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).

Posted by John Barach @ 8:54 am | Discuss (0)

The Challenge of Psalm 68

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

Just when you think you know Hebrew … there’s Psalm 68.

Matthew Henry on Psalm 68:

This is a most excellent psalm, but in many places the genuine sense is not easy to come at; for in this, as in some other scriptures, there are things dark and hard to be understood.

Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 68:

The Psalm is at once surpassingly excellent and difficult. Its darkness in some stanzas is utterly impenetrable.

Clarke’s Commentary on Psalm 68:

I know not how to undertake a comment on this Psalm: it is the most difficult in the whole Psalter; and I cannot help adopting the opinion of Simon De Muis: “In this Psalm there are as many precipices and labyrinths as there are verses or words. It may not be improperly termed, the torture of critics, and the reproach of commentators.” To attempt any thing new on it would be dangerous; and to say what has been so often said would be unsatisfactory. I am truly afraid to fall over one of those precipices, or be endlessly entangled and lost in one of these labyrinths. There are customs here referred to which I do not fully understand; there are words whose meaning I cannot, to my own satisfaction, ascertain; and allusions which are to me inexplicable. Yet of the composition itself I have the highest opinion: it is sublime beyond all comparison; it is constructed with an art truly admirable; it possesses all the dignity of the sacred language; none but David could have composed it; and, at this lapse of time, it would require no small influence of the Spirit that was upon him, to give its true interpretation.

And everyone who has attempted to translate this psalm says: “You’re not kidding, guys.”

Posted by John Barach @ 8:31 am | Discuss (0)
September 21, 2018

The Catholicity of Jesus

Category: Bible - NT - Luke,Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew,Theology - Liturgical,Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

Was there ever anyone with more integrity, and who made greater demands, than Jesus Christ? Yet look at the catholicity of His practice: He ate with publicans, harlots, and sinners, and He took nursing infants into His arms and thus to Himself. Who complained about all this? The Pharisees.

How could Jesus, the spotless Son of God, associate with such evil people? Simple: They were (a) members of the visible church, even though that church was borderline apostate (run by Sadducees and Pharisees). They were (b) not excommunicate from that visible church. They were (c) willing to listen to what He had to say.

Now, of course, after they listened for a while, most of them departed, not willing to persevere. They excommunicated themselves. But initially, they were welcomed according to the catholic principle we have outlined.

Notice that Jesus ate and drank with them. It requires a clever bit of nominalism to miss the sacramental implications of this. Pharisees, beware! — James B. Jordan, The Sociology of the Church, 15.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:33 am | Discuss (0)
September 20, 2018

A Superfluity of Theologians

Category: Theology :: Permalink

“Theology is mostly conversation, as the church matures in her understanding of the infallible and inerrant Scriptures. If two theologians agree at every point, one of them is unnecessary!” — James B. Jordan (but I’ve lost the source).

Posted by John Barach @ 10:28 am | Discuss (0)
September 19, 2018

Divorce in the Pentateuch and ANE

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

David Instone-Brewer’s comparison of the biblical laws relating to divorce and other laws in the Ancient Near East (ANE) reveals that “women have greater rights in the Pentateuch than in the ancient Near East generally” (Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, 21).

What rights? Instone-Brewer points to these two in particular:

(1) While other ANE lawcodes did allow women to divorce their husbands in some cases, few allowed a woman whose husband has failed to provide food and clothing to divorce her husband. A Middle Assyrian law does, but only after the wife has been abandoned for five years.

“The Pentateuch was more generous to the woman because it did not prescribe time constraints while it allowed women to divorce their husbands on the same grounds of neglect” (26).

(2) Only in the Pentateuch do we hear about a certificate of divorce being given to the divorced woman. The certificate would likely have said something like “You are allowed to marry any man you wish.”

“It would have been a most valuable document for a woman to possess,” says Instone-Brewer, “because it gave her the right to remarry. Without it she would be under the constant threat of her former husband, who could claim at a later date that she was still married to him and thus charge her with adultery” (29).

After all, “in other ancient Near Eastern cultures, the man could neglect his wife and then reclaim her within five years, even if she had remarried in the meantime” (30; cf. Middle Assyrian law # 36).

