Leviticus appears to be arranged in a chiastic order (see here). That is, it is arranged in a mirror-image. This is best understood visually.
Notice that the first and final chapters match. These both describe rituals, whether sacrifices and offerings (Lev 1-7) or festivals (Lev 23-25). The next chapters, moving inwards, are also parallel: they both address the ordination of the priesthood (Lev 8-10) and the moral requirements of the priests (Lev 21-22). Moving inwards we find, ceremonial purity (Lev 11-15) and moral purity (Lev 17-20). This brings us to the final and central unit, the day of atonement, which finds no parallel within the book. This means that it is the centre of Leviticus itself. In fact, the Day of Atonement is the centre of the Torah, given that Leviticus is the central book (another chiastic structure).
My wife drew this amazing promo picture for the class I am teaching at CCB. She built it around the chiastic structure. The wheat and birds match the food on the right, showing the Ritual section. The anointing oil and blood of the ram match the bald and disqualified priest on the right in the Priesthood section. The grasshopper and fish match the unequal scales on the right in the Purity section. Then finally in the centre we have the Day of Atonement. Amazing, right?
This results in a seven-fold structure (a number that occurs frequently within the book) that is easy to memorize. For such a complicated book, we need all the help we can get!
Randy (over at Bible Study with Randy) and I just put up an episode about chiasms on Beyond Reading the Bible.
Though widely admired, Ruth is often misunderstood. Too often have I seen Ruth lumped in with Esther (and maybe Proverbs 31) as the “books for women” since these are apparently the few sections of Scripture about women and for women. Such an attitude is a disservice to everyone involved, as all Scripture is for women, these books are for men too, and the purpose of the books themselves is overlooked. Though its beauty as a love story cannot be ignored, Ruth was not preserved in Scripture as a sanctified romance novel. Don’t get me started. Thankfully, Daniel Block avoids such marginalisation and sentimentality in his recent Ruth commentary.
Veteran commentator Daniel Block has provided the latest volume in the newly renamed Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament (ZECOT). Ruth joins Jonah and Obadiah in the still new series, previously known as Hearing the Message of Scripture, which aims to “help serious students of Scripture, as well as those charged with preaching and teaching the Word of God, to hear the messages of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard” (p10). What sets this commentary apart is the focus not just on what the biblical writers said, but how it is said. In other words, discourse analysis is utilized to follow the train of thought. To achieve this end, each unit of text is analyzed from several angles:
- Main idea of the passage. Short summary of the key idea(s).
- Literary context. How this unit relates to its surrounding context.
- Translation and exegetical outline. Commentator’s translation and discourse structure of the unit.
- Structure and literary form. How the literary structure and rhetoric of the author contributes to their point.
- Explanation of the text. Similar to most commentaries, but with particular attention to how the biblical authors use their own language.
- Canonical and practical significance. Connections to other Scripture, including the NT.
This is not Block’s first commentary on Ruth. In 1999, he provided the well-received NAC volume on Judges and Ruth. In the near-20 years since, Block has had the chance to “rehear the biblical author and to reflect even more deeply on its message and the literary strategies the author employed to get that message across” (p13). For Block, this both confirmed some opinions in his earlier work and required reevaluation of others. In addition to years of developing thought on the book, the new focus on literary structure in particular sets this commentary apart from his earlier work.
In his introduction, Block criticizes the post-exilic consensus of critical scholarship and tentatively proposes Ruth as dated to Josiah’s reign (540-609 BC). Though it is a story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, Block suggests that the purpose of Ruth is “to explain the origins of David and Israel’s royal line” (p38) and this is recognized by its placement between Judges and Samuel in the tradition preceding the Septuagint order. Also included is discussion on the literary style, intertextuality, and canonical positioning of Ruth.
Block reads Ruth as a drama of sorts, and as such Ruth is divided into an introduction (1:1-5), conclusion (4:18-22) and four acts (1:6-22; 2:1-23; 3:1-18; 4:1-17), with acts divided into 2-3 smaller scenes. Most unexpected is the “Dramatic Reading of the Book of Ruth” in the appendix, where Block provides a several-page script for six individuals to act out the narrator and characters in a public performance.
The commentary proper is thorough and wide-ranging. Block is particularly attentive to how the story is told, noting irony, tension, and rhetoric in the text. This is seen in Block’s commentary on Ruth 1:1-5, verses easily overlooked as simply setting the stage for the meat of the story. Instead, Block notes small but significant details such as the author withholding the name of “the supposed main character” (p65) in Ruth 1:1. In fact, “his location seems more important than his name” (p65). Block’s attentive reading of the text allows him to draw out drama even between verses 1 and 2!
