Yeshwanth Bakkavemana

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FLINT, PETER W. “THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BIBLICAL DEAD SEA SCROLLS.” SOUTHWESTERN JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 53, NO. 1 (2010): 15–25.

Peter W. Flint, in the essay, explains the significance of the Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls to the biblical studies, Christian scholars, and the exegetes. This essay is mainly divided into five discrete sections. The main hypothesis of this essay is to show the relevance of the Dead Sea biblical scrolls to Christianity.

In the first section, Flint briefly narrates the discovery of the DDS while reiterating the categories and statics of the scrolls found in the Qumran caves and its vicinity. The DDS are broadly divided into two categories – Biblical and Non-biblical. Among the 950 scrolls which were found, 240 are biblical scrolls, which are deemed as the oldest evidences to the Hebrew text. On the other hand, the 700 Non-biblical scrolls has an utmost importance in understanding early Judaism and early Christianity. Flint, then moves on to explain the significance of the DDS in the light of Albright claims, that the DSS were found in Israel in comparison to the Nash Papyrus prior to the discovery of the scrolls. Secondly, the scrolls come to us in three original languages, such as Hebrew (consonantal), Aramaic, and Greek. Thirdly, the scrolls are the oldest manuscripts (250 – 68 BC) compared to Nash Papyrus.

In the second section, Flint establishes that all the books in the Hebrew Bible pre-existed – prior to the destruction of the Qumran site by the Romans in 68 AD. This proves that the Hebrew Bible, which is currently used, while it is constituted from the medieval MSS, has antecedents which are ancient.

In the third section, the author establishes the hypothesis that the scrolls are indicative of the preservation of earlier readings while comparing with Masoretic text. He gives two textual examples – a missing verse in Psalm 145:13-14, which was found in 11QPsa that was attested in the LXX, one medieval MSS, and Syriac. The second example is a contextual reading of a missing section from 1 Samuel 10, which was found in 4QSama which was copied in 50 BC. In order to establish, relevance of the Scrolls to Christian scholars, Flint provides two readings that has messianic implications – Ps 22:16 and Isa 53. In the former, Flint points out that the MT of Ps 22:16 which reads as כָּאֲרִי יָדַי וְרַגְלָי (“like a lion are my hands and feet) is a Lectio Difficilor, while the Psalms scroll from Nahal Herver (5/6HevPs) reads as כארו (my they have pierced my hands and feet). In the later, Flint indicates that in Isa 53:11 of MT which reads as מֵעֲמַל נַפְשׁוֹ יִרְאֶה (out of the anguish of his soul) has an interpretative addition in three Isainic scrolls of Qumran (1QIsaabd) that adds the word אור (light). Thus, the reading would be “Out of the anguish of his soul, he shall see the light). Flint concludes that, based on the selected texts, the biblical DSS scrolls are very significant to the biblical studies in general and, in particular, to Christian exegetes.

While I agree with Flint in terms of the Scroll’s significance to the biblical studies, I do not agree that the Scrolls justify Christian doctrines. It is anachronistic to read Christian doctrinal ideas into the Scrolls as these are from different times. However, Scrolls might have copied with messianic ideology. This refers to be further investigated in comparison with other Non-Biblical scrolls. Only then will we be able to understand the nature of messianism in the scribal revisions found in the biblical DSS.

‘Imperfect’ Perfect!

We live in a world where everyone craves for perfection. You are expected to be a winner, fulfill the expectations, and up to the standard. However, it is quite inhumane! We are imperfect! We do not see that it’s perfectly alright to be imperfect. It is through our imperfection we learn and unlearn things.

I was surprised to see how we build our relationships by mirroring consumeritic mentality. We want to use the other to fulfill our expectations. We would always anticipate that others would make you happy rather than asking how one can be happy in spite of no one making you happy.

As we are in Lent season, I am quite amazed how Christ still has those scars on His resurrected body. It is ‘imperfect’ perfect. It is quite contrary to the modern thinking of perfection. Those scars remind us that we are broken and imperfect but in the end God would engineer something new out of those imperfections. So, when we really embrace those imperfections, we can work towards being perfect!

Yeshwanth

Ichabod: Godlessness

I. Introduction

A Godless church, Godless community, Christ-less church, and a Christ-less community—this is how our society, our church, and our Christianity is. We lost God in his own house! When God leaves, an utter chaos sets in. We no longer feel the guilt of sin. Immorality rules our families, society, and our churches. Moreover, we, Christians, while claiming that we know God; we live quite the opposite of our claim. This morning, I would like to challenge us all to evaluate ourselves to see whether we have lost God in our midst or He lives in our midst. 1 Samuel 4 talks about how people of Israel attempted to manipulate God into giving them victory. However, the same chapter sternly expresses that God cannot be manipulated and that He co-exist sin. Therefore, as Christians we cannot manipulate God to bless us while we live totally in opposition to the Word of God.

II. Context of the Text:

The read text comes before Samuel took over leadership from Eli. The period is almost the end of Judges. The people of Israel are now in the Promised Land but their lives were not worthy of the promises of God. Samuel’s day was marked by immorality and corruption. There was leadership corruption, religious corruption, and economic corruption.

            This chapter expresses an on-going conflict between Israel and Philistines. Furthermore, it also expresses Israelite’s false hope in YHWH that He would save them in spite of their constant sin and disobedience. In that Israelites thought that the Ark of the Covenant would give them victory. They saw it only as a symbol or an object but not as “YHWH’s presence.” It is in this context, we see the downfall of Eli which symbolizes the fall of worship and also the departure of God’s glory from Israel.

III. Ichabod: The Glory Departed (1 Sam 4:12-22)

  1. Ark of the Covenant:

The details of its construction have been recorded in Exod. 25:10-22. The details express the meticulousness of YHWH regarding the materials that are to be used, measurements that are to be maintained in building the ark. In other words, God is very concerned about the place where He is going to dwell. There is a theological significance which we will discuss in the application.

            Another aspect of the Ark is that it is the “seat of God’s presence.” It is placed in the Holy of Holies. It is from the mercy seat of the Ark, God would relay His commandments to the people of Israel. The presence here is not an illusion, but is a ‘living presence of YHWH.”

            The Ark is the symbol of Israel’s identity. It is because of the Ark which is the symbol of YHWH’s presence that legitimizes Israel as the “people of God,” a “Priestly nation” among the other nations. If there is no Ark, there is no Israel! However, in the read text, the Ark has been captured. As a result, glory of the LORD has departed. So, what are the reasons for the departure of the glory of the LORD?

  1. Reasons for Ichabod:

The first reason is a family’s failure. Eli failed more as a father than as a priest. 1 Sam 2:22-25 expresses Eli’s laxity in disciplining his sons stringently. We do not see any action taken by Eli.

Secondly, the abuse of the power by the Eli’s sons. They used their priestly roles for self-benefits. They had no regard for God (1 Sam 2:12). As a result there was no real knowledge of God, and no fear of God. The offerings that were brought to the temple were profaned.

Thirdly, religion was used to manipulated and oppress people for selfish motifs and indulgence.

Fourthly, Israel’s attempt to manipulate YHWH in order to win the battle against Philistines. 1 Sam 2:5-10 expresses Israelite’s false hope for victory while living in utter disobedience to the Law. The bringing of the Ark to the camp shows the intensity of their false hope. Israelites thought that the Ark would save them. However, they experienced quite the opposite of what they have hoped for. Here we need to take note of two shouts. One is a shout of victory (1 Sam 4:5) and another is a cry of failure (1 Sam 4:14). The former is a shout of victory stemmed out of false hope whereas the later is the experience of failure and defeat. The reason for such an unprecedented outcome is that Israelites objectified God. They were under the false illusion that YHWH would never abandon them. Similar tone can be heard in the 8th century where people of Israel held on to false claim that “Jerusalem cannot be destroyed.” While holding on to this claim, Israelites profaned the Temple. So, God rejected their worship as it has become a noise (Amos 5:23). God prophesied that Temple will be destroyed. So the bottom line is that God and sin cannot co-exist.

  1. Consequences of Ichabod:

The sinfulness of Israel has led to the capture of the Ark and consequent departure of the glory of YHWH. We also see Eli’s sons’ death and Eli’s death. Israel was defeated. They hoped for victory as they brought the Ark to the camp but instead Philistines won the battle. It is quite interesting to note that God raised Israel as His instrument of judgment to punish the seven Canaanite nations. However, later, he raised pagan nations to punish His own people.

            1 Sam 4:18 symbolically expresses Eli’s death. We should take note of two phrases here. First, “fell over backward” is indicative of the apostate state of Israelites. Israelites have fallen back from the Covenant. Secondly, the word “heavy” indicates the physical stature of Eli who is quite hefty. This is due to consumption of meat from the offerings. This shows the self-indulgence of the priestly office during that time. Eli failed as a father. As a result his sons failed. As a result religion failed. As result the whole nation failed. As a result Ichabod.

            A stage is set by YHWH to raise his “faithful priest” who would steer Israel once again towards the delegated purpose of YHWH to the people of Israel to be a “priestly nation”—a nation in whom YHWH dwells!

            Lastly, the final stroke was Ichabod. This is most gruesome consequence of all. 1 Sam 4:21-22 shows the intention of the narrator how the departure of the glory of the LORD is quite real. Here we see Eli’s daughter-in-law who names her son as “Ichabod” remembering the pain of God’s departure from Israel. Glory departed means Israel’s glory departed. As a result there is no hope. Shiloh where the Ark resides, now that it is no more there, lost its significance. Here we see God himself went into exile. The reason is Israelite’s disobedience to the law (Jer 7:1-4).

            Many a times, our churches can lose God. We hold on to false hope in our offerings, worship as there is no real transformation of the heart. Today our churches are filled with corruption, disparity between the poor and the rich, immorality in the leadership and a hypocritical worship. The worst of all is our claim that God lives among us while we mock at His presence with our spiritual decadence.

