Saturday, June 2, 2012

Assorted Bible Notes I

Sometimes I like to peruse books about the Bible and see what “pops out”---things I knew but hadn’t thought about for a while, or things expressed in a fresh way, or things I never realized at all. (New discoveries are always ongoing, not only because the Bible is so rich, long, and complex, with layers of tradition, theological perspectives, and literary styles not always clear without the help of commentaries. The Bible also speaks to a person differently at different times.)

My div school prof Brevard S. Childs (1923-2007), whose work in Old Testament studies was groundbreaking, wrote two fascinating books (among several others), Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), and Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986). I was very fortunate to have had this distinguished teacher for a class. Years later I wrote a letter of gratitude to him and he wrote a nice letter back in longhand.  Browsing these two books over a couple spring afternoons this year, I took a few notes of things that interested me. I'll return to these books again for more notes in the future. These are just my notes; if these ideas excite you, please obtain the books yourself and discover all kinds of insights!

From Old Testament Theology:

The Fall

Childs argues that it “does not do justice to the diversity within the Old Testament canon to suggest that the doctrine of the 'fall,' as testified to in Gen. 3, provides the framework in which the entire Old Testament functions” (p. 46). But although the OT does not frame the human condition so much in terms of Adam’s sin, the OT is certainly permeated in different forms with the “major disruption between God and his creation.”  Child’s cites Isaiah 1:2-3, Isaiah 42:19-20, Hos. 4:1-3, 13:2, Ps. 106:20-1, and others (pp. 46-47). Further, a realization of one’s sinful condition---and a humble and contrite, loving heart---are necessary to see God’s deeds in the word, as in Jere. 29:13, Ps. 138:8, and others (pp. 47-48).

The Torah

Childs’ comments that the legal and historical traditions in Ex. 19 to Num. 10 are complex and emerge from a history of writing, development, and editing.  Instead of each tradition being analyzed, however, Childs approaches the problem by a canonical approach: “the intertextuality of [the OT’s] canonical shaping” within the overally theology of the OT (p. 53).

He shows, for instance, how the revelation at Sinai in Ex. 19 is linked to the deliverance from Egypt, and that the giving of the law in Ex. 20ff and the sealing of the covenant in Ex. 24) “form the climax of the formation of the people of GOd (19:4-6)” (p. 53). Likewise, the Decalogue itself is no isolated set of laws but is placed withing this tradition of the people’s deliverance and formation.  The “Boook of the Covenant” in Ex. 20-24 is tied to the Decalogue, and all the laws of Leviticus are in turn tied to the Sinai event (p. 54).

Killing and Biblical Violence 
Childs has a fascinating section on “You shall not kill” in light of the OT’s violent nature.  Of the later, he cites the command to destroy the Canonites (Deut. 13:15), the herem law of Josh. 6:1ff, and the violent descriptions of God (Deut. 32:41-43, Isa. 63:1-6) (p. 74).  
Instead of other solutions (such as the nineteenth century approach that viewed portions of the OT as a more primitive kind of social ethic, Childs starts with the commandment itself.  The verb rasah is “murder” but “denotes a form of illegal killing which threatens the life of the of the community. The commandment seeks to protect the Israelite within the covenant from illegal violence...” (p. 75). The verb also has a connection with “blood vengeance” and so the commandment prohibited the kind of killing that called for revenge.  It also gained the connotation of intentional killing (pp. 75-76). He cites as examples Isa. 1:21, Hos. 6:9, Prov. 22:13.  
Childs connects the commandment to Moses’ killing of the Egyptian, which Moses had thought was just but which elicited a different reaction from the Hebrew and also a fearful reaction from Moses’ himself.  That the story moves beyond the question of Moses’ intention confronts us with deeper issues about the use of violence (pp. 76-77). Childs also cites the story of Uriah in 2 Sam. 11, calling attention to the fact that David didn’t even hate Uriah!  David set up the situation in which Uriah was killed within a situation of interconnections among power, lies, lust, etc.  Here again, the Bible puts the act of violence within a complex situation in order for us to reflect upon the act’s meaning (p. 77). 
Childs also cites Judges 9, 1 Kings 21, and the book of Joshua as examples of violence in the Old Testament.  One problem, he sees, with the whole question is that we tend to argue that “if such killing [as in Joshua] is viewed today as wrong, it must have been just as wrong then as now,” but he argues that this “non-historical way of thinking is foreign to the Bible, which does not work with abstract, timeless ethical principles” but rather with “God’s redemptive history with a sinful, hard-necked people which shares fully the culture of its environment” (p. 77). 
He further argues that the book of Joshua is canonically and historically positioned so that its story becomes “an integral part of the divine purpose for Israel, but it was never to be repeated. It was theologically rendered inoperative by being consigned wholly to the past” (p. 78). This agrees with something I read in Elie Wiesel's writings about Joshua, several years ago.  
Childs also shows how the prophets reversed the idea of holy war when they “portrayed God’s fighting against his people because of their disobedience and inner lawlessness (Isa. 10.5ff; 5.26ff; Jer. 5:15ff.). Subsequently, the prophets called for “a return to social justice in order to regain the blessings of God,” and not to holy war, so that God’s reign of peace could happen (as in Isa. 2:1ff, 11:11ff).   
From Biblical Theology: 

