Sunday, March 26, 2017

JEDP Theory

I just read an interesting article over at Answers In Genesis. It is an article that attempts to refute the JEDP theory of the origin of the Pentateuch. Another article with the same goal can be read at

I read through both articles with interest and found each to be misrepresenting current thinking of scholars who subscribe to the "documentary hypothesis." I am motivated to respond to the articles.

I have not studied the Pentateuch with a fine-toothed comb but I have studied parts of it well enough to be certain that it was compiled from multiple sources. In many cases, those sources were transcribed verbatim. I have found the documentary source approach to be very helpful and a functional system for reading and understanding the Pentateuch, particularly the books of Genesis and Exodus. In any case, I have a few things to say in response to the article over at Answers in Genesis.

From this point on, I will refer to the "documentary hypothesis" as "source-criticism" or the "source-critical method" or even "the JEDP theory." I am moderately disturbed by the term "documentary hypothesis." I don't know where "documentary hypothesis" came from; but it characterizes the theory as a kind of trial balloon tossed into the community of Bible schorars. A hypothesis has no use until it can be demonstrated. Evolution, for example, is a hypothesis, not a theory. A theory has strong evidence for it; but the evidence does not quite rise to the level of "proof." Relativity, for example, is a theory, not a hypothesis. Einstein's equation "E=mc2" is demonstrably correct in practice. The amount of energy generated from converted matter is correctly calculated by the equation. Unfortunately, Relativity remains unproven. The fact that it cannot be proven does not make it untrue. It makes it a theory. Source-criticism is a theory based upon a lot of strong evidence.

Source-criticism of the Pentateuch is the theory that (1) the Pentateuch was edited together from multiple sources and (2) those sources can at least partly be identified. The working rubric for these sources holds that the main contributors to the Pentateuch were four sources nicknamed J, E, D and P. The J source got his name "The Yahwist" from his preference for the name "Yahweh" when referring to God. "The Elohist," E, got his name from his frequent reference to God as "Elohim." "The Deuteronomist," D, is the author of nearly all of the book of Deuteronomy. His stuff shows up in other places; so it is useful for scholars to give him a nickname. P is "The Priestly Source." The P material comes from, not shockingly, priests. The bulk of the book of Leviticus, maybe all of it, comes from P. Because proponents of this theory have identified these four sources, the rubric has been called "The JEPD (or JEDP) Theory."

Terry Mortenson and Bodie Hodge, the authors of the article at Answers in Genesis, set out to prove that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Their method was to show that (1) the Bible identifies Moses as the author of the Pentateuch and that (2) source-criticism's claims are faulty. They conclude:
There is abundant biblical and extra-biblical evidence that Moses wrote the Pentateuch during the wilderness wanderings after the Jews left their slavery in Egypt and before they entered the Promised Land.
To prove (1) that the Bible identifies Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, Mortenson and Hodge cite a long list of Scriptures that supposedly identify Moses as the author of the five books. None of the citations identify Moses as the author of the Pentateuch except perhaps two which I will discuss below. The rest reference some variation of The Book of Moses or they report that Moses wrote something. Well, reference to the Law of Moses or the Book of Moses does not come close to saying that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch. Verses that say that Moses wrote something (Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9-11) fail to approach the necessary level of evidence needed to claim that Moses wrote the whole thing! Exodus 24:4, for example, says that Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. The verse is vague in describing what Moses actually wrote. Maybe Moses wrote the "book of the covenant" mentioned a few verses later in Exodus 24:7. Maybe he wrote the whole of the information contained in Exodus chapters 21-23 or chapters 25-31 (Exodus 31:18) or something else. I can play that game. Jesus wrote on the ground (John 8:6, 8). Therefore, he wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Jerusalem elders wrote a letter to the Gentiles in Acts 15:23. Therefore, they wrote Acts. Yes, I am being absurd to illustrate absurdity.

In New Testament times, people cited the Pentateuch (Torah) as the "Book of Moses" and sometimes even as the writing of Moses. Such verbiage should not be taken as proof that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Here is a helpful comment by a Facebook buddy Matt Parkins:
We use similar phrases without that implication. For instance, the word "Internet," according to Merriam-Webster means "a global network of inter-connected computers," yet both Merriam and Webster were long dead before the word "Internet" was coined. These dictionaries have in the past been updated by other people, and are still being updated―yet we are still happy to say "Merriam-Webster says xyz" because that is how the books are presented to us.
To put it another way, the end of the Pentateuch says that Moses wrote down the law (Deuteronomy 31:9) and so he is credited with the authorship of most of the book of Deuteronomy. In honorary fashion, he is credited with authoring all five books of the Pentateuch. Thus, the two verses in the entire Bible that in a passing way seem to indicate Moses as the author of the Pentateuch are referencing Moses as the honorary author.
If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John 5:46)
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that "the person who does these things will live by them." (Romans 10:5)
Mortenson and Hodge's article has a section called "Fallacious Reasoning of the Skeptics" (by skeptics they mean the scholars who subscribe to source-criticism). They offer straw-man arguments on behalf of source-critics and quickly show them to be weak. I will not dignify their fallacious arguments with a response.

