Biblical “fact checkers” verdict on this meme is it is partly true and mostly false because of seriously missing context! The posters of the meme exempt themselves from Proverbs 6.16-19.

Go in Shalom.” Those are the radical words from Jesus to a woman of shocking reputation while sitting at Simon’s table.

Self-Justification?

We disciples, it seems to me, often try to circumvent our own doctrine. We have select sins that are (seemingly) perfectly “kosher.” Most of the “Seven Deadly Sins” (Proverbs 6.16-19) are routinely found in most Evangelical/Restorationist churches.

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community
.”

But when we find a person struggling with “sins” we do not like (or simply do not live in our approved manner) such as “homosexuality” we pop out the slogan, Jesus said “go and sin no more.”

In my experience this sloganizing is usually a thinly veiled effort at self-justification for our harshness and lack of compassion (empathy is often not on the radar screen). Indeed, we often do come off as if we hate the “sinner.” They are the “sinners.” They are the ones in need of repentance. They are out of step with God. They are the ones who hate God’s word. They are the ones that need change.

Never us. Never me.

The point of the Scriptures are not so I can tell everyone else they need to repent. Rather the point is to reveal the depths of my own sin and radical need of God’s mercy.

It isn’t that we do not know what the Scripture says. But we, like when the Bible scholar when asked about the Greatest Command said, “well then, just who is my neighbor.” He, like us, actually knew the answer. But he, like us, wants to get around the ethic of living that Scripture.

It is not my job, and never has been, to decide if your sin is more disgusting to God than mine (that is if we admit we are indeed dripping in sin). But it is worth noting that in the Seven Things that God “hates” (Proverbs 6.16f) arrogance, lying, and discord are all mentioned but adultery, fornication, homosexuality (etc) are not. I am not saying those are not sin rather the point is that we cozy up with the very things God is said to hate. We can add racism, sexism, love of money, being overfed and unconcerned for the poor, you know the real sin of Sodom.

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:
She and her daughters were arrogant,
overfed and unconcerned;
they did not help the poor and needy
.”
(Ezekiel 16.49)

What about “Go and Sin No More?”

So what about that phrase “go and sin no more.” We do find it in a story presently located in John 7.53-8.11. The saying is in 8.11.

Just for the sake of truth, this text is a textual variant. Every modern translation tells you that John 7.53-8.11 is not original to the Gospel of John. Most translations will have an extended note similar to this one in the NIV.

[The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11.
A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]

The 2011 NIV places the passage as a whole in italics. It is a great story and many scholars believe it is an actual event in the life of Jesus. One of the many stories of Jesus that never made it into a Gospel. It is interesting that none of the Church Fathers seem to know the story for several hundred years after the Ascension. It is a good story. I love it. I think it illustrates well the compassion of Jesus. But John did not write it.

But before Jesus, first says to this woman, says to the men “you without sin can cast the first stone.” After a few moments he said to the woman, “where are your accusers?” They fled. Then Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you.

One wonders if those who post memes, such as the one accompanying this article, realize the we do not have a leg to stand on when we post such things.

What did Jesus Do? Go in Shalom …

Well in Luke 7.36-50 we find Jesus at a church man’s house, Simon. At lunch, some woman came off the street and started playing with Jesus’s feet. She even undid her hair, rubbing locks of her hair all over his feet as she caressed his feet with her lips (7.45).

Beloved reader, it is difficult to state just how outrageously shocking this story is in the first century. We have sanitized this story to the point of it being unrecognizable. But it was no pious moment. It was interpreted as absolute proof Jesus was a fraud.

If this happened in John MacArthur’s/John Piper’s church or Eastside, they would die of a heart attack. If this episode happened to any modern preacher, and he did not speak up and stop her, he would be looking elsewhere for a job. The people would drag her out by the hair in unbridled indignation. It is not strange that Simon and everyone else is scandalized.

Simon condemned Jesus in his heart. The crowd did too. Why? Because this woman’s reputation had proceeded her. They responded as many of us today. They condemned her.

But Jesus says this woman “whose sins are MANY” (7.47) was forgiven.

She never even asked!

Then Jesus said a phrase like John 8.11 but one word is significantly different, “Your faith has saved you; go in PEACE/shalom” (7.50). Jubilee has been announced to this woman. Not a Jew present would have missed the “priestly” blessing Jesus pronounces upon this woman. Her world has been reframed. Go in Shalom!

Then Jesus made it absolutely clear that Simon and the woman were the same.

This nameless woman is just one of a long line of biblical women that are often judged by men. We have no idea from the text what kind of woman she was. Simon regarded her as a “sinner” (7.39). The text though does not say she was just a fornicator or adulterous. She could just as easily have been a woman who had been divorced or widowed and had no way of actually living except her body (in fact I suspect this is the case with her). We need to remember such stories as Tamar (Genesis 38), Rahab (Joshua 2), Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12), the woman at the well (John 4), etc, not one received a word of rebuke (much less condemnation). Rather, each received a word of grace in the graceless world they lived in.

God surely wants us to go and sin no more. We are to be renewed in mind and sanctified in the Spirit. But it is not my job to determine whether a person is doing that sufficiently or not. Most of us are Simon, unaware that we need to be forgiven as much as the shameless woman. But she received the priestly blessing, he did not (see the Jubilee parable Jesus tells Simon in the middle of the story, 7.40-43).

In my life, when I see someone embrace God’s astonishing grace, I have cultivated the habit of saying,

your faith has saved you,
go in SHALOM
.”

W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963)

Confederate Memorials have been controversial and divisive from the moment they were constructed. For the most part they were constructed with division as their goal to begin with. The Confederate monument building phenomena dominated the years of 1895 to 1920 and then again the years of 1954 to 1965. These dates are not accidental. These years correspond to the Supreme Court decisions of Plessy v. Ferguson that canonized Jim Crow in the United States and 1954 was the Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated public schools. For more on the symbols see my article The Confederate Flag and the Nation for Which it Stands. There has never been a time in the history of these monuments that they were not divisive and offensive. That was their purpose for the proclaimed, from the beginning, a divisive and offensive message.

W. E. B. DuBois, the legendary civil rights crusader, intellectual, author of The Souls of Black Folks and so much more, loathed Civil War monuments. DuBois addressed monuments on a number of occasions. For example in 1931 he wrote, “the most terrible thing about the War, I am convinced, is its monuments.” In March 1928, he penned a piece called “Robert E. Lee” in the magazine he edited called The Crises. It is one of the most succinct explanations of the moral quagmire of Lee I have ever read. I share it in full. It is not that long.

Read it. Ponder it. It is every bit as relevant today as it was in 1928.

“Each year on the 19th of January {Lee’s birthday, BV} there is renewed effort to canonize Robert E. Lee, the greatest confederate general. His personal comeliness, his aristocratic birth and his military prowess all call for the verdict of greatness and genius. But one thing–one terrible fact–militates against this and that is the inescapable truth that Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery. Copperheads like the New York Times may magisterially declare: “of course, he never fought for slavery.” Well, for what did he fight? State rights? Nonsense. The South cared only for State Rights as a weapon to defend slavery. If nationalism had been a stronger defense of the slave system than particularism, the South would have been as nationalistic in 1861 as it had been in 1812.

No. People do not go to war for abstract theories of government. They fight for property and privilege and that was what Virginia fought for in the Civil War. And Lee followed Virginia. He followed Virginia not because he particularly loved slavery (although he certainly did not hate it), but because he did not have the moral courage to stand against his family and his clan. Lee hesitated and hung his head in shame because he was asked to lead armies against human progress and Christian decency and did not dare refuse. He surrendered not to Grant, but to Negro Emancipation.

