Sunday, October 31, 2004

New Ways to Look at the Bible

In Judaism, there are a few extra books that have some sort of authority alongside (some would argue over) the Hebrew Bible: Talmud and Targumim. The Talmud is a book of various Rabbi's opinions about 'halakic' questions (halakh, from the Hebrew for 'to walk', means basically how one lives--or better yet, how one responds to God). In a lot of ways, especially when connected with the Mishnah, the Talmud serves as a commentary on the Hebrew Bible. Although I cannot develop it right now, I have argued in the past that the New Testament is the Christian Talmud--which solidifies its place as connected organically and eternally to the Hebrew Bible.

What I'd like to concentrate on here is the targumims, which is the plural of 'targum'. A targum happened like this: in the synagogue, someone would read the Hebrew text; since most Jews in the first century AD knew Aramaic and NOT Hebrew, the priest/rabbi would paraphrase the Hebrew text into Aramaic and 'update' it to apply to their contemporary situation. It was a very important process, especially since many Pharisees held the 'targumic' positions and could influence the masses (seen in how they prodded on many revolutionaries in the War of 66-70 AD).

Walsh and Keesmaat, in Colossians Remixed, give an example of Colossians in a modern targumic form. It is fascinating and enthralling--a more effective and affective sermon than I think I've ever heard. As they explain in the book, there is a lot of freedom in targumic interpretations, but if one has 'Old Testament ears to hear' the overtones are brought out quite nicely. The question I wonder is, should we bring back this old time style of sermon?

Having studied Hebrew and Greek for my major, they are very dear languages to me. I would love nothing better than that all God's saints would know the languages (except that it would further limit my job potentials). I would love it if all the saints grew a respect for the canonical word (Brevard Child's style). However, they don't. I don't even know them well enough. Most Christians don't even seem to realize that the translations that they use are interpretations, subject to human error. The original text (if we leave out text-critical problems aside for a moment) doesn't suffer from these things. Would it be so bad to read (or preferably chant) the original language texts in Church? Obviously, nobody would understand what was being read...unless there was a targum...

Sermons would have to follow the form of the text closely to be faithful to God's word, and use a lot of wisdom in developing targums week by week. But it is a magnificent way to draw the congregation into the text without worrying about 'literal-functional' translation issues or, for that matter, gender-inclusivity debates. In a very important sense, the prophets targumed the Torah in poetic form for their sermons. The overtones and echoes of Scripture are rich in prophetic deep that they can only be truly appreciated at the level of worldview.

This 'targuming' would lead to a prophetible three-office structure of the Church: prophet, priest, and king. The 'priest', the pastor (almost all Protestant pastors say that they are the representative of God bringing His word--which was the job of the local Levites), would interpret God's word targum-style, much like in the days of Ezra. The prophet would do what prophets do: bring cases against the people in terms of that very word--and also against the 'priests' if they are misrepresenting the word or misapplying the word. The king is, of course, the one we all are answerable to...our Lord Jesus Messiah. This scheme would require a greater knowledge of the word, especially the Hebrew Bible, to work. Who, though, is saying that that is a bad thing? The checks-and-balances would be nice; giving the Session and the 'priesthood-of-all-believers' adequate authority to keep the pastor in check (by which I mean both critique and encouragement) and also to do ministry of their own (something Paul talks about in Ephesians). It might also do justice to the offices of 'bishop' and 'deacon' as they are found in the New Testament, not to mention 'elder'.


One possibility that this model might entail is the repositioning of the Word in the context of the worshipping community. The Bible was not meant to be read ex situ, but rather has its full meaning and significance in the context of the liturgy.

Shalom olam v-olam (Peace forever and forever; or, targum-style, God's restorative, gracious wholeness be with all His people unto the end of the ages).

Critical Thinking

Check out David Whitcomb's blog about Napolean Dynamite and Michael Moore. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you fall on (of if you're like me, you aren't even on the spectrum...but off chasing butterflies in left field), his comments about the way people have uncritically accepted what Moore has said are very provocative. Especially that college students are swallowing his rhetoric wholesale...

I thought college was where you developed critical thinking skills...

