Jesus and the Old Testament

I love getting in arguments with people who know only how to parrot what they have been taught. (not for prideful reasons).  The most recent one has been the good old Marcionite heresy that has envolped much of Liberationist, Liberal, and Pentecostal/Broad Evangelical theology that pits Jesus (the “god” of the New Testament) vs. YHWH (the “god” of the Old Testament).  It never ceases to amaze me how grumpy people get when you show them the obvious. In this case we have Jesus and the “love your neighbor as yourself” passage. Many will point to this passage in an attempt to show the supposed difference between the OT Ethic of “eye for an eye” and the NT Ethic of “Love your enemy.” Whereas when you simply point out to them Duet 6:1-9 and Lev 19:18 and show them Jesus was merely reminding us of what the Law already taught. What this attempted argument really shows is that people just plain old do not know their Bibles.

The Abandonement of Hermenuetics, Part 2

Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:15-21 are the subject of our next inquiry into the “Science” of Hermeneutics. It has been posited in the comments section of the answer to Part 1 that this should be used as a proof text for those who support Women’s Ordination and to not to leads to “General Assembly-like” pronouncements like women not being able to teach adult men but being able to teach male children.

There are several questions that come up when thinking here and must be understood when looking at these two passages. 1) How should we look at Old Testament passages cited by New Testament authors (inspired by the same Spirit?) 2) How much can we read into a text before we obscure and obfuscate its meaning? 3) Can a text have separate contexts?

However first we need to define the major word of this pericope. PROPHECY. John Calvin in his commentary on Acts 2 says, “…this word prophesy doth signify nothing else save only the rare and excellent gift of understanding, as if Joel should say, Under the kingdom of Christ there shall not be a few prophets only, unto whom God may reveal his secrets; but all men shall be endued with spiritual wisdom, even to the prophetical excellency.” John Chrysostom in his Homily V on Acts 2 also gives the same definition as John Calvin saying,” but for the grace, he fetches the prophet as witness. “I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh.” [“And your sons,” etc.] To some the grace was imparted through dreams, to others it was openly poured forth.” This Prophecy of which both Calvin and Chrysostom speak has nothing to do with teaching or preaching, as some have surmised, but has to do with the revelation of the Will of God. In this case Peter is speaking to the Jews who are wondering why Cretans and Arabs are speaking in tongues they do not understand. They are speaking not only in a tongue the Jews cannot understand but of a way that cannot be understand because the Holy Spirit has not been imparted to them. John Piper in a sermon on Acts 2 says this:

In the Old Testament the Spirit of God is the presence of God in the world to reveal himself by some action or word. Therefore when Joel says that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, he means that God will draw near to men and women and make himself known and felt in a powerful way. There is a great difference between perceiving a lake at a distance and being immersed in the lake. So there is a great difference between experiencing God as a distant object of knowledge and being immersed in his presence. The picture of a worldwide pouring compels us to think of being soaked and saturated and swept along by the Spirit of God. Joel wanted his readers to anticipate an unmistakable flood-tide of God’s presence.

The context of Peter’s commentary and quotation of Joel 2 belies nothing that would tell us Peter here is speaking about teaching and preaching in the Church. Peter is speaking to the Jews during the event of Pentecost when Jesus’ words to the Apostles were fulfilled. To make the argument that Peter here is is quoting Joel to give the office of teacher to both men and women is stretching the meaning of the text. As we see from the several commentators we cannot give a meaning to a text that it itself cannot and does not give. This on its own not only breaks Scripture’s internal hermeneutic but it violates the rules of literary analysis, tools that even wacko conservatives use to help determine the meaning of the text. Also as Reformed Christians who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith as the best summary of the Doctrine of the Christian life we must (unless you are like our dispensational friends that believe that we can still receive prophecy after the death of the last Apostle) say that Prophecy has ceased. Richard Gaffin, Professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in his book Perspectives on Pentecost in summary says, “The apostolic witness, prophecy and tongues were bound up with the foundation of the church following the ascension of Christ, and therefore, since the foundation has been laid, have no purpose for today.” For a Reformed believer if Prophecy has ceased then what Joel and Peter speak of in this passage cannot have bearing on us because we do not live in the Apostolic age. The Westminster Confession says:

