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A Note on Hebrews 1:3 (Orthodox Study Bible)

A Note on Hebrews 1:3 (Orthodox Study Bible)

I’ve said enough negative things about the Orthodox Study Bible that I need to mention when I find it quite helpful as well. Generally, this is when it is either quoting or referring to various church fathers.

In the note on Hebrew 1:3a, “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person …”

The first half of v. 3 is quoted verbatim in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. The brightness of His glory expresses the Son’s nature, His origin from and identity of nature with the Father. He is the Father’s brightness because He is begotten from the Father beyond time and without change. Thus, the Nicene Creed speaks of “Light of Light.” As the sun does not exist without radiating light, so the Father does not exist without the Son (p. 1653, on Hebrews 1:3).

I particularly liked the last sentence. It’s hard to use analogies for the trinity without falling into one or another heresy, but this one does a great deal. The note goes on to state that the “express image” speaks of the Son as distinct from the Father, thus bringing together the two elements of the incarnation—one with the Father and yet with us, truly an icon of God.

Leviticus 5:14-6:7

Leviticus 5:14-6:7

I’m still following the division of David W. Baker’s commentary on Leviticus in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  Today’s passage equates to Leviticus 5:14-26 in the Hebrew text, and the Hebrew text is indeed better divided than the English or the LXX.

While the section is indeed properly grouped together, the priests have snuck in a pretty major doctrine into the passage.  The first part deals with violation of holy things (through 5:19), along with the possibility that one has done so but doesn’t know.  I think there’s good reason to believe, with Milgrom and others, that this also involves that horrible sense of guilt that has no known source; one feels that one has done something very wrong, but can’t be sure.  The early part of this passage provides an opportunity to deal with that guilt.  One can pity the bank account of someone who had a guilt complex, however!

Some call this a guilt offering.  I prefer “reparation” offering, again following a number of commentators.  The offering accompanies a reparation.  It is this reparation portion that presumably connects the violation of sacred things at the end of chapter 5 with the violation of one’s neighbor at the beginning of chapter 6.

I recall quite vividly how I encountered this chapter when reading Leviticus with Milgrom’s AB commentary.  I read the passage ahead in Hebrew before reading the commentary and so I had studied through the previous chapters and noted the sacrifices for inadvertent sins, but no sacrifices for intentional sins.  There was no statement that these sins were intentional, but it’s hard to imagine finding someone’s property and then lying about it as “inadvertent.”

Baker notes this, but the best discussion comes from Milgrom (373-378) in a section titled “The Priestly Doctrine of Repentance.”  In his words, “…The Priestly authors took a postulate of their own tradition, that God mitigates punishment for unintentional sins, and empowered it with a new doctrine, that the voluntary repentance of a deliberate crime transforms the crime itself into an involuntary act.”  NISB emphasizes the voluntary part of this repentance, i.e. one must repent without being caught.

The passage also provides the elements of repentance:

  1. A realization of feeling of guilt; one acknowledges that what was done was a wrong.
  2. Payment of reparation
  3. Confession
  4. Desire for atonement and sacrifice
  5. Forgiveness

These days we frequently forget the first part and often the second.  I doubt one gets to #5 without going through those elements.

The OSB notes that the sacrifices here for damage done to another are not gradated, unlike the previous sacrifices.  The poor must offer the same thing as the rich.  Being poor, they note, does not provide the right to steal (p. 124 on 5:15, 21, 25).

Abbreviations:

OSB – Orthodox Study Bible

NISB – New Interpreter’s Study Bible

Milgrom – Milgrom, Jacob.  Anchor Bible:  Leviticus 1-16.

Baker – Leviticus portion written by David H. Baker, of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Chapter 6 deals with sacrifices for sins that appear to be quite deliberate.