Lee Memorial in Richmond, Va turned into a postcard. Contemporary with DuBois critique.

Today we can best perpetuate his memory and his nobler traits not by falsifying his moral debacle, but by explaining it to the young white south. What Lee did in 1861, other Lees are doing in 1928. They lack the moral courage to stand up for justice to the Negro because of the overwhelming public opinion of their social environment. Their fathers in the past have condoned lynching and mob violence, just as today they acquiesce in the disfranchisement of educated and worthy black citizens, provide wretchedly inadequate public schools for Negro children and endorse a public treatment of sickness, poverty and crime which disgraces civilization.

It is the punishment of the South that its Robert Lees and Jefferson Davises will always be tall, handsome and well-born. That their courage will be physical and not moral. That their leadership will be weak compliance with public opinion and never costly and unswerving revolt for justice and right. It is ridiculous to seek to excuse Robert Lee as the most formidable agency this nation ever raised to make 4 million human beings goods instead of men. Either he knew what slavery meant when he helped maim and murder thousands in its defense, or he did not. If he did not he was a fool. If he did, Robert Lee was a traitor and a rebel–not indeed to his country, but to humanity and humanity’s God.”

This should be read and reread and then read again. This my friends is the unvarnished truth.

12 Jul 2022

Jesus of Nazareth, the Psalms, and Instruments

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Music, Psalms, Worship

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy
.”
(Psalm 33.1-3)

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the
King, the LORD

(Psalm 98.4-6)

I was sitting on my couch meditating on my daily Psalm reading (Psalms 98-102). I had some music playing in the background as I often do. An album came on I have not heard in a while. It was one of my favs for a few years. “City on a Hill” has material by Third Day, Caedmon’s Call, Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer and others.

I found myself just leaning back and letting the music flow through my mind and fill my body. I was uplifted. In fact I was literally drawn into the worship of the One who is enthroned upon Israel’s praise (Ps 22.3). Chronicles captures it like this,

in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord saying,

‘He indeed is good
for His loving kindness [hesed] is everlasting,

then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud” (2 Chron 5.13).

Worship. Song. Music. The Glory of the Lord.

After a few minutes, my mind returned to this morning’s Psalm reading. Music filled me. Music is not merely vocal. Music is not merely instruments. Music is both. Music connects the entire human with the glory of the Lord.

Replica of the Lyre of Meggido dating to about 1000 BC

The Psalms are both. They are music. There are plenty of instruments in the Psalms. Instruments are mentioned in the Psalms and in their headings (Headings in the Hebrew Bible are literally the first verse of the psalm). Instruments appear already by Psalm 4.1, “with stringed instruments.”; 5.1, “for the flutes“; 6.1, with stringed instruments“; 54.1, “with stringed instruments“; etc. In the temple, King David, at the command of God, had 4000 Levites trained (yep trained) as both singers and instrumental musicians (1 Chron 23.5). He divided them into 288 courses (that is groups of 13) under the leadership of Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman.

There seems to be nine basic instruments mentioned in the Psalms themselves which can be divided into three basic kinds of instruments:

  • stringed instruments
  • wind instruments
  • percussion instruments.

The “lyre” (kennor) we know what this instrument looks like and even what it sounds like. Depictions of temple “lyre’s” can be found on Jewish coins from the Bar Kokhba period and Semite’s playing them in ancient Egyptian art. Right in Israel the “Lyre of Megiddo” was excavated by Gordon Loud in the 1920s that dates to about 1000 B.C, nearly contemporary with David. We find specific references to this beautiful instrument in 33.2; 43.4; 57.8; 71.22; 81.2; 92.3; 98.5; 108.2; 137.2; 147.7; 149.3; 150.3 among others.

Several different kinds of wind instruments are mentioned. The “pipes” (halil) are typically translated as “flutes.” This is another ancient instrument we know what it looked like thanks to archeology. An Israelite terracotta figure is playing one of these instruments. These instruments were used in the Psalms and during the holy festivals of Israel. Isaiah speaks of the gladness of God’s people ascending the Mount Zion to the sound of the “halil” on the night “holy festival is kept” (Isa 30.29).

In Jesus’s temple the “halil” was played during those festivals and sacrifice. Jesus and his disciples would have heard it the night of the Last Supper. We learn in the Mishnah,

On twelve days in the year was the halil played before the altar: at the killing of the first Passover sacrifice, at the killing of the second Passover sacrifice, on the first festival day of Passover, on the festival day of Pentecost, and on the eight days of the Feast [of Sukkot/Tabernacles].”

The “trumpets” are of two varieties: the shofar and silver trumpets. We know exactly what the latter looked like in Jesus’s day and the early church. For 2000 years the Arch of Titus, near the Coliseum in Rome, has depicted booty laden Roman soldiers carrying off the sacred vessels of the Temple: the Menorah, the table of shewbread, and the sacred trumpets.

Coins minted during the years of Simon bar Kokhba depicting temple lyre of the first century

With these sacred trumpets (and all these instruments), the Way would be quite familiar. According to the Book of Acts, the Way gathered daily “worshiped in the Temple” (Acts 2.46, NLT) and gathered for “the prayers” at the “hour of prayer, three o’clock in the afternoon” (Acts 3.1-2, NRSV). The “hours of prayer” coincided with the daily sacrifices at Jesus’s temple: at 9 am and at 3 pm. These trumpets were used as part of the sacrificial and prayer service.

They never sounded less than twenty-one tekia in the temple, and never more than forty-eight. Every day they blew twenty-one tekia in the temple, three at the opening of the gates, nine at the daily morning sacrifice, and nine at the daily evening sacrifice. At the additional sacrifices they sounded an additional nine; and on the eve of the sabbath they added six …”

During Jesus’s day and the early Way, an additional instrument was used in the Temple. When I learned this I was just stunned. That is the “magrefah.” The “magrefah” was an early organ. The Mishnah tells us the organ was placed between the Temple portico and the altar (M.Tam 5.6).

The Gospels depict Jesus as zealous for “my Father’s house” (Jn 2.16) and frequently there. He even made it to Hanukkah which celebrates the renewal of the Temple by the Maccabees (Jn 10.22ff). In the Court of Women, where rabbis like Jesus would teach regularly and participate in worship, there were fifteen steps. On these steps the Levites would gather and lead the pilgrims in worship and the women (and men) would dance in joy before the Lord. The Psalms they played were the Songs of Ascents perfectly blending music; vocal and instrumental.

My mind went wandering all because a song came on. Most of today’s disciples know very little about the Psalms and even less about the Temple. Jesus’s temple was alive with music, the praise of Yahweh. As the Psalter ends,

Let everything that has breath, praise Yahweh.”

Blame the old CD

“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more …” (Romans 5)

Reading and Praying the Psalms lectio continua will change your world. Not magically, not overnight. But daily reading and praying through the Psalter as a discipline beginning to end every month, in order, does things to us. Five Psalms a day, everyday, every month. Let me share one example.

Celebrating grace is not endorsing, much less condoning, error. On the contrary, celebrating grace is holy acknowledgment of the doctrinal truth that grace is greater than our error (or sin).

Some do not believe, it seems, this truth.

So I was reading in God’s word and I have, once again, been struck by two significant facts that seemingly smack us, or at least me, up side the head.

