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Law of Moses

Saturday Series: Exodus 32-34 (continued)

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Exodus 32-34

(A Sunday edition of the Saturday Series…)

Last week we looked at chapters 32-34 of Exodus from the standpoint of textual, source, and historical criticism, introducing some of the issues and questions which commentators face when dealing with this section of the book. These are important, and should not be ignored; however, ultimately, we must grapple with the text as it has come down to us, whenever and however it was composed, and in whatever manner the various traditions came to be incorporated. This wider view relates to the area of Biblical Criticism called literary criticism—analysis of the passage as part of a written text and literary document, examining its structure, points of emphasis, its themes, and the images and concepts which reflect the story and message with the author wishes to communicate.

In approaching Exodus 32-34 within the context of the second half of the book (chaps. 19-40), the first point to note is the way that narrative alternates with a record of legal material. The latter is more properly presented within the narrative framework as instruction (laws, regulations, precepts) which God (YHWH) gives to the people, through Moses. This is reflected in the Hebrew word (tôrâ, hr*ot) which traditionally is used to refer to this material, and which gives its name to the Pentateuch as a whole (Torah). We can see how this torah dominates the second half of the book, being recorded in four main sections, as indicated in the following outline (torah marked by asterisks):

  • Introduction: The people at Mt. Sinai—Preparation for the appearance of YHWH (chap. 19)
    —The role of Moses as intermediary between YHWH and the people (vv. 14-25)
  • Part 1: The covenant is established at Sinai (20:1-24:11)
    —The Decalogue*: YHWH speaks to the people (20:1-14)
    —Moses functions as intermediary/representative for the people (20:15-23)
    —The Book of the Covenant*: YHWH speaks to Moses (21:1-23:33)
    —Ratification of the covenant (24:1-11)
  • Part 2: The ceremonial/ritual dimension of the covenant (24:12-31:18)
    —Moses ascends Sinai (24:12-18)
    —Religious instruction*, regarding the Tabernacle, etc (25:1-31:17)
    —The two tablets of the covenant (31:18)
  • Intermediary: The covenant is abolished (chaps. 32-33)
    —Moses descends Sinai
  • Part 3: The covenant is re-established at Sinai (34:1-28)
    —Moses ascends Sinai again (34:1-9)
    —Second ‘Book of the Covenant’* (34:10-27)
    —The two tablets of the covenant (34:28)
  • Intermediary: The restored covenant (34:29-35)
    —Moses descends Sinai
  • Part 4: The ceremonial/ritual dimension of the covenant (chaps 35-39)
    Religious instruction*, regarding the Tabernacle, etc
  • Conclusion: The people at Sinai—Preparation for the presence of YHWH (chap. 40)
    —Moses’ role of leadership in preparing the Tabernacles, etc (vv. 1-33)

There is a thematic symmetry to this structure, and to the character of the Torah, as it relates to the establishment of the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and his people:

  • Establishment of the covenant—Moses ascends Mt. Sinai
    • Theophany—Appearance of YHWH (chap. 20)
    • The “Book of the Covenant” (21:1-33)
    • Religious instruction—the Tabernacle (25:1-31:17)
    • The two tablets of the covenant (31:18)
  • Re-establishment of the covenant—Moses ascends Mt. Sinai
    • Theophany—Appearance of YHWH (34:1-9)
    • Second ‘Book of the Covenant’ (34:10-27)
    • Religious instruction—the Tabernacle (35:1ff)
    • The two tablets of the covenant (34:28)

The Torah itself may be summarized two ways, according to two fundamental aspects:

  1. The regulations and precepts which are to govern Israelite society, and their identity as God’s chosen people; and,
  2. As the terms of the binding agreement (covenant) between God and his people; in written form (the two tablets, etc) it provides the legal basis for the agreement. Transgression of the torah represents more than violation of a law or regulation; it means the violation of the agreement itself, which entailed very specific punishment, tied to the ritual image of cutting (dismembered animals, circumcision, sacrificial offering [with blood])—the one who violates the covenant will similarly be “cut off”.

Any attempt to understand and interpret the legal material in the book of Exodus, without keeping this connection with the covenant clearly in view, will be doomed to failure. It is absolutely essential to the thematic structure and message of the book. You may wish to review our study of the covenant episodes in Genesis 15, 17, and Exodus 24, from recent weeks. Indeed, it is the idea of the covenant, or binding agreement (Heb. b§rî¾, tyr!B=), which governs the intermediate scenes in chapters 32-33—the episode of the Golden Calf, and its aftermath, marking abrogation of the covenant. Let us examine briefly these chapters, along with the following chap. 34, in light of this overriding theme. Several aspects come to fore:

  • The tension involved in Moses as the leader/representative of the people
  • The identity of Israel as God’s people, which is central to the covenant
  • The violation and abrogation of the covenant, and what this entails
1. Moses as the people’s representative

Problematic from the beginning is the people’s dependence on Moses as their representative, serving as an intermediary before God. It is they who request that God speak to Moses, and no longer directly to them (20:16-18), and it is thus only Moses who ascends all the way up the mountain to the place where God’s presence is (24:12-18). This sets the stage for the Golden Calf episode (32:1). The people feared to hear God’s voice, and now they begin to fear what may have happened to their leader and representative. During the 40 days and nights when Moses is on the mountain, the people are without contact with God; implicit in this condition is that it becomes a time of testing. Indeed, this provides the psychological basis for their violation of the covenant (vv. 2ff)—they seek a tangible sign of God’s presence, which, inadvertently, it would seem, leads to idolatry and the worship of “other” gods. The Calf itself, in its historical context and background, almost certainly is to be understood as representing the seat (or throne) of God’s presence, much like the winged figures of the golden Ark. It is, however, a fine line between the creation of such images, and a perversion of true worship. This is a theme which runs through virtually the entire Old Testament, and helps to explain the centrality of the first command(s) in the Decalogue (20:3-5a, see also 34:17). It is the command in 20:4-5 which is violated initially; but the declaration in 32:3 (“These are your gods…”, also v. 8) effectively results in a violation of the first command in 20:3 as well. The words of YHWH in v. 8 reflect his anger over how quickly the agreement was violated, and with the very first words of the Torah.

2. The identity of Israel as God’s people

Verse 10 introduces the idea that God will destroy the people—death/destruction being the punishment for violating the covenant. He intends to start over with Moses, replacing Abraham and his descendants (see the covenant episodes in Gen 15 and 17, etc). Violation of the covenant essentially invalidates this identity of a people belonging to God, who submit to his authority and have established a reciprocal relationship with him. Indeed, in verse 7, God refers to them as Moses‘ people (“your people”, see above on Moses as the people’s representative), no longer referring to them as his own people (v. 9). Moses, however, intercedes for them with God (i.e. the other side of his role as intermediary), requesting that YHWH continue to regard them as His people (vv. 11ff), and this identity seems to be restored, at least in part, in verse 14. There it is stated that YHWH ‘relaxed’ himself over the “evil” (i.e. punishment, destruction) which he was going to do to “His people”. This theme, and the tension involved with it, continues into chapter 33.

3. The violation and abolishment of the Covenant

Even though God may have decided to soften the punishment against the people, the agreement established with them has been invalidated and is over. The breaking of the tablets (v. 19) makes this absolutely clear, according to ancient Near Eastern tradition and practice; e.g., see the Akkadian expression “break the tablet” (tuppam —epû). Still, it is a lesser punishment which is to be administered, in several stages:

  • The people drink water containing powder from the Golden Calf after it was burned down (v. 20). This is presumably for a ritual ordeal to identify the guilty (see the parallel in Num 5:12-31).
  • Once the guilty are identified, they are “consecrated” for destruction and are put to death (vv. 27-29)
  • Apparently, there is also a punishment inflicted on the people through disease (v. 35), though this is stated very briefly, and the exact relation to the events described in the prior verses is uncertain.

Thus, it is not the people as a whole who receive the punishment of death/destruction, but only the specific individuals who are guilty. This important religious principle, which would come up again at various points in the Old Testament, is emphasized in Moses’ second encounter with God (vv. 33-34).

The invalidation of God’s agreement (covenant) with Israel suddenly leaves the narrative at an impasse. The dramatic tension of the scene becomes even more evident in chapter 33, where all the themes from the Golden Calf episode are developed in a unique way, drawing perhaps from a separate line of tradition. I would ask that you read chapter 33 (and on into chap. 34) most carefully. We will be continuing this thematic and exegetical examination of the powerful narrative of Exod 32-34 in next week’s study. Pay attention to each detail and nuance in the text. If you are unable to read Hebrew, make use of whatever tools are at your disposal to study the actual Hebrew words and phrases used. Try to follow carefully the dialogue between Moses and YHWH. How does this relate to the preceding chapters, and to the covenant theme of the narrative? Study and meditate on these points, and I will see you again, God willing…next Saturday.

Saturday Series: Exodus 24:1-11

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Exodus 24:1-11

The past two weeks we have examined the covenant-scenes in Genesis 15 and 17, which are foundational for an understanding of the concept of covenant (literally, binding agreement) in the Old Testament. To this we add a third key passage, the covenant episode at mount Sinai in Exodus 24. Actually, this covenant theme covers the entire second half of the book, beginning with chapter 19 and God’s manifestation (theophany) at Sinai. God appears to the people, just as he did to Abraham in Gen 15 and 17. The principal narrative in chapter 20 can be divided into two parts:

  • God speaks to the people, i.e. to the leaders (vv. 1-14), and then
  • God speaks to Moses as their representative (vv. 15-18ff)

This sets forth the agreement between God and the people Israel (Abraham’s descendants). The “ten words” (20:1-14) and the laws/regulations in 20:19-23:33 represent the terms of the covenant—that is, the binding obligation which the people are to fulfill. This material is called “the account of the agreement” (s¢pher hab®rî¾, 24:7, i.e. “book of the covenant”). The legal basis of this agreement requires that it be established in writing. The agreement itself is finalized (ratified) by the ritual ceremony in chapter 24.

Here, in Exodus 24:1-11, the people promise to fulfill their part of the agreement; indeed, the binding obligation in this instance is only on one party—stated in 19:8 and repeated in 24:3 (and again in v. 7):

  • “All (the words) which YHWH has (said by) word/mouth (to us) we will do!”

In the latter instance, the people are represented by their leaders—seventy elders, along with Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu. The unity of the people (as a common party) is emphasized in both declarations:

  • “And all the people answered in its unity [i.e. in unison, united] and said…” (19:8)
  • “And all the people answered (with) one voice and said…” (24:3)

This vow covers the first portion of the episode, which may be outlined as follows:

  • Verses 1-4a: The elders, representing the people, affirm their part of the agreement, which Moses puts in writing.
  • Verses 4b-8: This affirmation is ratified by sacrificial offering and ritual.
  • Verses 9-11: The elders ascend (partway up the mountain) and encounter God (theophany), and the covenant ritual is finalized.

There is obvious symbolism and significance to the seventy elders (see also Num 11:16, 24-25; Ezek 8:11) who represent the people. Most likely it draws upon the idea of completeness connoted by the numbers seven and ten (i.e. 7 x 10). The seventy elders truly represent the entire people of God. The action of the elders bowing low (reflexive stem of the verb š¹µâ) reminds us again of the ancient Near Eastern background of the covenant (b§rî¾) idea. It is the act of a loyal and obedient subordinate, or vassal, paying homage to a superior authority, and indicating submission. This is in accordance with the suzerain-vassal treaty form of agreement, with Yahweh, as the one Creator God, representing the ultimate sovereign.