Application

Is there any relevance for us today from the chosen text? Exod. 40:34 records the filling of YHWH’s glory in the Tabernacle, only when it is finished according to the meticulous instructions given by YHWH. This indicates the meticulousness of God in the place of His residence. On the other hand, 1 Sam 4:12-22 shows that God cannot stay in a place where it is marked by sin. God’s departure is God’s judgment.

            In John 1:14, we see Jesus Christ who is the eternal word of God “tabernacled” among us. He is the true manifestation of the glory of God. Later on, Paul, most probably taking his cue from the incarnation of Christ, writes in 1 Cor. 5:19-20: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were brought with a price; therefore glory God in your body.” If God is so meticulous about the place of His dwelling, we, who are the “temple of the living God”, how meticulous we are to be with our bodies? Paul’s rhetoric expresses the ethical, moral, and spiritual significance of our bodies. This concept is quite pervasive that it impacts every minute aspect of our lives. By the virtue of being the “Temple of the living God,” it is imperative for us to reflect God’s glory in our most private and public spheres. Failure to relay God’s glory in and through us, will result in Ichabod and God would raise another “faithful priest” who does according the “heart and mind” of God. It is only at the feet of the Cross, as we truly repent, the glory that has departed will be filled in our bodies once again.

            So, it is my prayer that we would be that “faithful priest” with an absolute realization that our bodies are God’s temples and we become “points of contacts,” and “tent-meeting place” of God with the world outside. In other words, we are the church; I am the church—relaying God’s glory to the world that is darkened by sin, and immorality.

 

Amen

Finding Self! Journey from Desperation to Inspiration

This write up is a reflection of my 33 years of life that lived so far. I am inspired to write this as my own struggle to navigate through my desperation inspired me to do so. I am not going to give you ready-made answers how to get out of your own desperation. However, I can say that there is a way to navigate through the troubled waters in our lives. That is Finding yourself! Finding who you are, your passions, and your purpose.

I come from a state where children when they were born are destined either to become an engineer or a doctor. It is blasphemous to say that I am interested in Arts. In such a context your wings were cut off to dream. As my peers, I have studied Engineering which I never loved. I did have a choice to listen to my inner voice, but I suppressed it. I went on to do my Engineering. It is like as Steve Job once said that many people do not succeed in life because they did not love what they are doing and when you love what you are doing, you’d persevere. The same goes with me. I never liked what I was doing.  I always felt a void in me. I did not know who I am, what is my passion and my purpose in life. I was lost. My circumstances did not help me. I was like a ‘lone ranger’ trying to find myself.

One of the things we often fail to do is to listen to our inner voice. Some call it ‘intuition,’ ‘subconsciousness,’ and so on. However, I would call it the Paraclete (Greek word which means “helper”)-the divine voice. This divine voice was always pursuing me. This voice is like the “Hound of Heaven” as Francis Thompson wrote. Thompson brings an analogy between the Hound that is pursuing an hare and the divine grace that pursues the sinner. So I felt the same way. Finally this divine voice was so loud in me that I had to listen to it. It is then I was marveled at the way God found me. So in the grace of God, I have found myself. I am fearfully made, very intricately and dexterously for a specific purpose that I needed to realize. So, in that starry night, when my desperation was so extreme the Hound got me! The divine voice made its way to my mind, heart, and inspired my hands.

The story did not end here. I found myself. I found my passion. When I was able to feed my passion, I realized how I can be useful to others. That’s my purpose. I started to pursue my passion. Started to feed it. I loved it! Started to make wings to fly my dreams. Still I am. The challenge is to keep your passion alive. Circumstances may come, desperate situations may hurdle your dreams but if you listen to the Paraclete, love your passion, you will have strength to persevere. Perseverance and endurance are keys to success. When we persevere towards what we love, success is inevitable.

I hope this short write up may help you those who are going through desperation but if you listen to the inner-voice, you will find your passion. Feed it. Nurture it. Strengthen it. We do not have enough time, we have only one life. However, we can live thousand lives in one! Find yourself! We can leave behind a glorious legacy for other to find themselves!

 

Hebrew Bible and Archaeology

 

I. Introduction

Hebrew Bible (HB) has strong archaeological evidences that establish its authenticity as a religious document that is dexterously preserved and transmitted. In order to support the aforementioned claim, the paper focuses on the variants and versions as witnesses to the Hebrew Bible. So, firstly, we would briefly look at some selected variants and their significance as a witness to HB. Second witness, the paper presents is the transmission of the text. Here we would briefly discuss how meticulously the text has been preserved. Thirdly, the paper briefly outlines some extra-biblical evidences. Finally, we would discuss vitality of these archaeological evidences in order to establish the authenticity of the HB. In the appendix, few archaeological findings were provided which throws light into events and also the text that were recorded in the HB.

II. Archeological evidences in relation to Hebrew Bible

A. Various witnesses to the MT

When it comes to the archaeological evidences or witnesses for the Hebrew Bible, we mostly rely on the ancient manuscripts. Glenn Archer outlines these manuscripts based chronological order. The earliest of all these manuscripts is Qumran scrolls (300 BC) belong to Pre-Christian era.[1] Post-Christian manuscripts consist of British Museum Oriental (850 AD), Codex Cairensis (895 AD), Aleppo Codex (900 AD), Leningrad MS (916 AD), Leningrad MS B-19 A (1010 AD), Samaritan Pentateuch, and Torah Finchasiye (1204 AD).[2] Besides these, there are printed editions like Bolonga Edition of the Psalter (1477 AD), Soncino Edition of OT (1488 AD), and Second Bomerg Edition (1525/26 AD).[3] In addition to these, we have Greek versions like Septuagint (250-150 BC), Aquila’s version (130 AD), Symmachus’ version (170 AD), and Theodotion’s version (180 or 190 AD).[4] Furthermore, we have Targums like Targum of Onkelos (200 AD), and Targum of Jonathan be Uzziel (300 AD).[5] In addition to these, we have Latin and Syriac verisions as well.[6]

1. Significance and Contents of the ancient manuscripts

i. Qumran Scrolls 𝔔

These scrolls were discovered in the caves near Dead Sea in 1947. The discovery of these scrolls is considered to be the greatest discoveries of all times. One of the reasons is because these scrolls were dated to between 3-1 B. C.[7] Another reason is that these scrolls shed light on the scribal work in relation to the process of transmission of the text.[8] The significance of these materials is that they are several centuries older than any material that we possess now.[9] McDowell points out that there is 95% of closeness with Masoretic text (𝔐) that we possess now and 5% can be considered as “slips of pen.”[10] This only shows accuracy in the transmission of the text. For our purposes we will briefly see three manuscripts.

Regarding the content of these scrolls, we have two manuscripts that belong to the book of Isaiah. One is Isaiah manuscript from Cave 1 (1QIsa = 𝔔a) which consists of Isaiah cps 1-33, 34-66. Second one is Isaiah scroll (cps 41-66). Both Archer and Würthwein agree that this scroll has more closeness to 𝔐 compared to 𝔔a.[11] In addition to this, Edwin Yamauchi points that manuscripts of Qumran belong to the MT tradition though it has variations which does not issue in change of the text.[12]As a result of this, LXX (𝔊) has been superseded by 𝔔.

Another scroll that was discovered in the Cave 1 was the Habakkuk commentary. It consists of Cps 1-2 with comments inserted in between. Here also the text of Habakkuk stands very close to 𝔐 than other variants.[13]

ii. Codex Cairensis (C):

This Ms contains former and later prophets which are believed to be copied by Aaron ben Asher in 895 A. D as pointed out by Archer.[14] On the contrary, Wurthwein suggests that it was written and pointed by Moses ben Asher.[15] Whatever it is, we can say that this Ms was from Ben Asher’s family. This Ms also shows a great affinity with 𝔐.

iii. Aleppo Codex

This is another Ms from Ben Asher family. This is the oldest complete Masoretic manuscript of the entire OT. It dates from first half of 10th century A.D. It was It was Aaron ben Mosheh ben Asher added punctuation and Masora. It was first situated in Jerusalem, and then later to Cairo and eventually settled at Cairo.[16]

iv. Codex Leningradensis (L):

This is the oldest surviving manuscript of the whole Bible from Ben Asher family.[17] This text is dated at 1010 A. D which is considered as a “faithful copy” of another MS (980 A. D) which was lost.[18] This text became a basis for Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica today.

v. Samaritan Pentateuch (⅏):

Samaritan Pentateuch is often regarded as a “sectarian” text.[19] The reason for this is the schism between Samaritans and Israelites. Würthwein suggests that the climax of this schism took place in 4 B. C which has been long process.[20] However, the current research is suggestive of Hasmonean period.[21] A form of ⅏ was discovered by Pietro della Valle in Damascus in 1616 A. D. It has some 6000 variations from 𝔐. Out of which 1,900 variations agree with 𝔊 against 𝔐. It also constitutes Samaritan biased insertions in the text. Nevertheless, ⅏ also may be considered as a “witness” or a version of Pentateuch.

vi. Septuagint (LXX 𝔊)

Septuagint is often considered as a witness to 𝔐. The significance of this text lies in the New Testament’s dependence on LXX. Furthermore, the early church fathers also depended on LXX.[22] Pentateuch was translated into Greek by the Alexandrian Jews in Egypt in 3 B. C while other books were translated by the end of the following century. However, with the church regarding LXX as their Bible, Jews renounced it and started to develop their own Greek versions.[23] Here I would like to just outline them. They are Aquila (€), Symmachus, and Theodotion which are independent translation done by Jews. In third century B. C there are three Christian translations of LXX. They are Origen, Hesychius and Lucian.[24] Therefore, these translations with their long history of transmissions and translations do bear the marks of the Hebrew Bible. In that case they also stand as a witness to the Hebrew Bible.