First Truth

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts …
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced
…” (105.1-3, 5)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever …
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind …
Let the one who is wise heed these things
and ponder the steadfast love of the Lord
.” (107.1, 8, 43, Hesed dominates Psalm 107)

First Truth comes from two lengthy Psalms that close Book IV and begin Book V, these are Psalms 105 and Psalms 107. In these Psalms, God’s People are led by the Holy Spirit to confess and sing with unabashed abandon the truth that Yahweh is incredibly, unbelievably, amazingly, long-suffering, gracious, and merciful. Repeated oral reading of these Psalms will carve Hesed rivers into our communal consciousness. Often, when the Bible speaks of the uniqueness of God it does squarely in terms of Hesed and grace (we Gentiles miss this many times).

Who is a God LIKE YOU?

The prophet places the question squarely in the context of the character of the God of Israel,

who is a God like you,
PARDONING INIQUITY
and passing over transgression …
because he delights in showing mercy …
you will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”
(Micah 7.18-19).

Many Christians certainly believe in God. But it is not merely the existence of God that Micah is concerned with. Rather it is the character of God. What kind of God do we worship?

Second Truth

Second Truth comes from Psalm 106. It is equally significant that the editors of the Psalter framed Psalm 106 with Psalm 105 before and Psalm 107 following it. It is only after celebrating the infinite Hesed of Yahweh in Psalm 105 that we encounter the darkness of Psalm 106. And immediately following encounter the blazing brightness of Hesed, a greatness that is only magnified by the stark black contrast of Psalm 106 with 105 and 107.

In Psalm 106, we confess with all God’s People we are the polar opposite of Yahweh. We and our ancestors are incredibly rebellious, we are blind, we are disobedient, we are selfish, we are greedy, we are self-righteous. Our story can reach incredible depths of ugliness. It is hard to conceive of a lower point than in parts of the book of Judges. It is painful, I confess, to read Judges 17-19. Yet we are driven to confess that this is our story.

Shocking Truth

Just as Psalm 105 and 107 are even brighter in contrast with Psalm 106; so the opposite is true. Psalm 106 is even sadder in the light of glory of Hesed that surrounds it in Psalm 105 and Psalm 107. This is by design dear reader.

Here is the shocking truth of Hesed from these Psalms. Though full of sin and abounding in apostasy they remain God’s People.

How?

Because of the First Truth!

How?

Because of the First Truth!

Surely if that which was written before was for our learning, and is good for doctrine, and equips the people of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3.14-17), then we can learn something about the way God relates to his people. In fact it is in precisely a context of telling largely Gentile disciples of Jesus that the scripture was written for our learning. Learning how to graciously treat one another (cf. Romans 15.4).

Our Lord calls them (us) to a very high ideal and deals with them (us) with incredible long suffering and mercy. Perhaps we should also take to heart what Paul says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and LIVE IN LOVE, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5.1-2). Clearly, Psalm 106, and Judges, teaches us the depth of God’s long suffering Hesed for the most desperately out of whack people, US! If we are imitators of God would that not mean we are just as long suffering, merciful and full of Hesed with each other regarding the foibles we have, which are a cake walk by comparison to Judges and Psalm 106!

Further, when we look at the leaders of God’s People from Joshua to Samson the quality seems fairly low (Joshua clearly being the best of the bunch but then there was the Gibeonite episode). I confess, if Samson showed up on my door step to ask my daughter out, I’d call the cops!!! Yet the Lord of Hesed did in fact use him, and them, and blessed the feeble efforts.

Now when we move from the history of God’s people within Scripture to that of “profane” history what do we see? We see men like Martin Luther (or John Calvin, Martin Luther King Jr, C. S. Lewis, Alexander Campbell, etc). We should ask ourselves how he would compare to Jepthah, Samson, Solomon, Hezekiah, or Jacob? Clearly he (Luther) was mistaken (like Joshua whose mistake cost the entire people!) on stuff. Even important stuff.

Yet, I wonder if God changed how he dealt with human beings from the time of Psalms 105-107 and Samson to Martin Luther? One wonders if Luther would have been satisfied with just one night of dew on the ground and a dry cloth? Or if Luther would have visited prostitutes before bringing a visitation on the Philistines? I am just wondering “out loud?” Are Luther’s sins greater than those recorded in Judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” I wonder if the grace Samson found from Micah’s God was denied to Luther?

So many times we act like God has ceased to be the God of Psalm 105, Psalm 106 and Psalm 107. Hesed celebrates, in these Psalms, the doctrinal truth that Yahweh delights to forgive “wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34.6).

Interestingly enough it is only in fairly recent times that restoration Christians decided that Luther was not much better than a pagan. Alexander Campbell could chastise those who claimed the epitaph “Protestant” as traitors to Luther. He could say:

O for another Luther, to lash the popery of false Protestants, who prefer implicit surrender of their own judgment to the decision of … pretenders to divine wisdom …”

In his debate with N. L. Rice, Campbell extolled his gratitude and respect not only on Martin Luther and John Calvin but on their predecessors. Specifically of Luther and Calvin he says these astonishing words. They,

were God’s chosen vessels to accomplish at the proper time a mighty moral revolution, whose might, sway and extended empire over the human mind and destinies of the world, have not yet been fully appreciated.” (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 587).

“God’s chosen vessels.” Those are fascinating words. Now Campbell, someone will say, was uninspired. I agree. His opinion matters for nothing, right!

However, I think Campbell recognized something quite significant and true. Something we need to accept as biblical truth precisely because it is TRUTH …

Perfection of either understanding or Precision Obedience in practice is not what makes one a part of the family of God nor makes a people the People of God. The Hebrew Bible as a whole, but the Psalms especially teach the doctrine that Yahweh’s grace is greater than our error.

Could it be that Luther was in fact truly a disciple? Surely he was. That term is used to describe the “Way,” that is the people of Jesus in the NT, more than any other term (by a long way). The word “disciple” implies neither “arrivedness” nor “perfection.” Rather the term actually implies the people of God are sophomoric, imperfect, always learning and growing.

Thus I think Luther was in fact a disciple of Christ. How Luther’s errors are worse than Israel’s I fail to be able to discern … but that is just me.

Lord, we pray thee, to have mercy on our arrogance and our inability to even perceive YOUR work in the cracked pot Martin Luther.

Martin Luther is just an illustration. The truth of grace is actually applied to everyone, including ourselves. We, as Psalm 106 makes abundantly clear, are in error and God’s people have always been in error. Error that is surrounded by and enveloped in God’s Hesed just as Psalm 106 is swallowed in the brilliance of Psalms 105 and Psalm 107. Celebrating grace is not an endorsement of error. Celebrating grace is simply the acknowledgment of the “doctrinal” truth that grace is greater than our sin.

Be blessed.
Go Read Psalm 105, Psalm 106 and Psalm 107, out loud.

N.T. Wright’s survey and critique of 20th century Pauline scholarship. Excellent book but lacks significant engagement with the “Paul within Judaism” school.

Insight from N. T. Wright

A few years ago, I read N. T. Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters. Reading NTW’s review often reminded me of Susannah Heschel’s book The Aryan Jesus. I was shocked how often ‘Church of Christ” thinkers sound so much like the most outrageously liberal German scholars. On p.17, NTW says, “the underlying question was [for F. C. Baur], ‘What sort of thing is genuine Christianity?”

