Seems like a small thing to do for the sake of love

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6.2)

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil 2.4)

Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious … it does not insist on its own way … love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13.4-7)

At Eastside we desire to be a family that is rooted and grounded supremely in the love of God shown in our Lord Jesus and fills us through the Holy Spirit. We want to be that place where we bear one another’s burdens, where we look out for the well being of others (because we love them), we want to be a place where patience, kindness and going the extra mile happens because we fulfill the law of Christ.  In short, we all want nothing more than to be the people of the Jesus Creed.

For months during our lock-down, we practiced these things.  We shifted to online services and then outdoor ones precisely because we believe the texts just quoted. As vaccines were developed in answer to our prayers we have been able to gather together once again.  We confess with Israel of old, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of the LORD” (Ps 122.1).

We are still to practice love, especially now. The apostle Paul reprimanded the Corinthians for not looking out for those in their congregation that were the most vulnerable. His entire instruction regarding the Lord’s Supper is grounded in the Corinthian callus attitude toward the vulnerable. In that setting the vulnerable were the poor.  In our setting, in our time, in reference to Covid-19 those people are the at-risk people among us.  As we watched out for one another during “lock-down,” so we must remain diligent in the practice of love as we come together.

It is because of love for one another that we

encourage everyone to get vaccinated

if you are not vaccinated to wear a mask

The Contra Costa County Health Department and the State of California requires that unvaccinated person wear a mask. In fact on Friday, they recommended masks for indoor gatherings. We have had several cases of Covid among us and we know that it is dangerous. With the rise of variants of Covid (like the Delta) we want to be cautious but more than that we simply want to show people that loving is second nature to us.

Love, Love, Love, Love
the Gospel in a word is Love,
Love they neighbor as they brother,
Love, Love, Love, Love …

A Classic Restoration Quote

The Bible translated,’ is our motto, not the Bible hid in the past, buried in the tomb of an obsolete, and forgotten language, but the Bible trembling all over with the spirit of life; the Bible full of eyes before and behind, like the living creatures in the Apocalypse. And as the ocean reflects the image of the sky with all its brilliant jewelry, so to a world shrouded in darkness, the lights of the spiritual firmament may be mirrored forth by true and faithful translations of the oracles of God.”

– James Challen, “Address of Elder James Challen,” The Bible Union Quarterly, No. 7 (February 1852), 318.

It Doesn’t Mean What it Says

I grew up on the KJV (when I read the Bible that is what it was). In 2011 a few of us read the 1611 KJV cover to cover in honor of the 400th anniversary. I was truly grateful when I came back to a modern version. I have made a list of words that did not mean what I thought they mean in the KJV. These are just a few examples that could be expanded into the hundreds. References are to the KJV below …

1) “Sometimes” – “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:13)

This important verse is obscure on several levels in the KJV. We would think the word “sometimes” means something like “occasionally” or “every once in a while.” Which is completely wrong and not what “sometimes” meant in 1611. The word means formerly! You can see this in Eph 5:8; Col 1:21; Titus 3:3; etc

2) “chief estates” – “And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee” (Mk 6:21)

An average reader would be confused. When we read “chief estates” we might think this is piece of property, probably an expensive one at that. But the phrase means “important people” or “leading men/people” and has nothing to do with property.

3) “suffer” – “Suffer not the little children” and “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up” (Mt 24:43)

I remember growing up totally confused about the suffering of children. And what pain was the house experiencing? But the word “suffer” has nothing to do with suffering! How confusing! It means “to allow” or “permit.” Permit the children and the owner would not permit his house be broken into. (other examples of this confusing KJVism is Lk 4:41; 22: 51; Ac 14:16; etc)

4) “Stomacher” – “And it came to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth and burning instead of beauty.” (Isa 3:24)

What in the world is a stomacher? Is Isaiah telling folks their gut smells horrible and need some deodorant? Well stomacher is nice clothing or fine clothing!

5) “Conversation” – “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles” (1 Peter 2:17; etc)

This is another of those words that simply does not mean what we think it means. Conversation has nothing to do with talking. The word meant “example.” In our language today we might say “live a good life in front of nonbelievers.”

6) “Concourse” – “For we are in danger to be called in question for this days uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse” (Acts 19:40)

I did not know they had airports in Paul’s day! Isn’t a concourse where planes park? Well no. What is of concern is the “commotion.”

7) “Leasing” – “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah” (Ps 4:2; 5:6; etc)

Don’t sign a lease when you move into an apartment. Don’t seek a lease? Of course “leasing” has nothing at all to do with a modern lease. Leasing has do do with “false” or “lies.” Do not seek lies … in the context the lies are false gods or idols.

8 ) “Doctors” – “And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions.” (Lk 2:46)

Jesus is not in the middle of a conversation with medical personnel. He is not inquiring about medicine or anything related to health. In 1611 the word “doctor” had the meaning of “teacher.” Jesus is in a conversation with the “teachers” in the temple.

Most folks will not know shamefacedness is modesty (1 Tim 2:9) or that bruit is noise or commotion (Jer 10:22). Straitened is distressed or even restricted. Being mean does not make us bad/unkind, but ordinary and perhaps obscure. But if you are noisome then you are beyond bad but evil (Ps 91:3; Ezk 14:15, 21; etc).

We can have fun with my list all day long. There are many reasons to let the KJV retire. Beyond the places where it is simply wrong, where it is dependent upon faulty knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, where its underlying text is corrupted and so on. But a significant reason is that the KJV is an alien tongue (language) both in the structure of the language and its vocabulary.

Read the Bible. Read the Bible a lot. But there are many outstanding translations that are vastly superior to the KJV in all respects today. The NIV is probably the most like normal English and is outstanding for simply reading. The ESV is more formal and at times stilted but it is a good English translation. The NRSV is among the best translations.

I regularly read from about a dozen English translations for class and sermon preparation. I like the TEV/Good News Bible and CEB/Common English Bible. I encourage you to have multiple standard translations of the Bible. But my go to reading for my personal reading is the NRSV with Apocrypha and the NIV. But modern translations will always be welcome.

Related Articles

The Living Oracles. (Alexander Campbell’s effort to give a contemporary English New Testament)

Campbell & the King James Version (Campbell’s attitude toward the 1611 version)

Words Easy to Understand: The Restoration Movement and the King James Version (an in depth look at the quest for an accurate contemporary English Bible in the Stone-Campbell Movement from the 1820s to 1900)

Today I have decided to offer a confession. There are things that are not worth fighting over and in fact should never have been fought over. A friendly chat perhaps but not fighting. Most of the things we fight over are, to quote Paul, “stupid and senseless controversies” (2 Tim 2.23).

Among these include wearing jeans, swimming, playing cards, instrumental music, colleges, orphan homes, Sunday schools … we have fought so much over stuff that, literally, does not matter. But we ignored the fact that we embraced serious false doctrine that cultivated the ground for outright heresy. I realize this is not politically correct and some will likely be offended. I do not wish to offend.

The Soil that Gave Rise to Hyperpreterism

There are things worth fighting about and the Christian hope, the foundation of Christianity, is one of them. I have seen a number promoting “AD 70ism” recently in Church of Christ Facebook groups and other social media. Here is the framework for one particular heresy that grew out of Churches of Christ, hyperpreterism.

First, our neglect of, in fact at times nearly antagonistic attitude toward, the “Old Testament.” So, when we conceive of Christian faith as the opposite, even antagonistic, of anything Jewish this creates serious problems, especially in regard to the doctrine of creation and resurrection. Closely related is the utter misunderstanding of the world spiritual where the word is defined as “non-material” or “nonphysical” (all rooted in anti-Jewish understandings of these ideas). Much of the material I have read from hyperpreterists is not far removed from blatant anti-semiticism. The New Testament means what it means in relation to the Hebrew Scriptures, words mean what they mean in the apostolic writings because of their previous history in the Hebrew Scriptures. So closely are the Testaments tied that Paul literally calls salvation, the resurrection of the dead, “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28.20; cf. 23.6; 26.5-7). The importance of this cannot be overstated.