Thinking back to my collegiate experience (which is still continuing), I don't think that I got them either, so I'm not trying to be 'high-and-mighty'. What might the development of critical thinking (henceforth CT, possibly lowercase) look like? At Geneva, we have a class that is about worldview development and culture called Foundations of Christian Thought (which, like any good foundations class, is held in the junior/senior year). You learn about the Reformational worldview and how to 'live' (discussions of relationships, culture, work, etc.). We did use Bill Romanowski's Eyes Wide Open, which models a way to critique movies from a Reformational worldview, but that was about it. Since we only applied it once and that half-'butted', it hasn't sunk in much with most students that have taken the class. A start towards ct, but it needs some volts behind it.

In one other class, taught by the best prof at Geneva, Byron Curtis, I did learn some theological ct. We were talking about the Documentary Hypothesis (basically 'poop' spelled 'JEDP') and I realized that with the book of Jeremiah, at least, a 'D' editor wasn't needed. Deuteronomy (what 'D' stands for) was rediscovered by King Josiah's men and promolgated throughout the land--at the beginning of Jeremiah's ministry. Jeremianic authorship could be rightfully reinstated. (For anyone remotely interested in this topic, I did my term paper on a closely related theme--email me if you would like a copy). That was an exciting day (my wife thinks I'm a nerd, but I'm ok with that) and I remember it as the day when I finally grew some theological chest-hair.

However, if we are to be the 'judges of the world' as Paul talks about in I Corinthians 6 (I think), we need to get some ct skills. In other words, we need some wisdom. Maybe a more dialogical approach to teaching (which scares me, it is easier to give--or listen to--a lecture than be in a discussion), where students are pressed to what might seem like embarrassment, but really shown that they are developing wisdom (otherwise known as PoliSci 352 at Geneva)? Maybe more essays and projects than 'objective' tests (another thing that scares me for obvious reasons)? Maybe, as Dr. Terry Thomas has suggested, we need the student affairs and academic affairs to put forth joint learning efforts?

So, here's what I pose to all y'all out there: how do we develop wisdom so that we won't be sucked in and suckered by the 'rhetoric of empire', as Walsh and Keesmaat call it in their new (wonderful) book Colossians Remixed?

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Emmaus Road (part two)

Here's the second part in a three part series...

Within me my throat is bowed down, therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and Hermon's ones--the mountain of Mizar.
Depth to depth calls from the voice of your Tsinore--all your breakers and your heaps of water over me pass.

Their days, YHWH commands his hesed-love and in the night his song is with me--a prayer to God of my life:
I am saying to God, 'My Rock, why do you forget me? Why in mourning clothes do I walk in the oppression of an enemy?
With a shattering in my bones, my harassers revile me!
With them saying to me, 'where is your Creator?'

Why are you bowed down, o my throat? Why do you groan within me? Wait for the Creator! For again I shall praise him, the salvation of my face and my God.


Inside of me, my whole being is forced down, so I will (instead) remember you from the land of Jordan and Hermon's heights, even the hill of Mizar.
Deep cries out to deep at the sound of your hurricane gale; your breakers and waves pass on top of me.

In those days, though, YHWH commands his unfailing covenant love
In the night, his song is with me--a prayer to the God of my life.
So I say to God, "My Rock, why have you forgotten me? Why do I walk around, dressed for a funeral, during this enemies' oppression?
My harassers mock me, shattering my bones, when they say to me, 'where is your God'."

Why are you so choked up, my Throat? Why do you groan inside of me? Wait for the Creator! For again shall I praise him--the one who brightens my face and my God.

Reformational Theology

Before I get back to the Psalm 42-43 translation, I thought I'd write a few words about theological process from a burgeoning neo-calvinist view. Listening to Cal Seerveld the other night, it really hit me that I don't know the Bible as well as I make myself look--in fact, my area of expertise (Hebrew and Hebrew Bible) is woefully inadequate. Lately, I've really needed to go back to the beginning to get a fresh start.

One of the most important things Cal said was that we need to read our Bibles in another language that we aren't as fluent in. Since I love Hebrew and it is technically impossible to be fluent in a dead language that nobody really knows the absolute correct pronunciations for, I've chosen to concentrate there. He was right, while Psalms 42-43 may take a total of two minutes to read in English, I've spent over two hours so far getting where I am translationally. There is a lot more in this Psalm set than I first imagined. That, I hope, will come out in the translation and paraphrase.