Several of the points under the section "Answering a Few Objections" are also answers to straw-man arguments; but one deserves a response. Genesis 14:14 mentions a place called "Dan" as a place existing in Abraham's time. Mortenson and Hodge try really hard to explain how Dan could exist in Abraham's day. Then they admit:
But again, even if "near Dan" was added by a later inspired editor, this would not mean that it was inaccurate to say that Moses wrote Genesis.
I agree, but it is evidence against Mosaic authorship. Nobody would cite Genesis 14:14 as proof of the JEDP theory; but is it sure suspicious that Dan is mentioned as existing in the time of Abraham! I nevertheless agree with the "later inspired editor" explanation.

It is nearly certain (and there is no doubt in my own mind) that Moses did not write the whole of the Pentateuch. Even Duane Garrett, the JEDP critical author of the article at Bible Archeology, admits the possibility that there are multiple sources:
It is possible that [Genesis] 1:1 and Genesis 2:4ff do in fact spring from separate sources, but that these sources have nothing to do with the four documents of the Documentary Hypothesis.
The evidence for the Pentateuch being a collection from various sources is near irrefutable. There are a few evidences that stand out extra-loudly. The first evidence, and one that probably motivated scholars to look into the sources in the first place, is how God is referenced throughout the Pentateuch. Note that from Genesis 1:1 when "God created the heavens and the earth" through Genesis 2:4a which concludes the creation as "the generations of the heavens and the earth" God is referenced 100% as "Elohim." Then, from Genesis 2:4b to Genesis 3:24 God is referenced as "Yahweh Elohim." Also, notice how Genesis 2:4 reads:
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens....
The verse gives notice of a second account of the creation. In the first account, God created the "heavens and the earth." In the second account, God created the "earth and the heavens." In the first account, humankind was created last. In the second account, the man was created first, then all the animals and, finally, God created the woman from a rib of the man. The inclusion of two different creation accounts strongly suggests (but does not prove) multiple sources.

Next, consider Genesis 25-28, 36.
25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.
26 Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?
27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed.
28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard.
Who took Joseph? the Ishmaelites or the Midianites? It is confusing. Judges 8:24 suggests that the Ishmaelites were a subset of Midianites. That notion is even more confusing. It does not make sense. Perhaps the two families intermixed? Why would a single author keep referring to these people by alternating names? The solution offered by the source-critics is that the Yahwist (J) called them Ishmaelites, and the Elohist (E) called them Midianites. An editor then tightly pieced together the two sources without rewriting. To add to the confusion, the people in verse 36 are not Midianites but Medanites! John Goldingay, in his "For Everyone" commentary, takes pains to avoid getting into the source-critical weeds but on this text he permits himself a few weeds.
It is puzzling that the caravan is referred to first as Ishmaelite, then as Midianite, then as Medanite. Maybe this again reflects the combining of different versions of the story. But "Ishmaelites" seem here to refer not to Ishmael's physical descendants but to people involved in trade, so that Midianite can be a subset of Ishmaelite (we know from Genesis 25 that Midian was not a descendant of Ishmael but of another of Abraham's wives). And translations usually assume that Medanite is a textual slip for Midianite (in Genesis 25, Medan was Midian's brother). (133)
The next case comes from Exodus 11-13. In those chapters, the Passover is instituted. One would expect that the institution of such an important Jewish celebration would be well documented in the Bible, and indeed it is. Exodus 11-13 explains the Passover five times! Perhaps (!) the editor, when came his time to write about the Passover, did not want to leave out a single source or a single written tradition. He included them all so the Jews had a single go-to document for reading about that important day. Even if you cannot identify what section comes from whom, you can identify the sections. If you approach the text with a little bit of openness that there just might be several sources brought together in the section, the whole account makes a lot more sense. The divisions are: Exodus 11:1-9; 12:1-20; 12:21-39; 12:40-50; 13:1-16. Whoever wrote Exodus, it was not Moses. The Mosaic author fanatics have a problem and it is they that need to deal with Romans 10:5.

I truly am dumbfounded that Mortenson and Hodge consider source-criticism as "one of the major attacks on the Bible!" Source-criticism does not attack the Bible. It does, however, challenge Mosaic authorship. It challenges believers to rethink how they read the Pentateuch. That challenge is not the same thing as discrediting the Pentateuch or even inspiration in general. Challenging people's assumptions about the Bible is not the same thing as attacking the Bible. Such challenges should not be seen as an attack on faith either; but some people have a lot of trouble with their faith when their assumptions are challenged. It can be turbulent waters; but working through these challenges results in spiritual growth. People need to think about what they believe. Does your faith rest upon Moses having written the Pentateuch or are you content with the Pentateuch's divine inspiration regardless of who wrote it?

While it is the case that Moses did not pen the Pentateuch, who did? Source-critics like to try to figure it out. In many cases, source-criticism clears up passages that are otherwise confusing. How to categorize what they are finding is a still growing science. The JEDP rubric is a working theory. Scholars adjust how they define these sources as they go along. No scholar that I know of is committed to a particular solution. E. A. Speiser writes in his commentary on Genesis,
The fact is that the Pentateuch, with a long history of growth, compilation, and transmission behind it, cannot be dissected at this late date with the confident assurance that all its original components have been duly isolated and identified.

