Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Scholarship’ Category

September 26th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Augustine, Addiction, and Asses

At my church, we recently had a Narcan training session. For those who might be unaware, this is the treatment used as an immediate counter to opioid overdose in an attempt to save a life. As is my habit, I took some time to reflect upon these things, fully cognizant that as a recovered addict who yet remains in recovery, I have a different view than some. As a quick aside, I have always been interested in the nonpracticing Catholic phenomena. It’s similar to addiction really…yeah I am an addict, but I am not really doing anything related to it…that is what I mean by recovered and yet in recovery. I am not doing anything that involves my actively being addicted, but there is also the reality that it is a part of who I am and what has transpired, but I digress. As I was considering the spiritual implications of this training, I found my thoughts drawn to three interesting places, Saint Augustine, The Articles of Religion, and Balaam’s ass.
The story of Balaam is fascinating really. The Biblical account is fanciful (and in truth, since Shrek came out, I always read the ass’s words in the voice of ‘Donkey’), carries deep meaning, and inspiring in many ways. You can find the story in Numbers 22-25. A very short summary of the story is that Balaam has been summoned by a pagan king to curse the Jews and to guarantee a Moabite victory. God instructs Balaam not to go, Balaam says he won’t, then goes anyway, and God sends an angel to stop him which only the ass sees, and, having God opened it’s mouth, tells Balaam off for it. In fact, the ass veers off the road three times, getting beat each time, all because it saw the angel of God and was trying to save Balaam. Keep this story in mind as we move forward here.
Saint Augustine of Hippo had this really interesting idea. He would write “Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Your power, and of Your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You — man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that You resist the proud, — yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You. You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” I want to focus on the thought in bold face type. Our hearts are indeed restless until the rest in God. What then will man do to find rest for his heart? Will we throw ourselves into a job giving all of ourselves to it for the praise that comes with worldly success? Perhaps we will throw ourselves into sex, finding multiple partners, or some form of serial monogamy? Perhaps it is pornography, finding rest in the release of fantasy? Maybe it is an obsessive quest for knowledge? Perhaps it is gambling seeking the rush of winning on speculation?  Maybe it is the local church, doing so much trying to find God that you manage to miss His rest? It can be nearly anything really, and I believe that all of us have at various points in time tried to replace the rest that God will provide our hearts with any number of things. As the community of the faithful, we should understand this better than anyone else. We should also understand that it is not always a matter of sin or moral failing, but rather a side affect of the condition that we are born into that only God can provide true rest from.
The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church has this to say: “Article VII — Of Original or Birth Sin Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.” This is the condition that all of us are born into. This is the very condition that causes us to seek rest for our hearts in all manner of things that are not God. This is the condition that causes Balaam to beat his ass for veering off the road when the angel is seen. This condition is what causes Balaam to not see the angel in the road. This condition is what causes us to seek that which is not of God.

This corruption of our nature is the very thing that causes some to seek the rest that addiction promises, but does not deliver on. Yes, there are genetic predispositions and the like, but I am not speaking of biology here, nor do I deny it, but rather an speaking of the condition of our very nature that is in deep need of restoration. (Biology and the mental disease that addiction matters deeply in treating it. I am cognizant of this and do not deny it, it is simply not in the scope of this piece. You can read more about the physical aspects of addiction and my struggle with it here.)  This condition pushes to us to all manner of things, other than God, to seek rest for our hearts. Like Balaam, we are all on an ass that is veering us off the road to protect us in the form of God’s prevenient grace working in our lives. For an addict, that grace can very easily look like this.

I have heard Narcan compared to everything from EpiPens, to cancer treatments. I have heard every argument why it is that it should not be easily obtained, should not be distributed widely, and should not be openly available to those who need it. All those arguments amount to one thing…man trying to prevent the grace that God has extended to all of us from taking hold. We all have an ass that has veered us off the road we were on for our own benefit. In many circumstances, we have the chance to be the ass that veers someone off the road for their own good. In administering Narcan, for the sake of this piece, we are doing just that. We are willingly and knowingly becoming the ass that veers our rider off the road so that they may see the angel ahead of them and to allow God to be heard. We have all experienced God speaking in a way, such as through a talking ass, such as through us, that we would have never expected. It is far past the time that we stop stigmatizing another ass because it looks different than ours.
July 30th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Satan the Christian?

