Have you ever heard something repeated over and over to the point that people simply took it for granted as established fact. It is just beyond question? Nothing could be more dangerous to the pursuit of biblical understanding.

Sometimes we find out who has actually read sources (i.e. the Bible) themselves and those that simply read debate books.

One of the most repeated mantras I have heard, nearly my entire life, I heard it several times in the last week, is this (I heard it today):

“The Law of Moses was given to only Jews and was never binding on anyone other than Jews. It never applied to non-Israelites. The Sabbath day was forbidden to anyone no Jewish, Deut 5: 1-2, 12-15” (Quote from a self-identified minister in Church of Christ Facebook group)

Have you heard this before?? I can find this exact, verbatim, statement in several places on Facebook this very day. I repeated that statement myself in the early days of my work even when I started to have some issues with it.

My biggest problem with this repeated statement is that the Hebrew Bible does not seem to know anything about it. The very text this person cited from Deuteronomy contradicts, point blank, what is claimed.

But it is simpler to read debate books, by “faithful brethren” of course, on the “Old Covenant” vs “New Covenant” than going and reading the biblical text itself.

But what did the Holy Spirit write? What follows are fifteen examples where the Hebrew Bible itself declares that the Torah applied to non-Jews. We would rather just simply make a blanket (and untrue) statement than deal with the complexity of the biblical witness on the matter.

First, the Book of Exodus makes it crystal clear that non-Israelites form part of the core of the Exodus people, that is non-Israelites were “saved” by Yahweh in the Exodus event. A large “ethnically mixed diverse crowd” with lots of animals went with Israelites in the Exodus (12.38, citing HCSB). So from the first, the ekklesia that was gathered by God at the foot of Mt Sinai was ethnically MIXED. Non-Israelites also entered into the covenant that received the torah at the Mountain of God.

Second, what about the Sabbath day itself. It was claimed above that Sabbath was “forbidden” to non-Israelites. This is a strange claim. The very text he cited states the exact opposite. This is what the Law said itself.

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy … the seventh day is a sabbath to Yahweh your God; you shall do no work–you, your son nor your daughter, your male nor female slave, your ANIMALS, nor the RESIDENT ALIEN in your towns” (Exodus 20.10; see Exodus 23.12; Deuteronomy 5.14.)

According to the Ten Words/Commandments the Sabbath was to be observed by everyone, Israelite, non-Israelites, males, females and even animals. This is incredibly difficult to twist this into a prohibition of non-Jewish observance of Shabbat.

Third. regarding the Passover/Unleavened Bread the most central acts of Israel’s worship. Law regarding unleavened bread applied to non-Israelites (Ex 12.19). Aliens were allowed to participate in the Passover. In Exodus 12 they must be circumcised. In Numbers 9.9-14 aliens are invited to participate in the Passover and the text states “there shall be one law for native and resident alien” (15.16).

Fourth, Other Worship festivals. First Fruits/Pentecost explicitly legislates that aliens participate in the sacrificial meals in the presence of the Lord (Deut 14.26-29)

Fifth. the law prohibited aliens, non-Israelites, from eating blood (Lev 17.10-13)

Sixth, the law prohibiting blasphemy is explicitly applied to aliens, non-Jews, (Lev 24.16) and worship of Molech brings the death penalty to both Israelites and non-Israelites (Lev 20.2), I guess if you can be killed for it then this would imply it applied to you.

Seventh, the same laws for sacrifice, of all things, apply to non-Israelites (Lev 17.8; Lev 22.17-20; Num 15.11-16)

Eighth, atonement for unintentional sin is to include the entire community, including “the resident aliens” (Num 15.22-26)

Ninth, the laws for “fair pay” is to apply to both Israelites and non-Israelites (Deut 24.14)

Tenth, The law required tithes to be shared with aliens or non-Israelites (Deut 26.12-13)

Eleventh, there is to be “one law for native and alien” (Lev 24.22) in the famous and misunderstood eye for an eye passage.

Twelfth, the laws for worship on the Day of Atonement applied to non-Israelites, one of the most sacred days in Israel’s worship.

This shall be a statute to you forever: in the seventh month, you shall deny yourselves, and shall do no work, neither the citizen NOR THE ALIEN who resides among you … IT IS A SABBATH of complete rest to you” (Lev 16.29-31).

Thirteenth, aliens who sin with a “high hand” are, like Israelites, to be excluded from the community (Num 15.29)

Fourteenth, resident aliens, non-Israelites, were to assemble with Israelites for covenant renewal worship (Deut 29.10-11)

Fifteenth, I finish with a remarkable text from Deuteronomy. Aliens, non-Israelites, were to participate in Sabbatical year worship liturgies of the Festival of Tabernacles. In this case they are commanded to become “church” with Israelites and hear the word of the Lord.

Every seventh year in the scheduled year of remission, during the festival of booths, when all Israel comes before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read the this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people–men, women and children, as well as the NON-ISRAELITES residing in your towns–so that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law …” (31.9-13)

This text is the very culmination of the Law of Moses in its canonical form. It expects that non-Israelites will hear the entire word so they will come to “fear Yahweh” and “observe” that Torah.

The Torah addresses aliens repeatedly. Sometimes I wonder why or how some make the statements they do but sadly many, even preachers and teachers, often repeat debate cliff notes rather than actually read God’s word.

Sometimes people repeat things … the Bible (as the Holy Spirit gave it (2 Timothy 3.15-16) does not teach what is claimed by so many debaters.

The Bible will mess up your assumptions if you let it.

Shalom.

Good afternoon from the Land by the Bay. After doing our morning Psalm reading (Pss 126-130), I took the opportunity to read a little in 2 Timothy and Titus. As I read Timothy, especially, thoughts from the Psalms kept shaping how I read Paul. It was an instructive though unplanned exercise.

When we read all of 1 Timothy and then go on to 2 Timothy, we get the feeling that Timothy’s situation has gone from bad to worse. Reading the second letter it is not a stretch to say that Paul is worried about his “son in the faith.”

There are a number of images that, I think, distort our “hearing” 2 Timothy (as they do 1 Timothy). The biggest false image is that of Timothy as basically an insecure teenager. This is hardly the case. Timothy is Paul’s son because Paul converted, and circumcised him. He is a younger compared to Paul, not because he is 17.

If these letters are written in the early to mid AD 60s (I realize a number of scholars date them considerably later), Timothy has been in ministry with Paul for over twenty years. He has been sent by Paul on missions to deal with troubled spots (i.e. Corinth) and has even cowritten several letters with Paul (2 Corinthians; Philippians; Colossians; 1-2 Thessalonians; Philemon) Timothy is not a green behind the ears padawan learner. Recognizing Timothy a “combat veteran” of ministry highlights the seriousness of the situation that Timothy is in.

Paul’s model for ministry, it seems to me, is the righteous sufferer in the Psalms and the prophets. It would serve us well to have Psalm 55 and the life of Jeremiah in our minds as we work through 2 Timothy.

Psalm 55 could be prayed by both Timothy and Paul. And both are living the ministry of Jeremiah.

Paul opens his letter to Timothy by talking about heritage. We often miss it, or I have many times, in our social setting, but this is an appeal to honor by Paul. Paul says, basically, in 1.3-12, Timothy you have a family name to live up to. Paul says that he serves God “as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience” and Timothy has the same Jewish heritage in his mother and grandmother. Timothy comes from a family with a history of steadfastness and faithfulness. Indeed Timothy has a “sincere faith.”

Based on that heritage (an honorable Jewish heritage I might add), Paul says “fan into flame the gift of God.” This surely refers to Paul’s plea in 1 Timothy 1.18f where Timothy was set aside for this kingdom task. This plea sounds radically different when directed to a tired, frustrated and possibly ready to throw in the towel twenty+ year veteran, than when filtered through the false image of Timothy as late teen or possibly twenty something young man. The life has been sucked out of Timothy!

Then Paul returns to himself as a “model” sufferer. Paul is not ashamed to suffer and neither should Timothy. Suffering is not a badge of dishonor but of honor when done in the tradition of the prophets and the Messiah himself. Timothy is exhorted to “not be ashamed” and to “join with me in suffering.”

It is important to remember the social context here. Paul’s suffering is only in part at the hands of non-believers. As in Psalm 55, it is the people who have gone to worship, people who we thought were our friends, that have become the instruments of suffering in both Timothy and Paul’s life. This is why Paul tells Timothy that his friends Phygelus, Hermogenes, Onesiphorus and Demas have all deserted him. It is as if Paul is telling Timothy …

DON’T YOU GIVE UP ON ME TOO!

