Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Science of Biblical Intertextuality

Some say that midrash or "intertexuality" is an art rather than a science. If midrash is a science what are its rules? What can we learn from the rabbinical rules of midrash? Need we take rabbinics with a grain (or perhaps a spoonful) of salt?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Wrath of God and Our Present Controversies (Part I of Series)

In Judges 2:14 we read that because the Israelites turned to other gods, “the anger of the Lord was kindled...he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them; and he sold them into the power of their enemies round about so t hat they could no longer withstand their enemies.” But then, just a verse later, we read that in response to the suffering of Israel, God in his pity “raised up judges who saved them out of the power of those who plundered them” (vs. 16). It is interesting here that instead of withdrawing the Philistines and the other enemies of Israel, to whom God himself had handed them over, he raises up both judges and kings to stand against and defeat the enemies of Israel.

This is what is happening in the encounter between David and Goliath, the story of the young shepherd boy who defeats the giant Goliath and rouses the discouraged army of Israel so that with a great shout they rise up to pursue their oppressors and drive them from the land.

And this is the background to Romans 1, a chapter that in recent days invites much controversy.
In Romans 1:18-2:3, we learn that all society is thankless, we do not count our many blessings, and so, as he did with the Israelites, God hands us over to our enemies, not enemies of flesh and blood like the Philistines, but enemies that are ethereal but even more powerful. “We fight not against flesh and blood but the powers and principalities." Paul lists those enemies in his “vice catalogue” that begins in verse 1:24: “therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts...women exchanged natural relations for unnatural and men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another.” But of course this catalogue of vices does not end there but goes to encompass envy and murder, strife and deceit, malignity and gossiping, slander and hating God, to name a few.

This understanding of Romans 1, helps me as a minister to answer some the questions that have been asked of me, especially as the debate grew heated around Proposition 8 in California.

Many have asked over the years if I thought men and women are “born that way” as ”lesbians or homosexuals.” The answer is is, yes of course that is possible. On the other there are also a large number of people, some known to me personally, who chose sometime in early adulthood to reject the opposite sex. But whether people have a genetic predisposition to it or whether they chose to go a certain way makes no difference to the apostle Paul. God can hands over ALL society even the littlest child in the womb to sins that range from passion for those of their own sex to a predisposition for deceit. Just as the littlest one in Israel was oppressed by the cruel and continual raids on Israel by the Philistines so from the littlest to the oldest we are all harassed and harried by the vices that attack us constantly.

And here I must emphasize that it is ALL society, including you and me, that have been thankless. ALL of us have been handed over to the vices that the Apostle Paul lists in Romans 1. Chief among them to be sure, is the unnatural relations between men and men, women and women. These unnatural relations stand like a Goliath above all the others but we must remember an entire army of giants is behind him! Perhaps we love and admire the opposite sex, we are not perhaps DIRECTLY oppressed by this “Goliath” of a vice, but we necessarily fall prey to one of the other giants on the list. If we are not envious, we are faithless; if we are not disobedient to parents, we are heartless; if we are not liars we are gossips. Not one of us can avoid the cruelties of the enemy that lies within and without.

But is this bad news? No! and no again I say!

When God in his anger against our thanklessness betrays us into the hands our enemies, in his pity he raises up a savior to stand against these enemies and give us the victory! God has raised up such a savior and his name is Jesus Christ of Nazareth!

He is our victory over all our enemies, including the Goliath of unnatural relations that we meet everywhere and know so intimately. But it is not just Goliath who is felled, but his many brethren. I can testify personally, I was, and am and would be in the power of many of the vices listed EXCEPT for Jesus. Except for Jesus I am bossy and mean to name just a few of my sins (some of which I believe I was born with), but that “except” makes all the difference in the world.

Many among my friends and extended family have told me that they believe there to be “nothing wrong” with so-called “gay marriage.” They say, “why not live and let live? No one is harmed.” I completely understand their point of view because I was once of the same opinion. But the Lord Jesus knows better. The Bible is as the theologian N.T. Wright points out “a love story.” How true that is, not just between Adam and Eve, but also between the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 and “Lady Zion” of Isaiah 54, between Jesus and his bride the church. There is no other book that cares so much about men and women liking and loving one another. In fact, the gospel itself is inseparable from the romance between God and Zion. We cannot proclaim the cross without proclaiming the love a man (God, the suffering servant) for a woman (Zion, the church).