My family and I are incredibly lucky that a pastor sought us out. Out faith was solid, we had been attending church, but not any one in particular with regularity. A pastor extended us an invitation, no strings attached, and was never pushy, but remained persistent. It was wonderful. Since being involved in this church, we have been blessed by friendly and faithful people, Wesleyan preaching, and a family that we do not otherwise have for the most part. Most recently, the sermons have been inspired by a fairly famous quote from John Wesley. “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”  Imagine that, pastors who are not only committed to trying to do this, but is not trying to do this second hand, or as a result of something else, but is challenging and leading his congregation to become those 100 preachers. It is amazing. I know that other pastors do this, but it seems less and less are trying and that to often those who do try are sort of attempting it on the sly and not as the primary goal. To be fair, that may just be my impression however. I certainly mean no offense to pastors and their individual styles of course, I am simply trying to explain how much I appreciate my pastors and their willingness to take this head on. As always, my opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the church that I attend, or the source material that inspired these thoughts.
So on Sunday, in a service where baptisms were performed, and the special music was amazing (my wife sang, so of course it was), an incredibly profound sentence was spoken by the pastor during the sermon. I do not remember the quote directly, but it went something like this. If the only thing that you need to do to be a Christian is believe that Jesus is the son of God, then even Satan can be called a Christian. There is a trend toward the belief that one does not need to go to church to be a Christian, yet scripture, the book of Hebrews specifically, seems to disagree fairly strongly. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised),  and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) 
Looking at verse 23, we find the instruction to hold fast to our baptism. I am not going to reprint my thoughts on that here, but I encourage you to take a moment to read them. Wesley would comment in his New Testament notes, “The profession of our hope – The hope which we professed at our baptism.” An important part of our Christian faith is then rooted in baptism, but not simply the act of baptism, the profession of what we believe that called for baptism in the first place. Yes, all should be baptized of course, but yes, all should know what they are professing at baptism either as the one being baptized, or as those entrusted with raising the child being baptized. By the way, the congregation participates too, so you have a part in this. The congregation needs to remember these things and live up to their vows made at baptism as well.
Verse 24 is pretty straight forward on the surface of it. Provoke one another to love. Seems easy enough all in all, save that we rarely seem to understand or agree on what ‘love’ means these days. We have lost the understanding that the audience of Hebrews had about love. (More on love here. ) Consistently throughout both the Old and New testaments, love is tethered to obedience to ordinances and commands of God. We should provoke each other to follow the commands of God, to communion, to baptism, to the instructions of Christ (which are the commands of God of course), etc. Also, we should provoke each other to good works. This is also the message of James, though I dare say James puts it more bluntly. “My brothers, what profit is it if a man says he has faith and does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,   and if one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them those things which are needful to the body, what good is it?  Even so, if it does not have works, faith is dead, being by itself.   But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith from my works.  You believe that there is one God, you do well; even the demons believe and tremble.  But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:14-20) No, this is not works based salvation, but that is a different discussion for a different day. Here James makes very clear that good works are a vital part of the Christian faith.
Finally we come to verse 25, and really the crux of all of this I do believe. Wesley would say: “Not forsaking the assembling ourselves – In public or private worship. As the manner of some is – Either through fear of persecution, or from a vain imagination that they were above external ordinances. But exhorting one another – To faith, love, and good works. And so much the more, as ye see the day approaching – The great day is ever in your eye.” Yes, Christians assemble together for public and/or private worship. It isn’t an option.
Christianity is not always easy. If someone told you it was, I am sorry. It’s easy to know what to believe above Christianity really, but it is not easy to live the life of faith that we are called to. We are called to a faith that is better than that of the demons and Satan, their master. We are called to the faith of Jesus Christ and His Bride, the church. Simple logic says that we can not wait upon Christ, the Bridegroom, if we are not a part of the Bride. In truth, if we are not devoting our time to the Bride, then we are in effect guilty of the same adultery that God divorced himself from Israel for. (see Jeremiah chapter 3) Brothers and sisters, I would have us all live the faith the God, through Christ, has called us to, and not the faith of the adversary. It may not be a pleasant truth, but it is a truth none the less: If we are not living the faith of Christ, through the church, then we are serving the faith of Satan.
March 30th, 2018 by John Fletcher

When you come to the Communion Table, make sure you’ve left Egypt

In God’s covenant with Israel in the Torah, he provided the people with liberation, societal structure, laws and a calendar, all for the ordering of their new lives of freedom. In this calendar, God designated three major feasts: Passover, Weeks and Booths. While all three have instructions for celebration, Passover (פֶּסַח) receives the largest and most detailed treatment.  Passover’s importance appears immediately God’s arrangement of their new calendar around it, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you,”[6] and the language designating its repeated observance, “you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.[7] Unlike the other two feasts, God included a prohibition against anyone outside of the covenant community celebrating it, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it. . . A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it.”[8] These items provide sacramental status to Passover.[9] “These sacramental signs served as covenantal markers to define the people of God, remind them of their relationship to him and each other, and focus them on their duty to live as a peculiar people among the nations.” [10]

