In two previous posts, I introduced Michael Rydelnik’s comments on textual criticism and Messianic prophecy, and then gave an example of how this plays out in Numbers 24:7. Rydelnik’s content on textual criticism is excellent, but I expressed some reasons preventing me from agreeing with his take on Numbers 24:7. I informed him that about the post, and invited him to reply to my disagreements. Graciously, he responded with some thoughtful rebuttals, which I have shared here.
Michael Rydelnik on Numbers 24:7
My original words are in bold italics, and Rydelnik’s replies in regular type.
Despite the widespread nature of the variant, I couldn’t find a modern English text that prefers the “Gog” reading over “Agag”.
I find this irrelevant. Having been part of a translation team for a modern translation, I found the editors reluctant to adopt a reading that is distinctive or different. I was part of a team of OT scholars that went to the editor in chief of this modern translation, asking him to revise this translation to “Gog.” He replied that the text critical evidence seemed to support the Gog reading but he said he would find it hard to convince the publisher to adopt a reading so radically different from other translations. Sadly, this is no different than commentary tradition. “It’s always been understood this way so we can’t change.”
Rather than a distant term, “latter days” could merely be relative, in which case it could easily apply to David, who was certainly in Balaam’s future.
Of course it could be translated “in the future” but the simplest and most literal rendering is the “end of days” or the “latter days.” The phrase is used repeatedly in key poetic portions of the Pentateuch (Gen 49:1; Deut 31:29) that have eschatological significance (for example, Gen 49:8-12).
Significantly, Num 24 refers back to Gen 49:9 (Num 24:9). Also, later in Num 24, in the 4th Balaam oracle, it speaks in seemingly eschatological terms, not merely future terms (Num 24:17, “I seem Him but not now, I behold Him but not near”). To me, B’acharit hayamim should be translated according to its literal meaning: latter days.
Rydelnik doesn’t explain why the language in Num 24:7 is too exalted to be describing David.
David was a great king but he did not have an exalted kingdom (Num 24:7). David was the founder of the dynasty, not the one who would bring the kingdom to an exalted state. In fact, Solomon’s kingdom was even greater than David’s. The phrase “His kingdom shall be exalted” is too strong to describe David. The ultimate defeat of the many nations in Num 24:20-24 (including Rome: “Ships of Kittim”; Dan 11:30) indicates a kingdom more exalted than David’s.
While Ezek 38:17 does imply that Gog is referred to elsewhere in Scripture, this may not be a reference to the variant reading in Num 24:7. According to Ezek 38:17, Gog was spoken of by “my servants the prophets of Israel”, of which Balaam was certainly not a member!
Yes, but Moses, author of Numbers, was a prophet. Ezekiel saw Numbers 24:5-9 as part of “The Book of Moses” not “The Book of Balaam”.
My Bible has Jeremiah 6:22-23 as a related text, which may be a better contender than the textual variant.
Intertextual references by biblical authors are to be preferred over cross references by an editor in a Bible company.
Daniel Block, an Ezekiel expert, also suggests a deceptively simple interpretation that the answer to the question in Ezekiel 38:17 is “no”! That is, Gog is not an elsewhere-predicted agent that God uses to judge Israel, but instead his destructive intentions will be thwarted by God.
Dan Block is a great scholar but I think his “deceptively simple interpretation” is more simplistic than simple. Ezekiel 38:17 seems to have a specific individual in mind.
Again, I very much appreciate Dr. Rydelnik taking the time to offer these responding thoughts. I will need to give his responses some thought as they certainly address my concerns! If Numbers 24:7 is a direct prediction of Jesus, it certainly makes good sense of related issues such as early Jewish opinion of this as a messianic text.
Be on the lookout in the future for some more posts on Messianic prophecy. I am teaching through the Psalms this semester at CCBCY, so I will probably be thinking out loud on this blog.
A number of months ago I reviewed Logos Mobile Education by way of John Walton’s Old Testament Genres course. This was part of a bundle with his Origins of Genesis 1-3 course, so I thought it high time to review it! Since much of what I already said applies to this course, I will simply summarize some of the content.