Another thing that I've come to embrace is a critical-realist epistemology (although, as my friend Sean Purcell warns, I shouldn't make it my ontology), or as Tom Wright puts it, an epistemology of love. However, modernism dies hard. The Giant that Jack (postmodernism) killed is falling faster than Jack can get down the beanstalk. It is hard to break free of positivist restrictions and have the scales fall off the eyes.

What does this all have to do with 'reformational theology'? I think that as I study more and more and try to see things in their original context, the freshness is becoming more and more apparent, while (unfortunately) the un-freshness of historic confessions and such is growing. Rather than giving them up, though, maybe viewing them in the same way that I view the original Biblical texts would be helpful? It is possible that their freshness would blossom once again.

What to do with metaphors is a larger question. Historical development, a favored concept of most neocalvinists that I've met, would seem to say that the metaphors in the ancient world are largely not applicable in the same way today. The Hebrews thought of the heart as the 'seat of the will and intellect', where our culture has the heart being the wellspring of emotions and everything Romantic and Idealistic. However, I'm not so convinced that these rich, God-given metaphors should so easily pass away. If we are to take a Biblical anthropology (for instance) seriously and authoritatively, then these metaphors become vitally important for our own understanding. (Thank goodness that the neocalvinist tradition is rooted in Scripture and not free-floating!) Genesis 2.7 is a case in point. Instead of the reading (paraphrased): God made man out of the dust of the earth, breathed in the breath of life, and Adam become a living soul; we would have: God made Adam out of the soil of the earth, breathed in the Breath of life, and Adam became a living (or moving) throat. Is this important? At least Plato would think so (although he doesn't get out of the cave much anymore).

A Reformational reading of the text would take the metaphors seriously and seriously translate them so that a cultural transformation could take place (which will happen). Our theology, looking back on a chequered past, could push forward--not in the name of 'progress'--but in the name of YHWH, taking every modern and postmodern thought captive.

Well, it seems that I set out to talk about theology and have ended up talking about exegesis (as if they could be separated!). The coherent system (theology) will have to wait till later, I suppose. But watch out for a new idea of systematic theology, which grows out of Biblical theology, take root soon. An organic system, I think, is on the brink of sprouting--to the glory of God.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Emmaus Road

Cal Seerveld, this week at Geneva, called for a fresh, "gritty" translation of the Psalms for today. I'm trying to do that in Psalm 42 and 43. I have used "Creator" for Elohim, "God" for El and Eloah, and YHWH for...YHWH (it is only used once in the whole Psalm, which seems to me important). It is self-consciously literal, especially with the physical metaphors because so much later philosophy/theology has read in foreign connotations into them (ex. the use of the literal 'throat' for 'soul'). Here's what I have so far (to verse 7).

For use in Temple worship: a skillful song in the tradition of the Sons of Korah

As a deer longs for the deep flowing streams,
So my throat longs for you, Creator.
My throats thirsts! Thirsts for the Creator, God the Living One!
When can I come and see the face of the Creator?
My tears have been food to me day and night, while saying to myself all day, 'Where is your God?'
These I mention and I pour out my throat for 'I will go over with the party, walking to the house of the Creator amidst sounds of inarticulate joy and songs of uproarious thanksgiving celebrating the festivals.'

Why are you bowed down, o my throat, and why do you groan within me? Wait for the Creator, for again shall I praise him--the salvation of my face and my God...

Now for a more paraphrastic rendition, called "Emmaus Road":

Just like a deer longs for deep, cool water;
So all I am yearns for you, Creator.
My whole self thirsts for the Creator, the Living God!
When will I be able to come back and see the face of the Creator?
Day and night, all I've eaten are my tears, while questioning myself the whole time, 'where is your God?'
Those times I remember, as I pour out myself like a libation, when I would go with the party , walking to the house of God amidst a clammer of joyful noise and booming thanksgiving songs during the festival days!
Why are you so choked up, throat? Why do you rumble inside me? Wait for the Creator! You will praise him again! He is the one who brightens your face and he is your God!