Appreciating Passover as sacrament helps us understand the instructions for its celebration. As a means of grace given by God for the communication of his love, Passover connects the people to God via the tangible. As a sacrament, the instructions for its observance would be known theologically as Words of Institution. These Words explain the meaning of the rite, the way God acts in it for the people, and instructions for repeated observance. For Passover, Exodus 12:12-17 contains these words. Furthermore, because Jesus forever united Passover to his passion, death and resurrection in the Eucharist, a proper understanding of the later Eucharistic Words of Institution[11] begins not in the Gospels, but in Exodus 12. As Pitre writes, “If we are going to be able to see Jesus’ actions through ancient Jewish eyes, we first need to study the meaning of the Passover itself, both in Jewish Scripture and in Jewish tradition.”[12]

Exodus 12:12-17 is the center of the longer discussion of Passover. What Exodus 12 describes is Israel’s memorialization of their redemption by God, with specific attention God’s actions in the tenth plague, the slaying of the firstborn. Also, it provides the foundational commands for its continued ritualistic memorial.  The received text of Exodus 12 provides the context for understanding the feast.

Thus, with this background in mind, we move toward the specific group of verses for study.  I’ve provided them with my new translations.

Verse 12

For on that night, I will pass through (from one side to the other) the land of Egypt, and I will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human and animal, and on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.

This verse contains the one of Passover’s key themes for study: judgment. Here, the writer links the killing of the firstborn to God executing judgment, specifically judgment on Egypt’s gods. Pictured here, as the climax in this battle to redeem Israel from Egypt, is the idea that God asserts his supremacy. While the ultimate outcome is Israel’s freedom, the objective seems the vindication of God himself. In this assertion, God states his divine name, as if his own character is the reason for this enterprise. God now reveals himself to the world through his action of deliverance. Through the plagues, God brings judgment on Egypt’s pantheon of gods, and specifically on Pharaoh, who is god on earth, punishing him for his brutality of God’s people.

Verse 13

And the blood on the houses where you are will be a sign for you. For I will see the blood, and I will pass by (spare) you, and there will not be any plague to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This verse details the purpose and meaning of the blood which God instructed the Hebrews to put on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. The blood will be a sign. This word, usually translated “sign,” carries multiple meanings: “mark,” “token” or “signal” in the secular sense, and “miracle,” “omen” or “reminder” in the religious. In this verse, all the meanings may mingle, especially because it is paired with the application of blood and sacrifice.  Nahum Sarna uses sacramental language as he comments, “the blood was simply to function as an outward, visible sign . . . an identity symbol; the entrance to the house with such a symbol is now a portal of freedom.”[22] The blood (and the sacrificial lamb) served as the mechanism by which God would spare or pass by the house. Because of the blood on the door, the plague of death will not come to the house.

Verse 14

Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it as a festival to The Lord for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute.

With verse 14, the context shifts from the first Passover to instructions for the nation to observe a yearly festival devoted to the remembrance of God’s actions on their behalf that day. Passover is a feast of remembrance. Sarna writes, “The Hebrew stem of z-k-r connotes much more than the recall of things past. It means, rather, to be mindful, to pay heed, signifying a sharp focusing of attention upon someone or something. It embraces concern and involvement as is active not passive, so that it eventuates into action.”[26] Here, God’s instructions for future observance have a particular participatory feel. The celebrant becomes not only a part of the later festival, but somehow also invested in the action the festival memorializes. The traditional text of the Haggadah of Passover describes it well, “In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he personally had gone forth from Egypt.” Thus, each person through history has a connection to every generation before and after, i.e., “for your generations.”

Verse 15

Seven days, you will eat only matzoth (unleavened bread). On the first day, you will remove leaven from your houses; indeed, you shall exclude from Israel anyone eating khametz (leavening) from the first day until the seventh day.

