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.
I will be hosting the July Biblical Studies Carnival, which means I will be sharing some highlights from the month in one mega-post on the first of August. William Ross hosted the June Carnival, if you want to check it out.
Somehow I managed to sneak in to this carnival and feel a little like a one-ball juggler (or maybe a clown with no makeup) when I consider the venerable bloggers that went before me. What’s more, I was traveling and not even online for the first two weeks of July, so I need all the help I can get!
This is where you come in. This is a last call for anyone to submit a post(s) they wrote or one they thought was significant for the month of July. You can get me on Twitter (@digitalseminary) or Facebook or even this nifty form. At the very least I just need a blog post URL.
John Piper, Brian Zahn, N. T. Wright and Steve Chalke walk into a bar… Whatever hilarity may or may not ensue in this scenario, I can assure you that a discussion on the atonement would be anything but humorous.
if God did not punish his Son in my place, I am not saved from my greatest peril, the wrath of God.
To the now-classic:
penal substitution is tantamount to ‘child abuse – a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.
Or, compare the similar, but more recent:
the Bible is clear, God did not kill Jesus […] it was not a sacrifice to appease a wrathful deity or to provide payment for a penultimate god subordinate to Justice.
to throw away the reality because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting out the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed […] on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of the Son
Not funny at all. In fact, entirely humorless. The question of whether Jesus took our wrath is sobering, but given what is at stake, essential. However, observing this stalemate situation, what am I to do? Enter the unassuming Simon Gathercole with his little book Defending Substitution.
Now, it must be noted that my illustration falls apart a little, for Gathercole is not setting out to establish penal substitution (that Jesus took my punishment); rather, he has a more modest goal: did Jesus die in my place in any sense? Or in other words, did Jesus die so that I would not? It’s worth saying here that in no way does Gathercole deny the very biblical sense in which we do die with Jesus (Rom 6:8); his point is that there is more to say than this alone.
Defending Substitution is boiled down to three parts: 1) an introduction of the issue that surveys the scholarly terrain, 2) an exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:3, and 3) an exposition of Romans 5:6-8.
In the introduction, he surveys three nonsubstitutionary approaches and their strengths and weaknesses. These are the Tübingen school, the Interchange model associated with Morna Hooker, and the Apocalyptic paradigm. Though each model is praised on several accounts, Gathercole notes that each fails to give sufficient weight to the problem of “sins”. That is, these models do not account for the problem of individual sins committed by individual people. This leaves a theological hole that substitution fills. If the problem were merely “sin”, then Christians simply need to be freed. However, if the problem includes “sins” that humans are culpable for committing, then deliverance is not enough; payment must be required. Hence the need for substitution.
1 Corinthians 15:3 states that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Supporting Paul’s focus on “sins”, the Old Testament supports the notion that one dies for their own sins (1 Kings 16:18-19). However, what if one could die for the sins of others? Gathercole argues that the Old Testament passage that is conceptually closest is that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 (e.g. Isa 53:12). This is supported when we recognize that Romans 4:25 and Rom 8:32 allude to Isaiah 53 as well (see Isa 53:6).
In contrast with 1 Corinthians 15:3 and its dependence upon the Hebrew Scriptures, Gathercole argues that Romans 5:6-8 alludes to other heroic deaths from the literature and stories of his Greco-Roman cultural environment. In this chapter, Gathercole references classical works that depict one dying a heroic death on behalf of another. However, unlike these other deaths, Jesus’ is entirely unique, hence Paul’s statements in Romans 5:6-8!
After 29 chapters of Job debating with his three “friends”, the stalemate was broken by the appearance of young Elihu. The opinions of scholars are poles apart. Some recognize Elihu as an arrogant upstart who offered nothing new. Others compare him to John the Baptist, preparing the hearts of his hearers for Lord Himself. Which best describes Defending Substitution? As with Elihu, there will be a polarity of opinion. Either Gathercole achieves his thesis or he does not. Gathercole is to be praised for his characteristically careful and balanced argumentation. He presents a nuanced case and does not overstretch himself in this goal. While some will see Defending Substitution as unhelpful and unwelcome as Elihu, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion Gathercole is simply correct.
Satisfied, I leave behind Piper, Zahn, Wright, and Chalke to argue while I exit the bar, quietly whistling the melody of “in my place, condemned He stood”.
Many thanks to Baker Academic for providing a digital review copy. Their generosity did not affect my opinion of this book.
- Publisher: Baker Academic
- Date: May 2015
- Paperback: 128 pages
- ISBN: 9780801049774