Paul has koinonia with Timothy in these struggles. But he is not ashamed and neither should Timothy be.

So Timothy rather than be ashamed, needs to be true to his heritage and be strong in the message of the Gospel. Paul uses the phrase “pattern of sound teaching” (1.13). With advance apologies to some, this phrase is not about church structure. There is not an iota about church structure in 2 Timothy. The sound/healthy teaching is how the Gospel transforms our life by God’s “purpose and grace” (1.10).

This phrase, “sound teaching/healthy teaching” occurs right after Paul’s plea for Timothy to have fellowship with in suffering.

Join me in suffering FOR THE GOSPEL, by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (1.9-10).

A few verses later, Paul tells Timothy, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2.1). Then again

Remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (2.8-9).

This message is found in the Scriptures that Timothy learned from his heritage in his youth … the Hebrew Bible (likely in Greek translation) (3.14-16).

Timothy will find the resources to deal with the conflict and the courage to carry on in the Scriptures that he grew up with.

So Paul addresses, again, in the second half of chapter 2 those factions in the Ephesian church that are destroying it, and killing Timothy. From 2.14 down to 2.26 notice the massive emphasis on arguing and contentiousness. The words we often quote, devoid of context,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2.15)

This statement is sandwiched between statements on abusive fighting (v.14) and “godless chatter” (v.16). Correctly interpreting the Scriptures is directly connected to not fighting. Those who want to use Scripture for wrangling are incorrectly handling the word of truth. Paul mentions, as examples, the infamous Hymenaeus again and adds Philetus (who probably are either elders or teachers in the Ephesian church). These men are listed as types of false teachers who are full of “godless chatter” on the resurrection. But the major emphasis, the thrust, in 2.14-26 is an expansion on what Paul said in 1 Timothy 1.7f.

Lots of people, such as Hymenaeus and Philetus, want to be teachers, but simply do not understand the Bible. Here we learn that the improper use of Scripture leads inevitably to religious fights. Paul tells Timothy (who knows the Bible) “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments” (2.23).

The purpose of Scripture is to transform us into loving servants of the Lord. It is not to turn us into rabid sectarians.

The horrific description of the last days in 3.1-9 is not a prediction of the “end times.” It is a description of Timothy’s present. Paul and Timothy were living in the last days. The language, “lovers of money,” “abusive,” ungrateful,” “unholy,” “form of godliness,” could easily have been said by Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Habakkuk about God’s people who love the “forms of religion,” but could care less about loving and sacrificing for one another.

The language in 3.1ff, therefore, describes God’s people not pagans. It is not pagans that have a form of godliness yet deny its power. That distinction belongs to the Ephesian church (cf. Rev 2.1-7). This description is of people who have turned the Bible, and therefore the church, into a war zone (again 3.1 comes on the heels of 2.14-26 and Paul did not break these chapters apart). And Timothy is caught smack in the middle of this congregational war.

So Paul returns, with Timothy, to the use of Scripture. Precisely because Timothy has the Hebrew Bible he should know that those serving the Lord will, like Paul himself, “be persecuted” (3.12). But Timothy also knows, because he has a heritage, that Scripture makes us “wise unto salvation.”

This is traditional Jewish scriptural language itself. The Psalms tell us that the torah of the Lord makes “wise the simple.” In the Scriptures, that Lois and Eunice taught Timothy as a child, Timothy will be “thoroughly equipped” to do what he is supposed to do, and endure what he has to for the sake of the kingdom. He will be able to “keep [his] head in all situations” and “endure” to the end (4.5). (For more on the very traditional Jewish way in which Paul describes the Hebrew Scriptures see my article, 2 Timothy 3.16: The Spiritual Gift of Wisdom unto Salvation in the ‘Old Testament.‘)

He will be faithful, even as his mother and grandmother have been faithful. He will be faithful, even as Paul is faithful.

Paul is being poured out as a sacrifice. And in the final analysis, Timothy will not desert Paul as had his other companions. Not only did they desert him but some have done him “great harm” (4.14). So Paul is showing Timothy he has a name and heritage to live up to. But sometimes we can pray Psalm 55,

But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the
house of God …

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His speech is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords

(Psalm 55.13, 20)

Sometimes it is not the unbelieving world that does the minister in. The sad truth is sometimes it is churches that bring about their destruction.

Paul is seriously concerned about his friend Timothy. He does not want Timothy to become a Demas. How do you survive ministry in a hostile situation?

  • Remember your heritage.
  • Remember your Messiah message.
  • Remember you have fellowship and communion in suffering.
  • Remember the Scriptures of old by seeing your own life in and through them.

Of course “remember” is the most basic word in the Bible for being “faithful.” Paul is, to use an image that I do not think is stretching it, stressed out over Timothy and his situation. Paul’s solution is to remind Timothy that he is part of a Story that is far larger than himself.

May you and I also remember that we are part of a Story that is as large and grand as the universe itself.

Shalom.

20 Jun 2019

Don Haymes, My Memory

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Church History, Restoration History
Festschrift in honor of Don

I was shocked and saddened to learn Don Haymes (1937-2019) was killed in a car accident.

I first met Don at an SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) meeting in New Orleans in 92 or 93. A discussion got underway about some matter of justice among a subgroup of scholars from the Stone Campbell Movement. Several voices said something. After a while this hunched back figure spoke up. He had glasses on the end of nose and an Abe Lincoln type beard. He said some things then started saying things in Greek. I knew I was way out of my league. I am not sure but may Stan Helton was with me that day but some one informed “that is Don Haymes.” [Edit, it may have been 93 which was my first grad class].

Never one to be to intimidated, after I went and shook his hand. We engaged in pleasantries and he literally pontificated to me. One thing I learned over the years, Don knows what he talking about!! At the time I did not realize that Don had been a gadfly from the 1960s. As I began to read (the 1990s were the decade for me of learning) I came across his pieces in Restoration Review, Mission Journal, Integrity and others. He was part of the Exodus Movement and worked with the “Faith Corps” and as such was the target of many harsh statements. But Don was sort of an Amos among Churches of Christ, neither a Profit nor the Son of a Profit (see that 😉 lolol) . He later went on to be a theological librarian. He was always a perpetual outsider, renegade and book, magazine, journal, reader.

The origin of my thesis, Robertson Lafayette Whiteside: Church of Christ Theologian, was Haymes. Haymes had suggested that Whiteside had never been the subject of academic study (this is untrue because Haymes had already done it in his head!!). So against my wishes, a professor named John Mark Hicks, suggested I choose Whiteside. Well he more than suggested. Don was constantly offering insight and perspective. He read my book and criticized it. Don could be a bit of a perfectionist and uncompromising in his standards of what passed for genuine scholarship.

Before I had read a single article or written a single page, Haymes wrote, “Robert Whiteside is easily one of the ten most influential people in the twentieth century for us. He is terribly ignored by our historiographers.” I learned Haymes was correct. Whiteside had been simply swept to the background by historians with some not even mentioning him at all.

But theologically Whiteside almost single handedly created the “Texas Tradition” that still dominates much of the American Churches of Christ. How a people are “traditioned” is not merely by Editor Bishop’s. But groups like the CofCs it is through sermon books, debate books, who is writing the Bible class literature, who is doing the preaching through thousands of individual preachers … this is how we are shaped. Whiteside did that through his series with C. R. Nichol Sound Doctrine, his expose of R. H. Boll, his attack on the Nashville Bible School, his rejection of pacifism, his mentoring Foy Wallace Jr, his Commentary on Romans and his opposition to K. C. Moser and his training of hundreds of preachers. Haymes was right.

But Haymes was kind and gentle. He was a man of the Holy Spirit. He was a man of deep grace. He was a godly man.

Don’s classic analysis of the “Church of Christ Establishment” in 1966

At the same time, Haymes was the only white man alive that I thought actually understood W. E. B. DuBois and Marshall Keeble. If you did not want your privileged place to be examined it was best not to inquire of Don.

Well Don went to the Lord today. He is already having a discussion with Paul over 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. He is talking to Marshall Keeble and Samuel Robert Cassius with scintillating queries for both. Foy Wallace may have to wait till tomorrow but I know the first question will be, “do you believe in the Holy Spirit now” and “Did God assign you a bed with Mother Theresa or R. N. Hogan (except Haymes would use full names)?

I cannot wait for the resurrection day when Don and I are both reunited with our bodies and dwell with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth forever.

P.S. Heaven … the new librarian is in town!

