I was asked by a student if the early Jews (of the second Temple period) held to a canon of the likes of the later Church.
Here is my brief response:
No. There was considerable debate. For instance, the Sadducees of Jesus’ day only held to the Torah/Pentateuch. They rejected everything else. Same with the Samaritans. The Pharisees seem to represent a group that held to what we know as the OT (which was a collection of 22/24 scrolls equivalent to our 39). While the community (?) at Qumran seems to have held to a wider idea of sacred Scripture that included other texts. And still others, Greek speaking Jews, made use of what we have come to call the Apocrypha or Deuterocanon later received in the Roman Catholic tradition.
This causes me pause with regard to the certitude we can occasionally speak with regarding our ideas of canonicity. These are questions complicated by the communities we find ourselves a part of and the traditions we have received.
For the last several years I’ve provided my congregation with several potential Bible reading plans included in our Sunday bulletin the first of the year: M’Cheyne Reading Plan (with several variables) and For Shirkers and Slackers.
The former offers an intensive reading of the NT books as part of the program. It is quite a decent reading program, but also quite intensive. The latter offers a reader for certain days (Sundays: Poetry; Mondays: Pentateuch [Genesis through Deuteronomy]; Tuesdays: Old Testament history; Wednesdays: Old Testament history; Thursdays: Old Testament prophets; Fridays: Gospels and Acts; Saturdays: New Testament epistles [letters]). This one does not offer a day-by-day calendar through the year (like M’Cheyne and many others), but instead only certain days of the week with plenty of buffer built in for “slacking and shirking”. One guess which one I use myself. 😉
While it would be preferred to read better (e.g., using an inductive method, or even lectio divina) rather than simply to read more (and we all know the “guilt” one can feel at times as an Evangelical who doesn’t read “enough”…whatever that is supposed to mean), it is still a tremendous blessing to one’s life to willfully submit to the reading (“hearing”) of Scripture on a regular basis, and to allow the whole canon of Scripture to speak into our lives and conform us to the image of Christ.
We really don’t lack in resources to aid in reading the Scriptures, what we lack is simply the passion to do so. There are a plethora of resources available to aid the disciple desirous of reading more of Scripture…like HERE or HERE. So let’s get reading!
Originally published by myself at bluechippastors.org on January 1, 2013.
As someone who serves as an Instructor in Old Testament at one college (Providence University College and Theological Seminary) and an Assistant Professor whose primary focus is in Old Testament at another college (Trinity Bible College), this question has significant concern for me.
Yet, more significantly this question is of paramount concern for me as one who professes faith in Christ…that is, it is a thoroughly Christian question that must be answered in the affirmative. What do you think about John Oswalt’s “Seven Minute Seminary” answer to this question? Recommended Reading
Seitz, Christopher R., The Character of Christian Scripture: The Significance of a Two-Testament Bible (Studies in Theological Interpretation; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011).
Suffice it to say that one spends several years learning basic skills in reading and interpreting the Hebrew Bible, but then after all the “rules” one learns (whether those passed down from Medieval Masoretes or ancient scholastics schooled in Greek and Latin works), suddenly one enters the strange world of Hebrew “Poetry”.
This strange new world does not follow the “rules” one has just spent years memorizing and practicing. Now an altogether new adventure commences wherein such “rules” simply fail to guide the linguistic adventurer along her path to understanding and appreciation.
So what sort of journey is this and how does one find their way while avoiding the many pitfalls of previous generations of students of the ancient text form? What follows will be a multi-part, multi-layered map (of sorts…or so it is hoped).
To begin with one must come to the realization that Biblical Hebrew knows nothing of “poetry”, but practices the poetic with great fluidity. What is the difference? To begin with, there is no word or words in the Hebrew text which might be translated “poetry”. There are words for song (משכיל or שיר), proverbial sayings and riddles (משל), but none for “poetry” specifically. In fact, “poetry” is a construct one uses to try to categorize what is happening at the level of literary genre. As a construct (and one technically foreign to Hebrew) it creates its own issues.
English poetry is marked by such features as meter, rhythm, and rhyme, but Hebrew is not marked as such. The typical explanations of what makes a certain Hebrew text “poetic” are notions of “meter” and “parallelism” (both of which will be discussed in future posts — other features which bear discussion are “terseness” and “imagery”). But such constructs are difficult to follow through with once one begins to actually examine the Hebrew texts available. There are clearly non-literary texts (narrative, for instance, like Exodus 2:1-7) which have notable meter and parallelisms. There are also texts belonging to corpora clearly intended to be poetic which offer little in the way of meter or clear parallelisms throughout (such as the well-known Psalm 23). Highly problematic for discerning what is “poetry” and what is “prose” is the writings of the prophets. Their works offer something of a bizarre admixture of all varieties of such categorizations without fitting either very well. There is a fluidity of such strictures that points toward a need to reject formal constraints on what constitutes “poetry” and “prose” in the Hebrew texts.
To close, James Kugel has fittingly imaged this polarity and its demise:
…the categories of prose and poetry imply too sharp, and total, a polarity: to use only these terms is to describe sections of the skyline as consisting either of ‘building’ or ‘no building.’