Embracing Eschatology

It is a dreary and ever-darkening day here in the Falls. The tree leaves are beautiful, but look dullish in the early afternoon (lack of) light. Here is where I need a hefty dose of apocalyptic to keep me going...

For some reason today, I'm feeling pretty down. I can't seem to wrap my mind around my work and previously 'done' things are coming undone. Things that once had incredible significance seem to be wearing painfully thing and other things that have always called to be given significance aren't shutting up--but I still don't want to recognize them...yet. Things just seem so mundane.

What is it in my life, work, and being that is of cosmic significance? Revelation took the suffering of early saints and plotted it in terms of a great cosmic battle, with the ending revealed as a source of hope in painful situations. Dragons and birthing women and whores and bowls and trumpets and locusts all fit together to bring across this (amongst other) points. It is hard to see this currently in my life, in the life of my neighborhood, and in the life of the Falls. All it seems to be is a slowly unraveling sweater that could be beautiful, but soon we'll be naked laying on the floor (laying on the floor), we've come undone.

Herein comes the gospel. It is hope. It is also, painfully right now, historical. I can't just wrench it from its context and place it in my own--if I do so, it won't be the gospel. But the play that the drama sets up, I want a place in that. I want to be apart of that great dramatic unfolding towards the final 'de-fuzzy-ing' of God's redemption. But all the parts currently on offer don't fit (so I want to think) in the part that I thought I would (or should) be playing. I'm living in that tension of what I maybe should do versus what I want to do.

Psalm 42 and 43, as always, are the meditation of the day: In the daytime, YHWH commands his hesed-love, and in the nighttime, his song is with me; a prayer to 'God-of-my-living'. Wait [o my throat] for God--the salvation of my face and my God.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Worldview and History

I won't usually be this prolific on my blogging...but I've got stuff to write!

I think about the usual shorthand (storied shorthand, see a previous post) for the Reformational worldview: creation, fall, redemption. Unfortunately, that can easily be abused into a worldview that has recourse only to very, very ancient (somewhat unimaginable) history and contemporary history (the period of redemption). I propose, following NT Wright, that we add a little to our worldview: concrete history. I propose a new scheme: creation, rebellion, covenant (with redemption and consummation being subcategories of the last). The reason that I have for this is that it is important that Israel was the intended bringer of God's healing shalom and that Jesus himself was (and remains) Jewish. Our 'redemption' is Abrahamic, as Paul so eloquently tells us in Galatians. The Jewishness of the gospel is so very important to understand it hermeneutically, which is part of the reason for the earlier post on John 1.

Even though the 'covenant' theme is not apparent in the original Reformational shorthand, it is and has always been there in the storied form. However, redemption itself is a subcategory of covenant. The covenant was God's way of dealing with rebellion and Adamic sin, while also eschatologically setting up God's shalom again in the world. Why don't we just follow the 'Old' Covenant then? The ones entrusted with the Adamic task, Israel, failed and rebelled themselves. That is why God, through Jesus, needed to renew the covenant (and since covenants are historical documents) in a new way for a new time. Also, God's shalom was finally doing more than being symbolically acted out--the rulership of God was coming to bear (finally) in the work of Jesus. The Spirit, which the Israelites had hoped for, was being poured out. The exile was ending and Caesar's power (death, as it were) was being destroyed through resurrection life. In other words, 'covenant' had finally given birth to 'redemption'.

Shalom olam v-olam.

Culture (yes...that general)

I spoke for ten minutes in Dr. John H. White's Bible 300 program today. The topic was 'culture'. Broad, yes, but if you are reading Keith (I'll mention him in almost every post, I'm sure) or Gideon Strauss 'culture' becomes a very important term. Being trained in the linguistic field, I have a particular penchant to argue semantics, which is (to me) very important to worldview (see the book Metaphors We Live By for an idea). Here's the thoughts that I had (which were much more 'full' and funny in person, I am a big, goofy-looking Nebraskan):

What is culture? Is it the way you use your forks? Is it a snobby attitude towards the arts? Most words having a tie to 'culture' have to do with an aspect of farming or animal husbandry:

agriculture, horticulture, viniculture, aquaculture, arboriculture, aviculture, monoculture, permaculture, pisciculture, sericulture, vermiculture, and cultivar

All of these words have to do with 'cultivation' -- the act and art of doing culture. In Greek, the verb 'to do' is:


from which we get the word 'poem'. Culture doesn't come out of a vacuum, it is something particularly human, something we 'do', something we 'poiema', we artfully and imaginatively engage in all of life. But think back to the words that end with '-culture': how can humans do those? Have you ever met an unmarried farmer? Only in community, only as a 'cultus', a 'worshipping community' is culture possible. Culture, then, at is bedrock level, is what humans do in response to God.