Origins of Genesis 1-3
In this 4-hour course, John Walton presents an understanding of Genesis 1-3 that is informed by the worldview of the Ancient Near East. That is, he believes his presentation is closer to how it would have been “read”. Genesis 1-3 are among the most familiar chapters of the Bible to most Christians, but the advances in knowledge of the ancient Israelite worldview, and those of the surrounding culture have not yet filtered down to the church. As an expert in the Ancient Near East, an evangelical, and an entertaining and likeable speaker, John Walton seems like the man of the hour.
The basic proposal is that the church reads the text with too much “baggage” of the creation/evolution debate. Instead, we need to read it as an ancient text. Instead of coming to the text with our modern questions, we must ask the questions the texts leads us to ask. Instead of reading the text through modern eyes with modern scientific concepts of “reality”, we need to see the world through the eyes of the ancient Israelites. How did they conceive of the world?
To achieve this end, Walton highlights the differences in how the world is conceived. Probably the most significant (and controversial) point Walton makes is that the ancients were less concerned with being than function. Or to put it in other words, Genesis 1 is not a house story but a home story. The ancients were less concerned with the story of how the house (i.e. cosmos) was built, but more about how it was made into a home. This means that the Bible is less concerned with answering our modern scientific “how” questions, but wants to tell us “why”. For example, what does it mean that mankind was formed from dust? Is that how God made mankind? Is dust moldable? Are we composed of dust? Or is it rather telling us that we are frail? Or another example: is Eve’s creation telling us how woman was made? Or is it answering a why question by telling us that because Eve comes from the side of Adam, she is equal to him.
Space does not permit to list the numerous suggestions that Walton makes throughout this course. However, if one is familiar with his books on creation and Adam, the material is virtually the same. However, there are advantages of having this material in the Logos format rather than a book. First, each video is only a few minutes long and is ideal for assigning as homework or for starting a discussion in a classroom setting. Second, each video ends with suggested further reading, linked to Logos (if one owns the material). Third, there are quizzes at the end of each unit. Fourth, the videos are transcribed and is entirely searchable from within Logos.
Of course the question remains, is he right? Yes, Walton’s proposals make good sense and help resolve significant tension. And, the ancient world may have believed such and such. It may be a fact that those in the ancient world are more concerned with functions than ontology. However, all facts must be interpreted, and this is where things become subjective and where we must not simply accept everything we are told. Perhaps there is another accounting for the evidence that Walton presents? I have not done sufficient study to know, however, I do know that his ideas are not without opposition among scholars.
What can be said, however, is that Walton does an excellent job of presenting an alternative reading of Genesis 1-3 that is internally consistent and does not unfairly twist the source material. In Origins of Genesis 1-3, Walton wants to reclaim Genesis 1-3 from the clasps of the science debate, and for that he should be commended. I believe he should be heard, and he has certainly given me much to think about.
Many thanks to Faithlife for providing a review copy of Origins of Genesis 1-3. Their generosity has not affected my opinion.
In Balaam’s prophecy over Judah, he says the following:
Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters; his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.
— Numbers 24:7
Many interpreters understand David as the fulfilment of this prophecy, considering that he did what Saul did not: defeat Agag (1 Sam 15:8-9). As the lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus certainly fulfils the entirety of the prophecy (exactly how is debated: direct fulfillment, dual fulfillment, typology, etc), but what if this this is exclusively a prophecy of Jesus, and not David at all.
Rydelnik notes that there is a variant reading of this verse in other manuscripts (Septuagint, Samaritan Pentateuch, and others) that reads “Gog” in the place of “Agag”. As Rydelnik summarizes, “[a]ccording to this reading, Balaam foresees a king from Jacob who would be exalted over Gog, the end-time enemy of Israel (Ezek 38:3)” (p38). If true, this changes things significantly! Balaam wouldn’t be predicting David, but Jesus!
As an aside, the case for details in Num 24 referring to Jesus and not David does not entirely depend on accepting Rydelnik’s text-critical conclusions. However, if true, this could settle the case.
