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Two Old Testament Books (or Preach More from the Old Testament)

Two Old Testament Books (or Preach More from the Old Testament)

My company is offering special prices on all our books related to the Old Testament. I decided to blog a bit about the books we’re offering. So if you don’t want to hear about books that are for sale, this one isn’t for you. On the other hand, I promise to be wordy, tell stories, and fail to get to the point for paragraphs at a time. As usual! And by the way, this got started because we’ve put Ecclesiastes: A Participatory Study Guide, the first in the series on an Old Testament book, on pre-order. Look for it in mid-November. I’ll talk about it later in the week.

This morning I was thinking about two books, because they relate so closely to my own Christian experience and to a weakness I see in the church and the way we teach the Bible. The first is by one of my college professors, Dr. Alden Thompson. He guided me through my second and third year of Hebrew as well as any number of questions that arose. I never did take an introduction to the Old Testament, though I took several Old Testament courses other than Hebrew, but I did dig into the theology enough to keep the discussion lively.

Alden is primarily concerned with getting Christians to study the Old Testament more, and with letting people know that you can find God’s story of grace there as well as in the New Testament. His book, Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?, was released after I graduated, but I read it with great interest, and when I was invited to teach later in a Methodist church, I found it was no longer in print. I got some remaindered copies from him, and then later got permission to issue two different comb bound editions. These got me through a number of classes, but we referred to one of them as the “unfortunate edition.” This was also before Energion Publications had come into existence.

We issued a fourth edition, properly printed and bound, though the printer did not produce the best quality work. I purchased several thousand of those books from another organization I’d been working with and used that as the starting point for Energion Publications. So Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God? (now in its fifth edition) is a key part of the history of the company.

Alden’s focus can be found in two stories, I think. When I first contacted him about his book, some 20 years after we had last talked, his first question, before he wanted to talk about books, was this: “How are things with your soul?” Authors tend to care about their books, especially if there’s an opportunity to get them reprinted. But that was his first thought. Later, when he came to teach at Pine Forest United Methodist Church here in Pensacola, he told the group that the measure of his success as a teacher would be whether he left them loving God and one another more than when he came. I like that.

The book itself can be mildly (or more than mildly) controversial, as one would expect of a book that has chapters covering Judges 19-21 (read it if you don’t understand why), and another on the Messianic prophecies. It’s easy to generate an argument on those topics. But I’ve seen a lot of people spending more time with their Old Testaments after hearing Alden speak about it. If nothing else, his enthusiasm for the topic draws people in.

The second book is related, though it comes more from my present than my past. It’s written by Methodist pastor and seminary professor Allan R. Bevere. It’s based on sermons he preached from the Old Testament. Now there are those who are turned off by collections of sermons. I like them, provided they are good sermons that serve a purpose, and that they apply to a broad audience. The book is The Character of Our Discontent, I think this book has not gotten the attention it deserves. The vast majority of times that I hear sermons from the lectionary, the text is from the gospel lesson. Now I don’t have any problem preaching from the gospels. But I don’t think people will understand the whole story if they don’t get the background to the gospels by learning from the Bible Jesus used.

So I’d see two purposes to this book. First, it can be read for devotional reading. I’d take an essay at a time. You’ll find your spiritual life growing when your devotionals don’t just come from the Sermon on the Mount, but also take in characters like Samson and texts from books such as Leviticus or Ezekiel. But second, if you’re a pastor, consider looking at this pattern of presenting material from the Old Testament.

And unlike Alden Thompson, Allan Bevere is a New Testament scholar. Just because you specialize in the New Testament doesn’t mean you can’t include preaching from the Old. You may even have some special perspective.

 

 

Psalm 89: When Eternal Doesn’t Last

Psalm 89: When Eternal Doesn’t Last

This week’s lectionary (RCL) texts for this week (Proper B11) form an interesting set, complete with the occasional weird cut-off for the scripture. For example, 2 Samuel 7:1-14a chops off the last part of Nathan’s message to David, the part about both the eternal covenant and the potential for God’s discipline. As I read this, I was thinking that they didn’t want to go into that “eternal covenant” territory.