B. Textual transmission and fidelity of MT

So far we have considered few documentary witnesses that stand as evidences to MT but how to measure the fidelity of MT? Why the documentary witnesses are to be considered as strong archaeological evidences? The answer to that question is to investigate how the textual transmission has been undertaken and who are those responsible for such titanic task?

1. The scribes

The following are to be considered as various Jewish scholars who are committed to standardize and preserve the biblical text. We will mainly discuss very briefly about three such scholars.

The word ‘sopherim’ means ‘scribe.’ These are Jewish scholars and they were the custodians of the text between 5-3 B. C.[25] It was under Ezra the Scribe, this group had its beginning.[26] They were given a responsibility to standardize a pure text of the Hebrew text and then to pass to the “hypothetical revision committee” for approval.[27] They devised a system of “cross-check” method by counting all the verses, words and letters of each book in the Hebrew Bible and then record them at the end of the respective book.[28] In this way, they can judge which book or copy has errors or not.

After Sopherim, comes Zugoth (pairs of scholars) who were committed with the task of guarding the text. After Zugoth, the third group is Tannim (repeaters or teachers) who accepted the task of being custodians of the text till 200 A. D. In addition to preserving the text, they were involved in writing Midrash (textual interpretation). The fourth group is Talmud (instruction) who appeared in ca. 100-500 A. D. Talmudist were given the responsibility to preserve the text and it was probable that they were responsible for the versification of the text.[29] However, versification does not necessarily mean verse numbering and the division of the chapters.[30]

The fifth group is Masoretes. These Jewish scholars existed between 500-950 A. D. They gave the final form to OT.[31] After the destruction of the temple in 70 A. D, Jews were scattered. This gave an impetus to standardize the text by introducing punctuation and use of vowels for correct pronunciation and standardized consonantal text.

2. A Breif History of Textual Transmission

The text from the Sopehrim period during which Ezra involved, was passed on to the Talmudic period and later on transmitted to Masoretes. Masoretes who received unpointed consonantal text from the previous guardians inserted vowel points to preserve the pronunciation. In doing so, they not only developed vowel system but also a Ketib and Qere system to preserve the oral tradition of the text. This process of Ketib and Qere is reflected in the Masora of the text.

Three major schools are to be considered among the Masoretes—Babylonian, Palestinian and Tiberian. The most famous of these is Masoretes living at Tiberius in Galilee viz., Ben Asher family. It is this Ben Asher text— the standard Hebrew text today which is represented by Codex Leningrad B 19 A and Aleppo codex which we have already discussed.

Now the earliest manuscripts awaited the confirmation until the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls. It was with the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls which are older than the existent MT, and with its greater affinity with the same has established the accuracy in transmission and fidelity of MT.

D. Extra-biblical evidences[32]

McDowell outlines few extra-biblical evidences that refer to the composition of the Hebrew Bible especially its sections. For instance, the Prologue to Ecclesiasticus (130 B. C) mentions the three fold division of the Torah. Also, Philo of Alexandra—a Greek historian, refers to the same. Likewise, Josephus, a Jewish historian, spoke about tripartite division of Torah. Another historian Eusebius in his book “Ecclesiastical History IV. 26” refers to Melito who enlists the first known lists of OT books.

III. Bearings of archeological evidences on the Hebrew Bible

Archeological evidences with its substantial documentary proofs for the Hebrew Bible have shed light on scribal transmission. In addition to this, it also have revolutionised biblical criticism. Especially, with the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls, the Hebrew Bible was even more authenticated for its accuracy in transmission. Moreover, the historical process of the transmission was well corroborated by the archaeology while comparing with versions and manuscripts of 𝔐.

These findings are very significant for us because of mainly two reasons. Firstly, the text that is transmitted to us is the Word of God. The accuracy of the text in transmission can be considered to be almost a miracle. Secondly, it sheds more light in the field of textual criticism and historical criticism. In that a gap in reconstructing the text and Biblical history can be filled with the available archaeological evidence.

IV. Conclusion

In an attempt to outline the archaeological evidences to the Hebrew Bible, we have first started with briefly examining witlessness to 𝔐. In addition to this we also have discussed how these witnesses are significant for us today. While comparing these witnesses with each other, we can see their mutual affinities in terms of the text transmission. Another witness we considered was the textual transmission itself. We have briefly seen how meticulously the text has been transmitted. All the above, archaeological evidences establish the authencity of the Hebrew Bible in terms of its text. Therefore, we can be lest assured the text that we hold today, indeed the Word of God which has been miraculously passed on to us!

Endnote

 

[1] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Revised. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 42.

[2] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[3] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[4] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[5] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[6] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[7] Ellis R. Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism A Practical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 45.

[8] Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism A Practical Introduction, 43.

[9] Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament An Introduction to the Biblica Heraica, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes, Second. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 33.

[10] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Secundrabad: Om-Authentic books, 2006), 77.

[11] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 33; Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 44.

[12] Edwin Yamauchi, The Stones and the Scripture An Introduction to Biblical Archeology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972), 130.

[13] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 44.

[14] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 47.

[15] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 35.

[16] Würthwein , The Text of the Old Testament, 36.

[17] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 36.

[18] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 48.

[19] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 48.

[20] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 45.

[21] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 45.

[22] William W Combs, “The Transmission-History of the Septuagint,” Bibliotheca Sacra 146, no. 583 (1989): 256.

[23] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 54.

[24] Chaim Pearl, “The Bible: Transmission–Interpretation,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 24, no. 2 (1996): 256.

[25] McDowell, The New Evidence, 73.

[26] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 67.

[27] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 67.

[28] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 67.

[29] Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism A Practical Introduction, 47.

[30] The division of chapters, according to Würthwein, was introduced by Stephen Langton (1150-1228) which was later adopted by Latin Vulgate in 14th century A. D.,Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 21.

[31] McDowell, The New Evidence, 75; Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 70.

[32] McDowell, The New Evidence, 28–29.

An Essay on Biblical Criticisms: Methods to Old Testament Interpretation

I. Introduction

This is a brief survey of approaches to Old Testament interpretation. The approaches basically can be categorized under three sections. They are historical critical methods, textual methods, and contextual methods. These three approaches have three different emphases. Historical- critical approaches emphasis on intent of the author. Textual methods emphasize on the text itself. Contextual methods emphasize the context of the reader. This essay will elucidate these approaches along with some critical observations.

II. Historical–Critical Methods

Historical–critical methods (HC) can be categorized as “diachronic” approach (through time). HC is an integrated approach. It takes into consideration several approaches to exegete the text. It is author–centered approach. In that these approaches goes ‘behind’ the text. These methods are concerned with the origin, transmission, original intent of the author and original readers. Christopher J. Wright likens this approach to a ‘window.’ So, through the window we can see the outside world—the landscape, and the horizon. It also means that the light from the outside world enters through window as well. In other words as we see through the window of text in to the world of text, the world of text also illumines our understanding of the text. There are four main methods under this approach. They are Source criticism, Form criticism, Tradition criticism, and Redaction criticism. We shall see discuss these methods briefly.

A. Source Criticism (SC)

Source Criticism (SC) was active during 17th and 18th centuries. It was first Jean Austruc who suggested that Moses used different sources to compile Pentateuch. So, this approach assumes that there are sources behind the texts, and these sources were composed by different authors. SC goal is to identify sources behind the text, reconstruct them and then assign them the dates. It was Julius Wellhausen who systematized earlier work and proposed ‘documentary hypotheses in which he suggested four sources J E D and P with the dates. According to him J is Yahwistic source from 10 B. C, E is Elohistic source from 9 B. C, D is Deuteronomistic source from 7 B. C, and P is Priestly source from 5 B. C. These sources are indentified based on the stylistic differences, repetitions, doublets, different theonyms, theological, and narrative differences.

B. Form Criticism (FC)

Form Criticism is a reaction against SC. It was first proposed by Herman Gunkel. This method assumes a pre-literary stage in which the text is transmitted in different forms such as sagas, stories, narrations, and poems. These forms arose in different life-settings (sitz-im-leben) and the function of these forms varies according to their respective life-settings. Therefore, this approach constitutes analysis of the genre, its sitz-im-leben, and its function in different life-settings. For example, Psalm 2 is categorized as royal enthronement Psalm used as a cultic poem in the covenant renewal ceremony.

C. Tradition Criticism (TrC)

Tradition or Tradition history (TrC) is an offshoot of FC. The main proponent of this approach was Gerhard von Rad. According to this approach, text has traditions behind the text. These traditions constitute different stories, legends, narrations, and poems. These traditions in turn may have been used for different purposes in different life-setting. This is the reason an exegete is concerned with tracing the history of traditions in the Scripture. For example, Jacob’s narratives in Gen 28, 32, and 35 are different in function when compared with Hos. 12. An exegete will trace the history of Jacob’s narratives in different life-settings in the Scripture to form one consistent tradition history. Martin Noth using this approaches proposed Deuteronomistic history whereas von Rad proposed tradition history of Israel.

D. Redaction Criticism (RC)

Redaction criticism (RC) is basically concerned with the editorial work of the redactor or the redactor of the text. It assumes that the redactor/editor made some changes to the text according to his or her theological orientation. The editorial work involves changing of some words, phrases, and arranging the material that reflects theological framework of the scribe. So, an exegete will try to analyze the text to see the intention behind such editorial changes made to the text. For example, in Gen. 26, redactor is clarifying the flow of the text by inserting his/her comment as he found the same type of story reflected in Abraham narrative elsewhere.

III. Textual Methods

Textual methods arose in the context of HC. There has been a growing frustration regarding the fragmentary view of HC method. As a result final form approaches emerged. These approaches can be catalogued under “synchronic” category (same time). Their main focus is on the text which is seen as a final product. These approaches can be likened to a “portrait.” In that we would focus on the aesthetic values of the portrait—its textures, colors, and the meaning of the portrait itself. This means that the meaning of the text lies in the text itself rather than behind it. The following methods will be discussed briefly.

