Israel is a prominent topic in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures,
though it was not prominent in Christian theological reflection until
the aftermath of the Holocaust. Actually, over the centuries and in
the contemporary world there have been many Israels, and similar
theological issues repeatedly arise through the Scriptures and outside
them in connection with Israel. This article deals with these issues
as a set of recurrent questions in connection with the broad question:
What is the theological significance of Israel? See paper under Theology.
InterVarsity recently published:
Hans Boersma, Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew
Scot McKnight, Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew
John’s review article on the two books is under Biblical Interpretation
Check out Kathleen’s Creative Story Theory. Kathleen’s approach to Scripture is to engage through creative writing. Posts include creative writing examples, workshops, and academic papers.
Notes from John: As I have taught online at the Asia Graduate School of Theology in
Kathmandu and have simultaneously been writing a commentary on Joshua,
I have wondered what happens when we put Joshua and Nepal together.
What would happen if Joshua went to Kathmandu? How might he reflect?
See the paper on “Joshua Goes to Kathmandu” posted under the “Prophets” tab.
During recent decades, the Book of Joshua came to trouble people. More recently, it seems that hardly a month goes by without the publication of another volume on violence in the Scriptures or another conference or research project on the subject. In reading Joshua, one of my convictions is that we won’t get to understand the book unless we set its accounts of war-making in the context of the book as a whole. In addition, thinking more broadly about the nature of migration and settlement provides some illumination on the story Joshua tells. And if we can stand aside from our preoccupation with violence for a moment, we can discover a lot about what the Book of Joshua meant for Israel and how it works as a story and how thoughtfully it discusses tricky issues and what it emphasizes about God . . . .
The paper on “Reading Joshua” is posted under “Prophets.”
I’m involved with four other people in a book project discussing “Five Views on Christ in the Old Testament,” which should come out from Zondervan next year. My paper is posted under “Biblical Interpretation.” I’m now reading the other people’s papers and commenting on them. Here’s a parable it’s provoked.
Kathleen and I once went on a walk from our home on the edge of Oxford to get to a country pub. The walk was more adventurous than we expected. We had to cross a stream by a rickety bridge and climb over a five-barred gate just before we reached our destination, and Katheen (who once lived in Arizona) was pretty worried about possible snakes in the grass. Then this past Friday we walked to the same destination, now knowing not only where we were going but how to get there, and the walk was quite straightforward.
Even on the first occasion, the destination was clear and we could trust that everything on the way was leading to the destination, but as we stood at the rickety bridge from which we could not see the destination we could not have said that the bridge pointed that way. The bridge and the gate existed for their own sake, not for the sake of our journey. They were not designed to lead towards the place where we were going, and they bore no signposts. Their own importance did not lie there. But they were on our route to the destination, so that they came to have that significance for us.
Our first walk corresponds better to the story of Israel than the second one. God had a wide-ranging perspective (a drone’s perspective?) concerning Israel’s journey. He knew about the rickety bridges and five-barred gates (the parable is not an allegory, but I am tempted: is the rickety bridge the exile, and is the five-barred gate the Torah, and the snakes . . . ?). But they were not designed to lead towards Jesus, and they bore no signposts. There was no more indication that the exodus pointed to Jesus than that the bridge or gate pointed to our destination.
We don’t get to understand the meaning of the exodus or Sinai or the exile or the Second Temple by thinking too much about Jesus. The First Testament can help us understand Jesus, but it’s also worth understanding in its own right without thinking too much about Jesus. That way, it does help us understand God and us.
Someone wrote to me the other day with a question about the way the Scriptures talk about fear, because it can feature both as a good thing and as something from which God rescues us. Here are examples, as they appear in the NRSV:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. (Proverbs 1:7)
His mercy is for those who fear him. (Luke 1:50)
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 43:1)
There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
The problem lies in find equivalences in English for Greek and Hebrew expressions. There are three variations on this problem.
- Sometimes English has one word and Hebrew and/or Greek have two, so English is confusing. “Violence” is an example. For people writing in English, violence may seem inherently wrong, and they may then be concerned about God’s violence in the Old Testament. But the Hebrew word translated “violence,” ḥāmās, never applies to God; it refers only to wrongful violence. When the Old Testament talks about God acting violently, it uses the verb nākâ in the hiphil, of which the traditional translation is smite. That verb can denote wrongful violence, but it commonly denotes proper “violence.” (Just to make things a bit more complicated, or perhaps a bit simpler, ḥāmās also means “violation,” which helps to make clear what it is that’s wrong about violence.)
- Sometimes Hebrew and Greek have a word for which we don’t have an English equivalent, which can make things for us to understand. One examples is the Hebrew word ḥesed, which is sometimes translated grace, sometimes mercy, but most often steadfast love or constant love. All those translations get at part of the idea. Ḥesed denotes the grace that a person shows when they make a commitment to someone and there was no reason for them to do so, and the faithfulness that a person shows to someone when they carry on being faithful to them after the person has acted in such a way as to forfeit any right to such faithfulness. I think the nearest English equivalent to ḥesed is “commitment,” but I haven’t convinced anyone.
- In the case of fear, Hebrew and Greek each have one word (yir’ah/phobos) and English has two (fear and awe), which is confusing. A Hebrew speaker or a Greek speaker would no doubt realize that there is a difference between bad fear (being afraid) and good fear (awe), but the actual languages don’t have a way of making the distinction, and English translations are wooden and misleading when they use the English word “fear” as if it also covered “awe.” So here are alternative translations of the first two of those verses:
The awe for the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. (Proverbs 1:7)
His mercy is for those who are in awe of him. (Luke 1:50)
Again just to make things a bit more complicated, or perhaps a bit simpler, the word for “awe” doesn’t refer only to a feeling but to an action: they mean submission or obedience.
First thing each morning, John and I have been reading the sermons of Austin Farrer. Most of his sermons were preached in college chapel in Oxford, England. He was the Master of Keble College when John attended there in the 60’s.
I have found them mind-blowing and wanted to share them with you.
I have recorded one below, wait about 5 seconds before I start to speak…https://tinyurl.com/y77mk2t6
Greetings from Oxford. I know we haven’t posted for a while, be assured we miss all our friends and colleagues and sunshine! We are taking time to grow roots in our new home-ground. We are well and serene in this time of both shock and quiet contemplation.
I’m writing now because John has written an article on The Old Testament and Pandemic. It’s posted under the ‘Theology’ tab on this website. Read and share.
Love and Blessings, Kathleen and John