Second, our historic, and still prevalent in some quarters, denial of the indwelling Spirit. We have failed to see how the indwelling Spirit is a divine pledge to the Christian hope.

Third, our war on R. H. Boll virtually killed any kind of “eschatology” in Churches of Christ. Eschatology became, quite literally, ecclesiology (teaching about church and mostly the “marks of the church”). But proper eschatology is not simply, or primarily, about premillennialism, postmillennialism, or amillennialism. Eschatology is about the goal, or the purpose, of God’s creation. Proper eschatology spans from the incarnation of the Christ to dwelling of God with humanity in the New Heavens and New Earth as the goal of creation.

These three things cultivated soil. And to be honest it is no surprise that hyperpreterism came out of the Churches of Christ (Max King is the “father” of the “AD 70” theory). Hyperpreterism, or AD 70ism, has many other interpretive and exegetical flaws but the core is the denial of the future and bodily resurrection of the saints. It asserts that Christ returned in AD 70. There is no future, bodily, resurrection of God’s people. Not only is this grave error, it is heresy.

Resurrection: It is Worth Fighting For

Now, I am not going to argue with you about instrumental music. God could care less. Literally. I might point out bad arguments but it will never break fellowship in a first century worldview. But Paul states quite clearly that the beginning and the end, the center and the circumference of the Christian faith is the resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15). But the soil for hyperpreterism has been prepared well by us in the three things above.

There are some fundamental misunderstandings that are prevalent among many simply because we have often focused on trivia rather than what Scripture declares to be the heart of our faith. So to begin with,

Resurrection is not and never shall be a synonym for life after death, eternal life or living with God.

Resurrection does not mean that when I die I go to heaven.

Paul does not chastise the Corinthians for not believing in “life after death.” This is simply paying attention to the historical context of Paul and the Corinthians. Practically every pagan in the Mediterranean world believed in some sort of “life after death.” The “immortality of the soul” is a classic Platonic doctrine that permeated the Greco-Roman world. Pagans did not reject “life after death.” The pagans rejected the resurrection of the body!

The issue of 1 Corinthians 15 is not life after death but the resurrection of the body – the physical body – that God created and is made out of the same stuff as the earth itself. For a detailed look at 1 Corinthians 15 see the linked article: What Cannot Enter the Kingdom of God? (1 Cor 15.50-51): Flesh, Blood, The Living, The Dead?

Resurrection always means the bringing back to life of the human body that died. Luke stresses the physicality of the resurrection.  Jesus stands with the disciples and tells them to touch him, feel him, study him.

Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have FLESH and BONES as you see that I have” (Lk 24.38).

Every time the word “resurrection” occurs in the Book of Acts it is defined by Luke 24.36-42. Peter goes out of his way to emphasize the physical, embodied, Jewish definition of resurrection,

But God raise him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him … ‘my FLESH will live in hope … his FLESH did not see corruption” (Acts 2.22-26, 31).

Luke has told Theophilus what he means by that term by presenting the resurrection of Jesus as the pattern. The pagans in Acts 17.31-32 also knew what that term meant.

In the New Testament the term spiritual does not mean non-material, pious, religious, nonphysical or any such thing. Spiritual is an adjective that means of the Holy Spirit. There is no dualism in Scripture between materiality and Spirituality. Human beings are not all matter and they are not all “spirit.” They are living beings made from the earth infused with life as the gift of God. Alexander Campbell understood this as well as anyone.

“Immortality, in the sacred writings, is never applied to the spirit of man. It is not the doctrine of Plato which the resurrection of Jesus proposes. It is the immortality of the body which his resurrection is a proof and pledge. This was never developed till he became the first-born from the dead, and in a human body entered the heavens. Jesus was not a spirit when he returned to God. He is not made the head of the new creation as a Spirit, but as the Son of Man. Our nature in his person is glorified; and when he appears to our salvation, we shall be made like him … This is the Christian hope” (Christian System, p. 237, Campbell’s emphasis).

The Christian Hope: Sealed by the Resurrection & Indwelling Spirit

The Resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit are essential in the NT for our hope of eternal life in our resurrected bodies. I will close by quoting Luke Timothy Johnson a highly respected NT scholar.

“Paul’s point is simple and powerful. The transforming Spirit that God has given to humans is the pledge and portent of future life in the resurrection [my emphasis]. The resurrection, as Paul argued in 1 Cor 15.35-44, is not to be of the soul only but of “physical bodies,’ that is, the human body … The present passage [i.e. Romans 8.11ff] brings home once again the extraordinarily close connection Paul draws between the resurrection of Jesus, the gift of the Spirit, the transformation of the human spirit, and the resurrection of humans to eternal life, all of this being the ‘gift of God in Christ Jesus.'” (Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary, p. 131)

Resurrection of Jesus = the pattern for our own.

The Gift of the Spirit = is God’s promise that “I” will follow the Jesus pattern in resurrection.

Resurrection is not redefined into some nebulous paganism (Platonism) or heresy (Gnosticism which is baptized Platonism).

There are believers that have a misunderstanding, frankly because we preachers we have spent so much time arguing about nonsense and not enough time on the “basic teaching about Christ” which includes “the resurrection of the dead” (Hebrews 6.1-2). There is a difference between misunderstanding and actively promoting the heresy of AD 70/hyperpreterism, the denial of the resurrection. I will oppose it because the resurrection is worth fighting for.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised: and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain … For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile …” (1 Corinthians 15.12-17).

Blessings.

Of Related Interest

Unity, Diversity & Resurrection Faith: A Brief Post-Easter Meditation

Resurrection: A Medley from the Early Church

Matthew 4.1-11

The Evangelist Matthew begins his work on Jesus the King by insisting to the church, “Ya’ll cannot have Jesus without the Hebrew Bible and Israel.” We cannot have the person of Yeshua without his DNA. In fact Jesus is Israel in a very real sense. Matthew has been doing this from 1.1 and the entire “book of genesis of Jesus” that is so frequently skipped. Israel’s history is Jesus/Yeshua’s history with all that entails. So how does Matthew continue to establish this claim?

Through the Water

In Jesus’s baptism there is a voice that says “This is my Son” (3.17). These are words that had been spoken to the “son of David” for hundreds of years as each son was anointed as King.

I will tell you the decree of the LORD:
He said to me,
“You are my son;
today I have begotten you”
Ask of me, and I will make the
nations your heritage
.” (Ps 2.7).

But the reader of Matthew already knows that Jesus is the son because just a few short verses away the narrator tells us “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (2.15). This is a quotation from Hosea 11.1 which speaks of Israel coming out of Egypt. The prophet Hosea is himself pointing back to the events of the Exodus where Yahweh states Israel is God’s son. In words directed to the tyrannical Pharaoh we hear,

Israel is my firstborn son … Let my son go that he may worship me” (Ex 4.22-23).

Through the Water into the Wilderness

God’s son went through the water. Then God led the people with a pillar of fire into the wilderness. The pillar signified God’s indwelling presence with Israel. This presence would take up residence with Israel in the tabernacle at the end of the Exodus narrative (40.34-38). The pillar is “Immanuel!” (Matthew plays on the significance of the word “Immanuel” for Israel). Isaiah remembered Yahweh’s stunning grace on behalf of the exiles. Notice what he says about that pillar of fire.

