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Intended Allegory in the Song of Songs?

For a number of years now learned interpreters of Scripture have been telling us that the Song of Songs is (primarily) about human love. I put the word primarily in parentheses in that last sentence for a reason. I had grown so accustomed to the emphasis on human love in the Song that I had begun to assume that’s all modern commentators said about it. As I was recently pondering this, I went back and looked at what they actually say. They typically add a word like “primarily” or “mainly,” leaving the door open to a spiritual meaning of the Song. But then when they get into it, all they talk about is human love.

In this post I want to pose a question: is it possible that Solomon intended the Song to have an allegorical layer of meaning?

Usually when you suggest that the Song is about something more than human love, people roll their eyes and write you off as a prude.

I’m not a prude, okay?

I do think the Song is about human love, and I think human love is great. Really great! I love my wife, and I can’t get over God giving us something so surprising, so pleasing, so good as marriage. Everything that happens within the context of this comprehensive interpersonal union of one man and one woman being one flesh is better than any of the perversions people use to ruin it. So I’m on board with human love in the Song.

My question, though, is whether there’s more to the Song than merely human love, more that Solomon, whom I take to have written the Song (cf. Song 1:1), intended his audience to get from this piece of poetry. I’m not out to defend the history of interpretation by asking this question, but it is worth observing that the idea that the Song has a spiritual meaning has been, well, dominant across the ages. Is there exegetical evidence for it, though?

Let me note that by allegory I don’t mean something terribly complicated. Let’s stick with a simple definition from “a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.” This seems to work for the way Paul uses allegory in Galatians 4:24.

So here’s the simple proposal this post is inviting you to consider: is it possible that Solomon intended to represent the spiritual relationship between God and his people through a poetic depiction of the human relationship between the King and the Bride in the Song of Songs?

What could have prompted Solomon to think of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as being analogous to human marriage?

Well, in Exodus 34:14–16 Israel is already being warned not to “whore after their gods.” By describing idolatry with the language of prostitution and sexual immorality, Moses is talking about the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as though it is a marriage. So this way of thinking about God’s relationship with his people is well established prior to the time of Solomon, and it continues after Solomon, not least with Hosea, where when Hosea marries Gomer, Hosea plays the part of Yahweh, Gomer the part of Israel.

So I think we can be confident that biblical authors prior to and after Solomon were thinking about a spiritual meaning of marriage, recognizing an analogy between human marriage and God’s covenant with Israel. Is there more specific evidence?

Psalm 45 is perhaps the closest analogy to the Song of Songs in the Old Testament, being a wedding song for Israel’s king. The Psalm begins with a celebration of the king in Psalm 45:1–9, then concludes with an address to the princess marrying the king in 45:10–17. As the psalmist extols the greatness of the king, he says in Psalm 45:6, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” showing—at least—a very tight connection between Yahweh and the king who represents him. With a statement like this in Psalm 45, and with other texts in the OT communicating a very close connection between Israel’s God and Israel’s king (e.g., Num 23:21; Isa 9:6; Jer 23:6; Hos 3:5; Mic 2:13; 5:4; Zech 12:8; 13:7) it would seem natural—not forced or fanciful—to see an analogy between the King and his Bride and Yahweh and Israel in the Song of Songs.

What about evidence that later OT authors might have read the Song this way? Is there anything that points in that direction? The King in the Song is regularly called the Bride’s “beloved.” This particular Hebrew word means different things in different contexts. In some contexts it means “uncle.” It is not often used outside the Song of Songs the way Solomon uses it in the Song. In fact, the only place outside the Song of Songs where the word is used with the same meaning it has in the Song is Isaiah 5:1, where Isaiah writes, “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard.” What follows in Isaiah 5 makes it clear that Isaiah is referring to Yahweh as his beloved. Given the fact that the only Scripture in which the word is used this way prior to Isaiah is the Song of Songs, it would seem at least possible that Isaiah’s thinking about the Lord has been influenced by the Song, with the result that Isaiah refers to the Lord the way the King is referenced in the Song. A related form, though not exactly the same Hebrew word, is used in a similar way, with reference to the relationship between Yahweh and Israel, in Jeremiah 11:15, Ezekiel 16:8, Psalm 60:5 (MT 60:7)/108:6 (MT 108:7), and 127:2.