(Note that for this post I am reading the Old Testament as a Christian and I am not making use of Jewish interpretation. I use “Old Testament” when referring to the Hebrew scriptures as a part of the Christian Bible. I use “Hebrew scriptures” to refer to them as a literary collection or as the Jewish Bible.)

But then we have Psalm 89:20-37. Here they have all the stuff about the eternal covenant, but they don’t go on to deal with the most important topic of the Psalm. Verse 38 (not part of the reading) begins:

But you have spurned and rejected him;
you are angry with your chosen king.
You have repudiated your covenant with your servant;
you have thrown his crown to the ground (38-39 NET).

If you continue reading you get a scene that sounds very much like the Babylonian exile or thereafter, though there might be a couple of other dates that would fit in. In fact, the author of this Psalm is addressing God specifically because he doesn’t see the eternal covenant being fulfilled. Rather, at this point it is impossible for that covenant to be fulfilled as originally written because it called for a descendant of David to be on the throne “forever” and “forever” is not to be interrupted. Unfortunately “forever” has been interrupted.

Now there are a number of Christian workarounds for this issue, and most readers likely will have one so readily to mind that they may never have noticed the problem in the first place. We get so used to an imposed or traditional interpretation that we actually hear the interpretation when we think we’re reading the text.

Many of our common answers involve what I call in my essay Facing the Proof-Text Method “text trimming.” Using this method we trim a text down to size so we can claim either that we obey the command or that a promise or prediction has been fulfilled. In this case a common interpretation for this eternal covenant is that Jesus is of the lineage of David, and either is now sitting on David’s throne (conveniently, if figuratively, transported to heaven), or that at a future date Jesus will sit on David’s throne, thus fulfilling the terms of the covenant.

But somebody future sitting on David’s throne again, or someone sitting on a throne somewhere else doesn’t fulfill the terms of the covenant as expressed here. In fact, these terms cannot and will not be fulfilled because they have already been overcome by events–specifically there was and is a time when no son of David has been sitting on the throne of Israel. To make this seem like a fulfillment, we must make the covenant itself say less than it actually says.

If we transport ourselves briefly to a time when the door was still open, but this very issue was front and center, we may see some of the difficulties. I refer to the time when Jerusalem was under its final siege prior to the 586 BCE fall of Jerusalem. There we have some people saying that the city cannot fall because it is, after all, the location of God’s house, and God has promised that there will be a descendant of David on the throne.

Jeremiah has to argue that there is no safety here. The city can fall. The king can be removed. The temple can be destroyed. He makes an extended argument to this effect in Jeremiah 18, which is sometimes quoted to support God’s sovereignty. “Yes, indeed! God can do whatever he wants!” But that is not the intent at all.

There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom. But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong, I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it. And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or kingdom. But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me, then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it (Jeremiah 18:7-10 NET).

I recommend reading the entire chapter. The message here is not so much God’s sovereignty, though that is a fundamental assumption of the chapter. Rather, it is that God responds to our actions. Eternal blessings involve responsibilities. You can reverse the blessing, but the good news is that you can also reverse the punishment.

The book of Jonah illustrates this point in narrative form. Jonah assumes the type of theology that Jeremiah states explicitly. Jonah is actually afraid that God will be merciful and won’t fulfill the promise, yet the story does not include any notion that Jonah preached a possibility of repentance. He hoped the Ninevites would not repent. He was annoyed when they weren’t destroyed. (Again, read the whole book! It’s only four chapters.)

So what do we do with eternal promises that don’t happen precisely as predicted?

First, Psalm 89 itself makes it clear that any variation here doesn’t involve abandoning Israel. Canonizing this as part of Christian scripture (or accepting it as canonical) indicates that we believe God is in action in Psalm 89, after the king has been removed. God is still active with his people Israel. We acknowledge through this act that Israel is not abandoned, even if we don’t always remember that we did.