I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD,
the praiseworthy acts of the LORD,
because of all the that the LORD has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy
according to the abundance of his HESED
[steadfast love, NRSV]

It was no messenger or angel
but his PRESENCE that saved them,
in his love and in his compassion he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all
the days of old.
But they rebelled
and grieved his HOLY SPIRIT …

Then his people recalled the days of old,
the days of Moses and his people—
where is he who brought them through the sea,
with the shepherd of his flock?
Where is he who set
his HOLY SPIRIT among them,
who sent his glorious arm of power
to be at Moses’ right hand,
who divided the waters before them,
to gain for himself everlasting renown,
who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in open country,
they did not stumble;
like cattle that go down to the plain,
they were given rest by the SPIRIT of the Lord.
This is how you guided your people
to make for yourself a glorious name.

(Isaiah 63.7-14)

God led the people through the water into the wilderness with his presence, with his “Holy Spirit.” Yahweh placed his “Holy Spirit” in the midst of the people to guide them and ultimately give them rest. God led them, by the ruah into the wilderness and instead of walking by faith they rebelled.

God fed the people the bread of angels. Moses ascended the mountain and fasted for forty days and nights. And God’s son failed. Instead of worshiping “me” (Yahweh), Israel worshiped the Golden Calf. In the words of Psalm 106, God’s son exchanged the glory of the redeeming God for “an image of a bull, which eats grass.

At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea

(Psalm 106.19-22).

An Ingrained Story

This story was ingrained into the psyche of Jews in Jesus’s day. First, the Torah was read through every three years. It is narrated in Exodus. It is preached in Deuteronomy 6-12.

Second, the Feast of Tabernacles takes Jews symbolically back to the wilderness remembering their lack of faith in Yahweh and his stunning grace in spite of their failure. The week of worship through Tabernacles highlights Psalm readings that speak of listening to Yahweh, avoiding “strange gods,” and that Yahweh will personally feed them the finest bread (Psalm 81 is not only the Psalm read every Thursday in the Temple but is read during Tabernacles). Psalm 81 contains a speech by Yahweh to Israel,

I [Yahweh] hear a voice I had not known:
I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.

In distress you called and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder,
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.

Hear, O my people! while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it

(Psalm 81.6-10)

For more on Psalm 81 see: Psalm 81: Thursday’s Psalm (and Tabernacles), Renewing Our Covenant.

The story forms a critical part of Psalm 78 and 106. Psalm 78 ends with David (the King) faithfully leading God’s people. Neither scripture nor liturgy allowed Israel to forget the “fall of Israel” at the Golden Calf. The story also forms a critical part of the Wisdom of Solomon. It was ingrained and it was well known.

Jesus the Faithful Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God

Israel failed. Israelites in Jesus’s day were very conscious of the fact that “we” (our ancestors and ourselves) have failed. When the reader of Matthew comes to chapter 4 and hears (and they would hear it!) what is happening it is like a deja vu moment: here we go again, will Israel fail?

Jesus recapitulates the Story of the Torah. Jesus is led through the water into the wilderness by the Spirit for testing. This recalls the Pillar of Fire, God’s visible presence. In Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach the Pillar that guides Israel is the dwelling and throne for God’s personified Wisdom (Wis 10.17; Sir 23.3-4). Moses said that God led Israel into the wilderness to “test” Israel’s “to know what is in your hearts” (Deut 8.2, 10; Ps 81 above). Will Jesus follow God’s lead?

But Israel put God to the test! The test regards mere food.

They tested God in their heart
by demanding food they craved.
They spoke against God saying,
‘Can God spread a TABLE

in the wilderness?
(Ps 78.18; cf. Deut 6.16).

They did not believe God would, or could, feed them. The problem is hit on the head in Ps 78,

they had no faith in God
and did not trust his saving power
” (78.22)

It is no accident that the first testing by the devil is after forty days of fasting (like Moses) and focuses upon food. Jesus knew this story. Every Jew knew the story. But the story is not really food beloved, not in Matthew nor in Deuteronomy not in the Psalms (78 or 81). The story is about trust. Will Jesus/Israel trust Yahweh.

The very text Yeshua quotes to the devil, Deuteronomy 8.3 is about both food and trust. The bread of angels was given to human beings to teach them to trust. Here are Moses’s words, the caps are the quoted part by Jesus.

He [Yahweh] humbled you by letting you hunger [Jesus is famished], then by feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, in order to make you understand that ONE DOES NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT COMES FROM THE LORD.” (Deut 8.3).

As Psalm 78 puts it, God commanded the heavens to rain down manna and “humans ate the bread of angels” (78.25) or as Psalm 81 (read on Tabernacles) “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (81.10).

Will Jesus test God over whether he can put a table out in the wilderness?

Or will he trust Yahweh to command and the angels will deliver food to him.

Will he trust in God’s saving power?

What is in Jesus’s heart?

The last test follows this Exodus story as well. Israel bowed and worshiped false gods in the Golden Calf. The devil promises what Psalm 2 promises, the inheritance of the nations. The “Son” is supposed to inherit the nations (Ps 2.7-9). Jesus can be King. Just “fall down and worship me” (4.9; recall the words of Yahweh in Ps 81 above).

But Jesus, who has been living in the Story listens to Moses. He is the faithful son. Jesus’s retort is “worship the Lord and serve him only” quoting Deuteronomy 6.13. Jesus will do what God called his Son to do way back in Exodus 4.22-23.

Triumph, the King is Faithful

God called his son, Israel, to worship him. Instead Israel made a calf and bowed before it. They did not trust in Yahweh. Jesus will do what Israel failed … he will worship God only. Israel failed. Even David failed. God’s people went into Exile (mentioned explicitly in the genealogy). But faith triumphs in Jesus. Yeshua the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Messiah (King) is indeed God’s faithful Son.

Jesus relives the Story of Israel in the wilderness. It is a familiar story for every Jew. Our ancestors failed to be the loyal trusting Son. But Yeshua, the Son of David, will trust, he will be faithful, he will worship. He will lead the people … as Psalm 78 closes with these words, (78.70-72).

He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheep pens;
from tending the sheep he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel his inheritance.
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
with skillful hands he led them.

(Psalm 78.70-72).

Jesus is the faithful “son of David.”

A Table Spread for the Faithful Son

It is not without significance that Matthew ends his testing narrative with the strange (to Gentiles) words, “then the devil left him and suddenly the angels came and waited on him” (4.11). Jesus/Israel did not stumble in the wilderness and God did in fact spread a table in the wilderness and the angels “waited” on Jesus. They brought the bread just like God rained it down on the faithless Israelites to take care of his Son.

We too are invited to live the Story each day and be faithful sons and daughters.

The Hebrew Bible is the Story Jesus lived. It is also the “ink” from which the New Testament writers not only write about Jesus but also the “doctrine” they proclaim.

Related Articles

Exodus: The Biblical Context of the New Testament (in Wineskins)

27 Aug 2021

The Dead Sea Scrolls, Psalms and The Apocrypha

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Bible, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Psalms
The Great Psalm Scroll, 11QPs

The Psalms

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows Bobby is a Dad nerd, Bible nerd, a craft beer nerd, an Astronomy nerd, a Rock nerd, a Harley nerd, and an outdoor adventure nerd. Probably a few more “nerds” in there too. These have all developed (except for astronomy and rock) in my adult life.

As a younger person I knew very little about the Book of Psalms and had never heard of the Apocrypha. Once I discovered the Apocrypha, I imbibed the prejudices of American Evangelicals towards these books: Catholics “added them;”; full of false doctrine; Jesus and the NT never used them; they were not written in Hebrew; Jews rejected them; the Church Fathers never used them. Over the years I have learned how misinformed I was, and how badly prejudice can distort reality. If you are curious see my article Discovery at the Museum: How I Discovered the Apocrypha through Art.