It was a restoration movement! For him, true Christianity had to be separated from the contaminating Jewish chaff. Baur believed he wanted authentic, true, Christianity. But in his mind true Christianity had nothing to do with the Hebrew Bible and/or Judaism. Why waste time on that stuff! I was familiar with this attitude.

Wright, sometime later, discusses that most famous liberal of them all, Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann consistently interpreted Paul (and John and Jesus) without reference to the “Old Testament.” The OT was irrelevant because that is what Jesus, Paul, etc were getting rid of. Many of the quotations produced at various points made me pause and think, “I’ve heard this before.”

I kept having deja vu moments. How many times, in my developing years, did I see preachers, elders, deacons, “common people,” walking around with their pocket New Testaments to “church.” What better way to get rid of the “Old Testament” than simply not even have it between the covers of your sacred book. We were Christianity without the “Old Testament.” The irony that our theology and that of classic liberals like Bultmann is not far apart should not be lost on us. Divorcing Jesus, Paul, and the early church from Judaism allowed Bultmann, and us, to recreate each in our own image all the while claiming we are simply reading the Bible (or “New Testament”). It also allowed us to comfortably Platonize the kingdom of God and the ethics it demands.

Repeatedly, NTW stresses the necessity of the interpretation of Paul “in reference to the Old Testament.” N.T. Wright could have, at this point, quoted Gerhard von Rad’s brilliant, and brave, speech in 1943 in Nazi Germany. Von Rad stated to a group of ministers facing a tidal way of unhitching Christianity from the Old Testament that the “Old Testament is the gateway to the New Testament and any that wish to read it aright must first travel its path.” Von Rad said what needed to be said,

““It seems paradoxical: Perhaps there was never a time when the attentiveness to the message of the Old Testament was as urgent as ours {i.e look at the Nazis!}. The Old Testament stands as the most faithful guard to the doors of the New Testament, and it assures us that the breadth and fullness of the message of Christ … The exclusion of the Old Testament has inevitably as its consequence a distortion and curtailment of the New Testament message of Christ … There are certainly many ways into the New Testament  {wrong ones!}. But the era seems to be past in which each could see his honor, could have found his own private way. There is only one way that leads into the holy of holies of the New Testament, and that is the way over and through the Old Testament” (“The Christian Understanding of the Old Testament,” delivered on June 13, 1944. It was a daring speech in Nazi Germany).

But Wright did not quote him but he should have! Jesus, Paul, the New Testament writings, mean what they mean because of the Hebrew Bible.

Wright is talking to professional New Testament scholars in his book. But, with von Rad, I think the point is equally essential for preachers. I thank God that one of my rabbis, Dr. Richard Oster, repeatedly stressed to us the importance of the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”) for properly understanding Paul. I should have listened even more than I did! If we do not do this then we will in fact end up with the Aryan Jesus, and anti-Semitic Paul, of Nazi Germany.

So my word to preachers, and all disciples, is cultivate the daily habit (yes, daily) of reading the Hebrew Bible. Preferably in large integrated chunks. Make it part of our personal Spiritual growth. Become familiar with the liturgical calendar of Scripture to see its rhythm enmeshed within the narrative itself. Cultivate the discipline of engaging several Psalms on a daily basis (See N. T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms). When we approach a NT text to preach, explore its foundations in the Hebrew Bible. Take the time to be intimately familiar with the theological motifs of the Hebrew Bible so we recognize them in the words of Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John (exodus, salvation, redemption, faith, creation, worship, temple, people of God, etc are all Hebraic/Old Testament ideas). Get the narrative structure down in our DNA. Even when the genre of the writing is an epistle, James Thompson, among others, has shown that the epistle itself has a narrative framework. (see Pastoral Ministry According to Paul). In our preaching we cannot study and preach without reference to the Old Testament.

The Bass Line of the New Testament

Let me use an illustration. In most rock songs, even in classical music, you need to have a bass part. In writing/constructing a tune we start with a beat/the bass and build everything around that. The “bass line” is the “baseline.” The bass line grounds the entire song. Take out the bass and see what happens. It changes the music fundamentally.

The Hebrew Bible is the “bass line” in every part of the New Testament. Without it, you have a song but it does not sound the same. To say it slightly different, the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”) is the foundational worldview of every single sentence in what we call the New Testament. How the New Testament “looks” changes as much as when we look at the night sky through optical wavelengths and infrared ones. So as a matter of course build into your daily routine prayerful reading and study of the Hebrew Bible. Just do it.

As an example let’s think about the Temple. When we say that the Temple was important in the life of Jesus and the Way, we are entering ground that is the exact opposite of older classic biblical scholarship. But the Temple is the pink elephant in the room of the New Testament. The shadow of the Temple is not just a literal building but the language and imagery from the Temple. The NT writers use Temple language in almost every book and we often simply are unaware.

An extension of this was that for years scholars have stressed the importance of the synagogue over the Temple for understanding the church. This, in spite of the fact that Temple imagery dominates even Paul’s writings related to the church.

Protestant scholars have stressed synagogue over Temple for the same reason they divorced Jesus and Paul from Judaism in the first place. They imagined that the Temple and synagogue were the opposite kinds of realities. Since German Lutherans practically invented biblical scholarship as we know it, they also set the terms of debate. They hated anything that looked (in their mind) like Catholicism! And what looks like Catholicism … priests, liturgies, rituals, law, etc. all of these became caricatures and foils for the Old Testament and Judaism. They took the struggles of Martin Luther with medieval Catholicism and projected them onto Jesus’s debates with Pharisees, Paul’s struggle with whoever the “Judiazers” and his supposed conflict with James, and worst of all they overlaid Luther’s “law vs gospel” concept upon the Hebrew Bible itself. This legacy has been inherited by every Protestant, including us in the Stone-Campbell Movement.

Old Testament studies as well as Jesus and Paul scholarship, material related to what was deemed priestly or worship or the like was both late and DEevolution (that is degeneration from what was more “spiritual”). Thus Jesus, by definition, opposed and rejected the Temple. Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t even a real Jew in a good deal of this scholarship (to this day many are simply surprised that Jesus is a Jew).

And Paul, the only real apostle in this line of thinking, wanted nothing to do with the Temple. The early church, it was claimed, was not interested in Jewish stuff … that was secondary and legalistic or “proto-Catholicism.” The Apostle James, and Lord’s brother, was the backward misunderstanding legalist who held onto the Hebrew Bible. Luke was misguided because he depicts Paul as a genuine Jewish rabbi, Pharisee in fact, who circumcises Jewish men, takes Nazarite vows, offers sacrifice in the Temple and holds to the Hebrew Bible. Evangelical type believers are often shocked by these statements about Paul because they encounter the Book of Acts piecemeal and filtered through that traditional Protestant perspective on Paul and Jesus.

The real Jesus and Paul, according to this view, were fleeing anything that was Jewish because it was, by definition, unspiritual, legalistic, ritualistic, far from God. Jesus and Paul were, in this perspective, the antithesis of anything Jewish. This perspective has dominated Protestant readings of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament for centuries.  We, in the Stone-Campbell Movement, have not been exempt from this anti-semitic and completely unhistorical prejudice.

David Stubbs recent work is one of the best works, period. He takes us deep into the world of the Temple and how it shapes the central part of Christian worship, the Eucharist. Many passages come to life in this great book.

However, all of this is incredibly difficult to square with what is actually in the Bible. Since 1967, it has been (in many cases) Jewish scholars themselves that have led a reevaluation of Jesus, Paul and the early church and the Temple. The Temple is almost as ubiquitous in the New Testament as references to the death of Jesus.