Despite the widespread nature of the variant, I couldn’t find a modern English text that prefers the “Gog” reading over “Agag”, so what arguments does Rydelnik give?
- First, Balaam is speaking of the “latter days” (Num 24:14).
- Second, in Num 24:7 the future king is exalted “using more glorious terminology than what would be used of David or one of his nonmessianic descendants” (p39).
- Third, Gog, in Ezekiel 38:17, is “known from earlier Scripture…an obvious reference to the variant reading in Num 24:7” (p39).
- Fourth, Timothy Ashley (author of the Numbers commentary in the NICOT series) says that the Masoretic text rendering of the verse is “’difficult and obscure (and possibly corrupt)’” (p39). Admittedly, Ashley prefers the Masoretic reading (Agag) over the alternative (Gog), holding that the Septuagint was adjusted due to intense messianic expectation during the period of the translation.
Rydelnik concludes that we should take the Septuagint as the original reading: “in an obscure verse in the Torah, it appears that the variant readings point to a future, glorious, Messiah with an exalted kingdom, not merely to King David” (p39).
Now, though I am sympathetic to Rydenik’s concerns, a closer look reveals that some of Rydelnik’s arguments may not be as compelling as they first appear.
- Rather than a distant term, “latter days” could merely be relative, in which case it could easily apply to David, who was certainly in Balaam’s future.
- Rydelnik doesn’t explain why the language in Num 24:7 is too exalted to be describing David.
- Yes, Ezek 38:17 does imply that Gog is referred to elsewhere in Scripture, but this may not be a reference to the variant reading in Num 24:7. According to Ezek 38:17, Gog was spoken of by “my servants the prophets of Israel”, of which Balaam was certainly not a member! My Bible has Jer 6:22-23 as a related text, which may be a better contender than a textual variant. Daniel Block, an Ezekiel expert, also suggests a deceptively simple interpretation that the answer to the question in Ezek 38:17 is “no”! That is, Gog is not an elsewhere-predicted agent of judgment on Israel, but instead his destructive intentions will be thwarted by God.
- Ashley could be correct about a messianic bias in the Septuagint. Unfortunately biases can go both ways; while the LXX may be overly-messianic, the MT may be under-messianic.
In his A New Testament Biblical Theology, Beale makes a good case that the “in the latter days” phrases should be read synoptically to refer to the time of the Messiah, so if true, that would overturn my first objection. However, I’m not sure how 2-4 could be answered. But I could certainly be wrong; is Rydelnik on to something here about Gog?
Welcome to the July Biblical Studies Carnival! This month, the Carnival has traveled to sunny(ish) York, England (see above). In this post, you will find news, posts and media that I found noteworthy and interesting. I can’t escape this niggling feeling that I’ve missed something embarrassingly huge this month, but what can you do?
Before we begin, however, a word about the traveling Carnival. Last month the Carnival hit Cambridge, with William Ross hosting, and in August will travel all the way to fellow Commonwealth member, Victoria, BC with Bob MacDonald hosting. For the most part, the rest of the year is open and the clowns are getting restless, so if you are interested in hosting a Carnival, get in touch with Phil Long at plong42 at gmail.com. As he puts it,
Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of bibliblogs.
News & Events
First up is by far the most significant event for the Biblical Studies world this month, nay, this year: the meeting you all demanded, in all it’s blurry glory.
The blurriness may make you suspect this is a Bigfoot-sighting-like hoax, but no, this really happened. This month, N.T. Wright (but I call him “Tom”) traveled the UK to speak on his book Simply Good News. He packed out our small Christian bookstore in York with 40ish people (take that, Americans!) and gave a short talk on the book and then signatures. I asked him on his upcoming book on the cross, and he said he will hopefully get it going later this year.
On the 10th-11th Tyndale House in Cambridge held a conference entitled Linguistics and the Greek Verb. The presentations will be published in book format as The Greek Verb Revisited: A Fresh Approach for Biblical Exegesis, but in the meantime, check out Mike Aubrey’s ongoing summaries from some of the talks (and some beautiful photography!).
