Yahweh in the First Testament and Jesus in John’s Gospel

Published / by kathleen

John says that Jesus is the embodiment of God, the God of Israel, so
one would expect that looking at Yahweh would tell you things you can
see in Jesus as John portrays him, and that looking at John’s Jesus
would tell you things you can see in Yahweh. This paper considers what
Yahweh was like as the God of grace and truth, in Israel’s story from
beginning to end, in his speaking in the Torah where he lays the law
down, in his speaking through prophets where he confronts his people
with warnings and promises, and in the Psalms and elsewhere where he
shows himself open to his people’s protests as well as their
enthusiasm about him. And to that portrait of grace and truth, at each
point the paper juxtaposes what John’s Jesus was like.

On the Theology page see: “How Yahweh Finds Embodiment in John’s Jesus”

Psalmody as Alternative to Theodicy

Published / by kathleen

Theodicy has become a significant topic in Old Testament study, and
the Psalms are a natural work to approach through this lens. They are
often concerned with the way Israel or individual Israelites find life
not working out as one might expect on the basis of Yahweh’s power and
Yahweh’s commitment to them. But theodicy is by its nature a
theologico-philosophical topic of discussion concerning questions
about God’s nature and God’s involvement in the world, and
characteristically the Psalms do not exactly engage in such
theologico-philosophical reflection. They do address Yahweh and
address people over matters that have become the concerns of theodicy,
yet their own direct concern is not to find insight on those questions
but to give expression to or model or resource a way of living with
the experiences that issue in the theodicy question.

In this paper posted under “Writings,” John seeks to engage with the way the Psalms
themselves address Yahweh in praise, protest, and thanksgiving, and
simultaneously address people in confession, appeal, and testimony,
with an awareness of the issues that modernity and postmodernity raise
in discussion of theodicy, but in a fashion not too bound by the
framework of that discussion.

Hardness of Heart

Published / by kathleen

John’s review of Charles B. Puskas. Hardness of Heart in Biblical Literature:

In his reflections on the idea of hearts being hardened, Charles
Puskas includes a striking quotation from the Alcoholics Anonymous

Rarely have we seen a person fall who has thoroughly followed our
path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not
completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and
women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with
themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they
seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of
grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous
honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too,
who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them
do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

The “cannot or will not” is so poignant. It is such a mystery that we
make such stupid decisions—decisions that are morally stupid or are
against our own better interests, in a way that other people can often
identify. Sometimes we know they were thoroughly and simply our
decisions. Sometimes it is as if “something made me do it.” And the
mystery extends to many of the sensible and good things we do. What
makes us do them?

In this slim volume that goes back to work he did for comps in his PhD
program, Charles Puskas considers this question by asking about the
way the Scriptures use expressions such as hardness of heart. He lists
the Hebrew expressions that are translated in this way and adds to
them the terms for rebellion and stubbornness and the idea of having
an uncircumcised heart. He notes that hardening is not confined to
hearts: it also affects ears, eyes, face, forehead, neck, shoulder,
and back. I did miss any analysis of the meaning of the Hebrew and
Greek words that are translated “heart,” which—for instance—cover
reason and courage at least as much as feelings, and thus contrast
with the English word. I suspect this fact is significant for English
speakers in understanding hardness of heart. In other words, hardness
of leb and hardness of kardia is different from hardness of heart.)

Puskas first works through the use of the expressions in the Hebrew
Bible in connection with non-Israelites, on the basis of a JEDP
reading of the Pentateuch, with references to a wide range of
scholars. He then considers “the Exodus narrative,” and in that
connection I smiled at his reference to Franz Hesse’s suggestion that
it was “out of the joy of storytelling that the hardening of Pharaoh
was added to the plagues.” I appreciated even more Juvenal’s
observation that the wrath of the gods may be great, but it is
certainly slow” (10).

Puskas moves on next to consider those expressions as applied to
Israel. He focuses on Isaiah 6, the one specific passage to which he
gives a section to itself. Near the beginning of the book He had
described hardness of heart as a dominant explanation for what Led
Zeppelin sang about as “Communication Breakdown.” It is a common
interpretation of Isaiah 6:9–10, understood as Isaiah’s after-the-fact
understanding of the effect of his words. But Puskas notes that the
text of Isaiah presents the hardening declaration as more like a
performative statement. It is a judgment. When the passage is quoted
in Acts 28, however, it’s closer to being an after-the-fact
interpretation, and likewise in Matthew 13, and maybe in Mark 4. In in
my estimate, in itself Isaiah 6 likely shares the nature of most
prophetic declarations that announce calamity to come on people—they
can be performative, but they are also designed to provoke people to
turn to God, and thus to be self-falsifying.