Headstone for Strong’s, Thayer, Edersheim, etc

This particular post is aimed at those who are teachers or preachers or who want to be serious students of the Bible.

One of my rabbis, longtime professor at Harding Graduate School of Religion, Dr. Jack P. Lewis, of blessed memory, said many times in his nasal tone,

Thayer and McGarvey have been dead and buried for over a century, it is time to let them rest in peace.”

This quip was not, and is not, a put down to either Thayer or McGarvey. It is simply a recognition that multiple revolutions have taken place in historical, biblical, linguistic and archaeological scholarship. Nearly one hundred and seventy years ago, Alexander Campbell stressed the same point as Dr. Lewis. Speaking on the genuine need of new translations the great reformer said,

The labors bestowed upon the original text, . . . the great advances made in the whole science of hermeneutics . . . since the commencement of the present century [19th], fully justify the conclusion that we are, or may be, much better furnished for the work of interpretation than any one, however gifted by nature and by education could have been, not merely fifty but almost two hundred and fifty years ago. The living critics and translators of the present day, in Europe and America, are like Saul amongst the people — head and shoulders above those of the early part of the seventeenth century.” (Alexander Campbell, Address to the American Bible Union Convention, 1852, pp. 583-584).

The revolutions in Greek and Hebrew scholarship even since the time of Campbell can be compared to the Copernican Revolution: the discovery of manuscripts like Codex Sinaiticus, publication of Vaticanus, the papyri, koine Greek, thousands of ancient clay tablets at Ugarit, Ebla, across Iraq, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and so much more.

Much older scholarship is of value because it is historical not because it is accurate. That is older scholarship is often simply wrong. Along with being incorrect, a good deal of older scholarship reflects a pervasive, and deeply flawed, anti-Semitic prejudice that seriously distorts material in both Testaments.

I was reminded of that anti-Jewish prejudice this morning. I am reading the Gospel of Matthew. The Bible program on my pc has lots of “old classics” that are free (they are often free for a reason). So I pulled up the material from Alfred Edersheim’s Sketches in Jewish Social Life on a particular passage. The passage is a caricature at best.

So in a long discussion of the dress of the Pharisee and noting that Jews were incredibly modest, he discounts a number of texts in Scripture. Then he gets to tassels/fringe and phylacteries. Edersheim bodly declares

it is difficult to believe that He Himself had worn them.”

But why is it “difficult to believe” that Jesus wore phylacteries? That is the million dollar question. Because the prejudicial attitude the author brings to the text regarding Israel, the Hebrew Bible and Judaism. Jesus cannot look like a Jew because if he looked like a Jew then he might sound like a Jew and if he sounded like a Jew then he might think like a Jew. And if he looks like a Jew, sounds like a Jew, and thinks like a Jew then Jesus just might BE a Jew … but Jews are cartoon characters, foils for all the evils that the Protestant Reformation has delivered us from. This is why it was hard for Edersheim “to believe” what is explicitly in the text, as we shall see.

Edersheim’s description of the Pharisees is certainly done in the most negative way possible, but then he utterly disconnects Jesus from this typical Jewish way of dress that is actually commanded in the Torah. He does not discuss the multiple texts in the Gospels that clearly show Jesus did in fact wear phylacteries. But when you start off with a caricature of the Hebrew Bible and stereotypes of Jews then Jesus cannot have anything to do with that. Jesus in fact opposed that “Old Testament” ritualistic legalism of the Jews. This my friends is antisemiticism it is not biblical scholarship.

But the Bible says,

You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself” (Dt 22.12)

and “

Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner” (Num 15.37-38)

Matthew, Mark and Luke record that Jesus did exactly what the Torah instructed. Why? Because Jesus of Nazareth was, and remains, a Jew not a white European Protestant.

In contemporary scholarship, like Jodi Magness’s excellent, and archeologically grounded, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Eerdmans 2011) we get a much more accurate picture of both the variety of Judaism in Jesus’s day and Jesus’s fitting squarely within it.

Thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and archaeology, we know the Pharisees were hardly the extremists in Judaism – the Essenes were. We also know that Jesus had a great deal in common with the Pharisees – enough that he regularly had table fellowship with them. But not only scrolls were discovered in the Caves of the Judean desert. Amazingly, so were prayer shawls and tassels (fringe).

Jesus chastised some Pharisees for having made large, showy, phylacteries and long tassels (Mt 23.5). Jesus did not criticize phylacteries and tassels. We read of Jesus’s own practice of wearing them …

a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages … came up to him [Jesus] and touched the FRINGE of his cloak” (Mt 9.20-21)

She came up behind him and touched the FRINGE of his clothes” (Lk 8.44)

the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all the sick … begged him that they might touch even the FRINGE of his cloak” (Mt 14.35-36)

wherever he went, into villages … they begged that they might touch the FRINGE of his cloak” (Mk 6.56)

What is most interesting is that all of the Gospels call the “fringe” kraspedon which is the very word the Septuagint uses to translate tzitzit or tassels in Numbers 15.37.

Many times, we modern western students of the Gospels simply pass over these texts because we do not understand what is going on. The Gospel writers simply assume that their readers know what is being described. The Gospel writers are, after all, Jewish themselves and the original audience of the Gospels are Jewish. The possible exception to this is Luke, but Luke is an exceedingly Jewish Gospel and most scholars believe Luke was a proselyte or God fearer at the very least.

But we already have a picture of what Jesus looks like, we have seen hundreds of paintings of him, and Edersheim flat out tells us that Jesus would not dare wear something so Jewish as phylacteries. The power of historical images of Jesus over us is explored in my article Picturing Jesus the Jew: How Project and Shape Theology.

But Jesus is not wearing frayed jeans. Jesus looks like a typical Jew. Jesus was critical of drawing attention to oneself rather than to God (this is not a uniquely Jewish problem look at the flashy suits and ties some Evangelical preachers have worn for generations). Jesus is a faithful Jewish rabbi.

It may be time to let Edersheim “rest in peace.” His material is not only inaccurate but it continues to foster the anti-Jewish prejudice latent in so much Christian reading of the Bible.

Let Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Strong, Thayer, the Pulpit Commentary, and more rest in peace.

We no longer use maps that have dragons on the edge. We do not use Roman numerals for doing algebra. We do not send people to the moon using astronomy and physics that has only five planets. We do not let doctors operate that have never heard of an x-ray or digital imaging technology.

Why, then, do we dream of preaching and teaching using sources that have never heard of koine Greek, Ugaritic, the Dead Sea Scrolls, that know nothing of the Apocrypha or Enoch or the myriad of modern discoveries that have radically changed what we know of the First Century of Jesus.

Interestingly enough, J. W. McGarvey, though old shared the same concern of Alexander Campbell and Jack Lewis for using up to date resources. For a list of good sources and suggestions on cultivating study see A Talk with McGarvey on Books, Reading & Preachers.

To paraphrase Paul, “Study good books to show yourself approved so you can then correctly interpret the word of truth.”

In 1993, I was hired to be the preaching minister for the Barton Avenue Church in Luling, LA a suburb of New Orleans. It is difficult to believe that was twenty-six years ago. This sort of makes me a veteran now. Over the years I have witnessed many of my friends leave ministry.

I have witnessed things they simply do not teach in college or any ministry class. And I have witnessed every last one of us struggling with relevancy, purpose, and stagnation.

The question of personal growth is, I think, of paramount importance for any minister.

Growth in personal relationships.
Growth in the word.
Growth in knowledge.
Growth in life.

We all know we need to grow but how can it be cultivated.

A preacher will have trials. A preacher will have times of doubt. And a preacher should not sound the same after twenty-five years.

Barton W. Stone had wrestled with the same. After a lifetime in fulltime ministry on the frontier of America, Stone, a living legend, offered some advice literally at the end of his life. His sage advice is not flashy and is perhaps not what many want to hear. But Stone speaks as one who has run a marathon, not as a sprinter. It seems that this matter was weighing on Stone’s heart as the end neared. In fact his words come, even at the time, from beyond the grave.

Barton Stone died in 1844 however several of his articles continued to be published until April 1845, the last issue of his journal, The Christian Messenger. In the second to the last article to ever be published under his name, Stone offered wisdom from his years of ministry in the trenches to any and all students of the Bible but especially those occupied with teaching and preaching in the church (See “To a Young Student, R-, G-” Christian Messenger, March 1845, pp. 330-333).

Stone boiled his years of preaching, teaching, editing, striving for the kingdom down to eight numbered suggestions for the kind of study a preacher/teacher should be engaged in. They are worth noting given the kind of training and study many do today. I remember reading these nearly twenty years ago for the first time. I have not always been true to them but they constantly challenge me. They have indeed proven a good guide over the years. I will summarize them but quote as much as possible. I use his numbering nomenclature.