There is more that could be said. For instance, the king’s procession to the wedding in Song 3:6–11 seems to have been crafted to recall Israel being led out to Sinai for the wedding between herself and Yahweh, who would dwell with her in the tabernacle and lead her by the pillar of fire and cloud. But the strongest argument for this way of thinking about the Song, it seems to me, comes from Paul telling the Ephesians what marriage is ultimately about in Ephesians 5:32, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Yahweh married Israel at Sinai. When she broke the covenant by whoring after other gods, she was eventually exiled, with the prophets promising a renewal of the broken marriage (see esp. Hos 2:14–23), a new covenant (Jer 31:31–34). Jesus came calling himself the Bridegroom (Matt 9:15), being recognized as such by the Baptist (John 3:29), and laying down his life for his bride (Eph 5:25) that she might be clothed in white linen for the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:7–8).

The Song of Songs is a poetic summary and interpretation of the Bible’s big story: the descendant of David—king of Israel about whom the promises of 2 Samuel 7 were made (promises resonant with the blessing of Abraham from Genesis 12:1–3, promises that will be realized through the one whose descent can be traced all the way back to Adam, who can thus be identified as the promised seed of the woman from Genesis 3:15)—renews an eden-like intimacy between himself and his Bride, reversing the affects of the fall (cf. Gen 3:16 and Song 7:10). All this is fulfilled in Christ Jesus, son of David, Yahweh incarnate, the one greater than Solomon (Matt 12:42), who initiated the new covenant between himself and his bride, the church, and who will return for the grand consummation when the Bride herself, the new Jerusalem, will descend from heaven having the glory of God (Rev 21:9–11).


This post originally appeared at

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Inner-Biblical Allusions

Here’s the body of a post from Charles Halton with a link to what looks to be an interesting article (haven’t gotten to it yet but hope to eventually) and a nice summary of it that resonates with an approach I’ve taken myself:

Jeffery Leonard: Identifying Inner-Biblical Allusions: Psalm 78 as a Test Case. It’s quite an interesting and helpful study which he divides into two parts: evaluating evidence for textual links and determining direction of influence. Here are the points that he considers under the two parts.

Evaluating Evidence for Textual Links

  1. Shared language is the single most importantfactor in establishing a textual connection.
  2. Shared language is more important than nonshared language.
  3. Shared language that is rare or distinctive suggests a stronger connection than does language that is widely used.
  4. Shared phrases suggest a stronger connection than do individual shared terms.
  5. The accumulation of shared language suggests a stronger connection than does a single shared term or phrase.
  6. Shared language in similar contexts suggests a stronger connection than does shared language alone.
  7. Shared language need not be accompanied by shared ideology to establish a connection.
  8. Shared language need not be accompanied by shared form to establish a con­nection.

Determining Direction of Influence

  1. Does one text claim to draw upon another?
  2. Are there elements in the texts that help to fix their dates?
  3. Is one text capable of producing the other?
  4. Does one text assume the other?
  5. Does one text show a general pattern of dependence on other text?
  6. Are there rhetorical patterns in the texts that suggest that one text has used the other in an exegetically significant way?
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Review of Moyise, Paul and Scripture

Steve Moyise, Paul and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010. 151 pp. $21.99, paper.

Published in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15.4 (2011): 79–81.

The best thing about this book is its interaction with modern scholarship. The best thing about the book’s interaction with modern scholarship is the final chapter on “Modern Approaches to Paul’s Use of Scripture.” In this chapter Steve Moyise summarizes recent attempts to understand Paul’s use of the OT by describing scholars according to three categories: intertextual approaches, narrative approaches, and rhetorical approaches.

The intertextual approach of Richard Hays seeks to pay close attention not only to the texts Paul explicitly quotes but also to the ways other texts are alluded to, evoked, or echoed. Moyise reproduces the criteria Hays has set forth for assessing allusions, and he also discusses the work of Timothy Berkley.

The narrative approach of N. T. Wright holds that Paul taught people to read the OT “in the light of an overall narrative framework” (117). This seeks to put the fragments of Scripture that might be echoed or alluded to into the wider storyline Paul seems to assume. Here Moyise also discusses work done by Ross Wagner, Sylvia Keesmaat, and Francis Watson.

The rhetorical work of Christopher Stanly suggests that Paul’s audience would not have known the OT well enough to make either the intertextual or narrative explanations work, and Stanley seems to hold that Paul is simply trying to “enhance his stature among the Romans and increase their openness to his argument” (122). The work of John Paul Heil is briefly reviewed under this heading as well.

I am convinced that Paul is not simply out to score rhetorical points, and that he is saturated with the Scriptures (Hays), which he does read in light of a typological understanding of the narrative flow of Israel’s history (Wright).