Here begins the detailed information about the use of unleavened bread in the observance of the festivals. While the bread appears in the detailed observance of the first Passover (vs. 8), the commands for the perpetual observance contain specific prohibitions against eating anything leavened for the length of the holiday. Coupled with verse 17, “observe and keep the matzoth” these strict rules about leaven add an authoritative atmosphere to celebration. What is it about using unleavened bread that requires such regulation? Khametz carries a meaning of fermentation and leavening. Sarna explains the significance:

Because the prohibition on leaven has wider application than that of the Passover, it is likely that the process of fermentation was associated with decomposition and putrefaction, and so it became emblematic of corruption. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to associate such a symbol with a sacrificial ritual whose function was to effect conciliation between man and God and to raise man to a higher level of spirituality.[33] In other words, leavening implies sin. To remove leavening from the house during the feast could be understood as a command to holiness, a practical reminder of the later commands in the Levitical Laws.[34]

Verse 16

The first day shall be a holy assembly, and the seventh day shall be a holy assembly. You will do no work on those days. Indeed, you will only make that (food) which everyone will eat (for that day).

What does it mean to be an Israelite? Those who mark themselves according to the covenant claim that status. In the previous argument that Passover carried sacramental status, we noted that a sacrament defines and separates a group that observes it. This verse connects these words in Exodus 12 with specific language in Leviticus 23:4-7. There, the writer focuses on the distinction of Israel from the rest of the world: holiness. This word appears eleven times in chapter 23 and 69 times in the entire book, the most in any book of the Hebrew Scriptures: sanctification matters. To make this sanctification a reality, God commands no work be done except that which is necessary to eat. Only Sabbath and Yom Kippur have more stringent laws about work. For a culture enslaved for over 400 years, the idea of days of rest is very foreign. God forges something dramatically new in the life of a people newly liberated.

Verse 17

Thus, you will observe and keep the matzoth; for indeed, in that very day, I brought your multitudes forth from the land of Egypt, and you will guard the very day permanently, forever.

This final verse forms a neat closure to the discussion, providing the full rationale for the observance of the festivals. The key word in this verse, the verb, translated here as “observe and keep,” has a very active meaning. Strong’s defines it “to hedge about (as with thorns)”[36] Similar uses appear all over the Torah regarding keeping of all the ordinances, and regulations of the Mosaic Law. God is insistent that Israel keep this festival to remember it.

So what?  Why does this matter to Christians and their observance of the Lord’s Supper.  We’re not Jews after all.  Not so fast.  There are three themes for study: perpetual remembrance, sacrifice and judgment.

“Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it . . . for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute . . . you will guard the very day permanently, forever.” Verses 14 & 17 indicate that the Israelites should keep Passover in perpetuity to remember the miraculous redemption from Egypt. God wants to guarantee that Israel forever understands the remarkable way he redeemed them.  Jesus and the disciples participated in this event at the Last Supper. Jesus took the full measure of meaning found in the Exodus, connected it to his passion, and spoke these words, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”[38]  Here appears, the fusion of Passover language with the words of institution for the Eucharist. Christ commands the disciples to forever connect the memorial of the redemption of Exodus with the memorial of the redemption of Calvary. To “observe and keep the matzoth,” now reaches fullest expression in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist. Paul’s language in Corinthians completes the full range of meaning when he comments, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”[39]

God’s interest in connecting the perpetual memorial of the Exodus with the perpetual memorial of the Passion necessitates celebrating the Eucharist properly fusing both. It seems that Christians, gentile or Jew, should also celebrate Passover, in a fashion that memorializes the Exodus in the context of its fulfillment in Christ. In fact, the earliest Christians understood the feast this way. “The celebration of [Easter] began life as the Christian version of the Passover, observed on the same day as its Jewish antecedent and focused upon Christ as the paschal lamb who had been sacrificed for the sins of the world . . . set within the context of the whole of the Christ-event, from his birth to his expected second coming.”[40]

Passover is about sacrifice.  The lamb, sacrificed, eaten with blood smeared becomes the vehicle through which the Israelites receive redemption. Through the ritual, God wants his people to tangibly unite themselves to his actions on their behalf.  This gives wider meaning to Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 5, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival,”[42] as well as his words in chapter 10, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”[43]  Passover is a festival about redemption through sacrifice and blood.  The Eucharist’s enactment should focus on Christ’s atonement through blood in light of God’s miraculous rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt.

Passover is also celebration, a joyous festival! While solemnity certainly has its place (Ex. 12:16), God has redeemed with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Celebration of the Eucharist should not be overloaded with heavy penitential attitudes, but instead be a joyous occasion because God has overthrown and judged the evil of the world in Christ. God’s character means that he cares about oppression, evil and false gods: “on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.” Passover displays in vivid clarity that God will be supreme. Christ displays this as vividly as the Exodus, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”[45]  This is the classic Christus Victor view of Jesus’ atonement.