In each of the covenant episodes we have been studying, the agreement is accompanied by ritual involving cutting. In Genesis 15, animals were cut up into pieces, and God (symbolically, in a vision) passed between the pieces, indicating the binding obligation on him to fulfill the agreement. In the Genesis 17 episode, the ritual cutting is of a different sort (circumcision), and reflects the binding obligation on the other party (Abraham and his descendants). Now, in Exodus 24, the cutting is expressed through: (a) sacrificial offerings, and (b) the use of blood. More important, the ritual symbolism involves both parties—God and the people Israel. This dual-aspect is sometimes overlooked by commentators, but it is clear enough in the account of verses 4b-8.

First, we should note that there are three elements to the ritual scene:

  • The mountain location—symbolically a meeting-point between heaven (God) and earth (humankind)
  • The altar—representing the presence of God, and
  • The twelve pillars—representing the people (i.e., the twelve Tribes of Israel)

Mount Sinai is thus a (sacred) location where both parties can meet to establish the agreement. The use of pillars (or stones) to represent the parties of an agreement is attested elsewhere in the Pentateuch (Gen 31:45-54); see also Josh 24:27, where a stone serves as a witness to the agreement.

With regard to the sacrificial offerings themselves, they are of two kinds:

  • Offerings which are entirely burnt by fire on the altar (i.e. “burnt offerings”, Leviticus 1ff)—these are consumed (“eaten”) entirely by God, through the burning; the very Hebrew word for this offering (±ôlâ, hl*u)) indicates the symbolism of the savory smoke ascending (“going up”) to God in heaven.
  • Offerings which signify the wish to establish (or restore/maintain) good will and peace between parties—i.e. between God and the people. It sometimes called a “peace offering”, based on the customary translation of the Hebrew šelem (<l#v#, “peace”). Both parties “eat” of these offerings—a portion is burnt by fire (i.e. by God), the remainder is consumed by the human participants in a meal.

Only in the case of the “peace offering”, consumed by both God and the people, is the term jbz (noun ze»aµ, verb z¹»aµ), “[ritual] slaughter”, used; this is the offering which involves cutting. Interestingly, while the cutting in the previous covenant scenes (Genesis 15, 17) would have resulted in blood (see Exod 4:25-26, etc), only here, in this episode, does blood play a part in the ritual. It is applied to both parties in the agreement:

  • For God, symbolically, through the blood thrown against the altar (v. 6), and
  • For the people, the blood thrown (or sprinkled) on them (v. 8)

We must consider the different possible aspects of this symbolism. First, note the declaration accompanying the use of blood:

“See—the blood of the (binding) agreement which YHWH has cut with you upon [i.e. regarding] all these words!” (v. 8b)

In the case of the cutting up on the animals in Genesis 15, as we discussed, the background of the symbolism involved the punishment which would befall someone who violated the agreement (i.e., he/they would be “cut up” just as the animals were). In a similar manner, in Genesis 17, the person(s) who violate the agreement, which was marked by the cutting off of the male foreskin, would themselves be “cut off”. The symbolic use of blood here may also reflect the idea that death would be the result of violating the agreement.

At the same time, blood could symbolize the life-essence of a person (Gen 9:4-6), and thus possess a sacred, life-giving (and life-preserving) quality. In the underlying symbolism of the Passover ritual, the blood from the sacrifice specifically protects the person(s) from death (Exod 12:13, 22-23).

A third aspect—perhaps the one most relevant to the covenant scene in Exodus 24—is the use of blood to consecrate persons and objects within a religious setting (Exod 29:12ff; Lev 4:5-7ff; 8:15-24; 9:9ff, etc). The consecration of priests, those responsible for managing the ceremonial/sacrificial elements of the covenant, is accompanied by a ritual use of blood which is very close to that of Exod 24:6-8. In a sense, the consecrated priests are representatives of the entire people (like the elders in Exod 24), who are called to be a holy nation (Exod 19:6). In this respect, the “blood of the agreement” marks the sacred and holy character of the agreement between the people and God. Symbolizing both aspects of life and death, blood serves to finalize the binding agreement—the very bond—between the two parties.

It hardly needs to be pointed out that the use of blood in Exod 24:6-8 is drawn upon by Jesus in the Gospel tradition of the Last Supper. This is found in the institution of the “Lord’s Supper” in the Synoptic Gospels (also echoed by Paul in 1 Cor 11:25):

“This is my blood of the covenant [diath¢¡k¢] th(at is) being poured out over many” (Mark 14:24 par)

Similar language is used in the Gospel of John (6:51, 53ff) and elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 3:25; 1 Cor 10:16; Col 1:20; Heb 9:14ff; 10:29; 13:20; 1 Pet 1:2, 19; 1 John 1:7; 5:6, 8). In these passages, the “blood of the (new) covenant” clearly refers to Jesus’ death, as a sacrifice—an offering slaughtered (cut up), and its blood poured out (onto the altar, etc), just as Jesus’ body is ‘broken’ and his blood ‘poured out’ in his death (see John 19:34).

Finally, we must note the climax of the Exodus 24 covenant episode: the manifestation of God (YHWH) to the leaders of the people (the seventy elders, etc) in verses 9-11. As in the vision of Genesis 15:17f, here God appears—the presence of both parties being required to ratify the agreement. To be sure, God was present, symbolically, by the altar, but now he becomes visible to the people (as he did in the initial Sinai theophany of chapter 19). We may outline this section as follows:

  • Ascent of the elders (v. 9)
    —Appearance of YHWH (v. 10)
    —They behold Him and live (v. 11a)
  • They eat and drink (conclusion of the ritual, v. 11b)

The use of the verb µ¹zâ (hz`j*) in verse 10 indicates that the manifestation of YHWH was, at least in part, a visionary experience (see Ezek 1, etc). The parallel with the Genesis 15 episode would seem to confirm this aspect. The precise nature of the “eating and drinking” mentioned in verse 11b is uncertain, but it would seem to reflect the conclusion of the meal related to the sacrificial offerings in vv. 6ff. The people’s participation in this meal serves to finalize the agreement (specifically, their part in it). It is noteworthy that the establishment of the “new covenant”, marked by Jesus’ blood, is also part of a ritual meal (Mark 14:12-26 par).

As significant as the Exodus 24 covenant episode is, it should be pointed out, again, that chapters 19-24 represent only the beginning of a larger covenant-narrative complex which continues on to the end of the book (and, one might say, into the book of Leviticus). For next week, even as you think and meditate upon these covenant episodes we have studied, I would ask you to read on through the remainder of Exodus, considering how chapter 24 fits into the structure of the book—both the legal material in chapters 25-31, 34ff and the important narrative scenes in chapters 32-33. The covenant agreement between God and Israel cannot be separated from the Law, or Torah—the regulations and instructions given by God to his people. These regulations function as the terms of the covenant. While this applied initially to the “ten words” (Decalogue) and the “book of the covenant” in 20:19-23:33, it came to encompass a much larger body of instruction and tradition. The importance of these associations—the leadership of the people (Moses/Elders), the covenant ritual, and the Torah—must be realized and studied closely, as they relate precisely to the language and symbolism used by early Christians in the New Testament. We continue to use this language, to some extent, even today, though its fundamental meaning is largely lost in the modern age. It is possible for us to regain and restore its meaning through a critical study of Old Testament passages such as these in the books of Exodus and Genesis.

Blessings to you in your study…and I will see you next Saturday.

Note of the Day – May 23 (John 5:24, 39-40)

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John 5:24, 39-40

Today I will be continuing in the chapter 5 discourse (cf. the previous note on vv. 21-29), focusing specifically on two statements by Jesus—in verse 24 and 39-40, respectively. These come from key points in the two divisions of the exposition (vv. 19-47)—the first division (vv. 19-29) focuses on the living-giving work which the Son performs, while the second (vv. 30-47) emphasizes the testimony which bears witness to the Son’s work and his identity in relation to God the Father. The statements in vv. 24 and 39-40 are, in many ways, central to these sections. I begin with the first:

Verse 24

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$], and trusting in the (One) sending me, holds (the) Life of the Age [e&xei zwh\n ai)w/nion] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped with(in) [i.e. over/across], out of death (and) into Life [ei)$ th\n zwh/n].”

The centrality of this statement is indicated by the parallel with v. 25—marking the beginning and end of the two portions of the section (vv. 19-24, 25-29). This parallelism is indicated by:

  • The use of the “Amen, amen, I say to you…” formula at the start
  • The motif of hearing the word/voice of Jesus:
    “the one hearing my word (v. 24)”
    “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God” (v. 25)
  • The result of hearing is life:
    “the one hearing…holds Life…(and) has come…into Life” (v. 24)
    “…and the ones hearing will live” (v. 25)

This will be depicted in dramatic form in the Lazarus episode, when Jesus calls out to Lazarus (in the tomb) and he hears the voice and lives again (11:43-44). It was also foreshadowed in the healing miracle from chapter 4, when the official’s son is healed (and rescued from death) at the very moment Jesus’ voice uttered the word “your son lives” (vv. 50-53). This life giving miracle is connected with trust in Jesus (v. 50b), even as Jesus declared more clearly to Martha in 11:25-26 (cf. also v. 40).

Returning to the statement by Jesus in 5:24, it deftly blends both aspects of future and “realized” eschatology (cf. the discussion on this in the previous note):

  • the one hearing and trusting…
    • holds the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—in the present (“realized”)
    • does not come into the Judgment—in the future
  • …has stepped (across) out of death and into Life

The final (perfect) verb form, “has stepped…”, indicates a past action or condition which continues into the present. Here, by extension, it also signifies a present condition (“holding Life”) which continues into the future. While the dualistic construct (trusting vs. not trusting) is not especially emphasized here, it is implied in the repeated references to Judgment (vv. 22ff, 27, 29)—if the one trusting Jesus does not come into the Judgment, then, by implication, the everyone not trusting does come into Judgment.

Verses 39-40

It is interesting to consider how this Judgment theme is picked up from the first section (ending with v. 29) into the next (v. 30). The judgment which Jesus brings (already in the present) is based upon the testimony which bears witness about him. In order for such testimony to be valid in a judicial setting (i.e. court of law), it must be confirmed by at least two witnesses (cf. Deut 19:15ff, etc). Jesus refers to four distinct sources of testimony:

  • John the Baptist (vv. 33-35)
  • Jesus’ own works (i.e. miracles)—identified as having been given to him by the Father (v. 36)
  • God the Father—his Word, which abides [in the believer] (vv. 37-38)
  • God’s Word as manifest in the Writings [i.e. Scriptures, esp. the Torah] (vv. 39-40, cf. also vv. 45-47)

These four sources of testimony all bear witness to Jesus—both to the truth of his words/works and his identity (as the Son sent by the Father). The one who fails (or refuses) to trust in him has essentially rejected this testimony—and these witnesses will, in turn, testify against that person in the Judgment. Since Jesus is addressing his opponents in this discourse—persons who, it can be assumed, are to be identified as the supposed experts in Scripture, the Law (Torah) and related religious matters (cp. the Pharisees in chap. 9 and similar Synoptic scenes)—it is fitting that the Scriptures are set in the climactic position. These experts in the Scriptures have failed (and/or refused) to accept their own testimony regarding Jesus. There is thus a kind of irony in the rebuke offered by Jesus in vv. 39-40:

“You search the Writings, (in) that [i.e. because] you consider (yourselves) to hold (the) Life of the Age in them, and they are the (writing)s giving witness about me, and (yet) you do not wish to come toward me (so) that you might hold Life.”

I have discussed the context (and interpretation) of this statement in the recent Saturday Series post, and will not repeat that here. It is not an exhortation to study Scripture, but rather a stern rebuke—and a word of judgment against the opponents of Jesus. The logic of this statement is clear enough:

  • you think that you hold life in [i.e. through study of] the Scriptures
    —the Scriptures give witness about me
    —(but) you do not wish to come toward me
  • (yet it is only by coming to me) that you will (actually) hold life

The underlying message is that, while the Scripture bear witness about Jesus, they are not the source of Life—it is only through the person and work of Jesus (the Son) that one receives Life (from the Father). The Father gives Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives it to those who trust in him. While the plural noun grafai/ (“writings”) may be taken as referring to the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole, the primary reference is to the Law (Torah), as contained in the books attributed to Moses (i.e. the Pentateuch, Genesis–Deuteronomy). This is clear enough from what follows in vv. 41-47, especially the statement of judgment in verses 45-47:

“the one bringing public (accusation) against you is Moshe {Moses}, (the one) in who you have placed (your) hope. For if you trusted Moshe, you would (have) trusted (in) me—for that (one) wrote about me. And if you do not trust in that (man)’s writings, how will you trust in my utterances [i.e. words]?”

I.e., their lack of trust in Jesus actually means that they do not really trust in the Scriptures (the Torah). The same sort of comparison (and contrast)—Moses/Torah vs. Jesus—appears at a number of points in the Gospel, beginning with the Prologue (1:11, 17-18). For the relationship between Jesus and the Law (Torah) in the Gospel of John, see my article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”. The contrast between Jesus and the Torah—or, better put, Jesus as the true fulfillment of the Torah—features prominently in the next Johannine discourse, the great “Bread of Life” discourse, which I will be examining in the next daily note.

January 1: Luke 2:23

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Luke 2:23

Verses 22-24 follow v. 21 (cf. the previous note), continuing the theme of fulfilling the requirements, etc, of the Law. Verse 22 begins with the same opening formula, marking the particular time—”when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled”. Here, the “days” being referenced are the forty days after childbirth (for a male child) when the mother is in a state of impurity (Lev 12:2-8). The plural pronoun “their” (au)tw=n) probably anticipates the verbal phrase which follows—”they [i.e. Jesus’ parents] brought him up into Jerusalem”. It is unlikely that the Gospel writer thought that both Joseph and Mary required cleansing in connection with childbirth. The period of time completes the “days” of verse 21—7 days before circumcision, 33 before purification. This detail also serves the narrative purpose of explaining why Joseph and Mary would be in Jerusalem at the Temple. Indeed, mention of the purification ritual frames the episode (vv. 22 and 24); in between, in verse 23, the focus is on the reason/purpose of Jesus’ presence in the Temple. This verse almost has the appearance of a secondary insertion; note how vv. 22 and 24 would otherwise join together:

“And when the days of their cleansing were (ful)filled, they brought him [i.e. Jesus] up into Yerushalem, to stand (him) alongside the Lord…
…and to give a (ritual) slaughtering [i.e. sacrifice] according to the (regulation) stated (by God) in the Law of the Lord…”

This literary device creates the impression that the author has confused or conflated two different Torah laws—(1) those related to the mother’s purification after childbirth (the sacrifice is part of this regulation), and (2) the redemption of the firstborn male child (Num 3:44-51; 18:15-16). Yet it is never stated that the latter command was fulfilled at the Temple. Some commentators believe that the author had the mistaken idea that the firstborn male needed to be presented in Jerusalem (at the Temple). But, if this were the case, there would be little reason for him to confuse matters by introducing the detail of the purification ritual for Mary. In my view, it is much more likely that the author used the occasion of the purification ritual to introduce the motif of the consecration of the firstborn within that setting and context. The result is somewhat awkward, and certainly open to misunderstanding, but it very much suits the author’s creative purpose—of blending together several different fulfillment themes: (a) fulfillment of the Law, (b) fulfillment of Scripture, and (c) Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament.

The specific Scripture quoted in v. 23 is a adaptation of Exod 13:2 (cf. also v. 15b, Num 18:15). The centrality of this quotation puts the emphasis of the scene, not on the purification ritual, but rather the tradition of the consecration of the firstborn male child—as one dedicated to (religious/priestly) service to God. In Israelite religion and society, this role was taken over by the tribe of Levi (as a kind of priestly caste or class), with the 5-shekel payment (redemption) made to them in exchange. The passages in the Torah dealing with this issue (and its underlying theological principle) are Exod 13:1-2, 11-16; 22:29b-30; Lev 27:26-27; Num 3:11-13, 44-51; 8:14-18; 18:15-16ff.

This consecration motif is expressed by the author in the narrative as a presentation of the child before God (at the Temple), in a manner similar to that of Samuel in 1 Sam 1:22-24ff. The priority of this is indicated by the syntax in Lk 2:22-24, the two purpose infinitives:

  • parasth=sai tw=| qew=| “to stand (him) alongside God”
  • dou=nai qusi/an “to give sacrifice”

Both verbal phrases reflect religious offerings to God. The second (“give sacrifice”) refers to the sacrificial (burnt) offering of two doves/pigeons which completes the purification process for the mother (Mary) following childbirth (cf. above). The second is a separate (voluntary) offering of the child, dedicating it to the service of God. There is almost certainly an allusion to the Samuel Infancy narrative here, as already noted. In 1 Sam 1:22, Hannah declares her intention to bring the child to the Temple in Jerusalem, so that “he may be seen (before) the face of YHWH, and sit down [i.e. dwell/remain] there until (the most) distant (time) [i.e. for ever]”. This she fulfills at the appropriate time, according to vv. 24-28. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find a similar use of the verb pari/sthmi (“stand/place alongside”) in the sacrificial sense of believers presenting themselves before God as holy offerings (cf. Rom 6:13-19; 12:1; 2 Cor 11:2; Col 1:22, 28; Eph 5:27).

Looking at the central verse 23 a bit more closely, one finds three key elements which make up its structure, and which I would arrange as a chiastic outline:

  • “written in the Law of the Lord”—Scripture/Law (cp. “Law of Moses”, v. 22)
    —”every male child opening…”—the (physical) birth of the firstborn male child
  • “will be called holy to the Lord”—dedication/consecration of the child (naming)

The expression “will be called holy” (a%gion klhqh/setai) points back to the words of the Angel to Mary in 1:35: “the (child) coming to be (born) will be called Holy [a%gion klhqh/setai], (the) Son of God”. It is essentially a title of Jesus, as we see in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (Acts 2:27; 13:35 [both citing Ps 16:10]; Luke 4:34 par; John 6:69; 1 Jn 2:20; Rev 3:7; 16:5). It reflects an ancient Divine name or title—i.e. “Holy (One)” (vodq*, Q¹dôš)—that is, of Yahweh/El as the “Holy One (of Israel)”, cf. 2 Kings 19:22; Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa 1:4; 5:19, etc. There is an echo of this in the Magnificat (Lk 1:49, cf. Psalm 99:3). I would also mention again the theory, discussed in a recent note, that the Scripture cited in Matt 2:23 essentially is Isa 4:3 (“he will be called [a] holy one”), with wordplay involving the substitution Nazîr—”he will be called a Nazîr” (Nazirite–Nazorean). The Nazirite association may seen unusual at first, until one realizes that it is an element of both the Samuel and Samson birth narratives (1 Sam 1:9-15; Judg 13:4-7; 16:17), which find an echo in the Lukan narrative (e.g. Lk 1:13-15). Parallels with the Samuel story have already been mentioned here (above), and will be discussed again in the remaining notes.

The fundamental meaning of the root verb rz~n` (n¹zar) is to separate or “keep apart (from)”, often in a religious or ritual context. It is thus synonymous, to some extent, with the verb vd^q* (q¹daš), and a n¹zîr, a separated/consecrated person, can also be called q¹dôš (“holy one”). John the Baptist was set apart and consecrated to God (“filled by the holy Spirit”) from the womb (1:15), using language from the birth of Samson. Similarly, Jesus could be called “the Holy One” from even before the moment of his conception (1:32, 35), and was dedicated to God in the Temple, following the pattern of Samuel.

December 31: Luke 2:21

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Luke 2:21

Today’s Christmas season note will look at the circumcision and naming of Jesus, parallel to that which was narrated of John in Lk 1:59ff. In the case of Jesus, it is told simply, in a single sentence (2:21). Actually, the circumcision is mentioned primarily to establish the time at which the naming took place:

“And when the eight days of his (be)ing circumcised were (ful)filled…”

The Greek syntax, rendered quite literally here, can be misleading. The reference, of course, is to the period of eight days, after birth, before the male child was to be circumcised.

For more on the naming of a child taking place in connection with circumcision, cf. the earlier note on 1:57-66. The naming of John is given with greater detail due to the importance of the sign attached to his birth (Zechariah’s inability to speak); the naming of Jesus, by contrast, is told with virtually no detail at all:

“…(then) also his name was called Yeshua, the (name) called under [i.e. by] the Messenger before his [i.e. Jesus’] being received together in the belly (of his mother)”

The naming took place in fulfillment of the Angel’s directive (1:31), with no specific action by either parent being mentioned; the emphasis is rather on the heavenly origin of the name (given by the Angel) and that it had been given prior to Jesus’ conception. This is narrated in the passive, and there is no indication of which parent did the naming (cp. Matt 1:21, 25). Possibly this is meant to suggest or allude to a “divine passive”, where God is the implied actor, perhaps even as a foreshadowing of the scene in 2:41-50 (vv. 48-49).

Between the initial mention of the name by the Angel and the naming recorded here, the theme of salvation has been developed, primarily in the two hymns of Mary and Zechariah (the Magnificat and Benedictus). God is referred to as “Savior” (Swth/r) in 1:47, at the opening of the Magnificat, while the word “salvation” (swthri/a) occurs three times in the Benedictus (vv. 69, 71, 77). Lk 1:77 is close to the idea expressed in Matt 1:21, but the Lukan Gospel does not deal directly with the meaning (or interpretation) of the name Yeshua (Y¢šûa±). However, the child Jesus is called by the title Swth/r (“Savior”) in 2:11, in a context where the Messianic vocabulary is especially clear and prominent (cf. the note on 2:10-14). For more detail on the etymology and meaning of the name Yeshua, consult the recent note on Matt 1:21.

Circumcision—The mention of circumcision (lit. “cutting around”) here, and in 1:59, is important for the author’s theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament (the Old Covenant). Joseph and Mary, like John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, are said (and shown) to have been faithful in observing the commands and regulations of the Torah. Circumcision, as the principal sign (or mark) of the covenant between God and Israel, was in many ways the most important rite and religious-cultural practice in the Torah. Both children—John and Jesus—were circumcised according to the requirements laid down in the Law.

The circumcision of Jesus is not otherwise mentioned directly in the New Testament, but Paul, who addressed the issue of circumcision numerous times in his letters (esp. Galatians and Romans), gives a definite soteriological dimension to Jesus’ fullment/observance of the Law. The passage is Galatians 4:4-5, which also happens to refer to the birth of Jesus. Paul states that Jesus came to be “under the Law”—note how this is set parallel to his (human) birth:

  • “God se(n)t forth his Son”
    • “coming to be (born) out of a woman” (geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$)
    • “coming to be under the Law” (geno/menon u(po\ no/mon)

The purpose of Jesus’ birth and human life was to purchase out (of bondage) the ones who are “under the Law”. Paul’s unique (and controversial) view of the ultimate function and purpose of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) is too complex to address here. I recommend the interested reader consult the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”), which also includes a discussion of Gal 4:1-11. Paul frequently describes ‘salvation’ in terms of human beings (believers) set free from bondage (slavery) to the the power of sin—where sin is depicted as a hostile ruler or tyrant. Similarly in the Lukan Infancy narrative, in the Benedictus, the image of salvation/redemption starts in the conventional, dramatic context of human powers (i.e. enemies of Israel, Lk 1:71, 74), but is transferred to salvation from sin by the end of the hymn (1:77, cf. Matt 1:21). These same two aspects relate to the idea of redemption as part of the Messianic expectation of the period (2:25-26, 38).

More relevant to the Lukan Infancy narrative perhaps is Romans 15:8ff:

“The Anointed One {Christ} came to be a servant of circumcision over [i.e. on behalf of] the truth of God, to confirm the promises to the Fathers, and over (his) mercy (for) the nations to honor/glorify God…”

Here “circumcision” (peritomh/) is a shorthand for those who have been circumcised—i.e. Israelites and Jews. This would certainly imply that Jesus himself had been circumcised, especially when taken together with Gal 4:4 (cf. above). A major emphasis for Paul throughout Romans is the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Salvation from the power of sin, common to all human beings, is realized through faith in Christ. The thrust of this section has a general parallel with the Song of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32). Moreover, one of the Scriptures Paul cites (in v. 12) is from a passage (Isaiah 11) that was regularly given a Messianic interpretation. Isa 11:10 is similar to the first line of the prior (and related) oracle (vv. 1-9)—for a discussion of verse 1, cf. the previous note on Matt 2:23. We can see how this relates to the portrait of Jesus in the Lukan Infancy narrative:

  • He is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Savior of God’s people (2:11)
    • He is born and lives among the people Israel
      —He is under the Law—circumcised, etc—fulfilling God’s covenant
    • The Good News (Gospel) goes out to the nations
  • The salvation he brings is for all people—Jews and Gentiles both, as the people of God (v. 10)

This will be discussed further in the remaining notes of this series.

Women in the Church: Part 8 – The Old Testament

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Having examined most of the relevant passages in the New Testament, it is now time to look at some of the Old Testament references which can be said to be related, in some way, to our subject. I offer here only a brief survey, to which doubtless numerous other passages and comments might be added. Emphasis is given especially to those sections or examples which were influential on Jewish and early Christian thought, and which may inform the view of women in the New Testament.

The Creation Account (Genesis 1-3)

The Creation narratives in Genesis are, as one might expect, fundamental to Jewish and early Christian views on the role of women and gender relations. There are three steps, or stages, in the overall Creation account, corresponding to each of the first three chapters:

  • 1:1-2:4a—The summary of Creation, the relevant portion being the declaration in vv. 26-27:
    “Let us make (hu)mankind [<d*a*] in our image [<l#x#], according to our likeness [tWmD=]…
    And God created the (hu)man (being) in His image, in the image of God He created him—male and female He created them.”
  • 2:4b-25—The Creation of Man and Woman:
    (i) Creation of the man [<d*a*] (vv. 5-17)
    (ii) Creation of the woman (vv. 18-22)
    (iii) Relationship between man [vya!] and woman [hV*a!] (vv. 23-25)
  • Chap. 3—The rise of the current Human Condition:
    (i) Deception of the woman and man by the serpent (vv. 1-13)
    (ii) God’s curse/punishment on Creation: (a) the serpent (vv. 14-15), (b) the woman (v. 16), (c) the man (vv. 17-19)
    (iii) Establishment of the human condition: (a) names (v. 20), (b) clothing (v. 21), (c) death/mortality, i.e. life-span (v. 22), (d) work and toil (v. 23), (e) separation from divine/eternal life (v. 24)

In the symbolism and language of this narrative, humankind (“Man” [<d*a*]) is first “the man” [<d*a*h*], then is separate into “male and female”, indicated two ways: (a) the narrative image of the joining “rib” (vv. 21-23), and (b) the wordplay of “man” [vya! °îš] and “woman” [hV*a! °iššâ]. This sequence and relational imagery is important for an understanding of subsequent Jewish and Christian thought. Jesus draws upon the Creation narrative (citing 1:27; 2:24) in his teaching on divorce in the Gospel tradition (Mark 10:2-12 par; Matt 5:31-32; Luke 16:18; cf. also 1 Cor 7:10-11). The emphasis is on the fact that humankind is man and woman, male and female, together, as symbolized in society by the marriage bond. Paul’s use (and interpretation) of the Genesis account in relation to gender distinction and the role of women in the Church is more complex, and problematic (from our standpoint today). I have discussed this already with regard to 1 Cor 11:3-9 and 1 Tim 2:11-15 in Parts 1 and 5 of this series. See also the supplemental note on Gen 3:16.

The Law and Israelite Religion

The commandments and legal passages of the Torah as recorded in the Pentateuch (Exodus–Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are instructive for establishing the position and role of women in ancient Israelite society. Many of the underlying ideas and precepts continued on in Judaism through the New Testament and subsequent periods. Due to the complex nature and sensitivity of some of this material, I have decided to address it in a separate supplemental article.

With regard to Israelite religion in particular, the following points may be noted here:

  • The priesthood was reserved for men. Though this is never stated specifically in principle, it is always assumed. The high-priestly office was designated for “Aaron and his sons” (Lev 1:5, 7-8, etc; 8:2 et al; Num 3:1-4ff). Similarly for the Levites—according to the Torah, the males of the tribe of Levi took the place of the firstborn males in Israel, as priests in the service of God (Num 3:5-13, 41-51; 8:5-26).
  • Otherwise, there is no indication that participation in public ritual and worship, including access to the Tabernacle/Temple, was restricted for women. The later Temple design did designate a limitation (partition) for access by women (the “Court of Women”, cf. Josephus Antiquities 15.417-19; Wars 5.192-200; Against Apion 2.103-5; Mishnah Midd. 2.2-5; Sukk. 5.2-4, etc), but this is not specified anywhere in the Torah and represents a subsequent development.
  • Men and women shared in the tasks of building and decorating the original tent-shrine (Tabernacle), according to Exod 35:20-29; 36:2-7.
  • While all of Israel was expected to participate in the sacred festivals (or “Feasts”), there was a specific directive for men—that all adult males would appear at the central sanctuary (i.e. the Temple in Jerusalem) for the three major (harvest) festivals (Exod 23:17; 34:23; Deut 16:16).

Women may have taken part in various religious rituals in an official capacity, as musicians, or in other attendant roles, such as indicated by Exod 38:8; 1 Sam 2:22; 2 Sam 19:35; 2 Chron 35:25; Ezra 2:65 (and Neh 7:67), but the precise details are not entirely clear.

Miriam

Miriam [<y`r=m!] was the sister of Moses and Aaron according to Exod 15:20; Num 26:59 and 1 Chron 6:3. She is presumably the sister mentioned in the infancy narrative (Exod 2:1-10, vv. 4, 7-8). Miriam appears in two important narrative episodes in the Pentateuch:

Exodus 15:20-21

Following the miraculous crossing of the “Reed Sea” (chapter 14), two poetic hymns are recorded in chapter 15—one composed and/or sung by Moses and the people as a whole (vv. 1-18, the “Song of Moses”, “Song of the Sea”), and the other by Miriam (v. 21, the “Song of Miriam”); likely only a small portion of this latter song has been preserved. In verse 20, Miriam is referred to as ha*yb!N+h^, “the (female) prophet” or “the prophetess“, the noun ayb!n` essentially signifying one who functions as a representative and spokesperson for God, who communicates his word and will to the people. Here the context implies that the song she sings is an inspired poem.

Numbers 12:1-16

This wilderness episode is introduced with the statement that “Miriam and Aaron spoke with Moses on account of the Kushite woman he had taken (as his wife)” (v. 1). Their attitude in approaching him on the subject is indicated in verse 2, which summarizes their thought: “Has YHWH spoken only with Moses? Has he not also spoken with us?”. This may indicate that Miriam and Aaron were prophets in their own right, as it is said of Miriam in Ex 15:20; her name comes before Aaron’s here, which may mean that she was a more prominent figure, or simply that she was the older of the two. A kind of sibling rivalry may be reflected, not wishing to be accorded a lower standing of leadership and influence than Moses (note how the three are grouped together as leaders in Mic 6:4). In verses 4-9 God addresses the three together in the ‘Tent of Meeting’ where He confirms that Moses’ stature is greater even than prophets such as Miriam, since he receives revelation from God directly (face to face). The punishment Miriam receives, the whitening of her skin (i.e., ‘leprosy’), is probably related symbolically to the darker skin of Moses’ “Kushite” wife, who had been the reason for the dispute.

Deborah

Deborah (hr*obD=, lit. [The] Bee) was one of the <yf!p=v) of Israel in the early period. The verb fp^v* refers to the act of rendering a decision, or judgment, i.e. one who presides in an authoritative governing position (judge, ruler, law-giver, etc). Prior to the establishment of monarchy in Israel, persons were chosen to rule over the tribal league only on a temporary basis, usually in the face of a national emergency. Such persons were called fp@v) (usually translated as “Judge”), and their exploits are recorded in the book of Judges. As far as we know, Deborah is the only woman who filled this role in Israel (Judg 4-5). Unlike other <yf!p=v), she did not personally lead the armies into battle (this was done by the general Barak), but it is clear that she served as ruler (or Judge) during the period when Israel was being threatened by the Canaanite king of Hazor (4:1-6ff). It is also said of Deborah that she was a prophetess (ha*yb!n+), like Miriam before her (Exod 15:20); the ancient poem in Judg 5 is attributed to her (together with Barak), presumably as an inspired song. Following the great victory over Jabin of Hazor, the land “was at rest for forty years”. In association with this battle, we may note in passing the role played by another women (Jael) in killing the Canaanite general Sisera (Judg 4:17-22; 5:6, 24-27); according to the cultural sensibilities of the time, this would have been an extremely humiliating way for a military commander to die.

Occasionally (male) commentators have expressed unease at the idea of a woman in such a ruling position, and have sought to explain it in various ways. Often this reflects sexist thinking and prejudice as much as any kind of serious study of Scripture. One is reminded of John Knox’s regrettable “Trumpet-blast” against the “rule of women” in the Reformation period; that he (and others like him) were misguided in their views is confirmed by evidence from history and from Scripture itself. Indeed, women have proven to be able rulers alongside (or in place of) men, as may be documented throughout history, in spite of the added social/cultural pressures they often face. Perhaps the most famous example of the ancient Near East is the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut of Egypt (18th Dynasty, 1498-1483 B.C.). For every wicked Jezebel or Athaliah there is a virtuous Esther, much as we find in the case of men who rule. The idea sometimes floated, that God only chose Deborah because there were no qualified men available, is as fatuous as it is unwarranted.

Female Prophets and Joel 2:28-32

In addition to Miriam (Exod 15:20) and Deborah (Judg 4:4), several other female prophets are mentioned in the Old Testament: Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron 34:22), Noadiah (Neh 6:14), and the woman mentioned in Isa 8:3 who is otherwise unidentified. Such instances are relatively rare, perhaps, but they clearly indicate that women could serve (and be chosen by God) as prophet (ayb!n`)—that is, as a spokesperson who represents God before the people, and who communicates his word and will. Female prophets are known throughout the ancient world, the most famous certainly being the oracle of Delphi and the Roman Sibyls. While the priesthood in Israel was reserved for men (cf. above), women could function equally as prophets.

This egalitarian principle is confirmed in the (eschatological) prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 [Hebrew 3:1-5]:

“And it will (come to) be after this
(that) I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh
and your sons and daughters will speak (on my) behalf [WaB=n] i.e. prophesy]…
And also/even upon the (male) slaves and the (female) house-servants
will I pour out my Spirit.”

In the ‘end times’ (or the Age to Come, etc), God’s Spirit will come upon all people (“all flesh”)—men and women alike, even for the lowest of society (slaves and servants). This basic idea is reflected elsewhere in the Old Testament, as in the declaration (by Moses) in Numbers 11:29: “And who (would not) give that all the people of YHWH (should be his) spokespersons [<ya!yb!n+ i.e. prophets], and that God (would) give his Spirit upon them!” The prophecy in Joel 2:28ff came to have enormous influence on early Christian thought, being cited in the great Pentecost sermon-speech of Peter (Acts 2:14-36 [vv. 17-21]), following the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4ff). Admittedly, specific evidence for female prophets even in the New Testament is relatively slight (Acts 21:8-9; 1 Cor 11:2-16; and cf. chaps 12-14), but this may be due (in part) to historical circumstances. Other women function as prophets in the Gospel tradition, including Anna (Luke 2:36), Elizabeth and Mary (1:41-45, 46-55, cf. also v. 25); the latter oracle (the Magnificat) in particular is similar to the (inspired) poetic utterance attributed to Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1-10.

Women in the Prophets and Wisdom Literature

Female imagery and character-types appear frequently in the Old Testament Prophets and Wisdom Literature, the most common type being that of the virtuous woman, which has its practical ideal in the wise, faithful, and dutiful wifePsalm 128:3; Prov 5:18; 12:4; 18:22; 19:14; 21:9 (25:24); 27:15; Eccl 9:9; and, especially, Prov 31:10-31 (cf. also Sirach 26). This same basic type also serves to personify virtue (righteousness) and wisdom itself. This was altogether natural, since the Hebrew word hm*k=j*, like the corresponding Greek sofi/a, is feminine in its (grammatical) gender. Similarly, and by contrast, folly and wickedness are often portrayed as a prostitute or “loose” woman. For the use of these two types, cf. Prov 1:20-2:22; chap. 5; 6:23-29; 7:1-8:21; 9:1-6, 13-18; Eccl 7:26. True wisdom is also divine—it is a manifestation of the character and power of God, cf. Prov 3:19-20; 8:22-31, etc. For similar passages in the important deutero-canonical books of Wisdom and Sirach, cf. Wis 6:12-25; 7:22-8:21; chaps. 10-11; Sir 1:14-20; 4:11-19; 6:18-31; 15:1-10; 24:1-22. We can see how this basic type relates to some of the other female imagery found in the writings of the Prophets:

Concluding Note on Female imagery and Sexuality

It is interesting how rarely the actual relationship between man and woman (husband & wife) is emphasized, especially in terms of sexuality. Obviously, marital/sexual relations are a key element in many of the historical-traditional narratives in Genesis, etc., and often in such accounts the woman makes for a highly sympathetic figure in her own right (cf. the examples of Sarah, Hagar, Dinah, Tamar, etc). But throughout most of the Old Testament—especially in the Prophetic and Wisdom literature—sexuality is largely presented from a negative standpoint, as symbolizing sin and false worship (idolatry), under the euphemistic images of prostitution and adultery (cf. above). And, somewhat unfortunately perhaps (from our vantage point today), in this imagery the woman is typically seen as the source of error and deception (i.e. seduction). This is already evidenced in the Creation account (cf. above), and vividly depicted in the famous (though highly complex) narrative in Numbers 25. On the other hand, this negative type is counterbalanced by the contrasting image of the faithful and virtuous woman (wife), as discussed above.

Sexuality on its own is really only dealt with in the Song of Songs, a collection of poems written in the manner and style of ancient Near Eastern love poetry (numerous examples survive from Egypt and Sumer). The specific language and metaphor used is foreign enough to our culture today that the erotic nature of the Song is not always apparent on a casual reading (in translation). It has, of course, been interpreted various ways, but the underlying traditions which inform the material are purely those of Near Eastern love poetry. There would seem to be at least one main female protagonist in the Song, as well as a number of subsidiary characters.

Perhaps the most complete and well-rounded female character in Old Testament narrative is that of Ruth (tWr), central figure of the book which bears her name. It remains one of the most appealing and attractive of the Old Testament stories (for modern readers), with positive ‘role-model’ characters in Ruth and Naomi, as well as the central male figures; the scenes between Ruth and Boaz and tenderly depicted. Ultimately, of course, the primary purpose of the tale was to introduce the lineage of David (4:13-22), but we can be grateful that the rich and detailed narrative was included for men and women of all ages to enjoy.

Women in the Law (Torah)

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Reading the Old Testament Law (Torah) for Christians today is a difficult matter, as I have discussed at length in my series on The Law and the New Testament. Without a proper understanding of the religious and cultural context of the time, many passages will doubtless seem strange indeed. With regard to the position and role of women, one may be disappointed that there is so much that runs contrary to modern ideals of women’s rights and gender equality. Even in terms of the surrounding societies of the ancient Near East, the legislation in the Torah presents no marked progress (from our modern perspective) in these areas; in fact, in certain respects, it reflects an even more restrictive position for women (on this, cf. below). The traditional-conservative approach, which takes the text at face value—i.e., the commands are God’s revealed word to Israel—introduces an especially acute theological difficulty: how can God have established laws for Israel which seem to contradict, at times and in various ways, the finest ideals both of the New Testament and of an ‘enlightened’ modern society? It is not possible to address this question here in any detail, and I will limit my brief study in this article to an honest and straightforward examination of the passages in the Torah which relate to the role of women.

Male Orientation of the Law

To begin with, it is clear from the very beginning of the tradition—i.e., in the Decalogue (Ten Commandments)—that the Law is being addressed primarily to men (cf. the wording in Exod 20:17). This reflects the patriarchal and patrilineal character of Israelite society, as, indeed, of most societies in the ancient Near East. Men serve as the heads of the household, and of the larger clan, tribe, etc., and similarly function in the leading religious roles (the priesthood), and as ruling elders, judges, etc., of the Israelite tribal union (Exod 24:9-11; Num 11:16ff). This male orientation is evident in various aspects of the Torah commands and regulations; I note the following:

The importance of the (male) firstborn—This is emphasized in Exod 34:19-20, 23; Num 3:11-13, 40-51; 8:5-26; 18:1ff. The Torah draws upon ancient religious beliefs and traditions regarding the sacred position of the firstborn—the firstborn males are consecrated as an offering to God (Deut 15:19-23). This is taken literally in the case of animals; for human beings, the firstborn son is to function in a priestly role. In ancient Near Eastern culture and religion, the eldest son held a (semi-)official position, especially with regard to the care of the ancestral spirits. For the religious cultus in Israel, the ritual duties are assumed by a specialized priestly group—the males from the tribe of Levi take the place of the firstborn sons of Israel as a whole, who are purchased back (redeemed) to their families in a special symbolic rite (Num 3:44-51; cf. Luke 2:22ff).

Circumcision—All Israelite males were to have the foreskin of their genitals “cut around” (circumcised). Normally this would occur on the eighth day after birth (Lev 12:3), but might be done for adult converts as well (Gen 34:15-24; Exod 12:44, 48). It is hardly unique to Israel, as various forms of circumcision were common and widespread throughout the ancient world, and even today in traditional/tribal societies. However, in Israel it was specifically established as a rite symbolizing the covenant between God and his people (Gen 17:10-27). As such, it always held a special significance within Israelite/Jewish society with regard to a person’s religious identity (cf. Acts 10:45; 11:2ff; 15:1ff; 21:21; Rom 2:25-29; 3:1; Gal 2:1-10ff, etc).

The rights of husbands and fathers (i.e. over their wives and daughters)—Several of the regulations in the Torah make clear that men (husbands and fathers) have specific rights over women, in terms of their conduct, crimes committed against them, and so forth (cf. Exod 21:22ff; 22:16-17; Num 30:3-16). In such matters, women do not hold the rights themselves, as would be the ideal in modern society. Note especially the regulation regarding divorce, which was the prerogative of the husband (Deut 24:1-4), and the notorious ritual (ordeal) for a woman suspected of unfaithfulness/adultery (Num 5:11-31, cf. below).

Sexual regulations—Generally the commands/regulations regarding sexual conduct (Lev 18:6-23; 19:20-22; 20:10-21, etc) are oriented toward the male: it is he who is commanded against “uncovering the nakedness” of women, in instances where sexual relations are prohibited.

The “Holy War”—The rules laid down for the “consecration” (<r#j#), i.e. holy warfare, allow for Israelite men to take women (and children) as booty/spoils of war (i.e. slaves), and to make such a woman his wife (Deut 20:10-14; 21:10-14). The entire matter of the <r#j# is exceedingly difficult (and troubling) for many Christians and concerned readers of the Old Testament today, and cannot be dealt with here.

Equality of Men and Women

In certain respects, men and women were treated more or less equally under the Law. This is particularly so with regard to their own (physical) bodies and persons. Note especially:

Sin—The regulations regarding sin and its ritual (sacrificial) atonement apply equally to men and women, without any apparent distinction (Num 5:6ff; Deut 17:2ff)

Impurity/Uncleanness—For the most part, the purity laws (Lev 11-15) apply to men and women equally. The only exception involves the special case of the impurity of a woman following menstruation/childbirth (cf. below).

Religious participation—Apart from the priesthood, which was reserved for men, there do not seem to have been any notable restrictions as to the participation of women in the religious ritual—i.e. involvement in the feasts/festivals, access to the sacred space of the Tabernacle, etc. Special religious vows, including that of the Nazirite, were open to women as well as men (Num 6:2ff; 30:2-16).

Slaves—Again, for the most part, male and female slaves were treated equally (Exod 20:10; 21:20-21, 26-27, 32; Lev 25:6, 44; Deut 5:14ff; 12:12, 18; 15:17, etc). Only in Lev 27:1-8 do we see a difference, in terms of monetary valuation, which presumably reflects the ability to do certain kinds of physical work.

Special Cases and Concern for Women

There are several passages dealing with the treatment of women which are worthy of note:

  • Special regulations for the treatment of female slaves—Lev 21:7-11
  • Concern for widows and orphans—Exod 22:22-24; Deut 10:18; 14:29; 16:11, 14, etc. This is also the basis for the provision of “levirate marriage” (Deut 25:5-10)
  • Women (daughters) are allowed to inherit property, when there are no sons, as long as they marry within the same clan—Num 27:1-11; 36:1-12 (the case of the daughters of Zelophehad). This regulation is actually more restrictive for women than in other ancient Near Eastern societies, as indicated by surviving laws from Sumer and Mesopotamia (including the Code of Hammurabi §§171-181), the cities of Nuzi and Ugarit, etc., where daughters were apparently allowed to inherit (alongside or in place of sons) with fewer restrictions (cf. Milgrom, pp. 482-4).

Two special cases, which reflect a particular ancient cultural worldview, now quite foreign to us today, need to be examined briefly:

Purification ritual for menstruation and childbirth
  • Leviticus 15 records purity laws related to the bodily emissions of men and women—semen and menstrual fluid/blood. Both result in impurity which must be cleansed through a (ritual) process which involves both seclusion and sacrificial offering. For a man, he is unclean until the next evening, while a woman, following menstruation, is in a state of impurity for seven days. This difference is almost certainly due to the fact that the woman’s discharge involves “blood”, for which, in the ancient mind, there was an association with death, and with it, various taboos intended to safeguard society from any possible threat. It was especially important to keep impurity away from the religious sanctuary.
  • There are similar purity regulations for the woman who gives birth, in Lev 12:2-8. However, one also finds a curious detail regarding the length of her required seclusion—seven days if it is a male child, fourteen days (twice the time) if a female child. It is not easy to come up with an adequate or meaningful reason for this difference. Perhaps the best explanation relates again to the sacred character of the blood: the female child, who will grow up to be child-bearing woman, carries this same blood as her mother, and so the situation requires special protection, symbolized by the doubling of the time of seclusion. This is not a valid reason from the standpoint of modern health and hygiene, but it may accurately reflect the ancient way of thinking. Cf. the discussion in Levine, pp. 249-50.
The ritual/ordeal in Num 5:11-31

Even more difficult to understand is the ritual provided in the case of woman who is suspected (or accused) by her husband of infidelity. The ritual serves as a means of testing the accused (i.e. trial by ordeal), involving:

(a) Presentation of the woman and preparation of the offering and (sacred) water (vv. 15-18)
(b) An oath taken by the woman, in penalty of God’s curse—the curse being written down and mixed into the water (vv. 19-24)
(c) The twin ritual act of the woman’s sacrificial offering and drinking the test-water (vv. 25-28)

This is similar in certain respects to other water/river ordeals known from the ancient Near East (cf. Milgrom, pp. 346-7), and its apparently superstitious character is unquestionably problematic for us today. However, there is no need for Jews and Christians to rationalize or explain away this aspect of the ritual, which, to a large extent, simply reflects the religious-cultural context of the time. Indeed, this is essential to a proper interpretation of the passage. The situation must be considered closely. As the text points out, the woman is only suspected/accused of adultery, but she has not been caught in the act, nor is there any definite proof. In a strict patriarchal society, such as in ancient Israel (and the Near East), the tendency might be for the husband (and/or his relatives) to rush to judgment and mete out punishment—which, in the case of adultery, was death (cf. John 8:1-11). An ordeal ritual, while quite foreign to us today, was relatively common and accepted practice in the ancient world, and actually served as a valuable protection for the woman, as it placed a determination of guilt and punishment out of the hands of suspicious/vengeful men and into the hands of God. It is not known to what extent this particular ritual was ever implemented; Rabbinic sources express some unease about the matter, but indicate that the Temple apparatus was equipped to carry out the rite (cf. Milgrom, p. 348). Interestingly, according to the Torah, even if the woman failed the test and was thus deemed guilty, she was not sentenced to death (the typical punishment for adultery), but was instead rendered sterile through the ritual itself.

References marked “Levine” and “Milgrom” above are to the JPS [Jewish Publication Society] Torah Commentary, volumes by Baruch A. Levine (Leviticus, 1989) and Jacob Milgrom (Numbers, 1990).

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 4: Teacher of Righteousness

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In this article I will be examining the idea of an Anointed Teacher, which, it must be said, reflects more of a specific role than a distinct Messianic figure-type. However, it is worth being treated as a separate category, due to certain terms and references in the literature associated with the Qumran Community (the Dead Sea Scrolls), and for the light that it may shed on important aspects of the presentation of Jesus in the Gospels.

“Teacher” and “Interpreter” at Qumran

There are several notable references to a special “Teacher” or “Instructor” (hr#om, môreh) in the Qumran texts, including those which use the specific expression hq*d*x=(h^) hr#om “(the) Teacher of Righteousness”. The genitive (construct) relationship in this expression can be understood as objective (i.e., one who teaches righteousness) or subjective (i.e., righteous teacher)—the former meaning is to be preferred. The full expression appears in the so-called Damascus Document (which exists in fragmentary copies from Qumran [QD] and in later copies/versions found at Cairo [CD]), as well as in several (pesher) commentaries (on Psalms, Habakkuk, Micah) which interpret Scripture in light of the Community and its history. Because of their importance, here is an outline of the references:

  • CD 1:11—as part of a historical survey (1:3-2:1) of the Damascus-group in the document (related in some way to the Qumran Community), it is said that God “…raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness in order to direct them in the path of his heart”. If this is a true historical reference, then, judging by the chronological indicators in the document, he might have appeared sometime in the early-mid 2nd-century B.C.
  • CD 19:35-20:1—we read here of the “gathering (in) of the one/unique [dyjyh] Teacher” (cf. 20:14), which has also been read “…of the Teacher of the Community [djyh]”. This is generally taken as a reference to the Teacher’s death, and is clearly set as a marker for future/end-time events “…until there stands (up) [i.e. arises] the Anointed (One) [jyvm] from Aaron and from Israel”.
  • CD 20:28, 32—the test for faithfulness to the covenant for those in the Community (the ones “coming into the covenant”) is two-fold: “to come/go upon the mouth of [i.e. according to] the Teaching [Torah]” and “to hear/listen to the voice of the Teacher”, along with confession of one’s sins before God (20:28). This is alluded to again in 20:32: “…give their ear to the voice of the Teacher of Righteousness“.
  • 1QpMicah [1Q14]—in fragment 10 line 6ff, Micah 1:5-6 is interpreted as relating to “the Teacher of Righteousness who [teaches the Teaching {Torah}]” to all who join the Community, who will be saved when judgment comes on Israel and Judah (Jerusalem).
  • 1QpHab [1Q15]—there are a number of references to the Teacher of Righteousness: 1:13 (on Hab 1:4), 2:2 (on Hab 1:5), 5:10 (on Hab 1:13), 7:4 (on Hab 2:2), 8:3 (on Hab 2:4), 9:9 (on Hab 2:8), 11:5 (on Hab 2:15). The emphasis is on conflict between the Teacher and the “Wicked Priest” (or “Man of the Lie”), which indicates persecution and the danger of ‘false teaching’ facing the Community. The position of the Teacher is indicated especially in 7:4, where it is stated that God made known to him “all the mysteries of the words of his servants the Prophets”, and 8:3 where we find the promise that those who have been loyal to the Teacher will be freed from Judgment by God.
  • 4QpPs a-b [4Q171, 173]—these fragments likewise emphasize the importance in the Community relying upon the Teacher (established by God) and of conflict with the “Wicked Priest”; for the references, cf. 4Q171 (on Ps 37) col. iii, lines 15, 19; col. iv, line 27; 4Q173 fragment 1, line 4; fragment 2, line 2.

Two other passages should be noted:

  • CD 6:2-11—this section is ostensibly a commentary on Numbers 21:18 combined with Isaiah 54:16, linking the inscribed/engraved “staff” [qqwjm] and the tools with which the people dug the well, and identifying it/them with the “Interpreter of the Law” [hr*oTh^ vr@oD] (v. 7). The word vrwd is a verbal noun from vrd, and refers to the act of searching something out intensively, the concrete idiom something like beating/cutting/digging a path. Figuratively it is used for searching out (an cutting through to) the underlying meaning of something—in this case, the correct meaning(s) of Scripture. In vv. 10-11 it is stated that the people (of the Community) are to walk according to this “staff” until “…the one teaching righteousness [i.e. Teacher of Righteousness] stands (up) [i.e. arises] in the (time) following the days [i.e. after the days / ‘end of days’]”.
  • 4QFlorilegium [4Q174]—in an eschatological collection of Scripture verses, as part of a Messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:11-14, it is stated that the “Branch of David” is the one who will appear along with the “Interpreter of the Law” [hrwth vrwd] at the end of days (col. i, lines 11-12).

Thus we see that the Qumran (and related) texts make reference to three figures:

  1. The Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness through whom God established the Community (in the past)
  2. The Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness who will appear at the end-time, and
  3. The “Interpreter” of the Torah, who may be a historical and/or eschatological figure

A Messianic Teacher?

Is it proper to speak of an Anointed (that is, ‘Messianic’) Teacher? In at least two respects the evidence from Qumran supports this:

  • Twice (in CD 6:10-11 and 4QFlor [cf. above]), the Teacher/Interpreter is identified as an eschatological figure who will appear at the “end of the days”. In the latter passages, he is specifically associated with a Messianic Davidic ruler (“the Branch of David”).
  • On various occasions (cf. the references above), it is said regarding the Teacher of Righteousness that he was specially appointed and established by God, and gifted with unique revelation. Even though anointing (“Anointed [One]”) itself is not mentioned, the corresponding idea of being uniquely chosen and set apart by God is clearly present. Moreover, we have the notion that faithfulness and obedience to the Teacher will preserve the Community from the coming Judgment—in various ways, all of the attested Messianic figure-types are associated with the end-time Judgment.

Moreover, for at least two of the Messianic figure-types I have outlined (see the Introduction), teaching and instruction play a prominent role. The first of these is the “Prophet like Moses” from Deut 18:15-20—that is, an Anointed Prophet according to the Moses-tradition (for more on this, see the previous article). As stated in Deut 18:18, this coming Prophet will command and instruct the people (being given the words to speak by God). In addition to being a great Prophet (Deut 34:10-12), Moses was the supreme Lawgiver in Israelite history and tradition, having received the commands and precepts of the Torah directly from God and delivered them to Israel. In the Qumran texts, Moses is referred to as God’s “Anointed” (4Q377 2 ii 4-5), along with the holy Prophets (Anointed Ones) of Israel (CD 5:21-6:1). The imagery and characteristics associated with Moses fit the descriptions of the Teacher of Righteousness very well (cf. above), and even moreso to Jesus (cf. Acts 3:18-24 and the discussion below).

The second Anointed figure is that of Priest. As will be discussed in an upcoming article, the idea of a coming eschatological/Messianic Priest, while rare in Judaism of the period, is attested at Qumran. Indeed, the Community reflected in the Qumran texts was, it would seem, originally founded by priests and they continued to hold the leading role. As we shall see, in terms of their eschatological expectation and Messianic thought, the (Anointed) king/prince is subordinate to the (Anointed) Priest. According to the fragmentary (pesher) commentary on Psalms (cf. above), the historical Teacher of Righteousness, naturally enough, was a priest (4QPs a col. iii, line 15). In the so-called Rule of the Community, there was to be at least one priest for every group of ten members, primarily to instruct them in the study and practice of the Torah, which was at the very heart of Community life and identity (1QS 6:3-7 etc).

With regard to the “Teacher of Righteousness” at Qumran, it is somewhat difficult to determine the relationship between the historical Teacher and the eschatological figure expressed in CD 6 / 4QFlor (cf. above). However, I believe that the statement in CD 6:10-11 probably reflects the original idea—of “one who will teach righteousness” appearing at the end-of-days, the phrase itself probably being an allusion to Hosea 10:12. Since the Qumran Community (and/or the community of the Damascus Document) almost certainly viewed itself as existing in the “last days”, it seems probable that the historical Teacher was thought to be fulfilling an eschatological role. Upon the death of the Teacher, this role was transferred to a future figure who was expected to appear (sometime soon). In the interim, the leading priests at Qumran would fulfill the role of Teacher—the little digging tools in relation to the great “staff” (cf. CD 6:2ff).

Apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is hard to find a comparable idea elsewhere in Jewish writings of the period. Perhaps the closest we come is to the basic priestly tradition centered around Levi and Aaron, as expressed formally and in elevated language (cf. Sirach 45:6-17). In the book of Jubilees, as at Qumran, priority was given to the Priest (Levi), and in the reworking of Jacob’s blessing on Levi, the first thing mentioned could be summarized as “teaching righteousness” (Jubilees 31:15). In several passages in the Qumran texts, where the role of Priests is being extolled and expounded, it is teaching that is often given emphasis—cf. 4QFlor 6-11 (citing Deut 33:10) and 4Q541 fragment 9, etc.

Jesus as Teacher

That Jesus was viewed as a special Teacher scarcely needs to be emphasized—it is found all throughout the Gospel tradition, from the earliest layers on. According to the Synoptic narrative, Jesus essentially begins his ministry by teaching in the Synagogues of Galilee (on the Sabbaths), Mark 1:21 par. The uniqueness and special quality of his teaching was practically the first thing people noticed about him (Mk 1:22 par):

“and they were struck out of (themselves) [i.e. were amazed] upon his teaching, for he was teaching them as (one) holding authority [e)cousi/a], and not as the Writers [i.e. Scribes]”

In Mark 1:23ff par, Jesus performs a healing (exorcism) miracle in the Synagogue, and these two aspects—teaching and working miracles—dominate the account of his ministry in Galilee in the Synoptic tradition. In light of the previous article, which examined Jesus as an Anointed Prophet, we might say that he is here fulfilling two main characteristics of the Moses and Elijah types—authoritative teaching (Moses) and miracles (Elijah).

That Jesus was identified largely in terms of his teaching can be seen in the frequency (more than 50 times) in the use of the title “Teacher” (dida/skalo$), or the corresponding honorific “Rabbi” (r(abbi/). This latter term is a transliteration of the Hebrew yB!r^ (rabbî).  br (rab) simply means “great”, and as a title is literally “Great (One)”, generally corresponding to “Lord”, “Master”, etc. Rabbi (“my Great [One]”, “my Lord/Master”) is a sign of honor and respect in address; the intensive /B*r^ (rabb¹n), in Aramaic /oBr^ (rabbôn), came to be used as a title for an honored/respected scholar and teacher. At the time of Jesus, the form of address (in Aramaic) would have been yn]oBr^/yn]WBr^ (Rabbônî/Rabbûnî), as preserved in Mark 10:51; John 20:16. The closest we come to Jesus being described as an Anointed/Messianic Teacher is in Nicodemus’ address to him (John 3:2):

“Rabbi, we see that you are a Teacher having come from God, for no one has power [i.e. is able] to do these signs which you do, if not [i.e. except] (that) God should be with him”

In light of the eschatological/Messianic-type figure attested in the Qumran texts (cf. above), it is worth considering Jesus in terms of the “Teacher of Righteousness” and “Interpreter of the Law”. First we should note the place that justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh, along with the dikai- word group) plays in Jesus’ recorded teachings. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ first words in public (to John during his baptism) are directly on this point: “…it is distinguishing [i.e. is right/proper] for us to (ful)fill all justice/righteousness” (Matt 3:15). The idea is also central to his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33), and in several other blocks of teaching (Matt 13:43, 49; 23:28-29, 35; 25:37, 46; and cf. also Matt 10:41; 21:32; Luke 18:9; John 16:8, 10). It is fair to say that much of Jesus’ teaching could be described as instruction in righteousness. In several places in the New Testament, Jesus himself is referred to as “the Just/Righteous (One)” [o( di/kaio$]—Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. also Matt 27:19. We might also note Acts 17:31, where Paul attributes to Jesus the end-time role in the Judgment, stating that he “…is about to judge the inhabited (world) in justice/righteousness”.

Regarding the second association, much of Jesus’ teaching clearly involved instruction and interpretation of God’s Law (i.e., the Torah). I have discussed this at length in earlier articles on “Jesus and the Law” (part of a series on “The Law and the New Testament”), and relevant links are provided below. Here are some of the aspects of Jesus’ fulfilling the role of “Interpreter of the Law”:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, cf. Luke 6:20-49)—especially the verses on the Law and righteousness (Matt 5:17-20) and the so-called Antitheses (Matt 5:21-48), on which see my earlier notes and articles.
  • The various controversies betwen Jesus and the religious leaders and scholars of the day often involved specific interpretation or understanding of the Law—the Pharisees and “Writers” (Scribes) were generally seen as authorities on the Torah. Cf. especially my articles on the so-called Sabbath Controversies.
  • In a number of passages, Jesus identifies himself—his person and/or his teachings—as the fulfillment of the Law and different related elements of Israelite religion. This is best seen in two respects:
    (1) Jesus’ relationship to the Temple [cf. “Jesus and the Law” parts 6-7] (2) His association with the great Holy/Feast days (Sabbath, Passover, Tabernacles, etc), especially in the episodes and discourses recorded in the Fourth Gospel [cf. “Jesus and the Law” parts 8-9]
  • In the Gospel of Luke, following the resurrection, Jesus is described as interpreting (in considerable detail, it would seem) the Scriptures (“Moses and the  Prophets”) for his followers (Lk 24:25-27, 32, 45; cf. also Acts 1:3). The emphasis in his teaching in these passages is on his suffering, death and resurrection as a fulfillment of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, Luke offers no detail as to which Scripture passages Jesus referenced; for a list of possible candidates, based on the overall evidence in the New Testament, cf. my earlier note.

For additional Gospel references related to Jesus as a teacher and his interpretation of the Law, cf. the introductory article of my series on “Jesus and the Law”.

The Law in the Letter of James (Part 1)

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The Law in the Letter of James

Introduction

By tradition, the “James” of the letter—who describes himself in the text simply as “a slave/servant of God and of (the) Lord Jesus Christ”—is James the brother of Jesus, the leading figure (after Peter) of the early Jerusalem Church (Acts 12:17; 15; 21:18ff; Gal 2:9, 12; 1 Cor 15:7). This identification is almost certainly correct; the only real issue is whether the letter is authentically by James or is pseudonymous. On this question, scholarly opinion is divided; as also is the dating of the letter, which ranges widely—from very early (40s A.D.) to very late (90-100 A.D.). On the basis of a careful and unbiased study of the letter, I find little that points to a date beyond 60-70 A.D.; the similarity of subject matter and terminology with Paul’s letters (Galatians/Romans), as well as 1 Peter, suggests a comparable milieu—somewhere between 50-60 A.D. The lack of any developed Christology is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of an early date.

If we take James 1:1 literally, then the letter was addressed to Jews of the Diaspora/Dispersion, “to the twelve tribes th(at are) in the scattering-throughout [diaspora/]”. We find similar Jewish imagery applied (symbolically) to Christians generally in 1 Peter, but here in James it seems certain that Jews (or Jewish Christians) are intended. The work is undoubtedly Christian, despite the relatively scant references to Christ or specific Christian doctrine (James 1:1, 18ff; 2:1; 5:7, 14, etc). The strongest evidence for this are the many allusions to Jesus’ teaching throughout the letter, in particular to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7; Luke 6:20-49). In the repeated contrast between the rich/mighty and poor/lowly (1:9-11; 2:1-7, 15-17; 3:6-10; 5:1-5), James would seem to have more in common with the Lukan presentation of Jesus’ teaching, but he does not appear to be directly citing any written Gospel. This indicates a time when Jesus’ sayings and teachings were widely known and transmitted, but had not yet taken a definitive written form (such as in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain and the so-called Q source). Like many early Christians of the period, Jesus’ teachings were authoritative, but not as a written Law to replace the Torah. The similarities between James and the Sermon on the Mount/Plain can be demonstrated as follows:

  • James 1:2—Matt 5:11-12 / Lk 6:23
  • James 1:4—Matt 5:48
  • James 1:5—Matt 7:7 (also Lk 11:9)
  • James 1:17—Matt 7:11 (also Lk 11:13)
  • James 1:20—Matt 5:22
  • James 1:22-23—Matt 7:24-26 / Lk 6:46-49
  • James 2:5—Matt 5:3-5 / Lk 6:20
  • James 2:10-11—Matt 5:19, 21-22
  • James 2:13—Matt 5:7
  • James 2:15—Matt 6:25
  • James 3:12—Matt 7:16 / Lk 6:44-45
  • James 3:18—Matt 5:9
  • James 4:2-3—Matt 7:7-8
  • James 4:4—Matt 6:24 (also Lk 16:13)
  • James 4:8—Matt 6:22
  • James 4:9—Matt 5:4 / Lk 6:25
  • James 4:11-12—Matt 7:1
  • James 4:13-14—Matt 6:34
  • James 5:1—Lk 6:24-25
  • James 5:2, 6—Matt 6:19-20; Lk 6:37
  • James 5:9—Matt 5:22; 7:1
  • James 5:10—Matt 5:11-12; Lk 6:23
  • James 5:12—Matt 5:34-37

And, for other similarities/parallels with Jesus’ teaching:

  • James 1:6—Matt 21:21; Mk 11:23-24
  • James 1:9-10—Matt 18:4; Lk14:11; note also Matt 6:29-30
  • James 1:12—Matt 10:22
  • James 1:21—Lk 8:8
  • James 2:6—Lk 18:3
  • James 2:8—Matt 22:39-40
  • James 2:14-16—Matt 25:31-46
  • James 3:1-12—Matt 12:36-37
  • James 3:13-18—Matt 11:19
  • James 4:10—Matt 23:12; Lk 14:11; 18:14
  • James 4:17—Lk 12:47
  • James 5:5—Lk 16:19
  • James 5:7—Mk 4:26-29
  • James 5:8—Matt 24:3, 27, 39
  • James 5:17—Lk 4:25
  • James 5:19—Matt 18:15; Lk 17:3

Cf. the commentaries by J. B. Mayor (1913) and Peter H. Davids (NIGTC, Eerdmans:1982, pp. 47-48); also W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (1964, pp. 402-403).

This shows, I think, how fundamentally the author has assimilated Jesus’ teaching, and that it has become the basis for Christian ethical instruction. We see this throughout the New Testament and early Christian tradition—to the extent that the ethical commands and precepts of the Law remain in view for believers, they have been filtered and interpreted through the teachings of Jesus. It is important to keep this in mind when examining James’ view of the Law.

It is now time to look at the most relevant passages in James with regard to the Law.

James 1:21-25

The theme of this passage is the account (or “word”, lo/go$) which is planted in (adj. e&mfuto$) believers. In using lo/go$ here, the author probably means it in a comprehensive sense, including:

  • The Gospel message, centered on the account of Jesus’ death and resurrection, along with a proclamation of deliverance/salvation and new life in Christ
  • The teachings of Jesus (as in the Sermon on the Mount, cf. above) preserved and transmitted by apostles, missionaries and teachers such as “James”
  • Authoritative early Christian instruction and teaching, delivered principally by the apostles and fellow-missionaries

Paul uses lo/go$ with a similar range of meaning. Jesus also refers to his word (identified with the word of God) in the context of being planted (cf. Mark 4:4-8, 26-27, 31 par; Matt 7:17-19; 12:33; 13:24ff; 15:13; John 8:37; 15:1-7). In the Gospel of John, the lo/go$ is identified more directly with the person of Christ, and he (in/through the Spirit) himself is the living, eternal seed in the believer (cf. John 5:38; 6:53; 12:23-24; 14:17, 20; 15:4; 17:21; 1 John 2:14; 3:9). James does not go quite that far—his description of this lo/go$ as “the (thing) having power to save your souls” is reminiscent of Paul’s famous declaration regarding the Gospel in Rom 1:16. That this “word/account” serves much the same role for believers as the Old Testament Law previously did for Israel—this is indicated in several ways in the passage:

  • James exhorts people to become ones who do (poihtai/, “doers” of) the word (v. 22); this parallels closely the idea of “doing” the Law (i.e. observance of the Torah commands), cf. Gal 3:10-12; Rom 2:13, etc. The context makes clear that “doing” the lo/go$ involves (normative) ethical behavior and performance of good deeds.
  • There is also a normative, governing quality of the lo/go$ indicated by the metaphor of the mirror in vv. 23-24 (cf. Sirach 12:11; Wisdom 7:26). In Old Testament/Jewish tradition, the Torah also allows a person to see clearly, though more often the image is of light or a lamp (Psalm 119:105; Isa 51:4, etc).
  • A connection with the Law (o( no/mo$) is made specific in verse 25—one looks into the Word (lo/go$), one looks into the Law (no/mo$). Note the following details here that seem to echo both Paul and Jesus’ teaching:
    —This Law is called “complete” (te/leio$, cf. also vv. 4, 15; 3:2); note the important usage of this adjective in Matt 5:48; Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:6; 13:10; Phil 3:15; Col 1:28; Eph 4:13, as well as the related verb tele/w (“[make] complete”, sometimes in the context of fulfilling the Law, e.g. Luke 2:39; Matt 17:24; Rom 2:27; James 2:8), and the noun te/lo$ (“completion, end”, note esp. Rom 10:4).
    —It is also called the Law of freedom (e)leuqeri/a$); in this context, it is impossible to ignore Paul’s references to the freedom of believers with regard to the Law (cf. Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1, 13ff; 1 Cor 9:19; 2 Cor 3:17; Rom 7:1-6; 8:2ff, etc).
    —Doing this Law is referred to as “work” (e&rgon); again, one is immediately reminded of Paul’s regular expression “works [of the Law]” (e&rga [no/mou]), cf. Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Rom 3:20, 27-28; 4:2, 6; 9:11, 32; 11:6; also Eph 2:9.
    —Doing this Law leads to beatitude (maka/rio$, “happy, blessed”); the famous beatitudes in Jesus’ teaching (Matt 5:3-12, etc) are closely tied to the justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God. For the Pauline teaching on the relationship between the Law and the justice/righteousness of God, see Rom 1:17; 2:13; 3:21ff; 4:3-13; 7:12ff; 8:3-4; 9:30-31; 10:3-6, et al.

The expression “the complete Law of freedom” is discussed in a separate daily note.

James 1:27

In this verse the author declares what is “qrhskei/a clean and without stain/soil alongside [i.e. before] God”. The original meaning and derivation of the word qrhskei/a is uncertain, but it generally refers to religious worship and practice, and is often translated simply as “religion”; elsewhere in the New Testament it is only used in Acts 26:5 and Col 2:18. In other words, James is defining what true and proper religion is before God: “to look upon (those) bereft (of parents) [i.e. orphans] and widows in their distress, (and) to keep oneself without spot from the world”. This definition is significant for a number of reasons, not least of which being that there is no mention of observing the Law, either generally or in its ceremonial sense. Instead we find a two-fold injunction which fairly summarizes much of the ethical teaching shared by Jews and Christians both, which ultimately derives from the Old Testament Scriptures (including the Torah): (1) to care for the poor and needy (esp. widows and orphans), and (2) to avoid the sinful/defiling influences of the world.

James 2:1-13

This passage can be divided into two sections: (a) a prohibition against showing partiality/favoritism to the rich and prominent in the world (vv. 1-7), and (b) a warning that such partiality is a sin and violation of the Law (vv. 8-13). Overall the emphasis is on care for the poor (cf. above on 1:27) and acts of mercy. It is in this context that the author of the letter makes his most prominent direct reference to the Law (o( no/mo$). Two principal points are made:

  1. Anyone who fails to fulfill the Law in one detail is guilty of violating all of it (v. 10; Paul makes much the same point in Gal 5:3). The verb ptai/w, rare in the New Testament (Rom 11; James 3:2; 2 Pet 1:10), refers to tripping and falling, used often in a metaphorical sense of failure.
  2. Showing partiality to the rich and mighty, which in turns shows lack of proper care for the poor and lowly, is a sin and a violation of the Law (v. 9)—indeed, it violates the “royal Law” (no/mo$ basiliko/$) (v. 8).

Because of the importance of this passage, it will be discussed in more detail—along with the expressions “royal Law” (v. 8) and “Law of freedom” (no/mo$ e)leuqeri/a$, v. 12)—in a separate note.

Note of the Day – December 11

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”)

The expression u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”) appears a number of times in Galatians and Romans—Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18; Rom 3:21; 6:14-15—as well as in 1 Cor 9:20. The preposition u(po/ has the basic (metaphorical) sense of being under the authority of someone or something, in this case under the Law (no/mo$). Paul uses the word no/mo$ almost exclusively in reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah); only occasionally does it have a more general or broader meaning, as in Rom 2:14; 3:27; 7:21-25; 8:2—especially noteworthy is the expression [o(] no/mo$ [tou=] qeou= (“[the] Law of God”) in Rom 7:22, 25; 8:7; 1 Cor 9:20, which I take to be synonymous with the will of God, and not precisely identical with the Torah as such (though, of course, the will of God is expressed in the Torah). As far as being “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon), this primarily refers to those who are under the authority of the Law—i.e. Israelites and Jews—obligated to observe its commands, regulations, precepts, etc. However, in Galatians especially, Paul uses the expression with a define an particular nuance, as synonymous (or parallel) with:

  • u(po\ kata/ran (“under [the] curse”)—Gal 3:10, i.e. the curse of the Law (cf. Deut 27-28)
  • u(po\ [th\n] a(marti/an (“under sin”)—Gal 3:22 (also Rom 3:9; 7:14)
  • u(po\ paidagwgo/n (“under a paidagogos“)—Gal 3:25, cf. also Gal 4:2 (“under guardians and house-masters”)
  • u(po\ ta\ stoixei=a tou= ko/smou (“under the stoicheia/elements of the world”)—Gal 4:3 (cf. Col 2:8, 20)

This relates to the unique, fundamental view of the Law expressed by Paul, esp. in Galatians and Romans, which is marked by two principal teachings:

  1. The main purpose of the Law is to bring knowledge/awareness of sin to human beings—in particular, that they are enslaved under the power of sin—which, in turn, “increases” sin and brings humanity further into bondage (cf. Gal 3:19-25; Rom 3:20; 5:20-21; 7:7ff; 11:32)
  2. The power of sin (and the Law) comes to an end through the work of Christ (his death and resurrection)—as a result, believers are no longer “under the Law” (cf. especially Gal 2:19; 3:13, 22-26; 4:28-31; 5:1ff; Rom 3:21ff; 5:15-21; 6:14-15, 22; 7:1-6; 8:2ff; 10:4).

I have examined these (and other) passages all throughout the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (cf. on Galatians and Romans). The two theological/doctrinal points listed above inform the use of the expression “under the Law” here in Gal 4:4, as the context of Gal 4:1-11 makes clear.

The illustration in vv. 1-3 (parallel to that in 3:24-26) depicts believers (prior to faith) collectively as a son (and heir) who is directly under the authority of household servants, effectively in bondage, though he is destined to inherit the father’s estate. This period of ‘bondage’ lasts until the time set beforehand by the father, at which point the child is no longer under the authority of servants, but is free and master of the estate (just like the father). This is the time referenced in verse 4, as discussed in an earlier note. It is also clear from verse 4 just what happens at this time—God sent forth his own son in human form (“coming to be out of [e)k] a woman”), which also indicates that he shares in the human condition (cf. the previous note). This condition is also what is meant in the next phrase (“coming to be under [u(po/] the Law”), in a two-fold sense:

  • As a Israelite—Jesus’ earthly parents were from the tribe of Judah (and possibly Levi, cf. Luke 1:5); according to the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus’ parents and relatives where devout and faithful in observing the Old Testament Law (Luke 1:6, 59; 2:21-24, 27, 39, 41-42ff), and presumably would have instructed Jesus as a child to do the same (Luke 2:51-52). For Jesus’ observance of the Law as an adult, there are relatively few references in the Gospels, but see Matt 5:17-19; Mark 14:12ff par; note also the thought and language in Matt 3:15; Mark 10:18-19ff par, etc.
  • As human being—according to Pauline thought, Jews and Gentiles are both, in their own way “under the Law” (Rom 2:12ff), especially in the sense of being enslaved under the power of sin (Rom 2:12ff; 3:9-20, etc), which is revealed and judged under the Law. It is not entirely clear whether (or in what sense) Jesus, in taking on human “flesh”, was “under sin” (cf. Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21), but in Gal 3:13 it is said that Jesus effectively comes “under the curse” (by coming to be the curse himself, for our sake).

Gal 3:10-14 is especially important for an understanding of 4:4f; note the logic:

  • Human beings are under the curse (i.e. under the Law and under sin), v. 10
  • Jesus came to be under the curse, by “coming to be” (geno/meno$) the curse himself (through his death on the cross, in fulfillment of the Law), v. 13
  • In so doing, he redeemed (e)chgo/rasen) humankind from the curse (of the Law)
  • As a result, believers receive the blessings and promise of Abraham (v. 14), i.e. we come to be children (sons) of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise (cf. 3:15-29)

This very same line of logic applied to Gal 4:1-7 as well, which will be demonstrated more fully in the discussion of verse 5 in the next daily note.