As he discusses modern authors, Moyise is careful to understand what they are saying, and it is clear that he shares their general outlook and thought-world. As he discusses Paul, it is clear that Moyise is not trying to describe Paul’s worldview so that he himself can embrace that worldview and interpret the Bible and life in line with it. The chapters that precede the final one are driven more by the modern scholarly discussion than by a sympathetic attempt to trace the contours of Paul’s symbolic universe.

Moyise appears to think that Paul’s world-view is now defunct, and thus his arguments no longer work. He writes, “the advantage of ‘solution to plight’ for modern readers is that Paul’s arguments might still have value now that the theory of evolution makes it impossible – for most people – to believe in a literal Adam and Eve. If Paul is making deductions about Christ and salvation based on the facticity of the Adam and Eve story, it is hard to see how they can continue to command support” (29). Similarly, Moyise writes, “The early Christians lived in a world that was thought to be governed by gods and spirits” (52).

Moyise not only rejects Paul’s worldview, he rejects Paul’s own understanding of Scripture. Discussing Francis Watson’s views, Moyise writes, “Modern scholars recognize this as a reference to the exile, and written by those who witnessed it. Deuteronomy is not a unified book by Moses but a collection of traditions, some of which date from a much later time. But Paul would have read it as a prophecy that though blessing through obedience to the law is a genuine offer, it will in fact lead to curse” (70).

On a related point, if one were seeking a “rationale for Paul’s use of the Adam–Christ typology,” one might look to the OT itself. That’s not where Moyise looks. He looks to the scholarly guild. Moyise writes, “According to Wright, therefore, the rationale for the Adam–Christ typology is that Jewish tradition had already associated Israel with Adam . . . as far as we know, it was Paul’s innovation to connect Adam with Christ” (21). If Moyise had gone deeper into the OT itself, he would find that the biblical authors themselves viewed Adam as a prototype. Moreover, the authors of the OT present subtle indications that other characters are installments in the pattern of what happened with Adam. We find these indications with Noah, Abraham, Israel, Boaz, David (cf. Ps 8), and Solomon (1 Kgs 4:24, 33). If David is connected to Adam in Psalm 8 (and cf. Gen 1:26–28 with Ps 8ss and 8:6–8), then when Paul makes a connection from Adam to Christ, he is simply taking his cues from interpretive moves already made in the OT.

Moyise never says that the ideas of modern scholars are “strange,” “unusual,” or “arbitrary.” Rather than use these kinds of descriptors, he patiently tries to understand what these authors mean, seeking the inner logic of their claims. He could show Paul the same courtesy. Instead, he writes (italics mine):

  • “It is unclear what led Paul to describe Christ as the ‘last Adam’,” (20),
  • “Paul strangely talks about the effects of Adam’s sin on ‘the many’. . . (24)
  • “God then makes a covenant with Abraham, involving a rather strange ritual of fire passing between the carcasses” (32).
  • On Galatians 3:6–9, “What is surprising about this argument, from a Gentile Christian’s perspective . . .” (35). On the next page he presumes to offer Paul some help: “Would it not be more appropriate to say . . . ? Perhaps, but that does not appear to be Paul’s concern here” (36).
  • “Such an interpretive move could be seen as arbitrary” (37).
  • “Paul uses a quasi-linguistic argument . . . This is a strange argument for two reasons . . . it is fallacious since sperma (‘seed’ or ‘offspring’) is a collective singular, meaning descendants. Not only is it false . . . the context also makes it quite clear that a plurality was intended. . . . How can Paul think this argument is convincing?” (41).

If I were reading a book about the way that Virgil made use of Homer, I would not need the author to tell me Virgil’s outlook was different than my own. If I want to understand Virgil, what I am looking for in such a book is an explanation of Virgil’s agenda from Virgil’s perspective. If the author repeatedly told me that Virgil’s views were strange, if he told me that modern mythology is superior to Virgil’s, I might suspect that the modern author operates from the bias that his own way of viewing the world is superior to Virgil’s. This does not advance historical understanding. The modern author does not have to believe that Aeneas was descended from a goddess, but he can explain how that concept fit within Virgil’s worldview, what influenced the idea, and what significance it had in Virgil’s world. I want the scholar to show me how these things made sense to Virgil. I can decide for myself whether I think them strange, unusual, or unclear.