The thing to bear in mind, however, is that, where so many unknowns are involved, a reasonable margin of error must be allowed. While the vast majority of passages can now be ascribed to one source or another with considerable confidence, there is still a residue that leaves room for doubt. (xxi)
Terence Fretheim writes,
More conservative scholars (in Judaism and Christianity) have always been critical, but their objections were too often grounded in a view of the Bible and its inspiration rather than in an analysis of the texts themselves.

As a result, source-critical work is presently in a state of disarray, with no consensus in sight.

Generally, it can be said that one basic result of source-critical study remains in place: the Pentateuch is a composite work that grew over the course of a half millennium or more. In addition, the identification of the Priestly material (and to a lesser degree the Deuteronomic) is agreed upon to a great extent. (The Pentateuch, Abingdon, 26)
Peter Enns feels a lot more comfortable than does Fretheim on the current state of source-criticism. He diffuses as fallacious any arguments leveled at the father of the JEDP theory, Julius Wellhousen.
Rather than accepting the traditional view that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) in the middle of the second millennium BC, source criticism claims that scribes living after the Babylonian exile (after 539 BC) created the Pentateuch out of various pre-existent “sources.”

Source criticism has been a major thorn in the side of conservative Christians since the 19th century. But again, like it or hate it, source criticism is not dead. What is dead is how the earliest source critics theorized about these sources, most notably Julius Wellhausen in the late 19th century. His theories have been criticized from almost the beginning, but you’d have a hard time finding a research institution where the basic outlines of source criticism that Wellhausen popularized aren’t a given.

In my experience, the motivation behind this claim is apologetic. Casting doubt on the reigning theory of the Pentateuch supposedly elevates by default the traditional view.  But this does not address the serious problems with the traditional view that gave rise to alternate explanations in the first place.


Enns, Peter. 3 Things I Would Like to See Evangelical Leaders Stop Saying about Biblical Scholarship. Accessed 2017 03 26.

Fretheim, Terence. The Pentateuch. Abingdon, 1996. Print.

Garrett, Duane. The Documentary Hypothesis. Accessed 2017 03 26.

Goldingay, John. Genesis for Everyone, Part 2. Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. Print.

Mortenson, Terry and Bodie Hodge. The Documentary Hypothesis: Moses, Genesis, and the JEDP? Accessed 2017 03 26.

Speiser, E. A. "Genesis. Introduction, Translation, and Notes." The Anchor Bible. Doubleday, 1983. Print.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Music and dancing at church? Exegesis of Psalm 150

How should modern Christianity apply Psalm 150?

Psalm 150

Scripture Meaning
1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! Praise the LORD (Hallelujah). The sanctuary is the temple. Walter Zorn notes that an alternative translation is "Praise God for his holiness" and argues that it is a better translation because the rest of the psalm focuses not on where to praise God but on who should praise God (537); namely, everybody is called to praise the LORD.
Firmament: "Praise him in relationship to the 'expanse of his power (cp. Psalm 19:1)'" (Zorn 538). I am leaning towards the heavenly sanctuary understanding, as signified by the earthly temple in Jerusalem.
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! More reasons to praise the LORD. He is mighty and great! Alternatively, "Praise Him 'with' (the recitation of) His mighty acts" (Berlin and Brettler).
3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise with signaling instruments (trumpet) and musical instruments (lute and harp).
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! If a call to worship is in mind (with the trumpet), this verse describes the processional to the temple for worship. This verse correlates to the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134). The dancing would have been a kind of marching in a pseudo-synchronized way with the sound of the tambourine. If the sanctuary in verse 1 describes God's heavenly sanctuary, then this processional is totally symbolic as are the described instruments and the dancing. The point is the call to sincere praise, not instruments and dancing.
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Praise him with noise makers. This list of instruments are not instructions to the choir director. Their meaning has to do with the priority the worshiper gives to praising God.
6 Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! Call to all the animals to praise the LORD. All creatures (Berlin and Brettler). Recall Psalm 148:10. In Genesis 7:22, everything with breath means every creature on the earth. In Joshua 11:14, the Hebrew word means every human being in a collection of towns. Whatever the literal meaning, the applicable meaning is that everyone should answer the call to praise the LORD (Psalm 145:21).

The suggested elements of this praise (trumpets, harps, tambourines, dancing, etc) are not commands but they are strongly temple-based and locally cultural to Jerusalem. Since all humans are invited to join in the activities, the poetic call to worship might have been composed by a party that believed everyone should be invited to temple worship―Jews, half-Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism. Alternatively, the psalmist is inviting people everywhere to praise the LORD, even if the temple is inaccessible.

This psalm does not authorize introducing any of these elements into the Christian worship services. These elements are temple-centric. The Jews did not even transport these elements into their synagogue worship services. Christians, today, can apply this psalm today by offering their most earnest praise to God.


