The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New by Greg K. Beale. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, December, 1994.
Yes, I have posted this before, but Greg Beale’s book The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? was, indeed, one of the books that most influenced me post 1994. Actually, I was able to take Beale’s course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (back in the mid 80s) on the use of the OT in the NT, and many of these articles and essays in this book were part of the curriculum and required reading. Furthermore, our small upstart seminary here in Fairfield, CT, The New England School of Theology, has started offering exegesis courses and this book is now part of the School’s small library—and should be read by its students! As well should be by every serious student of the Bible.
The battle over hermeneutics seems to be wage on this one issue: How did the New Testament writers use the Old Testament?
In one volume, Greg Beale, formerly of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (and one of my professors), but now at Wheaton Graduate School, has compiled twenty-two articles, each dealing with various aspects and concerns over the use of the Old Testament in the New. Beale writes,
“The purpose of this book is to present various perspectives concerning the hermeneutical issue whether or not Jesus and the apostles quoted Old Testament texts with respect for their broader Old Testament context” (7).
Each essay is from a well-known scholar in the field who seeks to answer the question did the New Testament writers quote or refer to Old Testament passages that are consistent with or contradictory to the original Old Testament passage and context? The reader will find this volume extremely helpful. The essays are not just theoretical; they show how the authors apply their hermeneutical or linguistic perspective(s). This book is quite unique for it unswervingly focuses on “exegetical methodology instead of theology” (9).
Beale admits that more space is given to articles arguing in favor of the New Testament using the Old Testament text contextually. Although this view is offered at various levels and with varying nuances throughout the literature (see the “Selected Bibliography”), it is the minority view (but gaining wider acceptable and acknowledgement). Thus, Beale purposely chooses more voices affirming and demonstrating that New Testament writers were faithful to the immediate and broader contextual concerns of the original Old Testament writers. Nevertheless, the breadth of perspectives these essays offer will help the reader to enter the discussion with integrity.
Understanding of this subject is a must for students of the Bible. Since the integrity of the Christian message is wrapped up in the integrity of the New Testament writers, this hermeneutical and exegetical issue (debate) must be entered by all who profess to teach and proclaim the Gospel. Please don’t allow the high quality and technical nature of some of these articles to cause you (our Bible students and pastors) to overlook this volume—the issue is too great to be ignored by all “users” of the Bible! Greg Beale has done a great service to the Church by compiling these essays and making them accessible in one volume.
A serious afternote: I have a concern that there is such a push today for relevancy and to pitch the preached word to its lowest denominator so everyone will understand or relate to it, there is actually a famine of God’s word in the land. I encourage any pastor or lay-leader who googles into this site, or who are my regular visitors, to not put off the academic nature of some of my Book Shelf picks, in particular this one by Greg Beale. The people whom we preach to don’t have to read them, nor do they have to wade through the material to respond to Christ or His Word. But you should.
“The reason that Christianity is the best friend of Government is because Christianity is the only religion that changes the heart.” ~President Thomas Jefferson
I am perplexed, appalled, and heavily burdened over our current state of affairs here in this country of ours. I am working my way through Matt Taibbi’s recent Rolling Stone Magazine essay, “Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?,” on how in the world did all the financial geniuses who cooked their books, mismanaged and stole people’s investments, and lied about their companies’ finances haven’t faced criminal charges, avoided jail, and received insignificance—if any—fines for their dirty deeds—and, yet, received plenty of millions in bonuses and still remain wealthy and at-large. What troubles me is that while these criminals found protection and bailouts by the very governing powers now in place that claim to be “thinking of the well-being” of the average American, has threatened to abandon the very safety-net services through the Community Action Agency (or Community Services Block Grant) network that the poorest and most affected of those who lay on the bottom of the pile these financial criminals made. Taibbi writes,
“Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth — and nobody went to jail.”
Nobody went to jail—and most still remain wealthy and unaffected by this financial calamity. Meanwhile, the poor—and, yes, of course multiple middle class citizens, many who now are showing up at the 1,200 Community Action Agencies that President Obama wants to wipe off the map (and fellow Tea Partiers should take note and be the first to defend Community Action, your members are going to Community Action Agencies for help!)—now face devastating family crisis and demise.