In addition to the issue of historical understanding, there are theological issues at stake for Christians thinking about the use Paul made of earlier Scripture. People looking for an explanation of Paul’s use of the OT that probes the primary sources for the deep structure of Paul’s understanding of the Bible and the world, an explanation that does not jump to the conclusion that Paul’s claims are “arbitrary” and “fallacious,” will have to look elsewhere. These matters are not morally and spiritually neutral. Christians believe that everything depends on the Bible being true. What hope do we have if Paul’s arguments do not make sense?

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On the Third Day

This also appears as a guest post on the Crossway blog this morning:

The Lord called Abraham to take his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loved, up to Mount Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering there. As Abraham left the men who were with him, he said, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and we will come again to you.” Evidently Abraham thought that after he sacrificed Isaac, God would keep the promise through Isaac by raising him from the dead—that appears to be what the author of Hebrews thought, anyway. When they got there, the angel of the Lord stayed Abraham’s hand and a ram was provided in place of Isaac.

The beloved son was offered and the sacrifice provided “on the third day.”

God brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. He brought them through the Red Sea and the trackless waste to Mount Sinai, where he would enter into a covenant with the people he had redeemed for himself. Then the Lord called Moses up onto the mountain while the people waited below.

God came down on the mountain to make the covenant “on the third day.”

The Philistine king had given David refuge from Saul’s rage, granting him the city of Ziklag. When the Philistines mustered for war, David was dismissed from their ranks and returned to find his city raided, his wives and children captives. David pursued the enemy and fought to free his bride, rescuing her from the clutches of the plunderers.

David returned to Ziklag “on the third day.”

The Lord had declared to King Hezekiah that his life was at an end: Hezekiah would die. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and the Lord sent Isaiah to Hezekiah to tell him that his prayers had been heard, that he would be raised up, restored to life. That he would not die immediately but live.

Isaiah told Hezekiah that he would go up to the house of the Lord “on the third day.”

Hosea told Israel that when Yahweh exiled Israel it would be like a lion striking down a man. Being driven from the land, driven from the presence of the Lord, would be death to the nation. Violent death at the paws of a lion. Death, however, would not be the end.

“After two days he will revive us,” Hosea declared, “on the third day he will raise us up.”

Haman manipulated the king into decreeing a slaughter of the Jews. Meanwhile Esther, a Jew, had been raised up as queen. She had the opportunity to intercede with the king for the lives of her people.

Esther went before the king to plead for the lives of her people “on the third day.”

Jonah was commissioned to call Nineveh to repentance. He disobeyed, and it took him being cast into the great deep for the storm of God’s wrath to be stilled. A great fish swallowed Jonah, and when he called on the Lord, the fish gave Jonah back to the dry land. Then Jonah proclaimed repentance to the gentiles, and they repented.

Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish.

There is no prediction in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be raised from the dead on the third day, but when Paul says that Jesus “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” he’s not referring to a prediction. Paul is referring to the fulfillment of these patterns:

Jesus is the beloved Son and he is the substitute, fulfilling the pattern seen in Isaac.

Jesus has inaugurated the new covenant in his blood, fulfilling what took place at Sinai.

Jesus has rescued his bride, taken captivity captive, and given gifts to men, fulfilling the pattern seen in the narratives of David.

Jesus was restored to life on the third day, fulfilling what happened with Hezekiah.

The death of Jesus fulfilled the wrath of God poured out at the exile. Jesus is the man who represents the nation, struck down by the lion to be revived after two days, raised up on the third.

In a way that far exceeds what Esther did, Jesus has gone before the supreme ruler to make intercession for those who belong to him.

And like Jonah, after three days and three nights Jesus returned and called the gentiles to repentance.

All the promises are yes and amen in him, all the patterns find fulfillment in him, and all the shadowy types have their substance in him.

We confess with the saints across time and around the world: I believe in God the Father Almighty . . . and in Jesus Christ his only Son . . . on the third day he rose again from the dead . . .

He is risen!

He is risen indeed.

See Genesis 22:4 (Heb 11:19); Exod 19:11, 16; 1 Sam 30:1; 2 Kings 20:5; Hos 5:14–6:2; Esth 4:16, 5:1; Jonah 1:17; 1 Cor 15:4

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God: The Merciful Judge

This past weekend it was my privilege to be in Fayetteville, AR, at University Baptist Church. I spoke on the theme of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.

These talks seek to summarize the Bible’s big story, highlighting the promises that generate the typological patterns.

