Rebinding a Bible

My Mom was a student of the Word of God throughout her life. She took notes, underlined things, looked up words, and prayed over the text. One Bible she had was a beat up King James version that she got in 1967 from my Dad. It is red, and I remember her reading it during prayer in the morning. I just sent it off to be rebound, and I’m excited to see what it will look like. I should have taken before pictures, but I’ve had a lot going on so I didn’t. I sent it to this place: Mechling Bookbindery. You can watch a short video about them at this link.

I ordered red goatskin, with a red and a gold ribbon. I expect it to look great and to last for years to come. It’s a Cambridge Bible, so it should be a real treasure. I’ll put pictures up when the work is finished.

Dialog Does Not Ring True

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

One interesting technical problem for writers today is how to invent characters who are plausible readers—without writing a campus novel. The problem is bigger than you might think: ever since Jane Austen most fictional characters have talked and thought like people who read fiction. Many basic techniques of the modern novel (dialogue, inner monologue, moral suspense) require characters who think in something like novelistic prose.

You notice the difficulty in a novel like Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, where media people of the early Oughts are forced—ingeniously and enjoyably—to have verbally complicated thoughts about their lives, as if they went home every night and curled up with Edith Wharton. You don’t actually overhear conversations like that at the Waverley Inn.
Others who tackled the problem and made it central to their fiction include: Bret Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace, Mary Robison, Don DeLillo, Tom McCarthy. They are not writing “pastoral,” they are not writing about people less educated than the reader. They are writing about us.
To overhear an ordinary character thinking deeply, in complex sentences, about his or her life involves a new suspension of disbelief. This is one of the things I love about contemporary fiction at its best—that it makes us overhear, and believe.
The jumble inside our heads everyday sounds nothing like the written page. It would be interesting to analyze this in the Bible, where it seems to me that most thoughts that are expressed are short and terse – i.e. real.


It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.  Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
(Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 ESV)

Dead Sea Scrolls: The Scroll of the Rule

I have been reading the Dead Sea Scrolls and I am currently in the Scroll of the Rule. Some things that have caught my eye are:

[1] The interpretation of Isaiah by these Essenes…close, but yet so far off to the truth. The Essenes had to leave the cities for their desert caves, and the Scroll refers to this by saying:

…they shall be separated from the midst of the habitation of perverse men to go into the desert to prepare the way of ‘Him’: as it is written, In the wilderness prepare the way of …. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. This (way) is the study of the Law which He has promulgated by the hand of Moses, [Scroll of the Rule VIII:13-15]

So just as John the Baptist went into the desert and lived apart from the mass of Israel, calling them to repentance and fulfilling the Isaiah passage, the Essenes withdrew. But they missed both the forerunner and the Messiah with their interpretation of the passage.

[2] The Essenes forsook the sacrificial system of the Temple much as later Rabbinic “Judaism” would do and yet claimed to be zealous for the law. I don’t know how they squared this circle. The law contains the sacrificial system for atonement but the Essenes believed the priesthood and the Temple to be corrupted and impure. The Scroll says:

…they shall expiate guilty rebellion and sinful infidelity and (procure) Loving-kindness upon earth without the flesh of burnt offering and the fat of sacrifice, but the offering of the lips in accordance with the law shall be as an agreeable odor of righteousness, and perfection of way shall be as the voluntary gift of a delectable oblation. [Scroll of the Rule IX.3]

and yet:

And they shall not depart from any maxim of the Law to walk in all the stubbornness of their heart. [IX.10]

Just as modern Judaism and Islam claim to keep Torah but in no way keep the sacrificial system, so the Essenes forsook the Law while claiming to keep it. I am interested to see if the other scrolls address these subjects in more detail.

Sailhamer’s Biblical Theology, I

In his book Introduction to Old Testament Theology, A Canonical Approach, John Sailhamer outlines four contrasting approaches to doing Scriptural theology (in this case OT theology). These four contrasts are:

1. Text or event;
2. Criticism or canon;
3. Descriptive or confessional;
4. Diachronic or synchronic.

I. Text vs. Event

What does Sailhamer mean by these terms? First, let’s look at text vs. event. Sailhamer writes:

Does an OT theology focus its attention on the scriptural text of the OT itself, or is the text primarily a witness to the act of God’s self-revelation in the events recorded by Scripture? […] We will maintain in the following discussion that while professing to be text-centered in their approach, evangelical biblical theologians sometimes treat the text of Scripture as a means of getting at what they perceive to be the real locus of God’s revelation-the events in the history of Israel or the religious ideals that lie behind the text.