And now with more discoveries, like the magnificent synagogue at Magdala, show that the old distinction between Temple and synagogue is simply not historically accurate. The synagogue was understood to be connected with the Temple itself (see Mordechai Aviam’s “The Decorated Stone from the Synagogue at Migdal: A Holistic Interpretation and a Glimpse into the Life of Galilean Jews at the Time of Jesus,” Novum Testamentum 55 [2013], 205-220, See the same author’s essay “Reverence for Jerusalem and the Temple in Galilean Society,” in James H. Charlesworth, ed, Jesus and the Temple: Textual and Archeological Explorations, pp. 123-144 published in 2014). An illustration of this is the historical reality that Jewish synagogues had a mikveh attached to it (archeologists have unearthed hundreds of these) just like the Temple. The synagogue from Migdal has shown us that one had to pass through the mikveh to get into the synagogue and it was in some sense sacred space just as the Temple itself. The synagogue was not over and against the Temple in the first century but an extension of it.

A string of publications has shown that the Temple is the shadow that is across the pages of the NT not the synagogue … the synagogue itself is understood in reference to the Temple (the discovery of the synagogue at Magdala was just one of those incredible “accidents” that, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, was like a bomb). This is why we find the Way in the Temple in the Book of Acts. This is why Paul routinely uses Temple imagery to talk to his Gentile converts. The early church was shaped and molded by Judaism that still had the Temple … Rabbinic Judaism was formed when there was no temple.

It may pay rich dividends to begin to understand the Temple both in the Hebrew Bible and in the first century. I suspect it will have a considerable impact on our reading. Jesus was no enemy of the Temple, he called it “my Father’s house.” The Gospel of John shows Jesus’s routinely involved in the Temple. Paul loved the Temple. According to Acts every trip he made to Jerusalem found him worshiping in the Temple. John the Prophet casts his vision of Christian worship in the Revelation in terms of the Temple. The Hebrews Preacher presents Jesus as our High Priest and we are waiting for his “appearing” at the end of his Day of Atonement activities behind the Temple veil.

Yes, the Temple is ubiquitous in the New Testament shining like a light of the Hebrew Bible’s grounding of the apostolic message. We probably would do well to understand its significance and learn to recognize it and it roots us once again in the squarely Jewish nature of The Way in the New Testament.

Some Resources: Some recent sources that are simply outstanding (I want to state clearly I make no money from the sale of these resources):

Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Essential work)

Oskar Skarsuane, In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influence on Early Christianity (a must read on the first three centuries of The Way)

G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Mission of the Church (what are temples and how do they shape the biblical narrative)

James H. Charlesworth, ed., Jesus and Temple: Textual and Archeological Explorations (work by well known experts on the historical temple and Jesus’s interaction with it)

Peter J. Leithart, “Synagogue or Temple: Models for the Christian Worship,” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2002): 119-133 (calls attention to the misguided attempt to dismiss the Temple as a foundational category for understanding Christian worship in the first century).

David L. Stubbs, Table and Temple: The Christian Eucharist and its Jewish Roots (a seminal work on the importance of the Temple for the Eucharist).

2 Timothy 2.2

Why is it that we often do little to no study? Sometimes our positions are even based on the unique wording of a specific translation of the Bible (usually the KJV). Frankly we preachers are often Exhibit A of this tendency. So, I was once again informed how much a false teacher I am regarding women in church. My critic believed 2 Timothy 2.2 was his slam dunk case against me.

I am a restorationist. Though I believe it is foolish to ignore the wisdom and traditions hammered out in the history of God’s people, ultimately we have to go back to the biblical text and let it sit in judgment upon all of our wisdom, traditions and opinions. So I confess,

No creed but Christ,
No book but the Bible


This being the case, it should be natural for folks in the Stone-Campbell Movement to be Berean and always question. We should be natural questioners of the received wisdom. But this is not always the case. Instead of questioning we go assuming a conclusion. Then we use our assuming as the standard for truth.

As noted, I was informed I was in error because Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, commanded that MEN (as in males) be charged with teaching. So my critic quoted 2 Timothy 2.2 in the King James Version.

And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”

As anyone can see Paul clearly says in the KJV “commit thou to faithful MEN, who shall be able to teach.” This was supposed to be the end of the story. End of discussion.

But I have to question if my critic has studied this text. Does he assume that Paul wrote in King James English? Paul did not say, in 2 Timothy 2.2, that Timothy is to entrust males who are gifted in teaching. It does not even say that in the KJV. Paul says Timothy is to entrust reliable people, trustworthy people, with the message. Faithfulness, reliability, trustworthiness is the qualification not gender.

The term at issue here is ἀνθρώποις. The King James Version in 1611 translated it as “men” which was quite a broad term in the 17th century. This is a generic term for human beings with no gender specified. “Men” often means “mankind,” “humanity” “people.” The English language has changed greatly in the four hundred years since 1611. Even in 1611 the term “men” did not necessarily mean male but persons.

Paul, and any Bible reader, knows this from the first page of the Bible. In Paul’s Greek version of Genesis in the Septuagint we read,

“And God said, Let us make humans/humanity [ἄνθρωπον] according to our image and likeness … And God made humans/humanity [ἄνθρωπον] in his image, male and female [ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ].” (Genesis 1.26-27, LXX)

ἀνθρώποις covers the entire human race both males and females. ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ is the differentiation of humans into the gendered male and female. Paul simply does not tell Timothy that he is to find trustworthy/faithful/reliable males to do the teaching. Timothy is not to mentor merely males so that only males equip the saints. Timothy is to find reliable humans and train and equip them for teaching the saints.

But we do not really have to know Greek, or the LXX, to know that Paul did not say “males” in 2 Timothy 2.2. Most modern translations clearly indicate the meaning here.

“entrust faithful PEOPLE who will be able to teach” (NRSV)

“entrust to reliable PEOPLE who will also be qualified to teach” (NIV)

“You should teach PEOPLE whom you can trust the things you and many others have heard me say. Then they will be able to teach others.” (NCV)

“teach these truths to other trustworthy PEOPLE who will be able to pass them on” (NLT)

“pass them on to faithful PEOPLE who are also capable of teaching others” (CEB)

“pass it on to faithful PEOPLE who will be capable of instructing others” (Kingdom NT)

“hand it on to reliable PEOPLE so they in turn will be able to teach others” (JB)

The “qualification” Paul gives is not gender rather it is their faithful walk with the Lord. They are faithful, reliable, trustworthy.

Paul was quite familiar with faithful/reliable/trustworthy women teachers. From his Bible he knew of the great liberator Miriam. He knew the mighty Deborah. He walked through the gates of the temple named for the wise Huldah. And he personally knew Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia, Euodia, and Syntyche, just to name a few.

Timothy’s job was to find people, women and men, who were faithful to the Gospel, people who were gifted by God and train them to teach.

In the end, the text my critic used to call me a false teacher states exactly the opposite of what he claims. This teaching ministry belongs, according to 2 Timothy 2.2, to males and females who love the Lord.

21 Feb 2022

The Prophet Huldah’s Unquestioned Authority

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: C. R. Nichol, Hebrew Bible, Women

Four Women have changed my life eternally:

Huldah

Phoebe

Rachael

Talya.

I never (ever) considered myself a sexist but I did hold the old (but not ancient) view that women could do nothing in church. Huldah, Phoebe, Rachael and Talya showed me The Way. It began with Phoebe. Then I was forced to wrestle with Huldah because of Rachael. I had ignored her and God’s word previously.