The talks are now available on UBC’s website, or you can use these links:

God:The Merciful Judge – Session 1 [ 47:38 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 2 [ 51:08 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 3 [ 45:19 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 4 [ 42:22 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 5 [ 38:30 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
The Doctrine of Election – A Q&A Panel Discussion [ 1:02:24 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Jeremiah 16 [ 48:16 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
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Jeremiah 7: Indictment of Unrepentant Israel (with some temple typology)

As I indicated in a previous post, it seems that Jeremiah 1:18–19 and Jeremiah 6:27–30 are bracketing Jeremiah 2–6 as a unit in which there is a progression from Israel’s sin to Israel’s rejection for their refusal to repent.

This would place Jeremiah 7 at a strategic juncture introducing the next section of the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah cycles through a call to repentance, an indictment of sin, and an announcement of judgment three times in chapter 7:




7:1–7, Israel Called to Repentance: You Trust in the Temple but Deny It with Your Actions 7:16, Don’t Pray for Them (Repent!) 7:21­–24, Repent of Your Worthless Worship: Your Deeds Nullify Your Sacrifices
7:8–11, Judah Breaks the Ten Commandments 7:17–18, Judah Worships Other gods 7:25–28, Israel Rejects the Prophets and Jeremiah
7:12–15, God Will Judge the Temple as He Judged Shiloh 7:19­–20, The Temple Will Be Judged and All Creatures Will Suffer 7:29–8:3, Judgment on the Generation of God’s Wrath

The first two statements of judgment (Jer 7:12–15 and 7:19–20) speak directly of the destruction of the temple.

The third description of judgment uses the imagery of the visitation of wrath enacted by Josiah in 2 Kings 23 to describe a future visitation of wrath. From the context, this visitation of wrath also pertains to the coming destruction of the temple, but imagery is used in Jeremiah 7:33 that will be used by John to describe the judgment Jesus will bring at his return in Revelation 19:17–19.

So a past visitation of wrath, what Josiah visited in 2 Kings 23, is being used to point forward to the future visitation of God’s wrath that Jeremiah is describing, which in part is the destruction of the temple that will happen in 586 BC. I say “in part” because another destruction of the temple will fulfill what Jeremiah is describing, the one Jesus spoke of in John 2:19–22, and both of these point also to the visitation of wrath Jesus will bring when he returns in Revelation 19.

Jeremiah is preaching in the temple (Jer 7:2), he indicts Israel for making the temple a den of robbers (7:11), and then he warns of the destruction of the temple (7:14). Jesus quotes Jeremiah’s “den of robbers” line when he cleanses the temple (e.g., Mark 11:17) because the wicked in Jesus’ day are like the wicked of Jeremiah’s day and because the judgment visited on the temple in 586 is a type of the judgment to be visited when Jesus, the replacement of the temple (John 2:19–22), dies on the cross.

In the midst of the third description of judgment, Jeremiah speaks of “the generation of his wrath” in 7:29. This is an interesting use of the word “generation,” and it supports the typological understanding of what Jesus says in Mark 13:30, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

The judgment Josiah enacted in 2 Kings 23 is used by Jeremiah when Jeremiah describes the “type” of thing God will do when he enacts judgment and destroys the temple. The judgment of God that will fall on the temple is also a type of the judgment of God that will be fulfilled when Christ dies on the cross, and Jesus will fulfill the pattern of Josiah when he visits judgment on the cosmic temple at his return.

In keeping with all this, the word “generation” does not refer to a group of people alive at a specific point in time but to “the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:3), the “crooked and depraved generation” (Phil 2:15), the “scoffers” (2 Pet 3:3) of all generations who gather together against the LORD and his anointed.

On Sunday, November 6, 2011, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 7: The Temple Sermon – Indictment of Unrepentant Israel at Kenwood Baptist Church.

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Jeremiah 3:6–4:4, Repent and Be Restored

In 1988, Jimmy Swaggart was caught with a prostitute. He was famous. On television. Known worldwide as an evangelist and preacher. He was initially suspended for three months, then the Assemblies of God suspended him for two years. When he resumed preaching after three months, the Assemblies of God defrocked him.

In 1991 he was stopped by a police officer in California with a prostitute in the car. He told the church he continued to serve that the Lord told him it was none of their business and temporarily stepped down from ministry.

Jimmy Swaggart is famous, so a lot of people know about him. There are many ministers who fall into sexual sin. It is all too common for ministers who aren’t famous to fall out of ministry because of sexual sin. It is all too common for Christians who aren’t ministers to fall into sexual sin.