Of course, there is a case to be made for the use of the term ‘poetry’ in regard to some parts of the Bible. It has, as noted, an approximate validity, and is sanctioned by a centuries-old tradition. But it is not a perfect fit; and since ancient Israel seems to have gotten along without any corresponding term, it might be better for modern critics to enclose the phrase ‘biblical poetry,’ at least mentally, in quotation marks. (The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1998] p.86)
So this is why I’ve labeled this series “On Hebrew Poetics”. It is to attempt to point toward poetic notions without the strictures of imposing ‘rules’ of ‘poetry’ on a text which resists all attempts to frame such constructs, yet at every turn offers poetic sensibilities.
_________________ You may also be interested in:
Here are my “Seven Leadership Principles (Hopefully No One Has Ever Taught) From Ezra-Nehemiah” (I’m still waiting on the book deal):
(7) Demand that all members divorce any foreigners (Ezra 9-10)
(6) Remove from membership anyone missing a special business meeting (Ezra 10:8)
(5) Always carry a weapon to attack those who oppose your work (or have body-guards to do it for you) (Neh.4:16-23)
(4) Toss your opponent’s stuff outside of your facilities if you really oppose them (Neh.13:8)
(3) Threaten anyone for not obeying your commands (Neh.13:21)
(2) Curse men with children who don’t speak your language (Neh.13:23-25)
(1) Beat up and then pull the hair of those who disobey you (Neh.13:25)
I’m surprised no one else has created this amazing leadership list with all the others I’ve seen in the past. Good thing I’m copyrighting it by posting it to my blog. 🙂
What are your thoughts on the foundational grounds of a doctrinal statement? This is where doctrinal statements (and creeds) begin. Is the Church better served by a statement which flows from the doctrine of God as foundational (exemplified by the Gospel Coalition statement) or the doctrine of Scripture as foundational (such as the one adopted by my own fellowship–which is very typical of Evangelical statements as far as initial points go even if it is quite distinct to Pentecostalism in its latter points)? D.A.Carson and Tim Keller write concerning their approach in developing the Gospel Coalition‘s statement:
“This is significant. The Enlightenment was overconfident about human rationality. Some strands of it assumed it was possible to build systems of thought on unassailable foundations that could be absolutely certain to unaided human reason. Despite their frequent vilification of the Enlightenment, many conservative evangelicals have nevertheless been shaped by it. This can be seen in how many evangelical statements of faith start with the Scripture, not with God. They proceed from Scripture to doctrine through rigorous exegesis in order to build (what they consider) an absolutely sure,
The problem is that this is essentially a foundationalist approach to knowledge. It ignores the degree to which our cultural location affects our interpretation of the Bible, and it assumes a very rigid subject-object distinction. It ignores historical theology, philosophy, and cultural reflection. Starting with the Scripture leads readers to the overconfidence that their exegesis of biblical texts has produced a system of perfect doctrinal truth. This can create pride and rigidity because it may not sufficiently acknowledge the fallenness of human reason.
We believe it is best to start with God, to declare (with John Calvin, Institutes 1.1) that without knowledge of God we cannot know ourselves, our world, or anything else. If there is no God, we would have no reason to trust our reason.”
I, for one, appreciate the greater embracing of the relational nature of doctrine (“subjectivity” in its most positive sense) as foundational and find it to be a better indicator of this thing we call being disciples of Christ. It speaks to the inner relation and being of God (as unity in trinity and trinity in unity) as the grounds of all else. All that can and must be said of God flows from God’s self-revelation in His Word and Spirit. For a terrific reading on how D.A.Carson develops his theology check out the article “D.A.Carson’s Theological Method” by Andrew Naselli in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 29.2 (Autumn 2011): 245-272.
The more I study the Scriptures, the more I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the Scriptures…and by the God who has inspired writers in their own day and culture to write with beauty. The deeper I dig, the more treasures I discover. It never ceases to amaze me what depths of literary fashioning the Scriptures have been formed by. Thankfully others have helped along the way (for a very concise introduction to literary reading, see 5 Strategies for Reading the Bible as Literature; better yet, pick up a copy of Leland Ryken’s brief “How to Read the Bible as Literature” [Zondervan, 1984]).
One of my assignments I’ve given my Former Prophets class is to write a brief “Literary” research paper. I was surprised to read some of their topics: mirroring, poetic analysis, characterization, irony, wordplay, inclusios, and chiasms (among others). Even their papers remind me of the depths of the creativity which pertains to God’s creation (of these students, the writers of Scripture, and the Scripture itself). God is creative beyond comprehension…it should not therefore surprise us that God’s word to us is so creative as well.
The first assignment of the semester for my Former Prophets class was to read Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings in two different translations and give me several pages of questions, comments, and insights about the texts. They could also include things which stood out to them in comparing/contrasting the translations they chose.
I must say I’m impressed with their work. There are wonderful questions and comments on the theology, literary insights, historical intention, and culture of Israel. I think one of the most exhilarating things for me is noting all of the things which were noticed by those who had never read these books or never taken time to pay attention when they heard the stories in the past. I LOVE being able to teach when folks are just hearing these stories for the first time (even if its the “first time” again).
That’s also something I LOVE about pastoring…when I get to share stories which folks haven’t heard or have not heard in the way they are shared. It opens new vistas into the wonder of God’s revelation in Scripture and the unfolding of God’s work in the world. I LOVE what I do!!!
And I actually learn more and love the LORD more as a result!