Second, we have another explicit statement of God’s approach in Jeremiah, this time in chapter 31:31-34. (Again, if you are not well acquainted with this passage, shame on you, go read it!) This is the famous passage used extensively in the book of Hebrews. I am reading it in Jeremiah’s context (to the best of my ability), however, and what I want to note is that the new covenant made is not with someone else, but with the house of Israel.

There is an argument that God transfers his promises from Israel (Israel is said to have failed) to either the church or in some cases to another nation. There are those who think the United States has become God’s chosen people in some way. But a sudden transfer of the promises from Israel to the church is not a good option, because the new covenant is made with Israel.

I base my interpretation here heavily on Jeremiah, even though I started with Psalm 89, because Jeremiah is the guy who had to deal with this issue when it was live. He had to proclaim his view of the covenant and the results of violating it in the face of torture and death, not sitting comfortably in front of his computer screen or in a church office somewhere.

At the same time, if we as Christians are to understand this as God’s will, and ourselves as part of God’s will, we will have to see some way in which we become connected. Thus we “trim the text” in some ways, allowing modification, but it’s a modification that is, I think, well supported. Jeremiah maintains there is a new covenant. Even the old covenant called for Israel to bless the entire world.

Paul makes his argument in Romans 9-11, which is again less concerned with God’s sovereignty, though that is again a fundamental assumption of the passage, but rather with how God deals with Israel. Like a parent, God doesn’t say, “I think I’ll put aside this one son in favor of someone else.” Rather, he looks to extend his blessing. Thus we gentiles are grafted in and receive some of God’s blessing. (It would be interesting to spend some time on Paul’s use of scripture in Romans 9-11. He does some interesting things!)

It’s easy here to imagine that the Jews must somehow be blessed less. It’s hard for us to understand that God’s love and his blessings are not a limited commodity. When I became a step-parent I was careful never to suggest that my step-children should love their birth father less. I loved them as my own, but I knew the love was shared, yet I felt no loss. Love isn’t a limited commodity either. And we, limited as we are, can add more people into our circle of love. So can God.

But even here we can make a mistake. We often see “chosen-ness” as being chosen to receive blessings, to be the best loved favorite. But God tends to choose people to do things. Jeremiah was chosen, just as Israel was chosen. It was a different time and place and different purpose (though not as different as it might seem), but being chosen wasn’t fun for Jeremiah. In fact, it was quite miserable.

So the gentile church has no cause for boasting or for thinking of themselves as better than others. That’s not the point of being chosen by God. The point of being chosen by God is mission–whatever mission God has for you.

Thus while I say that the promise cannot be fulfilled as written, because it wasn’t, yet God is faithful to act with consistency. A rebellious church might consider a serious reading of Jeremiah 18.

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases

The Christian Post has a portion of an interview with John Piper in response to the question:

Why was it right for God to slaughter women and children in the Old Testament? How can that ever be right?

And the first sentence of his answer is the title of this post.

I can hardly tell you how many ways this bothers me. I say that just in order to get on the nerves of the folks who like to quote Paul “Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:20). I’m just this human who, like many people in the Bible, including prophets, isn’t satisfied with leaving all the questions unanswered, even when I know I’ll hardly get started on finding the answers. It’s interesting how certain Christians quote Paul in Romans 9, while others are more likely to quote Habakkuk or one of the Psalms where people question God quite a lot.

Unless you add that God will never “please” to do something wrong, Piper’s statement makes nonsense of any idea of right and wrong. It is not meaningful to say that God is good or God is loving, both statements found in the Bible, and then to suggest that no matter how unloving or ungood an action of God may appear, it’s really OK because God willed it, or “pleased” to do it. But if mass slaughter isn’t wrong, what is wrong?