In Jeremiah 3 Jeremiah is warning the Southern Kingdom of Judah by pointing to what happened in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Jeremiah wants Judah to learn from what happened to Israel before it’s too late, before like Israel, Judah is destroyed. We want to learn from the sins of others before we commit them ourselves.

We need to see the consequence of sin and the rewards of repentance and faithfulness. We need to learn from the fall of other ministers before it’s too late in our case. People who fall into sexual sin accumulate a series of small transgressions that they don’t turn from, and the small sins build to big ones.

Jeremiah’s message in Jeremiah 3:6–4:4 is that Judah should look at what happened to the northern kingdom, Israel. Jeremiah is calling the southern kingdom, Judah, to repent of the little sins that will add up to the big exile.

This is a beautiful passage in which Yahweh promises to bless Israel if they repent. Specifically, in Jeremiah 3:22, the Lord declares that if they will return to him he will heal them.

Do you want the healing?
Healing full and free –
Won’t you come to Jesus?
Come the Savior see –

Do you want the freedom?
Loosed from all your chains –
Won’t you call upon him?
Speak the Savior’s name –

He will wash you fully.
Take away your stain –
Won’t you have the joy he
Showers where he reigns?

At several points in this passage Jeremiah alludes to the way that God saved Israel in the past to point to the way that he will save them in the future. Interesting to see the use of the OT in the OT (an OT author, Jeremiah, using earlier OT Scripture). You can hear all about it here: Jeremiah 3:6–4:4, Repent and Be Restored.

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Is Eve a Type in 1 Timothy 2:15? Some Thoughts on Typology and Biblical Theology

A colleague asked me about Mary Kassian’s post “Women, Typology, and 1 Timothy 2:15,” which has now been reposted at the CBMW blog. My colleague’s concern was whether the appeal to typology was fanciful or legitimate. Here’s my response:

Earle Ellis (in the preface to Goppelt’s Typos) states that typology consists of historical correspondence and escalation. If I’m trying to determine whether there’s a typological relationship, I’m looking to see if the later biblical author is making a comparison with something earlier in the Bible by pointing out items of historical correspondence. From there I’m asking whether there is some escalation of significance, some kind of fulfillment, that the later biblical author is highlighting by reusing the earlier Scripture.

In 1 Tim 2:13–15 Paul is not pointing to a pattern of historical correspondence that is having its significance increased because of what is happening in the church at Ephesus. He’s giving a reason for the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12.

So Paul is not teaching that Eve is a type of the church in 1 Tim 2:15, though he may be assuming that she is. This assumption can, and I think does, inform what he says, and it’s these kinds of assumptions that biblical theology is seeking to uncover, exposit, and use to get at what the biblical authors meant.

Paul made a comparison between Eve and the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” The typological connections in 2 Corinthians 11 include the church playing the role of Eve, while Satan’s servants play his role and disguise themselves as servants of righteousness the way he disguised himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14–15).

Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 11:3 is that he doesn’t want the church in Corinth to fail the way that Eve did, and he is assuming they know the story from Genesis 3. So he makes these comparisons between Eve and the church and between Satan and his servants (historical correspondence), and the assumption is that by re-living the pattern the church will heed the gospel, stick with Paul rather than the “super-apostles,” and be saved. The escalation comes in the church’s experience of the realization of what was promised in Genesis 3:15.

In 1 Timothy 2, having just referenced Eve in verse 14 with the words “the woman, having been deceived, fell in transgression,” Paul continues first with a singular in verse 15, “but she shall be saved,” apparently referring to Eve, before switching to the plural in the next statement, “if they continue in faith . . .”

By maintaining the singular, “she shall be saved,” Paul keeps Eve in view, and I think this invokes the word about the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15, by whom Eve would be saved (if she embraced her role as a woman and gave birth to him). The switch to the plural indicates that what was true of Eve is true of all women. All women must embrace their role as women and bear children, and if they do so in faith they will be saved. The mention of salvation coming through childbearing may also invoke the OT theme of barren women giving birth to those who continue the line of promise.

Bottom line: while Paul isn’t teaching that Eve is a type fulfilled in the church, I do think (particularly on the basis of 2 Cor 11:3) that he is assuming that kind of relationship, and understanding that helps us see what he is saying.

And I agree with Schreiner and others on the point that Paul wants women to embrace what it means to be female, and he has chosen childbearing as an example of something that only women can do. This doesn’t mean that single women or barren women can’t be saved, but they should by faith embrace what it means for them to be women. If Eve and the other women in the line of promise had not borne children, the Messiah would not have come.