Shalom olam.

Every Idle Word...

Cal Seerveld spoke today in Geneva's chapel program. The main theme was using our words wisely and basically to learn to 'shut up' before God. If all our words are before the face of God, then we are responsible for them. That makes me think of blogging...

Why should we blog? I take it as a given that 'bloggin' by itself is not inherently evil. But if I just use it to publish my ideas (usually so I don't forget them) for selfish reasons, then they are empty, vain, and ultimately useless. But what if I go about it from the starting point of "how can I love my neighbor as myself?" instead of "how does this glorify me?" Blogging taking on a missiological focus?

Not that blogging has to be outrightly evangelistic, far from it. The last thing I need to do is publish 'Blog Tracts', although if I copyright that idea now... Instead, God is glorified and my neighbor helped if I use my words thoughtfully, artfully, and usefully. If every breath, every intake and extake of God's Spirit-Breath (Hebrew ruach), ends in hallelujah or soli deo gloria. Not that every word needs to be what modern Christians think of as 'praise'. Check out Psalm 89, a psalm that is absolutely depressing, but ends in "praise to YHWH forever! amen and amen." Even depression, or any other less 'acceptable' emotion, can end in a hallel.


Worldview Overtones

Walsh and Middleton, I think in The Transforming Vision, outlined a series of worldview questions that can give expression to any historical culture's worldview (and possibly some non-historical ones too, remember, the Bible has been translated into Klingon). It is interesting to me that this is usually combined with an emphasis on the 'storied' nature of worldviews, but the questions are anything but what we would recognize as a 'story'. The answers may put you to sleep, but they aren't regular bedside reading. An example might flesh this out a little bit:

Who are we? (I deliberately avoid the 'who am I?' formula used in the original--but that's another whole post) A Christian might respond: We are the true people of the true God, recreated in His image to exercise His wise rule over creation. We are worshipping beings, social beings, and a whole assortment of interconnected and integrated (however subconsciously) 'beings' (this, obviously, how a nerd might put it--see the post about me in Keith's blog). This seems to avoid the whole story category for the usual, modernist ahistorical proposition. Maybe, though, it isn't...

Propositions are NOT ahistorical. There are no propositions that can be totally stripped of their historical quality, no matter how hard we try--especially in Eastern religions such as Buddhism. Since we are creatures in time, everything we do is historical...the differences are how immediately applicable things are in different historical epochs. So, the positivist concept of 'proposition' just plain needs to be scrapped (along with much else in the modernist, positivist worldview). Even the Proverbs, the quintessential 'propositions' can only be fully understood against the background of Israel's history with the covenant God, Egypt, and the Solomonic tradition.

If propositions are not ahistorical, but storied, then the above answer has immediate and beautiful 'worldview overtones'. I say that because each phrase, almost each word, especially in the linguistic relationships between them, form a coherent story. "We are the true people of the true God" tells the whole story of Scripture from Abraham to the reconstitution of Israel in Jesus. "Recreated in His Image" brings up reminders of the original creation, the 'fall', Jesus' status as the image of the invisible God, the recreation in Isaiah and Revelation, and much more. The list could go on.

Propositions become, under this model, a shorthand for God's historical workings and also timesavers for the beleaguered worldview student.


Monday, October 25, 2004

Rereading John 1

The title may make you think that I am firmly setting my foot into ancient heresy, since 'rereading' a passage usually means the reader has come to some different conclusion than previously offered. I don't think that necessarily has to be the case, though, it could just be a 'nuanced' reading (which, in and of itself, might just be a cop-out word for heresy--let the reader decide).