Thus the first half of Piper’s answer is, in effect, a non-answer. It states simply that whatever God does–and I’m fairly certain that for him, whatever is alleged in scripture that God does is something God actually does–that is acceptable. And for many people this seems to be adequate.

In one way I don’t mind that. I too believe God does what is right (ignoring, for now, the question of whether it’s right because God does it or God does it because it’s right), and if he doesn’t do what’s right, there’s nothing I can do about it in any case.

But in this case we’re bringing different arguments in scripture together.  The Bible says both that God has commanded the death of many, many people, or has killed them himself, and also that God is good and that God is love. Put up against what I might think about God, perhaps Piper’s answer has a point. Put alongside the Bible’s indications of how God cares about humanity, I think it fails completely.

It’s beyond a simple blog post such as this to give my own response, but I will point to a book I publish, by my former teacher Dr. Alden Thompson, Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?. Alden takes quite a conservative approach to scripture and yet takes both of these items, the stories of God’s destructive acts, and the assertions of God’s love, care, and goodness. Piper, on the other hand, empties any assertion of God’s love and goodness of any meaning.

Piper regards the question of God’s commands to kill as more difficult than that of God killing directly, but I think with this he makes an even more dangerous error:

With Joshua there was a political, ethnic dimension, God was immediate king, and he uses this people as his instrument to accomplish his judgment in the world at that time. And God, it says, let the sins of the Amorites accumulate for 400 years so that they would be full (Genesis 15:16), and then sends his own people in as instruments of judgment.

From this I would conclude that being ruled closely by God would make atrocities committed right, and very likely more common. This is consistent with the first part of Piper’s answer. I must concede to Calvinists this: They are philosophically consistent. I just don’t believe that consistency is a very good indicator that a philosophy reflects actuality.

On the contrary, I believe that we must either find some better reason why these stories occur in the Old Testament, or we must seriously back off of any pretension that “God is good” or “God is love” has any meaning at all.

We regularly argue that it must be that all the Canaanites deserved to die. A Calvinist will certainly note that we all deserve to die. Yet what is the basis for this? Were they more wicked than others? Pointed out the 400 years, as Piper does, suggests that. But I don’t think the evidence would support such a claim. What effort was made to bring them to God? What reason might there be to suggest that Israel could not have brought the Canaanites to repentance through proclamation?

This latter is not, in fact, what I would suggest as a solution. But I do think it points out the difficult with Piper’s solution.

As I have time, I do intend to address this topic some more. Even the smallest portion of an answer requires many threads brought together.

The Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount

The Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount

Scot McKnight asks the question: Is the Sermon on the Mount the Gospel? I think it’s an excellent question, and my answer would be yes. But I see this as similar to the question of whether the gospel can be found in the Old Testament, or in the law generally, to which I again answer yes. If we get law out of its place, and make it the means of salvation, it becomes bad news. Law in its place, following grace, is definitely good news.

I wrote about this some time back in an essay titled A Fruitful Faith, which I originally published in my preblogging days (July 29, 2003), but have just moved to the Energion.com site.

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The Worship Service is Worship Too

The Worship Service is Worship Too

Some time ago I read a post by Arthur Sido on The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia titled What is Worship? and I’ve been intending to respond ever since. The problem is that the topic brings up so many different issues that it threatens to become an incredibly long blog post. Those of you who have read this blog before know that wordiness is my besetting sin!

So I’m going to try to give a few thoughts and I’ll write about details later if it seems the thing to do. I will obviously fail to cover all my ground. I’d suggest you read Arthur Sido’s post first. I’m not going to respond point by point. In fact, I consider most of his suggestions excellent, even though I take a different approach to the texts. Instead I’m going to just put forward a few ideas about worship, and particularly about the relationship of the Old Testament to the New on this topic.

Before I get to the question of how much of what the Old Testament says about worship applies to the church let me comment on the definition of the word “worship.” One problem is that worship can mean different things in different places. I first encountered this problem talking to people who thought only part of the church service was worship. They would refer to the musical portion as “worship” and would complain that they had not been allowed enough time to worship at a particular service because too many other things took place. Worship would generally be defined in those conversations as the portions of the service that particularly engaged the emotions.