Advice from Beyond the Grave

1st. “Retire to your study.” Stone suggests this should be a dedicated place of “proscuche” or “place of prayer.” Bring with you a large “pollyglot English Bible” {sic}. Along with a copy of the Septuagint, Griesbach’s Greek Testament and two different Greek lexicons.” As you are reading the Old Testament in Greek you see more in the New Testament in the same koine Greek (the LXX is koine Greek). Take notes! And “forget not to mingle prayer to your God for direction into all truth and that the wisdom from above may be afforded to you.” So read the Bible. Read the Bible in the original. Mingle prayer with your reading in the original. Read the NT in light of the Old.

2nd. In the intervals of your Bible studies read lots of “Church history.” Particularly, Stone insists time with D’Aubigne’s five volume history of the Reformation and Neander for the early church, which were classic Protestant histories of the time. Reading church history is an essential discipline and is to be a regular part of our time in the place of “proscuche” and prayer. In our reading of history “forget not meditation and prayer … keep yourself in the love of God.”

3rd. “When you have read your bible, through carefully, not hurriedly, turn back, and read it again, with the commentary.” Now the first reading is in the original and English. This reading is with the best scholarly helps of the day. Stone mentions Matthew Henry, McKnight on the Epistles, and others. Read carefully. Using the standards Stone had for 1844, he would most certainly list today such scholars as: N. T. Wright, Christopher Wright, Scot McKnight, John Goldingay, Juergen Moltmann, Greg Beale, John Walton and others. And “continue ye in prayer.”

4. (sic) “During your studies, let your seat be always filled in the house of God, every Lord’s day, and other days appointed for divine worship.” Study is itself an act of worship to Stone. But Scripture can only be grasped in the Spirit of Christ when we are humbling and intimately integrated into worship and the community of God’s people.

5. (sic) I will quote in full “Keep yourself as much as practicable from too much company, irrevalent (sic) conversation. These too often intrude upon your studies and devotions.” Useless and unprofitable conversations consume to much energy and nothing comes from them.

6. (sic) When called upon to preach avoid polemic but focus upon those matters that cultivate humility, devotion and love. Preaching is does not focus upon the issues but exposition of the text in light of our lives.

7. (sic) “Let the glory of God” be your “polar star” so that you will have a “crown of righteousness at the coming of the Lord.”

8. (sic) “Be humble”

There you have it. Stone’s final words from beyond the grave to ministers.

Freshness for a Lifetime Comes through an Act of Worship

Some of Stone’s advice is to be expected. Some however is completely unexpected in this day and age. Stone did not have a PhD. He did not go to Harvard. He attended school in a log cabin and preached where Indians were still common. Yet his expectation of the preacher’s study so as to stay in for the long haul, is challenging.

Stone recommends a full diet of regular “meat” for person seeking to be minister. A daily mental exercise routine was, in Stone’s view, simply a matter of life and death for a minster.

G. C. Brewer once lamented that the preachers of old were far more broadminded and balanced than those in his own day. It was not because those old time preachers had advanced degrees, Brewer insisted, but because even without degrees they thought study was an act of worship to God himself. It was because they read church history widely (in recognized sources – Stone literally listed the premier scholarship on Church history of his day) and deeply. It was because they were not tunnel visioned with reading commentaries on the biblical text but read stuff that stretched them.

And because at each step of the way they prayed.

Prayed.

Prayed.

Today we often find the opposite of Stone’s recommendations. Having the words of Jesus, Peter, or Paul opened up through the Greek Old Testament is not thought of. Many make sure we only have “approved” study helps – often qualitatively greatly inferior “in house” stuff or study is limited to reading lectureship books or approved brotherhood journals. All of which is completely alien to Barton W. Stone … a simple country preacher in the backwoods of Kentucky and then Illinois.

Devote our self to a specific time and place for prayer and study.
Devote our self to reading the Bible, read the NT in light of the Old.
Devote our self to reading the history of God’s people.
Devote our self to the study of God’s word with excellent resources.
Devote our self to public worship and the life of the people of God.
Devote our self to private prayer.

I find myself being challenged by the profound Spiritual wisdom of my ancestor in the Gospel, Barton W. Stone.

I appreciate his vision and his challenge. I hope you will too.

Sometimes we notice what we have not before. But sometimes we are blind. We are not blinded by the light as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (singing Bruce Springsteen lyrics) taught us. Rather we often blind because of our religious traditions which can quite literally function as blinders. Perhaps this is an example from just now.

All my life I have had drilled in my head “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Acts 11.26).

I, like most everyone else, could not have told you what else is in that verse. I/we fixated on a tangential detail. That is something that is “beside the point” but interesting to know. It is a demonstrable fact that Luke has little interest in the word “Christian,” though “we” do and largely (ironically) for sectarian reasons.

I have long been aware of the long discussion between Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone on the “name” in Act 11.26. Stone and his group believed this was a divinely given name, while Campbell argued forcefully it was simply a slur thrown at disciples and had no claim to divine authority. The scholarly literature since the debates between these great men seems to agree with Campbell. Luke is merely reporting the origin of a common smear on the disciples but this is not divinely given epitaph. Luke, himself, never once describes an individual or group of disciples by that word even after 11.26. And for that matter no apostle or NT writer ever addresses anyone by that term. For more see my article Who Are We? Perhaps It Is Not ‘Christian.’ Luke’s Terms for the Followers of Jesus.

Once I recognize the tangential nature of Luke’s note on “Christian,” I am free to ask, what is in the rest of 11.26 that is part of Luke’s overall agenda?

Luke has just told us that Barnabas found an amazing congregation in Antioch. Barnabas “saw the grace of God” (11.23). He didn’t hear it but saw it. Barnabas suddenly takes a quick trip to Tarsus and retrieved Saul. Why, Saul and for what purpose?

The rest of v.26 tells us, what I believe was his real point, two things:

First, Saul and Barnabas are now situated with the Antioch church that Luke knows will figure so prominently in the rest of the story and

Second, Saul and Barnabas engage in a year long teaching ministry,

And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many …”

A chapter later we are told this same Antioch congregation has prophets and TEACHERS (13.1). So the question that comes to mind is did Saul do what he would later urge Timothy to do with the congregation in Ephesus?

But here is what we have in Antioch.

We have a Levite (a priestly orientation)

We have a professional Pharisee

The Levite and the Pharisee have taken over the teaching of the church. They taught “for an entire year!” Luke, in my opinion, is showing that Antioch becomes the great church it did because of intense teaching by a Levite and a Pharisee (he also in passing mentions the minor detail saying essentially the rumor began here!)

But here is where my epiphany came, I asked the question, “What did Barnabas the Levite (Luke has already explicitly termed Barnabas a Levite, Acts 4.36) and Saul a Pharisee teach for a whole year??”

Paul had not written even a single letter by this time. So he did not teach Romans, Corinthians, etc. Peter’s letters did not exist for decades. The Gospels had not been written and Acts itself clearly did not exist. There were no New Testaments to place in the pews at Antioch.

What did a Levite and Pharisee teach that shaped such an awesome church? There is only one possible answer to this question my friends … Barnabas and Saul taught Greek speaking Gentiles the Hebrew Bible, in the Septuagint translation for an entire year.

They taught Deuteronomy (which may explain their response to Agabus in vv. 27-30). They taught Kings, Psalms, Isaiah (with its massive emphasis on being a light to the nations may explain the resulting mission!) and all the rest. They taught the Scriptures that so many today call the Old Testament. Now, of course, this instruction would include Jesus as the Messiah of Israel (but look at how Jesus is taught in Acts 2, 3, 4, etc).

But why would it be important to Luke to have a Levite and a Pharisee spend a year teaching the Antioch Church before the first so called Missionary Trip?

Because Luke believes Gentiles are brought into God’s renewed covenant with Israel. Gentiles are not “separate and apart” from the Israel. Instead Gentiles are part of the rebuilt house of David (as he will record James saying at the Great Council in Acts 15).

Gentiles needed not only to be baptized into the Messiah but they needed to be baptized into the Story of Israel in the Scriptures.

For any Serious student of Acts this is ESSENTIAL reading.

Why have I never stopped to ask what Barnabas and Saul taught for a year before? Well because I had never paid attention to the fact that Luke actually tells us that! I was more interested in the rumor than the point Luke is making!