Block’s attention to the rhetoric of Ruth leads to interesting insights that raise equally interesting questions about historicity and the nature of Scripture. For example, Elimelech’s sons Mahlon likely derives from the Hebrew “to be sick” and his brother Chilion “frailty, mortality”. In light of the author’s rhetorical intention, the secondary nature of the characters, and the unlikeliness that they would be christened with these names, “these are probably artificial names like ‘Sicko’ or ‘Kaput,’ created to function as nomen omens, preparing hearers for the intensification of the crisis about to strike Naomi” (p68). In other words, since their historical names don’t matter, the author has provided fitting names that spice up the story. This is also seen in the potential redeemer of Naomi (Ruth 4:1). Many translations render the Hebrew peloni almoni as “my friend” or “calling him by name”. However, Block suggests that the “rhyming words suggest an artificial creation, a whimsical word-play” (p205) like hodge-podge, hocus-pocus, or more appropriately, Joe Schmoe. In other words, again, the historical name of this man is unimportant but literarily what matters is that this generic man is introduced as a foil to Boaz. Though he appears a threat at first, “he would shortly disappear from the drama as a nameless character” (p207).
As with other volumes in the ZECOT series, Ruth contains several diagrams, tables and images in addition to the visual discourse analysis of each unit. Far from eye candy, these are used to aid understanding of a given passage.
My criticisms are few. Most odd to me is Block’s attempts to avoid any link between Boaz and Christ, as “neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the NT explicitly makes this connection”; instead suggesting that “if any character in the book functions typologically as the Messiah it should be Obed” (p55). Block’s carefulness is appreciated but unusual.
It must be admitted that I write this review as one unversed in Ruth scholarship, so my comments ought be read as such. Block’s commentary is well rounded with the expected focus on literary analysis. Block’s skill as a commentator allow him to comfortably switch between addressing application and technical elements of Hebrew. Though the ZECOT series has a particular focus, this competent volume could easily be used as a single commentary for teaching through Ruth.
Many thanks to Zondervan for providing a review copy.
Buy Ruth (ZECOT) from Amazon
Next week I will be teaching an 8-week course (“journey” sounds less scholastic) through Leviticus at Calvary Chapel Bothell. I have taught for 6 years at a Bible College in York, UK, but this is my first attempt to bring a similar experience to the church environment. The goal is to understand the book a) first, on its on right and b) as a Christian. My own study of the book has been deeply impacting and I cannot wait to share it with others.
If you live near the Bothell area of Washington, I’d love to see you there!
You can find out more at Calvary Chapel Bothell’s page, or through contacting me at lindsay [at] ccbothell.com.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am working through two chapters of Zondervan’s Four Views on Hell: Eternal Conscious Torment (Denny Burk) and Terminal Punishment (John Stackhouse). See my previous post on Burk’s chapter.
John Stackhouse: Terminal Punishment
Stackhouse articulates and defends the view often known as annihilationism or conditional immorality, though he prefers “terminal punishment” as a label. In his words, “hell is the situation in which those who do not avail themselves of the atonement made by Jesus in his suffering and death must make their own atonement by suffering and then death, separated from the sustaining life of God and thus disappearing from the cosmos” (p61-62). Human beings enter hell because they have refused the goodness of God and thus the source of all life. Therefore “there is nothing in themselves to sustain or regain their existence, and so they vanish once they have paid their debt” (p66).
For Stackhouse, hell is a destination, a place of purifying fire (often resulting in destruction), and a dump where evil is destroyed. Hell is “the fire of God’s goodness” that never goes out because His “resistance to evil…[is] simply part of the divine character” (p64).
Rather than detailed exegesis of a handful of texts (like Burk), Stackhouse builds his argument in several stages.
- “Eternal” means final. For example eternal judgment (Heb 6:1-2) does not refer to the act of God sitting on the judge chair in judicial deliberation for all eternity, but rather the final verdict. Eternal redemption (Heb 9:11-12) does not refer to Christ forever dying, but a final and complete redemption accomplished by Him. Eternal destruction (2 Thess 1:9) is not an endless process of being destroyed, but an irreversible and final one. Eternal sin (Mark 3:28-29) does not refer to partaking in a sinful act for all eternity, but one that has final consequences. This is all to say that the eternal character of hell is not eternal punishing, but primarily the finality of punishment.
