Law, Grace, and Rescuing Moses from Exile, Pt 2

It is always interesting to read music reviews for new albums, for two reasons: (1) most music critics overload reviews with jargon, obscure references to other musical “influences,” and elliptical discourse structure (see, I’m doing the same thing; I’m not even sure what that combination of words means, but it sure makes this sound more erudite); and (2) they invariably try to impose on the album their own understanding of the lyrics or overall theme.

The Boss
The Boss

Whether it is some elaborate construction of the meaning of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or scintillating insights into the latest from the Arcade Fire, Bruce Springsteen, or Miley Cyrus, the whole music review game becomes all the more interesting when someone finally interviews the actual musicians and asks them, “What did you mean by this song lyric?” In many (most?) cases the songwriter’s interpretation of his / her own song will be quite different from all the opinions of the learned music criticism community.

This is all well and good, for there is clearly an element of music that is open to listener response (or, in literary theory: reader-response criticism). But it does point in the direction I want to head with this study of the Mosaic Covenant. Many scholars who hold to the second view mentioned in my last post – namely, that the Mosaic Covenant is a recapitulation of the Covenant of Works and does not “belong,” so to speak, in the Covenant of Grace ­– rarely if ever ask of Moses, “What did you mean by this covenant of law that you documented from the Lord?”

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Hegel and Humility in Christian Ministry

It all started with a joke during tea time that hinged on everyone’s awareness of a certain dead German theologian of the early 1900s. Everyone laughed, sipped their tea, and moved on to the next topic.

Five minutes later, Wikipedia received a search request for said German theologian; actually, Google received it first, primarily to make sure the spelling was correct, then Wikipedia. Google has yet to release the search logs regarding who actually submitted the request, but the NSA surely has received it already. But I digress.

Everyone knows that seminary jokes are pretty bad. But PhD jokes are even worse, and this moment during my first week here brought home to me a certain and painful realization: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

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Law, Grace, and Rescuing Moses from Exile, Pt 1

Rules, rules, more rules, lots of rules, rules, rules, many more rules, tons of additional rules for the rules you already have, rules on top of rules, rules about how to write the word ‘rule,’ rules for when you know you’ve kept the rules, rules rules rules.

That is how the key page in the story about Moses in the Jesus Storybook Bible (which we use with our daughters and highly recommend) talks about the Law of Moses, the covenant that God revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai shortly after the Exodus and further elaborated over time (as contained in the latter half of Exodus, Leviticus, part of Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

The equation runs: Law of Moses = Crippling Rules. And, of course, no kid wants more rules to keep. Neither do theologians.

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The Early Church Bookshelf

If I have 7 Narnia books but only 1-2 copies of the Bible, does that mean C. S. Lewis is a greater authority in my life than Jesus Christ...?
If I have 7 Narnia books but only 1-2 copies of the Bible, does that mean C. S. Lewis is a greater authority in my life than Jesus Christ…?

In general, you can learn a lot about people based on what is on their bookshelf, whether they even have a bookshelf, and how many bookshelves they actually have. The literature that one reads – from nothing at all to vampire fiction to romance novels to classical literature to anything by dead Russians – reveals a lot about one’s interests, passions, hobbies, and so on. Or, viewed from the other direction, that which we read plays a large role in shaping and molding us: expanding our experience base, informing us about myriad subjects, and, ultimately, influencing our worldview. One might even say that the things we read the most are the best indicators of the factors and values that make us who we are.

This presents an odd little conundrum for the Christian reader. Unless you have shelves full of well-marked copies of the Bible, or unless you can honestly say that you spend more time reading Scripture than anything else (newspapers, instruction manuals, work-related documents, and cookbooks included!), then you have this peculiar little mismatch between what you actually read and the single book which, in theory, is the most formative influence on your life. For instance, even if you spent an hour a day studying the Bible vigorously this past week, chances are you spent at least twice as much time reading other writings, both religious and non-religious. Does that mean you undervalue the Bible? That it is not the most important of all? Can you measure the importance of your literary influences based on number of copies, or number of minutes spent reading them in a given time frame?

It is pretty obvious that, in general, the answer is “no.” While we all would admit that we should spend more time studying God’s Word than we typically do, it is pretty reasonable to conclude that we do not have to spend numerically the most time reading it than anything else in order to prove that we value it more highly than anything else we read. Put differently, God’s Word can be the definitive, rock-solid authority in our lives without negating the possibility that we can benefit and learn from other texts.

Strangely, this seemingly simple truth seems lost on many biblical scholars who draw puzzling conclusions about the nature of early Christianity by taking a look at what I’m calling the “early church bookshelf.”

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Doeg: Evil in the Hands of a Good God

If you wanted to put together a list of  the “bottom 10” people in the Bible (excluding Satan, to be fair, since it wouldn’t be right to put God or Jesus in the “top 5” people), you would have a lot of folks to choose from. These would be a good place to start: Cain (first murderer, not including Satan), Ahab / Jezebel (a tag-team of badness), Manasseh (child sacrificer), Jeroboam I (who kicked off all the badness for the Northern Kingdom), Herod the Great (slaughterer of children), Herodias and Herod Antipas (beheaded John the Baptist), Judas (for obvious reasons), Pontius Pilate (the hand-washer), and Saul/Paul.*

I want to argue that the tenth should be a little-known figure buried in 1 Samuel named Doeg the Edomite. The way in which Doeg appears on the scene, wreaks havoc, and disappears offers a great case study about how God relates to evil.

