Archive for the ‘Hermeneutics’ Category

For Luke the charismatic ‘Spirit of prophecy’ is very much the power and life of the church, and so probably of the individual too. It is the means by which the heavenly Lord exercises his cleansing and transforming rule over Israel as much as the means by which he uses her as the Isaianic servant to witness his salvation to the ends of the earth (Max Turner 1998:347).

The bestowing of the Spirit on Pentecost didn’t mark the end of God’s dealings with Israel and a transferring of God’s salvific dealings solely to the Gentiles, but was rather the initiation of Israel’s glory age. They were empowered to be the witnesses to the nations as prescribed in Isaiah. The height of Israel’s existence is their mission to the Gentiles and that is being fulfilled right now in these last days. There remains a distinction in ethnicity between Jew and gentile, no doubt, but both constitute a single people of God who are constituted by the same means of calling upon the name of their common Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all the nations are blessed.

Pastor Jim is preaching a series on “Salt & Light” at Cornerstone Worship Center (Nampa, ID) and  a week and a half ago took us into Acts 2/Joel 2 wherein we find the famous prophetic statement:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit,
and they shall prophesy.’”

In teaching this passage, Pastor Jim referenced a phrase that he later shared was from the ministry of Jerry Cook. The phrase is “the prophetic community.” The words resonated with me; this concept that we have an identity together that is not as much about the specific things we do, but is about who we are in the eyes of God, seemed to shift around in my soul. The idea is that, whilst visions, dreams, prophecy etc. are all realities to be expected, the instances of manifestation are not the thrust of the passage.

Part of our mission as the church (which is God’s people together, and in a specific way a locally identifiable body of believers) is to proclaim and speak forth the good news of Jesus Christ, the hope of redemption in Him, and man’s need for a Savior. In a conversation with my good friend Jon Brown he stated that evangelism is the one purpose of the church that will not continue in eternity. Worshiping God, loving one another, glorifying Jesus and finding our truest satisfaction in our Maker, these things will remain. But it is appointed once to a man the opportunity to believe on Jesus. With death comes the end of decision. (more…)

Well, I’m now a community blogger at Endued! As I read it, one of the key aims of Endued is to be a witness for the Lord Jesus to the surrounding culture. Hopefully, my musings will in some way help to advance this aim.

The context for my becoming a community blogger was my recent radio interview with Pastor Rick about my latest book, Axis of Glory. And so I thought it would be appropriate to make material in it the starting point for my initial blogs.

The book itself reflects a continuation of my thoughts connected with prior research in biblical studies I’ve done over the last few years. One area that I explore in Axis of Glory, along with The Search for Ultimate Reality, is the material in the opening chapters of Genesis, specifically chapters 1 and 2. These chapters provide a two-part look at God’s creation (first) of the universe and (second) humankind. It is an understatement to note how important this portion of Scripture is to Christian thought and life.

It just so happens that this same portion of Scripture is of keen interest to those who dialog and write about the relationship between science and Scripture. One prime example of this would be The Biologos Foundation and website (http://biologos.org/), both of which were begun by Dr. Francis Collins (among others). He wrote the best-selling book The Language of God.

It is also worthy of mention that in the upcoming spring term at Marylhurst University, I will be team-teaching an online course dealing with the interfacing of science and Scripture (my third year to do this course). The latter is also the focus of the Biologos blogs titled “Science and the Sacred”.

Recently, at Biologos, Dr. Pete Enns has posted blogs dealing with issues related to the material in the first two chapters of Genesis. He is listed as a Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for the Biologos Foundation. He is also a former tenured professor at Westminster Theology Seminary. His most recent posts have focused on the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) background of the Genesis creation account, the relationship between Adam and Israel, Paul’s view of Adam, etc.

For me, this is where my own research finds a significant area of overlap. I have started to wrestle with some of the ideas being put forward by Dr. Enns and others at the Biologos Foundation. And I think my blog posts at Endued is a place where I could make some ongoing efforts in that direction. This includes my own approach to Genesis 1, the extent to which Adam (and Eve) are to be understood as literal / historical individuals, how Paul (and Jesus) understood the person of Adam, and so on. Each of these (and other areas) are worthy of individual treatment and discussion.

Well, that’s my plan, at least initially. I’m not sure where this endeavor on my part will lead or what sort of response it will get from my fellow community bloggers & readers. This will be especially so, given the exploratory, openended nature of my musings. And, concededly, there undoubtedly will be theological rough edges exposed in the process.

