August 6, 2019

Past Them (Mark 6)

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

When Jesus walks across the water through the storm (Mark 6), he wasn’t intending to get into the boat with the disciples or to calm the storm. He intended to go past them, so that they could see him and follow him and keep rowing in spite of the storm.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:44 am | Discuss (1)
July 29, 2019

The Sign of Jonah (2)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

A follow-up to my previous post about the “sign of Jonah” (drawing still on Jakob van Bruggen’s Matteus):

If “the sign of Jonah” isn’t Jesus’ death and resurrection, then why does Jesus go on to talk about Jonah’s being in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights and link that up with Jesus himself being “in the heart of the earth” for three days and three nights?

The answer is that Jesus is not here identifying what he means by “the sign of Jonah.” Again, as I said in the previous post, there’s no indication that anyone in Nineveh had a clue about Jonah being in the belly of the fish, so that wasn’t a sign to them at all.

But the point is rather this: Jonah tried to run away from his calling and ended up “dead’ in the belly of the fish, but that wasn’t the end of his mission. After three days and three nights, he was vomited out and his mission continued. His “death” didn’t end his mission to Nineveh. His death didn’t stop him from being a sign to them.

And neither will Jesus’ death. The scribes and Pharisees are already plotting Jesus’ death in Matthew 12, and when they do arrest him and crucify him and bury him — the three days and three nights includes everything from his arrest on — they will think that they have gotten rid of him.

But they will find that his mission continues. After three days and three nights, he will rise again, like Jonah, and continue to be a sign to them, a sign of their need to repent and trust in him before it is too late.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:36 pm | Discuss (0)

The Sign of Jonah (Matthew 12)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

When the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, does he give them one?

In Mark 8, he refuses: “No sign shall be given to this generation.”

In Matthew 12, he says: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

Does that mean that Jesus changed his mind and decided he would give them one sign? Not at all. Jesus gives no sign to this generation, no sign of the sort they were requesting, no sign to prove that his authority comes from God.

But the sign of Jonah is a sign of a different sort. What is “the sign of Jonah”?

People often take it to be Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish and then vomited out again, which they (rightly) link up with Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But the sign of Jonah is a sign for the people of Nineveh, and there is no indication in Scripture whatsoever that the people of Nineveh ever knew about Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish and vomited up again. It’s not as if they saw that happen: Nineveh isn’t on the coast. And it’s not as if Jonah came into Nineveh strewn with seaweed and bleached or tanned by the fish’s stomach acids.

If you were a Ninevite and Jonah came preaching “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed” and you said, “Before I repent, I want a sign to prove that you’re really a prophet,” would you get a sign like that? No.

The “sign” that proves Jonah’s a prophet is going to come all right. But it’s going to come in forty days … thirty-nine days … thirty-eight days…. And you don’t want to wait to repent until you experience that sign, because by then it will be too late. There is going to be proof that he’s a prophet, and the proof is that his word comes to pass, but that word is your destruction.

And so, too, with Jesus. If scribes and Pharisees and others in Israel refuse to repent till they see a sign, they won’t receive an authenticating sign until it’s too late and destruction has come upon them.

But they do get a sign of another type. They get “the sign of Jonah.” What was the “sign of Jonah” to the Ninevites? It was the sign that was Jonah himself. (For you grammar nerds, the genitive here is epexegetical.) So in Luke 11, we are told explicitly that *Jonah* became a sign to the Ninevites.

The sign is that there is a prophet coming to them, preaching to them, warning them of the destruction to come. That’s all the sign they get.

And Jesus gives to the people of Israel “the sign of Jonah,” Jesus himself coming to them, doing his works, warning them of the coming judgment, proclaiming the good news of the coming kingdom and doing the works of the kingdom, and calling them to repent and trust in him. That is all the sign they get.

[For much of this exegesis, I am indebted to Jakob van Bruggen’s Matteus.]