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Qumran Pt 2: Why do the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter?

Examples of the find in Cave 4
Examples of the find in Cave 4

In the introduction, I provided a somewhat tongue-in-cheek retelling of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls through a Major League Baseball card analogy. In that fake scenario, a collection of old baseball cards was found buried inside tree trunks in the woods, and a media frenzy broke out over the findings. In my analogy, three basic types of baseball cards were present in this collection: (a) rare, mint condition rookie cards of famous baseball players of the past (e.g., the Great Isaiah Scroll); (b) some worn out baseball cards of recognizable players, but not on the same level as a Honus Wagner or Mickey Mantle card (e.g., fragments of various religious writings like 1 Enoch or Tobit, which were already well-known before the DSS discovery); and, most shockingly, (c) baseball cards representing players, teams, statistics, and playing positions that no one had ever seen before or heard of in all the history of baseball.

In an era of Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Bradley (Chelsea?) Manning, and Twitter, we can imagine just how quickly such a finding would spawn all sorts of conspiracy theories. Is Major League Baseball hiding some secret past? Why have they never shared this information before? Is there an underground league of aliens or mysterious people groups playing baseball that Bud Selig does not want you to find out about? We must get it out in the light and expose the lies and secrets!

Well, that’s basically what happened in the aftermath of the Scrolls. Only before Twitter.
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Qumran Pt 1: What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

It All Started with Throwing Rocks in the Hills of Qumran

No, really, that is how it all started. After almost seventy years of “Whodunnit,” we still really do not know the full story of how the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and initially handled. The reigning theory – based on who said what and when and who paid whom off and so forth – runs as follows. In the winter of 1947 or spring of 1948, a group of (Muslim) Bedouins were tending their flocks on the northwest hillsides of the Dead Sea, near the ruins of an ancient community of some sort named Qumran. One of the Bedouins had a habit of throwing rocks into caves to pass the time, and one day he heard something shatter when his rock entered. Days later, his friend Muhammad edh-Dhib returned to scout out the cave to see what it contained. They uncovered some pottery containing what appeared to be ancient scrolls – 3 at first, and then 4 more were discovered later. At this point, the eyewitness accounts get murky about what they did with those first scrolls, who they talked to, who bought them first, how those initial seven were divided up, and so forth. Antiquities dealers, Roman Catholic priests, American scholars in Jerusalem, and many more players got involved. Press releases announcing these scrolls were published prematurely, scholarly bragging rights as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars were at risk, and the whole thing initially got a little out of hand.

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Treading Cautiously at Qumran

HonusWagnerCardImagine yourself walking around with some buddies and your dogs out in the woods. To pass the time, you start throwing rocks at trees to see if you can get one to land in a hole or split the imaginary uprights of the tree branches or whatever.[1]

Now imagine that one of the rocks makes it inside a tree hole and causes a loud crashing noise. You ignore it, and a few days later one of your buddies goes back out in the woods to that tree to investigate what caused that noise. And lo and behold, he makes one of the greatest discoveries of rare baseball cards of all time.

Hidden in the tree is a metal case containing several Mickey Mantle rookie cards, a handful of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and – the jackpot – multiple Honus Wagner T206 cards. Some are in mint condition, some are not, but either way, this collection of rare cards is priceless. Your buddy hides some of the cards and sheepishly tells you something vague about “finding something out in the woods,” and then he hits the road. Suspicious, you start looking around the other trees in the vicinity, and you find more card collections. Some are grubby and hard to read, others are less pristine versions of what was already found (though at this point you don’t actually know what your buddy, who has now found his way to a back-alley card dealer with serious cashflow, has in his possession from the first tree), and a few are cards of players you’ve never heard of. Curious, you make your way into town toting these boxes of miscellaneous cards, wondering what exactly you have found.

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The Power of a Pronoun

I was sitting in a class on biblical interpretation offered at the RTS Washington D.C. campus in the summer of 2012 when I essentially stumbled upon what would later become the genesis of my dissertation topic. The professor, Dr. Tommy Keene, had provided some direction on our writing assignment that morning, and during a short break I was poking around Accordance (Mac Bible software) thinking about what I might want to research for the paper.

I had recently been working through 1 Peter in my personal studies, and our lecture that morning had revolved around the various views of the structure and flow of argument in Romans. Pretty soon I recognized that both letters at key junctures quote the same verse of the book of Isaiah: the stone placed in Zion. What I did not know then but later discovered as I fleshed out my paper[1] and, ultimately, landed on my “stone” thesis idea, was that much of the debate about how Romans and 1 Peter are quoting Isaiah revolves around one key grammatical feature of the sentence: a single pronoun. This one pronoun provides great insight into how NT authors reflect upon and quote from the OT.

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Connecting Biblical Scholarship to the Church