The cited material comes from Robert L. Thomas’ volume, “Understanding Spiritual Gifts”. Thomas (1999:141), who is an able exegete and professor at the Master’s Seminary, evidences nonetheless a priori commitment to a systematic paradigm that influences, in my estimation, a reading of certain texts, namely Joel 2:28:

Prophets in the future will minister to people of Israel and the world at large during the seventieth week of Daniel, after the rapture of the church (Joel 2:28). They will not be the prophets described in relation to the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on members of the body of Christ because the church will no longer be on earth during that period.

Thomas’ dispensational paradigm won’t allow him to see any application of Joel 2:28 to the church, even in the face of Peter’s application of such to the “Church”. While Dispensationals will respond by stating that Peter’s application of Joel was only applicable for the nation of Israel, this ignores the fact that Peter offers the same promised Spirit to those “afar off”, to all who would repent and be baptized. 3000 Jews repented on the day of Pentecost, so one can’t say that the Joeline promise was pulled from the table because of Israel’s rejection. Israel’s acceptance opens the door for the same promise to extend outward to include even Gentile believers, which was the great scandal of the Gospel. While I admit that Peter may have been speaking better than he knew, it is clear for me, that according to Luke’s recounting the Joeline promise was distributed to Gentiles and would continue to be dispensed upon all who turn to Christ in repentance.

For Thomas to run roughshod over Peter’s application and state so clearly that Joel’s application is relegated only to Daniel’s seventieth week to a specific number of prophets who are mainly ministering to the Jewish nation is a rejection of the expansion of this promise to the New Covenant. It is a reading of Joel that ignores the fact that Peter applied it in a way that contradicts a priori hermeneutical conviction that Joel must apply to ethnic Jews and within a brief appointed time in God’s eschatological theme. Dispensationals wish to deal with the OT on its own terms, which is commendable, but almost treat the Apostolic hermeneutic of the OT as erroneous and an inconvenience. Do these Dispensationals really understand the OT better than Jesus and the Apostles?

Thomas (1999:134) also argues against the application of Joel 2:28-29 to the current New Covenant era based on the fact that not “all” prophesy:

Based on Numbers 11:29 and Joel 2:28-29, the expectation of all God’s people was that everyone would prophesy, but God has appointed only a limited number to be prophets. The idea that Christians should seek the gift as thought it were available to all is misleading if it is available only to a restricted number of Christians.

I agree that not all prophesy, but hardly see that as proof that Joel is not being fulfilled. It is like saying that the New Covenant promises of salvation being extended to all people isn’t literally being fulfilled because not all people are saved. Should we dare claim the promises to people and encourage them to seek salvation knowing that not all are saved? Thomas is presuming that to be faithful to Joel’s promise, all of God’s people must prophesy. The irony is that most Dispensationals don’t even believe that all will prophesy when Joel is fulfilled in Daniel’s seventieth week. Thomas thinks that, “The idea that Christians should seek the gift as thought it were available to all is misleading if it is available only to a restricted number of Christians.” Well, apparently Paul had no problem encouraging the Christian community to desire prophecy (1 Cor. 14:5). Peter presumed that the collective Christian community was endowed with “charismata”, including speaking gifts (1 PT 4:10-11).

If Thomas thinks it erroneous for Christians to be so mistaken as to dare seek prophecy, he stands in contradiction to Paul and Peter. Paul and Peter apparently didn’t share Thomas’ exegesis and theology on this point. Prophecy is not only available to the Christian community, but they are actually encouraged to seek it. While not all will prophesy, this is hardly proof against the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29, which Peter seem convinced was the best explanation for the observed behavior on Pentecost. Who are we to believe in this matter? I would encourage Thomas and dispensational to stop accusing folks like me of altering the literal meaning of “all” in Joel 2:28-29 when there is Apostolic precedent that the text wasn’t understood, nor applied in that manner.

As much as I disagree with a Covenantal view of Joel’s application within the New Covenant, they at least view Pentecost itself as fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. While they restrict the fulfillment to Pentecost, they prove more faithful to Peter than the Dispensationals do.

