Joel and The Revelation: Sounding the Trumpet

ApollyonI have been teaching The Minor Prophets this semester and as we covered Joel I was struck by the use of Joel which John makes in the Revelation (particularly chapter 9) of the book of Joel. Here are some connections I noticed in my brief study (followed by a few random reflections):

  1. The sounding of trumpets (Joel 2.1; Rev.9.1, 13)
  2. An army of locusts (Joel 1.4; Rev.9.3)
  3. An innumerable army (Joel 1.6) and an army of 10,000 times 10,000 times 2 (Rev.9.16)
  4. “teeth like/of a lion” (Joel 1.6; Rev.9.7)
  5. Contrast between the utter destruction of plant life by the locusts (Joel 1.4-12) while the “locusts” in the Revelation are not allowed to do any harm to plant life (Rev.9.4)
  6. The locusts appear “like war horses” (Joel 2.4) or “like horses prepared for battle” (Rev.9.7)
  7. The armies of locusts each sound “like chariots” (Joel 2.5; Rev.9.9)
  8. Destruction by fire goes ahead and behind (Joel 2.3; Rev.9.18-19)
  9. Columns of smoke are directly connected to each (Joel 2.30; Rev.9.2-3)

In each, repentance should be the response. In Joel hope resounds by the end, but in the Revelation the people persist in their many idolatries (even as hope will be had by the overcomers by the end of that book).
Another preliminary thought concerning each: Joel 1 and 2 are often believed to be speaking about an “army” of locusts (1) and the armies of Babylon (2) though such a clear distinction cannot be made and likely (in my thinking) should not. If asked which is represented in chapter two I would answer, “Yes”. Both the “locusts” and the “Babylonians” seem intended. In regard to Revelation 9, it appears that perhaps the same issue is at stake where there is some distinction between each of these groups: the army of “locusts” and the demonic cavalry where the former only harms humans (but doesn’t kill) and the latter destroys everything and everyone before them up to a third of humankind. However, we have two armies represented that in some sense are reiterative of the movement between Joel 1 and 2 concerning the locusts and cavalry.

The Future of Biblical Interpretation: A Book Review

Future of Biblical InterpretationThanks to IVP Academic for providing a review copy of Porter, Stanley E. and Matthew R. Malcolm, eds., The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013), 176pp.
I offer the following review of this volume:

The Bible encompasses a plurality of voices, not only in genre but in perspective. And not surprisingly, interpreters of the Bible have generated a plurality of interpretations. How might biblical scholars work responsibly with and within this plurality? And what are the future directions or possibilities for biblical hermeneutics?
The essays in The Future of Biblical Interpretation originated in a conference held in honor of Anthony C. Thiselton, who is well known for his important work in hermeneutics and New Testament interpretation. After an opening essay by Thiselton on “The Future of Biblical Interpretation and Responsible Plurality in Hermeneutics,” the contributors look at the issues from a variety of angles—theological, scriptural, kerygmatic, historical, critical, ecclesial and relational. The result is an engaging conversation exploring responsible and productive interpretation of the Bible. A must-read for anyone seriously engaged in biblical scholarship today. [the preceding is from IVP Academic, see their press release: HERE]
CONTENTS:
Introduction
Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm
1. The Future of Biblical Interpretation and Responsible Plurality in Hermeneutics
Anthony C. Thiselton
2. Biblical Hermeneutics and Theological Responsibility
Stanley E. Porter
3. Biblical Hermeneutics and Scriptural Responsibility
Richard S. Briggs
4. Biblical Hermeneutics and Kerygmatic Responsibility
Matthew R. Malcolm
5. Biblical Hermeneutics and Historical Responsibility
James D. G. Dunn
6. Biblical Hermeneutics and Critical Responsibility
Robert C. Morgan
7. Biblical Hermeneutics and Relational Responsibility
Tom Greggs
8. Biblical Hermeneutics and Ecclesial Responsibility
R. Walter L. Moberly
Conclusion
Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm

Porter and Malcolm are to be commended for this very fine (and brief) volume. The contributors are all well-regarded in their own rights and many of the contributions offer helpful proposals for responsibility in Biblical interpretation. Essentially this volume proposes a sort of responsible “concordant polyphony” of interpretation (p.10). How these divergent voices are to be held in a sort of harmonic tension is another issue (as the editors note in their conclusion). The variant voices offered here tend toward a plurality of approaches to interpretation rather than simply a plurality of interpretations.
Chiefest of the contributions, from my perspective, were Anthony Thiselton’s open-ended suggestions for the future of Biblical interpretation and Richard Briggs’ Scriptural responsibility. Thiselton astutely notes that one cannot know the direction of Biblical interpretation despite seeing the directions it has taken and is taking. He thus refers to “future possibilities” rather than “future directions” (p.24). His “possibilities” are worth mentioning: (1) a genuine confluence between general hermeneutics and actual exegesis of Scripture, (2) the call to engage the text of Scripture as “Other” rather than simply self-reflection, (3) an equal weighting of the voices of Scripture, (4) a move beyond the greatest extremes of interpretive theory, (5) continued appropriation and development of Speech-Act Theory, and (6) a proper use of literary theories in hearing the voice/s of Scripture.
Briggs’ chapter proposes “four specific theological construals of Scripture that might productively frame Christian wrestling with hermeneutical plurality: two testaments, in a creative set of theological tensions, as a means of grace, and held together dialogically as the communicative acts of the one God who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and also the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (p.69). This is his manner of proposing a Christian reading of the Scriptures we hold by faith and confession. He argues it is not a responsible reading that thinks one should read apart from their commitment of faith to God in Christ as confessed by all the Church everywhere. This is, to my thinking, imperative for Christian interpreters of Scripture. Walter Moberly seems to offer a similar stream of thought within the framework of “canon”. His contribution might equally offer a helpful aim for understanding responsible Christian interpretation of the texts gathered and affirmed as authoritative for and by the Church.
Along a similar trajectory is Malcolm’s contribution. He argues for a “primed” and “faithful” interpreter (pp.81-84). This is understood to be an interpreter who holds the public confession of Christ as Lord as central to responsible interpretation of Scripture. Tom Greggs (Relational Responsibility), more specifically, speaks to a Protestant hearing of Sola Scriptura grounded in his understanding of the ecumenical creeds of the early centuries.
Less helpful contributions by James Dunn (historical responsibility) and Stanley Porter (theological responsibility) are also worth mentioning. (My appraisal of their work may be tangential to my own perspective on other related issues). Dunn offers a fine reminder of the situatedness of the Biblical texts (or any text for that matter) as well as of the interpreter. This is a necessary reminder. He does, however, seem to offer essentially his own (once again) offering of a re-reading of Paul in the strain of the “new perspective”. In this sense, I find him helpful and unhelpful. His methodology being helpful, his conclusions less than. Robert Morgan (Critical Responsibility), likewise, argues from a more thorough-going historical-critical perspective from within his own understanding of a NT theological perspective particularly with regard to the descriptions of the Jesus of history and Christ of faith.
The reason I do not find Porter’s chapter to be as helpful as others might be his (seemingly) over negative appraisal of theological interpretation in its contemporary trending. He argues for a “Biblical hermeneutic” against simply a “Biblical interpretation”. The former referring to the broader notions of theory and the latter to specific approaches to the text (or at least that is how I understand his approach). Hermeneutics is broad (entailing the interpreter as well), while interpretation is supposedly narrow and involves “processes and techniques” (p.31). I appreciate his attempts to delineate the two, but perhaps this is nuancing in ways others here have not and might themselves find unfruitful. Following his trajectory, he proposes a theological hermeneutic against a theological interpretation. Again, I find certain aspects of his approach to be helpful, while also seeming to be overly critical apart from a genuine appraisal of specifics. [Perhaps what is really needed is my own further interaction with other writings of Porter to better grapple with his approach]
Perhaps one of the most poignant comments for many of those who might make use of a volume like this was Walter Moberly’s personal narrative interwoven within his discussion of Ecclesial Responsibility:

“the way the Bible is taught in divinity schools and seminaries in the US…[is] not fit for [the ecclesial purpose of producing] future leaders of churches who will spend much time reading and interpreting Biblical texts, can finish their studies and still be relatively clueless about how to handle these texts well in the situations in which they find themselves” (p.134, referring to the comparable appraisal of Dale B. Martin, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal [Louisville and London: Westminster John Knox, 2008]).

That is a danger, all too real, that it would be hoped The Future of Biblical Interpretation might aid in remedying in part by at least raising the imperative questions of (as the subtitle claims) responsible plurality in Biblical hermeneutics. This is a welcome volume that should be incorporated into hermeneutic reading requirements for graduate level courses in Biblical hermeneutics and it is a fine praise to the tremendous contributions of the scholarship of Anthony Thiselton.
_____________
See what other reviewers have to say:
Nate Claiborne
Jim West (forthcoming)

Daniel Block on Inductive Study

Daniel Block offers some basic (but essential) advice to students of Scripture to study the text as primary, rather than turning to other sources first.