Leviticus 3: Fellowship Offering

Leviticus 3: Fellowship Offering

I’m moving through this fairly quickly, paced by the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  (See the last entry.)  The pace of reading is an interesting issue.   In order to study Leviticus with Milgrom’s Anchor Bible commentary, I spent time nearly daily for more than a year.  Now I’m covering about a chapter a day. [Note:  Links to all sources are at the end of the post.]

The temptation, after having spent the longer period of time, is to be a bit dismissive of the faster reading, but I’ve found that various levels of detail in study are very helpful.  In the Pentateuch or Torah, I have read it through with individual major volumes, such as Milgrom’s.  Well, there really isn’t another commentary such as Milgrom’s in my experience.  That one remains a high point of all my studies.  But at least I have used commentaries that dedicate a full volume to a book.  I have also read along with commentaries that cover the whole Torah at once.  Each pass through has its own blessings.

As I read chapter 3 and the comments on it in the three sources I’m reading through right now I was again impressed by the difference in viewpoint of the person whose focus is Biblical studies as opposed to the person whose focus is pastoral or on daily living.  I could easily get stuck on the technical terms.  Today I was playing around with the Greek words used to translate Hebrew technical terms.  I didn’t go far, as I quickly remembered my purpose, but I could cheerfully spend some hours playing with that topic.

Ordinary church goers, including very intelligent and educated people, are often not going to be very interested in such things unless they are specialists.  What they want to hear is what connects and applies.  That seems to be the strength of Baker’s commentary.  Given two and a half pages of comment, I’m sure you can tell he doesn’t detail the technical terms.  What he does is bring the material home.

Now I’ve used the term “fellowship offering” which, like pretty much every other term, is a bit weak as a translation.  It will do, however.  The fellowship offering again emphasizes how much of the sacrificial system did not have to do with atonement for specific sins.  Rather, it had to do with all aspects of worship, such as praise, celebration, thanksgiving, community, reconciliation, and indeed fellowship.

Now while Baker is more Christological than your average critical commentary, he is not quite so much so as the OSB, which unabashedly connects everything with Jesus.  In this case, the fellowship offering illustrates the freely offered fellowship with God and connects to the service of communion in a different way than the preceding grain offerings.  We often ask why Jesus had to die.  One of many good answers is that he became one of us, like us, in fellowship with us, and that fellowship was complete.

I think western evangelicalism often manages to be both excessively Christological, and not Christological enough.  What do I mean by such a contradictory statement?  First, in the west we try to connect rationally between specific predictions in the Old Testament and events in Christ’s life.  If we can’t rationally connect them, and assume that they were in the mind of the original writer (and not just in the mind of God), we don’t really want to assert them.  In this rational connection, prediction and accomplishment sense, we are often too quick to draw the connection, and we force the rational explanation.

On the other hand, concepts like “sacrifice” and events like the Eucharist were formed by people who were well acquainted with passages such as the ones I’m reading right now.  Their minds were fertilized by these words and ideas.  There were connections in the way they understood these things that we will miss if we don’t have the same concepts fertilizing our own minds.  To say that Jesus is our fellowship offering does not necessarily mean that Moses or the Priestly writer were thinking, “Wow!  This points to the future Messiah who will die on the cross.”  What it does mean is that the two ideas are related.  Both are part of God’s interaction with his people in history, and both show these various principles.  How much you think God planned it all out may differ, but the ideological connection can be real in any case.

All of my sources write in similar ways on this passage.  The NISB does not make the Eucharistic connection.  The OSB makes that most strongly.

Abbreviations:

OSB – Orthodox Study Bible

NISB – New Interpreter’s Study Bible

Milgrom – Milgrom, Jacob.  Anchor Bible:  Leviticus 1-16.

Baker – Leviticus portion written by David H. Baker, of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Thoughts on Leviticus 1

Thoughts on Leviticus 1

I’ve now read through the first chapter of Leviticus using the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  I want to caution readers that I’m reflecting on and responding to the text of the commentary, and not just repeating it.  If I don’t identify a thought as coming from Baker (David W. Baker, author of the Leviticus portion), don’t blame him for it.  I will try to clearly identify those portions.