John 1, as far as I can tell, has been in the exegetical captivity of Greek thought forms. (I don't even want to start the debate as to what makes certain thought forms "Greek" or "Hebrew" and if there even is a large difference, see Tom Wright's New Testament and the People of God for the background worldview stuff I'm working off of.) I want to postulate a more "Hebrew" or "Jewish" reading of that text.

In the apocrapha, the book of Ben Sirach has an interesting section on how Hocmah (Wisdom in Hebrew) looks for a place to dwell among the nations, is identified with the Jewish Torah, and finally dwells in the Jerusalm Temple. Looking at Proverbs 8, we find Hocmah at the Creation with God, working with Him--whether a preexistent being or a personification I don't know. But combining all of that, plus various other hints in Scripture (in Isaiah and Jeremiah especially) and you can get a theological-linguistic background to John 1. Let me go about the rest of the argument by skipping the Prologue for a second:

John, apart (supposedly) from the prologue, is about how Jesus is the culmination of all that is in the Torah. He is the fulfillment ofthe sacrificial system; he is the true king of Israel; he is the truetemple; he is the true priest who can proclaim the forgiveness of sins; he is the true cleansing sacrifice from all uncleanness; he is the true prophet/covenant mediator; he is the true manna; he is the true light bearer; he is the true son of Abraham; he is the true shepherd (kingly imagery again); he is the one who gives life (what torah obedience promised); he is the true vine (a symbol of Israel);he is the beginning of the new creation; and the list could go on. Torah addressed all these things and laid them out before Israel. (Sorry for the lack of references, but it is fairly plain from acursory look at the book).

To add to this, Israel itself was to be Torah-incarnate. Living out Torah faithfully, having it in your heart, strength and throat (the literal for nephesh, or commonly translated "soul"), meant that the faithful one was, in a sense, a walking Torah. He became wise, since he feared the Lord. When the whole nation followed Torah, it would be the "light of the world" and kingly among the nations, so on and so forth. Obviously, this is not the same sense of traditional language about "incarnation" but I lack a better word, or a better concept. Isn't it fitting, then, that the book which shows (without a shred of doubt) that Jesus is the fulfillment of all Torah, is introduced by a section showing how Torah (the `word' of God—remember, the Ten Commandments in Hebrew is the Ten Words) enfleshes itself as Jesus of Nazareth, full of grace (God's electing grace, such as shown in theTorah book of Exodus) and truth. Also, if the Torah of God is the revelation of God's own character (as witness Ex. 34:6-7), then how much more the Torah incarnate as says John: No one has seen God at any time. The unique Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared [or exegeted] Him! Jesus explicitly calls himself "the way" (hodos), which would go back to the root meaning of Torah as direction. Jesus claims to be the Torah in this phrase, but also reinforces it by the other two appellations: truth and life. The Torah is the truth of God and also was to guard life, by keeping Israel from the death penalty that hangs over the whole earth. In Exilic thought, Jesus is the way back to the restored Promised Land, the truth of God's prophets fulfilled, and the life that comes with living in the Land (which now encompasses the whole earth).

All of this adds up to a coherent picture of what John was after. He wasn't a proto-gnostic trying to fits his aeons together, in which Jesus happened to fit. He wasn't trying to appeal to Greek categories for his Jewish argument. Instead, he was appealing to Jewish thought at the time to prove the superiority of Jesus to an unfulfilled Torah. The prologue details how Jesus is the Torah incarnate, both the exact representation of God Himself and the true Israel. From there, John defends his thesis with the rest of thebook!

While this thesis is still extremely kerygmatic, I think that thereis a potential for much fruit from it, especially Christologically. It also avoids, nicely I think, both Gnostic and "Hellenistic" (whatever that ends up meaning) interpretations of John. Plus, it shows that John's Christology is very close to that of Paul as witnessed Colossians 1 and Philippians 2.

Beginning to Mutter

In Psalm 1, the writer talks about 'meditating on [God's] Torah day and night'. The Hebrew word for 'meditate' means to 'speak under your breath, repeat, mutter'. For me, that is what a blog is about--muttering online. I'm doing this mainly under the pressure of Keith Martel and Scott Calgaro, both friends from Geneva College. Why not, I guess? I'll finally dive into the nerdiest thing I have heard of--and force y'all to read whatever I write, which hopefully won't be worthless drivel, but some decent mutterings.