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Sweeney, M.A. (2000). The Twelve Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (vol. 1). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

M.A. Sweeney (2000:174) likens the outpouring upon Israel as a reconstitution of His people of sorts, hearkening back to creation and the work of the Spirit amidst the cataclysmic events:

Indeed, the image of the Hamsin/Sharav appears to underlie much of the imagery of cosmic transformation in this passage, but it is combined with the imagery of prophecy once again to demonstrate the interrelatedness of the natural and the human worlds in the book of Joel….The list of persons involved, sons and daughters, elders, young men, slaves and maid servants, is intended to be comprehensive. This phenomenon appears to project a return to a much earlier or ideal time prior to the establishment of Israel as a nation ruled by a king in its own land, such as the Exodus and wilderness period when the seventy elders of Israel began to prophesy when the “spirit” of G-d descended upon them (Num 11:25) or the period prior to the time of Samuel and the emergence of the first king, Saul, when 1 Sam 3:1 states that the word of YHWH and visions were rare at that time.

Sweeney (2000:174) adds the following:

To a certain extent, the passage attempts to portray a return to a state prior to creation, either of the natural world order or of the nation Israel, which of course enables both YHWH and Israel/Judah to start all over again on a new basis. The portents in the heavens and on the earth recalls both the use of heaven and earth as the comprehensive designation for all creation (Gen 1:1; 2:1,4) and the actions of YHWH in the Exodus narrative that forced Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves and that prompted the creation of Israel as a nation and its covenant with YHWH (Exod 6:1-9; 7:1-7).

Sweeney (2000:175) continues:

The images of “blood, fire, and columns of smoke” appear to be destructive at first sight and suggest the motif of YWHW’s battles against the nations that oppress Israel in the following passages. But these images are also the images of the altar at the Jerusalem Temple….Once the animal is slaughtered and prepared for the altar, it is set on fire and consumed entirely, resulting in a thick column of smoke that will stand over the site of the Temple complex. Although the imagery is destructive, it is also constructive in the sense that the Temple sacrificial ritual is intended to maintain or restore the order of the created world. In a similar manner, the Hamsin or Sharav that darkens the sun and causes the moon to appear red as blood is both destructive and transformative in that it marks the transition from one season to another; one reality is destroyed as another emerges. Altogether, such transformation in both the natural and the human world is labeled as the coming “Day of YHWH” in verse 4 [NRSV:31].

Pentecost therefore marks the commencing of judgment on the “old era”, which is passing away, and the inauguration of the “new era”, which is ever closer to its full consummation.  The signs and wonders surrounding the crucifixion, ascension, Pentecost and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem on 70 A.D. also marks a destructive work on the “old Israel” and the constructing of a “new Israel” that will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The “last days” as a whole also have cosmic consequences as the “old earth” is literally passing away and is yet being renewed.

The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository CommentaryThe late Dr. Raymond Dillard, who served as Professor of O.T. at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philly), penned a great commentary on Joel that is included in the McComiskey edited work on the Minor Prophets. I have quoted extensively from it in my thesis research and thought the following couple quotes were quite bold coming from a Westminster prof:

Dillard (1992:295) encourages the modern church to consider the implications of being a “prophethood of believers” in addition to the Protestant emphasis of the “priesthood of believers”:

Protestant theology is accustomed to speaking of the “priesthood of all believers”; perhaps in light of Acts 2 and Joel 2:28-32, we must also speak of the “prophethood of all believers.” The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost inaugurated a new age, the age when Moses’ prayer is realized and all God’s people are endued with the Spirit of prophecy. The possession of the Spirit would never again be the restricted preserve of a few; all who call on the name of the Lord (2:32) now have the equipage and the obligation incumbent upon prophets to bear witness to their generation.

One would naturally inquire as to what this ought to look like in the New Testament church, and Dillard (1992:295) sounds much like modern Pentecostal/Charismatics when he states the following,

“This enduement with the Spirit of prophecy belongs to the general office of the church—rich and poor, young and old, male and female; the privilege of proclaiming God’s truth to a waiting world is not the province of the special office alone.”

I refer to myself as being Covenantal-Charismatic, in that I see Pentecost not merely as a foreshadowing (Dispensational), or as a complete fulfillment (Some Covenantal), but as an inauguration of a “new age” (to use Dillard’s terminology) that is not marked merely by a soteric working of the Spirit, as awesome as that is, but is also accompanied by a Charismatic enduement. Just as Dr. Doug Oss (a Westminster grad turned Assemblies of God seminary professor) argued for a Pentecostal understanding of the “new era” based primarily on the covenantal framework  (See Zondervan’s Counterpoint Volume) that he learned at Westminster, so I also contend for the clear unification of Covenantal and Charismatic theologies. I am encouraged that Dr. Dillard also enumerated some conclusions on Joel’s text that sounds awfully close to the Covenantal-Charismatic paradigm that I think deserves more attention.