A. Structuralism

Structuralism deals with the meaning of the text that is enshrined in the structures of the text. De Saussure, first used this approach in the field of linguistics. For him the meaning of the word is in the context of the text rather than in the etymological survey of that particular word. Later James Barr used this approach in the field of Biblical studies. For him, the meaning of the word does not lie in the comparative philology but in the syntax of the text. In other words, the meaning of the word lies in the relationship of that word with other words in the syntactical sentence. So, there is a shift from diachronic way understanding the meaning of the word to synchronic way of understanding the same. This approach is used in biblical anthropology. For example, a structuralist understands the table of nations in Gen. 10 and food laws in Lev. 11, to see Israel’s position among other nations.

B. Rhetorical criticism

The art of rhetoric is a classic discipline started with Aristotle. It is an art in composing a language to be more attractive, descriptive, interpretative, and persuasive. It is art of public speaking. Rhetorical critics are concerned about what a text communicates, what and how the text communicates to the reader or listener, how one is persuaded towards certain praxis.

Rhetoric criticism as an interpretative tool was first introduced by James Muilenberg in 1968. He appreciated form criticism for uncovering various forms (guttungen). However, he criticised FC for overemphasising similarity of forms and for not focusing on the formulation of the form. According to Muilenberg, rhetorical criticism is concerned about understanding nature of Hebrew literary composition which exhibits as structural patterns used and fashioning of literary units, discerning many and various devices, predictions formulated and ordered to a unified whole. Here in this approach, words are analyzed syntactically which reveal thought patterns of the writer. Muilenberg did not propose any set of methods for rhetorical criticism. V. Robbins proposed “socio-rhetorical” method. Later George Kennedy combines Muilenberg and Robbins. According to Kennedy text should be studies from the author’s or editor’s intent. He seems to incline to historical criticism a bit. Kennedy proposes following steps for Rhetorical criticism viz., delimiting rhetorical unit, finding context of the text, identifying rhetorical arrangements, techniques, and effectiveness.

C. Narrative criticism

The focus of narrative criticism is setting, plot, characters, suspense, patterning, and world play. It makes uses of poetic art which constitutes parallelisms, metaphors, imagery and climax. These tools help to uncover different layers of meaning which were artistically designed, and patterns woven by the original authors.

Narrative criticism distinguishes between a “story” and “narrative.” Story is abstract and becomes concrete when it is given utterance through a medium of narrative. Since story can be told and re-told in many ways, a narrative critic undertakes a close reading of the text to discern narrator’s concerns. R. Alter’s book “The Art of Biblical narrative” (1981) stimulated much interest as he presented distinctive features of Hebrew narrative. Narrative criticism is extended to Pentateuch as whole as well. For example D. J. Clines argues the entire Pentateuch is unified by a prominent theme i.e., the partial fulfillment of the promises to the patriarchs.

D. Canonical criticism

Canonical criticism uses the canonical shape of Scripture as a lens to interpret the text. Two leading figures of this approach are to be noted. First, it was J. A. Sanders, who was the first one to coin the terms “canonical criticism.” He has two primary interests—canonical process and canonical hermeneutics. The former has to do with the way in which Canon was formed and the later examination of the interpretation of the canonical texts. The second one is Brevard S. Childs. He is less concerned with the process of canonization. He interprets Scripture in the light of final form. Childs opined that HC has been less fruitful. For him, final form of the text can profitably be interpreted. Childs supports the use of other critical approaches. However, he was often criticised for ignoring HC.

IV. Contextual Methods

Contextual methods are reader-centered approaches. They are likened to a “mirror.” This means the meaning of the text arises from the reader in the “act of reading.” Therefore, the focus is not on the text but on intentions of the reader. These approaches are influenced by post-modernism. These methods emerged as a reaction against the ‘atomic’ view of the Scriptures by HC. HC does not address the contextual problems of the readers. So, the focus of contextual methods is to address the existential problems of the reader. Under this method, we have liberation hermeneutical approach, Post-colonial hermeneutics, Dalit hermeneutics, and Feminist hermeneutics. In these approaches we have actual reader—original audience, and implied reader—foreign nations. Later redactors gathered, edited, and canonized these texts. After canonization, Jewish Christians read these texts. Now, we the contemporary readers, read the text. We bring our own assumptions to the text and read the text with various contextual lenses. In other words, there is no objectivity in these approaches. Interpreters are affected by their own socio-cultural and Psychological factors. For example, a Biblical interpreter in India brings his/her own contextual experiences such as marginalization, Dalit and adivasi struggles to the text. These experiences would shape the interpretation of the text. In other words, the text becomes alive in the act of reading.

A. Liberation Hermenuetics

Liberation theology was first pioneered by Gustavo Guitèrez in America in 1970. This is based on Black American struggle against racism. Later Black feminists and Dalits used this as their framework. Liberative reading constitutes of preferential opinion of the marginalized and emphasizes active role of the church towards emancipation of the marginalized. They take Exodus as a paradigm of salvation by which God liberates all kinds of oppression. Rowland and Corner opines that Liberation reading awakens an exegete to his/her own contexts. Two important critical tools are used—Hermeneutical circle and hermeneutic of suspicion. The hermeneutical circle begins with experience of the interpreter; and then to ideological/theological suspicion; to exegetical suspicion, to new interpretation which gives feedback to interpreters experience of reality which will modify his/her conception of reality and then starts the process anew. Hermeneutic of suspicion deals with tracing the history of interpretation to expose bias reading of the text. The following are some examples of liberation hermeneutics.

 

B. Feminist Hermenuetics

Feminist hermeneutics as distinct discipline started in 19th century. It was first Huberten Avelert coined the term “feminism” in 1882. This term is associated with women’s struggle for political rights.

Feminist interpretation of the Bible is rooted in feminist critical consciousness that men and women are fully human and equal. Lelty M. Russel opines that this new approach undertaken by women because Bible is mistaken to promoting and authenticating dominance and supremacy of man.

For example, feminist theologians use various approaches and methods in order to challenge the view that Bible is the product of patriarchal undertakings. Rosemary Redford Ruether apprals that women’s experience should be taken into consideration to interpret the text. The focus should be given to women characters in the Bible. In that the positive qualities of women should be identified and re-imagine Biblical stories with women characters. By doing so, the women can be written back into the history of Israel in which voice of women is made to be heard in the andocentric texts.

Another example is Elizabeth Schuessler Fiorenza’s approach. She uses rhetorical feminist model. Her approach constitutes first, hermeneutics of experience. In that the experience of the marginalized should be considered in interpreting the text. Moreover, the oppression of women should get due attention. Secondly, hermeneutics of domination and social action also should be considered. It deals with how one act in a specific situation and how one expresses in those situations. A critical evaluation of the social location of the interpreter is needed. Thirdly, hermeneutics of suspicion must also be used. The texts are andocentric and needs to be approached with suspicion. Fourthly, hermeneutics of recuperation deals with recovering from the Bible different forms of patriarchal misinterpretations. Fifthly, hermeneutics of creative imagination deals with imagining the new world of justice and well being and employs aesthetic methods such as role play, bibliodrama, pictorial arts, dance, and story-telling. Sixthly, hermeneutics of resistance emphasizes on being a resistant reader than an assisting reader. In that a male mind in us is exorcised.  Seventhly, hermeneutics of remembrance and reconstruction will search and bring forth the forgotten stories and nameless women alive in order to contribute to the struggles of women today. Finally, hermeneutics of reconstruction deconstructs andocentric layers in the Scripture and reconstructs the text with a positive outlook towards women.

C. Post-modern criticism

Post-modern criticism is against any attempt of objectification. Post-modern critics consider objectification is an illusion. It believes that there are pluralistic ways of understanding the text and interpretation. Human thoughts are changeable. Truth and truth claims are relative. They are changing according to changing context. There is no single approach that can be normative. Its significance is in contextual, local and pluralistic interpretation in the Bible.

D. post-colonial criticism

Post-colonial criticism emerged from third world context—the nations which were formerly colonised by imperial nations. These colonial nations used Bible as their major tool to subjugate natives. Post-colonial criticism gained its momentum with the work of Edward Said’s critique of Western constructions of the orient in his book “Orientalism.” He explains how the West colonised and treated the ‘orient’ as the ‘other’ as an object of knowledge waiting to be dominated. Keeping this in mind, post-colonial reading is an effort to interpret the Bible that resonate with the indigenous cultural values and highlights the issues of imperialism, experience of conquest, colonization, and migration. The aim of post-colonial criticism is to scrutinize and expose colonial domination that embedded in the Biblical texts. This approach applies hermeneutics of resistance. In that a critic of this approach would identify colonial ideologies in the text, deconstruct them and reconstruct the texts that reflect indigenous values of the natives and seeks to emancipate them from colonial dominance.

V. Critique on the methods

A. Historical-Critical Method

Historical-critical methods are not concerned with the context of the interpreter. The results of these methods are mostly hypothetical in nature. Moreover, it has fragmented Scripture so much so that theological understanding is left out. These methods are reductionist in nature. In that HC brings out meaning ‘behind’ the text but shifts the attention of the exegete to pre-canonical stages. These approaches tend to doubt the divine inspiration of the Word of God.

B. Textual Methods

Textual methods arose out of the frustration because of historical-critical methods. Their main focus is the finished product i.e., the text itself. However, the context of the reader is not adequately taken into consideration. It main focus is “what the text meant” but it does not talk about “what it means to the reader.”

C. Contextual methods

Contextual methods removed the limits of interpretation. In that reader becomes the starting-point for interpreting the text. It takes the context of the reader very seriously. It is true that oppression of the marginalized is a reality. It is also evident that Bible is also used as tool to subjugate other. However, these approaches tend to very subjective in nature. Bible is treated as a ‘proof-text’ to support one’s own ideology. This leads to eisegetical reading of the text.