We might see this as something similar to the biblical phrase “bow down and worship.” It’s a particular act of worship. I don’t have a problem with this special definition, so long as we realize what’s happening. You can define one piece of the worship service as “worship” and the rest as, well, something else, and lose the the broader meaning of worship. I recall some people who started to make a large distinction between “praise music” and “worship music” and had particular times for these things. Again, one can appropriately make a distinction between the word “praise” and the word “worship” in particular contexts, but that doesn’t mean that’s all of worship.

On the other side, we have those who see the worship service strictly in terms of conveying certain facts. There is no expectation of poetry and emotional engagement in the service. The preference is for a few songs to kind of set off the time of preaching, the proclamation of the word. For these people the point of a church gathering is to get educated.

Most people, of course, fall somewhere between these points. I think all fall short of the best concept of a service of worship. And no, I don’t have a problem using a term that is not explicitly used in the New Testament. In fact, I find the argument that something was not mentioned in the New Testament and thus must not be something we should do or believe to be one of the worst arguments. But that is another subject.

Yet it is important to understand that worship can be broadened to cover everything that we do in life. I have learned a great deal of this while studying the book of Leviticus (read some of my notes on Leviticus), and also the rest of the Pentateuch. The overarching theme, I would suggest, is that God wants to bring everything into the realm of the sacred. We make some things sacred; God wants to sanctify everything. We make some places holy; God wants a holy world. We set aside sacred time; God claims rule of all time.

The scriptural bookends for this view are found in Exodus 19:6 “You will be a kingdom of priests to me, a holy nation …” and then in 1 Peter 2:9, which alludes back to Exodus. What happened in between? Well, things didn’t happen that well at Sinai. God couldn’t make Israel a nation of priests and chose instead a priestly family, and the tribe of Levi to serve the temple. Instead of a holy nation we had a holy shrine.

But the rituals of Leviticus see God moving into our profane spaces and trying to make them holy. The direction in which God is leading people is away from the scattered bits and pieces of “holy” and to a holy, consecrated life. I call this one of the trajectories of scripture that helps us understand how various texts apply, in this case texts related to worship.

There are two commonly accepted ideas about how we apply Old Testament texts to the church. On the one hand there are those who think that if it isn’t restated in the New Testament, it doesn’t apply. There are others who believe it applies unless it was explicitly changed in the New Testament. As usual, these extremes don’t happen that often in practice, and there are certainly other views, but those provide the general outline.

I would suggest instead that the Old Testament applies to the church wherever it does so based on the principles espoused in the text. We do not offer animal sacrifices in the church, but it is not simply because the New Testament says that was to end. Rather, the New Testament says that was to end because it’s function was completed. We can discover whether the function was completed by asking whether the situation that called for a particular activity, ritual, or law still applies in the time of the church. I would suggest that this question often needs to be answered differently for different people or groups.

What does this mean for worship? I think it will suggest that it means that worship services are worship too. Those who think we worship only in the worship service should come to realize that obeying is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22), while those who think the worship service is unimportant should spend some time with those Old Testament passages that speak to the importance of ritual in engaging us with God.

I think there is a great difference between individual needs. While worship is about God, it is about people worshiping God, and that worship experience means different things to different people. But there is that corporate need to worship together. Leave off either the acts specifically directed to God, or acts of service to others (which should be directed to God as well),  and one’s spiritual life will be unbalanced. (One can learn a great deal about worship from 1 Corinthians 12-14, especially 14.)

Thus my title: It’s not “The Worship Service is Worship,” but “The Worship Service is Worship Too.”

I can certainly see a number of lines of discussion I haven’t followed and perhaps should have, but I think I’ll wait to respond to comments–or until I again feel it’s a good idea to follow up.