While we may think that we have a clear picture of events, what we have in fact is the events selected for presentation by the author according to a narrative strategy. Sailhamer says:

The recounting of events in the narrative is not intended to direct the reader’s attention outside the text but rather within the text and to the narrative world depicted there. The reader, as audience, is to understand the meaning of the events through the author’s development of the plot structure and characterization of the narrative. Thus divine revelation may be thought of as lying within the narrative text of Scripture as a function of the meaning of the events in their depiction.

I would note that you hear this in sermons all the time. The preacher is often not seeking to explain what the author intended, the narrative strategy, and so on, but rather wants to talk about what the character was up to in his estimation, what else was going on back then, things like that. It is a subtle difference but one with large ramifications. I think it springs mainly from ignorance about what a book is, what an author does, etc. In other words, the Biblical authors have already interpreted the events for us in their writings, they do not present us with the events in order for us to interpret what the event meant. We are rather to focus on what the text says the event meant. Sailhamer explains that we often lack a text theory and describes what a text is:

By its very nature a narrative text is something that does not project itself on us as such. When reading a text we are not constantly reminded of the fact that we are looking at words on a page, just as in watching a movie we are rarely conscious of looking at light on a screen. The function of a narrative text is to be a vehicle for telling a historical story.

He provides an example:

A photograph of a tree is a good example of the distinction between a text and the event depicted in it. A photograph is a representation of a tree. It represents the tree accurately and realistically, yet it does not have bark and leaves, nor is the sky behind the tree in the photograph a real sky. Nevertheless the actual bark and leaves of the real tree are represented in the photograph and so is the real sky…To say that a photograph only represents the tree but is not actually the tree, does not mean that the tree never existed or that the photograph is inaccurate because it only shows one side of the tree.

Sailhamer has many other helpful things to say on this subject, but let me skip ahead. He says:

The effect of overlooking the text of Scripture is favor of a focus on the events of Israel’s history can often be a “biblical” theology that is little more than a philosophy of history, an exegetical method that is set on expounding the meaning of the events lying behind Scripture rather than those depicted in Scripture itself.

Needless to say, Sailhamer chooses a text based approach rather than an events based one.

N.T. Wright in Boise

Back in April of 2003 I was able to attend an all day seminar with N.T. Wright on the resurrection. He had just published his massive book defending the resurrection of Jesus and was lecturing on that subject. I took notes on the occasion and I don’t believe I put them up on my blog, so here they are, six years later.

About thirty folks met at First Presbyterian (PCUSA) church in Boise on Monday with N. T. Wright. We were seated on the platform of the church under an enormous cross with Dr. Wright seated at a desk with a few books in front of him. I noticed the Septuagint and his new book amongst others. He
lectured from 9 am to 3 pm with a break for lunch basically covering the material from The Resurrection of the Son of God and doing a Q and A every hour.

I talked to Wright beforehand and he said the next major book in the series would be on Paul. He is also working on Galatians and Philippians and does not know when he is working what article will go in which book. He mentioned that it will be more difficult to work as the Bishop of Durham, but that he is looking forward to doing pastoral work again. He said one of the problems of being at Westminster is that you are always just dealing with the next 500 tourists and that he looks forward to having an actual congregation. He mentioned Paul’s pastoral inspiration, how he founded churches and wrote at the same time. He also made an aside about how pretentious it is to be enthroned physically at Durham, but he has to sort of go along with it all.

He critiqued the modern, fuzzy notions of heaven and life after death, and made a point of calling the resurrection the real goal, which is “life after life after death.” He dealt extensively with what was expected in the hereafter in pagan literature and then in the Jewish world. He said that the early Christian belief was originally close to the position of the Pharisees within Judaism, but with key mutations, six of which follow:

1. No spectrum of differing beliefs about the resurrection. All Christians believed in the resurrection with the exception of Gnostics who came later.
2. Periphery to Center. The belief was peripheral in Judaism, but became absolutely central in Christianity.
3. Transformation. In Judaism there was not an expectation of transformed physicality—i.e. a new body that was the same, but on a higher level. But in Christianity, this was the expectation (I Cor 15).
4. 2 moments of resurrection. Jesus first, everyone else second. This was not known in Judaism.
5. Different metaphorical use of the word. In Judaism res. could stand for national restoration as in Ezekiel, but in Christianity this meaning ends and it is used of things like baptism (Rom 7) and holiness (Col 3).
6. Resurrection of the Messiah. Jews did not expect the Messiah to rise again, because they did not expect him to die.