My tension is heightened by another aspect that this mess has revealed: While we conservatives affirm and promote the free market system (or a return to it), there is still an unholy, self-serving benefit in the realm of the political influence welded by the powerful and prosperous industries. In Taibbi’s recent book Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America, he outlines very well how we got in this financial mess. At the end of his chapter on Obama’s healthcare reform (a misnamed reform if there has ever been), referring to its passage, Taibbi writes, the “new vision for America’s industrial economy” will be “one in which companies compete not on price and quality but in political influence, and earn profits not by attracting customers with good service, but by using the power of the state to protect markets and force customers into the fold” (Griftopia, 205).
Now turning this slight jeremiad of mine toward the Christian community, I am perplexed at our non-response to this financial mess, how we got here, and our complicity in accepting the status quo (heck, our ministries and mega church business benefited from the buffed up financial charade the financial whiz kid criminals provided for us). No one among us has gone to jail either. What I do hear from Christian (leaders and lay alike) is the condemning of the greed, but accepting freely the benefit the previous prosperity gave the church. (Witness the mass production of so-called Christian goods and multiplied mega and large church ministries—the wealth of church budgets and the prosperity of much of the evangelical community.) One would suspect that to speak against the market is tantamount to speaking against God Himself and to affirm the Christian community’s responsibility to the poor and economically vulnerable is to commit sacrilege and openly threaten “our way of life.”
The Apostle James pointed out:
“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:25-27).
The Christian community is called to be doers
and not just hearers
. And the content of the doing
is defined and given for the reader (i.e., the listener
) in the nearby reference to care for the orphan and widows, the biblical terms for the economically vulnerable.
While the American evangelical church community enjoyed the benefits of the prosperous years preceding the financial crash of 2008, we trusted in the deceptive equivalent to the biblical mantra “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jeremiah 7:4). Overlooked is the context of Jeremiah’s warning to God’s people and their misplaced trust in their self-identifying claim to be—just that—God’s people, namely the cause for the warning: The community of God was complicit in the oppressive condition of the orphan and the widow and was guilty of trusting in idolatrous lifestyles. We read,
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, ‘Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house and proclaim there this word and say, “Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the LORD!’” Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail” (Jer 7:1-8).
The Christian community should be the first to rise up as advocates for the economically vulnerable—crash or no crash, prosperity or no prosperity.
Don’t take me wrong, nor simply as a despising critic of our capitalistic and free market system (of which I enjoy, benefit, and believe is worth defending, in part). I do believe our American economic system can offer the best benefit to the widest range of citizens. But that isn’t the foundation or call (or burden) placed on the Christian community. Rather than protecting our church budgets, our current suburban lifestyles (which was the result of the prosperity offered by the financial charade created by our criminal whiz-kids of the financial industry, politicians, and, frankly, ourselves), the Christian leadership and laity should be doing the one thing they can be assured is biblical, advocate for the poor and economically vulnerable. Sitting there and watching, allowing injustice to continue is, simply, unChristian.
“On May 26, 1703, election day, [Solomon] Stoddard preached ‘before his excellency, the governour, the honoured Council and Assembly,’ and his fellow clergy on ‘The Way for a People to Live Long in the Land that God hath Given Them.’ The subject was survival. The text was the Fifth Commandment: ‘Honour they father and they mother, that thy days nay be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee’ (Exodus 20:12). The commandment taught, as the Puritans had conventionally argued, to honor not only parents but ‘all who are in authority,’ including civil rulers and clergy. These were God’s representatives on earth. To honor them was to honor God. Survival and prosperity depended on honoring God” (Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M. Marsden, p 12).