Therefore, to celebrate the Eucharist in light of the Passover, imbues it with a sense that Christ has conquered all the evil and false gods (Jn. 12:31).  Furthermore, the Eucharist must envision eschatological hope, so that when the Passover yearns for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Eucharist answers with, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”[47]  In this way Exodus 12:17, “on this day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt,”[48] becomes the fulfillment, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”[49]

Exodus 12:12-17 provides not only a vision of God’s work to redeem Israel, but a foundation for how Christians should see the ultimate redemption in Jesus Christ. For Christians to “unite themselves to God’s redemptive history, and consequently to the nation of Israel,”[50] they should understand the roots of the sacrament given to them, and how to celebrate it in a way that honors the fullness of redemption in the Jewish Messiah given as the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.[51]  The words of institution of the Passover provide the basis necessary to celebrate the richness of the Eucharist.  To understand the character of God in the redemption of Christ, one should begin with the character of God in the redemption of the Exodus.

 

 

 

END NOTES

[1] Num. 9:1-14

[2] Deut. 16:1-8

[3] Josh. 5:10-12

[4] 2 Kgs. 23:21-27/2 Chr. 35, Passover was restored under Josiah, where the chronicler wrote, “None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah” (ESV). In 2 Chr. 30 Hezekiah celebrated Passover as a two week festival to emphasize its importance in Israel.

[5] Ezra 6:19-22

[6] Exod. 12:2, NASB

[7] Exod. 12:14 & 17, NASB, emphasis added.

[8] Exod. 12:43 & 45, NASB.

[9] For a detailed treatment of how Old Covenant ceremony constitutes Old Covenant sacrament, see Matthew Sichel, “Sacraments Reimagined: Fulfillment, Continuity and the New Israel,” Evangelical Journal 34, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 1-17.

[10] Ibid., 10.

[11] Generally understood as Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 11:17-34, but echoing instructions from Jesus in the synoptic Gospels.

[12] Brant James Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (New York: Doubleday, 2011), 50.

[13] See, for example, Eckart Otto, “Pasah,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 12:9-19.

[14] Ibid., 9-10.

[15] Hendrik L. Bosman, “Pesah,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 3:643.

[16] John E. Hartley, “massa,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 2:1067-1068.

[17] Donald E. Gowan, Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 134.

[18] Exod. 5:2, CJB.

[19] Richard Schultz, “spt,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 4:219.

[20] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus =: [shemot], The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 56

[21] Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: the Origins of Biblical Israel (New York: Schocken, 1996), 97.

[22] Ibid., 96.

[23] Bosman, 642; Otto, 2-7.

[24] Cf. uses outside of the context of Passover, Isa. 31:5, 2 Sam. 4:4, 1 Kgs. 18:21, 26.

[25] Otto, 5-6.

[26] Sarna, Exodus, 13.

[27] All quotations from the Haggadah come from the English translation in Joseph Loewy and Joseph Guens, Service for the First Nights of Passover (Vienna: Jos. Schlesinger, 1927), 28.

[28] Leslie C. Allen, “zkr,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 1:1102.

[29] Otto, 21.

[30] Loewy, 3 & 27.

[31] Isa. 1:17, CJB, emphasis added.

[32] Ps. 71:4, CJB, emphasis added.

[33] Sarna, Exploring, 90, again notice the sacramental language Sarna uses here.

[34] See Lev. 17-26.

[35] Sarna, Exploring, 81.

[36] James Strong, ed., The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), s.v. “8104. shamar.”

[37] Sichel, 15.

[38] Lk. 22:19 & 1 Cor. 11:25, NASB, emphasis added.

[39] I Cor. 10:16 & 11:26, NIV, emphasis added.

[40] Paul F. Bradshaw, “Easter in Christian Tradition,” in Two Liturgical Traditions, ed. Paul F. Bradshaw, vol. 5, Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 1.

[41] Otto, 18.

[42] 1 Cor. 7b-8a, NIV.

[43] 1 Cor. 11:25, NIV.

[44] Loewy, 29.

[45] Col. 2:15, NIV.

[46] Jn. 12:31, NIV.

[47] Rev. 21:2, NIV.

[48] Exod. 12:17b, JPS.

[49] Rev. 21:3, ESV.

[50] Ibid., 15, see also Rom. 10 and Paul’s discussion of grafting.

[51] Cf. John 1:29 & 1 Cor. 5:7

March 26th, 2018 by Daniel Rodriguez

Holy Roar is not a great book part 5

Here are parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

For BH nerds, this is probably the most interesting chapter in Tomlin and Whitehead’s Holy Roar. That’s not to say it’s a good chapter. But, if you chase down all the BH claims made and read more in the grammatical and lexicographic literature on /barak/ in BH, then you’ll find there’s whole lot here that most folks don’t talk about much in church. What does it mean to bless the Lord?