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This Is How Biblical Intertextuality Works, Too

John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, 192–93:

“It is this quality of the novel, its built-in need to return and repeat, that forms the physical basis of the novel’s chief glory, its resonant close. . . . What rings and resounds at the end of a novel is not just physical, however. What moves us is not just that characters, images, and events get some form of recapitulation or recall: We are moved by the increasing connectedness of things, ultimately a connectedness of values. Coleridge pointed out, stirred to the observation by his interest in Hartleian psychology, that increasingly complex systems of association can give a literary work some of its power. When we encounter two things in close association, Hartley noticed, we tend to recall one when we encounter the other. Thus, for example, if one is standing in a drugstore when one first reads Shelley, the next time one goes to a drugstore one may think of the poet, and the next time one encounters a poem by Shelley one may get a faint whiff of Dial and bathsalts. The same thing happens when we read fiction. If the first time our hero meets a given character it occurs in a graveyard, the character’s next appearance will carry with it some residue of the graveyard setting.
The effect can be roughly illustrated this way. Let a represent a pair of bloody shoes, first encountered at the foot of a willow tree, b; let c equal an orphan home, first encountered in a thunderstorm, d; and let e represent a woman’s kiss, experienced on a train, f. If a (the bloody shoes) is mentioned later in the story, it draws with it a memory of the willow (b . . .). In the same way c produces [d] as an echo, and e produces [f]. . . . Compared to what actually happens in fiction, this . . . is simple and crude in the extreme . . . Even at the end of a short story, the power of an organized return of images, events, and characters can be considerable. Think of Joyce’s “The Dead.” In the closing moments of a novel the effect can be overwhelming.”

My own opinion now: I think the best novelists are in many respects copying what the biblical authors have done.

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Review of Beale, We Become What We Worship

G. K. Beale. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008. 341 pp. $26.00. Paper. Published in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 14.4 (2010): 121–22.

G. K. Beale is well known for significant contributions to biblical scholarship in general and biblical theology in particular. His commentary on Revelation, his work on the Old Testament in the New, and his recent The Temple and the Church’s Mission are now complemented by the volume under review here. Beale states his thesis clearly and argues it convincingly: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (16, italics removed). After an introductory chapter, Beale establishes his thesis in Isaiah 6, then broadens out to show it from the rest of the OT. He narrows the lens again in chapter four to focus on the origin of idolatry in the OT, before tracing the thesis through the “intertestamental bridge” of the literature from early Judaism. Beale then examines the theme in the Gospels, giving particular attention to the use of Isaiah 6 in all four gospels. He proceeds through the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles, concluding the direct examination of the Bible with a chapter on the book of Revelation. The volume is rounded out with two chapters: the first examines the reversal of the process of idolaters becoming like their idols as they worship the true and living God, and in the conclusion Beale pastorally applies his findings to contemporary culture.

In the introduction Beale explains, “we will proceed primarily by tracing the development of earlier biblical passages dealing with this theme and how later portions of Scripture interpret and develop these passages (what is today referred to as ‘intertextuality’ or ‘inner-biblical allusion’)” (16). As he elaborates on his interpretive perspective, Beale affirms both the divine inspiration of the Scriptures and the accessibility of the divine author’s intentions communicated through the human authors of the biblical texts. He seeks to combine grammatical-historical exegesis with canonical-contextual exegesis, relying on the criteria for validating allusions to earlier texts in later ones set forth by Richard B. Hays. Against those who are opposed to allowing the meaning of later texts to influence the interpretation of earlier ones, Beale writes, “If the presupposition that God ultimately has authored the canon is correct, the later parts of Scripture unpack the ‘thick description’ of earlier parts. . . . My view is that if a later text is truly unpacking the idea of an earlier text, then the meaning developed by the later text was originally included in the ‘thick meaning’ of the earlier text” (26). The idea is that later biblical authors correctly understood earlier biblical texts and commented upon them. This obliges interpreters “‘to recover unstated or suppressed correspondences between the two texts’ (quoting Hays). . . . part of this task is to discern such interpretive links that are not verbally stated by the writer making the quotation or allusion” (28). Beale explains that he is “trying to forge a newer way of doing biblical theology in the English-speaking world,” wherein he attempts “to focus on and interpret those Old Testament texts that [are] repeatedly alluded to and quoted in subsequent Scripture, both later in the Old Testament and in the New Testament” (27).