Posted by John Barach @ 5:34 pm | Discuss (1)
June 26, 2019

Dressing Like the Tabernacle

Category: Bible,Bible - OT - Exodus,Bible - OT - Leviticus :: Permalink

Sometimes Aaron the high priest wears his most glorious garments and sometimes he does not.

“Curiously,” says Carmen Imes (Bearing YHWH’s Name at Sinai),

Aaron was not to wear the most elaborate of his official vestments (breastpiece and ephod) when it would seem most appropriate to do so — while entering the Most Holy Place.

He wore them only when performing regular sacrifices and maintaining service in the Holy Place, implying that his representation of Israel to God pertained to the sacrificial system and the ongoing maintenance of the cult; he did not ‘bear the names’ of the sons of Israel into the Most Holy Place.

When he appeared in the Most Holy Place on the most holy day [i.e., the Day of Atonement], he had to come humbly, without status or pretense, and in so doing symbolize Israel’s undeserved access to YHWH’s presence (166).

He does, however, wear his turban with its inscription:

Most importantly, Aaron’s diadem signified what was true of the entire nation — namely, that they were “holy, belonging to YHWH.” On that basis, he appealed to YHWH for forgiveness of their sin (166).

But it’s also important to notice, as Imes does, the correspondence between Aaron’s garments and the tabernacle itself. In his full vestments, Aaron represents the whole tabernacle, turned inside out: linen on the inside, and a breastplate corresponding to the Most Holy Place on the outside. But on the Day of Atonement, Aaron wears clothing that corresponds, not to the Most Holy Place, but to the courtyard.

To wear only [‘arag] garments (cf. Exod 39:27), which corresponded to the outer curtains of the tabernacle courtyard, concretized Aaron’s mediatorial role. He brought the outer courtyard into the inner sanctum, representing every Israelite as he approached YHWH.

On regular days, Aaron did the reverse, in effect wearing the elaborate furnishings of the Most Holy Place as he moved about the Holy Place and the courtyard, representing the glory of YHWH to ordinary priests and laypeople via richly colored and ornamented fabrics, gold, and gemstones. This interpenetration of spheres was an essential component of Aaron’s ministry (166-167).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:05 pm | Discuss (1)
June 18, 2019

Fixed in His Memory

Category: Bible,Bible - OT - Judges :: Permalink

The thirteenth-century theologian Bonaventure once said that the difficulty with interpreting scripture accurately is needing to have so much of it memorized before one can even begin.

“No one will find this an easy task unless, by constant reading, he has fixed in his memory the text of the Bible to the very letter; not otherwise shall he ever have the ability to interpret Scripture.”

Bonaventure assumed that the Bible can only be understood in light of itself, and that such understanding requires having a great deal of scripture in one’s memory so that, as one reads along, word associations and connections will leap to mind.

Our easy access to the printed word, so easy that now many of us have searchable copies of the Bible with us at all times on our phones and tablets, is a great gift, but such access discourages memory, meaning that we often miss the interconnectedness of the text.

When we read that an event in the biblical narrative took place at Shechem, most of us do not immediately remember all the other events that occurred at Shechem in the course of biblical history. The first writers, readers, and hearers of the text would have thought of those connections.

Those first writers, readers, and hearers were immersed in a great system of symbols that enriched their communication and their understanding of the world. Most of us are deaf to that system of symbols as we read the Bible, and we therefore miss large portions of the meaning.

When we read a story about Gideon putting out a fleece and inspecting the dew that had fallen or had not fallen on it, we need to be aware of the meaning of a fleece and the meaning of the dew if we are to hear all that was there for the first hearers.

I make no claim to having mastered this system of symbols, but I have caught enough hints of it to believe that it cannot be learned apart from approaching the Bible as a unified whole. — Laura Smit, Judges & Ruth, 7-8. (She’s quoting Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, trans. Jose de Vinck [Paterson, NJ: St Anthony Guild Press, 1963], 18.)

