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Archive for the ‘Biblical Reflections’ Category

Not that I am interested in promoting or disclaiming Wright one way or another, but I thought that discussion of his theology might be benefited by attention to his controversial preaching in its full context. This is the big one, preached the Sunday following 9/11/2001.

Having just finished an extended paper on the imprecatory Psalms, I am quite impressed by the quality and thoughtfulness of his exposition.

“The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall”

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Seeing the foundation of later Biblical theology in the creation account is easier in retrospect. Much like the sixth chapter of John, subsequent revelation causes the unclear to become absolutely clear. Indeed, this is so much the case, that after the larger picture is complete, not recognizing the earlier snapshots becomes a great loss.

For instance, why does Gen. 2:11-12 go into what seems like a parenthetical statement about the land of Havilah and the jewels that are there? Should I even ask this question?

As we read on, we see that it was while in the Havilah area (around Sinai in Shur- 1 Sam. 15:7) that Israel first found the bdellium-colored manna, and we also see that gold and onyx were used to built the Tabernacle and the High Priestly garments (Genesis 2:12; Exodus 25:7; 28:9-12; Numbers 11:7).

Bdellium has a relation to manna, which itself gained sacramental significance as it was kept in the tabernacle. Paul also appeals to it in 1 Cor. 10 as a counterpart to the Christian sacraments. Gold and onyx are Tabernacle jewels, and thus we have more support to the already well-accepted notion that the Garden of Eden was the tabernacle and temple in seed form.

This theme is carried out through Genesis 1, Genesis 2-3, and Genesis 4. Cain is a “man” who works in the dirt. Abel, literally “vapor,” is a shepherd whose sacrifice is appropriate. Dirt (earth), vapor (heaven), and sacrifice are all embedded in Genesis 4, coming right on the heels of the symbolically-charged garden of Eden (Eden is later explicitly connected with God’s holy mt.- Ez. 28:14).

And this is also important because creation ideas are later incorporated into Israel’s worship. God dwelled on the mountain for six days before calling Moses to enter his presence on the seventh. Unleavened bread is consumed for six days during Passover before the people draw into the assembly of the Lord on the seventh. The feast of tabernacles lasts for seven days. Priests were ordained for seven days (Ex. 29:35).

And of course, the Christian calendar ought to follow the new creation, which is the life of Christ.

Essentially, origins make for identities.

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One of the things that has come up in Steven’s helpful discussion of the controversial book by Enns is a request for some relevant literature describing the relationship between the creation accounts of Genesis and the those of the Ancient Near East.

Aside from suggestions to peruse the better evangelical (Wenham, Hamilton, Waltke, Blocher) and Jewish (Sarna) commentaries on Genesis, I might suggest these two articles by the late Gerhard Hasel (pdf’s of from my personal files).

Hasel, Gerhard F. “Significance of the cosmology in Genesis 1 in relation to ancient Near Eastern parallels” AUSS 10(1972): 1-20.

Hasel, Gerhard F. “Polemic nature of the Genesis cosmology” Evangelical Quarterly 46 (April-June, 1974): 81-102.

Its been a while since I’ve closely attended to these essays, but I think that they represent as sensible an approach to the problem as anything evangelical scholarship has produced in the past 30 years.

Here are a few more on the fire…

Kline, Meredith. “Because it Had Not Rained” Westminster Theological Journal 20 (1958): 146-57.

Futato, Mark. “Because it Had Rained: A Study of Gen. 2:5-7 With Implications for Gen. 2:4-25 and Gen. 1:1-2:3” Westminster Theological Journal 60 (1998): 1-21.

See also the audio lecture by French Evangelical, Henri Blocher on Genesis 1-3 available here.

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I am very interested in and am presently composing a paper on the topic of our contemporary praying of the Psalter and the imprecatory psalms in particular. Part of this has required my mining through various treatments of the imprecations among commentators with an eye toward their examination in light of Girardian construals of Christian theology.

Among the more provocative treatments to have come across my path in recent weeks has been that of S. Mark Heim in his recent work Saved from Sacrifice. Heim approaches the laments generally as the voice of “paranoia” expressed by the victim of sacrificial scapegoating:

Alongside the fierce expressions of anger there is a regular refrain we might regard as a kind of paranoia. It runs to the following effect. I am surrounded by a crowd of people who plot against me. I am accused unjustly. I am alone with no one to support me. Those who oppress me think they are serving God. I am persecuted and about to die. …This plea for deliverance seeks relief from an oddly specific kind of evil: conspiracy of a whole community or crowd against a weak and abandoned one, the crushing of an arbitrarily chosen person on a false pretext, leaving no record. In other words, this is what the sacrificial scapegoating looks like from the side of the victim.[1]

Of course, this got me thinking about the unfortunate NRSV translation of ha-ish in Psalm 1:1 as plural (“those”). No doubt this is an instance of the editorial preference for gender neutral language, but the shift from the singular to the plural destroys the “one against many” power dynamic intended by the psalm itself. Now if (and I realize that I developing a galloping midrash here), canon-critical authors are correct in their insistence that Psalms 1 & 2 comprise a “preface” to the entire corpus, summoning Israel to Torah obedience and/or loyalty to the Davidic monarchy[2], it would seem that we are intended to read the imprecations in a more collective light as reflecting the voice of Israel or her royal figurehead. This would not entirely negate approaches to the imprecations as the expression of individualized psychology (who doesn’t relate to them at one time or another?), but it does frontload the messianic and qua-Israel intention of the community that collected the psalms into a single corpus.

Thus Bonhoeffer’s argument that Christ is the implied singer of the whole Psalter may not be so-illicit an imposition of latter Christian mitigation of the text. Rather, while being distinctive in its identification of Jesus with Messiah and with the faithful of Israel, the messianic and qua-Israel sense of the psalms would seem to have some actual exegetical warrant (or at least editorial precedent).


[1] Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 82.

[2] Walter Brueggemann’s treatment comes to mind here among others. He suggests—rather stridently, I might add—that the communities placement of Psalm 1 at the beginning of the Psalter “intends that all the Psalms should be read through the prism of torah obedience.” “Bounded By Obedience and Praise: The Psalms as Canon” JSOT 50 (1991): 64. Cf. Jesper Høgenhaven, “The Opening of the Psalter: A Study in Jewish Theology” SJOT 15[2] (2001): 169-180. Høgenhaven is more insistent that Psalms 1 and 2 are a single composition, but formal similarities are there in either case.

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A Homily for the Sunday in Christmas (Year A)

Matthew 2:13-23 (ESV)

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

THE CASE FOR COURAGEOUS CHRISTIANITY

Yelena Bonner, wife of the Soviet physicist and human rights activist, Andrei Sakharov, was commenting on the propensity of human beings to participate in acts of unspeakable evil. Observing that complicity in evil tends to accompany an environment of fear and suspicion, she said, “Fear gives bad advice.” (more…)

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This is my first contribution to this new website, and I am excited to be a part of it.  One thing I hope to do is offer meditations from time to time based on the 1928 BCP scripture readings throughout the liturgical year.  The gospel reading for the fourth Sunday in Advent is John 1:19-28, and I’d like to start off with a few brief words about this beautiful testimony to the witness of John the baptizer concerning Jesus the Messiah.  (more…)

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