 

Christian music moment: I grew up in the Houston area and was introduced to Robbie Seay’s music as a child. I’ve seen him live many times and I even enjoy his worship music even though I don’t like the fact that worship music is a genre separated by lyrics and that when we praise the Lord and bless his name somebody who is not the Lord gets the physical blessing of a royalty or portion of a licensing fee. Anyway, Robbie Seay has a translation of Psalm 134 that is probably my favorite modern version. Every time I think about the phrase “bless the Lord” this song gets into my head and its exciting because Robbie is a great artist. So, when Robbie tells me to bless the Lord and that piano is pounding and it makes me want to move, what is he telling me to do?

 

As with all the other BH words in Holy Roar, the authors have also misprinted ברך /barak/ and have instead printed something that isn’t able to be properly transcribed because the mistake is so egregious and nonsensical in BH. It is clear through the mistake that what is terribly printed might, if you’re drunk, be pronounced /karab/ because, like the others, it’s printed backwards. However, unlike the others, the authors have now started a BH word with a final form, the final /kaf/ ך. Some BH consonants are written differently if they occur at the end of a word rather than at anywhere else. The כ /kaf/ is one of these. Instead of being curved on the right side, the final /kaf/ ך is a vertical straight line down on the right side. BH students learn the difference between regular consonants and their final forms in the first lesson on the BH alphabet. This kind of mistake shows that the authors not only are not competent in BH, but they have likely never taken a single BH class. It is disturbing then for Whitehead to claim (p34) that he “read” anything in the “Hebrew of the Old Testament”. It literally only takes one class to not make this mistake that is made with the printing of ברך.

 

On to the fun stuff.

 

As is generally Whitehead’s method of study, he collapses all the usages of the root /barak/ on top of each other as if they are all equally used in the way they are distributed. Untrue. Actually, as with many other cases that we have seen, the different semantic usages of the root are exclusive to certain verb stems. Or more simply, he again wants to force meanings from one stem on to another. Whitehead copies-and-pastes Strong’s Concordance and claims that /barak/ means “To kneel. To bless God (as an act of adoration). To praise. To salute. To thank.” He then uses this information to claim that /barak/ means to kneel before God and so that should also be our posture in worship. This claim assumes that the root word /brk/ was first used as a verb for “kneel” and then over time, because of the association with kneeling and devotion, came to also be used to mean “worship/praise/bless”. However, recent scholars disagree.

 

More recent lexica with better methods have separated these different usages of /barak/ into two different words in their lexica: /barak/ 1 and /barak/ 2. /Barak/ 1 only occurs in the Qal and Hifil stems as an active verb and means “to kneel” (in the Qal stem) or “to cause something else (a camel) to kneel” (in the Hifil stem). So, the more thorough lexicographers do not accept the etymology that the authors use to make their claims about how we should posture ourselves before God.

 

However, the authors of Holy Roar are not the first to make this claim about /barak/. Others have also speculated that /barak/ was first used as a verb for “kneel” and then later came to be used as a verb for “worship/praise/bless”. It has long been a folk etymology passed around that has not stood up to the scrutiny of modern scholars. Nevertheless, it’s worth a look into. The NIDOTTE theological lexicon of BH states that the “traditional association of ‘kneel’ and ‘bless’ derives from the assumption that the person who was to be blessed knelt to receive the benediction” (Vol. 1, p740). In the ancient near east (=ANE), a social higher could bless a social lower, but the idea of someone lower on the social scale blessing someone above their class did not happen. All blessing language from religions surrounding ancient Israel have gods blessing humans and humans blessing each other, but certainly not a human blessing a god. That literally never happens in the ANE except in the Hebrew Bible.

 

This means that if /barak/ 1 and /barak/ 2 are indeed the same word (meaning, if “kneel” and “bless” are indeed the same word), then the correct posture of kneeling is for the one who is getting blessed, not the one doing the blessing. This means that not only do we bless the Lord, and it is a foreign and strange idea for a human to bless a god, but we also would be saying that the position of kneeling is for the Lord to take so we can bless him. After all, if the one being blessed takes a knee to receive the blessing, then it would be God who kneels when we bless him. This is another reason lexicographers reject the idea that “kneel” and “bless” are in fact the same word because we kneel before God, he does not kneel before us, they argue.

 

The authors use a few references from Psalms to support their claims.

 

Psa 100:4

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

And his courts with praise!