 

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Profitable Scriptures

Profitable Scriptures

It’s been about six weeks since my last post, and unfortunately that’s actually a fairly short gap for the way I’ve kept this blog up.  But the two Old Testament passages this week (Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 19 or Psalm 119:94-107) as well as the epistle caught my attention.

In the modern church we read these scriptures frequently and think about the Bible as we have it.  In fact, we often use the phrase “word of God” as a synonym for “Bible.”  Now I don’t want to detract from the nature and value of the Bible as God’s word, but that is not all of God’s word.  More importantly, when these passages were written, there wasn’t a Bible, and much of what we have in our Bibles was not even written yet (depending, of course, on the dating of 2 Timothy).

Even if one dates 2 Timothy quite late, it would doubtless be dated before most of the New Testament was regarded as scripture, and thus it would refer to the Old Testament scriptures as know at the time.  Psalm 19 and 119, of course, were written substantially earlier yet, and may have been referring primarily to the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible.

So why do I think this is important?  Do I think what these passages say of scripture is not applicable to the Bible as we have it?  Actually I definitely do think these passages should apply to the Bible as we have it.  But they should also apply to the Bible as it was at those earlier times.

You see, too often we think we can skip some of those very Old Testament passages that are praised by these writers.  “Profitable” or “more to be desired than gold.”  Yet when I ask Christians if they have read the entire Bible, they’ll often ask if it counts even if they haven’t read Leviticus, or Numbers, or a variety of other passages.

Besides the value of the passages in their own context, I don’t think you can really understand the book of Hebrews without really understanding the tabernacle service as it’s described in Exodus – Numbers.  You will misunderstand much of the New Testament if you don’t ground your study in the Old.  And again, that’s ignoring the value of the passages in themselves.

Let’s look for the value, the “profit” in all of scripture!

Alden Thompson – Jesus Solves All the Problems in Your Bible

Alden Thompson – Jesus Solves All the Problems in Your Bible

I located this video today, and while I’m not blogging much these days, I wanted to share it.  Alden was one of my teachers at Walla Walla College when I was in the Biblical Languages program there.  I now publish his book Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?, now in it’s fourth edition.

There will be some references to specifically Seventh-day Adventist events and issues, but the majority of the material here relates to controversies that will be familiar to all of us.

And no, I didn’t post this just because he mentions me and says a couple of nice things about me.

On Character, Discontent, and the Old Testament

On Character, Discontent, and the Old Testament

I have somewhat of a tradition of reflecting somewhere on my blogs about books I am about to publish. So today I want to look at Allan R. Bevere’s new book The Character of Our Discontent.

Allan is a primarily New Testament trained preacher who has decided to take on some major passages in the Old Testament in preaching to his congregation. In turn, he has collected them to share with others.

My friend Alden Thompson, who is author of Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?, also from my company, generally leads off weekends of discussion of the Old Testament with a litany of the reasons that people don’t like the Old Testament. He then takes a look at the Old Testament in the New, and especially in the teachings of Jesus and then he’ll say something like: “So you may not like the Old Testament, but Jesus did!” Now he says it so nicely that nobody is offended, but he certainly catches people’s attention.

I specialized in Hebrew and ancient near eastern literature, so I tend to lean toward the Old Testament in my own study and teaching. But amongst those who teach outside the seminary, that is all too rare.

I had a conversation just days before I accepted this manuscript for publication. A pastor with many years of experience lamented the lack of collections of good sermons, sermons that could provide an example to new preachers. I had to agree with him. In my experience, many people end up as pastors with much too limited knowledge and experience in some of the basics. I think preaching is better taught in most seminaries than subjects such as prayer, spiritual gifts, or even church management, but nonetheless there is a great value in having more material that covers some of the basics. So I found this combination irresistible, even though sermon collections often have poor track records for sales.