I thank the Lord that I read Jacob Jervell’s Luke and the People of God. I have never read Acts the same and it continues to bear fruit.

Before you go further, this is not written to make you angry. And if you get angry, go pray before you comment.

I am “prolife.” I have always been prolife. I believe that abortion as a means of birth control, simply to get rid of an inconvenience, is wrong. There are gut wrenching exceptions in my view. Any wise person must recognize this.

Over my 25+ years of ministry I have worked with a surprising number of women, older and younger, that have had an abortion. I remember counseling with a dear sister in her sixties who had an abortion in her twenties. She now (at that time) was dealing with serious emotional issues because of it though she had not thought of it in years.

In my experience compassion, gentleness, and simply love is all God has called me to do. Love first!

But what is “Prolife?” Prolife is not simply “anti-abortion.

Listening to Others

One of my first reads in racial justice

Let me shift gears for a second. I am convinced, yes convinced, that white Christians need to get to know black Christians. We need to know them personally. Not an acquaintance, but knowing.

We need to read black history.
We need to read black authors.
We need to read black thinkers and theologians.

Black folks already know and read and see the perspective of white folks far, far, far, far greater than whites do blacks.

Spencer Helped Me See My Shortcomings

I first became aware of Spencer Perkins, and his father John, while preaching in Mississippi. Spencer went to his reward in January 1998. There are few people I know who speaks on matters of Christianity and race with more integrity than John Perkins and his late son Spencer. Spencer Perkins book, More than Equals, was one of the first books I read in the 90s, when confronted with my own unbelievable blindness by a loving sister and brother (who bravely confronted me! I was not happy but hopefully I have learned something).

Many years ago while doing research on the town I preached in and the social history of our community, and I was still learning (I am still learning how ignorant I am), I came across a challenging essay by Spencer in Christianity Today. It had the provocative title of “the Prolife Credibility Gap.”

I cannot speak for other readers of the article but for the not quite 30 year old Bobby, it hit me and has never left me. (Spencer edited the journal Urban Family: A Magazine of Hope and Progress and was the editor of The Reconciler for many years).

Spencer writes that he often wondered, growing up, “if there were no white Christians south of the Mason-Dixon line.” Why would he even say such a thing? It surely offends white Christians. (Trust me, I know from personal experience, it does!).

Isn’t there a large majority that crowd into church buildings every Sunday? DO not these folks post Jesus stickers on their cars (or memes on FB)? Do they not abhor liberalism? Do they not crusade for the inerrancy of the Bible? Do they not pass out Focus on the Family voter guides that tell everyone how this or that candidate stands on homosexuality and especially abortion?

But Spencer confesses, “Abortion–and the prolife movement–present black evangelicals with a dilemma.” Why? And this, my beloved friends, is where we white folks — if you claim to be a Christian — need to pray for the Spirit to anoint our ears so we can hear. One of the most common exhortations in the Bible (or laments) is having ears to hear or not having ears to hear. It is a call to perceive, to understand. And brothers and sisters we need the gift of the Spirit to put down our defensiveness long enough to “hear.”

In spite of all the noise, Spencer insists, there is a huge “credibility gap.”

Spencer continues, “It is not that we [black Christians] question the evil of abortion; Jesus clearly would have condemned it. But for me, a black man, to join your demonstrations against abortion, I would need to know that you understand God’s concern for JUSTICE EVERYWHERE” (my emphasis).

Spencer charges that while these white antibortionitsts claim to be prolife, that it typically extends to people not yet born. So he asks, based on historical trends, “Am I not right in assuming that as ghettos become larger and more dangerous, these same antiabortionists move farther and farther into suburbs, taking little or no responsibility for the social consequences of the lives they have [supposedly] saved?”

Prolife Demands ProJustice … for All

God is not only concerned about the unborn. As John Perkins wrote in the Bible, “just laws aren’t just about punishing sin; they’re also for preventing oppression” for the living. (See on John Perkins my “Loving When it Isn’t Easy)

So Spencer illustrates the credibility gap, as he perceived it, with an episode that took place at his own church in Mississippi. The congregation was actively involved in the pro-life movement. A group held a planning session at Voice of Calvary. As it turned out about the crowd was 50-50 of blacks/white. A white Christian woman who did not realize that VoC was a black, though integrated, church, dropped her kids off at the nursery. Finding the nursery filled with children of color said, “What kind of church is this?” She proceeded to tell her little boy to be careful about what he touches.

After relating the story, Spencer asks, “Does loving my neighbor mean loving blacks too?”

So Spencer boils his understanding of “prolife” down to this. More than 22 years later of reading, and pondering it, I think Amos and James would sign their name to the statement.

“Being prolife and demanding an unborn baby’s ‘right to life’ is a high calling. But I believe that God cares about a deeper principle – a ‘right to justice’; that is, a right to a decent QUALITY [sic] of life.”

White Christians protest for this “right to life.” But Spencer argues they do almost nothing to support the life that is born. They demand a policy change on abortion (a law!). But they vociferously oppose any policy (law!) that helps those unwed mothers, those babies born rather than aborted.

See my article in Wineskins, The Most Unpopular Teaching in the Bible

White Evangelicals, Perkins opined, often do not support justice but in fact, so often, simply mirror the unredeemed culture in matters of justice. They are antiabortion but they do not love those black girls in the inner cities, those poor with such limited options and even less opportunities. If we are genuinely prolife, our advocacy does not stop with a protest outside Planned Parenthood. It is defending the cause of the least of these. Does our prolife position protect the “dignity” of those who are born.

Spencer ends his thought provoking essay with these words. “As for answering the question, ‘Where do black Christians stand on abortion?’ it looks to me as if we are on the same side of a moral issue. But if, from where you stand, you insist the battle is against abortion, while we believe the battle is against injustice, our strategies must remain different.”

I know some are already riled by Spencer’s words. But he did not write those words out of dislike for white Evangelicals. It is hard not to read what he wrote and not become defensive. We want to defend ourselves! Before we defend why don’t we try to listen and see if at least he might perceive an inconsistency in our ethic and perhaps even our theology.

Antiabortion? Or Prolife?

John Perkins, who has labored valiantly for biblical reconciliation from before Spencer was born, has noted that “for the most part, in the past the white church in America has not embraced this kind of justice thinking.”

If Spencer were here today, I wonder if he would say we have “come along way.” Or would he lament and say “We are still here.”

The question is a good one: Am I Prolife? Or am I merely antiabortion?

Thank you Spencer Perkins. Thank you John Perkins. I think we need our black brothers and sisters, and they need us, to be what God has called us to actually be.

I cannot recommend John Perkins Dream with Me enough. Click on the title and order it today.

The New Testament is the first Old Testament theology” – Christopher J. H. Wright

Statements from Years in Ministry

“Why are we studying this? That’s the Old Testament, we are New Testament Christians.” “The Old Testament was nailed to the cross.” “Thank God he killed that legalism.” “It is a shame, Bobby, that Psalms is in the Old Testament, there are some good things there.” And many more.

Conversely, I have received these statements. “That is the first sermon I ever heard on Genesis in my 60 years as a Christian.” “I never knew so much of the ‘Hebrew Bible’ is in the New Testament.” “Bobby you have my entire perspective not only of the Old Testament but of the New.” “I never understood why we ignore the Old Testament.” “I’m so grateful I see God’s love so clearly now, thank God you have taught me the Psalms.” etc, etc.

These actual statements made to me over the years illustrate both where we often have been and where I think we need to be. What we think and believe about the Hebrew Bible has a profound impact upon who we think Jesus is, what he did and what we as the church are supposed to be. In my view the stakes are extremely high.

Transition to a Holistic Biblical Paradigm

I have talked about the Hebrew Bible many times and its necessity for anything called Christian faith and practice. I have stated that I grew up in a fellowship that has a “love-hate” relationship with the “OT.” I did learn some basic OT stories in VBS but rarely did I hear a sermon. But it remains a fact that for the most part, the “Old Testament” was simply irrelevant to faith and practice as a Christian. We drove a deep and wide wedge between the two Testaments almost as if they told a story of two different Gods.

If you desire more see my series written eleven years ago “Marcionism & Churches of Christ” back in 2008. The first one is linked in the previous title.

Today there are popular voices that assert the same thing and do so loudly. Some of those voices are in Churches of Christ and some outside.

But this trend, in my view, cuts against the positive movement forward within “Restoration” theology for the last thirty or so years. Perhaps this is a personal story but maybe it is more.