Berlin, Adele and Marc Zvi Brettler. "Psalms Notes." The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford, 2004. Olive Tree Bible Software electronic resource.

Zorn, Walter. "Psalms, Volume 2." The College Press NIV Commentary. College Press, 2004. Print.

When I set out to write this article, I had come to the conclusion that verse 6 was a call to animals to praise the LORD. As the article developed, it became evident that the who of verse 6 is ambiguous but the interpretation is pretty clear. The article went in a completely different direction than I had originally planned. -ns

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A joke: There was a preacher whose sermons were complicated and lengthy

There was a preacher whose sermons were complicated and lengthy.
One Sunday, after services, two church members were visiting when the conversation touched on the sermon. Not wishing to sound too critical, one of them said, "The sermon was like the love of God. It never ceases."
"I thought it was like the peace of God," said the other. "It passes all understanding."

posted from Bloggeroid

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Everything good comes from God?

Have you ever heard the modern proverb?
Everything good comes from God.
Everything bad comes from the devil.
Is that sentiment in the Bible somewhere? Does a cool-sounding cliché work as a doctrine?

Maybe the maxim is rooted in James 1:17.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV2011)
Well that sure sounds like everything good comes from God, doesn't it? Does "every" mean "every?"

Regarding this claim that everything good comes from God, music and literature is replete with example paradoxes where something good for one person is something bad for another.

Lyrics of Chicago's song:
If she would've been faithful,
if she could have been true
Then I would've been cheated,

I would never know real love
I would've missed out on you

Lyrics of The Hollies' song:
Dear Eliose, I am writing to say
A number of funny things I heard today.
I heard that he's left you and run off to see.
Could be the best thing that's happened to me.
In the Bible, all-inclusive and all-exclusive (everything or nothing) statements have contexts that really should be acknowledged. James 1:17 is no exception. If Bible class teachers would just slow down a little bit, they would notice.

The context in James is about facing trials (James 1:2). James sets out to answer the question of how a Christian should respond to "trials of any kind." Trials come in many forms. They could be just bad circumstances such as health problems. They could be troubles coming through bad treatment from other people. It is the second form of trial that is on James' mind (James 1:19-20 f); but any trial can turn into a temptation to sin. God does not tempt people to sin, says James 1:13-15. We may lash out at God. We may lash out at people who are behaving unjustly toward us. James wants Christians to view such troubles as trials rather than temptations to sin. Responding to trials by committing sin is not who we are. God gives us birth into a different kind of creation (2 Thessalonians 2:13; James 1:18; John 3:3, 5, 7). It is God's good and perfect gift to us. God is unchanging in character, unlike the astral lights. In particular, God perseveres.
... with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (NRSV)
...meaning, God does not fly off the handle and lash out at people for persecuting God (s.a. Acts 9:5; 22:8; 26:15)! Christians are born (by the word of truth) to respond to troubles as trials and not temptations. Enduring trials is what we are born to do. That makes us "a kind of first fruits" (the tithe from the first of the season's harvest, Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 23:10, 17; Deuteronomy 18:4) which anticipates a very rich harvest to follow. In that sense, the first generation of Christians anticipated a time when Christ through the Christian community would change the world for God.

"Every generous act of giving with every perfect gift, is from above..." (NRSV). Does "every" mean "every?" Absolutely not. The context requires that a particular gift is in view: our birth through the word of truth. It is the gift of power to endure trial. It is the gift of being first-fruits of God's creatures. It anticipates eternal life as God's specific "every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift."

Is my job a gift from God? Is my house and neighborhood a gift from God? Are my children gifts from God (Psalm 127)? Absolutely! but these gifts are not in view in James 1:17! James has in mind gifts that have eternal import.

"Everything good comes from God and everything bad comes from the devil?" Maybe it works as a rule of thumb. As a Biblical doctrine, it does not work.

Monday, March 13, 2017

I will give your wives to your neighbor, 2 Samuel 12:11

Does God force people to commit evil?

One Bible passage that seems to say "yes" is 2 Samuel 12:11-12; yet concluding that God forces evil behavior presses the passage beyond its intent.
11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun." (NRSV)
(Special notice: Dr. John Goldingay has prepared a blog article on this passage. I encourage you to read it along with my comments here. His thoughts are far more concise. Read Dr. Goldingay's article).

Here is a brief contextual explanation. One day, King David was out catching some rays on his palace roof. He looked down and saw and saw a beautiful married woman taking a bath (2 Samuel 11:2-3). David had an affair with the woman and she conceived. Well, David tried to cover up the affair. His various efforts were frustrated but eventually he succeeded in the cover-up by having the woman's husband killed in battle. Then David married the soldier's widow (2 Samuel 11:27). Life returned to business as usual except that God sent a prophet named Nathan to David. Nathan exposed David's sin and announced God's judgment in the matter. There would be violence in David's house and rape of David's wives by a close companion of David's. Furthermore, the son that David's new wife Bathsheba bore was going to get sick and die.