The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, section 1:

Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Chapter 1, Section 6:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Even moreso Paul in 1st Timothy 5:17 says, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Now who is to be preaching and teaching? Elders. What are the qualifications for Elders according to Paul (who like Peter and Joel is inspired by the Holy Spirit)? Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 that the office of Overseer, or Elder is restricted to “…the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Now where do Elders receive their call to head the Church? For that let us take a look at Acts 20:17-38. In this passage Paul is writing to the Elders at the church in Ephesus. He is giving them a sort of pep talk and exhorting them to keep strong in the faith that has been delivered to them and to be vigilant like a shepherd tending to their flocks. Now what does this description sound like to you? Sounds like the daily work of a Pastor does it not? Also worth remembering is the location of Timothy when Paul writes to him. Where is he? Ephesus. So if Paul believes that only qualified men (not all men) can be Elders, and Elders are the Shepherds of the Church, and Elders are to be the ones preaching and teaching what does that say about Joel and Peter and there speaking of Prophesy? Well we can be sure that it does not mean that Peter in Acts 2 and Joel in his book chapter 2 cannot be, if taken with the whole counsel of Scripture, to mean that the act of “Prophesy” which both men and women are called can be conflated to therefore mean that both men and women are called to and can preach and be Teaching Elders in the Church of Christ.

The Abandonement of Hermenuetics, Part 1.

The study of Hermeneutics or better said the way in which we read and study biblical text is a dying art in the evangelical, let alone the liberal, world. There used to be a very serious set of principles that a person would employ when they came to the Biblical text that was nearly as sacrosanct as the text itself. For those of us in the Reformed circles this was done in the guise of reading the Scriptures in the framework of the Covenants between God and man. In other words when a Reformed pastor or theologian would come to a biblical text he would read it first with the idea that the Bible was constructed with a certain organizing principle, constructed by the Holy Spirit so that we could both understand the larger picture and how the little things work for the overall Glory of God in history. We all come to the text with presuppositions about the nature of the text, the way we understand God to work in his creation, etc. Through all this we take things like God’s covenant with Noah and Abraham through different eyes than Talmudic or Dispensational scholars. The Talmudic scholar will read the promises to Noah in relation to the modern Jewish milieu. The Dispensationalist will see the Noahic Covenant as the beginning of a new dispensation that is different than the one given to Adam or Moses. Once we come to this understanding the question that comes before us is why do we think we can read Scripture in such a way that it does not inform on itself? For example in the arguments between those who support Women in Ordained ministry and those who do not the defenders of the egalitarian position often posit the observation that Jesus employed women to bring the news of his resurrection to his Male disciples as one fact supporting ordained female clergy. In other words Jesus uses women to bring the Good News to the disciples, therefore women can be messengers of the Gospel, ergo Women can be preachers of the Gospel and enter ordained ministry. Understand the argument? Ok. This argument sounds pretty good on the surface and looks secure in its logic, which if taken by itself it is logical.

Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees in Matthew 12:38-41 is a good place for us to start in working with a Biblical hermeneutic. What are the details in this text? Pharisees and Scribes are asking Jesus for a sign after the crowds call him the “Son of David” for healing the blind and mute man possessed with a demonic force. The Pharisees want him to prove that he is this person whom the crowd claims him to be. So after Jesus and the Pharisees exchange pleasantries Jesus reminds them of Jonah (whom Jesus recognizes as both real and verifiable, which is another issue for another day) and what it was that happened to Jonah. He also reminds them of Nineveh and Nineveh’s repentance and applies this text not only to himself but to the recompense that is coming. All in order to show them that the signs have already been given to them in the Law and the Prophets (cf: The Rich Man and Lazarus) and that they have no need of new signs because why? Because there is nothing new in what Christ is teaching and what he is coming to do in their time. Jesus understands (and so does Zacharias) that the Law and the Prophets not only speak of him but are about him. This is all to say that a proper Biblical hermeneutic takes into account more than just what is in front of us on the page, more than the bare logic of a pericope.