I first became aware that the “Old Testament” was not a bunch of legalism through a book I read in 1988 by Samuel J. Schultz called The Gospel According to Moses. It was on Deuteronomy. It was a small book and now probably simplistic. But it rocked my naïve world. I had no idea that Deuteronomy was so filled with love, joy, and grace. I had no clue Deuteronomy exercised such a huge influence on the rest of Scripture. I had no idea that Jesus was incredibly shaped by Deuteronomy and lived in it during his trial in the wilderness. Every answer to Satan is taken from Deuteronomy. I have been hooked ever since. In 2006 I wrote one of my earliest blog series called Deuteronomy, the Gospel of Love. Studying Deuteronomy can cause serious conflict with our assumptions over what Paul is doing in Galatians and Romans. Since World War II there has been nothing short of a revolution in understanding the Hebrew Bible which also provided the fodder for much of what is now called “the New Perspective on Paul.” See article “The New or Renewed Perspective on the Old Testament” from 2017. This was the first chink in the dispensational heremeneutic I grew up with (I did not know it was called dispensationalism then).

Also in 1988, I was also introduced to a book by Richard Hughes, Leonard Allen and Michael Weed called The Worldly Church. I previously knew nothing of my heritage, this was a wake up call. As I recall Jim Martin required us to read the book in a class. At any rate, I became aware of an ongoing discussion about hermeneutics within Churches of Christ that had been going on, at some level, since the 1960s. That is how I got connected Thomas H. Olbricht. Olbricht had argued that the biggest hermeneutical issue originally with “us” was not CENI but “dispensationalism.” That is the distinction between the covenants, i.e. separating the “Old Testament” from the “New Testament.” This attempt to “rightly divide” the Testaments dominated most of our historical discussions on how to interpret the Bible. One reads in vain to find Alexander Campbell suggesting that authority established via commands, examples, and necessary inferences.

Due to Alexander Campbell’s influence (or a misunderstanding of what he said), the Old Testament became a secondary at best and simply inconsequential to faith and practice for many. Olbricht, and a number of others, led the charge that the Old Testament was necessary for genuine biblical theology. Yes necessary. So, Olbricht published works aimed at the church like “He Loves Forever: The Enduring Message of the Old Testament” (a fantastic little book) and others. The Old Testament provided the structure and thought world for the writings of the New Testament. The Old Testament is the “container” for the teaching of the New.

Again in 1988, I took a class with Stephen Broyles called “Introduction to Exegesis.” Among the things we studied was how the NT and OT relate. We read a chapter in a book edited by Howard Marshall called New Testament Interpretation by Earle Ellis called “How the New Testament Uses the Old.” It was a very eye opening study. How could the Old Testament be so authoritative for the apostles themselves and mean virtually nothing for us. Among the many things that were set in my mind like a ticking time bomb was the fact (it is a fact) that a full third of the NT (34%) of the very words that make up the text of the New Testament are literally the worlds of the “Old Testament.” This is just the direct quotations … one in every three words in the NT are directly from the Old Testament.

Then it was 1990, I believe, and Leonard Allen returned to the fray with an epic book called The Cruciform Church. Among other things, Allen suggested that in order to be a church that is renewed, to be a “cruciform” church we in Churches of Christ needed to “expand out canon.” By “expand” he did not mean put new books in the Bible (as Curtis Cates and others seemed to insinuate). Rather it was a call for us to embrace the whole Bible and not continue to live within our “canon within a canon” (which was parts of Acts and the epistles rearranged in a series of propositions and topics). The two biggies he noted to be incorporated into our biblical wrestling, was the Old Testament and the Gospels. The material on the Hebrew Bible in Cruciform Church was outstanding (there is now an updated edition btw). It seemed like we were heading in the right direction.

A few years later, 1993, I enrolled in my very first graduate class at Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis. It was a week long short course. There were seven textbooks and a spiral bound book called “Readings in Restoration Hermeneutics” that contained hundreds, and hundreds, of double column pages of Xeroxed articles … there was a test the first day of class on the reading! The teacher of Theological Hermeneutics was Dr. John Mark Hicks, now at Lipscomb University. Now we dove in the Marianas Trench, and we read everything, not just from restoration writers but the wider academic world.

I soon discovered that “dispensationalism” may look nice on sheet sermons and debates but it hardly does justice to the Story of God in Scripture. I discovered that contemporary preachers among us often “Out Campbelled” Alexander Campbell, because AC simply would not go along with the chunking of the Hebrew Bible from a normative status in Christian doctrine. Campbell did not do such a thing, he simply limited its use regarding a church PRACTICE. But AC believed strongly that the OT was essential for actual Christian theology … including NT theology. It seemed like we were going in the right direction.

By 1996, I read my first N. T. Wright book of significance, the New Testament and the People of God. By this time I had, for all intents and purposes, rejected several cardinal tenants:

– Dispensationalism
– that the law taught that Jews were saved by works
– that the Hebrew Bible was “carnal”
– that the Hebrew Bible had been nailed to the cross
– that the Hebrew Bible was not “spiritual” and all that other bunk.

By this time I had Gerhard von Rad, G. Ernest Wright, Elizabeth Achtemeier, Walter Bruggemann, John Bright, Marvin Wilson running through my veins (and Eugene Peterson!). By this time I had Richard Oster (who hammered away at the presence of the “Old Testament” in Paul and Acts) who is as good an “Old Testament” scholar as a Pauline scholar, because you cannot understand Paul without the Hebrew Bible/Septuagint. The so called “Old Testament” was literally everywhere in Paul.

I have frequently said that N. T. Wright has never changed my mind on anything. This is actually quite true. Wright, however, confirmed what I was already thinking. I found Wright to be an amazing communicator of complex ideas. New Testament and the People of God opened up what Wright calls the worldview of Jesus and the early church. That worldview was rooted in, molded by, told in accordance with the faith and values of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism. Without the Hebrew Bible we easily rewrite the New Testament into whatever contemporary image we wish to unconsciously impose upon it. NTPG reveals just how profoundly Jewish the Christian scriptures are.

There are plenty, perhaps most (oh I hope not), who think this is all academic and of no material consequence. I think history shows this is not the case. N. T. Wright in Jesus and the Victory of God reviews the history of “Historical Jesus” research. Jesus has been turned into everything under the sun from a Teutonic warrior to a Cynic, because the Hebraic/Jewishness of the structure of Jesus’s identity and message and the early church was simply ignored. So as Susannah Heschel notes that Jesus is actually a Nazi, and “Aryan Jesus” and how that has impacted so much of 20th century biblical scholarship and even preaching and piety.

In the early 2000’s, I discovered Christopher J. H. Wright (no relation to N.T.W.). Wright’s book, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament simply should be required reading of anyone that wants to be a teacher among God’s people. But then Wright gave us The Mission of God: Unlocking the Grand Narrative. Missional theology (Bartholomew and Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story; Goheen’s, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church in the Biblical Story; Frost & Hirsch, The Shaping of things to Come; etc) promotes a healthy holistic approach to the Story of God.

There is no “mission of God” without the Hebrew Bible, the Exodus paradigm is stamped into the worldview of Scripture. It looked like we were going in the right direction.

So What!

I am on record, and I will go on record again, we cannot understand the New Testament Jesus properly without the so called Old Testament. We cannot properly understand the message without the Scriptures. Yes, I realize that many will argue with me on this. But history shows us what has happened when Jesus is divorced from the Hebrew Bible and Judaism:

1) we get Marcion

2) we get Gnostics (and there are plenty of those still running around)

3) we get the Aryan Jesus. I do not think it is wise to ignore this. Ideas have consequences, painful ones.

True we may not want to begin with the genealogies or the wars in Joshua. However, and there is a however, we need to read the New Testament well enough and honestly enough to know two facts immediately …

1) the New Testament itself begins the story of Jesus with a genealogy and

2) though we obscure the fact that Jesus is not connected to that “OT” book called Joshua, every Jew knows that Jesus’s name is not Jesus, but Joshua! Joshua did not escape the legends associated with his name anymore than a person in Alabama can whose name is Robert E. Lee or Nathan Bedford or Jeff Davis.

Today we have some who want to limit the Hebrew Bible. It is embarrassing to them. It is troubling, difficult or something.

The Old Testament does not proclaim what they believe their Lutheran Paul taught (and they just ignore Jesus), Lutheran Paul trumps Jesus in most classic Protestant theology. This is no surprise given our “dispensationism” and our attachment to certain forms of Protestant Evangelicalism. But for the record, Moses proclaims the love of God and the grace of God as much as Paul ever did. Exodus comes before Sinai.