How about that? Just imagine the 21st century, American clergy preaching to their State and local governments—freely and as a part of the cultural norm. Anyone who says that the Church did not have a role in the founding of America and that the so-called “wall of separation” between religion and the state was what the founders intended, doesn’t know our history. Any interpretation of our First Amendment ought to be, at least, good exegesis of the original intent. (It is interesting that our framers saw fit to put Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, AND Freedom And right to petition government for redress of grievances in the same amendment! And the lead one at that!) Events like the one described above affirm the prophetic voice of the pulpit and preacher in our beginning of days as a country. I also found it interesting that the topic was family, and that even our Christian forefathers of the new world understood the dynamic between survival as a “country” and how God’s Word made compulsory the importance of the hierarchy of the most important social unit—the family. Revival was also necessary for Stoddard’s grandson, Jonathan Edwards’ and their newly settled New England world. We haven’t had an awakening like the first two in the 1700’s and 1800’s (the second with men like Timothy Dwight, former President of Yale and a Pastor in Fairfield, CT, in the lead). I wonder if it is possible, today? Preaching today can’t address the governor or local councilmen, nor does it seem to move us toward discipleship that pushes us to affront the powers for righteousness sake; but in fact such times when our pulpits do address the powers, it seems more geared to help us as Americans learn to live more comfortably in our wayward and fading culture and demand that our level of comfort be sustained. This is not righteousness.
“That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:1-9).
I knew I’d be frustrated, itchy, uncomfortable. Here we go again, I said to myself, another message where the messenger was applying the parable of the Sower as if Jesus was actually telling me and other “poor soiled” people, to change our soil (that is, change our hearts). “Be good soil.” Simply put: it ain’t there in the text—nowhere, nada, isn’t even hinted at. Totally made up. Every time a preacher or a teacher or Christian writer says this, its not true—this “interpretation” and this applicable command (to change my soil) is simply not in the text no matter what we twist or spin. And I don’t care who says it, whether it is John MacArthur (whom I have heard preach it that way), my own pastor, or my best friend. Such a view of Matthew 13:1ff (and Mark 4) is a grid—an idea—placed on the text, not one derived from the text.
You can read my Rough Cut exegesis of Mark 4 , “The Sower who sows,” for yourself or my article found in the Africanus Journal on “Wasted Evangelism” (p. 39). I also believe the same exegetical conclusions can be made of the Matthew 13 text—and even more so. What interests me here is the way the following six parables, all in chapter 13, are almost totally ignored as to what Jesus (and Matthew) is getting at. And, when they are considered, there is little attempt to make a connection between the “interpretation” of the first (i.e., the parable of the Sower) with the “interpretation” or obvious conclusions of the last six.
The following six parables are about the harvesting or the value of the Kingdom—the end product of the age of “sowing,” the way the kingdom spreads despite difficulties and enemy sowing, the wideness of the reach of the Kingdom, and the value of the Kingdom (a value often hidden), and a separation of the harvest, that is what is bad and what is good. The parables are: Tares among wheat, vv 24-20, 36-43; the mustard seed, vv 31-32; the leaven, vv 33-35; hidden treasure, v 44; a costly pearl, vv 45-46; and a dragnet, vv 47-52. Each parable helps explain the nature of the others, and it is said, “If you don’t get the first one” (i.e., the Sower), how can you get any of them. If read in context, without placing a “heart” or “change your soil” grid over the text (which isn’t there in the first place), the hearing is for disciples to participate in the actions of the Sower—to follow the mission of the Sower. And, to add to the tension, the drama of the gospel story, Matthew records an immediate encounter as “Jesus Revisits Nazareth” (vv 52-58) and finds “poor soil” among His own family and hometown. Why didn’t he just tell them, “Change your soil?”
As my wife said once said as she was reading through the Matthew text, “I see it, just sow the seed no matter what. It is about the sowing. We’re not to determine what kind of soil we are sowing on.”
The one who has ears to hear, let him (or her) hear. We need to hear from this text, that is we who are Jesus’ followers, His disciples, that we, too, are to be about the business of His Kingdom, sowing the seed of the Gospel, despite obstacles and enemy sowing, and let God care for the soil. The Master Sower knows what He is doing; for those who have ears to hear, we follow the Master Sower.
Holding in my hands the hard copy of the Africanus Journal and turning to the pages (p 24-43) that contain an article I actually wrote (“Idolatry and Poverty: Social Action as Christian Apologetics”)—heck, a piece of writing of mine that someone wanted to actually publish for all the public to read—is somewhat emotional for me. (Drs. Spencers have been way too gracious to me.) Yes, I have published before—in fact, a number of times (see my publication and writing page on my website). But, still, I am always overwhelmed that it happens—that I actually write something of value enough so that someone wants to put it in their publication.