Posted by John Barach @ 10:44 am | Discuss (0)
June 5, 2019

Saying the Name

Category: Bible - OT - Deuteronomy,Bible - OT - Exodus,Ethics :: Permalink

Does the Third Word prohibit pronouncing the name “YHWH”?

That can hardly be the case. As Carmen Joy Imes (Bearing YHWH’s Name at Sinai) writes:

“The Psalms are replete with exhortations to know YHWH’s name (Ps 91:14), call on the name (Ps 63:5[4]; 105:1; 116:4), declare the name (Ps 22:23[22]), cause his name to be remembered (Ps 45:1 [17]), bless the name (Ps 100:4; 145:1), sing to his name (Ps 66:2; 68:5[4]), and praise and exalt the name (Ps 7:18[17]; 34:4[3]; 54:8[6]; 96:2; 113:1; 148:5)” (26n87).

But then she adds this:

“In addition, people of faith deliberately used the name by including YHWH theophorically in personal names. Biblical texts testify that Yahwistic theophoric names were common in Israel from the monarchic period forward. These echoes of the name ‘YHWH’ suggest that its pronunciation was not considered taboo, even in the exilic and post exilic periods” (26n87).

For instance, consider names like Joshua (“YHWH saves”), Hezekiah (“YHWH is strong”), Elijah (“My God is YHWH”), and, after the exile, Nehemiah (“YHWH has comforted”).

There’s no reason to think that godly Jews went around naming their children “Nehemiah” and then refusing to pronounce the last syllable because it is the name of God.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:08 pm | Discuss (1)
June 4, 2019

Taking YHWH’s Name

Category: Bible - OT - Deuteronomy,Bible - OT - Exodus,Ethics :: Permalink

What does the Third Commandment mean when it says not to “take the name of YHWH in vain”? It doesn’t say “Do not say the name.” It says not to take it in vain, using a verb that normally means “to pick up, take up, bear, carry around.”

Many treatments of this commandment assume that “take up the name” is an ellipsis, that is, that there are missing words. The full form, they say, should be “take up … on your lips,” so that the commandment has to do with swearing oaths or even just with speaking the name “YHWH.”

Others think it’s an ellipsis where what’s missing is “your hand,” so that the expression in full form is “lift up your hand in YHWH’s name.” Lifting up the hand in the Bible is sometimes a way of taking oaths. And again, this commandment is taken to prohibit certain kinds or ways of using YHWH’s name in taking oaths.

But what if there’s no ellipsis? What if it really is speaking of bearing or carrying around the name?

What’s interesting is that that exact expression does occur elsewhere in the Bible. As Carmen Joy Innes (Bearing YHWH’s Name at Sinai) says,

“The high priest was to ‘bear the names’ of the 12 tribes on his person to signify his role as their authorized representative before YHWH (Exod 28:29)” (2).

Innes goes on to explain the parallel:

“While he physically carried, or bore, their names, he served as an analog of Israel’s bearing of YHWH’s name, which was conferred on them by the high priest when he blessed them (Num 6:27). As YHWH’s chosen people and ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exod 19:5), they represented him among the nations” (2).

I learned to read the Third Commandment this way from Jim Jordan, and it’s also found in John Frame’s treatment of the Ten Commandments.

But — surprise! — you don’t find this passage about Aaron’s garments discussed in most treatments of the Third Commandment. In a footnote, Innes writes:

“Most interpreters routinely overlook these passages. For example, Miller … dismisses Exod 28 as ‘not relevant’ to the interpretation of the NC [Name Command] without explanation, even though the description of Aaron’s high priestly garments offers the closest lexical and contextual parallels to the NC” (2n5).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:43 pm | Discuss (0)
December 31, 2018

Favorite Books Read in 2018

Category: Literature :: Permalink

Here are some of the books I enjoyed most this year:

* Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility. I sometimes baulk at reading a classic when there are so many other more immediately gripping books calling out to me. So I experimented this year with reading a few pages of a classic every day. This was the first classic I read that way.