I decided to add a bit to my study by trying a new way to use the Orthodox Study Bible, which I have already reviewed negatively.  Since the translation tends to annoy me, especially in the Old Testament, I’m reading the Biblical text in Greek from Rahlf’s (on which the introduction says the translation was based), and then reading just the notes from the Bible.  I’ll comment on this a bit more below.

One theme I’m following throughout the commentary is worship.  Baker used the phrase “handbook for worship” back in the introduction (p. 4) and I want to see how he works that out.  In his comments on the first chapter, he has been very clear.  On page 24 he introduces the question “What can we take from this chapter that will help us in our worship?”  He continues with about 1 1/3 pages of discussion.  I think a key to this is his comment that:

…The whole being, not just the intellect, would have been caught up in this celebration of worship for the God who held life itself in his hand, who gave blessings and heard prayers, and who even smelled the scent of his people’s worship.

Is not our contemporary worship too often more cerebral than sensory, thinking about God rather than celebrating him? … (p.25, emphasis mine)

Baker goes on to indicate that beliefs and thinking are important as well, but that we are perhaps not balanced.

What struck me throughout, and was mentioned in other sources I read on this book as well, is that the tabernacle worship was very visual, or indeed more broadly sensory.  One doesn’t get the impression of a quiet place of meditation, or a building of one’s personal relationship.  One’s gift is public, presented in the community at a tabernacle in the center of the community, to a God who manifests his presence in that tabernacle.

All of the introductions also emphasize how revelation comes from the tabernacle.  God shows his presence there and he speaks to the community from there.  Leviticus is largely presented as divine speech, and this speech comes from that center (Lev. 1:1).  Often we–and I am certainly guilty here–present hearing from God as an individual activity to be done in our times of devotion, personal prayer, and reflection.  Leviticus presents a very different picture of God speaking in, from, and about the various rituals of corporate worship.

The introduction from the New Interpreter’s Study Bible points out something interesting about the structure.  They note that the book has 36 speeches of God, introducted by “the LORD said.”  In addition, there are twelve major summarizing statements which tend to divide the book into 12 parts.  These kinds of structural elements are often subject to subjective judgment (NISB points out two minor summaries as well), but do indicate an intentional and careful creation of the final form of the book, irrespective of how one dates it.

In reading from three sources this morning, the Cornerstone commentary, the NISB, and the Orthodox Study Bible, there was one issue on which three divergent opinions were expressed.  Baker understands the laying on of hands as indicating that the animal is a substitute (p. 22), and he dismisses the idea of indication of ownership.  The NISB, on the other hand (p. 148, note on Lev. 1:4) states that this laying on of hands indicated ownership.

The Orthodox Study Bible phrases it differently, and I think this expression is consistent with Orthodox theology.  (Perhaps one of my Orthodox readers can confirm this for me or correct any error).  It says:

Here, the worshiper placed his hand on the head of the animal and killed it, and in so doing united with the offering; for the animal’s death became the death of the offerer. … (p. 118, comment on Lev. 1:4)

I am going to keep those three expressions in mind as I continue this study.  Which best expresses the understanding of sacrifice in Leviticus?  In protestantism there is a certain desire to get a “pure” substitution out of Leviticus, but I don’t see that clear of an expression.  On the other hand, Baker’s comment that ownership was already indicated by the worshiper bringing the animal, so what was added by laying on hands, is a cogent criticism of the “ownership” idea.

It seems likely to me that the idea of identification, which the OSB then carries forward to the identification of the believer in baptism with Christ’s death, is closer to the thought of Leviticus.  Milgrom (150-153), however,  makes a fairly strong case for hand-leaning as an indication of ownership, and dismisses identification because of its magical nature.  This will be one to watch and think about as my study progresses.

As a final note, I did find the OSB much more usable when I did not read the translation.  I’m going to continue the practice of reading the scripture from the Greek and then reading the notes while ignoring the translation for awhile.