What I find most disturbing about this passage is that God said that the trouble coming to David's house was going to be something that God was going to do.
"I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives and give them to your neighbor...."
This passage seems to be overtly describing God as one who decrees evil. Everywhere else I read in the Bible about God, he is not described as the cause of evil. Every scholar I know of is comfortable seeing the fulfillment of this judgment playing out in the following four chapters.

One of David's sons, Amnon, developed a crush on his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-2). He raped her. Now, Tamar was the full sister of Absalom. He patiently plotted revenge against his half-brother Amnon. Two years later, Absalom murdered Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29). Absalom, like his father David, was one for having things his way; and through a series of circumstances he managed to seize the kingship from his father David.

One of Absalom's first orders of business as king was to rape ten of David's concubines (2 Samuel 15:16; 16:21-22). The writer of the Book of Samuel does not describe Absalom's action as fulfillment of what Nathan said; but every scholar I read is comfortable linking the prediction of 2 Samuel 12:11 to 2 Samuel 16:22 as its fulfillment.

So, Nathaniel's prediction seemed to play out fairly accurately and according to his oracle in 2 Samuel 12:11, it was all God's doing. This conclusion is difficult on many levels. If God determines everything, then David's sin with Bathsheba was also determined and David was just doing what he was determined to do. If David was responsible for his own behavior, how could people like Amnon, Absalom and Ashithophel (David's and Absalom's advisor) own their own bad behaviors?

Those troubling questions are the reasons I find 2 Samuel 12:11 to be so difficult a text. I have been wrestling with this passage for a long time and in this article I will attempt to clear the difficulties.

How could God say that he will bring about the trouble in David's family but the trouble is still the doings of the individual actors of the trouble? As I see it, there are two solutions; and interestingly, the solutions don't overlap.
(1) The evil events that transpired in David's family were the natural course of events that should be expected given the history of events that led up to 2 Samuel 12:11.
(2) The Book of Samuel is great literature. Whatever Nathan actually historically said when he confronted David has been adapted to its reading and place at 2 Samuel 12:11 in order to anticipate the coming events of the account.
Solution (1) is the more comfortable explanation; but solution (2) ought to be considered. While literary adaptation is not obvious in this text, it is obvious in several other passages in the Bible, as I will explain below.

Solution (1): The trouble in David's family was easy for God to predict.

God often uses people's natural proclivities as judgments against other people's sins. While there are many examples, I offer what I see as clear examples.

The judgment against King Baasha is interesting. Now the chronology of 1 Kings 14-16:7 is kind of confusing. Piecing it together and focusing on the northern kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam died and his son Nadab became king in his place (1 Kings 14:20). A man named Baasha killed Nadab and became king in his place (1 Kings 15:27-28). His first order of business as king was to kill off the entire family of Jeroboam. Baasha's action against Jeroboam's house is one of the reasons for God's judgment against Baasha's house.
Moreover the word of the Lord came by the prophet Jehu son of Hanani against Baasha and his house, both because of all the evil that he did in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam, and also because he destroyed it. (1 Kings 16:7)
Jeroboam's house was to be cut off (1 Kings 14:10); but Baasha's actions were excessive. God was able to predict the fall of the house of Jeroboam although Baasha was not necessarily predicted as the one who would do it. When the time came, God would withhold his protection (1 Kings 11:38). When Baasha fulfilled God's judgment against the house of Jeroboam, his actions were his own and they were excessive.

A clearer example is with King Jehu (not the prophet of the same name in the quote above).

In 1 Kings 19:16, God told Elijah to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel. Elijah's successor Elisha fulfilled that order in 2 Kings 9. He sent an apprentice to anoint Jehu. The young prophet seemed to have an oracle of his own in 2 Kings 9:7-10.
7 "You shall strike down the house of your master Ahab, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. 8 For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 9 I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah. 10 The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and no one shall bury her." Then he opened the door and fled.
It seems that Jehu overstepped his marching orders. For one, he killed Ahaziah, king of Judah. Ahaziah was also King Ahab's grandson by his daughter Athaliah through a treaty marriage. Jehu also ordered all of Ahab's sons killed and he piled up their heads in two heaps at Jezreel. He then killed off everybody connected with Ahab in Jezreel. It really comes off as a total massacrer. Even the eunuchs who helped Jehu in 2 Kings 9:32-33 seem to have been killed.
So Jehu killed all who were left of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his leaders, close friends, and priests, until he left him no survivor. (2 Kings 10:11)
Apparently, Jehu's slaughter of everybody connected with Ahab's family was universally considered excessive. The prophet Hosea named his first son Jezreel as a judgment against the house of Jehu.
4 And the Lord said to him, "Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel." (Hosea 1:4-5)
In Jehu's case, he was divinely hand-picked to execute judgment on Ahab's family. In case he did not feel his calling, God sent a prophet (Elijah → Elijah → the young prophet apprentice) to nudge Jehu in the right direction. Jehu rose to the occasion and overstepped his orders.