Deuteronomic Hope in the Prophets 
Childs notes that it is “difficult to distinguish between the different layers of tradition” in the prophets (p. 178). That was a relief to read, because I find the prophetic books so confusing in their seemingly random collections of oracles, stories, and sermons!  While Jeremiah’s chapters 30-31 are probably early oracles, those chapters and others have been shaped “in the language and traditions of Deuteronomy, most likely in the early post-exilic period” (p. 178). He cites Jer. 12:14-17, 16:14ff, 17:24ff, 18:7ff, and others places which stress a return to the Land and which uses exodus language to convey the divine promise to the returning exiles.  This, says Childs, is a Deuteronomic ”hope for a new relationship with God” and a new covenant (p. 178).  He also notes that exodus language continues o=in Ezekiel (11:14-21, 20:33-44, et al.) as well as the stress upon a new covenant and “new heart” as in 11:19, 18:31, 36:26, etc.(p. 178). 
Similar images of hope are found in Deutero-Isaiah. But unlike the Davidic hope that we find in Ezekiel, this prophet assigns redemption to Cyrus himself (Isa. 44:28, 45:11), and the suffering servant by whom Israel becomes righteous (and he cites Isa. 49:1ff, 50:4ff, 52:13-53:12).  
The Judges 
Obviously, perhaps, the office of the judges served no role in Israel’s eschatological hope, as Childs points out (pp. 150-151). It was such a terrible period in Israel's history!  The biblical authors looked to a righteous ruler of the future who would be a Davidic king, not a soptim (judge).  But Childs points out two interesting contrasts in the scriptures about the judges. The book itself connects the moral decline of the period to the lack of a king (18:1, 21:25), but in 1 Samuel (e.g., 12:12ff) the monarchy is depicted as a rejection of God’s will while the office of judges was God’s true intention (p. 150). There is a tension within scripture itself whether a king over Israel (that is, a human king) was a good thing or not.  
The Jacob Stories 
Childs notes that traces of oral transmission remain in the Jacob stories, such as their localization to particular places like Mahanaim, Penuel, and Mizpah, as well as the story of the wrestling, and the respective stories connecting Jacob to his father and to Laban.  Childs also notes that “an Isaac cycle” of stories remains only in limited form connected to the Jacob stories.  Gunkel had tried to identify different geographic locations to the contrasting stories.  What stands out from among the stories, says Childs, is the renaming of Jacob into Israel and his fatherhood of the twelve tribes (p. 126).
Jesus and Paul 
Childs raises the question of the seeming break between the proclamation of Jesus and the gospel message of Paul.  “Whereas Jesus proclaimed in words and action the dawning of the kingdom of God, Paul bore witness to the establishment of salvation and God’s rule which had become actual fact. The proclaimer had become the proclaimed!” (p. 236).  Thus, the church following Easter was in a different situation than  the disciples with Jesus before his death and resurrection: Now, the power of God---and also, as Paul said, the righteousness of God---has been revealed. In his letters, Paul seldom quotes Jesus‘ teachings as he focuses upon God’s power now revealed (p. 236). 
Lukan Paul and Pauline Paul 
There are interesting contrasts and discrepancies between Paul’s letters and Acts.  In Acts, Paul is still (in his own thinking and self-presentation) a faithful Jew, faithful to the law (24:14f), and proclaims a gospel found already in the scriptures (26:22). Paul is not an apostle in Acts, but rather an exemplary missionary to the Gentiles. Then we turn to Paul of his own writings, who declares his previous zeal as “refuse” (Phil. 3:5ff) and does present himself (again and again, often in self-defense) as an apostle. Childs notes that the Lukan portray of the Jerusalem church is also difficult to reconcile with material in Paul’s letters (pp. 292-293). 
Paul and Matthew 
A similarly interesting tension is found between Paul and Matthew. Paul has a “dialectical” view of the law; on one hand justification is freedom from the law, but on the other hand, he affirms the law as God's eternal will.  Matthew shows that the “way of righteousness has come with God’s true Messiah, and made clear in the radical obedience to God’s true intention in the law.” (p. 558)  While for Matthew, we are justified via obedience to the law, for Paul justification is apart from the law’s works.  For Matthew, works of righteousness are an essential part of our response to salvation, while for Paul works are separated from justification.  Also, for Matthew the judgment still lies ahead for the believer, while in Paul, we are already judged righteous because of our justification (p. 556).


  1. thank you so much, this really gave me insight!

  2. Hi, Louise! Thanks so much! Hope you visit again! :-)