William Ross shares the news that beginning with this year’s Evangelical Theological Society meeting there will be an entire session dedicated to Septuagint Studies.
Reviews & Posts
Over at Christianity Today, Simon Gathercole gave five reasons why the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is fake. He and others also submitted articles to the most recent New Testament Studies, which is free right now. Get it while you can!
Exegetical Tools had produced some Colossians Greek Reading videos for intermediate Greek learners to retain and improve their Greek. These look ideal for teachers as well. They also glowingly reviewed Chris Tilling’s significant Paul’s Divine Christology (I hope to get to it soon!).
Jennifer Guo celebrated the 50th anniversary of the NIV and shared some videos, and also reviewed 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Mike Licona.
Fellow Aussie (and Perthite, no less), Matthew Malcom, asked why Acts ends before Paul’s trial and has an interesting suggestion.
Louis McBride, over at Baker Book House Church Connection, summarized Gerald Hiestand’s chapter “Six Practical Steps toward Being a Pastor-Theologian” in the upcoming Pastor as Public Theologian, edited by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan: post one, two and three.
George Athas discusses the deciphering of the oldest biblical manuscript since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This scroll is a burned fragment of the first eight verses of Leviticus. He also reported the discovery of a clay image of a Canaanite fertility goddess from the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 BC).
William Brown reviewed The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition by Debra Scoggins Ballentine and had this to say about it, “discussion pertaining to the Hebrew Bible, and especially Chaos, need to take her research into account.” He also reviewed A Prophet Like Moses by Jeffrey Stackert, which “presents a ground-breaking and unique perspectives on how to understand the relationship between prophecy, law, and Moses”. (HT: William Brown)
I’m delighted to announce that my friend and fellow teacher at CCBCY, Randy McCracken, had a journal article published in the July-Sept 2015 volume of DTS’ Bibliotheca Sacra (BibSac). It is entitled How Many Sons Did Absalom Have?: Intentional Ambiguity as Literary Art and can be read for free on his blog. Randy is also holding a giveaway for his book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel and has just posted a list of his favourite Genesis commentaries.
Wayne Coppins at German for Neutestamentler has a unique blog that highlights and even translates works of German scholarship. Particularly interesting is his post with English translations of Christoph Heilig’s comments on Echoes and Empire Criticism in the work of Hays, Barclay and Wright. (HT: Wayne Coppins).
Ben Witherington III has been discussing Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace with one of its authors, Keith D. Stanglin. Here is his final (and fourteenth!) post.
Bob MacDonald has analyzed the language of Haggai 1.
James Pate posted on the Sibylline Oracles, inspiration, prophecies after the fact and pseudipigraphy. James also reviewed Anthony Petterson’s new commentary on Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi in the Apollos OT series. Lastly, James recommended David Corder’s review of Stephen Cook’s commentary on Deuteronomy (HT: James Pate).
My friend (yes I have more than one!), Spencer Robinson at Spoiled Milks, has been reviewing recordings of Rikk Watts teaching Isaiah at Regent. He also posted a review of Peter David’s 2 Peter and Jude (Pillar) series and his experience using it in Logos (with pictures!).
Aspiring to be a Biblical scholar? Jonathan at Linguae Antiquitatum a graduate student, and he gave a review with personal application (this warms my Bible College teacher heart) of books by Witherington and Gupta on advice for budding scholars (HT: Jonathan).
Dan Wallace has a team documenting manuscripts at the National Library of Greece and has posted about it here (A New Gospel Manuscript in Athens?) and here (Gregory-Aland 1761: A Gospels Manuscript?).
James McGrath has an interesting post suggesting that the criterion of embarrassment should be more accurately named the criterion of damage control. He also questioned the relationship between modern preachers and Israel’s prophets (HT: James McGrath).
Over at ReadingActs, Phil Long is discussing some of the wisdom Psalms, so far: Psalm 1:2-3, Psalm 1:4-5, Psalm 19:1-6, and Psalm 19:7-11. He also reviewed Constantine Campbell’s Advances in the Study of Greek and Wesley Hill’s Paul and the Trinity.