- The meaning of “destroy” and “death” must be taken seriously. “literally dozens and dozens [of texts] speak of the destiny of the lost as termination, end, disappearance, eradication, annihilation, and vanishing” (p69). The point is that death is the consequence of sin (John 3:16). 2 Peter 2:6 is another example.
- The gracious character of God. Hell is final and terrible, but terminal punishment is more consistent with God’s character, being “no worse than it has to be”, in contrast to Eternal Conscious Torment’s “appalling image of a perpetual tormenter” (p81).
Stackhouse’s chapter was well written, a balance of balanced rhetoric, philosophy, theology. However, in the end it was a little scant on exegesis. I wish more time had been spent on displaying the raw data of the OT and NT in regards to the consequences of sin. It is quite overwhelming when one recognizes that death is the punishment for sin; passages saying as much are everywhere. However, Stackhouse did not spend much time here.
I have primarily three questions with his chapter
- I take issue with Stackhouse’s one-sided emphasis that hell is a destination mankind chooses to enter, whilst neglecting, or at least downplaying, the reality that it is a punishment that God does assign. This is seen in quotes such as “hell is not a destination that God arbitrarily assigns to the recalcitrant sinner. Hell is simply the natural result of a moral agent choosing to separate from God, the source of life, and go some other way…” (p63, emphasis added). Passages such as Matt 10:28 and Rev 20:11-15 make it clear that hell is not simply a place one chooses to enter, but it is in fact God’s judgment. This is the case whether one accepts the traditional or conditional viewpoints.
- Stackhouse refers to unbelievers “[vanishing] once they have paid their debt” (p66). However, this raises the question that if one can and does atone for their own sin, why can they not then enter into eternal life? For Stackhouse, “the final result of sin is death (Rom 6:23)” (p64), but other annihilationists hold that death itself is (at least part of) the judgment, thus overcoming the problem I am raising here. For them, since death is part of the punishment, it will not be overturned. In Stackhouse’s presentation, I am not sure why God does not simply resurrect the self-atoned into eternal life.
- Most problematic for the annihilation/terminal punishment view, to my mind, are Revelation 14:10-11 and Rev 20:10. I don’t think Stackhouse (nor any other I’ve read/heard) is satisfying in their answer, other than to point out that these most unique and explicit of texts are found Revelation, a highly symbolic book. But I still find it hard to swallow that “the extravagant phrasing John uses here depicts a total defeat of God’s enemies and the destruction of all who opposed God” (p72-73).
As I mentioned with Burk’s chapter, Revelation 20:10, 14-15 and Rev 14:9-11 appear the most difficult hurdles to overcome for the annihilationist. Though Stackhouse gave a good argument, I’m not convinced by his treatment of these two passages.
Questions and comments are welcome!
Thanks to Zondervan for providing a review copy!
Hell is a sobering topic to say the least, but it must be studied if we want to understand God and represent His word. The time is ripe to reevaluate Scriptures’ teaching on hell since Zondervan just updated its “Views on Hell” volume. This is welcome, as the original book had a few quirks: separate chapters defending “literal” and “metaphorical” views of hell (that looked suspiciously alike), along with a Roman Catholic defense of purgatory in a book aimed for Evangelicals, and a highly-charged emotion-driven defense of Annihilationism that was more heat than light. More crucially, it had become quite dated and the discussion has moved forward significantly, with Annihilationism (aka. Conditionalism) gaining popularity and credibility, and evangelical Universalism even being on the table.
The new book, Four Views on Hell (Second Edition), edited by Preston Sprinkle (who himself has moved from Traditional to Conditional) has the following lineup:
- Denny Burk: Eternal Conscious Torment (the “Traditional” view)
- John Stackhouse: Terminal Punishment (Annihilationism or Conditionalism)
- Robin Parry: Universalism (of an Evangelical variety)
- Jerry Walls: Purgatory (of an Evangelical – that is, non-Catholic – variety)
I want to zoom in on Burk and Stackhouse’s chapters as, personally, I find theirs as the only two viable options. This week we’ll consider Traditionalism and next week Conditionalism.
Denny Burk: Eternal Conscious Torment
Burk acknowledges the difficulty in coming to terms with unbelievers facing the punishment of eternal conscious torment. How can a relatively short lifetime of sin (some longer and/or more sinful than others) be rewarded with an eternity of suffering? According to Burk, it is important to consider that “the seriousness of the sin is not measured merely by the sin itself…but by the value and the worth of the one being sinned against” (p19, emphasis italics in original). In other words, the one sinned against is our eternally glorious Creator Himself, so we think too lightly of the seriousness of our sins. “The emotional reflex against the traditional doctrine of hell reveals what we really believe about God” (p20).