It strikes me that the differences Instone-Brewer points out between the laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy and the laws in the rest of the Ancient Near East concerning divorce indicate that the Pentateuch is not making a concession to the culture (e.g., “The ANE generally allowed divorce, and so the Law goes along with that, but it wasn’t ideal and God wanted to tighten it up later”).

No, as a matter of fact the Law goes beyond what ANE culture normally allowed, allowing speedier divorce in the case of neglect and making it clear that a first marriage really was over and the divorced wife was free to remarry.

Put another way, it’s one thing to say “The ANE was ‘loose’ on divorce and so, by way of concession to the culture, the Bible is correspondingly ‘loose’ … for a while.” I don’t buy it, but it makes a certain sort of sense.

But it makes no sense to me at all to say “The ANE was ‘loose’ on divorce and so, by way of concession to the culture, the Bible is even ‘looser.'”

Posted by John Barach @ 9:07 pm | Discuss (0)

Transfiguration and the Lord’s Day Service

Category: Bible - NT - Luke,Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

The story of the Mount of Transfiguration tracks, to some degree, with what happens in the Lord’s Day service.

Jesus ascends a high mountain, which in the Bible is often associated with drawing near to meet with God (Mount Eden, Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, Mount Moriah). In every offering, the animal dies and then ascends the mountain and goes up to God in smoke. Hebrews 13 tells us that we have come to the heavenly Mount Zion.

That’s what’s happening in worship. We gather with the church all over the world on the heavenly Mount Zion. We ascend together into heaven. And on the mountain, we read the Law and the Prophets, the whole of the Scriptures, and they all point us to Jesus.

Here, we see Jesus in all His glory. Here, we hear the heavenly voice declaring: “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!” Here, our ears are trained and opened to listen to Jesus. And here we are transfigured, from glory to glory, as we eat the bread which is Jesus’ body *together with one another* and become more and more one body with Him.

But we can’t stay. Moses has to go down the mountain to Israel, his face shining with God’s glory. Jesus and the disciples have to go down the mountain to a demon-possessed boy who needs help. We have to go down the mountain, out to the world, like the rivers from Eden, like the waters flowing from the temple, like the disciples after the transfiguration, flowing out to transform the world, not with programs and theories but with the gospel, with the proclamation of Jesus alone whom we have learned to hear.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:17 pm | Discuss (0)
September 18, 2018

“Hear Him”

Category: Bible - NT - Luke,Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

Peter has the spiritual insight, apparently, to recognize Moses and Elijah when they appear at Jesus’ transfiguration. And yet he blurts out the wrong thing. And when the Glory Cloud surrounds them and the Voice of God is heard, it says to Peter and to all: “Hear Him.” That is, hear Jesus.

And you, religious enthusiasts, are you listening? Mystical souls, impetuous natures, naive children, are you? You, worshippers of spontaneity, gropers-about in your own nebulosity, do you hear the voice from the clouds? Hear Him! That extra-sensuous insight, the immediacy of knowledge by which Peter at once recognized heaven-sent guests — perhaps you have often wanted that. But you must hasten to the Word. The Word is more than Peter’s intuition. You are jealous of his impromptu utterance, are you? You thought that mood of transporting fear and astonishment the best possible for receptivity to heaven’s verities? Hear the voice from the cloud. You must go back to the Word (Klaas Schilder, Christ in His Suffering).

Posted by John Barach @ 8:16 pm | Discuss (0)
August 8, 2018

“Do Not Resist by Evil Means”? (Matthew 5:39)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

In his lectures on Matthew 5:38-42, Peter Leithart, following Glenn Stassen, who is following Clarence Jordan, claims that Jesus is not saying “Do not resist the evil one” but rather is saying “Do not resist by evil means.” It is, after all, a dative: to ponero.

That’s pretty attractive, given that elsewhere in Scripture we are told to “resist the devil” and given what appears to be resistance of some kind to evil people on Jesus’ part throughout his ministry.

On the other hand, the verb here, anthistemi, seems to take its direct object in the dative in many many passages. Furthermore, if it was supposed to be “by evil means,” would there be an article? Wouldn’t it just be  ponero, instead of to ponero?

Greek scholars out there, is there anything to be said for the Leithart/Stassen/Jordan interpretation? Is it even possible? Or must we, however regretfully, set it aside and conclude that Jesus was indeed saying that we must not resist “the evil one” (whatever that means, and whoever that might be)?

Posted by John Barach @ 2:49 pm | Discuss (1)