This is important and helpful work. Beale writes, “I would characterize my biblical-theological approach to be canonical, genetic-progressive (or organically developmental), and intertextual” (34). He convincingly demonstrates his thesis with meticulous (and at times painstaking) detail. It would be hard to overturn Beale’s thesis, given that it is explicitly stated in Psalm 115:4–8, and again in 135:15–18. The connections that Beale makes between texts are always stimulating, even if some are more convincing than others.

This book deserves a wide reading, especially among those who seek demonstrable ways to understand the unified theology of the whole Bible. I have a minor quibble about an interpretive matter here and there, none of which impinge on the book’s main thesis, and I think that at points the thesis was pursued in ways that might eclipse other important aspects of the texts under discussion. But no book can do or say everything, and everything that Beale sets out to do in this book he does very, very well. This book is exemplary, setting high standards for methodological precision, control of primary and secondary sources, and bringing out the wealth of meaning these texts contain. Here’s a warning: if you read this book, you will begin to see the thesis Beale establishes all over the Bible. You’ll also be spurred to return to the texts, to ask questions about how earlier texts are being interpreted, and to establish the connections between texts with criteria that can be examined and understood. I join Beale in the prayer with which he closes the volume: “I pray that all who read this book will revere the Lord in his Word and resemble him for restoration and redemption. May God be with us as the true, new people of God” (311).

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“Son of Man” or “Human Beings” in the NIV 2011: What Difference Does It Make?

In answer to the question: What makes a translation [of the Bible] accurate?

I said: “Its ability to preserve the way that later biblical authors evoke earlier Scripture.”

You can read my explanation at the BibleGateway Perspectives in Translation forum.

The NIV 2011 provides a perfect illustration of my point. Hebrews 2:6–8 is quoting Psalm 8:5–7, but the NIV 2011 has a problem with the text.

Here is Psalm 8:4 in the NIV 2011:

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?[c]

Here is the quotation of Psalm 8:4 in Hebrews 2:6 in the NIV 2011:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?

The problem here is not that Psalm 8:4 says “human beings” rather than “son of man.” Psalm 8:4 says “son of man.” You can come to your own conclusions as to why the NIV 2011 prefers to render the phrase “son of man” in Psalm 8:4 as “human beings.”

I would argue that in Psalm 8 David is describing his role as a new Adam exercising dominion over God’s creation (cf. Ps 8:6–8 and Gen 1:26–28) so that God’s name/glory will cover the dry lands as the waters cover the sea (cf. Ps 8:1, 9). This is in keeping with the promises that God has made to David in 2 Samuel 7, which are restated in Psalm 2.

So in Psalm 8 David refers to himself as “son of man,” then talks about how God made him ruler over the beasts of the field. In Daniel 7, in the context of a vision of various beasts who have taken over the rule God’s world, Daniel sees “one like a son of man” approach the Ancient of Days and receive everlasting dominion. Then Jesus refers to himself as “son of man” all over the place in the gospels, and the author of Hebrews, discussing Jesus, quotes Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2.

So is it important to render Psalm 8:4 “son of man”? Or can we render it “human beings”?

The answer depends on what you prioritize.

Apparently the Committee on Bible Translation prioritizes something that causes them to change the words “son of man” in Psalm 8:4 to “human beings.”

If the highest priority is to translate what the text says so that the interconnectedness of Scripture can be maintained, so that people can understand the whole Bible and see how everything fits together “according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” (Eph 1:9–10, ESV), then simple phrases like “son of man” should be translated simply “son of man.”

No small theological matter is at stake here. Does it matter whether Psalm 8 can be seen to be pointing forward to Christ, who fulfills the Davidic pattern as the new Adam who will exercise dominion and make the name of the LORD majestic in all the earth?

Postscript: I hope that this post is rendered irrelevant by the Committee on Bible Translation changing the phrase in Psalm 8:4 from “human beings” to “son of man.” I know they have “son of man” in a footnote, but “son of man” should be in the text not in a footnote.

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God Keeps His Promises: Ezra 1-2

As mentioned in a previous post, I started a sermon series on Ezra – Nehemiah this past Sunday at Kenwood. And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with a building program. All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable.

Preparing for this sermon was a study in the OT’s use of the OT. Ezra is interpreting Moses and the Prophets and showing his audience how to read earlier passages of Scripture as he claims fulfillment and hints at yet greater fulfillments to come.

God Keeps His Promises: Ezra 1 – 2

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