Abbreviations:

OSB – Orthodox Study Bible

NISB – New Interpreter’s Study Bible

Milgrom – Milgrom, Jacob.  Anchor Bible:  Leviticus 1-16.

Baker – Leviticus portion written by David H. Baker, of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The Orthodox Study Bible: Wrap-Up (For the Moment)

The Orthodox Study Bible: Wrap-Up (For the Moment)

I received the Orthodox Study Bible free from Thomas Nelson in their blogger book review program, and as I have been using it in my personal devotions and study for my lectionary notes, (which notes have languished during a very busy period), I have already written about it substantially.

But just what does it mean to “read” a study Bible.  Should it mean to read through it from cover to cover, to use it as you normally read a study Bible, or perhaps to read certain relevant portions?  I don’t know how Thomas Nelson will interpret this, and I have no intention to argue with them should they interpret it differently than I do–after all, they sent me a free book!–but I have chosen to take it in the second way.

Now in using it in that fashion it would probably be another year or so before I would have read all of the book introductions and notes, at which point I would simply note that I have previously read the entire NKJV text of the Bible, which covers the New Testament, and I would have seen most of the Old Testament.  But such a long wait hardly serves the purpose of a review program either.

Thus, having gone through a number of weeks worth of lectionary readings, sampled the translation in quite a number of areas and compared it to the text of Rahlf’s LXX (from which it is said to be translated in the case of the Old Testament), checked out the book introductions, and read the major articles, I’m going to write a review, and one which will be substantially longer than 200 words.  I’ll extract 200 words or so to post on Amazon.com, and then let the folks at Thomas Nelson know so they can respond as they will.

Had this book lived up to my hopes, I would likely have been willing to read it through from cover to cover, just like an ordinary book, though presumably spending much longer.  My hopes were that there would be substantial quotations from the eastern church fathers and from Orthodox theologians, and that the translation of the Old Testament (I already was aware that the New Testament was NKJV) would also prove enlightening regarding the use and usefulness of the LXX in the life of the church.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed, so that my use of the volume has become a duty rather than a joy.  I will link to my previous blogging about using this book at the end of my post, and will simply summarize here.  I’m going to start with the negative points, continue with the ordinary (though acceptable) ones, and end with the points I approved.

Negatives:

  1. The translation.  I dislike the NKJV in the first place, but was trying to overcome that in light of the fact that the eastern church uses the Byzantine text.  Unfortunately, that proved to be more difficult than I thought.  In the New Testament, the NKJV is what it is, which is a fairly accurate, but not very engaging or readable translation.  I recall once when reading through Daniel in the NKJV (yes, I know I switched to OT, but it illustrates my point) that I actually consulted the Aramaic to discover just what was meant by an English phrase.  In the Old Testament, the translation itself does not improve, even though there was work to bring it into agreement with the LXX.  The quality is variable and wooden.  It reads approximately like an exercise by 2nd year students of Biblical Greek.  I’m sure there were many much more highly skilled persons involved, but somehow the translation style doesn’t reflect it.  It’s not that they were inaccurate in undestanding the Greek.  Rather, they appear afraid to actually write down the result in English.
  2. The verse-by-verse notes.  These are not entirely bad, but rather so variable, that one does not know what to expect.  One might find an enlightening note from a church father, or an extremely inane summary of the text in question.  I provide examples in one of my prior blog posts, all linked below.

Ordinary things:

  1. The book introductions.  These are not bad, but are not precisely exciting.  I think they are mostly adequate given the space constraints.  At the same time, I am very glad that this is not my only study Bible, because there is simply too much missed.  I would note that while I personally want access to modern critical study, I am not criticizing this volume for a lack of that material.  I can get that elsewhere.  It’s in developing theological themes that I think these introductions could be improved.
  2. The general layout.  This is pretty good, but could well be improved in order to better use space and to make notes more easily related to the content.  I did appreciate the liturgical material in the inset notes.