Puskas picks up the way Craig Evans’s dissertation To See and Not
Perceive, on the use of this chapter in early Jewish and Christian
interpretation, speaks of how  the “severe word” in Isaiah 6 is
“tempered” by the closing footnote about the “seed,” and how Isaiah
may be picking up proverbial sayings—to judge from similarities with
Demosthenes, Aeschylus, and the Qur’an. As well as Isaiah, Puskas
considers 1 Kings 22, Jeremiah, Second and Third Isaiah, Ezekiel,
Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History, other prophets, and the
Writings (Proverbs, Psalms, Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah). After briefly
considering Qumran and Second Esdras, he goes through a parallel
sequence of study for the New Testament: the Greek words, and the
theme as applied to Gentiles, to Israel, and to people who believe in
Jesus. Here, too, he notes that the text makes allowance for both the
“cannot” and the “will not” of people’s responding to Jesus. The
hardness imagery, then, functions to provide a sort-of answer to the
question of why we make the stupid decisions that we do. Yet it
doesn’t somehow make us not responsible for our decisions. Don’t
harden your hearts, Hebrews says, and the New Testament includes many
warnings to believers to stay faithful—with the implication that they
can if they choose to. They are not hardened against their will. This
fits with the title of Puskas’s book, which suggests that Puskas is
especially interested in the way we harden our hearts as opposed to
the idea of God hardening our hearts.

There are some further aspects of the scriptural text that he thereby
reminded me of. One is that Exodus’s treatment of the hardening of
heart makes fruitful use of the qal, the piel, and the hiphil of these
verbs, and also of the adjectives meaning “hard.”. Hearts can be hard
or they can become hard. People can harden their own hearts or God can
harden them. So Exodus provides a brilliant example of the way
narrative theology can work, as it interweaves all those uses of the
words and illustrates how they all offer insight on the dynamics of
hardness of heart. Further, in Exodus God doesn’t harden hearts until
people have hardened their own hearts—yet he declares the intention to
harden hearts before Exodus says their hearts actually are hard. So it
sets alongside each other God’s lordship and human freedom without
pretending to resolve the tension between them.

A substantial “appendix” to that main paper on hardness of heart
discusses the relationship of the church and Jesus in light of Robert
Jenson’s discussion of this question in his Systematic Theology.
Puskas takes up three matters from Jenson. The first is whether
Christians should utter the name of Yahweh, given that most Jews would
not. My own comment would be that many Jews indeed would not utter the
name (though others will), but as far as I have been able to tell,
they are not necessarily offended by Gentiles doing so. While
refraining from uttering the name is part of their religious
discipline, it’s like waring a yarmulke in being a discipline that God
expects of them but not of Gentiles. The second is that fidelity to
the gospel requires  rejection of supersessionism, “the idea that the
church succeeds Israel in such a fashion as to displace from the
status of God’s people those Jews who do not enter the church.” The
tricky question then is, how one foregoes supersessionism in a way
that maintains fidelity to the gospel. The third concerns “God’s
unbroken faithfulness to God’s covenant with Israel,” which takes
Jenson and Puskas into Romans 11. Puskas here rightly, in my view,
disputes the idea that Paul’s final declaration that “all Israel will
be saved” refers to the church as Israel. It surely refers to the
nation of Israel, as it does through the rest of the chapter. I
enjoyed Puskas’s expression of surprise that Jenson, “a Trinitarian
theologian of Norwegian descent, raised on Luther’s catechism, and
educated at Germany’s renowned Heidelberg University, would be so
forthright about Israel and her descendants ‘after the flesh’
(historic Israel)” (63), so forthright in his positive comments about

The book has a substantial bibliography

The Name Yahweh

Published / by kathleen

By John Goldingay

A couple of people have asked me about a theory concerning the name of Yahweh that has been circulating on social media. The theory is that the real name of Yahweh is simply Yhwh without any vowels, and that this is important because pronouncing the name is then like breathing. I have no problem with a devotional use of the name of God along these lines, but the theory presents itself as a historical understanding of the name. In this sense it can hardly be right. It seems to be based on a misunderstanding about Hebrew.
The theory says that the name God gave Moses was Yhwh without any vowels.But all written Hebrew lacked vowels, like other Semitic languages (and many modern text messages!). When someone spoke the Hebrew words as opposed to writing them, however, the words would have vowels (like text messages if one read them out). That would apply to the name Yahweh as it applied to every other word.
In other words, Israelites could manage fine with a system whereby written words
comprised only consonants, but when they said the words out loud, they could work out how to say them with vowels. The system worked fine for people who spoke Hebrew as their everyday language. It works for Israelis today. But when Hebrew was no longer the everyday language for many Jews in late Second Temple times, it was harder for people to know how to pronounce the words, and systems of dots and dashes were devised so that they could see how to pronounce the words.
But an odd thing then happened with the name Yahweh. By the time of the development of the systems of dots and dashes, people had stopped actually saying out loud the name of Yahweh (for instance, when reading from the Scriptures). Instead they replaced it by the Hebrew word for Lord (which is why you get LORD instead of Yahweh in translations of the Bible). One reason they stopped pronouncing the name may have been a concern not to take Yahweh’s name in vain. Another may have been that the name makes Yahweh sound like a strange Israelite tribal god rather than the one real God.
As a consequence, it was somewhat later that the vowels got added to the written form of the name Yhwh. That didn’t mean people were thinking up vowels where there had been none before. It meant they were putting on record the pronunciation of the name Yahweh that people had always used and that they assumed Moses would have used. The vowels in the name Yahweh were not added arbitrarily by someone at this point, then. They were designed to indicate the way the name had always been pronounced.
(Another question I am sometimes asked is whether it is disrespectful to Jews to use the name Yahweh as they do not use it. One or two Jews have reassured me that they do not think this. Not pronouncing the name is part of the spiritual discipline to which they believe God has called them, like keeping kosher, but they do not assume that God has called everyone to it.)