After chronicling the Americanization of Calvinist and Methodist theology, Mark Noll in America’s God turns to American biblical hermeneutics, the way that Americans read the Bible, in Chapters 18-20.  Noll argues that the American approach to Scripture in this period also came from both their Protestant heritage and their revolutionary/early national circumstances.  Noll has argued that republican government and commonsense moral ideas replaced the traditional authorities that held sway in the colonies, and that society was becoming increasingly democratic.  Evangelicalism often followed these trends even as it created what Noll calls “a formidable Christian civilization” (437) out of the former colonies, displaying a willingness and sometimes even a preference to work in the wide-open marketplace of religious choices, offering a view of human nature that owed quite a bit to Scottish Enlightenment ideas, and expressing theology in language drawn from Enlightenment and republican ideas.

These historical developments impacted the way that Americans read the Bible, Noll argues.  As the American Revolution and the democratizing forces that came from it laid waste to traditional authorities and evangelical churches expanded their membership, American culture displayed great devotion to “the Bible alone.”  This meant that the plain meaning of Scripture could be understood by the average person without help from theological traditions.  Noll notes that Americans rarely cited the Bible itself to justify this way of interpreting the Bible. He calls the American style of interpretation “a Reformed, literatal hermeneutic,” which had three basic characteristics:

  • an adherence to the Reformed tradition that the whole Bible was important as a guide for all of life
  • a belief that the Bible was plain to all people without help from tradition; Noll quotes Restorationist Alexander Campbell to illustrate this point: “I have been so long disciplined in the school of free enquiry, that, if I know my own mind, there is not a man upon the earth whose authority can influence me, any farther than he comes with the authority of evidence, reason, and truth…. I have endeavored to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before me” (380)
  • a belief that because the Bible was simple, it offered simple solutions to “problems in theology, morals, and society” (384)

But this hermeneutic did not provide simplicity on the subject of slavery.  In fact, theologians and others in the North and South could not reconcile their respective commonsense readings of the Bible with each other.  In fact, the American hermeneutic favored the Southern position: slavery was clearly in the Bible and rules were given to govern it in both the Old and New Testaments.  This meant that some abolitionists, like William Lloyd Garrison, rejected the Bible completely.  Consequently, this made other abolitionists vulnerable to the charge that they too were faithless.  Noll shows well how pro-slavery interpreters could back up their positions using the American literal hermeneutic.

He doesn’t show as well how the anti-slavery evangelicals believed that their own reading of the Bible as anti-slavery was literal, but he does give the general arguments that they used.  They tended to either argue that American slavery was different and worse than slavery in the Bible or, more commonly, that the spirit of the Bible condemned slavery even if the letter did not.  This second view distinguished between the facts recorded in the Bible, which were not to be taken as encouraging all recorded behavior, and the moral teachings of the Bible.  But these views generally did not hold up in debates against theologians who defended slavery.  Noll argues that the Civil War had the elements of a theological crisis that American theology simply could not solve.

There were other theological perspectives outside of these competing evangelical alternatives.  Interestingly, Noll also argues that British and Canadian evangelicals, who did not share the American hermeneutic, often found it strange that Christians could defend slavery.  African American theology tended to be very Bible-centered, but tended to look at the broader biblical story.  Roman Catholics criticized Protestant individualism and claimed that the authoritative interpretation of the Church could solve the debate.  Lutheran and German Reformed theologians in American tended to look to their theological traditions while also becoming Americanized.  None of the American traditions had the cultural capital to make much difference, Noll believes.

The one theological school that Noll gave a chance of impacting the debate was the conservative Reformed, such as the Old School Presbyterians.  He gives the examples of Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary and Robert Breckinridge.  Both came to the position that though the Bible allowed for slavery, larger biblical principles pointed the way to abolition because of the sinfulness of the practice of the Southern slave system (Breckinridge) or the biblical limitations on slavery that ultimately undermined the system (Hodge).  But Noll believes that this perspective could not overcome the power of the Reformed, literal hermeneutic.

Noll closes Chapter 20 with a great reflection on American “common sense” about race in the 19th century and how this interacted with ideas about slavery and the Bible.  He argues that while defenders of slavery looked at the letter of the Bible to defend slavery, they allowed their common sense about the inferiority of blacks to overrule the Bible’s teachings on race.  Hence, defenders of slavery were quite comfortable in asserting that not only was slavery divinely sanctioned, but black people were meant to be slaves.