Jews in Jesus’s day loved the Psalms. They were “awash” in them. Jewish fathers and mothers sang the Psalms to their children. We learn in 4 Maccabees “he [parents] sang to you the songs of the psalmist David” (18.15). Hardly a page goes by in the New Testament that does not contain a quotation and several allusions to the Psalms. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the Book of Psalms to New Testament “Christianity.”

At Qumran, the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), over forty manuscripts, or portions of manuscripts, were discovered, the most of any biblical book. Several of these manuscripts (scrolls or the remains of scrolls) contain significant portions of the whole book of Psalms.

The Book of Psalms in our canonical Masoretic/Septuagint tradition is divided into five smaller books on the analogy of the Books of Moses, the Torah. They are

Book One = Psalms 1-41
Book Two = Psalms 42-72
Book Three = Psalms 73-89
Book Four = Psalms 90-106
Book Five = Psalm 107-150

Dead Sea Scrolls and Psalms

The Great Psalm Scroll (11QPs) and the other remaining Psalm manuscripts discovered at Qumran give us a window into the world of Jesus and the early Way. What happens when we unroll the scroll and investigate the contents of the Book of Psalms that was known to them.

We learn first of all the content and arrangement in the Psalms in the DSS from Pss 1-89 is virtually the same. This covers what we call Books I-III in today’s psalter. However, Psalms 90-150 (Books IV-V) exhibits considerable variation in arrangement and content. That is from Psalms 90 to 150 we find a different order and we find additions that we often do not know in our NIV psalter. For our purposes today, I want to focus on two of those extras in content.

11QPs: The Great Psalm Scroll (and related Manuscripts)

11QPs is the designation for the large psalter discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The number 11 stands for Cave 11 where the scroll was located. The Q stands for Qumran. And Ps stands for Psalms.

The Dead Sea Scrolls psalter contains two works from what Protestants, since Martin Luther, call the “Old Testament” Apocrypha (no the Catholics did not write these). These are the psalm of Sirach and Psalm 151. Both Psalm 151 and Sirach’s psalm are known to us from the Septuagint.

Ben Sira’s Psalm in 11QPs

Ben Sira’s psalm comes from the book of Sirach chapter 51. As the Book of Psalms includes “psalms of David” that are in Samuel or Chronicles, the principle is the same. In 11QPs, Ben Sira’s psalm comes between our Psalm 138 followed by “A Psalm to Zion” and then Psalm 93 and then goes on to the end of the Psalms. What does this Psalm says? It is a wonderful prayer. I will quote from the NRSV version of Sirach 51. Note how Ben Sira address God as “Father” and he refers to the “God Creed” (Exodus 34.6).

I give you thanks, O Lord and King,
    and praise you, O God my Savior.
I give thanks to your name,
     for you have been my protector and helper
and have delivered me from destruction
    and from the trap laid by a slanderous tongue,
    from lips that fabricate lies.
In the face of my adversaries

    you have been my helper and delivered me,
    in the greatness of your mercy and of your name,
from grinding teeth about to devour me,
    from the hand of those seeking my life,
    from the many troubles I endured,
 from choking fire on every side,
    and from the midst of fire that I had not kindled,
 from the deep belly of Hades,
    from an unclean tongue and lying words—
    the slander of an unrighteous tongue to the king.


My soul drew near to death,
    and my life was on the brink of Hades below.
 They surrounded me on every side,
and there was no one to help me;
I looked for human assistance,
    and there was none.


Then I remembered your mercy, O Lord,
    and your kindness from of old,
for you rescue those who wait for you
    and save them from the hand of their enemies.
 And I sent up my prayer from the earth,
    and begged for rescue from death.


 I cried out, “Lord, you are my Father;
    do not forsake me in the days of trouble,
    when there is no help against the proud.
 I will praise your name continually,
    and will sing hymns of thanksgiving.”


My prayer was heard,
     for you saved me from destruction
    and rescued me in time of trouble.
For this reason I thank you and praise you,
    and I bless the name of the Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the God of praises,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the guardian of Israel,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who formed all things,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the redeemer of Israel,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who gathers the dispersed of Israel,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who rebuilt his city and his sanctuary,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who makes a horn to sprout for the house of David,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who has chosen the sons of Zadok to be priests,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the shield of Abraham,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the rock of Isaac,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the mighty one of Jacob,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who has chosen Zion,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the King of the kings of kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his loyal ones.

For the children of Israel, the people close to him.
    Praise the Lord!

While I was still young, before I went on my travels,
    I sought wisdom openly in my prayer.
Before the temple I asked for her,
    and I will search for her until the end
.

From the first blossom to the ripening grape
    my heart delighted in her;
my foot walked on the straight path;
    from my youth I followed her steps.

I inclined my ear a little and received her,
    and I found for myself much instruction.

I made progress in her;
    to him who gives wisdom I will give glory.

For I resolved to live according to wisdom,
    and I was zealous for the good,
    and I shall never be disappointed.
My soul grappled with wisdom,
    and in my conduct I was strict;

I spread out my hands to the heavens,
    and lamented my ignorance of her.
I directed my soul to her,
    and in purity I found her.

With her I gained understanding from the first;
    therefore I will never be forsaken.
My heart was stirred to seek her;
    therefore I have gained a prize possession.
The Lord gave me my tongue as a reward,
    and I will praise him with it.

Draw near to me, you who are uneducated,
    and lodge in the house of instruction.
Why do you say you are lacking in these things,
    and why do you endure such great thirst?
I opened my mouth and said,
    Acquire wisdom for yourselves without money.

Put your neck under her yoke,
    and let your souls receive instruction;
    it is to be found close by.

See with your own eyes that I have labored but little
    and found for myself much serenity.
Hear but a little of my instruction,
    and through me you will acquire silver and gold.

May your soul rejoice in God’s mercy,
    and may you never be ashamed to praise him.
Do your work in good time,
    and in his own time God will give you your reward.

Translation of all the biblical texts discovered at Qumran

Psalm 151: A Psalm of David

Psalm 151 ends the Qumran Psalter just as it does in the Greek Septuagint. It is preceded by our Pss 140 and 134. Psalm 151 is short compared to Ben Sira’s prayer being similar in length to the Songs of Ascents. Again for ease of checking it out, I will quote the Psalm from the NRSV version. Like many of the Psalms in our received Psalter, Ps 151 has a heading.

This psalm is ascribed to David as his own
composition (though it is outside the number,
after he had fought in
single combat with Goliath.

I was small among my brothers,
and the youngest in my father’s house:
I tended my father’s sheep.

My hands made a harp;
my fingers fashioned a lyre.

And who will tell my Lord?
The Lord himself; it is he who hears.

It was he who sent his messenger
and took me from my father’s sheep,
and anointed me with his anointing oil.

My brothers were handsome and tall,
but the Lord was not pleased with them.

I went out to meet the Philistine,
and he curse me by his idols.

But I drew his own sword;
I beheaded him, and took away
disgrace from the people of Israel.

Dead Sea Scroll, The Psalms and the Apocrypha

The presence of these texts with the DSS Psalms indicates at least two realities.

First, and this is beyond reasonable doubt, that these texts were well known, that they were treasured, that they were used in worship. They sang them, they prayed them. As such they shaped the world that Jesus and the early church/Way lived in and worshiped.

Second, these texts were likely regarded as Scripture by the Essenes at Qumran (the people who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls). This is not proven but it is extremely likely. The editors of the The Dead Scrolls Bible, Martin Abegg, Peter Flint, Eugene Ulrich (all well known Scroll scholars and editors of the scrolls themselves) are of this opinion. The fact that these texts are embedded in the Psalms scrolls, surrounded by recognized scripture, with no distinction made is hard to argue against.