Matthew D. Montonini at New Testament Perspectives reviewed Christopher Skinner’s Reading John.
Over at Think, Andrew Wilson began pondering a Credobaptist theology of children (post one, post two), summarized the recent debate series about homosexuality between Preston Sprinkle and Jeff Cook, and also reviewed Wesley Hill’s Paul and the Trinity.
Bart Ehrman and Tim McGrew discuss the reliability of the Gospels in two episodes of Justin Brierley’s awesome Unbelievable? podcast.
Michael Heiser has just finished working through the book of Acts on the Naked Bible podcast. Heiser always has interesting points to make, and I’m excited to hear he’s starting Leviticus next.
Nancy Guthrie has interviewed Michael Lawrence on teaching Acts and Dale Ralph Davis on teaching Joshua for her Help Me Teach the Bible series on the Gospel Coalition podcast.
Peter Gentry is working on the Isaiah commentary for the Hearing the Message of Scripture series (see my reviews of Obadiah and Jonah) and is teaching the book for Sunday School at Franklin Street Church. The audio is not amazing, but these are definitely worth the effort. I am up to the 73rd recording, which is only Isaiah 27! (If you wonder how I can listen to so much audio, you’re not a parent of a 9mth old who is constantly teething and needs rocking all through the night…).
Kevin Vanhoozer and Gerald Hiestand were interviewed on the Mere Fidelity podcast about their respective books on pastor-theologians.
And like that, the Carnival is over. The streets are quiet except for a few odd juggling balls rolling around and an odd elephant surprise or two. I am grateful to have been part of this (thank you, Phil), and recommend you look out for Bob MacDonald’s carnival at the end of the month!
Explorers, mountain climbers, space expeditions. Mankind has a drive to reach the “unobtainable” and bring near the distant. Tragically, the most ambitious and important goal, that of reaching “God”, is truly unobtainable. That is, unless He Himself chooses to draw near to us, which is what our creator God, YHWH, truly desires to do, and this is climaxed in Jesus: God with us. But what else does Scripture reveal about YHWH’s desire to dwell with His people? And what role do we play? In God Dwells Among Us , Mitchell Kim and G. K. Beale have attempted something less ambitious, but ambitious nonetheless. They have a twofold goal: 1) to explore this theme of the unobtainable but near God from Genesis to Revelation in an approachable way, 2) by means of bringing near to us a book that would be otherwise unobtainable to many, Beale’s 458-page groundbreaking academic work The Temple and the Church’s Mission.
God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth
An element of God Dwells Among Us that sets it apart from its mother book is the focus on sacrificial mission. The commission of Adam and Eve to expand and fill the world with worshippers of YHWH has not been revoked (Hab 2:14), although it faces significant, often life-threatening, opposition. We need wind in our sails to propel this missionary endeavor, and the authors believe God Dwells Among Us will serve in such a way.
For those unfamiliar with Beale’s work, this book begins with a surprising statement: the Garden of Eden was a temple. This may seem odd, though a temple is simply a place where God dwells. God chose to dwell with mankind in the Garden, and he tasked them with being his images, living “statues” that represent His rule and subdue and order the rest of the world, transforming it into a hospitable dwelling place for mankind and his God. The goal is a worldwide temple. Of course, sin entered the world, but this commission (Gen 1:28) was passed on to Noah and then Abraham and Israel. Although the world is corrupted by sin, YHWH chose to dwell in Israel’s tabernacle and later, her temples (“Eden remixed”, according to the authors). The temple was a microcosm or blueprint of God’s intentions for the whole world. However, much like Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden, Israel was exiled from the land. But God did not revoke the commission: He would bring Israel back to the land, rebuild the temple, restore Eden and then expand it to a whole new creation. The story takes a radical turn when it is revealed that Jesus Himself is the temple! Jesus is the epitome of God’s dwelling place and God’s promises for a new temple were beginning to be fulfilled in Him, the beginning of the new creation. Jesus then indwells God’s new creation people, the church (Acts 2), by becoming the cornerstone and empowering them to take on the role of temple and are commanded to live in light of this reality and spread His name (1 Cor 3, Eph 3, 2 Cor 6). The temple, then, expands by people flocking to Jesus in faith and becoming living stones in God’s dwelling place. This explains why our work for the Lord in the New Testament is described in terms of priestly service (e.g. Rom 12:1-2). God now gives His church the role of spreading the message of Jesus to the world, thus expanding His dwelling place in the temple. However, the power is not in us but in the Gospel (Compare Gen 1:28 with Acts 6:7 & 12:24) The end goal has not changed from the beginning, the entire creation will be a temple in which God dwells. This is seen in Revelation 21-22, in which an Eden-like-city-temple, shaped like a cube like the Holy of Holies, fills the entire new creation.