“Old Testament” and “Jewish” have functioned as ciphers for old fashioned anti-Semitism. Critical scholars have long known that Judaism “taints” the New Testament. Two of the most influential NT scholars of the 20th century, Rudolf Bultmann and C. H. Dodd, cast the book of Revelation aside because it was more “Jewish” than Christian. Dodd writes,

“The God of the Apocalypse can hardly be recognized as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor has the fierce Messiah, whose warriors ride in blood up to their horses bridles, many traits that could recall Him of whom the primitive kerygma proclaimed.”

This statement is rooted in a grotesque view of the Hebrew Bible and the Protestant vision of a Paul who liberated Christianity from the god of wrath and his perverse dedication to ritual and legalism (in the caricature of the Hebrew Bible and Judaism).

Truth be told, John’s Apocalypse is no more “Jewish” than Paul, or better, Paul is just as Jewish as John. We have just hidden it because we denied the Hebrew Bible is the structure of his thought. Paul after all was anti-law! (tongue firmly planted in cheek).

It is not the case that the Old Testament produces anti-Semitism and Crusades as Andy Stanley recently claimed. I can hear Abraham Heschel, Amy Jill-Levine or Elie Wiesel groaning when such statements are made.

Can anyone point to a time, since Joshua, that Jews saddled up their horses and engaged in genocide or went on some crusade against anyone? No! Because the Jews read their Bible better than we did. Cherry picking Scripture is not the same thing as reading Scripture.

When Christians slaughtered Jews it was not on the basis of Joshua beloved, but the GOSPELS! “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Mt 27.25) is a text that has wrought horror through the centuries. The Nazis did not put an Old Testament “lego” on the Gospel to butcher Jews and others. They rejected the Old Testament. They rejected the Jewishness of Jesus.

In the middle of Nazi Germany, Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad bravely stood up can challenged the Germans who had sold their soul to the idol of nationalism. Now more than ever the Hebrew Scriptures needed to thunder in the pulpits in Germany because there may be many pagan paths into the New Testament but there is only one that leads to the real Jesus he said, and that is through the road called the Old Testament.

The Hebrew Bible provides the contours of the worldview of Christianity. It is the fodder, it is the DNA, of Jesus. Thus: Jesus is a Jew, an Israelite

Jesus is the Son of David the King – Messiah – of the Jews. (as a Christian I simply cannot confess the Messiahship of Jesus apart from Israel)
Jesus is the result of the “OT” promise, promises made to Israel and as a Gentile I benefit from that only because Yahweh is faithful to the promise made to Israel.

Jesus has an Old Testament identity.
Jesus has an Old Testament mission
Jesus taught Old Testament values
Jesus proclaimed an Old Testament hope, the “hope of Israel.”

I love the Hebrew Bible because it has done for me precisely what Paul said it does,

ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures — from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation …” (2 Timothy 3.15-16, Jerusalem Bible).

Note the words, “from these …”

Salvation is not dying and going to heaven. Salvation is God healing his people, his world, his cosmos. Salvation is being put back together. And this is what I have discovered in Genesis to Malachi (what Timothy knew as a child).

With few exceptions, it is the pages of the so called Old Testament that brought healing during the days of disorientation in this life. It is the pages of the Hebrew Bible that show us the way of living with justice, mercy and faithfulness. There are no “Negro spirituals” without the Hebrew Bible beloved … salvation took root among those slaves just like in the book of Exodus. And those same Scriptures enable me to hear the Messiah of the Jews who is Lord of all.

If you have read this far, thank you. This post is not really aimed at anyone. Rather it is my own testimony. I have no intention of minimizing 76% of the canon. Like Leonard Allen, I want to expand it.

That is what “salvation” is. Salvation, according to Paul, is the “hope of Israel” (Acts 28.20).

Shalom.

27 May 2019

Leviticus 10.22: A Weird Law and its Mercy

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Environment, Exegesis, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Joel, Suffering

In the middle of Leviticus, that book we never read, there are some interesting rules that were given. Leviticus often is caricatured by Protestant Evangelicals as prime example of the “burden of the law.” They fail to realize that Leviticus is for priests and Levites not for everyone. But most is not and none of it applies to everyone all of the time.

The rules are framed by the narrative of God’s grace and we can never forget that fact. The story of God’s great redemption of Israel frames all “law” in the “Law of Moses.” Exodus comes before Sinai. Leviticus comes after Israel’s “fall” into stunning apostasy during the Golden Calf episode. Yahweh forgives Israel and declares the holy name and exegetes it for the people of Israel (See my article Untamed God and Dangerous Grace).

One of the strangest rules is in the food laws. After forbidding this and that, some of which I would not want to eat anyway, we get to Leviticus 10.22. Insects (or better “swarming things” in Hebrew) are off the menu. But then we read,

You may eat of these: every kind of desert locust, every kind of cricket, every kind of long or short horned grasshopper.”

What!?

Grasshoppers are ok for lunch, why?

Locusts are frequently seen as threats to the world in which Israel lives. They come and destroy everything when there is a locust “plague.” God used locusts as an instrument of deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10). The little book of Joel gives us a window on how catastrophic swarming locusts could be in the Ancient Near East (and to this very day). They destroy everything.

It is precisely here that we find, hidden in plain view, the mercy and compassion of God. As even the Lamentations in the aftermath of the horror of Jerusalem’s devastation we read,

For the Lord will not reject forever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his HESED;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone
.”
(3.31-33)

And according to the prophet Joel, Yahweh even apologizes and then promises to restore everything that his army of locusts destroyed.

I [Yahweh] will repay you for the years
that the swarming locusts has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you
.”
(Joel 2.25)

Yahweh is not the saido masochist that so many imagine the God of Israel to be. The purpose of any discipline by the Lord is not our destruction but our salvation. This brings us to the mercy of Leviticus 10.22 that is hidden in plain view.

After the locusts devour the crops famine covers the land. The only way for the poor to escape starvation is to eat the locusts themselves. So if the Torah did not declare locusts “clean,” the vast majority of Israelites would have simply starved to death. The instrument that was used to discipline now becomes the means of survival. The mercy and compassion of God in plain view.

Because we are so far removed (historically, culturally, environmentally, etc) from the world of the Bible, all we westerners see is something weird.

As I was reflecting on this this morning, the words of that faithful Jew from Nazareth came to my mind, “the sabbath was made for humans not humans for the sabbath.” This is actually true of all the Torah. It was made for humans, humans were not made for the “law.”

Several years ago I read A. J. Jacobs The Year Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. As a “non-believer” he often had some interesting insights. His words on the food law for locusts is underlined in red.

More and more, I feel it’s important to look at the Bible with an open heart. If you roll up your sleeves, even the oddest passages–and the one about edible bugs qualifies–can be seen as a sign of God’s mercy and compassion.” (p. 176).

If a non-believer can discern the mercy of God in something he confesses is “completely weird” I have to wonder why those who confess love for the Father of Jesus do not see it first?

The Torah did not bring about starvation but was literally the means of “salvation” after a plague. To this day in the Middle East locust can be regarded as a plague and a blessing from heaven. When there is nothing else to eat, there is suddenly a feast.

Mary/Miriam the Singer

Did your mom, maybe your dad, sing to you when you were young? You know the songs, while being rocked to sleep at night or while you were going down the road in the LTD station wagon? They are songs that never cease playing in our hearts and our minds.

Jews were a singing people. The ancient Psalms filled their hearts and heads. We know that Jews in Jesus’s day also sang hymns preserved in Judith, Tobit, the Canticle of the Three Jews in the Greek version of Daniel. They sang a collection known as the Psalms of Solomon and at Qumran we have learned there are numerous other songs that shaped the faith and life of faithful Jews. Jesus grew up in the midst of a singing people.

Jesus’s home was like so many typical Jewish homes being filled with lyrics and music. Luke tells us that Mary sang songs just like her biblical namesake the Prophet of God (it is a horrific tragedy of the English Bible that many disciples do not know Mary is named after one the three deliverers of Israel, Miriam). I am as certain as I am here today that Mary did not sing this song only one time. Nor is it likely this is the only song Mary sang to Jesus and his sisters and brothers. Rather Mary’s song is representative, or characteristic, of what Jesus and his sisters and brothers heard from the lips of Miriam. The early church sang Mary’s song and it known as “The Magnificat.”

Mary/Miriam the Hopeful, Faith Filled Jew

Mary was born and bred a hope filled, faith filled Jew. She was nourished on heartbeat of the Hebrew Bible. She poured her hopes and dreams into the names of her children because the song was already in her heart.