VI. Conclusion

This essay outlined different approaches towards Old Testament. These approaches are basically divided into three sections viz., historical-critical, textual, and contextual methods. We have also discussed the different approaches under the respective approaches. Under historical methods, we have discussed source, form, tradition, and redaction criticisms. Under textual method, we have discussed structuralism, rhetorical, narrative, and canonical criticisms. Under contextual methods, we have liberation hermeneutics, feminist, post-modern, and post-colonial methods. Historical methods are compared to a ‘window’ in which the meaning of the text lies behind the text. Textual methods are likened to ‘portrait’ in which the meaning of the text lies in the text itself as it is considered as finished product. Contextual method are similar to ‘mirror’ in which the meaning of the text arise in the act of reading by the reader.

All these approaches have their own merits and demerits. Scripture is rich in diversity of the material. To address this diversity we need to critically use the approach to bring out the meaning of the text. So, it is a task of an exegete to constantly engage in evaluating the approaches in order to apply them for an effective use.

Christ’s Resurrection: A Call for Radical Transformation An Exposition on I Corinthians 15

the_empty_tomb_and_resurrection_of_jesus_christ_by_myjavier007-d7dd7nf.png

I. Introduction

Christ’s resurrection is very pervasive that it calls for the wholistic transformation of the creation. If we truly believe in the resurrection, then there are serious moral and spiritual implications. However, the question that we need to ask is whether we truly believe in the resurrection? Do our moral and spiritual lives reflect resurrection experience? Or we just make mockery of Christ’s resurrection? These questions resonate with the questions raised in the Corinthian church. Paul in 1 Cor. 15 gives an extensive treatment on resurrection. Keeping this in mind I would like to entitle my sermon as “Christ’s resurrection: A Call for Radical Transformation.”

Last year one of my juniors at UBS suddenly died. In 2012, just before Xmas, one my classmates who has been working as a missionary in Nepal, suddenly died. Early that year, we have all witnessed the gruesome rape of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi. Everyday our newspapers resonates with news of violence, corruption, discrimination and many more. We for the most of the times witness this chaos in our lives in the form of sickness, financial crisis and many more. It is in these chaotic times, we need to ask how resurrection is important for us. Is there a hope for us in Christ’s resurrection? Or is it a fancied idea of Christians?

Now, let us dig into these questions as we try to understand what is Christ’s resurrection and how does it influence our moral and spiritual lives.

II. Context

Corinth was a cosmopolitan city. It is situated in Greece. It served as a major center for religious, commercial and cultural advancements. Moreover, the city in general, especially wealth and affluent in the society were attracted to many philosophical ideas.

Paul established church at Corinth. However, the church has very serious problems. There was disunity in the church which led to factionalism; syncretistic tendencies crept into the church, spiritual complacency and immorality. It was in this context Paul writes this letter addressing the above issues. The last part of the letter is about resurrection, with which he brings all His arguments together.

Today’s church is also more or less similar to the Corinthian church. Now let us turn to the first part of the chapter.

III. Christ’s Resurrection: the foundation and condition of our salvation 1 Cor. 15: 3-9

Paul’s intention is not to prove the historicity of resurrection of Jesus Christ but to draw the attention of the Corinthians to the implications of it. However, he argues for the historicity of resurrection by pointing four testimonies—Scripture (vv. 3-4), eyewitnesses (vv. 5-7), special witnesses (vv. 8-10). This particular section predates Gospels and it is traditional confessional formula of the early church. We need to take note of two aspects here.

Firstly, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is foundational to Christian faith. In fact, Gospel itself hinges around the fact of Christ’s resurrection. It is not a fabricated story but it is a historical fact (1 Cor. 15: 3-9).

Secondly, Christ’s resurrection­— belief in it is a condition for our salvation (Rom. 10:9). If we don’t believe in resurrection, then sin and death would still be our unconquered enemies (Rom. 6:23). There is no hope for us. Moreover, we, Christians would be liars. On the contrary, Christ’s resurrection did happen and it is God’s seal of salvation for all who believes in His Son Jesus Christ (Acts. 5: 30-31).

IV. No Resurrection and its consequences 1 Cor. 15: 12-19

What would happen if there was no resurrection? Paul responds through a series of rhetorical question. In other words he answers by stating the consequences of resurrection having not had taken place at all.

Firstly, sin and death would still be our conquerors. Secondly, there would be no salvation. Thirdly, apostolic kerygma would be in vain. Fifthly, our faith in Christ would be in vain. Sixthly, there would be no hope for the humanity. Seventhly, our cries for justice would be unheard. To simply put it, humanity would be eternally doomed.

Illustration

I was once an atheist because of the death of my youngest uncle. However, after few years, as I was pursuing my engineering studies, my eldest uncle became chronically ill. I saw him in the hospital and without my knowledge I started to cry. There was a great turmoil in my heart. I was confused. All my philosophical ideas did not comfort. As I started to cry, I began to ask myself why I am crying. If he dies, then that’s the end of him.

You, see, since I rejected God, I rejected the power of Christ’s resurrection. The result is hopelessness. I felt petrified by this truth. It took me some years to come to the Lord with a renewed commitment. In 2008, as I just joined my theological studies, at UBS, my eldest uncle passed away. But this time, God kept me in the same place where I rejected, to speak on His behalf to my family who are mourning, reminding them the power in Christ’s resurrection. There is a hope beyond the grave. I told them, we must envy them as they enjoy the eternal presence of Christ.

You see, my dear church, Christians do not mourn over the death but we rejoice because of the joy that was given to us by the power of Christ’s resurrection.

V. Resurrection: the greatest hope 1 Cor. 15: 20-28

On the contrary to the earlier consequences, resurrection of Christ did happen. It has inaugurated a new era. This is the greatest hope for us.

Paul uses a metaphor ‘first fruits’ for Christ. Christ is the ‘first fruit’ of all those who would be raised. Here this metaphor, evidently is taken from the Old Testament (Lev. 23:10). It is mandatory for the Israelites to offer first fruits of their harvest to the priest. Likewise, Christ has offered Himself to death on the Cross and but was raised as the ‘first fruit’ of all those who would be raised. This means the harvest of the believers would follow. Christ’s resurrection is the prerequisite for the resurrection of the believers. In a way we all live between two Easters— Christ’s and the believer’s.

Paul uses Adam/Christ typology to further illustrate his point. Just as in Adam, we all inherited sin and the consequence of it i.e., death, we all inherited life through Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ came into this world to make dead people to live.

Finally, Paul drives his point home, by pointing out to the finality of restoration by Jesus Christ at the end (vv. 24-28). Christ will restore everything in the way God originally created this creation. The enemies of God will be finally conquered and destroyed by Christ himself.

It gives such a hope for us that in Christ’s resurrection, we find such solace and confidence that all our tears will be counted for and justice will be delivered.

VI. Resurrection: A Radical Transformation 1 Cor. 15: 35-49

There is a Greek philosophical idea behind this argumentative question raised by Corinthians. For Greeks, matter is evil and soul is divine. There are two ramifications to this. Firstly, body is evil and soul needs liberation. Secondly, because there is no intrinsic value to the body, it can be used for immoral purposes as soul will be uninfluenced by the body. For them death is a beautiful thing and it is a liberator. This materialistic view discards human personhood. Likewise other religions express the idea about ‘escape’ of the soul from the body which they call ‘moksha’ or ‘nirvana.’ There is a dichotomy between body and soul. Therefore, death for them is an aide for liberation.

Paul uses three illustrations to respond to this question. Firstly, just as the body of a seed and a plant that grows are different, so also it will be with our resurrected bodies. Secondly, just as the bodies of human beings, animals and heavenly bodies are different, so it will be with our resurrected bodies.

Paul then, uses some series of contrasts—perishable/imperishable, dishonour/glory, weakness/power, natural/ supernatural. Paul categories them under two realms—flesh & blood that which is corruptible and Spirit which is life, an element of resurrection.

In other words, our earthly bodies will be totally transformed. This is not just a physical transformation, or escape from the body. But this is a wholistic transformation of Body, soul and spirit. The totality of man is restored. Not just man but the nature itself will be transformed.

In fact, spiritual transformation has already begun. We are already in eternal life. Mortal transformation will take place at the Christ’s Parousia. This is the reason why Christ’s resurrection has moral implications. In Gal. 5: 24-25, Paul connects our belongingness to Christ with His ‘dying-raising’ from the dead. If we belong to Christ, then we must put to death this worldly desire and passions and then raise to live a new life of resurrection that Christ has granted to us only to consummated at His second coming.

VII. Conclusion

Let me close my sermon with a true story. This is a true story of a young pastor. He loved God so immensely. His hope was very strong. He reflected that light and glory of God in everything he did and said. He contracted cancer. He and his wife were told that he had only months to live. But they have not shown any sign of pain or anxiety. In his last Sunday sermon he said, “Our Lord suffered and died for our sins. Why should I not share in his sufferings? After this he sang this beautiful song which made everyone to cry. Hear these words that he sang:

Must Jesus bear the Cross alone,

And all the world go free,

No, there is a Cross for everyone,

And there’s a Cross for me

How happy are the saints above,

Who once went sorr’wing here,

But now they taste unmingled love,

And joy without fear

The consecrated Cross I bear

Till death shall set me free,

And then go home my crown to wear,

For there is a crown for me.

Here is a man of God who was not shaken by death but boldly faces as he knows the power of Christ’s resurrection. Death is not beautiful but it is ugly. But Christ has defeated death in its own arena.

Christ’s resurrection is the foundation and the condition of our salvation, without which we are doomed. It is our greatest hope— that one day God would wipe our every tear. It calls for radical transformation—both moral and mortal transformations.