Huldah was, if we believe inspired writers of Kings and Chronicles, one of the most influential prophets in Israel’s history. In fact, most of the names we think of when we hear the word “prophet” are not even mentioned by either Kings or Chronicles. Jonah and Isaiah (“writing prophets”) are mentioned in Kings. Jeremiah is not, to my knowledge mentioned at all. In Chronicles, Isaiah is mentioned as is Jeremiah mentioned briefly as the author of a lament over Josiah (2 C 35.25) and in 2 C 36. 12, 21. He is never mentioned in connection with Josiah’s reform. Even Elijah and Elisha are mentioned only in Kings but completely absent from Chronicles. Only Huldah figures in the narratives of both Kings and Chronicles (2 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 34). And in these writings the authority of Huldah is unquestioned. It is even beyond question.

Her authority was unquestioned by the son of David, King Josiah.

Her authority was unquestioned by Hilkiah, God’s high priest (read that till we get it!)

Her authority was unquestioned by Ahikam, son of Shaphan.

Her authority was unquestioned by Abdon.

Her authority was unquestioned by Shaphan, basically the secretary of state.

Her authority was unquestioned by Asiah.

Her authority was unquestioned by the inspired author of Kings.

Her authority was unquestioned by the inspired author of Chronicles.

Her authority was recognized over the rediscovered book of the law. Had Huldah declared to Josiah and Hilkiah that the book was a fraud, the work of a false prophet, they would have obeyed her and burned the book. Thus, a woman prophet is the first person in recorded history to identify a piece of writing as Scripture. It was Huldah’s undisputed authority that “authorized” the book (Read this till we get it)!

Her authority was unquestioned by the Israelites.

Her authority was recognized by naming five gates to the temple in Jesus’s day, the Huldah Gates. In fact, Huldah is the only human with a gate(s) named for her. They did not even have a Moses Gate. Yet there were five Huldah Gates.

Sadly, I have met even preachers who not only do not recognize Huldah’s unquestioned authority but quite a few have never heard of her.

Things that make you go … hmmmmmmmm

C. R. Nichols 1938 book, God’s Woman (co-author of Sound Doctrine with R. L. Whiteside; Nichols’ Pocket Bible Encyclopedia; Mentor to Foy Wallace Jr; etc.) offered some perceptive insight to Huldah.

Anticipating the charge that Huldah is “the Old Testament” (the easy way to get rid of parts of the Bible that do not fit a sectarian agenda), he writes in God’s Woman,

Sex relationship was the same in the days of Huldah that it was in the days of the apostles. Huldah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to teach a group {=assembly!} of men, and she did teach them without violating the law of Jehovah. Though we do not have inspired men and women today, it does not follow that a group of men may not be taught by a man, or a woman” (p. 28).

It is important to wrestle with the fact that the prophet Jeremiah was ministering at the time of Huldah. In fact, Jeremiah had been preaching for at least five years by this time, according to Nichol (p.29).

We must ask the question, Why is it that Josiah sent the High Priest and other men to Huldah instead of Jeremiah?

When the king was disturbed by the contents of the rediscovered “book of the law” (i.e. the Bible in Josiah’s day) and wanted to know what it meant, and what he was to do, Josiah and his men “did not seek Jeremiah” (p.30).

They knew the prophetess Huldah was in the city, that she was a mature woman, and they elected, or the king commanded them to go to her for instructions. Huldah, the prophetess, was inspired by Jehovah to teach the high priest, the men with him, and through them the king. By Jehovah’s approval she taught them, for God inspired her to do the teaching. This woman, Huldah, taught a group of men without usurping authority over them, and women can teach men today without refusing to be in subjection to men!” (p. 30).

Huldah, the Prophet of God. Her authority was unquestioned by the King, the High Priest, the biblical authors of Kings and Chronicles. Her authority was unquestioned. She should be one of the most famous characters in the Bible … remember they named gates for her not Moses, not Elijah, not Jeremiah … but Huldah. Huldah was beyond doubt one of the greatest prophets and leaders among God’s people of all time.

When we genuinely understand what Huldah did and who she was our views just may undergo a revolution.

Also of Interest

Huldah Who? The Forgotten Ministry of a Lady Prophet

Though written before I was born, King (seemingly) directly addresses the America of 2022.
Read this book.

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
” (Amos 5.24)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
” (Micah 6.8)

Someone once said that we build monuments to the prophets in order to neuter their witness. Bernice King, MLK’s daughter, said as much last year as she protested the misuse of her father’s name by whites in support for the status quo of injustice in America.

When I moved to Grenada, MS in 1997, when Talya was a mere two weeks old, I had no clue how central that itty bitty town was in the struggle for justice during the Civil Rights Movement. It was a town wracked with racial division and had not had an election in years. Lawsuits went to the Supreme Court several times. My racial education had begun already in New Orleans (and I had read a few books) but I was still dumb (blind!) as dirt. Ernest Hargrove, Pastor of the AME church, and others soon were lovingly educating me however.

In June 1966, James Meredith undertook a Freedom March down Highway 51 that passes through Grenada, Mississippi. He did not get far, just south of Hernando, on Hwy 51, he was shot. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Atlanta in a meeting with the staff of SCLC when the news of the shooting arrived. Initially, King says, the report was Meredith had died. Everyone in the room was furious. Soon reports came that Meredith was alive and in the hospital in Memphis. King decided they needed to go to Memphis visit James and finish his Freedom Walk. While King was visiting, a young man named Stokley Carmichael showed up. Carmichael would end up walking with King down Hwy 51 through Grenada then to Greenwood.

Along the way, King remembers, Carmichael began voicing his doubts about nonviolence and by the time they had made Grenada, had talked about “Black Power.” By the time they reached Greenwood, he was shouting “Black Power.”

In 1967 King reflected on this journey in his epic book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. King was not only a superb orator but he had a potent analytical mind. He explains to his readers (especially white ones) that Carmichael is/was not wrong. That’s right, Carmichael was not wrong. He understood at a gut level the frustration and rage, how could one not be raging angry in the face of such blatant evil while the majority culture turned a blind eye.

But King thought the rhetoric was unhelpful because white folks to quickly latch onto verbiage without understanding what was actually being said.

We fail to hear! Jesus bemoans this truth regularly.

So, King meticulously explains, to white readers, the why of the rhetoric and the legitimacy of the complaint. What King states reads as if it was written for 2020 and 2022.

The “Cry of Black Power,” did not suddenly drop “as if from Zeus.” But has a concrete historical birthing: not only the United States but Mississippi. He writes,

The state symbolizing the most blatant abuse of white power. In Mississippi the murder of civil rights workers is still a popular pastime. In that state more than forty Negroes and whites have either been lynched or murdered over the last three years, and not a single man has been punished for these crimes. More than fifty Negro churches have been burned or bombed [as was the case with Bell Flower M.B. Baptist Church right in Grenada!] in the last two years, yet the bombers still walk surrounded by a halo of adoration.”

If Carmichael, who represents the “young” to King (King was only 38), his anger and sense of hopelessness is the fault of white America. Why? Because black lives simply did not matter to white America.

That’s right. King illustrated this by an interesting story. Carmichael was with King in Alabama when Army veteran Jimmy Lee Jackson had been brutally murdered by the state police on February 26, 1965 for trying to register to vote (this was the impetus for the March from Selma to Montgomery). A white man, a minister, James Reeb, was also killed. I will let King tell the story.