Wright had a lot of positive things to say about Polkinghorne’s work on the new creation as Polkinghorne is coming from a scientific background and so has a lot of insight into such things.

Wright called Rev. 21-22 the ultimate answer to Gnosticism. He said that of all the modern writers he read in researching the new book, C.S. Lewis’ chapter on the resurrection in “Miracles” was the best he came across (I read it today, it is good).

On the subject of hell and damnation, Wright said that it is not only possible but also certain that some reject God and say no to Christ. He said that we should all want to be Universalists in the sense that we don’t want to see anyone go to hell but that we should realize that we cannot. He said that worship is the chief thing that humans do and that those who continue to worship something other than God may in some sense cease to bear God’s image and ultimately become what Wright called “ex-human.” Just as the redeemed will be human on a higher level, the damned will be “beyond hope, beyond pity” so that the saints in the new creation will be able to experience joy without regret for those who are lost.

I had Dr. Wright sign my copy of the new book and out of curiosity asked him if he had met Martyn Lloyd-Jones at some point. It turns out that indeed he had back in the 70’s. He said he reviewed a couple of the Romans series that Jones had put out. Though he did not agree with Lloyd-Jones conclusions at all points, he had immense respect for the man and the devotion and time he had put into the book of Romans. He said Lloyd-Jones was deeply suspicious of him because he was an Anglican, but that he had been over to Lloyd-Jones for lunch. He remarked that the movement at Westminster Tabernacle that was so energetic in the 50’s and 60’s was not meeting the current climate of London intellectually.


Writing a few years ago, James Jordan discussed the theme of exile in the Bible. His thoughts follow:

Someone asked about the reservations some of us have about Wright’s exile-theology. Here are a few thoughts:
1. The Ur-exile was from the Garden of Eden. From that perspective, all of Old Creation history takes place in exile, until Jesus. Thus, Wright is surely correct to make exile a large category. (I dealt with this to some extent in my monograph *Sabbath Breaking and the Death Penalty,* where I showed that under the Old Creation, humanity was EXCLUDED from sabbath, and that this explains much of what the Law required regarding the sabbath day observances.)
2. Within this large Exile, there are sub-exiles and also times of return and establishment in semi-Edens or proto-New Creations. Descent into Egypt is a kind of exile, and Joshua’s conquest a return from exile. But then notice that in 1 Samuel 1-4 the Ark “Himself” goes into exile into Philistia (related to Egypt according to Genesis 10), defeats their gods, and then returns, eventually to be enthroned in Solomon’s Temple.
3. It’s been a while since I read/perused Wright’s works on the gospels, but he seems to argue that the Jews never REALLY came back from the Babylonian exile. I don’t think this is correct, and have the following observations:
3a. The books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah redefine the “land of God” as the Oikumene, within which a much smaller “holy land” is the center (much smaller than what Israel inhabited in the former days, from Joshua to Zedekiah). In Daniel 8, the leaders of the Oikumene are sheep and goats, members of this new larger flock. There is a whole shift in the definition of the “land” here that very few have noticed.
3b. After the first Babel, God gave a land to Abraham. This begins an historical arc that continues until the Babylonian exile in the days of Jeremiah, etc. There is a new land given, and a new historical arc begun, when God confuses the tongues (reading) of the second Babel in
Daniel 5. This new land is not the land promised to Abraham as concerns its boundaries, but is the double land of the Oikumene and the Holy Land within it. To wit:
3c. The release of the Jews from Babylon by Cyrus is not to go back into the land promised by Abraham, whose boundaries are no longer relevant. It is a double release. On the one hand, some go back into what is now called the Holy Land and Holy City (new terms in this new Restoration Covenant era). On the other hand, some are spread out as the “four winds of heaven” within the Oikumene to serve as witnesses. This is a double return, though a “spiritual” return rather than a geographical movement. The greater spiritual power and glories of this new age are described in Zecharia 1-6 and Ezekiel 40-48.
3d. There was a great apostasy from this calling to bear witness in the days of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, described/prophesied in Daniel 11. The priests of Jerusalem desired to remake the Holy City into a Greek city, with olympic-style games and all the rest. They tossed out the
Zadokite High Priest Onias III (committing the “abomination that causes desolation”), and took over the city. When Antiochus determined to enforce the Hellenization of Jerusalem, and provoked the Maccabees to revolt, he was only doing what he thought the leaders of the Jews wanted him to do — and in fact what the DID want him to do.
3e. This fall of the Restoration Covenant ushers in a new spiritual exile. It is not a geographical exile, but a spiritual one. The Maccabees did not reinstall the Zadokite line as High Priests, but took it over for themselves. There was never a true and valid HP in Judaism again (until Jesus, who was more than Aaron of course). There were valid priests for the offerings of the altar and holy place, but no valid HP for the Day of Covering in the Most Holy. (Jesus never attends the Day of Covering in the gospels.)
3f. Understood this way, Wright’s thesis can be reestablished on even firmer and stronger grounds. They were indeed in exile, an even worse exile than ever before. They were not dominated by Babylonians, but by demons, as we see from the gospels — the demons
apparently house in the synagogues!
3g. As for later Jewish literature, it seems that Jewish nationalists rejected their call to be a nation of prophets within God’s Oikumene, and considered that the Oikumene was a place of exile, and that someday they would have a Davidic nation of their own again. This was simple unbelief, and a rejection of their wonderful high calling to serve in God’s Oikumene. To the extent that Wright may agree with this woeful opinion, he would be in error.
4. In conclusion, the real failure is not with Wright, who is after all a NT theologian and specialist. The failure is on the part of the OT theologians he is reading, who utterly fail to deal with the distinctive qualities and glories of the post-exilic Restoration covenant and the new
larger and greater “land” of the Oikumene. By and large, the “post-exilic” time of the Old Creation is viewed as some kind of amorphous appendage to OT history. Not so. It is the first phase of the New Covenant, and a time of greater spiritual glory than ever before.

Ancient Giants?

The Bible presents us with the Nephilim and other giants, from whom Goliath was descended. When the tribes of Israel entered Canaan they had to confront giants.

Herotodus in his Persian Wars presents possible evidence for giants as well. In Book I.67-68 he tells of how the Spartans searched for the bones of Orestes, son of Agamemnon. A Spartan talks to an iron smith in the city of Tegea who tells him of a coffin he has found:

I came upon a coffin ten feet long. I had never believed that men were taller in the olden times than they are now, so I opened the coffin. The body inside was of the same length; I measured it, and filled up the hole again.

This indicates a widespread knowledge of giants in the “olden times” in lands outside of Israel.


An older commentary on Acts that I own points out the following interesting facets of Damascus in Christianity and Islam:

“In the history of religion,” writes Dr. G.A. Smith, “Damascus was the stage of two great crises. She was the scene of the conversion of the first Apostle of Christianity to the Gentiles; she was the first Christian city to be taken by Islam.”

If Damascus was not the oldest, it may at all events be called the most enduring city in the world. According to Josephus, Ant. 1.6, 4 it was founded by Uz, the grandson of Shem, whilst a Moslem tradition makes Eliezer its founder, and Abraham its king (see also Jos., Ant., i.7, 2), Here, too, was the traditional scene of the murder of Abel (Shakespeare, I King Henry VI., i,, 3).

The passage referred to in Shakespeare is:

Nay, stand thou back, I will not budge a foot:
This be Damascus, be thou cursed Cain,
To slay thy brother Abel, if thou wilt.

Beale on the OT in the NT

Writing in the journal Irish Biblical Studies [Volume 21, November 1999], Greg Beale talks about the use of OT scripture in the NT and says:

I gave the analogy of picking an apple off a tree and making it part of a decorative table arrangement of fruit. The new context does not obliterate the apple’s original identity but it must now be viewed not merely in relation to its original context but in connection to its new context. Old Testament references gain “new significance” but not “new meaning” when placed in a new context. The original “meaning” does not change but the “significance” of that meaning changes.