Saturday, February 24, 2007

Leviticus Outline and Survey

I'm sorry to be a couple of days behind on Leviticus, but this has been a crazy week. At any rate, here goes.

I. The Sacrifices chs 1-7
II. Aaron's installation chs 8-10
III. Clean and Unclean chs 11-15
IV. The Day of Atonement ch 16
V. A People Holy unto the Lord chs 17-27

In many ways, Leviticus is perhaps the OT book most alien to a modern American audience. It is all about sacrifice and ritual purity, things that are alien to our own experience, even to our Christian experience, since we don't pay much if any attention to the kind of religious ritual outlined in Leviticus. What then, is the purpose for Leviticus as it concerns a modern American Christian audience? I would say three things.

First, the content of the book focuses on the Day of Atonement. That is really the centerpiece of the book. Hence the primary theme of the book is maintaining the purity of God's people. In the OT this is expressed in a ritual fashion. The sacrifices (chs 1-5) and the festivals (ch 23) are the specifically religious aspects of that purity. The laws of cleanness (chs 11-15), the holiness laws (chs 17-20), and the sabbath year/jubilee year laws (ch 25) all show the necessity of purity in everyday life. In a certain sense, the Book of Leviticus is the expansion of Deut 4:6-8. It shows the people of Israel how they are to display the wisdom of God before a watching world. Christians, likewise are to display the wisdom of God before a watching world (see Eph 3:8-13).

Second, the rituals of the book, particularly the sacrifices, point us to the work of Christ, and fill out the richness of it for us, if properly understood (see the blogs that I will post in the next couple of days). Third, the book impresses upon us the importance of holiness not just in religious ceremony (that is, in public worship) but in the totality of life. Our lives are to be distinct in their holiness before a watching world.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Introduction to Mark

The organization of Biblical books is sometimes difficult to decipher, and often the outlines provided by commentaries are too detailed to be much help. This proposed outline is intended to provide a quick overview of the gospel, and thus a general sense of how Mark has organized it.

I. Prologue 1:1-13 The ministry of John the Baptist
II. Jesus' northern ministry 1:14-9:50
III. Jesus' Judean ministry (including passion and resurrection) 10:1-16:20

The reader should note that in the course of Jesus' northern ministry, there is a great amount of movement from one place to another, so much so that it is often difficult to be entirely certain where Jesus is. On the other hand, when Jesus moves to Judea, Mark's purpose here is clearly to show Jesus arriving in Judea for his final days. Thus, in chapter 10, Jesus moves into Judea, and already chapter 11 provides the account of his triumphal entry.

Many commentators have noted the vigorous nature of Mark's narrative, and the importance of euthus (immediately, straightway) to that narrative movement. Mark's is a gospel that focuses on the activity of Jesus, with a lower teaching-to-doing ratio than the other gospels. Pay attention to this as you read, and catch the urgency of Mark's story.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Date of the Exodus

The date of the Exodus has been a matter of debate for quite some time, even among evangelical scholars. There are currently two schools of thought on the matter. The older view bases the date of the Exodus on the information given in 1 Kings 6:1 which states that the building of Solomon's temple began in the fourth year of his reign, 480 years after the Exodus. The date of Solomon's reign is usually given as 970-930 BC (though there is some variation, as much as ten years either direction, depending on whose chronology you are examining). But 970 BC is widely agreed on, putting the fourth year of his reign at 966 BC. Adding 480 years to that number gives a date of 1446 BC for the Exodus itself, and a date of about 1406 BC for the beginning of Israel's conquest of Palestine under the leadership of Joshua. That would seem to fix the date pretty well. Such a date also seems to coincide well with the statements made by Jephthah in the preiod of the Judges (see Judges 11:12-28, especially vs 26).

But for some scholars, the problem with that date is that it does not seem to comport with the events and calendars from Egyptian history. Hence, in the 1950's and 1960's, many began to argue for a 13th century date for the Exodus. This view was set out briefly but forcefully by Kenneth A. Kitchen in Ancient Orient and Old Testament (1966), arguing for a 13th century date (1260-1250 BC). He has recently restated this view in On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2003, pp. 307-310). His view is largely based on considerations of Egyptian chronology and a harmonization of the Biblical materials with the Egyptian resources. He has to conclude that the 480 years of 1 Kgs 6:1 are not "real time" years. Unfortunately, his treatment seems to take the Egyptian material more seriously than it does the Biblical text. He dismisses Jephthah's statement in a most unscholarly fashion saying, "What we have is nothing more than the report of a brave but ignorant man's bold bluster in favor of his people, not a mathematically precise chronological datum" (p. 209). This sounds suspiciously like special pleading. A recent article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (I'll post the precise reference on Monday, since I don't have it with me at the moment) does an excellent critique of Kitchen's view.

In addition to Kitshen's dismissal of Jephthah, his earlier treatment concluded that the 480 years had to be a figurative number, perhaps indicating a complete set of generations (since 480 is 12 x 40, and we all know that 40 years is a Biblical generation, and twelve is a number of completeness relative to Israel). Unfortunately for Kitchen, the Bible nowhere defines a generation as forty years, and while both 40 and 12 are significant numbers in the Old Testament, they function in different spheres and are nowhere brought together.

Thus it is safe to conclude that the Exodus took place in the mid-15th century BC. Any apparent discrepancies between Biblical and Egyptian data should seek to harmonize the Egyptian data to the Bible, and not the other way around.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Thoughts on Sermons

Thanks to the fact that I teach at a seminary, I have the Logos Bible Software Scholar's Edition. I have noticed that any text I search on, lists of sermons come up. Now I admit, I haven't typed in Numbers 7 to see what comes up there, or 1 Chron 26:18. Nonetheless, printed sermons have been available for a long time, and have no doubt been used by less-than-scrupulou s ministers. The internet and the vast array of electronic resources have simply made the temptations worse.