As any student of the Bible knows, names were not randomly picked out of a baby name book. They were explicitly picked by God and sometimes parents to make a statement. Names expressed something, they expressed the hope and faith of the parent they wished to see enacted in their son or daughter.

I know my own daughters names were prayed over before chosen. Rachael is God’s lamb full of joy and love and her sister Talya is the Lord’s rain/dew that blesses the earth. These names were chosen on purpose. Have you noticed what Miriam (named for a prophet) and Joseph (named for the savior of world and father of two tribes) named their kids. Notice this “pattern” in Mark 6.3. These names we so frequently read them as if they are mere data points.

Jesus = Joshua the salvation of the Lord … btw we know that “Jesus/Joshua is a very common name for Jewish boys. Every mom dreamed that her son would be the “Lord’s Salvation.”

James = another tragedy of the English Bible, is Jacob who is quite literally “Israel” himself (God changed his name and the word “Jacob” frequently is a stand in for “Israel” in the Hebrew Bible) and is the patriarch of the Twelve Tribes

Joseph = named for dad and the patriarch who saved the world

Judas = named after Judas the Maccabee, the hammer of God, who delivered Israel from the Seleucid Empire

Simon = was the brother of Judas the Maccabee who continued to lead the Maccabean Revolt

Notice anything about these names of Jesus’s brothers? These names say something about Mary and Joseph. The names reveal their faith. Their hope for Israel has not vanished in the slightest.

Mary/Miriam’s Israelite Song

Mary/Miriam’s hope fills her song. Scholars have noted that “Miriam’s” song is so Hebraic, so “Old Testament,” it is just so Israelite. And it is. Mary, like her son, grew up drinking deeply the Hebrew Bible, and Second Temple Judaism, through song, music and even dance. It is that faith that filled her heart and led to the names of her sons. Mary taught her sons and daughters to dream of the salvation of Israel. Mary dreamed of the final renewal of the covenant with Israel. She dreamed of deliverance for Israel. She sang that hope in what Richard Horseley called, “revolutionary songs of salvation.” (Remember two of her sons have names connected to the Maccabees!)

This song by Mary sets the agenda for Jesus’s life and ministry in the Gospel of Luke and the church for the book of Acts. There is a Miriam at the creation of the old Israel coming out of Egypt, and there is a Miriam at the beginning of the renewed Israel that will emerge from its long exile … the prophet who gave birth to the Lord’s Salvation (I am convinced that Luke regard’s Mary as a prophet just as her namesake was).

Mary/Miriam’s New Yet Old Song

Rarely is there a purely original song. People have influences. KISS paved the way for every 80s glam band. Metallica covers Turn the Page (Bob Seager). Disturbed transforms Simon & Garfunkel (Sounds of Silence). Five Finger Death Punch does Bad Company. Kid Rock takes ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, hop hop and mashes it all up. Mary’s song is like that.

What did her song sound like. What new, but old, song flowed through Jesus’s mind as he mingled with the lepers, the prostitutes, the poor, the traitors (tax collectors), brought a thousand bottles of wine to a wedding … Jesus has the Hebrew Bible in his “soul” via his Mother.

My soul [ or “I”]magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior … he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant …” (Lk 1.46)

The most obvious root here is that of another young mother who dreamed dreams, Hannah from 1 Samuel 2.1-10 but the thought is ubiquitous in the Hebrew Bible.

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant …” (Lk 1.48)

Miriam/Mary places herself among the lowly. This taps into the fundamental identity of Israel as being the lowliest of nations. Israel was so lowly they were victims of state sponsored terrorism against their baby boys (just as the occasion of the birth of her son would bring state terrorism to mothers in Judea). Thus Deuteronomy says,

The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you …” (7.7-8, NLT)

Ezekiel stressed that God “loved” Israel because no one else would. Ezekiel sees Israel as an unwanted and exposed infant girl, not boy, whom the Lord saves in that graphic allegory of Ezekiel 16. God chooses the lowly, the aliens, the nobodies to be the special objects of grace, mercy and hesed. God’s own “chosen people” are chosen precisely because they were aliens, nobodies, and as uncared for as little boys killed at birth and little girls abandoned in a field. Jesus never forgot the songs of his mother and was always proudly among the unwanted of the world.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1.48)

Elizabeth, in the narrative context, called Mary/Miriam “Blessed are you among women” (1.42). In Jesus’s day many stories were in the air and treasured by Jews. Sadly, Protestants typically do not know these stories today. One was of another woman who risked everything to be a servant of the Lord. Rather than young like Mary, she was an old widow. Her name was Judith. When everyone seemingly had no trusting faith, this widow steps forward to be the instrument of God’s salvation. She delivers Israel from the hands of Holofernes and she too leads Israel in a magnificent new song that is preserved in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint. Because of her astonishing faith, and like Mary risks it all, she is to praised.

Then Uzziah said to her [Judith], ‘O daughter, you are blessed above all other women on earth … Your praise will never depart from the hearts of those who remember the power of God” (Judith 13.18)

Achior cried out “Blessed are you in every tent of Judah” (Judith 14.7)

The Hope of Israel, as Paul would call salvation, pulses in Mary’s heart.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud …” (Lk 1.51)

It is impossible not to hear the Psalms in Mary’s song. And perhaps this is why they were so treasured by her son. Texts like Psalms 18.27; 89.10 and a dozen more come to mind.

you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm” (Ps 89.10)

But what is it that God has done? What is it that Mary poured into Jesus, James, and Jude’s heart (the last two have epistles in the NT)? What did salvation look like? She sang what salvation looks like.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good thing,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to
our ancestors, to Abraham and to
his descendants forever
” (1.52-55)

Mary had heard these kinds of lyrics all of her life, but it was that other young mother, Hannah that she echoes so closely.

Yahweh makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor
” (1 Sam 2.7-8)

Surely anyone familiar with the story of Jesus recognizes these lyrics in his teachings in word and deed.

1) the powerful are brought low, the low are lifted high (v.52). A great reversal is what salvation brings. This is all through Jesus’s teaching in Luke. There was a Rich Man who saw Lazarus the lowliest of the lowly. We know what happened. Mary was pouring Jubilee theology into Jesus in her songs.

2) the hungry are filled and the rich are sent away empty (v.53). This is also Jubilee. This is also Exodus. This is also reversal. This is not pie in the sky gnosticism. This is salvation that meets the hurting and out of whack world exactly where it needs, in the flesh and blood of reality. So Jesus tells all kinds of stories of a Jubilee banquet (Lk 14.15-24) in which the poor, the lame, the blind are brought to the table they would routinely be excluded from. He tells a story of man who builds a huge barn to hold his “money” only to loose his life. He tells story of a scholar of the Bible who walks away from the greatest treasure because he refused to give his goods to the poor. It is impossible not to hear the Psalms in Mary’s song.

3) Salvation is an both act of mercy and faithfulness to the promise to the ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Israel (v.54-55). Why did Mary name her sons Jesus/Joshua, Jacob and Joseph? They represent the hope of the Promise “to his servant, Israel.” Salvation is not from Israel but of Israel.

To put this in terms we normally use, Mary says that salvation comes because of the Old Testament and on Old Testament terms not contrary to it or in spite of it. Jesus did not forget this. Lazarus is “carried away to be with Abraham” (Lk 16.22). And Abraham tells the rich man if he wants to know salvation then he needs to listen to Moses and the prophets (16.29-31). This theme permeates the preaching recorded in the book of Acts.

The Song of Jesus’s Heart

Mary/Miriam’s song reverberates throughout Jesus’s life and the church as Luke tells the story. Mary’s song became treasure buried in the heart of Jesus, James and Jude (James is clearly an advocate of the lowly in his short letter).

It is not a stretch to say that Jesus’s ministry would not be what it was had it not been for his Mother singing the songs of Israel to him. In fact the lyrics in Luke 1.46-55 set the agenda for the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. While Matthew defines the Gospel of Jesus in terms of Israel by opening with a genealogy; Luke defines the Gospel of Jesus in terms of Israel via the Songs that Mary/Miriam sang.

Today we need to hear her song again. It reminds us that the Gospel is not a message merely of what happens when we die. The Gospel is a message that says death will no longer rule the world even for the least of these.

Mary’s song reminds us that the mission of God was the mission of Jesus and ought to be the mission of the church. We bring good news to the lowly, a message that changes the world.

And finally Mary’s song reminds us that it is simply impossible to have either Jesus or the “New Testament Church” without being the “Israel” and part of the family of Abraham, Isaac and … Israel (Jacob).

Mary’s song is one we need to remember all year long.