Regardless, both of these texts, Ben Sira’s psalm and Ps 151, continued to be copied, read and sung in the early church. And Ben Sira continued to be used among the Jews themselves as both the many quotations of Sirach in the Mishnah, and the discovery of the Hebrew Sirach at the Cairo Genizah by Solomon Schechter in the late 1890s demonstrate.

I, of course, had no clue that was the case and probably would have denied it had I been told. But today since I love Jesus with all my heart and with all my mind, I too love these texts because they help me see him as the King of the Jews as well as the Lord of the Nations.

Now you know …

23 Aug 2021

Deborah, the Prophet Like Moses

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Patternism, Women

I have been wrestling with women in the Bible for a long time. I had arrived at “things surely believed” by 1992 on the “role of women.” LaGard Smith’s What Most Women Want confirmed all my positions. That is where it was for a number of years – a decade in fact. I never did any actual exegesis of any of the texts involved. They were just “self-evident.”

But Huldah and Phoebe were burs in my saddle. They became seriously uncomfortable when Rachael, my little 8 yr old girl, decided she was going to lead a song one night at Southside in Milwaukee. What to do? I did the restorationist thing – I went to the Bible and decided for the first time to actually exegete the text. That led to my presentation at ACU a long time ago on Huldah. See my article, Huldah Who? The Forgotten Ministry of a Lady Prophet.

So, over the years my understanding of Deborah has radically changed. Deborah has many similarities to Samuel who comes at the end of the Judges period. But more importantly Deborah is, I believe, seen by the narrator as something of a “prophet like Moses.” Scholars have often noted the connections between the Song of Deborah and the Song of Moses but the parallels go much further. There are no less than six narrative lines of connection between Prophet Deborah and Prophet Moses.

Deborah a Prophet Like Moses … The Moses Parallels

I have looked at Deborah in light of the “Book” of Judges as a whole and I have looked at her in light of the entire “Deuteronomistic history” (this is the single story of Israel between Joshua and 2 Kings. It forms a unified narrative). I have read published studies and commentaries from a wide perspective.

I have previously noted how the narrative compares Deborah to Moses, she is the prophet like Moses in her day. Here are a few more interesting details.

1) Deborah, like Moses – but unlike all the rest of the Judges in the book of Judges – actually is described as “judging” (settling disputes, etc).

2) Deborah, like Moses, is a prophet who channels the word of God to the people.

3) Deborah, like Moses, has a “spot” (h/t to Sheldon Cooper), a location where leading is done. Moses has a tent and Deborah has the “palm of Deborah.”

4) Deborah, like Moses, orders a military leader into action, presenting herself as the voice of God, but (like Moses) stays behind the troops on top of a hill to inspire the soldiers. Some see Deborah not going into battle as proof of her inferior rank to Barak but this simply ignores the narrative context. Deborah leads as Moses leads.

5) In the Battle by the Red/Reed Sea and at Mt Tabor, the enemy rushes in with their tanks (chariots) that are divinely disabled through the onrush of water.

6) Deborah, like Moses, sang a victory song to Yahweh’s glory that has been preserved to this day.

Deborah in the Deuteronomistic History

Deborah is the only Judge in the “book” of Judges called a prophet. In the Deuteronomistic History. The last Judge is Samuel who is also a prophet. Deborah is clearly the high point in the dark days between Moses and Samuel.

Deborah is the only Judge that is scandal free. Gideon leads the people into idolatry (8.22-28); Jephthah is simply unbelievable (11.29-40); Samson is an immoral womanizer. Judges from chapter 17 to 21 reads like a post-apocalyptic Mad Max on steroids.

Wife of Lappidoth.” This is the typical translation of Judges 4.4. This is an example of the amazing power of tradition and bias in translation. But it is far from certain that the text actually says that Deborah is married here. The Hebrew here can also be rendered as “fire woman” or “spirit woman.” Some translations actually indicate this in a footnote such as the New English Bible. Others simply fail to inform the English reader. To say that Deborah is a fiery woman or is a spirited woman is hardly the same thing as to say she is merely a wife (and if the traditional reading is the correct one it is not a textual claim that she is a “mere” wife).

Mother in Israel.” It is likely this is not literal description here. It is a description of what Deborah has done. That is she has brought protection, life and salvation to Israel. When we read the whole of the narrative from Joshua to Kings we learn that male prophets are also called Father when they are not literally Israel’s fathers. So in 2 Kings 2.12, Elisha cries out to Elijah as he is taken away in chariot, “Father! Father!” though Elijah is not Elisha’s father. And in 2 Kings 6.21, after Elisha has brought the blind Arameans into Samaria, the king addresses Elisha as “Father.” It is clear that this has nothing to do with biological reproduction and neither does “Mother” in reference to Deborah as the prophet who delivers Israel.

Deborah is denigrated by many. One popular writer states, “She was not a religious leader within the priesthood of Israel.” This particular line of reasoning I have struggled to understand for a very long time. The priesthood is hardly mentioned in the narrative from Joshua to Judges. The priests in the “book” of Judges lead to paganism (Judges 17) and that Levite and concubine is something out of a horror flick (Judges 19). If we follow the Deuteronomistic History down through though Kings we do find some more priests. In fact we find the High Priest Hilkiah submitting to the authority of the female prophet, Huldah (2 Kgs 22). Prophets held more authority in Israel than priests. Prophetic ministry is directly rooted in Moses’s own prophetic ministry (Dt 18.15-22). It is a stark biblical truth that, to my knowledge, she is the only ruler of Israel that not one negative action was remembered.

Kings submitted to prophets.
Priests submitted to prophets.

Deborah’s ministry was not a call to return to “male spiritual leadership.” The claim that God used Deborah “to shame the men of Israel,” is simply bogus. There is not a shred (literally) of support in the narrative of Judges for this claim. There were male reprobates in Deborah’s day just as surely as there were in Gideon’s, Jephthah’s, Samson’s, Micah’s, Eli’s. We have to imagine the days of Deborah as pretty demonic indeed if we think the men of those days were worse than Samson’s or the bleak stories that conclude the book. Such a position is invented and painted onto the text by men who literally cannot imagine a woman leading God’s people. But the narrative itself imagines that Deborah is another Moses.

Deborah’s ministry was a call, ordained by God himself, to return to Yahweh and his Covenant of Love. Deborah was in fact a Prophet like Moses, who led like Moses, who acted like Moses, who fulfilled God’s call like Moses.

God made her prophet and judge and leader of all Israel, because he wanted to. Deborah was simply a “woman” who was a prophet that was “exercising authority for Yisra’el at that time” (Judges 4.4, The First Testament: A New Translation).

Deborah reminds us that God has always seen male and female as one in God’s sight. So Deborah is Holy Spirit commentary on Joel 2.28,

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your SONS and your DAUGHTERS
shall prophesy,
your old MEN shall dream dreams,
and your young MEN shall see visions.
Even on MALE and FEMALE slaves
in those days,
I will pour out my Spirit.

Thank God for the Deborah who was a shining light in the darkness.

Technical Resources

Bruce Herzberg, “Deborah and Moses,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 38 (2013), 15-33.

Related Articles on Women on this Blog

A Biblical Register of Roles God Has Called Women

Phoebe and Bobby V: Why those Who Insist that She was Not a Deacon, I Insist are Wrong

Voices on Female Deacons in the Stone-Campbell Movement

15 Aug 2021

The Bible Says It is Hard to Interpret

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 2 Peter, Bible, Books, Church, Discipleship, Hermeneutics, Journey, Reading

The Bible Says It Is Hard to Interpret (at least some of it) and We Must be Taught. This is not something we often hear admitted in the pulpit.