I have outlined the story that Beale and Kim tell in God Dwells Among Us . This story is of course supported with Scripture. The authors present their case with laser-like focus and rich insights. The authors are convinced that this story is not only inspiring, but more importantly, Biblical; as such, it must be argued for Biblically. It is here that the book is at at times in danger of overwhelming its readers, as the nature of such a study requires meticulousness. However, the book is also full of illustrations to explain a difficult concept and summaries to keep the reader on track. The illustrations are particularly helpful in this regard.
G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim should be praised for their desire to produce this book in service of the church, not only by bringing the fruits of academic scholarship to a lower branch, but also for pressing Beale’s original insights to let their missiological juices flow (did that metaphor go too far?). For those who have read Beale’s work, they will find nothing new in God Dwells Among Us, except a distillation of his best arguments and a refreshing focus on missional implications. This book is intended for those who are unfamiliar with such concepts, and though sections of argumentation is unavoidably rigorous and will be difficult for some, the overall message can be obtained by all. Originally delivered as a series lectures, this book could easily be picked up by pastors and taught at their local churches. Whatever we do to get this material into the hands, minds and hearts of the church today, the better. Some will no doubt balk at some of the conclusions here, particularly the assertion that no future architectural temple will be rebuilt. However, stumbling over this would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Having experienced the presence of God, let us lay claim to our mission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and declare the message of the unobtainable God who dwells with His people.
This book was provided by IVP UK in exchange for review. Their generosity did not affect my opinions of the book.
- Publisher: IVP UK
- Softcover: 215 pages
- Published: 16/01/2015
- ISBN: 9781783591916
Michael Rydelnik’s The Messianic Hope (my review) is a study on just how “messianic” the Bible is. For only being 190 pages, it covers quite a lot of territory and in this post I’d like to share what he says about the relevance of textual criticism.
Now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll explain myself. The oldest manuscript collection we have of the OT in Hebrew is known as the Masoretic text (MT); however, this is “a post-Christian, Jewish version of the Old Testament” (p36). That is, it dates from after Christ and may have been adjusted in places to defend Jewish concerns and/or defend against Christian early apologists. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is untrustworthy but neither should we accept it uncritically. We actually do have earlier texts such as the Greek-translation (Septuagint aka. LXX) that predate the Masoretic text. Of course, translations are not necessary exact representations of the original either. The work of textual criticism is to determine which text (or combination of texts) best reflect the original.
As an example, Judges 18:30 reflects a concern for Moses’ reputation. Certain manuscripts have “Manasseh”, while others have “Moses”. It seems most likely that a Hebrew n (nun) was added to Moses’ name, to preserve his reputation by keeping him out of this negative story. This textual issue is reflected in our English translations, as the image below shows.
As you can see, the NASB and NKJV chose to follow the Masoretic Text (MT) here, while the ESV translators consider the reading in the Septuagint as better reflecting what was originally written.
Now where things get interesting for Messianic prophecy is that some of these earlier texts actually are “more messianic” than the Masoretic Text! This is how text criticism becomes important for understanding just how messianic the OT really is. To end on a cliffhanger, we’ll look at one example next week.