Positive:

  1. The christological focus.  Some might quibble that this could occur in a much better volume, and so it could.  But the western churches, especially protestant churches, often tend to see Christ in the Old Testament primarily as a chain of fulfilled prophecies.  I really appreciate the distinctively Christological understanding of scripture, even where I actually disagree with it.  This emphasis is quite clear in the essay “HOW TO READ THE BIBLE”, which starts on page 1757 and particularly in the section subheaded “Christ, the Heart of the Bible” that starts on page 1763.  This also shows in the notes from time to time.
  2. The liturgical references in articles and notes.  Where these are present, they are very helpful to me.
  3. The organization of the books.  It’s hard to get a picture of the Bible of the eastern church from western study Bibles that include the apocrypha, such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible, because the material is scattered.  The book order does have an impact on how the Bible is read.  The organization here is a genuine product of church history and the eastern communion.

I think I have made enough specific points, and if you want particular examples, you will find them in my linked posts below.  There is much promise in the idea behind this Bible, and part of my negative reaction is due to excessively high expectations which were not met.  At the same time, I cannot honestly recommend this Bible, unless one looks at the negatives and decides that those are worth enduring for the positives.

Here are my previous posts regarding the Orthodox Study Bible, one of which is on a different blog:

Inane Comments in the Orthodox Study Bible

Inane Comments in the Orthodox Study Bible

I’ve complained previously about the translation used in the Orthodox Study Bible, but I reserved discussion of the notes for later.

Before I complain, however, I want to note that I have found quite a number of comments that I regard as helpful. My study has been enriched by using this Bible.  At the same time, I am frustrated by the number of cases in which it could be so much more enriching than it is.

So herewith a small and perhaps nitpicky complaint–notes that actually add nothing to the text.

I was reading 2 Samuel 7:1-11 for my lectionary study, and checked the notes.  The passage is the story of how David finds himself living in a house of cedar, but God’s house is a tent, so he wants to build a temple.

The note on verses 1-3 reads:

David has united the tribes under his kingship, established Jerusalem as his capital, and lives in a house paneled with cedar.  The ark, though now brought up to the city, remains in the taernacle he pitched for it, a tent.  He seeks advice from Nathan the prophet, who instructs him to build a temple for the ark.

Umm, wasn’t that approximately what the text just said?  The only thing added is where the capital is.  The next note begins:

In a dream, God informs Nathan . . .

And you guessed it, we get the next several verses summarized.

There is much that this Bible does, but so much more that would be possible.  The notes are quite variable, ranging from profound, especially when they bring the eastern church fathers into the mix, all the way to completely inane such as these two.

Isaiah 64 in the Orthodox Study Bible

Isaiah 64 in the Orthodox Study Bible

I’ve begun using the Orthodox Study Bible in my lectionary reading, which brought me to Isaiah 64 a couple of days ago.  It’s been that kind of a week, so I haven’t had time to comment on it until now.

First, let me note that having a study Bible with an overtly Christological interpretation of the Old Testament makes for a nice bit of variety in my reading.  I do have a couple of others, but this one is quite unapologetic about it.  I’m a little less satisfied with the quantity of the notes available.  For example, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, which I also read regularly, has about 380 words of notes on the page with the major portion of Isaiah 64, while the Orthodox Study Bible has about 160.  In addition, one of the notes, on Isaiah 64:4 does nothing more than restate the message of the verse in other words and so doesn’t advance us that much.

I wrote recently about how easy it is to trash translations, but I hope I can be allowed just a little bit of complaining here.  I knew that the New Testament of the Orthodox Study Bible was from the NKJV.  This makes sense because that is a translation of the majority text, more or less, though there are a number of devations in favor of the text behind the KJV.  The NKJV is not one of the most readable translations around, and I already knew what to expect there.