Let us introspect into our own lives. If we claim to be Christians, are we living under the influence of resurrection or are we living under the rejection of it. How are our spiritual and moral lives? Let me close with these words that Paul echoed in the Corinthian church:

“Where O death, is your victory? Where O death is your sting?”

Indeed Christ has defeated death and removed its sting by His blood!

Amen

 

Stand! A Call to Spiritual Warfare: An Exposition on Eph. 6:10-18

Armor of God

I. Introduction

The greatest obstacle for missions today is the church itself. The reason is that the church is not well-equipped to face the threats from within that divides the church and from without that threatens its existence. The failure of the church is the failure of its members as the members fail to take up the arms to fight the Satan’s schemes. We live in a world where at every nook and corner, there is spiritual war going on. May it be in the house, workplace, street, and even in the church itself—we are at war all the time. Besides, young people are more vulnerable to fall into the traps of the devil because they are not properly trained to fight the schemes of the devil. The message of Eph. 6:10-18 is very much relevant to us. The call to Stand!—is the call to take up the arms for the Spiritual warfare. Paul in this section commands the church to be prepared for the battle and to put on the armor of God to fight the devil. Therefore, as Christians we are commanded to proclaim the Lord’s victory over the Satan by being strengthened in the Lord, and by fully equipped to engage in the spiritual warfare. A Christian is, then, a man at arms—a soldier, who is at war every moment. Keeping this in mind, I would like to entitle this sermon as “Stand! A Call to Spiritual Warfare.”

II. The context:

Let us briefly look in to the context and the purpose of this letter. Ephesus is a metropolitan city. It is a very strategic point for evangelism. Paul wrote this letter from prison (3:1; 4:1; 6:20). He is also well aware of his death sentence (Phil. 1:19-26; 2:17, 23). It is very interesting that Paul talks about fighting the battle, at the verge of his death. This can be treated as Paul’s farewell speech. Most probably this letter might have been written between 60-61 AD.

The purpose of this letter is that Paul encourages the Ephesian church to be “prepared” to fight against the devil. He commands the church to take up the arms to fight all the possible schemes of the devil that disunites the church.

III. Stand! A Call to Spiritual Warfare

A. Be made strong in the Lord: Vv. 10-13

10Finally, be made strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.

11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you can (may be) stand against the wiles of devil.

12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you can withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

i. A close relationship with God: A prerequisite to be strong

10Finally, be made strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.

The word ‘finally’ (Tou/ loipou/), indicates that Paul is bringing his letter to climax. Besides, this word suggests ‘continuation’ of what Paul has been saying earlier. Paul explained God’s sovereign plan in Christ, His relationship with church and the appropriation of the gift of salvation in the everyday life of a believer. In order, the church should be strong; the personal piety of the believers needs to be strong. Therefore, Paul opens this section with his call to be prepared and to fight the devil.

Kindly note he phrase, “be made strong.” In NRSV, NIV and Nepali versions, it is translated as “be strong.” However, the accurate expression is “be made strong” (passive) for three reasons. Firstly, we cannot strengthen ourselves. We do not possess the strength to fight the devil. Secondly, the phrase is connected to the source of our strength, i.e., “in the Lord.” In other words God is our source of our strength. It is only He, who can strengthen us. Note that Paul does not say “by the Lord” but he say “in the Lord.” We may be strengthened by our friends, by our loved ones but you don’t find the strength “in” them. We can only be strengthened in the Lord. Thirdly, to be made strong, one needs to be in close relationship with God. The result of such close and intimate relationship is being strong and experience ofthe strength of his power.” Therefore, it is only when we are in close relationship with Christ, then we will be strengthened to Stand.

 ii. A Call to put on the Armor of God: Vv. 11-13

11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you can (may be) stand against the wiles of devil.

12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you can withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Having explained what it means to be strengthened in the Lord, Paul goes on to explain the manner in which we can be strengthened. In v. 11, Paul talks about “putting on the whole armor of God.” The phrase “put on” in Greek understanding to “be clothed.” This is something similar to what Paul says in Eph. 4:24 —“clothing oneself with the new humanity—a gift that God has given us in and through Jesus Christ. In other words, we need to appropriate this gift of new humanity or our salvation in and through our lives.

Here we can observe an imagery of a Roman soldier. Probably, as Paul was imprisoned at Rome, very often he would see one of these armored soldiers. Conversely, Armor of God in this passage has two aspects­—one is that the armor God himself wears and the other armor God supplies to his people. In the Old Testament, the picture of God as heavenly warrior is given in Isa. 59:17. The difference between the armor of God that God wears and the armor that is supplied to us is that in the former, armor is worn by the victorious warrior and in the later the same armor is supplied to us.

The purpose of being clothed or putting on the armor is to “Stand” against all the schemes of the devil. Here we need to notice two wordsStand  and wiles or stratagem. The word “stand” is the key word of this passage. The word “stand” is a military term “for holding on to a defensive position.” We can imagine a battle ground where the soldier is holding on to his position to face the attack of the enemy. The other word is “wiles or stratagems.” This word is not to be understood only as “physical attack” of the devil who is the commander-in-chief of the opposing force. It should be taken as physical attacks that we can see and “cunning devices, subtle ways” that we cannot see. This means that we can be attacked from outside and also from within—our own temptations and our choice to fall into sin, anger, pride, greed, and many more.

In verse 12, Paul warns the church to be aware of the invisible enemy behind visible enemy. To show the comprehensive power of this invisible enemy, Paul mentions “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers.” We should not think that our rulers and authorities are evil but we should be conscious of the fact that the devil may use them for his attacks on the believers. In other words, church can face threat of persecution from outside and the threat of spiritual temptations from within. Likewise, even an individual believer should be aware of the same.

Having explained the intensity and insidiousness of the devil and his schemes, Paul urges once again to “take up” the armor. Observe the change in the verbs—in v.11, Paul says “put on,” here he says, “take up.” This means the armor is given to us by our commander-in-chief i.e., our God who has already won the battle. The phrase “on that evil day” means the day we may face an extreme attack and also a lesser attack by the devil. In other words, the evil day means the moment in which we are attacked by the devil. Paul urges us that in such moments we need to take up the armor to stand against such cunning attack.

B. The description of the Armor of God: Vv. 14-17

14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.

15 And your feet fitted with the preparedness that comes from the Gospel.

16 With all of these, take shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

There are six items in the armor that Paul describes. The order in which Paul describes is the order in which a soldier wears these items. These items have two aspects. One is that they are divine endowments or gifts given to the believer. Second one is that they are virtues, a believer has to develop.

The first item is “belt of truth.” This here truth is depicted as the belt. Paul seems to draw this picture of wearing the belt of truth from Isa. 11:5—Messiah wearing the belt of righteousness and faithfulness. Here truth should be understood as truth of the Gospel (Eph. 1:13; 4:15) and truth in the inward being as in Psa. 51:6. The act of biding the belt of truth indicates “preparedness” for the battle.

The second item is “breastplate of righteousness” which is closely connected with the belt of truth. The breastplate would cover the body from neck to the thighs. Righteousness means “uprightness and integrity in the character” which is the direct result of appropriating the Christ’s righteousness. It is only in and through the person, life and work of Christ, one is made righteous. Our life is then, should be the reflection of Christ’s righteousness.

The third item is “preparedness” for the battle. This “preparedness” comes from the Gospel of peace. Paul seems to have taken this aspect from Isa. 52:7—“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace!” Here, the readiness to fight comes from our grounding in the gospel of peace. The paradox is that we are called to fight a spiritual battle to establish peace in the world.

The fourth item is shield of faith. The phrase “with all of these” in v. 16 means in all the circumstances, we are called to use our faith as our shield against devil’s schemes. The shield is actually made of two large wooden planks attached together and covered with the leather that is soaked in the water. It is then covered with iron. It covers the whole body in the combat. It would catch the flaming arrows and extinguishes them. Faith here means our trust in God. This trust comes when we believe in God. Only then, our faith becomes defensive equipment that extinguishes all the devilish schemes. Here the phrase “all the flaming arrows of the evil one” may mean comprehensiveness in the devils attack on God’s people. It can be a temptation, doubt, self-pity, and at times devil might even use our loved ones against us. It is such a time; we are called to take up our faith as a shield to defend ourselves.

The fifth item is helmet of salvation. Helmet is used to protect the head. Salvation means deliverance from the bondage of sin. It is a gift given to us by God. Here, Paul seems to use the imagery of Isa. 59: 17—“He (Yahweh) put on a helmet of salvation on his head.” In this context, helmet of salvation means helmet of victory because God needs no salvation but he gives salvation to us. The Greek verb (de,xasqe), indicates the “givenness” of salvation to us. While we were given freedom to choose the above items, this item, is specially given by God to us. Elsewhere, Paul mentions about “hope of salvation” as a helmet at the second coming of the Lord. Putting all together, in the present verse helmet of salvation means our awareness of victory in the Lord over sin and hope for the complete redemption at the Lord’s second coming. So, we are to be confident in the victory and hope in the Lord in the battle.

The sixth item is sword of the Spirit. This is the only item in the armor used to offend the enemy or attack the enemy. Here, Paul describes this sword to be the word of God. This is the ultimate weapon to attack the devil. The best example is how Christ fought the temptation of Satan using the Word of God (Matt. 4:1-10). This calls us for a serious and honest study of the Scripture.

IV. Conclusion

Finally, as I bring this to a close, I want to share a true incident that has happened many years ago. This story is about a very young pastor. He loved God so immensely. His hope was very strong. He reflected that light and glory of God in everything he did and said. He contracted cancer. He and his wife were told that he had only few months to live. But they have not shown any sign of pain or anxiety. In his last Sunday sermon he said, “Our Lord suffered and died for our sins. Why should I not share in his sufferings? After this he sang this beautiful song which made everyone to cry. Hear these words that he sang:

Must Jesus bear the Cross alone,

And all the world go free,

No, there is a Cross for everyone,

And there’s a Cross for me

How happy are the saints above,

Who once went sorr’wing here,

But now they taste unmingled love,

And joy without fear

The consecrated Cross I bear

Till death shall set me free,

And then go home my crown to wear,

For there is a crown for me.