Which brings us back to Matthew 28:1-10 (also Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, and John 20:1-10) and the reporting of the Resurrection. Now as we saw before the argument brought forward by egalitarians makes perfect sense, in isolation. Now how does the story look in context? We’ll answer that in the next post. But for now I want you to think about it and come up with your own explanation using a Covenant hermeneutic.

Old Testament As Pattern For Education???

Reflection on Walter Brueggemann’s The Creative Word

Walter Brueggemann embarks to prove in his work The Creative Word that education is the seminal vocation we should be engaged in if we want our communities of faith to continue (at all) and to be places where we can be in true communion with our fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. His task is to prove to the reader not only where we should begin the process of learning and inculcating our community with the fiber of our communal energy but also where that process should take us and deliver us in the end.

Brueggemann starts chapter one with the thesis that “Every community that wants to last beyond a single generation must concern itself with education.”[1] He is exactly right in the circumstance that what makes a people truly confessionally bound are its reliance upon a shared history and dialectical make-up. Without the common thread found in communal language how can a community that ostensibly is made up of variations in age and surrounding milieu find a way to continue as a confessional community? This is what truly marks a group of believers to be more than just a collection of individuals but (as Paul specifies in 1st Corinthians) a unified body with many parts. In other words what makes Christian education so important in the context of the unity of the body is not so much the actual facts and information but the shared communal truth that both young and old, ignorant and educated, and laity and clergy impart upon each other when they share the common heritage that links them as one people not individuals with personal motives.

Brueggemann continues this conversation by elaborating on what this communal language should look like. He states that we should focus on the one place where we share along with our ancestors a common tongue and glossary. As was said above Brueggemann believes this is to be found in the books of Holy Scripture.[2] With his professional and academic legacy being in the Old Testament Brueggemann begins in chapter two to lay out exactly what this speech and lexicon should (and in his estimation) does look like.[3] He believes that we should start where Israel began in its educational process, which is with Torah. I agree with Breuggemann’s analysis here. If one is to use Holy Scripture as a basis and example for education one must begin where the Scriptures themselves begin and where they find their authority. For example the First Commandment tells us that we are to have no other gods before God. The effect this has on Brueggemann’s focus on using Torah for the foundation of an education system is to say that before we can teach our congregants anything about God, their faith, and their journey they first must know whom it is they are learning about. It does us no good to present the gospel to them if they do not know/understand why it is the Gospels are necessary in the first place.

Brueggemann states on page 15 in chapter two that he is convinced that the “educational enterprise can never be far from the canonical process”[4]. What Brueggemann implies here is never reasonably clear to me. While he tries to associate the words “canonical” and “binding” as synonymous his definitions for these two words do not quite link at the point in which Brueggemann seems to strive for in his book. For example, by using the quote from Deuteronomy 6:6-7 he plans to show that just as the canon of Torah was yet unformed in the writing of this passage, the object of the process of education (as seen in the process of canon) should also be seen as continually binding. In other words, Brueggemann wishes to show that as the readers of Deuteronomy were called to “…teach [the commands of Torah] diligently to [their] children”[5] so we are to bind our tradition in educating those who come after us in faith by conducting our vocabulary and narrative to them but that process should always be “living” just as the canonical process was for the Israelites[6]. However Brueggemann contradicts this point in chapter 3 when he makes the statement that “The Torah is not debatable.”[7]. How can something be in a living process if it is not debatable? While I agree with this statement on its own merit, that the Torah is not debatable, how can Brueggemann speak of the canonical progression as being a part of the ongoing educational process of the Israelites if the Torah is beyond debating? Brueggemann then goes on to contradict himself even further when just one page later he cites the work down by Walther Zimmerli in his work, “Prophetic Proclamation and Reinterpretation”, which says that the prophets “…use the Torah to argue against the Torah”[8]. How can the Prophets be used educationally to build upon the foundation we have already established with the Torah if the Prophets themselves, according to Zimmerli, seek to argue against the validity of the Torah itself? If the Torah is not debatable, as Brueggemann claims, then how can the Prophets contradict and critique the Torah? It makes very little sense, educationally, to build upon a foundation when the next story you construct upon it you believe will by its own nature deconstruct the binding you have already made. Now it is possible I may be misunderstanding Brueggemann on this point but it seems to me who is responding critically to the lack of authority the author gives to Scripture itself.