Back in 1986-87, I had re-crafted a paper I did for Dr. John Jefferson Davis’s course, Theology III at Gordon-Conwell theological Seminary and tried my hand at submitting it for publication. I tried a number of possible Christian academic publications, when finally the editors of a periodical called His Dominion asked if I’d consider submitting the article for an up-coming issue. The paper was entitled, “John’s Apocalyptic Message: Another Look,” a study on the structure and content of John’s Island message to the seven churches of Asia Minor. (For a post of some of that essay click here; for a PDF, here). I had re-worked the draft and mailed it off. A few weeks later, I received a nice letter from the editor that basically stated I was “still writing for a professor” rather than “writing for a wider audience with varying degrees of theological and academic levels of understanding. Can you re-work the essay and resubmit?” Always up to a challenge, I said of course. And in a few weeks I had my second attempt—hopefully I had hit the mark.
While vacationing in Minnesota in the summer of 1987, visiting relatives in Mound, MN, I had called back home in Pennsylvania to check on the Church I was pastoring and of course, the mail. The person watching the house said I had a letter from His Dominion. “Open it!” He started reading it, “I am please to tell you that you have written a fine article and we’d like to include it in the next issue of His Dominion. I started crying. No kidding, I really did. The guy who failed most of his English courses growing up; who struggled not to get a C in college English; and who struggles with every word and is so very prone to typos and poor grammar just had his first article accepted for publication. I was overwhelmed with gratitude—I was now a published writer (or would be as soon as it went to press).
Each time I have received word that something I have written has been accepted for publication—whether an academic article, a news-paper article, or magazine essay—I find tears in my eyes. I know my mother is proud of me. That’s for sure. Although I work hard at researching, writing, (painstaking) editing and proofing, I still find it remarkable that the things I have to say through my writing are worth letting the public in on.
It seems reasonable that those in the vocations of teaching and pastoring are in a place for such publishing of Christian thought. Let me tell you it is hard when one’s profession is a number of steps removed from everything and everyday vocational ministry. My regular 9 to 5 (which isn’t always a neat 7 hours and five days a week job). Up early. Endless reading—in every room, before bed, when I wake up, at lunch. Trips to the nearby Yale Divinity School Library. (They should give me free parking by now!) Taking vacation days to research, write, and edit. All the costs out of my own pocket—no one to submit the receipts to. My daughter thinks it cool. My mother is proud of me. My step kids are amazed I’d freely take the time to do long papers when I don’t have to. But in the end, it’s just me and God—I am humbled that He’s made a way for this wayward, exiled from ministry, average guy in a “secular job” to have something to say from His Word and then, from time to time, places to publically say it.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).
Only on occasions do we sing hymns. (And by the way, when this era of choruses is done and they are passé, the worldwide Church will still be singing hymns!) Recently we sang, albeit only a line or two, one of my favorite hymns, “Amazing Love,” written by Charles Wesley. Some of the hymnals list it as “And can it be.” As we were singing it, I leaned over to my daughter Amanda and said, “When its time and I pass-away, call Eric Marx, he’s to do my funeral. He knows to have this hymn sung.” The last stanza and the chorus say it all:
And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
for me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
All these years since I first sang this hymn in 1978, these words have never ceased to amaze me. It has endured two centuries plus, outliving choruses that come and go with the winds of trends and fashion. These words, ever since the late 70’s when I began my Christian life, have been a deep source of reality for me. I always sing the words and my mind flips the pages of the Bible until I re-read (from memory) Paul’s words in Romans 8:
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…for what the Law could not do…God did.”
Did you know our English translations supply the word “did”? Thus, helping us read, “God did…” This is okay, but you should know the word “did” isn’t in the original. In fact the word “theos” (θεός, God) is left without a verb. Translators supply the verb (“did) to make it readable. But Paul was looking for impact. After the horrible condition as a sinner that Paul had discovered himself to be in (as the apostle describes in Romans 7), he cries, O, wretched man that I am, who can save me from this body of death? Then Paul’s words shout at us: “THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS!” And to emphasize the mysterious way of God in the world, Paul stresses the point that the Torah never had the ultimate ability to bring this “No condemnation” state of being into existence by simply contrasting it with one word: God. What the Torah could not do, God!