It is just amazing how this Pastor, even fought death. My dear Church, look at the maturity of faith this Pastor has displayed. He showed a confident faith in his crisis. He saw life beyond the grave i.e., the power of Christ’s resurrection. My dear church, the call for the church today is a call to war—a spiritual war. We are called to be prepared for the battle not to win but to proclaim victory of the Lord to the world. We are called to put on the armor of God to take stand against the attacks of the devil. Finally, my dear church, Stand firm! And see the deliverance of the Lord!

 

The Two Sides of Faith: Confidence and Crisis- An Exposition on Psalm 27

 

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Introduction

Not long ago, we all have experienced two major earthquakes. There has been loss of property, life, and hopes. I am sure; some of you might have even lost your dear ones. There are others who might have been struggling with chronic diseases, financial problems and many more. What is faith for them? How do we understand the maturity of our faith? How do we see the growth of our faith? How is your faith in your joy and in your crisis? How to conduct our faith in joy and in pain? We will try to understand this phenomenon looking in to the Scripture. It is a fact that the life oscillates between good times and bad times. So does our faith. This phenomenon is reflected in Psalm 27. The first part of the Psalm talks about our confidence in God’s presence (Vv. 1-6) and the second part talks about crisis in God’s presence (Vv. 7-14). Keeping this in mind, I would like to entitle my sermon as “The two sides of faith: Confidence and Crisis.”

Context

Let me lay out the context for you. We do not know for sure what the exact context of this Psalm is. However, there are two possible contexts. One is from David’s own struggle to escape from Saul’s attempts to murder him. Second one is it is a prayer of a king who is going to the battle.

This Psalm is a combination of confidence in God’s presence and a plea for God’s presence in one’s own crisis. In the same manner, our faith also experiences confidence in God and at the same time we do experience His presence in our crisis. So, faith is the power that enables us to experience God’s goodness and also His presence in joy as well as in pain. This phenomenon was beautifully illustrated by David in Psalm 27.

Confidence in God’s Presence vv. 1-6

 Fearlessness and Security vv. 1-3

Fearlessness and security are the results of God’s presence in our lives. It is because of God’s presence we, need not to fear anything. This confidence in V. 1 is expressed in three metaphors or words—“light,” “salvation,” and “stronghold.” Firstly, light banishes darkness. Salvation is a victory that God gifts to His people. Stronghold is a place of safety and protection that God provides. Now darkness in this context means threat from David’s enemies. However, it could be a chronic disease, financial problem, unemployment, sin, addiction, oppression by the evil spirits and many more. But through it all God’s light will shine forth in our “darkest hour” thereby giving us victory and protection.

Verses 2-3 explains then manner in which the Psalmist experienced God’s presence. It is because God is our “light,” “salvation,” and “stronghold” we are to be confident even though bad people try to oppress us or insult us. If we see the word “devour” in Hebrew is “אכל”—which in this context expresses the aspect of oppression, and verbal insults. However, the three kinds of people who were mentioned i.e., “evildoers,” “adversaries,” and “foes” have already made to stumble and fall. The last part of V. 2 in NRSV, NIV and Nepali versions is translated in future tense, however, in the original language, it is past tense. Here we need to notice that the failure of these evil people is not going to be in a distant future but it has already taken place. Verse 3 reiterates what has been explained in v. 2 to emphasize on the absolute certainty in the presence of the LORD.

Prayer for God’s Presence vv. 4-6

In these verses Psalmist expresses his ultimate desire to be in the presence of the LORD and also he explains the consequences of living under the presence of God. In v. 4, we see, Psalmist praying for one ultimate thing i.e., “to dwell in the house of LORD.” The verb “seek” in Hebrew is בקשׁ which means “to seek, pursue, and visit or to choose.” In this context this word means to “pursue”— a strong determination to ‘pursue’ the will of the LORD at all costs. This will of the LORD for him and his own desire—is a permanent residence in the presence of the LORD. The Psalmist prayer is not only to pursue the will of Yahweh but also to “behold” the beauty of the LORD. The word “behold” in Hebrew is חזה which may mean “to look, see, behold.” In this context it means constantly looking at the beauty of the LORD. In other words it is ‘gazing’ at the beauty of the LORD. The “beauty” here does not mean physical beauty. The Hebrew word for “beauty” is “נֹעַם.” It is the delightfulness, pleasantness, and gracefulness of the LORD in His dealing with the Psalmist.

Vv. 5-6 expresses the consequences of such pursuit. Firstly, you can always inquire the LORD. You can always ask for guidance from the LORD. Secondly, you will experience divine protection. Lastly, since you experience the above two, we end up worshipping the LORD in adoration and thanksgiving.

Crisis in God’s Presence vv. 7-14

In these verses you see a change in mood. The confidence and trust in the first section now turns to cry for help. Now, Psalmist’s is in crisis. In vv. 1-6, David referred God in the third person when he was very confident but in crisis; he refers to God in first person “my God, my Salvation.” In other words, we talk about God when we are confident but as we face crisis, we talk to God. Now, let us turn to see how Psalmist expresses his crisis in God’s presence.

Prayer for divine protection vv. 7-10

In verses 7-10, Psalmist cries out for help. He prays for divine protection. Let us compare V. 8 with V. 4. In both the verses there is a “seeking the face of the LORD” but in different circumstances. In v. 4, Psalmist was confident in seeking and beholding the beauty of the LORD but in V. 8, his own heart cries out to him to seek God’ s face as he is going to face the “dark” days ahead . In all this, in v. 10, Psalmist still expresses his confidence in God’s love even at the prospect of his own family abandoning him. There are times a father and a mother may abandon their children. We live in a world where baby girls are being killed in the wombs only. However, Psalmist says even though our earthly parents reject us, our heavenly parent will never reject, but he will “take us up.” In other words, He will never abandon us. We need to notice one thing, even in the hopeless situation; Psalmist was able to express his confidence not because he has ability to be confident but because he experienced God’s “light,” “salvation” and his divine protection.

Prayer for divine guidance vv. 11-12

Here Psalmist is praying for God’s divine guidance along with divine protection. In v.11, we need to notice two things. One is God “teaches or instructs” in which way we must go. Second one is God himself will lead us alongside with us in the right or level path. In other words, God personally involves in leading us in to the right path just like a good shepherd...

Believe! and Wait! vv. 13-14

These last two verses expresses believing and waiting upon the LORD. NRSV, Nepali, and NIV translations read V. 13 as “I believe that I shall see…” However, in Hebrew, if it is accurately translated, it reads “unless I believe in seeing the goodness of Yahweh in the land of the living.” It may mean that “believing” is important to “see” the goodness of Yahweh. In other words, believing is prerequisite to faith. Only when you believe, then there is a place for faith.

            This “believing” will be translated into faith and faith expresses itself— in patiently looking to the LORD in the adverse or difficult situations. Verse 14, is a self-reminder to look to the LORD in hope for strength and courage. It is only when we look to the LORD in hope we will be strengthen by His light that shuns “darkness” in our lives thereby giving us victory over our adverse situations.

Illustration:

We need to notice one thing here. God’s divine presence with us does not mean a problem free life and God never gives us ‘ready-made’ solutions to all our problems. Rather, He would walk with us in our problems and help us to find solutions or let me say He would calm our hearts to help us to see the big picture.

I don’t know how many of you know the story behind this hymn “It is well with my soul.” This hymn has been a blessing to so many in their trails and temptations. It was penned down by Horatio Spafford who is into ministry. He is close friend of D. L. Moody. Spafford was a wealthy lawyer in Chicago. He has big estate, beautiful wife Anna, four daughters and a son. At the height of his professional success they lost their son. Very shortly after that his estate was burned in a fire accident. Still he wanted to involve in ministry with Moody and others in Chicago but decided to send his wife and daughters to Europe to recover from the loss. He sends his wife and four daughters in a ship only to know after few days that the ship met with an accident and only his wife survived. With a heavy heart Spafford boarded a boat to meet his grieving wife who is in Europe. It was at that time He wrote this song-

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul…

My dear church, this is the kind of faith we need to display in our crisis. Many a times we tend to doubt God’s existence in our difficult situation but we are called to put our trust and faith in Him in those times. This trust and faith will be evident only when you and I truly believe in God and in the power of Christ’s resurrection. The earthquake might have taken my life and my family’s life but I strongly believe that I would be ventured into the very presence of the King—LORD Jesus Christ. Indeed, I have nothing to fear, even death and so also I commend you as well not to fear death or be scared of your crisis, rather put your trust in God as He is the ground of our confidence, security and trust.

Conclusion

As I close my sermon, let me make a statement and give you an illustration. Sometimes God comes to us calming storms in our lives and at other times He calms us in the midst of storms.

Let me tell you the story of one of my heroes of faith. This is a true story of a young pastor. He loved God so immensely. His hope was very strong. He reflected that light and glory of God in everything he did and said. He contracted cancer. He and his wife were told that he had only few months to live. But they have not shown any sign of pain or anxiety. In his last Sunday sermon he said, “Our Lord suffered and died for our sins. Why should I not share in his sufferings? After this he sang this beautiful song which made everyone to cry. Hear these words that he sang:

Must Jesus bear the Cross alone,

And all the world go free,

No, there is a Cross for everyone,

And there’s a Cross for me

How happy are the saints above,

Who once went sorr’wing here,

But now they taste unmingled love,

And joy without fear

The consecrated Cross I bear

Till death shall set me free,

And then go home my crown to wear,

For there is a crown for me.