But for the Old Testament, we have a new translation of the LXX.  The introduction (p. xi) gives us three key points about this translation, in my view:

  1. It is based on Alfred Rahlf’s edition of the LXX.  Since I have this text, I am reading the Greek alongside the translation as I review the book.  I’m going to assume until I’ve had time to research this more fully that this was a good textual choice for the purposes of this Bible, i.e. that Rahlf’s is close enough to the text used in Orthodox liturgy.
  2. It uses NKJV renderings where the Masoretic text of the Hebrew is the same as the LXX text.  This seems a less useful goal, due to the somewhat stilted nature of the NKJV English.
  3. The introduction states that “[t]he Old Testament text presented in this volume does not claim to be a new or superior translation.  The goal was to produce a text to meet the Bible-reading needs of English-speaking Orthodox Christians.”

My problem is with the last one.  But first let me simply note that few Christians outside of the Orthodox tradition will realize just how many differences there are in the LXX text and the Hebrew.  It is fortunate that the introductory materials provide a chart of the differences in chapters and verses, and I hope English speaking readers who are accustomed to our western Bibles will read those materials.

But the real problem here is with English.  I’m not arguing here that the Greek was not correctly understood by the translators.  I’m also not asking for a functional equivalence translation where a formal equivalence translation has been presented.  But even formal equivalence translations can make good, meaningful word choices.

These remarks are preliminary.  I’m basing this on comparison of just two passages, Isaiah 64 and Psalm 80, and all examples are from the former.  But it is not encouraging to find this many examples in just the Psalms and OT reading from this week’s lectionary.

As examples, consider Isaiah 64:8[9]:

Do not be exceedingly angry with us, and do not remember our sins in an opportune time. [emphasis mine]

What does it mean for God to remember sins in an opportune time?  If one did not imagine that the translators know Greek well, one might guess that they had opened a lexicon and simply chosen the first possibility that jumped out at them.  Surely “kairos” here must have some more relevant meaning.  BDAG includes things like a “time of crisis,” though I actually don’t think that is the intended nuance here.

Then in verse 9 we have:

Zion is like a desert, and Jerusalem is for a curse.

Again, in English, what does “Jerusalem is for a curse” mean?  It would seem like a few minutes checking with ordinary speakers of English would suggest some alternative was of phrasing this.  And bluntly, this looks a bit much like a class exercise style of translation for “eis kataran.”

Finally, in verse 10, we find:

. . . and all our glorious things have become extinct.

Were they animal species or something?  Again, I don’t get this.  The Greek word here is “sumpipto/sunepesen” and I don’t see how one would get such an inappropriate English word to use in this context.

The bottom line is a bit like I expected, knowing the translation used as the foundation, and assuming that a similar process was followed in this translation.  I’m frankly enjoying the introductory articles and the excurses in the text.  The translation, on the other hand, is frequently jarring and sometimes puzzling.

I will continue to write notes as I read.

Received: The Orthodox Study Bible

Received: The Orthodox Study Bible

. . . and it’s even more interesting than I anticipated.  This is obviously not the intended review, but I do find the idea of a Bible with a strong flavor of the Orthodox doctrine quite interesting, and the Bible looks fascinating.  The New Testament is NKJV, but the Old Testament uses the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, with which I am not too familiar.  I’ll probably have my Septuagint beside me as I study!

I did write up a few descriptive notes on my Energion.com Book site.  They are just a description, not an evaluation.

I expect I will be referencing this Bible quite a bit as I work my way through it.

Book: The Orthodox Study Bible

Book: The Orthodox Study Bible

I just received a copy of this Bible from Thomas Nelson for review on my Participatory Bible Study Blog, but I can’t resist some preliminary notes after only a short time with it.

I do expect to be using it in study over the next few months and reading it through, but since that will take some time, I’ve already written up my preliminary impressions in the description for this book on its Energion.com Detail Page (Orthodox Study Bible).

Here’s a cover picture:

Orthodox Study Bible