“When you are wrestling with biblical texts, wrestle with the texts.”

(see more at Koinonia).

How NOT to Interpret the OT Law

WrongThe Resurgence has posted The Beginner’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Law and offered the commonly received Reformed categorization of the Torah as ceremonial, civil and moral. The problem is that this is an external distinction not found in the text of Scripture itself. And while it may be helpful as a basic categorization to separate what is still “in force” for the Church, it offers a system that creates its own problems which are foreign to the Torah itself.
On the other side, J. Daniel Hays (“Applying the Old Testament Law Today” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 [Jan-Mar 2001]: 21-35) wrote a terrific treatment on the topic where he discusses why such categories are not as helpful as many have been led to believe. Here are his concluding remarks:

The traditional approach of dividing the Mosaic Law into civil, ceremonial, and moral laws violates proper hermeneutical method, for it is inconsistent and arbitrary, and the Old Testament gives no hint of such distinctions. This approach errs in two ways. On the one hand it dismisses the civil and ceremonial laws as inapplicable. On the other hand it applies the so-called moral laws as direct law. In addition the traditional approach tends to ignore the narrative context and the covenant context of the Old Testament legal material.
Principlism, an alternative approach, seeks to find universal principles in the Old Testament legal material and to apply these principles to believers today. This approach is more consistent than the traditional one, and it is more reflective of sound hermeneutical method. It also allows believers to see that all Scripture is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Joseph Kelly blogged about this last year in relation to Rachel Held Evans “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” (and Tim Keller’s review of it) wherein he argues she likewise subscribes to the “naïvete” of such distinctions in the Law. He notes that mainstream Biblical scholarship has largely moved from such distinctions (even though I note it has had little effect on the wider churches’ understanding and application of the Torah).

Playing with Gadamer

“What man needs is not just the persistent posing of ultimate questions, but the sense of what is feasible, what is possible, what is correct, here and now.” (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method [trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall; 2nd rev.ed.; New York: Continuum, 2002], p.xxxviii).Gadamer

In my “leisure” reading, I’m working through a number of volumes dealing with interpretive theory and the history of Biblical hermeneutics. One of these volumes is Stanley E. Porter & Jason C. Robinson’s Hermeneutics: An Introduction to Interpretive Theory (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011). Porter and Robinson provide biographical context to each of the influential theorists which are included, like Schleiermacher, Heidegger, Ricoeur, Derrida, Thiselton, and Vanhoozer. Among these (and others), they discuss the philosophical hermeneutic of Hans-Georg Gadamer.
What strikes me is Gadamer’s sense of “play” (Spiel) in relation to what he describes as the “fusion of horizons” (the interplay of the horizon of reader with that of the text where neither is unaltered by this discourse). The rejection of notions of abstract objectivity and duly the rejection of total personal subjectivity are key. Gadamer tries to offer a more realist approach that believes the two horizons work in a dialectical interchange.

“Gadamer’s hermeneutics is concerned with establishing a dialectic or open-ended questioning and answering between the past and present, and between the world and the interpreter. Knowledge is about more than simply taking a good look to see what is there. It is a product of asking sincere questions that we do not already know the answers to, answers that may surprise and even disappoint our expectations.” (Porter & Robinson, Introduction, p.80).

For Gadamer there can be no getting at another’s meaning (text, art, conversation) apart from genuine interplay between the horizons: an openness to the “other” that cannot predetermine answers  to the questions without failing to genuinely interact toward fullest understanding.

“Understanding is more than merely re-creating another’s meaning. It occurs when we appreciate questionableness and open-endedness, and when we begin working out available possibilities.” (Porter& Robinson, Interpretation, p.101)

Further, this pertains to the study of Scripture. We cannot (following Gadamer’s proposal) approach Scripture for understanding apart from an openness to hear answers and be asked questions which we could not have imagined beforehand and may not even immediately agree with. “[T]o read a biblical passage and allow the text to speak for itself may mean that the interpreter comes away from it frustrated and disappointed because what was said was not expected or desired. Such is an indication of a genuine play, dialogue, and an encounter with difference that offers new truth” (Porter & Robinson, Interpretation, p.94).
This was readily apparent in the college course I taught last semester on the books Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. If one can read these books without being troubled about the world and the God of Israel who is the maker of heaven and earth, then was has not truly taken care to interact with these texts. This account of Israel and her God intentionally disturbs our consciences. It stirs us to question what we think we know about this God.
So what do you think? Does this “fusion of horizons” via the openness of genuine interplay help your thinking about how best to understand Scripture?