Sometimes our troubles seem and indeed are, overwhelming. Our enemies, Paul’s entire catalogue of vice, poison our lives. But we are no different from the army of Israel standing utterly cowed before Goliath and their powerful enemies... and then comes someone entirely unexpected, a young shepherd going down to the stream to pick out five smooth stones for his slingshot. And suddenly when no expects it the giant falls flat, dead. And we rise up with a shout of victory, driving the cruel armies of the Philistines away. If it was such with Shepherd David, how much more is it with the Shepherd Jesus? The Israelites chased the enemy to their own gates, but with the Lord Jesus, even the “gates of hell shall not prevail.”

Monday, February 23, 2009

Verse for Us Today

Put on The Whole Armor of God

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perserverance, making supplication for all the saints.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Faith OF His Name

In most, if not all of our Bibles, Acts 3:16 reads something like, “By faith in his name, this man whom you see and know was made strong.” The apostle Peter is here addressing the crowds who have come running. He is talking of the man born lame, for 40 years a beggar at the “Beautiful Gate” who is now walking and leaping and praising God in the temple.  How was all this done? Not by the power or piety of the disciples but by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (3:13).  How was the man healed? By “faith in the name of Jesus” (NIV).  But this is not what the Bible actually says.  In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, we read, “by the faith OF his name.”  What could this mean?  Indeed many times in the Bible we see “faith of...”  The King James Version, cleaving to the original language, furnishes  some examples of this, as in Romans 3:22, Galatians 2:16 and many other places.

To understand what the “faith of the name of Jesus," we need to tell the story of faith.  One of the first times we see the word for “faith” in the Bible is with Abraham.  In Hebrew the word for faith is “emunah."  We read that Abraham “believed in the Lord” (Genesis 15:6).   For me, the word faith gets very confusing.  I have found that the word “solid” is a better translation for the emunah/faith word of the Bible.  We could then say of Abraham, Abraham was “solid” on God.  But with Abraham’s descendants it is not so.  In fact, God says specifically that they are not faithful, not “solid” on God, “they are a perverse generation, sons in which there is no faithfulness” (Deut. 32:20). How does God deal with this faithlessness, this lack of solidity?  We glimpse the answer in Deuteronomy 7:9.  Where we let the banner of faith fall to the ground, God picks it up. The word for faith or solidity is now attached only to God,
“God has caused you to go out with a strong hand, and redeemed you from the house of slaves, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.  Because of this know that the Lord your God, he is God, the faithful, the 'solid on you' God.”

But the story of faith does not end here.  Remember David: how he wanted to build a house for God but God says, “No, I will build a house for you.”  And here the word “emunah” is used again, God says that he will be faithful to the house of David, he will be solid on behalf of David’s dynasty (2 Sam. 7:16).  And in David’s prayer we begin to know how glorious this promise is.    David understands that God being “solid” on the side of his dynasty is going to be as big as the Exodus (vs. 23)  The Lord’s being solid behind  David and his seed will mean freedom and rest and peace and life for the people.

But the final scene in the story of faith is yet to come.  The prophet Isaiah has a vision.  He sees that God is indeed going to be solid behind the son of David...and how!  In his vision the son of David, this root of Jesse, is a “root out of dry ground,” a suffering servant (this suffering servant is also the Lord God, but more on that in another article!)but in the midst of his suffering, God will be faithful and loving.   To paraphrase Isaiah 55:3, God promises his people, I will give you the solid (faithful) love that I give to this root of David.   We see the effects of that faithful, “solid” love in Isaiah 53.  This Jewish man of sorrows is beaten but “by his stripes we are healed,” he dies a criminal’s death but God turns that death into something holy, an offering given by God that takes away sin.   This Davidic messiah goes to the grave but God in his love raises him up and promises that he will see his children.  God in his solid
love for the servant declares him to be “in the right” and “making many right.”to paraphrase Isaiah 53:11.  God in his solid, faithful love for his “boy” gives him all wealth, many children, victory.

And isn’t this all exactly what happened to Jesus?  Jesus the Davidic Messiah is saved in the garden, enabled to give that triumphant shout on the cross, triumphant even in the tomb, raised from the dead, exalted at the right hand of the Father.  If this isn’t totally solid love, I don’t know what is!

This is the meaning behind that mysterious phrase in Acts 3.  What has made the lame man walk and leap, is the “solidity” of the name of Jesus.  God has established, solidified the name of Jesus Anointed of Nazareth.  This is clues us in to the meaning whenever we see the mysterious "faith of Jesus," it is the solidity of Jesus, God’s solidly loving up his only begotten son.
Long ago David had prayed, Lord emunah “solidify” or “establish” your name and now God has done it.  Why did David pray this prayer?   Because he knew that where the name of the Lord is established, there is healing and David wants healing and health and life for his people.  In Acts 3 and in our own lives, David’s prayer has been answered.