Assyria was hand-picked to execute judgment against Israel. Consider these words from Isaiah 10:5-7 (NASB95):
 5 Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hands is My indignation, 6 I send it against a godless nation And commission it against the people of My fury To capture booty and to seize plunder, And to trample them down like mud in the streets. 7 Yet it does not so intend, Nor does it plan so in its heart, But rather it is its purpose to destroy And to cut off many nations.
God cleared the way for Assyria to go to Israel and plunder her. God withheld his protection to Israel and the Assyrians just did what Assyrians do. They did what was in their nature and culture to do.

I sometimes think of people's proclivities like a class of soda pop. It is in its nature to fizz. That's all well and good; but you can vigorously stir it and it will fizz a lot. God is not above nudging people to go ahead and do what they want to do. If there is just one obstacle stopping them from moving forward toward their desires, God is not above removing that obstacle.

Consider Micaiah's prophecy in 1 Kings 22. In that chapter, Judah and Israel made an alliance against Aram. The Israelite king Ahab marched out his favorite prophets who perceived that Ahab wanted to hear a prediction of victory over the Arameans and that is exactly the prediction they gave (1 Kings 22:6). Finally, they called in the prophet Micaiah. He was coached to give a prophecy predicting victory against the Arameans (1 Kings 22:13-14). Under pressure to give an accurate prophecy, Micaiah reported that God had provided all the prophets to prophesy what King Ahab wanted to hear rather than the truth. King Ahab did not want to listen open-mindedly to a prophet's oracle. He wanted a particular prophecy; and God let it happen. God saw the course of the two kings as opportune and God removed the one barrier preventing them from moving forward with their plans (1 Kings 22:23).

It is very reasonable to understand that this kind of divine action was at play with Nathan's oracle against David's house. There was a lot about David's house that was already dysfunctional, especially in light of what David had just done with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. David saw something he wanted and he took it. David's sons learned the lesson: Kill the husband. Say you're sorry. Get the girl. That's all Amnon did with his half-sister. He took her. Absalom learned the lesson too; but he may have already been a forcefully manipulative person. I am thinking of his actions with his "friend" Joab. Joab managed to talk David into bringing Absalom out of exile; but Absalom wanted more. Absalom asked Joab to arrange a meeting with King David. When Joab waffled, Absalom burned Joab's barley fields (2 Samuel 14:30-32). What kind of a person burns his friend's fields just to get what he wants? Absalom was the kind of person who got what he wants. Absalom may have already been that way and God saw it. Absalom may have learned from David that brutal force is a good way of getting what you want.

Add to the bad lessons learned by David's boys the fact that David never properly disciplined his favorite sons (2 Samuel 13:21; 1 Kings 1:6).

Trouble in David's house was ready to start. All God needed to do was get out of the way. That is how God could say (though Nathan), "I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun" (2 Samuel 12:11).

Solution (2): Nathan's actual words were adapted to the story.

It is possible that what Nathan said as is documented in 2 Samuel 12:11 is not an exact quote. Biblical quotes, especially oracles, are frequently, shall we say, paraphrased. This feature is brazenly true when comparing New Testament quotes of Old Testament passages. (Compare, for example, Acts 7:43 with Amos 5:26-27). There is a really good example of this kind of quoting in 1 Kings 13. When King Jeroboam was dedicating the new shrine at Bethel, a prophet came from Judah and prophesied against the altar.
While Jeroboam was standing by the altar to offer incense, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the LORD to Bethel and proclaimed against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, "O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: "A son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who offer incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.' " (1 Kings 13:1-2)
It is interesting that the name of the as-yet unborn king Josiah is named in this oracle as the one would fulfill it. This prophecy was fulfilled in 2 Kings 23:15-16. The writer of the Book of Kings supplied Josiah's name into the oracle because he knew who the king was who eventually fulfilled it. I will prove it!

There was an old prophet in Bethel at the time of this oracle. He heard about what the Judahite prophet said. He caught up with the Judahite prophet who was returning to Judah. The old prophet persuaded the younger prophet to come back to Bethel for dinner―against the orders God gave to the younger prophet.

After dinner, the younger prophet headed home but he was killed by a lion. The lion and the prophet's donkey stood beside the body. The older prophet retrieved the body and gave it a dignified burial. He gave orders to his sons to bury his own body next to the body of the younger prophet.
After he had buried him, he said to his sons, "When I die, bury me in the grave in which the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. For the saying that he proclaimed by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel, and against all the houses of the high places that are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass." (1 Kings 13:31-32)
The likeliest reason for the request was to prevent the older prophet's bones from being desecrated in the fulfillment of the oracle (2 Kings 23:17-18). But here is the most fascinating feature of this statement by the old prophet. He said that the prophet had spoken out against all the high places around Samaria! Samaria did not exist at the time of this oracle! It was just a hill out in the wilderness. Much later in Israel's history, King Omri (Ahab's father) bought the hill and named it after the man from whom he had made the purchase (Shemer, 1 Kings 16:24).

The young prophet's prophecies as finally chronicled in 1 Kings 13 are not exact quotes. They were updated to make sense to the readers at the time of the composition of the Book of Kings. What the young prophet is said to have said is placed here in the Book of Kings as a literary device to help the reader anticipate events later in the book. Adapting the oracle in this way is especially effective since the prophecy and its fulfillment are documented in the same book. (Another prophecy that is suspiciously precise, suggesting literary adjustment, is God's message to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-16 regarding Israel's slavery in Egypt. I am nearly certain that a similar literary device appears at John 3:14 where the evangelist helps the reader anticipate the crucifixion of the Lord).