At the individual level, each minister needs to commit himself to doing his own work. Now, I have no problem with a man on occasion using someone else's sermon, if he thinks it particularly appropriate, it adapts well to his own style, and he makes it clear that this is not his work. Such might even be appropriate on very special occasions. But as Andy has noted, our calling is to the ministry of the Word and prayer. Sermons written by someone else will never be ours regardless of whether on a technical level the sermon is better than one we might have prepared and delivered from the same text. It pleases God through the foolishness of preaching to save the lost and to edify the saints. That means that he uses earthen vessels for this task. Our calling is not: be Spurgeon! be J. M. Boice! be R. C. Sproul! be Jonathan Edwards! Instead my calling is: be Benjamin Shaw. Let his Word dwell in you richly, and let it come out from within as a result of your own study, prayer, and meditation on the text.

Perhaps the reason that "borrowed" sermons have become a greater problem is not their greater availability, but the loss of the sense of the importance of preaching. If preaching is old-fashioned, out-of-date, not where the action is; if the "real" life of the church is in the worship team, or the small-group ministries, or in anything but the preached Word of God, then what does it matter whose sermon I preach?

At the presbytery level, I can think of only one thing that will work to fix the problem (assuming it is a problem in our presbyteries) . That would be unannounced visitation of churches in the presbytery by other members of the presbytery. In other words, on any given Sunday, the pastor at 123 Presbyterian Church should know that 2-3 members of presbytery might show up in the service that morning, having found out ahead of time what the text for the morning is, and having researched to some extent the sermonic material that is out there, so they might be able to spot a canned sermon. Of course, that probably falls under the category of "meddling."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Exodus Commentaries

There are many more commentaries available on Exodus than there used to be. For some reason, when I was in seminary Exodus seemed to be much under-commented on. But a proliferation of new commentaries does not necessarily improve the situation much.

While I generally recommend Calvin, I have a hard time recommending his volumes that cover Exodus through Deuteronomy. I can understand why he took the harmony approach, but it has two serious difficulties. First, it is almost impossible to find a particular passage. The so-called Index of Scripture Passage in the Calvin Translation Society edition is virtually worthless. Second, the harmony approach loses the sense of each book as a distinct entity with a unique development of argument.

All that being said, here are my recommendations for Exodus. For the Pentateuch as a whole, I recommend John Sailhamer's The Pentateuch as Narrative. His view of the opening chapters of Genesis is loopy, but he does give you a sense of how the material progresses and ties together.

On Exodus in particular, I will divide the commentaries into three sorts: 1) academic technical, 2) study guide/lay commentary, 3) in between.

For academic/technical, I recommend Wm. Propp in the Anchor Bible series. It is new, and will give much help in matters of text (textual variants, vocabulary, grammar and syntax). Second, I recommend Brevard Childs in the Old Testament Library series (Westminster/John Knox). His work has a fairly good sense of the theology of the book, and it deals as well with the history of interpretation.

For in-between commentaries, I recommend John Currid (2 vols) in the series from Evangelical Press. I can't think of anyone better equipped to comment on Exodus, due to his work in Egyptology. I also recommend Douglas Stuart in the New American Commentary series. I listed this one here rather than in academic/technical simply because it is more accessible than most academic commentaries usually are.

Finally, in the study guide/lay commentary, I recommend Cole in the Tyndale OT Commentary series, John Mackay in the Mentor series from Christian Focus, and Bentley in the Welwyn series from Evangelical Press. These will all give good guidance in understanding the book, though they will not answer questions of a more technical sort that may arise.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Exodus Outline and Themes

The outline of Exodus is as follows:
I. Calling of Moses, chs 1-6
II. The Plagues and Passover, chs 7-13
III. From the Red Sea to Sinai, chs 14-19
IV. The Book of the Covenant, chs 20-24
V. Instructions for the Tabernacle and its Furnishings, chs 25-31
VI. The Golden Calf Episode, chs 32-34
VII. The Tabernacle Built and Dedicated, chs 35-40

The major theme of the book is obviously deliverance. Connected with that is the centrality of Moses as the human tool of God in the deliverance. In addition, you have the revelation of the name of Yhwh as the covenant name of God. This is not to say that the name was not known before (see, for example, Gen 4:26). Instead, there is a whole element to the significance of the divine name that had not been previously revealed.

This also calls for a brief note on the significance of names in the Old Testament. Many interpreters (for example, Henry Morris in The Genesis Record) attempt to give a meaning for every name that occurs. I am leery of that project for a couple of reasons. First, not all names are noted for their significance in the OT record. Second, the signifcance of the name often does not hang on the strict etymology of the name, but on a play on words involving the name. Now the name of Isaac is strictly etymological. It means "he laughs" and that laughter is the connection given to the name in Gen 21:6. On the other hand, the significance of Samuel's name is given as "I have asked him of the Lord" (1 Sam 1:20), implying that perhaps the name Samuel has some connection to the word "ask." But it does not. It sounds sort of like the phrase "God heard," but even there the connection is only aural. Thus, to assign a significance to a Biblical name when the text itself does not do so is a questionable practice.

Back briefly to the name Yhwh. There is perhaps some significance to the fact that the discussion of the divine name shows up near the beginning of the book (chapter 3) and again near the end of the book (chapter 34), providing an inclusio (parentheses) around the book, giving the focus of the book as God delivering his people according to his promise to the patriarchs.