They remembered how President Johnson sent flowers to the gallant Mrs. Reeb, and in his eloquent “We Shall Overcome” speech paused to mention that one person, James Reeb, had already died in the struggle. Somehow the President forgot to mention Jimmy, who died first. The parents and sister of Jimmy received no flowers from the President. The students felt this keenly, not because they felt that the death of James Reeb was less tragic, but because they felt the failure to mention Jimmy Jackson only REINFORCED THE IMPRESSION THAT TO WHITE AMERICA THE LIFE OF A NEGRO IS INSIGNIFICANT AND MEANINGLESS.” (my emphasis).

King says many other things we ought to hear. But right here he put his finger on something. “Black Power” was voicing the cry of a group that was convinced in their souls that their very lives, their existence as human beings, simply did not matter to the white power structure. That is why King begins his story with the bald statement, “James Meredith has been shot!” King’s implicit challenge to white America is not, Carmichael is wrong but “pony up and prove that not only his but every Black Life Matters!” (My words, not his). King goes on to say that Stokely’s critics are more white than Christian.

Martin never dreamed of a colorless society. He never once dreamed of a color blind world. He dreamed of a racist free society. He dreamed of a justice filled society. He dreamed of a society where Stokely Carmichael’s life as a BLACK man mattered because God had made him a black man. He dreamed of a world where God’s creational differences are the basis of celebration of humanity not the basis of oppression. That is what King dreamed for. God made Stokely black and that awful fact was to be recognized and valued. BTW God also never dreamed of a colorless world and God redeems it as part of the work of the Jewish Messiah. (See the link “I Don’t See Color!’ But I Do and So Does God … the Bible Celebrates Unity in Diversity.”)

I think America has de-fanged King just as Bernice King charged. White Christians have turned his “I Have a Dream” into some neo-Gnostic, colorless, white-washed nightmare. But for King, Black Lives Mattered … as Black Lives.

King still speaks to us even today. May we honor King by pursuing a life where justice and righteousness flow like an ever flowing stream (Amos 5.24).

All quotations from King come from Martin Luther King. Jr, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community with a Forward by Coretta Scott King. You should read this book. There is an Amazon link in the title.

24 Jan 2022

Jesus’s Sacrifice of Prayer in Hebrews

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Hebrews, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Prayer, Worship
In the days, while in his flesh, he SACRIFICED prayers and supplications,
with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard for his godly fear.

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
    hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
    may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

(Psalm 141.1-2).

The “epistle” to the Hebrews is a homily. Hebrews is also a very complex homily (and easily misunderstood). I am partial to Gabriella Gelardini has attempted to return to the first century and ask what kind of social context the text fits.  The answer is the Jewish liturgical calendar that frames so much of the NT writings.  She has argued that Hebrews is an example of an ancient synagogue homily composed specifically for Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting that “commemorates and mourns over the sins of Israel and the covenant curse that followed them.” Even if we cannot be dogmatic that Hebrews was “specifically” for that occasion, such an occasion sheds great light on what is in the sermon (see Gabriella Gelardini, “Hebrews, An Ancient Synagogue Homily for Tisha be-Av: Its Function, Its Basis, Its Theological Interpretation,” in G. Gelardini, ed., Hebrews: Contemporary Methods – New Insights, pp. 107-27).

There are many overlapping worlds in Hebrews that are simply alien to Protestant North American readers steeped in centuries of anti-Judaism and often outright anti-Semiticism. There is not only the strange world of the act of sacrifice, but the even more alien worldview that sacrificing operates within. In the last generation there has been a veritable revolution in Hebrews scholarship because of studies in other areas: Temple studies; Jewish lectionaries and liturgy; the role of the Psalms in Second Temple Judaism; Second Temple literature like the Apocrypha and Dead Sea Scrolls; and many more.

The role of “cultic” language in Hebrews had often been ignored by Protestant scholars. Here the word “cult” does not mean something associated with Jim Jones but the world of worship associated with Temple/Tabernacle, the “rituals” of worship.

Sacrifice in particular is prominent in Hebrews. But sacrifice is not always, even primarily, the killing of an animal. There are many forms of sacrifice that do not include killing. A prominent example would be grain or cereal sacrifices which are completely animal free. But sacrifice is a “cultic” act of worship. The Sermon of Hebrews associates this with the prayers of Jesus though almost all older commentaries never mention it and our English translations have been so conditioned by tradition and our unfamiliarity with that world we miss it. One of my favorite texts in the Bible however speaks to all of these matters above. Hebrews 5.7.

In the days, while in his flesh, he SACRIFICED prayers and supplications,
with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard for his godly fear.

The term usually translated as “offered” is a “cultic” term associated with the offering sacrifice throughout Leviticus and associated texts in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint. In other contexts, it is rendered clearly as “sacrifice/d“.

In Evangelical/Protestant traditions it is too Roman Catholic to refer to a prayer as a “sacrifice” but that is exactly what Hebrews does. The other ancient Jesus, Ben Sira, said,

The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds [of incense to the throne of God]
and it will not rest until it reaches its goal
” (Sirach 35.21).

Here we have a brilliant window opened up on the “spirituality” of Jesus of Nazareth. We see Jesus as one of the people (he is a Jew) who worships the God of Israel.

Though it is common to associate these words with Gethsemane, and that can only be one illustration of the words as F. F. Bruce noted. Rather the Hebrews Preacher is echoing the words of Psalm 22 which the Sermonator has already quoted in Hebrews 2.12. The Psalm begins by speaking,

I cry to you by day,
but you do not answer,
and by night ..
. (22.2).

This deep Jewish tradition of the righteous crying to God while under duress is found in a number of Jewish sources particularly the Maccabees (to whom the Sermonator says the world was unworthy of in 11.35-38).

“[A]ll the people with lamentations and tears, prayed to the Lord …” (2 Macc 11.6);

the priests … filled the temple with cries and tears” (3 Macc 1.16);

the Jews at their last gasp … stretched their hands toward heaven and with most tearful supplication and mournful dirges implored the Supreme God to save them” (3 Macc 5.25).

The Sermonator wants to locate Jesus within this Jewish tradition. Jesus is with the people who have also cried for deliverance. He (as High Priest) represents them.

And as a priest he, Jesus, “sacrificed” prayers to God just as the Levitical priests do in the temple. Not only in Gethsemane but his whole life. And he was “heard.” His sacrifice was accepted. It “pierced the clouds” as the other Jesus proclaimed.

Jesus died on the cross. He seemingly, at that moment, was not heard. The Empire proclaimed victory. Perhaps this is why Psalm 22 is the sacrifice Jesus offered while on the cross itself. Jesus also “sacrificed” Psalm 31 but Hebrews does not quote that text.  But Jesus died in faith. The resurrection was God’s answer to the sacrifice of prayer by Jesus.

All of life can be a sacrifice to God. This notion did not begin with Jesus. It is quite “Old Testament.” It is extremely Jewish. Prayer itself is worship. It is a sacrifice we offer to God.

Let’s offer some sacrifices …

Of Related Interest:

Hebrews: Common Assumptions; Uncommon Surprises

The Renewed Covenant

The “new covenant” is the REnewAL of the promises to Abraham and David by expanding the Mosaic covenant to include Gentiles in the definition of Israel. What God does in Jesus, Luke tells us, is in direct connection (i.e. continuity) with those promises.