Since there are places in the Bible where a prophecy clearly has been adjusted for literary purposes, it is possible that such an adaptation is at play in 2 Samuel 12:11. After all, the fulfillment of Nathan's predictions begins almost immediately in 2 Samuel 13!

Literary adjustment of oracles is kind of uncomfortable for people who hope to find nothing but certainty in the Bible. It throws them off balance. They might wonder, "How can we trust anything in the Bible?" A rethinking must be done regarding the way we read the Bible. The writers of the Bible were teaching theology primarily and history secondarily. The theology is the goal. Historical precision is not the goal.

In any case, literary adjustment is not obvious in 2 Samuel 12:11. It is not even suggested. My point is that it is possible. It exonerates God as the cause of the evil actions of David's sons. Nathan's prediction is placed where it is in the Book of Kings as an introduction to the next four chapters.


I have offered two different solutions to how the Bible can say that God raised up trouble in David's house; but the actual authors of that trouble were David and his sons.

In the first defense, God is said in the Bible to withhold his protection to his covenant people in order for events to proceed to their natural conclusions. If God stepped back and let David's actions have their natural consequences, God took action by changing the way he operated with David's family; but the actual choices of David's sons were their own.

In the second defense, which is totally independent of the first, I noted that Biblical writers reserved for themselves the privilege to make moderate adjustments to prophetic oracles in order to help readers keep their place in the drama. The judgment on David's house in 2 Samuel 12:11 organizationally works to help readers keep their place. Perhaps (!) the actual oracle was adapted to that purpose.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What was God up to before creation?

In this post, I aim to clarify passages in the Bible that speak of God's actions or world/cosmic events that are said to happen "before" or "from" certain historical chronological markers. In the course of the study, I want to get a handle on whatever activities God was up to before the creation. There are two such markers that come up in Scripture. Those two markers are (1) "the foundation of the world" and (2) "before the ages." The most interesting discussion will be on the marker "before the ages;" but we will need to work up to it. We first need to address "the foundation of the world."

Sometimes, the phrase occurs as "from the foundation of the world" and sometimes it appears as "before the foundation of the world.

From the foundation of the world:
How should we read verses that say "from the foundation of the world?" Consider Hebrews 9:25-26.
25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. (NRSV)
It is clear in most translations that Jesus did not have to suffer again and again after the foundation of the world. The verse would make no sense if translated as before the foundation of the world. The Hebrews author is showing that the Lord's one sacrifice is far superior to the repeated sacrifices offered under the Mosaic system. While this clear understanding is fresh in our brains, let us read Revelation 13:8 which features the same Greek structure that NRSV translates in Hebrews 9:26 as "since the foundation...."
and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.
In the above reading, the focus is on names that were not written in the "book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered." In other translations, the focus is on the actual slaughter.
All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast―all those whose names have not been written in the Lamb's book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. (NIV2011)
Many people, when they read the above verse, hear in their minds, "... the Lamb who was slain before the creation of the world." In either case (the writing of names or the Lamb's slaughter), the chronological marker is after the foundation of the world. So after that time marker, the Lamb's book of life was in preparation (Revelation 3:9). It is also true that the Lamb was slaughtered after the foundation of the world.

Several more Bible passages also feature the phrase "from [after] the foundation of the world. They are Matthew 13:35; 25:34; Luke 11:50 and Revelation 17:8.

Before we move forward in this study, we should not ignore a translation issue with the term "foundation." There is very strong evidence that the word should be translated with the meaning of "falling" or "morally corrupting."

The word typically translated in the New Testament as "foundation" appears in verb form in 2 Corinthians 4:9 as "struck down" (NRSV).
8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
W. Scott Taylor wrote a little Greek study of the term. His conclusions can be read here. He concludes, in part:
An alternate translation that would be equally as admissible if not more so than the traditional rendering would be:
“In view of the fall, or moral descent of the inhabitants of the world or social order.”
Bill Petri presents a detailed analysis of the phrase here where he argues forcefully that the Greek word typically translated "foundation" should be translated with the meaning of a falling or moral decay. He argues that the reason most translators prefer "foundation" is that such a translation supports the traditional assumption of divine foreknowledge.

Therefore, in the above example of Revelation 13:8, an equally appropriate translation would be:
and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, anyone whose name has not been written since the moral corruption of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.
The Concordant Literal Version translates the verse this way:
And all who are dwelling on the earth will be worshiping it, everyone whose name is not written in the scroll of life of the Lambkin slain from the disruption of the world.
The CLV also translates Hebrews 9:26 (discussed above) this way:
since then He must often be suffering from the disruption of the world, yet now, once, at the conclusion of the eons, for the repudiation of sin through His sacrifice, is He manifest.
We may be well advised to avoid making too much of the meaning of "foundation of the world." While it may mean "the creation of the world" it can also (maybe more likely) mean "the great fall of mankind," referencing Genesis 6:5-6.