Most of my life has been spent “going to church.” I have often encountered the rhetoric that Christians were supposed to read the Bible and “study to show ourselves approved.” I also heard on a regular basis that Scripture was basically easy to understand – especially in regard to salvation. The Bible, it has been claimed, is plain and clear. Protestants have made this claim, historically, in response to medieval abuses by the Roman Catholic Church. But Evangelicals have sometimes changed the idea of sola scriptura into SOLO scriptura. See the fine book by James R. Payton, Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings and my article Factionists, Solo Scripturists and the Bible.

I have personally witnessed scholars, commentaries and books in general openly disparaged even by preachers. Scholars are often mocked. Especially if they were not by “Church of Christ” authors (and then frankly they have to be the right “Church of Christ authors”). There was/is no need for such things. All they do is mislead. “That is just one man’s opinion” (as if the person saying that did not express his/her opinion every time he or she commented on a passage). If a person misunderstands (in our opinion) a passage or teaching it is because they are willfully rebellious against God.

The Irony Should Not Be Lost

The irony in this is that, from a young age, I was immersed in what can only be termed approved insider (denominational!?) literature. Even as a teenager we went through the book, Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ by Leroy Brownlow. We literally used this in my teen class and I was required to use it in my first “job” in Kissimmee, FL. We used little booklets that had fill in the blanks under certain headings. I received R. L. Whiteside & C. R. Nichol’s Sound Doctrine while in high school. So, while denying we needed books to read the Bible, I (we) spent a lot of time reading approved books that provided the approved interpretation of the Bible, all the while we denied interpreting the Bible.

Rarely did I actually read the Bible. We read the Bible through these books, while saying we do not need books. I was taken through a certain slant, interpretation, regarding the Bible from people who denied having a point of view and they were interpreting the Bible even as we read their interpretation in their book (not the Bible!).

How we miss the irony I do not know.

Peter’s Confession

So, I was taught (as were thousands of others) the Bible is easy to understand, not to read anything by “mere men” – while we read books by “mere men” decrying books as misleading.

But one day, years ago, I read something by the apostle Peter. The words were nearly shocking. Strange things happen when we actually read the Bible. I knew of Peter confessing Jesus as the Christ and “upon this rock I will build my church.” But I somehow missed this other confession by the apostle Peter.

“… our dear brother Paul wrote to you in accordance to the wisdom given to him … his letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which the uninstructed and unstable people distort, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3.15-16)

What! What Did Peter just say? I thought Paul and the “other scriptures” were supposed to be easy. Please note that Peter does not enumerate what those things are but he does use a plural. It is not just one thing but multiple things that are “hard to understand” in both Paul and the “other scriptures.”

Here Paul’s letters are mentioned by name (Peter does not provide a list of their names) but so are “other Scriptures.” Peter was no dummy. His own epistles are filled with some pretty sophisticated wisdom. But under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he confessed that:

– Scripture can be difficult

– Scripture is twisted by the “uninstructed.”

The Ethiopian shared Peter’s point of view. Replying to Philip’s reasonable question,

Do you understand what you are reading?

the Eunuch exclaimed,

How can I, unless some guides/explains it to me/instructs me?” (Acts 8.30-31).

Hmmmmmm

And this is not even from Paul’s letters but from Isaiah. Peter says stuff in Paul is “difficult/hard to grasp.” The Ethiopian was not reading Paul but Isaiah. I would say that there are things that even Peter said that are “difficult to grasp.” The uninstructed twist “other Scripture” as well.

A consequence from this reality is that perhaps we ought to hold our positions with gracious humility knowing that we may be mistaken in what we think and believe. Humility fosters patience and generosity with people who think differently than ourselves. Dogmatism is very near the heart of sectarianism and even cultism.

Unwilling to Be Taught

But it is that second term Peter uses that is most interesting. Peter does not say the Scripture is difficult for the stupid. The Greek term Peter uses means primarily a person who is untaught, uninformed or uninstructed. The old King James Version uses the word “ignorant” in 2 Pt 3.16. That is not a bad rendering of “amathes.”

amathes is a pretty common word in the Greco-Roman world but occurs only here in the entire New Testament. The word does not simply mean “dumb.” The third edition of Baur-Ardnt-Gingrich-Danker’s Greek Lexicon list these possibilities,

incompetent interpreters,”
uneducated,”
untaught.”

Richard Bauckham in his Commentary on the Greek text of 2 Peter notes that “amathes does not mean simply ‘ignorant’ but ‘uninstructed.’ These people have not received sufficient instruction … these people are UNWILLING TO LEARN” (Jude and 2 Peter, p. 331, my emphasis). The Jerusalem Bible captures well Peter’s words,

He makes this point too in his letters as a whole wherever he touches on these things. In all his letters there are of course some passages which are hard to understand, and these are the ones that uneducated and unbalanced people distort, in the same way as they distort the rest of scripture–to their own destruction.”

They apparently have decided they could instruct before they were instructed. As if the Ethiopian could explain to others what he was reading before being taught what it actually meant. Peter does not tell people to just go read Paul. Peter says they need to be instructed in Paul and the “other scriptures.” They need to be willing to be taught. They were not sufficient in themselves.

This is why Paul himself says that one of God’s gifts to the church is “teachers” (Eph 4.12) and the Lord’s brother said “not many of you should become teachers” (James 3.1). And it is why the Hebrews Preacher chastises his listeners as being infantile precisely because they have chosen to remain untaught/uninformed/uninstructed. Their understanding of the faith is superficial at best and wrong at worst (Heb 5.11-6.2). Paul is pretty blunt on the matter in fact,

They want to be teachers of God’s law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Timothy 1.7).

One of the greatest values of checking with an informed teacher or book by a person who knows their stuff is that it forces me to submit my particular understanding to public examination. Am I willing to submit the “idolatry of self” to cross examination?

Peter seems to think the untaught are dangerous. The biggest problem is not that they are untaught but that they are unwilling to study and learn. They assume they already know what has to be known and thus refuse to be learners themselves. It does not take long looking at church history both outside, and within, the Churches of Christ to find those who chose to remain untaught because they were convinced of their own superiority.

I am actually unaware of a text in the Bible that asserts the Bible is easy to understand. I recall Jesus saying “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11.28ff). But I also recall what Jesus said about the parables which was not that they were “easy” (Matthew 13.10-17). The purpose here is not to discourage Bible study but just the opposite. Let’s study more, not less. Let’s dig in and avail ourselves to the blessing of wisdom from the myriads of scholars, backgrounds books, Hebrew books, Greek books, geography books, all in the pursuit of communion with God. The eminent Stone-Campbell scholar, J. W. McGarvey said it well in 1883,

The man who attempts to gain a knowledge of the Bible by his own unaided powers, while the aid furnished by a multitude of learned predecessors is at hand, seems to declare himself the equal in exegetical power of all who have gone before him. In no other department of human study do we reject the aid of our fellow-students; why should we reject it in this?

This why Paul himself told Timothy to bring him his books … (2 Timothy 4.13). Everyone needs to study. Everyone needs to learn as much as possible. Everyone needs to be taught. But there are those who remain “untaught” … it is the horror of a self-inflicted wound.

Of Related Interest

Is there a Place for Scholars in the Kingdom of God?

A Talk with J. W. McGarvey on Books, Reading & Preachers

12 Aug 2021

Matthew 5.6: What Did Jesus Say?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Matthew, Mission

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream
” (Amos 5.24)

What Did Jesus Say?

Jesus of Nazareth was a born a Jew, raised as a Jew, worshiped as a Jew, prayed as a Jew, thought as a Jew, died as a Jew and was raised from the dead as a flesh and blood Jew. His entire religious experience was defined by his sharing in the Festivals (Sabbath, Shavuot, Tabernacles, Passover, even Hanukkah) and his immersion in the Hebrew Bible, especially the Psalms. He preached the Hebrew Bible. That other sources influenced Jesus is certainly possible, even likely. But it remains beyond question that his primary frame of reference was the Hebrew Bible and the worship liturgy he regularly participated in. This is not a mere academic or even a “historical” point. It is important for understanding not only who Jesus was but what he taught.