He [God] has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promises he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever
” (Luke 1.54-55)

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David …
Thus he has shown the mercy promised
to our ancestors
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our ancestor Abraham”
(Luke 1.68-69, 72)

Is this not essentially what Paul says in Ephesians when he declares the “mystery?”

for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you [i.e. Gentiles], and how the MYSTERY was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words (i.e. 2.1-22), a reading of which will enable y’all to perceive my understanding of the MYSTERY of Messiah. In former generations this mystery was not known to humanity, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Messiah Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3.2-6).

Paul states plainly that Gentiles are indeed heirs to the covenants (plural) and now fellow citizens of Israel. They were once aliens to both.

remember that you [i.e. the Gentiles, v.11] were at that time without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth/nation of Israel, and strangers to the COVENANTS [plural, cf. Romans 9.4] of promise, having no hope and without God [i.e. they were pagans!] in the world. BUT NOW in Messiah Jesus you [plural, Gentiles] who were once far off have been brought near…” (Ephesians 2.12).

Baptism, though rarely understood for what it is in Galatians, is in Paul’s argument God’s gracious means of making pagan Gentiles into sons and daughters of Abraham. Baptism upholds the promise and covenant given to Abraham. The covenant with Abraham was not ever “nailed to the cross.” Paul’s entire argument in Galatians 3 is that Gentiles are now (as he states in Ephesians 2-3 noted above) heirs and citizens of Israel because baptism connects us to Abraham through the Jewish King. Frequently we stop quoting Galatians before we get to Paul’s actual point!

For in Messiah Jesus you [plural] are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah [Messiah is the Jewish Davidic King, Romans 1.3; 2 Timothy 2.8]. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Messiah Jesus. And if you belong to Messiah, then you are ABRAHAM’S offspring, HEIRS according to the promise.” (Galatians 3.26-29).

The “new covenant” is not (and never will be) the repudiation of the “Old Testament” (a phrase the apostles never once used much less heard of). Nor is the “old covenant” synonymous with the Scriptures (Gen-Mal). Rather the “new covenant” is the affirmation of the never ending promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel and David made new. I would go so far as to say the new covenant includes God’s covenant with creation itself (cf. Genesis 9.8-17; Hosea 2.18-19). It is important to remember that in both Hebrew (hadas) and Greek (kainos) can be and often are rendered renew (as in “the steadfast love of the Lord is NEW every morning.” That is God’s love is renewed every day. See my article: Jeremiah 31.31-34: Explorations on New and Renewed in the Bible).

David the Priest King, Worship Leader

So, if the new/renewed covenant includes the covenant with David rather than its repudiation is the Book of Psalms part of the Davidic covenant? I think it is. This is why Paul tells us to sing the Psalms (Ephesians 5.19) and the Hebrews Preacher says that Jesus is the Priest-King worship leader in the Psalter.

But some desperately want the Psalms to be “nailed to the cross” (a grosser misinterpretation of Colossians 2.14 could not be found) because it mentions instruments. I had a preaching brother say to me, “if the Old Testament is not nailed to the cross then instrumental music is not wrong.” Therefore he refused to even entertain the idea that the “Old Testament” was not nailed to the cross. His rejection of instrumental music dictated his “interpretation” of Colossians 2.14. So much for actual biblical authority! But basing theology on sectarian agendas is poor exegesis. (See “What Was Nailed to the Cross? Colossians 2.14).

In the Hebrew Bible David is not just the King of Israel. David is pictured as Israel’s worship leader, a priest. A number of texts in the Hebrew Bible demonstrate this though they are often unfamiliar to many. We will look at just a few.

When the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem, David was in charge of the ceremony. Yahweh was clearly present for the event for we read,

God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 15.26).

The text goes on to say,

David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers; and David wore a linen ephod …” (15.27)

David is certainly in priestly vestments. The text states explicitly he is wearing what the Levites are also wearing. But the text goes on to describe the priestly leadership of David in remarkable ways.

They brought in the ark of God [David and company], and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and they offered burnt offerings and shalom-offerings before God. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the shalom offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 16.1-3).

David is unabashedly described as a priest by the Chronicler. He is not only dressed like a priest but even a high priest (the linen ephod!) and he even offers the sacrifice and blesses the people … a clear allusion to the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6.22-24. Chronicles presents David is a Priest-King.

This is not unusual at all in the ancient world as kings from Egypt to Assyria to Babylon to Rome were viewed as having priestly functions.

Jesus the Priest-King, Worship Leader of the Renewed Covenant

By ascribing the Psalms to David, the Bible continues to have David function as the Priest-King who leads God’s people in the worship of God. This is not just an Aaronic function it is a Davidic function … and this is what Jesus does. Jesus is the King-Priest, the “son of David” leading God’s people in the worship of the one true God.

The Hebrews Preacher says that Jesus is the worship leader in the middle of the Gathered people. He, like David the Priest-King, leads the people in worship. The Preacher calls Jesus the liturgist or minister.

We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,
a MINISTER/liturgist
[λειτουργὸς] in the sanctuary/holy place and the true tent” (8.1-2).

There are remarkable parallels between what Jesus is said to be doing in Hebrews and what David did in Chronicles. In Hebrews it is Jesus the Priest-King who is speaking and singing with the congregation in the Davidic Psalms (Heb 2.11-13).

For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,
saying, I
[Jesus] will proclaim your name [Yahweh’s] to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I
[Jesus] will praise you.”

What does our Priest-King do in the sanctuary? He leads worship! That is what the High Priest does! He

1) proclaims the holy name of Yahweh

2) he leads in praise.

But it is Psalm 22.22, not a verse from the Gospels, that the Preacher quotes. In fact the Preacher of Hebrews quotes the Bible right and left but never once quotes any apostle or word of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. But the preacher does quote Jesus from the Psalms (and Isaiah!). The Preacher quotes Psalm 95 throughout chapters 3 and 4 saying that it speaks to his congregation authoritatively “Today” (Heb 3.7, 13; 4.7). It is what people today call the “Old Testament” that is the authority for the Hebrews Preacher’s doctrine. Read that again.

So, if the Son of David, the Priest-King, is singing the Psalms with us, then why is it that the Psalms do not teach us the way of worship to the One True God? Are we not “heirs” of the Psalms?

Jesus our Priest-King Teaches the Church through the Psalms

Clearly the Hebrews Preacher, like Paul, did not think the Psalter was old, obsolete nor passing away. They were “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (4.12, this is spoken about Psalm 95). In fact, as we saw, it is non-other than the voice of Jesus the Priest-King son of David in the Psalter.

I am convinced that, from a “New Testament” perspective, that we worship as they did in the Hebrew Bible. The Son of David heir of the promises to David, as the Priest-King, continues to lead the People of God which now includes Gentiles in the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel. We find throughout the Psalter the Gentiles addressed and commanded to come and join with Israel to worship the God of Israel (as examples see Psalm 96, Psalm 98, Psalm 100, Psalm 117, Psalm 149, etc, etc.).

This is one reason why, when we turn to the book that uses the word “worship” more than the rest of the NT combined, it looks, smells, and sounds so much like the Psalms, the Temple, and the Hebrew Bible … that book is of course Revelation of John.

Also of Related Interest

Hebrews: Common Assumptions, Uncommon Surprises

Psalms and the Temple: What Jesus and the Way Experienced

What are the Psalms, Hymns and Odes of Ephesians 5.19?

Grace the Last Word: Two Stories, One People or Why the Bible tells the Story of Israel not Once but Twice