Before the foundation of the World:
Now that we are thoroughly suspicious of the meaning of "foundation of the world," we will look at the passages that feature the phrase, "before the foundation of the world." Each passage will be analyzed individually.

John 17:24
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
God loved Jesus before the world became corrupt. I have no problem with that understanding; nor do I have a problem with God loving Jesus even earlier, like, before the creation. One of the things God was "up to" before the foundation of the world is loving Jesus.

Ephesians 1:4
just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
In other words, it was in God's plan before this chronological marker that there would be a people (who turned out to be "us") that would receive his blessing of holiness and blamelessness. Whether that plan was formed before the corruption of mankind or before the creation does not seem to doctrinally matter. The reading of Genesis 2-3 reads to me that mankind was expected to be holy and blameless.

1 Peter 1:20
He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
From the context ("You... were ransomed... with the precious blood of Christ," 1 Peter 1:18-19), this verse smells like Jesus was destined before the great corruption, or before creation, to be redeemer. That smell is not correct. My favorite translation (NRSV) is terrible here! The word translated "destined" is the Greek word usually translated "foreknown." The translators apparently thought about "foreknown" and decided it didn't make a whole lot of sense since Jesus "was in the beginning with God" (John 1:2) so they figured Peter meant "destined." Well, "foreknown" means "known" in some contexts (Acts 26:5 and the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon 6:13) and "foreloved" in others (not in the "Biblical" sense). "Knew" means "loved" in these contexts: Amos 3:2; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 10:15; Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 7:22-23; I Corinthians 8:3; 2 Timothy 2:19. "Foreknew" can be understood as "knew" or "preloved." Sometimes the context makes clear the proper understanding. New American Bible Revised Edition gets it right (also ESV!, NASB, NET Bible, GW, World English Bible, Young's Literal).
He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you....
... although, I think, "He was loved..." makes better sense.

Before the time of eons:
There is a phrase in 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 that is often translated "before time began." A literal translation would be "before time eternal."

2 Timothy 1:9
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
To translate the phrase as "before eternity" really would not make sense. Translating the phrase as "before time began" assumes a lot. Firstly, it assumes that time had a beginning. Further, it assumes that something happened before time; and that assumption requires that time existed before time. What a contradiction! These difficulties seem to have motivated the translations that denote "a really-really long time ago." The meaning of the phrase has to mean "a really-really long time ago." Indeed, verses 9-10 have a feel of being quoted from a larger hymn or verbal liturgy (HarperCollins Study Bible notes). We might expect language that leans toward the poetic and less literal. The Expositor's Greek New Testament explains the Greek:
πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων: expresses the notion of that which is anterior to the most remote period in the past conceivable by any imagination that man knows of.
Greg Boyd summarizes the passage quite nicely.
God foreknew (because he foreordained) that there would be a class of people (believers) who would keep covenant with him, and he ordained that they would be showered with grace “before the ages."
That summary really works for this article; but I am motivated to root out what specifically was going on "ages ago" (RSV) in this verse. The New Interpreter's One Volume Commentary has this:
This power demonstrates God's grace, something that was always part of God's salvific plan even "before the ages began" and was made known or "revealed" (phaneroō) through the "appearing" (epiphaneia) of Christ Jesus in the flesh.
The commentator believes the focus is on God's graciousness as a permanent feature of God's character. Again, the New Interpreter's Bible Commentary has this:
“Before times eternal” refers to the eternal purpose of God, not to Christ (or “us”) as pre-existent.
I have to admit that the above understanding is not evident in my favorite translation, the NRSV. The NRSV's reading makes it sound like "Christ Jesus" was given "before the ages began," but the above scholars are comfortable rebuffing that understanding. The reading that it was God's grace that was given long ago (because it is an everlasting feature of his character) is much clearer in the NABRE translation.
He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.
A careful reading of the verse thus dispels the notion that the vocation of Jesus Christ as redeemer was necessarily something firmly set before creation or even before the sin of Adam and Eve.

Evidence that "before eternity" denotes a time not nearly as long ago as suggested by the literal meaning of the words is found in an examination of Titus 1:2.
1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, 2 in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began— 3 in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior, 4 To Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
The only way verse 2 can make sense is if it means that God promised eternal life to a prophet or a people a long time ago, but after Creation Week! Otherwise, to whom did God promise eternal life? The crazy thing about this particular promise is that the first notion of "eternal life" in the Bible comes at Daniel 12:1-2, in the second century B.C. That's less than 300 years before the writing of Titus! Paul is using flowery language in hyperbole to talk about God's work of redemption for eternal life through the word that Paul was preaching.

Here is what the Bible says about what God was up to before creation. Some of the divine activities are not necessarily pre-creation activities; but I am comfortable accepting them as such. God was up to:
(1) loving Jesus
(2) planning for a holy and blameless people
(3) being gracious―a divine character trait we enjoy today
That's about it. The Bible does not reveal a whole lot about what God was up to before creation; but I am comfortable accepting this short list.
posted from Bloggeroid