* John Blackburn, The Gaunt Woman. A page-turner; very well done.

* John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle. I had the great pleasure this year of introducing my children to John Buchan’s works, reading these two aloud. Can’t wait to get on to Mr. Standfast in the new year.

*James Branch Cabell, The Line of Love: Dizain des Mariages. All the stories were good, even surprisingly good, but my favorite was probably “Love-Letters of Falstaff.”  Cabell does an amazingly good job of putting quasi-Shakespearean language in Falstaff’s mouth and the story might break your heart.

* G. K. Chesterton, Robert Browning. Excellent. Almost every page quotable.

* August Derleth, Restless Is the River. If Derleth is known for anything these days, it’s for publishing the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Derleth himself wrote popular fiction: mysteries, eerie stories, boys’ adventure novels — his Steve & Sim series are like the Hardy Boys with more three-dimensional characters and a strong sense of place. And sense of place was closest to Derleth’s heart, particularly the Sauk City, Wisconsin, area, which he loved (and which, in so many of his books, he called Sac Prairie). Restless Is the River follows the equally excellent Wind Over Wisconsin, both of them historical novels set in the days when Sauk City was only a twinkle in the eyes of its founders.

* Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Very good, though I quibble with a few things here and there.

* Rosalie K. Fry, Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry. This is the novel behind John Sayles’ beautiful film, The Secret of Roan Inish. We had watched the movie as a family, but this year we read the novel aloud.

* Shirley Ann Grau, The Black Prince and Other Stories. Very good; the title story may be the weakest in the collection.

* David Hansen, Loving the Church You Lead: Pastoring with Acceptance and Grace. Some very good passages.

* Adolph L. Harstad, Joshua. In the Concordia Commentaries series. The best commentary I’ve read on Joshua.

* David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Best book I’ve read on the subject; extremely helpful, but flawed in some significant ways, chief among them this: I-B thinks “hardness of heart” means a refusal to repent, so that divorce is legitimate only in the case of the guilty party’s refusal to repent; if he repents, he is to be forgiven and then no divorce should take place.

* James B. Jordan, Slavery in Biblical Perspective.

* Jane Lane, He Stooped to Conquer and His Fight Is Ours. Well-written historical fiction, the first about the massacre at Glencoe and the second about the aftermath a generation later. Lane seems to accept the mytho fo the Highland tradition — kilts, bagpipes, Ossian, the Highlanders being the Caledonians who fought the Romans, and so on — but that aside, she does a masterful job of getting us into the mindset of the Highland Jacobites.

* Peter J. Leithart, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church. Very, very good.

* Janet Lewis, The Wife of Martin Guerre. This is historical fiction, but based on a true case from the French courts in the 1500s, to my mind surely one of the most fascinating legal cases ever. I went on to read Natalie Zemon Davis’s history, The Return of Martin Guerre, and some of the discussion of that book online, because I wanted to know more about the story.

* Charlotte M. Mason, Home Education. So good.

* Allan Campbell McLean, The Hill of the Red Fox. Like a John Buchan novel, but written for young adults.

* A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner. Every time I finish this or Winnie-the-Pooh, I say to myself, “I have to read these books every year.”

* Gary North, Moses and Pharaoh: Dominion Religion Versus Power Religion. I’m not on the same page with North in several regards, but there’s a lot of great stuff in here. The chapter on the rule of law was particularly valuable.

* Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons. Read aloud to the kids; we loved it.

* Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?. Two great essays. Very thought-provoking.

* Margery Sharp, Miss Bianca. Another one I read with the kids.