My dear Church, look at the maturity of faith this Pastor has displayed. He showed a confident faith in his crisis. He saw life beyond the grave i.e., the power of Christ’s resurrection. My dear church, to have such an exemplary faith, we need to believe in God and trust in Him all the predicaments of our life. Only then, we will experience God’s light of salvation in our darkest hours. May the LORD help us to grow in faith in our joy and pain.

 

A REVIEW ON BREVARD S. CHILDS. “THE CANONICAL SHAPE OF THE PROPHETIC LITERATURE.” INTERPRETATION 32, 1 (1978): 46–55.

Brevard S. Childs attempts to advocate the primacy of canonical approach over the historical-critical method in reading prophetic literature. In fact, he advocates the same approach to read the Bible as a whole. The paper is divided into three sections.

The first section is a brief analysis on different methodologies, thesis, purpose of the paper, and hypothesis. It is widely agreed that the modern research assumes that the current shape of literature has pre–literary stages that can be reconstructed by using critical methodologies. Besides appreciating the contributions of modern research, Childs, however, suggest that historical-critical approach is inadequate to study biblical literature. The historical-critical method has fragmentised the text with speculations about the sitz-im-leben; and politicised the text—by which the normative role of Scriptures was downplayed in the church. Having stated the problem, Childs proposes canonical approach in studying prophetic literature in five steps.

Firstly, canonical process considers literary and theological impetus in shaping the final form of the Hebrew Bible, in particular, prophetic literature which is a normative Scripture for the future generations.

Secondly, canonical process reflects the historical encounter between God and Israel—by which the final form is shaped. Childs remarks that canon’s assertion on biblical text as a witness to Israel’s encounter with God and the one which is under the effect, is an alternative explanation to the ambiguity of canonical process and the formation of the final form. However, he does not give any reason for such ambiguity. The final form points to an end of normative history in which revelatory history is discernible.

Regarding the canonicity of the earlier stages of biblical traditions, Childs, states that prior to the formation of the final form, earlier stages were considered canonical. In this regard a critical function of canon on earlier stages is exercised in passing the tradition with all its historical information and the being selective in arranging or expanding the traditions. The two critical functions may be regarded as form and redaction criticism, which Childs overlooks. Childs, though, he advocates the primacy of canonical approach depends on other methodologies to explain his approach which he deems it to be different. If the “process of the formation” and the history of its canonization” are deliberately made ambiguous or lost, then how is it possible to provide a critical judgment regarding the canonicity of the earlier biblical traditions? (47-48)

Childs suggests that the final form itself possess a hermeneutic function—by which certain elements are emphasized over the other. He suggests that any methodology that deviates from the “canonical ordering” needs to be avoided as they tend to shift the focus of the text from its message to its historical and literary aspects.

Finally, canonical process is an integral process by which the earlier traditions were shaped and transmitted to be used by future generations of Israel. This process started in the preexilic time and gained momentum during postexilic time. The actualization of the traditions along with theological import organized into the text by which interpretative guidelines were provided. Contrastingly, modern research seeks to ignore canonical shaping of the text and thus the interpreter finds it difficult to interpret the same in one’s own contemporary context.

In the second section, Childs illustrates the actualization of the traditions in the prophetic literature with the theological reflection—by which the text provides interpretative guidelines for its appropriation. He gives eight examples from different prophetic books.

The first example discusses about the expansion of the original message within larger theological context. Amos’ message of doom and restoration has been arranged within the larger eschatological context (Am 9:1-10 cf. Am 9:11-15). However, the critical scholarship suggests an editorial work from the later generation. Childs did not consider that the same canonical process might be at work in the suggestion made by the critical scholarship.

The next example discusses about the assigning of “new metaphorical role” to the original prophesy. (49) The original material has been arranged in such way that chapters 1-3 of Hosea can be symbolically interpreted. However, Childs overlooks the historicity of Hosea’s marriage which undergirds the metaphorical explanation of the same.

The purpose of detachment of the prophetic material is to subordinate the material to a “new theological context.” (50) The critical scholarship suggestive of Babylonian exile, contrastingly, Childs suggests that the exilic setting of Second Isaiah has been detached so that the material may have an eighth century setting with an eschatological meaning. However, one can see that both Childs and Critical scholarship seek to reconstruct the historical setting of Isaiah­—an eighth century context by the former and a Babylonian exile by the later.

The next example is regarding edition of the prophetic material by looking at larger canonical literature. The prosaic language of Jeremiah’s message, from literary criticism’s perspective, is an editorial work of Deuteronomic school; whereas, from canonical perspective it is preservation of Jeremiah’s words—by which the words were provided with a commentary that is in line with the former messengers loyal to Mosaic Law. Similarly, the common oracles of Isaiah and Micah (Isa 2:1-4 cf. Mic 4:104), from a historical perspective, is an editorial work of common tradents of two traditions; whereas from canonical perspective, it is to provide a commentary for a mutual benefit. However, Childs do not give any reason for such a canonical move whereas; historical criticism is suggestive of common editors or redactors of two traditions.

According to the next example, the canonical shaping of the prophet’s message in terms of its original historical ordering is assigned a new role through a “radical theocentric focus.” (51) This new role is not to downplay historicity of the text; rather, it transcends the text—by which an eschatological view of God’s salvafic plan is made evident. This kind of canonical shaping has influenced the final form. In Nahum and Habakkuk, the hymns function as “dramatic illustration of the eschatological triumph of God.” (51) The book of Ezekiel, with all its ambiguity in terms of its geographical location, audience, and absence of conventional prophetic speech forms, transcends prophet’s message from temporal to transcendent level. Thus, Childs, observes this shift to be a ‘canonical key’ by which the text is relativized and the final shape is affected.

Childs suggests, in the next example, that a “rule-of-faith” framework is used to provide an “interpretative guideline” for the prophetic message. (51) While the critical scholarship considers the two appendices at the end of Malachi as an editorial work of priestly editor; canonical process views the same as a unity of law and prophets, and as a balance between past and the future. The same is true for the book of Ecclesiastes in which the order—God’s commandments (12:13) and impending judgment (12:14) placed together by a rule-of-faith. However, Childs do not establish what constitutes rule-of-faith.

The next example discusses a “patterning schema” of the prophetic material to support a “new typological role”—by which an original historical sequence of the text is subordinated and refocused to a dominant theological motifs. (52) The books of Isaiah and Micah illustrate the above in which oracles of doom and salvation have been arranged alternatively.

The final example discusses the “radical eschatologizing” of original material and its focus by which the symbols are interpreted differently. (52) Childs observes this as “internal theological shaping” by which a tension is worked out in to the text—between original visions and present shape of the oracles. He points to this tension in the book of Zechariah and book of Joel. The original focus of these books was fashioned in such a way that one can see a tension between original historical focus of the text and futuristic focus.

Childs concludes that the above examples points to a “creative” force behind collecting the material and shaping the same. (53) One can see that the above examples do exhaust the interpretation of prophetic literature which Childs disagrees. Moreover, he shifts his focus to the interpretation of the OT as a whole while discussing prophetic literature.

The third section discusses seven theological implication of the canonical shaping. The first one is regarding OT exegesis. The task of OT exegesis is to interpret the canonical text. The prophetic literature, in particular, needs to be interpreted from theocentric perspective—from which Israel’s identity is a derivative. The tradents deliberately have hidden their identity in the text so that the text gets attention. However, it is very ambiguous how tradents tried to “hide their footprints,” which Childs overlooks. (53)

The second one is that since earlier traditions are considered canonical, they do not pose any threat to the divine authority. Childs disagrees with the scepticism of protestant and reformed churches regarding traditions as a threat to divine source. The words of prophets and word of God in the traditions are considered to be divinely inspired. Canon seeks to preserve witness of such traditions and hence resisting any method that accounts for different levels of authority to the Scripture.

The third implication is that the historical referent can be identified within the canonical text of the Scripture. The understanding of prophets would be very difficult, if one resorts to historical-critical method. Thus, Childs remarks such an attempt will lead to a “major hermeneutical confusion.” (53)

The next implication is that one can bring out the relevance of the text without resorting to historical-critical method as canonical shaping warrants for an “intentional theological shaping” (52) of the text for edifying future generations.

The fifth implication is that it is quite impossible to formulate theology of prophets, if one attempts to reconstruct the text based on historical-critical method. The sixth implication is that if the canonical shaping is not taken seriously, then it is very difficult to understand the New Testament’s usage of OT prophets. From canonical perspective, Childs observes that NT understands Second Isaiah, Joel and Hosea in eschatological terms.

Finally, Childs concludes the article by discussing and clarifying the role of canonical approach in the exegetical task of OT. For him, canonical approach should not be regarded as another method in the overarching historical-critical method. Contrastingly, it is a vantage point from where the Bible must be read. Conversely, canonical approach sets limit to the scope of biblical exegesis. Childs observes two dimensions. First one is negative—canonical approach strongly resists the assumption that prior to starting exegesis, one must look at the text from a historical-critical lens. Second one is positive—canonical approach frees the interpreter in the exegetical task by which he/she is confronted by the authoritative word of God. The relevance and function of the text can, thus, be understood and applied to the community of faith.

Childs’ canonical approach to see the Scriptures as Sacred is appreciable. The approach is a reaction against any critical method that atomises the Scriptures which seeks to decanonize the same. Therefore, one can see a stark discontinuity between historical-critical method and Childs’ canonical approach. Moreover, Childs approach was often criticized by the critical scholarship as it tends to ignore the historicity of the Scriptures. The notion that tradents obscured their footprints in the text has not been established by Childs. While focusing on the final form, Childs, however, ignores different versions of the final form. While claiming a discontinuity from historical-critical method, Childs, however, depends on the same to elucidate his approach. Nevertheless, Childs’ approach liberates the interpreter to exegete the prophetic material as sacred word of God which is authoritative and normative for the community of faith. Furthermore, such an exegetical task would call for a different hermeneutic inquiry to interpret prophetic material and the Bible as a whole.

 

 

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                                                YESHWANTH B. V.