In his famous “Beatitudes” (all of which come from the Hebrew Bible), Jesus said, among other things,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS for they will be filled” (Matthew 5.6).

Protestants, of which Churches of Christ (vociferous denials notwithstanding) are Protestant, will almost immediately understand the word “righteousness” as to mean pious, or extremely “religious,” or something similar. We tend to equate “righteousness” with a person who has baptized thousands, praying 24/7, never misses Wednesday night. In short like the most holy person we can imagine. That is we tend to “spiritualize” this word into some “other worldly” notion.

And before I go any further, we ought to want to be pious, devoted to prayer, and want to be holy.

But that is not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5.6. In Matthew 5.6 the word “righteousness” is from the Greek word δικαιοσύνην. Protestant English translations of the Bible, starting with William Tyndale, have been heavily influenced by Martin Luther (the KJV is deeply indebted to Tyndale) and his understanding of the Epistle to the Romans. Here “righteousness” was understood as primarily the believers relationship with God that has been made right by God. So we hear Mt 5.6 as a blessing on the person who desperately wants to be placed via God’s grace in a state of being righteous before God.

And as above, we ought to desire that. But that is also not what Jesus was talking about.

Again, however, Jesus’s primary theological resource was the Hebrew Bible. What if we translated Matthew 5.6 as follows,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for JUSTICE for they shall be filled.”

This sounds considerably different does it not? But in reality that is a perfectly legitimate translation and almost certainly what Jesus actually meant.

Psalm 72 and Select Psalms

The terms “righteousness” and “justice” in the Hebrew Bible are so interwoven that it is difficult to unravel the two. One of the classic examples is found in Psalm 72.

Give the king your justice,
O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice
” (Ps 72.1)

We see what these terms mean in verses 3 and 4 and 12-14. Psalm 72.1 is in “synonymous” parallelism which means that justice and righteousness are virtual synonyms here. We see again in Psalm 97 that “righteousness and justice” are the “foundation” of Yahweh’s throne (97.2; cf. 89.14). In Psalm 99 we see that,

Holy is He! Mighty King a lover of justice,
you have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob
” (vv. 4-5)

We can put forth many more passages (Psalms 7, 82, 146, etc). But we can see that justice is not so much about punishing (that may be involved in certain cases) but instead with making the world “right.” That is justice is primarily about making the world function as if God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. So returning to Psalm 72, when God gives his “righteousness,” his “justice” to a king the king changes the world.

FOR he [the king] delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy
” (vv. 12-13)

This is when “righteousness” is “flourishing” as the Psalm declares (v.7).

Jeremiah and Shallum

The prophet Jeremiah gives us a picture of the opposite of Psalm 72 in King Josiah’s son, Shallum. Our terms, justice and righteousness, are deeply intertwined in Jeremiah 22.13-23. These terms have “content.”

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper room by injustice;
who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages;
who says, ‘I will build myself a spacious house
with upper rooms
.'” (Jeremiah 22.13-14a)

Unrighteousness and injustice are virtual synonyms here. They are quite concrete having to do with wages of workers for a wealthy man. The wealthy man imagined himself to be a king. But Shallum’s actions are the opposite of Psalm 72. The prophet points Shallum back to what kingship means with an example, in Josiah, of righteousness and justice.

Are you a king
because you deal in cedar?
Did your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and need;
then it was well.
Is this not to know me?
says the LORD
… (Jeremiah 22.15-16)

“Judging the cause of the poor and needy” is not condemning the poor and needy. It is defending the poor and needy. It is making sure the poor and needy are not taken advantage of by the powerful and receive fair wages. It is the poor and needy that are hungering and thirsting for God’s justice. To do justice, to practice righteousness. In fact, Yahweh asks, “is this not to know me?

Back to Matthew

The Psalms were written in Hebrew. But when Psalm 72 was translated into Greek in the Septuagint the term used in verse 1 is the very term Jesus uses in Matthew 5.6, δικαιοσύνῃ.

In the New Testament δικαιοσύνῃ can also be translated, and is, as “justice.” Take for example Acts 17.31.

For he [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with JUSTICE by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (NIV).

God has set a day (a day longed for in the Psalms by the poor and needy) in which the world will be made right. The resurrection of Jesus is the cataclysmic means by which God is doing the very thing prayed for in Psalm 72.

In Matthew 5.6, Jesus expresses the longing of myriads and myriads of the people of God in ancient Israel and those in his own day of living desperately and longing passionately that God will make the world right. This longing is captured in the word “justice.” Those who hunger and thirst (an image deeply immersed in the Psalter) for “justice” will in fact find that God fills them. Certainly those who are hungering and thirsting for justice will be living and practicing those things that bring about the healing of the world (as seen in Psalm 72 and numerous other psalms).

One of the earliest English translations was the Rheims New Testament made in 1582. It wonderfully captures Jesus’s words,

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice …”

The New English Bible and the Revised English Bible go in the right direction when they render the text of Matthew 5.6 as,

those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail.”

The New Living Translation also has done an outstanding job and reads,

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice …”

And finally the Kingdom New Testament has a superior rendering of Jesus’s words,

blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s justice …”

The power of “tradition” in Bible translation is epic. This coupled with the historic Protestant disposition to disconnect Jesus from the Hebrew Bible and its propensity to read through the lenses of the Protestant Reformation (and every Bible translation done by Protestants does this) means that sometimes we end up with skewed understandings of the text.

Righteousness” is indeed an ok way to translate Mt 5.6 when we understand it as the Psalms do. The term is better rendered “justice” which completely avoids the misguided notions we elucidated above.

There is a very practical consequence to these thoughts. It is not uncommon to hear a Protestant, of the Evangelical stripe, make the claim that the Gospel of Christ does not have within its view matters of “justice.” And some will even quote Matthew 5.6 to prove it. But such people have never taken the time to see that this exact verse can literally be translated as,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for they shall be filled/satisfied.”

God’s people join the myriad of voices that are found throughout the Psalms (but really a reading through Psalms 91 to 101 should make the point). Those voices are Israelite, the nations and even all of creation that longs for God to come

judge the world in righteousness:
and the peoples with equity.
The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
” (Psalm 9.8-9, the whole Psalm is apropos).

God’s people are hungering and thirsting for God to make the world right. They shall be filled.

It is interesting what happens when we go to the Bible and put every assumption we have on the table … and just look at the text. Jesus blesses those who hunger for justice in this world.

How Hungry are We??

Oat flakes, seeds and bran in spoons

Assumptions, Bad Bible Reading, and Leaven/Yeast

A Quote to Begin with: “Leaven in the Bible, without exception, is used as a symbol of corruption by unclean or sinful things … Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, leaven is a symbol of the unholy” (David Buttrick, Speaking Parables: A Homiletic Guide, p.147).

Is leaven (or yeast) a symbol of corruption, uncleanness, or sin in Scripture? Many have made such claims. Leaven is this microscopic (even invisible!) substance that invades from without (like secret sin). Thus Jesus famously said we are to “avoid the leaven/yeast of the Pharisees” (Mt 16.6). And at the Passover, Jews were instructed to clean their house so that no leaven could be found (interesting instructions if leaven/yeast is invisible!). Leaven is bad. I’ve heard/read these statements many times over the years.

But these statements, that can even be documented in some scholarly materials, simply conflates the historical gap between the biblical text and our own lives. We know what “yeast” is in our modern world, microbes right. Essentially germs. However, no one in Israel/Palestine in either Moses’s day nor Jesus’s day knew about “yeast/leaven” in such a scientific fashion. That was not known until Louis Pasteur.