The remainder of his chapter is given “to explain what the relevant texts of Scripture actually teach” (p18), as this is the most crucial point. To do so, he covers 10 texts that deal with hell and the final state of the wicked. Read in light of each other, these texts establish three characteristics of the damned: 1) final separation from God, 2) unending experience of punishment, 3) just retribution of sin. These three characteristics disprove universalism, annihilationalism and purgatory respectively.
Here are the texts and some summary highlights of Burk’s comments. The book will need to be consulted for his arguments:
- Isaiah 66:22-24. The final state of the wicked will be permanent and the degradation of their bodies unending, “[implying] that their experience will involve consciousness of their unending punishment” (p24)
- Daniel 12:2-3. This passage presents the two possible final and unending destinies of being “raised”: life or disgrace. That the text has unbelievers ‘awakening’ to disgrace “implies consciousness” (p25).
- Matthew 18:6-9. A final state experiencing ‘fire’, symbolizing “the pain that must be endured by those in hell” (p28).
- Matthew 25:31-46. The ‘eternal punishment’ is final and cannot be reversed.
- Mark 9:42-48. This passage alludes to Isa 66:24, which “presupposes a double resurrection in which the wicked are given bodies fit for an everlasting punishment…an experience of judgment that has no end” (p32)
- 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. The eternal destruction (2 Thess 1:9) does not mean “to cease to exist” (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Thess 5:3; 1 Tim 6:9), but “[its] primary sense is something more along the lines of ruin or loss, not annihilation” (p35).
- Jude 7. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah “functions typologically” (p37) of the final state: “the fire that was revealed in part in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah will be revealed in full at the final judgment in the age to come” (p37). Since the life (Jude 21) of the saved is eternal, the eternal fire “is of the same duration” (p37) also.
- Jude 13. The utter darkness links back to Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30, which refer to weeping and gnashing of teeth, “[suggesting] consciousness of their punishment” (p39).
- Revelation 14:9-11. The “pain and distress do not end but go on everlastingly” (40).
- Revelation 20:10, 14-15. The unjust “obtain bodies supernaturally fit to endure the same torment as the devil and his minions” (41).
Burk closes his chapter reflecting on God’s glory and wrath as well as the urgency of evangelism.
Burke presents a strong and balanced case for the traditional viewpoint. I suspect his argument will be airtight for those who already accept his view. Once I decided to step back and reevaluate Scripture’s teaching on hell, I have realized the texts don’t all say exactly what I thought they did. A few points of critique, then.
- Burk’s selection of texts is a far cry from being ‘the relevant texts of Scripture on hell’, but is rather 10 passages that may teach eternal conscious torment (or at least elements of it). But Scripture says much more about the punishment of sin than these texts alone. Death as punishment for sin becomes much more prominent (Rom 6:23; John 3:16) when we bring the many other texts into the discussion.
- Burk often assumes what he sets out to prove; primarily, the consciousness of those in hell. A close reading of these texts does not say everything Burk assumes they do. For example, Burk builds much of his case for eternal consciousness upon the fact that the unbelievers’ bodies in Isaiah 66:22-24 apparently do not perish. However, Isaiah’s dead bodies are… well, dead. Nowhere is it clear that they are conscious; a major point for his view.
- Jude 7 doesn’t say that the temporal fire of Sodom’s judgment was typological for the eternal fire of hell, but that Sodom experienced “eternal fire” too! If Jude calls Sodom’s (temporary) judgment of fire eternal, are we correct to assume the eternal fire of the unsaved is unlike Sodom’s?
Though many of his texts are more vague than ‘traditionalists’ often assume, it is difficult to respond to Burk’s reading of Revelation 14:9-11 and Rev 20:10, 14-15!
Next week we’ll consider Terminal Punishment.
Thanks to Zondervan for providing a review copy!
My Digital Seminary exists because I was unable (time and money) to attend seminary. That said, I have been slowly working on a distance Bachelor’s degree, most of which I obtained through credits for teaching the courses at the Bible College where I taught. However, the final semester (this Autumn) is a thesis defense that requires full tuition and also physical presence (in Hungary, no less) for the defense and graduation. It all comes to $1,800.
We have been in ministry and lived on donations for 6 years now, and aren’t in a place to pay this. I am reaching out to friends, family and financial backers, but I want to do it here too, and ask anyone who has enjoyed My Digital Seminary to consider giving a small amount towards reaching this goal.
No pressure, just if the Lord leads.