* James Stoddard, The High House. I cut my eyeteeth, as it were, on the old Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, edited by Lin Carter and so did James Stoddard. Had it appeared a few years earlier, this novel would have had the Sign of the Unicorn on its cover like the others in that series. It is like nothing else I’ve ever read before, though with hints of, well, many other things I’ve read before (for instance, you might be able to identify Sir Clive from Nianar). I loved it enough that I slowed down my reading, allowing myself only a few pages a night, to make it last longer. What’s it about? A big somewhat magical, somewhat allegorical house and the man it chooses to be its master and what he has to do to reclaim it from the powers of anarchy and … well, none of that does justice to it.
* Jack Vance, Mazirian the Magician (formerly known as The Dying Earth) and The World Thinker and Other Stories. I discovered that it’s possible to get the Vance Integral Library volumes by InterLibrary Loan and I had a lot of fun with these, the first two volumes of that set.

* Stanley J. Weyman, The New Rector. The ending was a little too pat, perhaps, but I enjoyed the story.

* John R. Wilch, Ruth. Another in the Concordia Commentary series. Very good, thorough commentary on Ruth — the best I read — with an interesting and, to my mind, persuasive approach to the problems of Ruth 4.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:45 pm | Discuss (7)
September 26, 2018

Poetry!

Category: Bible :: Permalink

There are two common ways of presenting the text in most Bibles: in verses (as in the KJV) and in paragraphs, as text appears in a novel, so that while the verses are marked they’re really not noticeable as the main unit into which the text is divided.  The former is the old standard, but the latter is becoming more and more popular.

But in Hebrew, the text not only appears in verses; it also comes in lines. Some modern translations put the psalms and various songs in the Bible into lines (which is an advance on the KJV), but they don’t for what they consider prose. But why not stick with the way it’s written in Hebrew?

An example: I was reading from 1 Chronicles 11 and it occurred to me that even though the translation I was reading didn’t present this bit of narrative as poetry, it certainly conformed to Hebrew poetic patterns. Notice the parallelism in the following:

And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, which is Jebus,
where the Jebusites were, the inhabitants of the land.
But the inhabitants of Jebus said to David, “You shall not come in here!”
Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David).
Now David said, “Whoever attacks the Jebusites first will be chief and captain.”
And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first and became chief.
Then David dwelt in the stronghold;
Therefore they called it the City of David.
And he built the city around it, from the Millo to the surrounding area.
Joab repaired the rest of the city.
So David went on and became great,
And Yahweh of hosts was with him.

Notice how the second line balances and (generally) parallels the first throughout? That’s Hebrew poetry, right there in one of the “prosiest” of passages.  My ideal translation wouldn’t just be in verses, like the KJV and certainly wouldn’t be in paragraphs like a novel but rather would be in lines, just like this.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:49 pm | Discuss (0)
September 24, 2018

Kindergarten

Category: Theology :: Permalink

The catchy title of the book All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten unfortunately reflects the attitudes of some Christians toward growing in knowledge in their Christian faith. They think they learned all they needed to know in the early days of their church schooling and are complacently apathetic about progressing beyond their elementary knowledge. Many would just as soon leave faith and doctrine to others, who then dictate to them what they need to believe. The result is that they remain woefully ignorant about what they believe and why and have only a dim awareness of God — David E. Garland, Colossians, 69.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:15 pm | Discuss (0)
September 23, 2018

Leaving Behind (Mark 10:29-31)

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

For the sake of Christ and the good news of the coming kingdom, one can come to stand before choices in connection with which one either trusts in the gospel or drops that for the sake of family and possessions….

During the time in which Christ gives his mandates and the spreading of the good news makes its demands, while many do not believe and even are hostile, following also often means leaving behind. This is not the detached leaving behind of the ascetic who lets go of the world, but the painful leaving behind by the believer who has a still greater love for Jesus and the kingdom than for his beloved ones and his properties. — Jakob van Bruggen, Marcus (on Mark 10:29-31).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:32 pm | Discuss (0)
September 22, 2018

Humility & Pride (Mark 10:41)

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

From Mark 10:41 it appears that the “ten” were aware of what Zebedee’s sons had asked and that they were indignant about it. Thereby they betray themselves. Humility is grieved over the sins of others; pride is indignant about them. — Jakob van Bruggen, Marcus (my translation).

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