Literature for Ethics and Theology

image

“Literature is important for ethics because literature is as complicated as life itself, and cannot be decoded or boiled down. Ethical insight comes from reading it–first sequentially and then reflectively–not from trying to extract a ‘message’ from it.”*

This is one of the primary problems I have witnessed in folks reading and preaching from the OT. There is a strong tendency to undo the complexities inherent to the ethics (or theology) of the text and instead seek an abstracted principle that fails to do justice to the fullest intent of the text.
We like to simplify. The problem is that life is not so simple. Ethics (and theology) are not so simple. The teaching of truth in prose or storied form allows for far more complexities to remain including leaving some questions open-ended. And that is a good, even when troubling, thing.
——-
* John Barton, Understanding Old Testament Ethics: Approaches and Explanations (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003), p.63.

Hungry with Questions

Mosaic in the Church of the Multiplication of ...
Yesterday I preached from Matthew 15:29-39 about the feeding of the 4,000 (men, less women and children and not to be confused with the feeding of the 5,000 men plus women and children [Matthew 14:13-21]):

29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan. (NIV)

These are a few of the questions and thoughts I had in my study (and some made it to the message):
* Why did Jesus wait “three days” before the miracle? Or why only wait “three days”? (v.32)
* Folks would be coming and going over the course of the “three days” and it struck me that Jesus chose to act at that point in time with the folks who were gathered at that moment.
* How many of those gathered might be thought to be so hungry and weak that they might “collapse on the way” to get food elsewhere? (v.32) Most, I would imagine would be perfectly fine, but apparently the compassion of Jesus was sufficiently strong toward those who were too weak to go longer that he chose to feed everyone in order to care specifically for the immediate needs of the few.
* Jesus had already fed crowds, now he does it again. Was he really teaching his disciples about the nature of the “God of Israel” who healed the mute, crippled, lame, and blind, and then would feed the masses? (vv.30-31, 36)
* How many of the folks who ate this time had been present for the earlier feeding of the 5,000?
*Whose lunch was taken that day to make lunch for everyone? And why did Jesus only ask about bread, yet his disciples offer bread and fish? (v.34)
* How long would it have taken the disciples to serve all those thousands? How long would it have taken to disperse with the “seven basketfuls of broken pieces left over” to still others who were not present for the initial feeding (since they couldn’t eat all that before it would go bad)? (v.37)
* If the food could be multiplied sufficiently to feed 4,000 men plus women and children, then what was the intention of seven (large) basketfuls of leftovers?
Yep. I tend to have a LOT of random questions and thoughts as I read Scripture. And it just makes me hungry for more. So what questions do you have about this passage? Do you take the time to ask questions of the text and allow a “sanctified imagination” to work through such texts? Do you find certain questions more helpful than others?

Forever Listening to the Spirit

I recently read something by Lesslie Newbigin (that great missionary statesman of the twentieth century) that struck a chord with me.  He wrote the following concerning the Jerusalem congregation’s recognition of the validity of the Gentile mission that Peter had just returned from (Acts 10-11):

“They were silenced because they had to recognize something new. Jesus had never spoken or acted to call in question the law of circumcision (as he had called in question the law of the Sabbath). The Church was entering a new way which it had not trodden before. Nor did the Church formulate a new policy in this matter by reflection upon and development of the remembered words of Jesus. It was a fresh action of the living Spirit which confronted the Church with the necessity for a new decision. ‘The word of Jesus is not a collection of doctrines that is in need of supplementation, nor is it a developing principle that will only be unfolded in the history of ideas; as the Spirit’s proclamation it always remains the word spoken into the world from beyond’ (Bultmann). But this word is the word of Jesus; it is not another word. The work of the Spirit does not lead past, or beyond, or away from Jesus.” (The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B.Eerdmans, 1982, pp.216-7)

We, as well, cannot simply treat the Scriptures as a comprehensive list (or we may end up being no different than some of the Pharisees of Jesus’ own day–unless we take the New Pauline Perspective on the Pharisees as genuine) of do’s and don’t’s. In every age we are called to listen to the voice of the Spirit which is the voice of the Lord Jesus speaking to His Church the very words of his Father. None of this is to suggest that there will be any discord between what God has spoken, is speaking and will speak. The Scriptures are our measure, but the Scriptures are not simply words that can be adopted apart from the working of the Holy Spirit within us. This means that in all of our hearing, we must press in to hear exactly what the Spirit is saying and once we have heard…to obey.