Not only is the historical/cultural context simply ignored and we assume that yeast means what it does in today’s kitchen, it ignores the Hebrew Bible and second temple Judaism. Leaven/yeast must be those little organisms that we know today.

Let me put the cards on the table. In Scripture “leaven” (NRSV) or “yeast” (NIV) is a neutral metaphor. There is nothing inherently negative about the symbolism of leaven/yeast anywhere in Scripture. The use of leaven, as a symbol, depends on the context. By itself, leaven is positive. Leaven can have a negative meaning in a given context.

First, leaven is not invisible in the ancient world. All around the Mediterranean, including Palestine, what we call “leaven/yeast” is what a modern chef might call a “sourdough starter” and not stuff in little red packets. And it was never regarded negatively in Jewish culture.

Second, what about the Passover? Israel was indeed commanded to remove all the yeast from the house. But here we simply do not read the Scriptures very closely. The yeast/leaven is not removed, according to Exodus, because it is unclean. The unleaven bread symbolizes the haste in which Israel left. Israel was in such a hurry to flee Egypt there was not even time to make bread (Exodus 13). In the Passover it is the bitter herbs that remind Israel of the misery and suffering of slavery in Egypt, not leaven. The bitter herbs might be considered a negative image.

There are sacrifices in which leaven is excluded as well but the rational is never given.

On the other side of the coin, leaven/yeast is commanded to be used in thanksgiving /fellowship offerings to Yahweh. The leavened bread is offered to the Lord and eaten (Lev 7.13ff).

With your thanksgiving of well-being you shall bring your offering with cakes of leavened bread. From this you shall offer one cake from each offering, as a gift to the LORD …”

This is one of the most common offerings in the Hebrew Bible.

The regulations for the the Feast of First Fruits/Weeks/Pentecost are very different than Passover on the matter of leaven/yeast. No requirement for avoiding yeast is to be found anywhere. Such would have been impractical at best. Grapes and barely harvest are pretty difficult to not have yeast. Grapes naturally have yeast that live on the skin (and if we think leaven is microbes, you would think God knew about those invisible things on the grape) and begin to make wine the instant the skin is broken and barley is used in the beverage known as beer. There was a reason the disciples could have been accused of being slightly intoxicated on Pentecost, because “leaven/yeast” is not excluded from Pentecost. But without any of that, leaven/yeast is simply commanded.

You shall bring your from your home two loaves of bread as an elevation offering, each made with two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of choice flour, baked with yeast/leaven, as first fruits to the LORD …” (Lev 23.17)

This leavened bread is offered along with the leavened drink offering (wine. Israelites did not consider wine to be leavened, again because they associate leaven with the bread), you invite the priest and the poor and then eat and drink in the presence of the Lord. I add that the shewbread used in the daily offerings in the Temple were made out of leavened bread. Clearly not unclean. The “daily bread” Jesus teaches us to pray for is leavened bread.

The Lord Jesus compares the kingdom of God to leaven, surely he is not casting negativity on the kingdom.

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast/leaven that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until it was all leavened” (Mt 13.33)”

And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast/leaven that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Lk 13.20-21).

Yeast/leaven is another one of the wonderful examples of what simply assuming can do. I once assumed that “milk and honey” referred to white stuff from a cow and sweet stuff from bees. I was wrong! (See The Bible and Assumptions: The Case of Milk and Honey).

In the ancient world leaven/yeast was most frequently a symbol of life not uncleanness and sin. In the ancient church, Greek speaking church, leaven/yeast is used in powerful ways as symbols of the incarnation, of the resurrection and of life itself. Leaven is the “life” of the bread.

Jesus’s warning to be on guard against the “leaven” of the Pharisees was a warning regarding a certain kind of leaven. Not that leaven itself is corrupt or unholy. We, however, are supposed to be a leaven in the world.

When Jesus tells us to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees he means a particular kind of living. Paul also has particular kind of leaven in mind in 1 Cor 5.8, the leaven of malice and envy. N. T. Wright once noted in Jesus and the Victory of God, “texts matter, but contexts matter more.”

This is apropos for reflecting on leaven. Leaven is commanded. Yeast is used in worship. Without yeast, wine is impossible The kingdom of God is the yeast of God. None of which is bad.

I will give Ignatius of Antioch the final word. Ignatius was a bishop in the Antioch church that supported Paul. He was born in the first century and martyred no later than AD 117. His seven letters were deeply treasured by the early church and sometimes even regarded as inspired. In his Letter to the Magnesians he shows us how leaven was used both good and bad.

Put aside then the evil leaven, which has grown old and sour, and turn to the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. Be salted in him, that none among you may be corrupted, since by your savor you shall be tested.” (10.2-3).

We often import filters to the biblical text, especially the New Testament, because we have uninformed or prejudicially informed views of first the Hebrew Bible and secondly of the Judaism of Jesus’s day. Sometimes we can completely miss the meaning because of this.

For more on leaven in the Bible see Amy Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. Levine is a brilliant Jewish NT scholar. She chastises a NT scholarship for a deeply selective reading of the Hebrew Bible and simply never getting to know the culture in which Jesus lived and taught. Add Levine to your “who I read” list.

Of Related Interest: See How Leavened Bread was used in the early church for the Lord’s Supper.

The Bread on the Table: An Ancient Controversy that Changed the Lord’s Supper

3 Aug 2021

C.S. Lewis, Reading Enlarges Life

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Books, C. S. Lewis, Culture, Discipleship, Ministry, Reading

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free” – Frederick Douglass

C. S. Lewis was not only a famous author and Christian thinker, he was a constant promoter of reading. According to Lewis, a person did not have to get a PhD to have an expanding life.

It is in the discipline of reading a person finds help to become all they can be as a human being. Reading keeps the mind and even the soul from ossifying. Through reading, and interaction with the arts, we are “going beyond ourselves.” Near the end of his life, Lewis wrote very perceptively on what reading does to a person. There are two passages from his An Experiment in Criticism published in 1961 that I quote from.

In love, in virtue, in the pursuit of knowledge, and in the reception of the arts, we are going out of the self, to correct its provincialism and heal its loneliness … Obviously this process can be described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox; ‘he that loseth his life shall save it.”

Reading saves the life. Lewis continues …

The man who is contented to be only himself, and THEREFORE LESS OF A SELF [my emphasis], is in prison. My eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes [i.e. animals] cannot write books … In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, pp. 138, 140-141

I have never, ever, even when I was younger and so very dumb understood the resistance to reading on the part of many who want to be leaders (in the world or in the church). I recall years ago in a class with General Jackson Wheeler at IBC on “World Literature,” filled with Bible majors who on the first day of class moaned and groaned over being required to take the class. “All I need is the Bible,” “Why should we have to take this class” and similar complaints.

Lewis hits the nail on the head however. Reading makes us more than ourselves, while at the same time helping us become our real self. We cannot lead when we have no vision. And as Lewis states so eloquently, reading gives us vision with a thousand eyes.

Non-reading is why we have the Flat Earth Society. Non-reading is why we have non-vaccine folks in the middle of Coronacation (Covid-19 pandemic). Non-reading is why we have only our own eyes thus our vision is parochial and centered on self.

Non-reading is why is why we have the KJVonlyites (promoted by preachers). Non-reading is why we have political leaders that think waging war is like renovating a ritzy club. Non-reading is why we are can be so “provincial” and why our humanity just may be suffering from impoverishment.

Morning thoughts that bring together a week’s worth of mind blowing discussions rooted in massive amounts of non-reading. Not non-PhDs but non-reading. Lewis was right in 1961. Lewis is right in 2021.

Enlarge your life, read a book.

Of Related Interest

Why Do We Read?

Why Do We Read, Part 2: The Spiritual Life

The Great Books of Christian History