

So, I was content to stay in the new house, live there, grow up and become an expert there. I was content with occasional visits to the OT to keep up my “biblical knowledge” and I even made a point to memorize sections of the prophetic texts that proved Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. I was warned at one point that if I spent to much time in the OT that I would become legalistic. It was good to read the OT but I would need to counterbalance its drying effect on my spiritual life with fresh NT readings daily.

All of this changed when I got to seminary and was challenged by a few professors to look at the OT in the light of grace. Strangely, this challenge came from OT professors, but more about that next blog……