Give him thanks!

Praise (Bless /barak/) his name! NET Bible (with my parenthetical note for clarification)

 

This instance is a Piel imperative of /barak/. It is a command to bless the name of God, Yahweh. The authors suggest that as this means the command to bless God it simultaneously is also a command to kneel before him. One wonders how this might actually be done in the context of Psalm 100. How can a worshipper kneel while also entering his gates and courts? Did ancient Hebrew people really understand this use of “bless” as “kneel” when moving from one place to another?

 

Psa 72:11, 15

11 All kings will bow down to him;

all nations will serve him…

15 May he live! May they offer him gold from Sheba!

May they continually pray for him!

May they pronounce blessings on him all day long! NET Bible

 

The authors use Psa 72:11 and 15 as another support for /barak/ as both “bless” and “kneel”. However, the verb /barak/ only occurs at the end of v15. The verb translated as “bow down” in v11 is a completely different verb (that is worth discussion in its own right, cause its weird, but suffice to say that it is not /barak/) and so some might mistake that translation “bow down” as a reason to understand /barak/ as both “bless” and “kneel”.

 

As NIDOTTE says, the one who kneels is receiving the blessing. This is why the kings of the earth bow before the Davidic King in Psalm 72. They bow in a position to receive a blessing from the King in Judah (in v11 with a “bow/worship” verb that is not /barak/ (the verb is a form of /hishtachavah/ if you must know)) because he does so many great things, as vss 12-14 describe. In v15, the King’s subjects will now bring him tribute and pray for him and bless him. This is a human-to-human blessing and there is nothing in v15 that specifies posture. This is also evidence in fact that /barak/ in v15 does not mean “kneel” since the Davidic King is the one receiving the blessing. If his subjects bless him and to be blessed means to be kneeling because kneeling is the position of receiving blessing, then that would mean that the Davidic King is the one on his knees receiving the blessing. This would be contrary to what is stated in v11. It is not the Davidic King who bows, but the other kings who are his subjects. They bow /hishtachavah/ and then they bless (/barak/) the king. This suggests, as more recent scholars have concluded that /barak/ should rightly be considered two words (/barak/ 1 and /barak/ 2) and the etymology of “kneel” related to “blessing” should be rejected for BH. That etymology might have been the case in other languages, but it is not the case in the Hebrew Bible.

 

The authors state (p74), “Scholars of the ancient Hebrew provide additional insights into the word /barak/. They believe that in the original context, the term did not simply mean bowing down. Instead, it carried the connotation of bending low while keeping one’s eyes fixed on the king.” They do not state which scholars say this. There is no other reference for this chapter except for Strong’s, and this statement does not come from Strong’s. So, how can Whitehead credibly claim that scholars state this? Actually, as shown above, scholars do not agree that /barak/ means both “bless” and “kneel”. It is good that Whitehead is not falsely attributing this to someone who has not said it (as he did in the previous chapter). However, this claim is simply not true. Scholars do not that this is what /barak/ means. It is more likely that Whitehead created this himself and wants there to be scholarly support of this statement, but there is not.

 

Whitehead then moves to use his new definition of /barak/ as “be transfixed” as the proper way to read /barak/ in Psa 103:1-2, 20-22. These are indeed commands to “bless” or “praise” God, but there is nothing explicit about posture, despite what Whitehead claims based on dubious etymology.

 

Actually, in many places, /barak/ explicitly does not mean “kneel”. In fact, in many occasions, standing is the correct position to take when one blesses (/barak/s) the Lord. In Psa 134:1 (the Robbie Seay psalm), it says “Bless the Lord all you servants of the Lord”. A parallel word for “servants” is “the standers” (substantive participle of /’amad/) or “the ones who stand”. In this context of Psa 134, “the standers” are the ones who minister in the Temple through the night. They are to bless the Lord while they are doing their ministering work which is called “standing”. This is not so much a posture as it is an office. The “standers” had various tasks within the Temple to perform. The idea that they would be on their knees while blessing the Lord as they do their tasks is incorrect and silly.

 

Also, in Neh 9:5, Levite priests commanded an assembly of Israelites to “stand” and “bless the Lord”. The correct posture in this context was not kneeling, but on one’s feet. The use of “bless” /barak/ here cannot mean also to kneel. This example shows that the idea of “kneeling” is not connected to the verb /barak/ when it is used in the Piel stem as a verb of blessing. The etymology espoused in Holy Roar simply does not stand up to the biblical evidence of how /barak/ is used.