There are two values in this collection that I want to emphasize. First, these sermons introduce some Old Testament characters and situations in a way that is easy to understand. They are worth reading on their own. This book isn’t heavy reading. You could read one of these sermons for a quite reasonable devotional. Second, they provide examples for people who may be afraid to start preaching from the Old Testament because they didn’t specialize in it. Now these are not sermons that come from hasty or light preparation. What they are is solid sermons that come from a non-specialist who put in the time to produce a good sermon on each topic.

The presentation is easy to follow. The illustrations are good and to the point. You’ll find yourself directed to some good resources as you read. Allan doesn’t try to solve all the problems of Old Testament interpretation. What he does is apply some of the principles and lessons of these passages to the people found in the pews today.

I’ve mentioned some books that I agonized over before publishing. I’ve even had some I expected would offend some folks. I didn’t have to agonize over this one. I was certain almost from the start that I was going to publish it. Oh, it might offend you in some places, though if so I’d take it as conviction. Some of those Old Testament characters provide quite a challenge to our very un-heavenly way of life here in the American church.

So if you’ve been neglecting the Old Testament, here’s a chance to remedy that situation. My wife tells me that she feels that before she started getting involved in reading and studying the Old Testament she feels she was missing out on half the power God had for her in his Word.

Or, as Dave Black said in commenting on the release of The Character of Our Discontent:

An Old Testament-neglecting Christian is a contradiction in terms.

On the Old Testament and Vengeance

On the Old Testament and Vengeance

Peter Kirk linked to my post on “an eye for an eye” in responding to David Ker’s post What to do with the vengeance in the Old Testament? Skip it!

As a result I’ve been able to follow a rather substantial number of posts discussing this issue.  One of these comes from John Hobbins, who tells us that one can’t be a “New Testament only” Christian.  I’m glad he used the word “only” because we all should be New Testament (or covenant) Christians.  As it is I can agree with him completely.  Dr. Platypus gets somewhat more helpful as he discusses the value of some of the difficult passages, especially in the Psalms.  Bob MacDonald also provides some good thoughts and resources.

I emphasized Old Testament rather strongly in my studies and would certainly not want to be without it as part of my spiritual life.  I wanted to link in three more posts that provide videos of presentations made recently by one of my undergraduate professors, Dr. Alden Thompson.  I also am the publisher of his book Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?  You can regard this as a semi-commercial announcement.

I have not yet watched this set of videos, but having both taken classes from Alden as an undergraduate, and must more recently hosted him as teacher of several seminars, I have no doubt that he will make a valuable contribution to this discussion.  One of the things he says regularly is:  “You may not like the Old Testament, but Jesus did!”

Links to the videos:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The presentations were at the Toledo First Seventh-day Adventist Church.  If you’re harboring some denominational prejudices I’d urge you to lay them aside for the time it takes you to benefit from Alden’s teaching.

Church Sign: An Eye for an Eye

Church Sign: An Eye for an Eye

An Eye for an Eye church sign
An Eye for an Eye Church Sign

At first glance, this is a good sign for a Christian.  After all, Jesus replaces “an eye for an eye” with “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matthew 5:38-39).

But I think it illustrates the way we fail to understand certain phrases as they were intended.

“An eye for an eye” or lex talionis was originally also a way to keep the whole world from going blind.  It was intended not to mandate revenge, but to limit it.  Modern Christians understand it as some sort of command to mass mayhem, and are thankful that Jesus overruled it.

But in fact Jesus simply moved us further along the same path.  Limiting revenge was good.  Forgiveness was even better, though in justice we still find some value in the idea of proportional penalties.

This sign demonstrates a quite frequent response to the Old Testament, and in many cases to other things that are old.  In seeing the New Testament as good, these Christians have to see the Old Testament as bad.  It is almost as though there was no grace for thousands of years and then suddenly at the appearance of Jesus God’s grace came into being.

But in fact the grace that Jesus taught was also taught in the Old Tesament, with the teaching accommodated to time and place.

So yes, I think Jesus improved on the attitude of “an eye for an eye.”  But “an eye for an eye” was, in its time and place, also a forward looking measure of justice.