Although Brueggemann may not be clear and concise in keeping with his idea of the absolute nature of the Torah he is absolutely correct when he articulates on page 41 that, “A community illiterate of the Torah will not understand the prophet.”[9] Continuing with the critique I began above concerning Brueggemann’s understanding of the Prophets I concur with the author if he wants to use the Prophetic works to build upon the foundation of Torah but why, if this is his motive, use the Prophets to deconstruct the Torah? For example on page 45, Brueggemann uses three examples of what he calls, “…new, liberating truth”. It is as if the author wants to use the Prophetic works not to actually build upon what has come before but to show how the Israelites as they grew in knowledge improved upon what had come before. The author goes on to say, “In prophecy we are dealing with a new truth when the old truth controlled by human power has grown irrelevant and boring.”[10] It is hard to imagine what Brueggemann hopes to convey by wording it like this. I desire not to repeat myself again but it in this case my earlier critique bears repeating. How can one build upon a foundation that with the next step you are hell-bent on taking apart? In other words Brueggemann seems to define the educational system of the Old Testament as: 1) Learning what has come before (Torah), 2) Seeing how new and liberating truth can be found and used to critique what came before (Prophetic works), and 3) Thinking upon how to use that new and liberating truth to progress forward (Wisdom literature).

In closing, Brueggemann is absolutely correct in reasserting the importance of making Holy Scripture the underpinning, especially the law, prophets, and wisdom of the Old Testament, for our educational purposes. While I may not agree with the processes he uses to describe the method of teaching Scripture and especially may call into question how he can call for Scripture to be our foundation without acquiescing to its own individual divine right as the Word of God in its binding nature. I can see Brueggemann’s larger point that a community whose members do not know what it means to be a part of that body, which exists perpetually outside of themselves, will cease to share the identity of the community in which it claims to be a part. For without the Church having its foundation in something outside of itself, something that shares a communal energy and language, wherefore then shall the Church look for its own authority to communicate that tradition to the next generation? If we look to sources outside of our own tradition to educate our society we cannot hope for that community to continue on the path set forward by our ancestors and Scripture itself. However where Brueggemann really goes wrong is in his insistence that through education we can improve upon the substance of what has come before. It is absurd to think that just because we have come after the close of the canon of Scripture that we now know more than the writers of Scripture itself and it is our job as educators to see that what really binds us is not the essence of Torah or Prophets or Wisdom but the terms and shared covenant history of the aforementioned works of the Old Testament which really deliver us as a community of believers. This really comes through in how Brueggemann uses the three distinct parts of Hebrew Scripture to show how the Israelites themselves improved on each individual sections by teaching their generations the technical words of the section that came before.


[1] Breuggemann, Walter “The Creative Word” (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982) pg. 1

[2] Brueggemann, pg. 3

[3] ibid, pg. 14

[4] ibid, pg. 15

[5] Brueggemann, pg. 15

[6] ibid, pg. 15

[7] ibid, pg. 40

[8] ibid, pg. 41

[9] Brueggemann, pg. 41

[10] ibid, pg. 45