 

Like others, this chapter is based on bad etymology that not only is no longer accepted by scholars, but the etymology used was not even applied to theology in the right way. I’m having fun doing the Hebrew in this series of reviews. But I’m very ready to be done with this book.

 

BTW, if you, or Chris Tomlin or Darren Whitehead, want to learn biblical Hebrew, it can be easy and relatively cheap. There’s lots of help available to us today and the only problem we run into is our own prioritizations. I do not think that all Christians must learn to read BH, just those who want to write books about it or have their exegesis taken seriously.

 

@dageshforte

ancientbiblepodcast

March 23rd, 2018 by Daniel Rodriguez

Holy Roar is not a great book part 3

Here are parts 1 and 2.

The third chapter of Holy Roar is dedicated to the BH verb /zamar/. However, the authors have actually printed /ramaz/ in BH, which is not a word in BH (However it is, with metathesis for /razam/, a word in Mandean which means “to wink with the eyes”).

 

This chapter is not as bad as the other chapters in terms of method. Whereas with /yadah/ and /hillel/ the authors incorrectly collapsed all meanings in different stems on to the root word, they have not done so here. /Zamar/ in the Piel stem in BH indeed means “to sing praise” and is most often used in the Psalter. However, it is also used in the Qal and Nifal stems meaning “to prune” or “be pruned”, respectively. There is also a usage in BH that derives from Arabic that in verb form refers to (a gazelle) jumping and in the noun form to the animal (gazelle) itself. It is commendable that the authors did not collapse unrelated meanings on top of the root and then teach something silly like /zamar/ means to sing praise to God while jumping like a gazelle. I’m glad they knew to not do that. But then I wonder, why did they not know to do that with /yadah/ and /hillel/?

 

Whitehead states that /zamar/ is used 41 times in the Hebrew Bible, including both in the Psalms and in narrative. This is incorrect. A simple search on any reliable Bible software (like Accordance, BibleWorks, or Logos) shows that /zamar/ occurs 54 times over 50 verses in the Hebrew Bible. The authors show in their Notes that they use Logos Bible Software. However, the only resource they cite is Strong’s Concordance. We are only left to conclude that instead of investigating the usage of /zamar/ for himself, Whitehead simply copied and pasted what he found in Strong’s. This is not a reliable method and it is misleading of him to claim that he “read” things in “Hebrew” (p34), when his claims clearly don’t line up with Hebrew (not even in the way they printed Hebrew words).

 

Chapter 3 gives a handful of examples of the verb /zamar/ being used to symbolize music-making. The authors rightly note that music can be a powerful tool for many purposes: to set a mood (2 Kgs 3:15-16; note: /zamar/ is not in this verse, just the idea of music as important), to relieve stress (Psa 57:7), and to bring people together in worship (Psa 7:17). The only mistake made here is the reversion back to incorrect data on /yadah/ as it is used in Psa 7:17. Psa 7 says nothing about posture or what one should do with their hands. Lifting the hands and /zamar/ are not related in the text as the authors suggest here.

 

I was surprised that the authors did not take this chance to talk about the most frequnelty used word in BH that is built from the root /zmr/. That word is /mizmor/. Can you see the “z”, “m”, and “r” in /mizmor/? That is the root /zmr/ (with vowels, pronounced /zamar/). /Mizmor/ is the technical term in the Bible for a psalm. When we read in the superscriptions “A psalm of David” (as in Psa 3 for example), that word for “psalm” is /mizmor/ in BH.

 

This is vitally important for understanding the role of Psalms throughout history. In fact, the primary way that people have learned their theology has been through singing. People often treat the Psalms as simply the worship songs for ancient Israel. As if the important stuff where elsewhere and Psalms is just the songbook. The evidence from history says something different. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are approximately double the amount of copies of Psalms than the next most copied book of the Bible (Genesis). There are 20-21 copies of Genesis in the Dead Sea Scrolls while there are 36 of Psalms (according to Tov’s book p96-97. Note, some online resources cite 41 scrolls for Psalms) . The evidence shows that people used Psalms more often. Most of the time when ancient people engaged with the Bible, it was with a /mizmor/.

 

This should not be taken by us as a lesson on how we should posture ourselves physically when we sing together. Rather, it should be taken as a lesson by us on how artful and powerful the songs we sing should be. We should have high standards for our songs. When we sing together, we must recognize that we are teaching people what we believe. This is will be the primary way that many people learn. Since it is so important, we should take our songs seriously and encourage our artists to be bold in their music. Song writers can be the world’s most impactful teachers. So make worthy psalms.

 

@dageshforte

ancientbiblepodcast

%d bloggers like this: