Episode 5: Genesis 18-A Lesson in Trusting God

https://anchor.fm/breakingthruwhitenoise/episodes/Episode-005-Genesis-181-15-A-Lesson-in-Trusting-God-ea95r4

INTRODUCTION:

Welcome back to another week in Breaking Through the White Noise podcast, where we are beginning in episode five. Here are some things we need to retrace, quickly, before we move on to the text for the week. Remember, the author is Moses. We are still in a historical narrative for the genre. Genesis was written sometime after the Exodus from Egypt. The audience, most likely, are those in the generation of the 40 years wandering (possibly, originally, the descendants of the ones wandering for 40 years). Lastly, lets review, or better, restate, some of the theme(s): Blessing and cursing; good and evil (Ross 2008 25-26). We can also look at three other possible themes, which are very theological in their nature, are God, man, and salvation (Kidner 1967, 32-41). According to the intro of the Book of Genesis in the Faithlife Study Bible, Genesis’ themes are promise and blessing. However, the patriarchs’ failures do not show that God’s promises are due to their righteousness, but more to His desire to make His creation whole and complete, so they can return to a right relationship with Him. 

Now, let’s look a bit closer at some of the themes in chapter 18 that are observable. The first one is that God reaffirms His promise with Abraham and the second is this— God brings about His justice. We will look a bit closer at these two themes. To touch on here, first, is that the promise is contrasted with the detestableness of Sodom and Gomorrah. Hence, God’s need to bring forth His justice. These two micro-themes fit right in with the major themes, as discussed already. God’s reaffirmation of the promise, which is contrasted with God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. The judgment fits in with the theme of God and man, as well as with salvation. For our time this week, we are merely looking at one aspect of the story because, technically, we cannot learn the full lesson just from chapter 18 (we must look at 18 and 19 together). We are going to dive in and see what this story tells us about the differences between Abraham and Sarah, the human aspect, and then we are going to look at what Moses is telling us about God, the actual main character of the Bible! When we begin looking at Chapter 19, however, we will start to see how 18 and 19 go together, how this current chapter flows into the next. 

SUMMARY:

Let’s briefly summarize chapter 18, of Genesis, while you are grabbing your preferred translation of the Bible. God visits Abraham and reaffirms, once more, that He will give Abraham and Sarah their child, as He promised he would. Sarah’s turn to react as Abraham did in Chapter 17. Abraham shows hospitality to God. God tells Abraham about the justice He is about to dispense. Abraham attempts to intercede with God on Sodom and Gomorrah’s behalf. Now, open up your Bible’s to Genesis 18 and let’s begin reading from verse one. 

Genesis 18:1-8: 

The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the heat of the day. He looked up, and he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them, bowed to the ground, and said, “My lord, if I have found favor with you, please do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought, that you may wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree. I will bring a bit of bread so that you may strengthen yourselves. This is why you have passed your servant’s way. Later, you can continue on.” “Yes,” they replied, “do as you have said.” So Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick! Knead three measures of fine flour and make bread.” Abraham ran to the herd and got a tender, choice calf. He gave it to a young man, who hurried to prepare it. Then Abraham took curds and milk, as well as the calf that he had prepared, and set them before the men. He served them as they ate under the tree.

Analysis:

When Moses introduces God in the first line of the text, for the reader to know and understand who this is, he uses the official name of God—YHWH. However, when Abraham sees the three men, runs out and calls one of them lord—adona. Curious, why is this? I want to clarify something first, because some people may not know or understand this. In our English translations, the Hebrew word used for either God’s personal name, YHWH, or as the title, Adonai, which also replaces His name in most cases in the OT, is the word, LORD. When you see it, in the English with, with all caps, then it is referencing, specifically, God. However, when it is in all lowers, or just a single capital, then it is referencing a human. As I just stated, Moses introduced God into this micro-narrative, by using his personal name, YHWH.  This is so the audience understands who Abraham is talking to because it seems, possibly, that we don’t know if Abraham knows who he talking to, just yet, (Heiser 2015, 131). This is because Abraham addresses the three men, one in specific, as just lord, lowercase. Simply put, adona, just means lord or master (Vine 1996,  LORD). As I mentioned, earlier, this word is also used for replacing God’s personal name with His title. To understand if Abraham knew just who he was talking to, let’s look at the various translations in English for some help. In the CSB; LEB; and NJB the words used in English are lowercase lord. However, in the NKJV and in the ESV, it’s a capital, Lord. Also, in the GNT, they used the English, capital, Sirs (they pluralized it). We can see, that even the translators of the various English Bibles seem to be mixed on which it is. I would venture to say that Abraham knew who he was talking to from the get-go (Heiser 2015, n. 132). Looking at the evidence before us, Abraham, without breaking a sweat, address his Guest in vs. 25 as “Judge of the whole earth” which shows just who it is that Abraham has been speaking with. We tend to get a bit confused, at first, because as stated, Moses introduces God right off with His personal name, and then Abraham addresses Him simply as a meager lord, on a human level. This isn’t to be taken, however, as Abraham either not knowing who he is talking to, he is simply being a good host and showing hospitality to strangers. Neither does this need to be taken to show Abraham is insulting God by not using His personal name or addressing Him with the proper Hebrew title for God. We can basically state, as Michael Heiser (2015, 132), in his book Unseen Realm, states Abraham might have known it was God who he was talking to due to “[t]he chronology of his encounters in Genesis [which] tell us that he had heard Yahweh’s voice before. This aural recognition is present in other passages involving Abraham…[he also may have] visually recognized his visitor from those previous encounters” (emphasis his). Also, we can see that these visitors are also physical in nature, which is due to verse eight where we see them eating. 

Hospitality was vitally important in the ancient Mesopotamia. We can see, here, when compared to the next chapter 19, a contrast happening. Abraham welcomes the Lord and His two angels, while in Sodom they are treated as sex items (Ngan 2003, “Hospitality” HIBD). According to Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan (Ibid.) in her article on hospitality in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the act of hospitality was “[t]o entertain or receive a stranger (sojourner) into one’s home as an honored guest and to provide the guest with food, shelter, and protection.” For the ancient Hebrew, this wasn’t just any norm, nor even a more, it was a religious duty one had to perform (Ibid.). It most likely stemmed from the fact that there were nomadic tribes wandering the area in Canaan, not many towns or inns available, so the reliance upon a stranger to accommodate you was expected, maybe even seen as a right (Ibid.). This passage gives us an excellent example of how one would/should provide hospitality. As Douglas K. Wilson (2016, “Hospitality” LBD), shows, there was a typical pattern: “a greeting with bow or kiss (Gen 18:2; 19:1); a welcome for the guest to come in (Gen 24:31); an invitation to rest (Gen 18:4; Judg 4:19); an opportunity to wash (Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32); a provision of food and drink (Judg 4:19; 19:5); an invitation to converse (Gen 24:33); a provision of security (Gen 19:8).” 

Let’s move on to the next portion of the text. 

Genesis 18:9-15: 

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he answered. The Lord said, “I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your wife Sarah will have a son!” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent behind him. Abraham and Sarah were old and getting on in years. Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. So she laughed to herself: “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I have delight?” But the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Can I really have a baby when I’m old?’ Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time I will come back to you, and in about a year she will have a son.” Sarah denied it. “I did not laugh,” she said, because she was afraid. But he replied, “No, you did laugh.”

Analysis:

Now we move from the introduction of this shortened story to God making a re-affirmation with Abraham, and this time with Sarah being present to hear it. 

This is the critical portion of the text, here before moving on to the judgment portion. It is here that doubting God and His promises and abilities, comes out. Sarah overhears the discussion happening. Sarah, Moses tells us, laughed to herself and then placed her old age before Abraham’s. This is important. First let’s look at women’s roles and why she wouldn’t have been present with them and why she was eavesdropping on the conversation, behind them.  Married women were expected to complete various domestic activities, ie., baking, sewing, fetching water, looking after the sheep, and providing the hospitality towards the guest and the rest of the family (Silva 2011, 16). We saw this example earlier in the text, right before this, where Abraham requested Sarah start making bread. 

This portion of the chapter is very intriguing. Again, God makes His promise to Abraham, except this time, just like in the previous chapter, He promises that in a year’s time, Sarah is going to give birth to Isaac. Part of what makes this interesting is that God asks Abraham where his wife was. Obviously, God knew where she was, He wasn’t asking for knowledge’s sake. So, why ask, and why does Sarah not believe Him as Abraham has?

There is a small debate among some scholars on whether Abraham even told Sarah about the Covenantal promise made by God or whether she knew it, yet did not believe it, at all. This is a useless argument to have because this is not the main point of the text. The main point of the text, here, is that God will do as He says He will do. For us to understand this, then, we have to understand, a little bit more about God and this passage is going to give us some heavy info on who God is.

To start with, I want to point out, firstly, that Abraham never once actually introduced himself in this story and did not mention his wife’s name either. Again, this shows that I believe Abraham knew who the strangers were. Look, again, at verse nine. The three visitors, together, ask Abraham where Sarah is. They don’t just ask where his wife is, they used her name! Sarah, following the customs of the time, as mentioned earlier, was out of sight. In those days, as well as it is in most Muslim countries, women were not permitted to speak to men in the open public (Hartley 2000, 178). This shows that these men knew who they were talking to (Ibid.). This begins to lead into the meat of this story, informing us of who these men are. God tells Abraham that they are going to have a child in a year’s time—which would have definitely rung in the ears of Abraham (though I am sure, again, that he knows who this) since God said this to him in the last chapter. Now, Sarah gets to hear the promise proclaimed. However, something seems to go wrong. Moses wants to remind his audience of the current situation (Sitz Im Leben-setting in life). Sarah and Abraham are old in age, passed the stage of having children, and apparently have not been having sex for quite some time.

In verse 12, Sarah responds to herself with a laugh, which is out of the range of the visitors to hear. Sarah, also, shows her skepticism by stating, again to herself, that she is “worn out”, Abraham, her “lord is old,” and that now she’s going to have “delight?” Most people understand, at a surface level the meaning in English of all these statements. Sarah is tired and old, Abraham is too old, and they won’t have the delight of having and raising a child. However, this is not exactly what Sarah is saying, here.  The first two are correctly understood, the Hebrew behind them can be used to show old age for a woman, hence “worn out,” and old for Abraham. 

We must remember that Moses’ audience, as well as Abraham and Sarah (who were living through this situation historically), were from the ancient near east. That being said, old age was something that was meant to be very respected.  People of Abraham’s day believed that reaching old age was a sign of favor from God (Silva 2011, 19). This favor though was due to their being godly and faithful to His commandments (Ibid.). We see this, best shown back in Genesis 15:15 where God promises Abraham he will be “buried at a good old age.” Growing old in the Ancient Near East was not easy, though. You had to survive famines, wars, raiders, disease. Therefore, reaching old age was seen as a divine blessing. In Ecc 12:1-5 the not so fun description of old is given. This was why grey hair and beards (Prov 20:29) was seen as a sign of glory. If one was not to honor the elderly they would bring trouble to the country (Isa 3:5; Lam 5:12; Silva 2011, 19). Now, moving on to the last thing Sarah mentioned—having delight. 

The word for delight, in Hebrew, does not mean delight in rearing a child or giving birth to a child. The word is ednah and it means to have sexual pleasure (Matthews 2005, 218; Kidner 1967, 132; and Ross 2008, 123). For Abraham, with the promise, he never once, doubted, he just didn’t know how it would happen. It seems that Abraham continued to trust in God, not looking inward. Paul tells the Roman church, in Romans 4:19, that Abraham never lost his faith, even though he was close to death and he knew that Sarah wasn’t capable of bearing any children. However, for Sarah, whether she knew of the promise or not, she did not believe and she only thought of herself. At her age, she was only thinking about the impossibility of having children for several things, which are normal for all humans, lack of sex, old age, and the deficiency of the human body after a certain age.  This is the problem that is being brought up, throughout this smaller narrative (though it is in the whole of the Abrahamic storyline). Can Abraham and Sarah truly believe and trust God in what He says He will and can do? Who, listening to this (or reading this, whichever), can say that they have never once doubted God and His promises? I have, I do it, probably, all the time. That’s the point of this story, of this narrative. There is an extreme impossibility, God says not to worry about it, and yet, here is Abraham and Sarah, who the later is doubting God. This is where we will see just who God is.

We see God points out the fact that Sarah laughed, showing that He is all-knowing (omniscient in big boy tweed suits and bow ties language). God was able to know Sarah’s heart and thoughts. God calls Sarah out on the carpet for it. We have to remember, however, that Sarah is still out of sight and sound of the actual conversation. This makes the situation all that more amazing. God is technically talking to Sarah, but He is actually conversing with Abraham, following the customs. God not only knows her thoughts, He knows her heart, as mentioned. He tells her, she laughed at the fact that she is going to have a baby in her and Abraham’s old age. Sarah, in response (again, remember, she is not visibly present in front of the men), denies that she laughed. God’s response, again, is yes you did. God leaves Sarah there, with the information that He will return and they will have a child in a year’s time. This is our God, patient, pointed, powerful, and all-knowing. We will see, later, that God is faithful with His promises because Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac (which means to laugh). 

CONCLUSION

For now, we can say with some certainty that there is a definite difference in this story, along with the whole story of Abraham and Sarah, thus far, between Abraham and Sarah. Both can be considered round characters, yet it is obvious that Abraham is growing more in righteousness than Sarah is. We will see this in the next section of chapter 18 and then, again, in chapter 19. Granted, Sarah has not, even in this story, technically, come face to face with God as Abraham has. Nonetheless, Abraham has shown his belief and trust in God with his promise, which he gets more faithful in as the story goes on, than Sarah has. We can see, from this small story that Abraham recognizes God, shows true hospitality toward Him, accepts His promise and re-affirmation, where Sarah doubts and acts, inwardly, selfish. God corrects Sarah, yet we will see that Sarah seems to never really get it. We can see that God is the most powerful being in the story, He is able to know the future, and, at the same time, know Sarah’s thoughts and heart. God is still patient with both Sarah and Abraham. Next time, we will see God’s grace and patience tested by Abraham and then we will see God as Judge over the whole of the earth! Stay tuned, return for the rest of this amazing story. For now, go with the knowledge that we will doubt God, at times, however, it’s more important whether we can fully trust Him, change from His rebukes in our lives, and grow in His righteousness. Until next time. If you like this show, then, please do me a huge solid and share it with your family and friends. I would like to see this show begin to grow and become one of the most popular on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, and Radio Public. Thanks, guys, have a great week! 

Reference List

Hartley, John E. 2000. Genesis. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: 

Hendrickson Publishers. 

Heiser, Michael S. 2015. Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. 

Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. 

Kidner, Derek. 1967. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, ILL: 

Inter-Varsity Press. 

Mathews, K. A. 2005. Genesis 11:27–50:26. Volume 1B. Nashville: Broadman & Holman 

Publishers.

My Epic, “White Noises,” on the album Violence, produced by Facedown Records. 

Ngan, L. L. E. 2003. “Hospitality.” In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by  C. Brand, 

C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Ross, Allen. 2008. Genesis. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Edited by Philip W. Comfort. 

Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale House Publishing. 

Silva, M. 2011. Essential Companion to Life in Bible Times. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. 1996. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old 

and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

Wilson, D. K. 2016. “Hospitality”. In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by  J. D. Barry, D. 

Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, and W. Widder  Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Episode 004: Genesis 17 God Affirms His Covenant with Abraham

INTRODUCTION:

Welcome back to another week of Breaking Through the White Noise. This week we are looking at Genesis 17 and it’s importance in the story of Abraham and God’s salvific history. We have a lot to get through this week, so let’s get settled in and ready for a long ride. 

To begin, let’s first look at Genesis, the book, leading up to this chapter. As we have already mentioned, Genesis is structured into two sections, we called the Primeval History (chapters 1-11) and the Patriarchal history (12-50). In the first couple of chapters, Moses introduced us to God, His creation, Adam and Eve, and the introduction of sin into the world and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden due to their disobedience. Then, we watched as Cain killed Abel, the world becoming terribly corrupt and causing God to have to wipe out His creation, in chapter 6, and begin again with Noah. Then, in chapter 11, mankind was right back at the terrible notion of being completely corrupt, again. This time, instead of destroying His creation and starting over, God-focused in on one man and decided to rebuild His creation through one family.  This was where we started, in chapter 12. We watched as Abram answered God’s call to leave his home and family to follow this God and His promise. However, we discovered that this new Adam, Abram, was still very short from where God intended him to be. Abram lied to the Pharaoh about his wife in 12, then in chapter 16, Abram allows Sarai to talk him into taking her slave as a concubine to force the promise of an heir from God. Then, Sarai is contemptible towards Hagar, her slave, and treats her horribly. We saw God fix the situation with Hagar and we were left with the birth of Ishmael. Now, here we are in 17, where God will address Abram in regard to the problem of not being very obedient to God’s promise. Now, grab your preferred translation of the Bible and let’s begin to take chapter 17 apart and see what God is trying to tell us. 

SUMMARY:

We can tell in Genesis 17 that Moses structured it in a very important way. The chapter can be split into two sections-God appears to Abram, commands him to be blameless, gives his promises and commands the sign of the covenant be with circumcision. Then the second half is very similarly structured-God makes promises to Sarai, giving her many nations and one heir, and then it ends with the covenant being affirmed by the obedience of Abraham in completing the circumcision of every male in his household. P. J. Gentry and S. J. Wellum (2015, 113) give an outline of Genesis 17, in their book God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology:

“A. Yahweh’s intention to affirm his oath about progeny 1–2

B. Abram falls on his face 3

C. God promises descendants and the gift of land 4–8

D. The sign of circumcision given 9–14

A′. Yahweh’s intention to bless Sarah with progeny 15–16

B′. Abraham falls on his face 17–18

C′. God promises a son from Sarah 19–22

D′. The sign of circumcision practiced 23–27.”

GENESIS 17:1-2:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him, saying, “I am God Almighty. Live in my presence and be blameless. I will set up my covenant between me and you, and I will multiply you greatly.”

ANALYSIS:

Throughout this chapter, God tells Abraham 13 times what He will do. This chapter fits, again, right in with the whole purpose of the Book of Genesis, as well as the Bible in general. God made everything and it was good, then, man fell, and God promised he would do all within His power to fix it. Here, as in Genesis 12 and 15, we see God establishing the same covenant with Abraham. Only this time, this covenant is God’s alone. This is showing more of who this God is that is dealing with Abraham. God is the redeemer, the all-powerful, and sovereign One in control. It is God who will be fixing the problem because it is God’s covenant. 

God appears to Abram, here, similarly to the other moments in 12 and 15, yet this time, He commands Abram to walk blamelessly before Him! This has not been commanded before till now.

Recollecting, we see that up to this point, Abram hasn’t truly, been blameless and hasn’t lived in God’s presence. In fact, Abram has been a liar and a rebel. Abram has mistreated people for his own purposes. This is not being a good ambassador of God. This is why, here in 17, we see the events following the events of 16. Granted, 13 years have passed since the events in 16, yet God is still not pleased with the outcome and He is still moving toward fixing what mankind has broken. This is why God appears, now, before Abram because He is going to bring forth the promise of an heir in a year’s time, God will need Abram to be holy as He is holy.

When God appears to Abram, here, the text tells us it’s Yahweh, but he tells Abram He is “God Almighty” which, in the Hebrew is the word phrase El Shaddai. This is significant for many reasons. To begin with, its the first time, in all of Scripture, that this word is used (Gentry and Wellum 2015, 113). Secondly, and contextually, this divine name of God reads to the audience, as well as to Abram, who is in the middle of the situation, as powerful (Ibid.). Remember, earlier, we said that Abram is now another Adamic character in the story of God’s salvific history. With Abram and Sarai being barren, God is saying that He will be the One who is going to make something from nothing, just as He did when He created everything (Ibid.). 

Interestingly, the Hebrew word, hithallek, has been translated into different English words. In the Christian Standard Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible, it is translated as “live.” In the Lexham English Bible and the English Standard Version, it’s translated as “walk.” In the Good News Translation, it has been translated as “obey.” In English, “live,” “walk,” and “obey” all have very different meanings. The question, then is what is it that the original author intended? What does hithallek actually mean? In Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, the word comes from the root halak which means  “to go, walk, behave.” The idea, however, is more of a behavior, at least, that’s how I am seeing it. According to Gentry and Wellum (2015, 113), again, we can understand it best this way: “[w]hen God walks before someone, this expression means to give guidance and protection. Conversely, when people walk before God, it means that they serve as his emissary or diplomatic representative.” God is calling Abram to be his ambassador to the nations. Where God places Abram and gives him the whole of the Land of Canaan, approximately 30 miles wide by 100 miles long—picture the state of New Jersey and you have roughly the size of the area (Ibid, 114). This was not that great an area to own, mostly desert. However, strategically, this was an amazing place. Israel was surrounded by massive world powers. You had Egypt just to the south and Babylon to the east. In order fro Egypt or Babylon to send anything commercially, it would have to go through Israel, therefore, they would have to stop there. This would have been the best way for the world to see who and what the True God of the world is (Ibid.).

The Hebrew word, here, is tamim, which is an adjective. It means “complete or sound” according to the Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament (1906). However, according to Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament (1996), the word also means “perfect; blameless; sincerity; entire; whole; complete; full.” The word is used, frequently in the Old Testament, yet it is used for sacrificial animals, mainly (Gentry and Wellum 2015, 115). However, in this context, it’s used here and in 6:9, of Noah, to refer to walking uprightly before God (Ibid.). The author of Job also uses it as “righteous” in 12:4 (Ibid.). 

According to the Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament (1996, “Covenant”), the word used here, “covenant,” is the Hebrew berit. If you remember, this word was used with the verb karat berit, literally meant to “cut a covenant.” The word is used over some 280 times in the Old Testament. It may come from, possibly, an Akkadian root which means “to fetter.” There are parallels of this word in Aramaic, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Hittite (Ibid.). In the Old Testament, the word is used some 252 times out of the total 284 uses. Moses uses it some 32 times in Genesis, alone! What’s important, here, to note, is that this is God’s covenant. He is the One who is making it. In this chapter, God is the one doing the thing and all Abraham has to do is accept it and keep it.

What exactly, though, made this covenant so important? A covenant was not merely a simple contract like we have today. It wasn’t something that you could just simply throw off to the side if you changed your mind, or decided to move on to another covenant. As defined in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Cowen 2003, “Covenant”),  it was an “[o]ath-bound promise whereby one party solemnly pledges to bless or serve another party in some specified way.” We saw in Chapter 15 how a covenant was made, through the ritual of a king-vassal covenant. Now, in Chapter 17 we are seeing another cultural part of the covenant-the sign of the covenant. Again, the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (ibid.) explains it like this:  “[a] sign served as a memorial, reminding the parties of their promises.” Here, we see God demand that the sign of the covenant be circumcision. It is this sign that actually is a renewal of God’s original two covenants made with Abraham in 12 and 15 (Hahn 2016, “Covenant”). As Scott Hahn (Ibid.) explains in his article for the Lexham Bible Dictionary, each of the covenants made by God to Abraham build upon the prior, “Genesis 15 describes the initial covenant with Abram, where God upgrades His earlier promise to make of him a great nation (Gen 12:2a) into a covenant oath (Gen 15:16–21). The circumcision covenant (Gen 17) upgrades the second promise of “a great name” (Gen 12:2b) into a covenant of “kingship” over many nations (Gen 17:6).” Now, let’s move on to the next section of the text. 

Genesis 17:3-14: 

Then Abram fell facedown and God spoke with him: “As for me, here is my covenant with you: You will become the father of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I will make you the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful and will make nations and kings come from you. I will confirm my covenant that is between me and you and your future offspring throughout their generations. It is a permanent covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you. And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as a permanent possession, and I will be their God.” God also said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations are to keep my covenant. This is my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you, which you are to keep: Every one of your males must be circumcised. You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations, every male among you is to be circumcised at eight days old—every male born in your household or purchased from any foreigner and not your offspring. Whether born in your household or purchased, he must be circumcised. My covenant will be marked in your flesh as a permanent covenant. If any male is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that man will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Analysis:

Names were vitally important in the world of the patriarchs. According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Queen-Sutherland 2003, “Naming”), “naming was rooted in the ancient world’s understanding that a name expressed essence.” If you knew the person’s name, then you were to know the whole of that person, their character and nature (Ibid.).  When the name was changed, either by divine intervention or not, it was seen as “revealing a transformation in character or destiny (Gen. 17:5, 15; 32:28; Matt. 16:17–18).” Here, in this context, God is now becoming the name changer, or the name-giver, this means that God is exhibiting power over Abraham (Ibid.). God changed Abram’s name, which meant “exalted father” to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude” (Harrison 2003, “Abraham”).  

As already mentioned, in explaining a covenant, there were ritual parts and signs. This chapter, God demands that a sign be made to establish the covenant made between Himself, Abraham, and his offspring forever to come. This sign is the act of circumcision. The word in this text used is the Hebrew verb, mul, which means to circumcise or cut off.” Moses uses this verb some 11 times in this chapter alone (Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament 1996, “To Circumcise”). The actual act of circumcision was the removal of the male foreskin on the eighth day from their genitals. Interestingly, circumcision was not merely a Hebrew phenomenon. There were several Semitic, as well as non-Semitic, groups who actually practiced circumcision (Cole 2003, “Circumcision”). A few of the Ancient Near Eastern cultures that practiced circumcision were the Arabian desert dwellers (understandable due to them coming from the line of Ishmael who was circumcised as detailed in this text), Ammonites, Edomites, Egyptians, and Moabites (Jer 9:25-26; cp. Ezek 32:17-32; Ibid.). On the opposite side of the coin the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Philistines were not circumcised (Ibid.). We can also note that the Canaanites were neither circumcised or not, there really isn’t any evidence for either way (Ibid.). There is a difference between the Hebrew act of circumcision and the other cultures. It was first and foremost a sign of Israel’s vow to be obedient with God—“Live in my presence and be blameless” (Gen 17:1b; Moyter 2003, 204). Secondly, the Hebrews began practicing circumcision on infants on the eighth day after their birth, whereas the other cultures did it either for their priests or as a rite to manhood (Ibid.). Therefore, biblically, circumcision was meant to be a sign of covenant obedience (Jer 4:4; Rom 2:25-29; cf. Acts 15:5; Gal 5:3; Ibid., 204-205). As J. A. Moyter (Ibid., 205) in his article on “Circumcision” in the New Bible Dictionary states, “circumcision involves the idea of consecration to God.” Let’s move on to the next portion of the text. 

Genesis 17:15-22: 

God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, do not call her Sarai, for Sarah will be her name. I will bless her; indeed, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will produce nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Abraham fell facedown. Then he laughed and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a hundred-year-old man? Can Sarah, a ninety-year-old woman, give birth?” So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!” But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as a permanent covenant for his future offspring. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father twelve tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will confirm my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” When he finished talking with him, God withdrew from Abraham.

Analysis: 

Throughout this chapter, we see Abraham bowing down to God, which shows humiliation, respect, and worship toward God. Though, we saw in Genesis 15 Abraham not doubt God, just requesting proof of the promise. Here, however, Abraham, almost 100 years old, now has doubts and therefore wishes that God would just accept Ishmael as his heir to the promise.

What are we seeing, here, then of the character and personhood of God? God shows grace, mercy, and patience, yet again, before Abraham. Abraham seems to not believe that either he or his wife will be able to produce an heir and he is now worried that God will abandon Ishmael. However, God answers Abraham with a blessing for Ishmael and then tells him that Sarah, name changed by God, but still means the same thing—princess or queen—will still bear him a son in a years time and they are to call him Isaac, which means “he laughs” (Ross 2008, 121). This promise of Ishmael is a contrast to that of Abraham. Ishmael will have 12 tribes just as Israel eventually has twelve tribes. However, it’s not through Ishmael that the salvific promise comes. No, it’s through Israel! Jesus is the seed promised and He is the fulfillment of that promise through the line of David of the tribe of Judah. Time to finish the chapter. 

Genesis 17:23-27:

So Abraham took his son Ishmael and those born in his household or purchased—every male among the members of Abraham’s household—and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskin on that very day, just as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when the flesh of his foreskin was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when the flesh of his foreskin was circumcised. On that same day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. And all the men of his household—whether born in his household or purchased from a foreigner—were circumcised with him.

Analysis:

So far, we have seen Abram become another Adamic type in Genesis, where the final and second Adam, Christ, will come through. We have observed Abraham have made many mistakes, be forgiven by God for them, and commanded to live correctly before God and the world. We know that the message of this story, so far, is that God is working toward saving mankind from themselves and returning them to an intimate relationship with Himself. God is the only who made the covenant, we see this with the many times in this chapter where God called the covenant His. God only required one thing, to be obedient—which meant for Abraham to “Live in [His] presence and to be blameless.” We see this, in the New Testament, after Christ makes the New Covenant with his death and resurrection. Paul says in Romans 4:16-19 that Abraham understood that God was going to make life out of death and that it would be through faith. John tells us in 1 John 2:6 that “[t]he one who says he remains in him should walk just as he walked.” In other words, John is telling us that we are to remain obedient. We aren’t circumcised anymore, but the notion of obedience as the sign of the covenant is still legitimate today. This is not legalism. No, God wants you to be obedient out of your love for Him. So, let me ask you, have you examined your life lately? Do you know if you are being obedient, and out of love for Him, or are you trying to make your life happen without God? Are you being legalistically obedient, or are you doing it out of love?

Reference List

Cole, R. Dennis. 2003. “Circumcision.”In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by Chad 

Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, and Trent C. Butler. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Cowan, Steven B.  2003. “Covenant.” In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by Chad 

Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, and Trent C. Butler. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Hahn, Scott. 2016. “Covenant.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David 

Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. 

Harrison, R. K. 2003. “Abraham.” In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by Chad 

Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, and Trent C. Butler. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Moyter, J. A. 2003. “Circumcision.” In New Bible Dictionary. Edited by D. R. W. Wood. Downers 

Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press. 

My Epic, “White Noises,” on the album Violence, produced by Facedown Records. 

Queen-Sutherland, Kandy.  2003. “Naming.” In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by 

Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, and Trent C. Butler. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers. 

Ross, Allen. 2008. “Genesis.” In Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Edited by Philip W. Comfort. 

Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale House Publishers. 

Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr. 1996. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary 

of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

Whitaker, Richard, Francis Brown, S.R. (Samuel Rolles) Driver, and Charles A. (Charles Augustus) Briggs. 1906. Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament: From A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Boston; New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

Episode 003: Genesis 16-Abram, Sarai, Hagar and the Forcing of anDivine Promise

https://anchor.fm/breakingthruwhitenoise/episodes/Episode-003-Genesis-16-Abram–Sarai–and-Hagar–a-Forcing-of-the-Divine-Promise-of-God-e9id3v

INTRODUCTION:

Welcome to this week’s show! We are in episode three of Breaking Through the White Noise Podcast. Today we are going to be looking at Genesis 16. This is the chapter where Abram and Sarai attempt to force the divine promise of God, back in Gen. 12 and 15, to come true. 

Last week, we briefly looked at the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 15 and explained how God was moving forward with His redemptive plan to save His creation from their terrible mistake. This week, we are going to see something completely different, yet similar about God out of a situation that Abram and Sarai force to happen. We are going to see God take something horrible and show his grace, love, and mercy out of it. Remember, we are still in a historical narrative, in which we are seeing the smaller steps of it being revealed. We started with Genesis 12, the introduction of Abram, and then moved to the next portion of the narrative where we saw God make the Abrahamic covenant with Abram. Now, we are gonna see Abram and Sarai attempt to make this new covenant happen in their own way and term. Next week, we will see in Genesis 17 God’s answer to what happened in 16. 

SUMMARY:

In Genesis 16, Sarai approaches Abram, basically forces him to marry her slave, Hagar. Once Abram and Hagar have sex together, for the first time, Hagar is made pregnant. This makes Sarai extreme jealous and she begins to mistreat Hagar. At the same time, Sarai puts the blame of the situation full on Abram. Hagar runs away and is found by God. God makes a promise to Hagar about Ishmael and directs her to return to Sarai and be fully submitted to her. The chapter ends with Hagar giving birth to Ishmael and Abram naming him. 

Next week, we will put more context with this chapter with 17 where it fits in with the overall purpose of the whole book of Genesis. For now, just remember, God is working toward saving His creation who caused their own undoing and downfall. God is diligently working toward putting things back together that was torn apart by humanity and Satan.  

Genesis 16 breaks down into about three parts. Verses 1-5 Sarai talks Abram into marrying Hagar. Abram gets Hagar pregnant and Sarai resents her for this. Verses 6-14 speaks of Hagar’s running away, being found by God, given a promise of her child, and her naming God and the place where she meets Him face to face. Verses 15-16 ends the chapter with the birth of Ishmael. Now, let’s grab our preferred translation of the Bible and open it to Genesis 16, which I will be reading, as always, from the Christian Standard Bible.

GENESIS 16:1-5:

Abram’s wife Sarai had not borne any children for him, but she owned an Egyptian slave named Hagar. Sarai said to Abram, “Since the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps through her I can build a family.” And Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar, her Egyptian slave, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife for him. This happened after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan ten years. He slept with Hagar, and she became pregnant. When she saw that she was pregnant, her mistress became contemptible to her. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for my suffering! I put my slave in your arms, and when she saw that she was pregnant, I became contemptible to her. May the Lord judge between me and you.” 

ANALYSIS:

The family was vitally important in the ancient world. Again, it was better to have a larger family, more sons meant more workers, more workers meant more production, more production meant more wealth. A larger family was not only prosperous, it was also good for safety and protection. This is why, in Abram’s day, having a larger family was so important, it was an ideal objective to marriage (Silva 2011, 17). Many wealthy men, in Abram’s day, preferred the custom of polygamy. However, men like Abram who may not have been able to afford bride-prices took on concubines. This was not the only reason, though. As we can see in the text, it was also normal to take on a concubine if the wife was unable to have children (Ibid.). 

Children were very important in the times of the patriarchs. Ps. 127:3-5 points out, again, that a large family is a blessing from God. Oppositely, being barren was seen as an embarrassment, curse, and possibly a sin (Silva 2011,  11). It is extremely vital that we catch how important Sarai’s (as well as the other matriarchs later to come) barrenness is because it requires God to move on their behalf, showing his favor on them and Israel as a whole (Ibid.).  Being barren also was a problem because it came against God’s direct command to be fruitful and multiply in Gen. 1:28 (Nyberg, “Children,” 2016). In Abram’s day, most societies were known as patriarchy. To start with, we need to cut out of our heads the notion of the negative inference the term has gathered in recent years. Men did not 100% rule over women, this portion of our text shows us against that. Abram gave Sarai permission to treat Hagar how she pleased, as well as the idea of Hagar becoming Abram’s concubine came from Sarai. So, women had more power than just giving birth. Alright, so patriarchy, loosely defined, was when the head of the single-family was a specific male individual who’s choice of an heir came through the descent of another male (Silva 2011, 14). Having a child, then, was vitally important to both Abram and Sarai. For Abram, if he had a male heir he could carry on the family lineage. For Sarai, having a child meant favor and respect. This is why Sarai was so adamant Hagar being given to Abram because through her she would have a male heir. We can all so see in the Law Code of Hammurabi that it was allowed for a man to take on a second wife, or allow his wife to give her slave to him as a concubine, in order for him to have children if the original wife was not allowed (145-146). However, Sarai was unable to handle the blessing and favor poured out on Hagar. 

Slavery was a major part of most countries’ economies in the Ancient Near East (Nässelqvist and Jardim, “Slavery,” 2016). It was more profitable in Egypt, Greece, and Rome than in Canaan, Aram, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia (Ibid.).  There were several reasons as to why someone was a slave in the ancient world than in our own American history. One could be a captive of war, debt, parents’ debts, or being born into a slave family (Ibid.). This section of the OT happened long before the Laws of Exodus on Sinai were given. Sarai, most likely, obtained Hagar as a slave from their time in Egypt, which we saw back in chapter 12. More than likely, Hagar was a household slave, making her life, probably, a bit better than those in the fields. What we can glean from a close reading of the text is that Hagar was given as a concubine, by Sarai to Abram. Sarai gets very jealous once Hagar is pregnant and is allowed to mistreat her. However, Hagar is able to run away and then return without punishment. Let’s move on to the next part of the chapter. Again, let’s return to our Bibles and begin reading verses 6-14

GENESIS 16:6-14:

Abram replied to Sarai, “Here, your slave is in your hands; do whatever you want with her.” Then Sarai mistreated her so much that she ran away from her. The angel of the Lord found her by a spring in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She replied, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her authority.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your offspring, and they will be too many to count.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “You have conceived and will have a son. You will name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your cry of affliction. This man will be like a wild donkey. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; he will settle near all his relatives.” So she named the Lord who spoke to her: “You are El-roi,” for she said, “In this place, have I actually seen the one who sees me?” That is why the well is called Beer-lahai-roi. It is between Kadesh and Bered.

ANALYSIS:

The Hebrew, malak ywhw, used for the typical English “angel of the Lord,” can be translated as messenger of Yahweh (Lord or God). However, as in any culture and their language, the meaning behind this phrase is very deep. Now, admittedly, this phrase is actually very complicated to describe, as well as understand. We have to start looking at several things at once. First off, we need to look at the wording, a bit more.  In every English translation I have, ESV, CSB, GNB, LEB, NJB, and NKJV, we can see that the angel of the Lord is not saying he is speaking for God, but giving a command to Hagar and prophesying to her as if he is the Lord!

Malak appears some 213 times in the OT (Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament). It literally translates as messenger. It indicates a person having been sent to someplace from a very distant origin (Ibid.).  The word is used with prophets, angels, and as the title of the angel of Yahweh (it is also used of the title angel of God). When it is used with the last as a title, it is always in the singular (Ibid.).

YHWH is the very personal name of God. It is only used in the Bible (Ibid.). Whereas the alternatives, adon and adonai, are used in extra-biblical literature (Ibid.). The very personal name of God, YWHW, has been in use since the beginning of the Bible records everything—Gen 2:4—it is used throughout Genesis, in chapter 12:8 it’s the name God uses when He speaks to Abram (Ibid.). It’s also the name that God uses to establish His covenant with Israel upon their redemption from Egypt.

When the two words are used in a singular fashion and as a title, it becomes very important to the reader to take note of what is happening. However, the wording/phrasing is pretty ambiguous. Typically, there are about four different views, or interpretations, of what, or who, this angle of the Lord is, as described by Elke B. Speliopoulos and Douglas Mangum in their article on the “angel of Yahweh” in the Lexham Bible Dictionary (2016): “1. an appearance of the preincarnate Christ[;] 2. a hypostasis of Yahweh or a manifestation of a divine attribute[;] 3. a human or angelic messenger representing Yaweh[; and] 4. a theophany of Yahweh Himself.” So, we are left with trying to decipher which meaning, here, was Moses going for? It, can honestly, be any one of the four, here, and there is evidence for all four.

The first interpretation given by Speliopoulos and Mangum (Ibid.) was “an appearance of the preincarnate Christ.” This is also known as a Christophany (Borland 1978, 10). The idea behind this is to understand what a theophany is. Basically, a theophany is any visible and audible visitation of God to mankind. It comes from the Greek, as a transliteration, theosphainein (Montonini 2016, “Theophany”). However, as Christians, we tend to understand God as spirit, John 4:24. Therefore, when God speaks to His creation, He doesn’t have an actual physical form. However, this is not what the scriptures show us. God physically appears in a bodily form before Abraham, later, several times. In order for this to make sense, we attempt to understand the physical form of God as the preincarnate Christ. The next one, “a hypostasis of Yahweh or a manifestation of a divine attribute” (Speliopoulos and Mangum 2016, “Angel of Yahweh”). A hypostasis of Yahweh is, basically, saying that Yahweh’s person is presented through someone or something. In other words, basically, it could be an angel with the presence of Yahweh showing through. Which ties in with the third one, being an angel or human messenger (Ibid.). It would specify, in this text, that this is merely an angel speaking on behalf of Yahweh, definitely not a human. The last one we touched on with the first one. So, the question, still remains, which of these is it? Or, could there be another answer?

The ancient Hebrews, Israelites, had a theology, which was considered orthodox up to second century AD, known as the “the two powers in heaven” (Heiser 2015, 134-135). Michael Heiser (Ibid.) in his book The Unseen Realm, explains that ancient Hebrews saw God in two separate, but unified forms. Basically, God was invisible and visible, He was spiritual and physical. God was able to be in heaven, on His throne, and yet, at the very same time, able to appear to the patriarchs, and others, as the angel of Yahweh, in physical form. We will see this better in places like the burning bush in Ex. 3, where both the spirit of Yahweh and the angel of Yahweh appear, together, and are yet separate.

What we have here is the physical appearance of Yahweh, in the angel, yet the author still leaves it ambiguous enough for us to understand that both natures of God are present here.We need to understand something, important, here. Though to the ancient Hebrews, they had no understanding, or knowledge of Jesus Christ, God did. Basically, we are able to fully understand these two natures and appearances of God through the Trinity, through the person of Christ. John tells us, in John 1:1 that Jesus is the “Word” of God, was with Him at the same time. Then in John 1:14, he tells us that the “Word,” Jesus, took on flesh and “dwelt among us.” The Greek word used for dwelt implies the double appearance of the angel of the Lord in the burning bush, who was also the same God who led the Israelites out of Egypt through the pillar of fire, and then was the presence that rested in the Tabernacle once it was completed! 

We need to make a note here that the outcome of this story, Sarai forcing Hagar to become Abram’s concubine to bear a son for Sarai, causes some serious problems. The author, Moses, shows that he is not partial to this by giving the story straight as it is. In historical research and apologetics, this is known as the criteria of embarrassment. What that means is that this event was way too embarrassing, even during Abram’s day, to be kept as is. The main choice, by God, to be the father of the nation of Israel, has a terrible wife who can’t have children, forces her slave to marry her husband so she can claim the child as her’s, and then once her slave is pregnant to blame everyone else for it and not herself, that is embarrassing. The result is that God blesses Hagar, gives a prophecy that Ishmael will be great, but will war with many nations. As mentioned earlier, Moses does not approve of what happened here, between Abram, Sarai, and Hagar. Neither does God. Instead, what we see is something very important about the nature and character of God. God shows mercy, grace, and love to Hagar. Hagar, obviously, did not ask to have this situation placed on her, but nonetheless, it happened. 

We must pay very close attention here. Moses is showing us something very important about who God is! First, backtracking a bit, Hagar is mistreated by Sarai and leaves. This happens after she is forced to marry Abram, have sex with him, and is made pregnant upon their first interaction. Hagar is already a slave, so she runs away not being able to handle the injustice being bestowed on her. What happens next is a changing of location in the short narrative. We move from Abram’s household to a wilderness setting. This is significant because what happens next is God finding Hagar. This is reminiscent of Adam and Eve in the Garden when God seeks them out (Gen 3:8-10). Where God finds Hagar at is on her way back to Egypt (Sailhamer 1990, 135). God, then, directs her to return to Sarai and to submit herself to her authority, again. Honestly, this would have been a large difficulty for Hagar. Here, we have the righteous Abram, called by God and a covenant cut between them. Yet, Abram does what sinful man has continued to do, he rebelled against God and sought to make the covenant promise happen on his own. Only, this time, he caused a large strife between his wife and Hagar. Now, a human is going to be born into this situation. Instead of stepping in, after making the problem, Abram hands off the problem to Sarai, allows her to mistreat Hagar and then allows Hagar to run away, alone and pregnant. Chances are that Hagar would not have made it alone. This is where we see God step in and fix what Abram broke. God tells Hagar that her son will become as many as He promised Abram!

Second, God tells Hagar to name her son Ishmael, which means God hears. This is important because we will see throughout scripture that God hears the affliction of those who are suffering, whether they have accepted Him or not. A contrast is happening, here, however, and we need to discuss this. In Chapters 12 and 15, God promised Abram many descendants, land, and a blessing. The blessing would be completed through Christ’s death and resurrection, bringing all who choose back into right relationship with God. Here, God’s promise to Hagar is only that Ishmael will be prosperous and yet, he will be at odds with his kin. We see this all playing out through history up to this day. The Muslims, mainly Arabic descent, trace their lineage back to Ishmael. Since Ishmael was the technically firstborn son of Abram and Sarai was barren, he was originally the rightful heir of this promise. However, God doesn’t always play well with human social customs. Sarai becomes pregnant and gives birth to Isaac. In Abram’s day, that would mean that Isaac was to be the rightful heir, second-born or not (Ross 2008, 115-116).

Hagar accepts the message from God, in faith and shows it with her naming of God. the word, El-Roi translates as God who sees. The meaning, here, is pretty important, however. As Kevin Larsen (2016 “El Roi”) defines it, here, is “becoming mentally aware of, realizing, taking note of.” Interestingly, Hagar is the only person, in all of the Bible, OT and NT, that actually names God and He accepts it (Ibid.)! 

GENESIS 16:15-16:

So Hagar gave birth to Abram’s son, and Abram named his son (whom Hagar bore) Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.

ANALYSIS:

In conclusion, we see that Hagar returns to Abram and Sarai. Hagar gives birth to Ishmael when Abram was 86. We need to take one something very important, so far, from this week’s episode. This short story within the macro-narrative of Genesis, and that of the whole of the Bible, is something that is descriptive. This story does not, in any way, command us to be like Abram and Sarai. In fact, as I pointed out earlier, God did not approve of the situation that Abram and Sarai caused. Nor did Moses. We see through this story that Abram, yet again, failed at his calling from God to trust Him and rely on Him for making His promises and will come to fruition. A major lesson of this story is that God is still in control, even when we mess things up. God still shows grace and patience with us when we take matters into our own hands and don’t trust Him. Whatever you think you have done, whatever you feel is broken because of your own doing, or someone else’s, know that if you leave it with God, He is quick to fix it. Next time, we will see, in Chapter 17 how God responds to this situation and the following chapters will show us how God’s plan of redemption, to be brought on through the line of Abraham to Isaac and not Ishmael will take place. Until next time, I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. I only ask that you share this podcast with your family and friends, like it on social media, and rate it on whatever platform you listen to it on. Thanks, everyone and have a great week!

Reference List

Heiser, Michael S. 2015. Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible. 

Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. 

Larsen, Kevin W. 2016. “El Roi.” Lexham Bible 

Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

My Epic, “White Noises,” on the album Violence, produced by Facedown Records. 

Nässelqvist, Dan, and Georgina Jardim. 2016. “Slavery.”  Lexham Bible 

Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Nyberg, Meredith Faubel. 2016. “Children.”  Lexham Bible 

Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Ross, Allen. 2008. “Genesis.” In Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Edited by Philip W. Comfort. 

Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale House Publishers. 

Sailhamer, John H. 1990. “Genesis.” In Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. 

Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 

Silva, Moisés. 2011. Essential Companion to Life in Bible Times. Essential Bible Companion 

Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Speliopoulos, Elke B., and Douglas Mangum.  2016. “Angel of Yahweh.” Lexham Bible 

Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr. 1996. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

Genesis 15: The Abrahamic Covenant

https://anchor.fm/breakingthruwhitenoise/episodes/Genesis-15-The-Abrahamic-Covenant-e9cpbi

INTRODUCTION:

Welcome to this week’s show! We are in episode two of the Breaking Through the White Noise Podcast. Today we are going to be looking at Genesis 15, commonly known as the Abrahamic Covenant. 

Last time we left we were wrapping up Chapter 12 of Genesis. Abram and Sarai were basically kicked out of Egypt for keeping the fact that Sarai was Abram’s wife hidden from the Pharaoh. Well, now we are going to pick things up in Chapter 15, but first we need to look at the chapters between 12 and 15. Remember, last we discussed that Genesis is part of an overarching genre known as historical narrative. Well, in chapters 13 and 14 a mini, or sub genre appears. This sub genre is known as the heroic narrative. Here is a synopsis of what happened in those two chapters leading up to 15. Lot and Abram separate ways. Abram stays in the hill country while Lot and his family move to the cities, more specifically, in the area of Sodom and Gamorrah. During this period, a conglomerate of cities join forces and take on another set of cities, including Sodom and Gomorrah, which Lot had settled at.  Abram hears of the events and delivers these various cities from their oppression and captivity. The kings wished to reward Abram. However, Abram refused to take the reward and instead asked that they reward his men—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. It’s immediately after these events happened in chapters 13 and 14 that God comes to Abram and begins the Abrahamic Covenant in chapter 15. 

SUMMARY:

Now, here is a quick glimpse of what is happening in Genesis 15. As I go through this quick summary, please be grabbing your preferred translation of the Bible and flip it open to Genesis 15. God comes to Abram, in a vision, and begins the Abrahamic Covenant. Abram believes, but can’t see how it will come to pass. This is due to Abram’s only heir being a slave and not of his blood. God responds with a prophecy foretelling of the reason and events that happen in the Book of Exodus. God then ends with making the actual covenant with Abram. 

Genesis 15 fits right in with the purpose-in fact it is,  basically, the purpose of Genesis. God created everything and it was good. Mankind rebelled, with the help of Satan and sin. God promised to fix it. God establishes the Abrahamic Covenant to show this promise would start, here. Eventually, as Paul stated in Galatian 3:16, the promised seed (singular) is Jesus!

Here is the break down of the Chapter, kind of like a flow of thought, if you will. 15:1-6: God appears to Abram. 15:7-16, is the portion where the actual Covenant between God and Abram takes place. 15:17-21 ends the whole of the chapter. 

GENESIS 15:1-6:

After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield; your reward will be very great. But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you give me, since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Abram continued, “Look, you have given me no offspring, so a slave born in my house will be my heir.” Now the word of the Lord came to him: “This one will not be your heir; instead, one who comes from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “Your offspring will be that numerous.” Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

ANALYSIS:

In Abram’s day, having a large family was vitally important to the family surviving. The more sons one could have the more labor that could be done, which in turn produced more goods for the family. Plus, family and possession sizes were seen in Abram’s day as being wealthy and highly favored. In Ps. 127: 3-5, it was seen as a blessing from God to have a large family. The family also needed to have at least one son who could carry on the family name and lineage.  According to documents that were recovered from an ancient Mesopotamian city, Nuzi, it was not uncommon for patriarchies to select and/or adopt a slave as their heir if they did not have a biological one (Mitchell 2003, 234). So, we can see here that the problem within this passage is that Abram still does not have a biological heir, so he is being left to believe that God’s promise will have to come through Eliezer of Damascus, his slave. 

God’s answer to the situation is to speak with Abram and remind him of the great promise he provided him, which we saw back in chapter 12. So, the text tells us that God came to Abram in a vision. The Hebrew word used here, Mahazeh, means vision. However, there is a much deeper meaning to this word. The word is typically used of prophecy. What we are seeing here, is Moses presenting Abram as a prophet (Sailhamer 1990, 127). Mahazeh only appears twice in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the BIble, here and in Numbers 24 in connection with Balaam (Ibid.). 

Before God reaffirms the covenant with Abram, He does something a bit different. In the translation I am using, the Christian Standard Bible, God is said to promise Abram that He would be his shield and great reward. The New American Standard Bible agrees with this. These two translations show that God is going to give a great reward to Abram and at the same time be his shield, protector. However, the New International Version and the New Jerusalem Bible make it seem that God will be Abram’s great reward. Raises the question, which one of these translations is correct? Will God give a great reward or will He be the great reward? I honestly believe through the context it is actually both. If we look ahead, a little bit, to verse 18 we see that God makes a covenant with Abram that his descendants will inherit the land. In verse 5 God tells Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. That is a great reward. Now, the complete fulfillment of this promise is in the death and resurrection of Christ. 

What begins to take place after this promise from God is known in academic circles as an oracle-vision sub genre. It’s a question and answer format, here, between God and Abram.  Some people insist that Abram is actually doubting God, here. However, that is not really the case; afterwall, why else would Moses stress the fact that Abram believed God and it was counted as righteousness in verse 6? So, as we saw earlier in chapter 12, God promised Abram land, people, and a blessing. We can tell that since then a lot of time has transpired and Abram still does not have an heir. So, just as we discussed earlier in this episode, Abram thought that God was going to fulfill this promise through his slave, Eliezer of Damascus. This, as we noted already, was normal in Abram’s time. So, God’s response to Abram is that his heir will not be Eliezer, he will have a biological son. Abram believes God, however, he simply wants some proof. Which is where we move into the next section of the chapter, verses 7-16. 

GENESIS 15:7-16:

He also said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “Lord God, how can I know that I will possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a three-year-old cow, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” So he brought all these to him, cut them in half, and laid the pieces opposite each other, but he did not cut the birds in half. Birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, a deep sleep came over Abram, and suddenly great terror and darkness descended on him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions. But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

ANALYSIS:

God’s answer to Abram is a request for a three year old cow, a three year old female goat, a three year old ram, a turtle dove, and one young pigeon. Sounds like one heck of a wonderful cooking recipe list. Abram does just as God asked. However, the strangest thing happens, Abram cuts them in half and places them apart from each other with room to walk between them. Now, how did Abram know to do this; was this what God intended for Abram to do? Abram knew his time and culture, way better than we do today. Abram understood that God was going to call for a covenant to be made between them. The Hebrew’s used a word phrase, Karat berit, which meant to, literally, cut a covenant (Fensham 2003, 234). Ancient Mesopotamian documents, such as the Mari texts and the Alalah tablets, showed that various animals were used in covenants by being cut in half, as well as others would be burned on altars to the god/goddess, and sometimes the other portion would be eaten by the people (Ibid.). 

Alfred J. Hoerth, in his book Archaeology and the Old Testament (1998, 103), states this type of covenant between God and Abram was known as a suzerain-vassel covenant. Better understood as a king-subject contract. Abram took the cow, the female goat, and the ram, presented them to God and then cut them in-half and placed them apart from each other (Ibid.). What is most interesting is that a full day passes by. We know this because Abram has to continually shew away vultures and then in verse 12 the sun is described as setting. Finally, God shows up in verse 13 and begins to prophecy the events that led up to the Book of Exodus. God continues to do this up to verse 16. 

GENESIS 15:17-21:

When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared and passed between the divided animals. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I give this land to your offspring, from the Brook of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River: the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hethites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.” 

Now, we finally come to the climax of the chapter. God makes the actual covenant with Abram, except something is very different here. Usually, during this portion of the covenant, both parties walk through the middle of the cut animals. This was done to express that if either party broke the covenant, then what happened to the animals would befall the one who failed to keep the covenant. In Jeremiah 34:18, it’s expressed that those who failed to keep the covenant (this one being made between God and Abram), they would be cut in-half just as the animals were done for the covenant. Now, what happens is that God does not allow Abram to participate in the actual covenant, though He makes the covenant with him. Instead, God passess through peices Himself, signifying that He will take the punishment if either party fails to keep the covenant. This is so important because we see this happening with the death of Jesus on the Roman Cross two thousand years ago. 

Thank you guys for listening to this episode of Breaking Through the White Noise Podcast. If you like it, then please do me a solid, like, share, and vote for us on iTunes and whatever ever else you listen to this. Have a blessed week guys, see you next week. 

Reference List

Fensham, F. C. 2003. “Covenant, Alliance.” In New Bible Dictionary. Edited by D. R. W. Wood. 

Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press. 234-237.

Hoerth, Alfred J. 1998. Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker 

Academics. 

Mitchell, T. C. 2003. “Family, Household.” In New Bible Dictionary. Edited by D. R. W. Wood. 

Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press. 361-363.

Sailhamer, John H. 1990. “Genesis.” In Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version of the Holy Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1-284.

Bibliology Part Two-C: The Manuscripts, Transmission, and Translation or What is Textual Criticism

The Image is taken from https://www.luther.edu/library/about/history/40th/jerome/.

“I am not, I repeat, so ignorant as to suppose that any of the Lord’s words is either in need of correction or is not divinely inspired; but the Latin manuscripts of the Scriptures are proved to be faulty by the variations which all of them exhibit, and my object has been to restore them to the form of the Greek original, from which my detractors do not deny that they have been translated” (Jerome, Letters XXVII. 1). The Image is taken from https://www.luther.edu/library/about/history/40th/jerome/.

Introduction

 

At the beginning of the fifth century, Jerome completed his magnum opus, the Vulgate. This work was the official Bible of the Middle Ages for roughly a thousand years. Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into the ‘vulgar’ (hence the name Vulgate), in Latin, was commissioned by Pope Damasus, ca. AD 382 (Demarest 2013, 162). The medieval Vulgate was not without its problems, which is why, in part, during the Renaissance, a humanist, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) got permission from Pope Leo X to revise Jerome’s Vulgate.

novum_instrumentum

Erasmus’ Greek-Latin Parrell New Testament. Erasmus originally sought to update the Vulgate, however, he ended producing a new Latin translation that replaced the Vulgate. The image is taken from http://news.lib.uchicago.edu/blog/2012/12/04/swiss-treasures-exhibition-closes-dec-14/.

Using only a handful of Greek manuscripts, the first edition was published in 1516, a year before Martin Luther would nail his 95 Theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Erasmus’ new version of the New Testament was the first Greek New Testament to be printed in history, not handwritten (Alvarez 2016). Erasmus’ translation had various errors, hence his many editions. The biggest problem for Erasmus were the Greek manuscripts; he did not have access to the full New Testament (missing were the last six verses of Revelation which he translated from Jerome’s Vulgate back into the Greek [Carson 1979, 33]). There are a variety of issues surrounding the abundance of manuscripts used when translators ‘translate’ the Bible into a modern or current translation. Yet, we can be assured that God has overseen the entire process and preserved His Word from the moment of revelation and inspiration right down to our present age.

 

The Manuscripts of the Old Testament and New Testament: Are They Reliable?

 

isaiah-scroll

An image of the Scroll of Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection. The image is taken from https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/bible-versions-and-translations/the-original-bible-and-the-dead-sea-scrolls/.

 

Historians are still not quite sure when, as well as where, the Enlightenment began. Some scholars believe it was in the mid-seventeenth century, while others hold to it beginning in the eighteenth. When and where, is not really what matters, what does is that everything was under suspicion, guilty till proven innocent. The golden age of the Enlightenment, however, was in the late eighteenth century, mostly in France with the two different, yet similar, philosophical schools: the materialists and the philosophs. Basically, both parties saw miracles as suspect, and anything found in the Bible that smacked of supernaturalism was suspect to superstition and therefore not historical. In Prussia (northern area of Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and most of modern-day Germany), a philosopher, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing stated that there was no way of knowing the Christ of Faith from the historical Jesus, which has become known as Lessing’s Ditch. Basically, for the Enlightenment philosophers, as well as their children and grandchildren, there is no way of knowing the actual historical events of the Bible.

Through the Enlightenment, most of the Old Testament was laid waste to the new tool of historical-methodology, which gave rise to what is known as higher criticism. Scholars began to dissect the Old Testament, the Torah was written not by Moses but by an editor, or actually, editors, at various points in time. The J, E, EP, P (the theory that a different author, writing at different time periods, edited the Torah, therefore there was the Jahwists, Elohimists, the Priests, and the combination of the Elohim and Preist schools), theory became the norm. Isaiah was not thought to be written by Isaiah, at least not the whole, therefore two versions were put together into one. All of this has led some modern scholars to question the validity of the documents behind the Old Testament.

Today, some of the Old Testament scholars, as well as a small handful of New Testament ones, believe and teach that the manuscripts of the Old Testament have been corrupted, which they argue makes the Bible itself invalid (Wegner 2011, 119-138).

scriptorium

Qumran scriptorium, where copies of the Old Testament, as well as their personal sect books, were copied. The image is taken from http://museum.imj.org.il/shrine_center/Temple_article.html.

If this is true, then as Paul Wegner (2011, 119) stated in his essay on the corruption of the Old Testament, which will also be the same for the New Testament, that if these manuscripts are hopelessly corrupted, then we are not to be held to any of the commands given by God, which therefore would mean that God failed at revealing Himself since scripture is to be the revelation of the One Living God. Basically, the Bible would be pointless and should be thrown out or burned. How do we know if there are corruptions in the Old and New Testament manuscripts? Easy, we look at them ourselves, we learn about the methods of preservation done through the scribes, and how the text critics come to their decisions of what the originals may have said.

 

What are the Manuscripts Behind the Old and New Testaments?

 

For the Old Testament, the sources are fewer than what we have for the New Testament, which still does not posit a significant problem. Text critics look at various Hebrew, as well as, the Masoretic Text (the majority text for the Old Testament), Targums (Aramaic paraphrasing of the whole of the Old Testament), the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) as well as other Greek versions (like Philo), the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls (found in the area of the Dead Sea in 1946), and finally, some of the early Church Fathers’ illusions to and quotes of the Old Testament in their writings (Norton 2001, 156-173). We have, for the New Testament, over 5,600 Greek, 10,000 Latin, and somewhere between 5,000-10,000 Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Gothic, Syriac, and various other translated copies (Wallace 2011, 146; 2013, 27; Bruce 1981, 10; Ehrman 2005, 88-89). As Daniel Wallace (2011, 146; 2013, 28) likes to state, if we never found any of these copies of the New Testament, then we would still be able to compile most of it through the various quotes of the Patristic Fathers in their various commentaries and homilies. Amazingly, with all of this information on the New Testament, we can safely say we have around 20,000 copies of the New Testament (Wallace 2011, 146; 2013, 27-28).

 

The Old Testament Texts

 

The manuscripts of the Old Testament have a rougher time than the ones for the New Testament. This is due, mostly, to the dating. As we have mentioned before, the Old Testament was written over a period of about 1,500 years. For the longest time, the earliest Hebrew text for the Old Testament could only be dated to the Middle Ages, with the oldest portion of the Bible being dated to the twelveth-century BC (Norton 2001, 156). For a text critic, this is not unusual, though, for a valid argument for the validity of the Old Testament, it doesn’t bode well. However, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946, a better source of attestation to the Masoretic Texts, ie., the earliest Hebrew source (Ibid.) has been made. What this means is that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have both Hebrew copies, as well as some in Aramaic, is that a closer date to the autographs can be made, roughly 600-800 years (Ibid.). This find has also shown that the Masoretic Text has been well preserved, since most of the Hebrew versions found at the Qumran site match, almost completely, with the Masoretic manuscripts (Ibid., 160-166). This also means, which we will discuss a bit later, is that the scribal process of hand copying the manuscripts was very thorough (Ibid.).

 

The New Testament Texts

 

Gymnasium of Sardis

Gymnasium’s in the Greco-Roman world were used as more than sports training facilities. The Romans used them for their education as well, reading, writing, mathematics (they even had primary, secondary, and tertiary schoolings). The image is taken from the Faithlife Study Bible Photos.

 

When looking at the New Testament, one has to take into account the classical world and their various manuscript evidence. So, for example, Caesar’s Gallic War. Caesar wrote this, supposedly, around 58-50 BC, to which we only have about ten good copies with the oldest dating to about 900 years later (Bruce 1981, 11). For a better example, let’s look at a couple of the more important Roman historians from the first-century, Livy and Tacitus. Most of our understanding of the Roman Empire leading up to the first-century comes from these two. Livy (59 BC-AD 17) wrote some 142 works on the history of Rome, yet we only have, roughly, 25% of his texts (Wallace 2011, 151). With Livy, though, we do not actually have his full collection, which is why Wallace (2011, 151) and F. F. Bruce (1981, 11) state that we only have about a quarter to a third of his works, which are found mostly in one copy of books iii-vi and are only fragments, which the oldest dates to about the fourth century. Tacitus’ (ca. AD 100) Histories were just fourteen books, we only have four and half of them (Bruce 1981, 11). Tacitus’ Annals were sixteen books long, which we only have ten full copies and two partials (Ibid.). Both of these works by Tacitus have their best manuscripts from the ninth and eleventh-centuries (Ibid.). More could be said, but I feel this is enough. Secular text critics wish they had the plethora of evidence that the New Testament scholars have.

 

Are Both the Old and New Testament Manuscripts Full of Errors and Corruptions?

 

To answer this question, we first need to understand what the scribal process was, define what an error is and what types of errors there are, and see if they actually matter for anything. The first thing we should do is read what the skeptics are saying about this. Basically, Bart Erhman (2005, 47-51), again the leading skeptic in New Testament textual criticism, states that the early Christian scribes were not professionals, ie., not trained, yet were literate and educated. What Ehrman (Ibid.) is saying is that the earlier manuscripts were very sloppy compared to those in the secular realm who were trained to do this as a profession, which to the Christians this was not a profession, it was necessary. Ehrman (Ibid. 47-55) proclaims that some errors were made by early scribes on purpose, to alter the text for theological purposes, while some were simply accidents (left out words, misspelled words, incorrect grammar, etc.). Ehrman (Ibid., 72) believes that the early Christian scribes lived in a vacuum apart from the other communities in the Roman Empire (eg., the community at Rome would still house the same errors in their various manuscripts because they would never have gotten a copy of any other manuscripts). Finally, for Ehrman (Ibid., 72-73) the rise of professional scribes in the Christian communities began to happen in the early to mid-fourth century with the conversion of Constantine, of which, according to Ehrman, requested 50 copies of the Bible be made for several of his new churches that were in the midst of being built (ironically, Ehrman gives no evidence for this, Eusebius, Life of Constantine VI.37). However, now that we know that for skeptics, all the mistakes in the copies, which has led to the so-called contradictions, of the Bible were made by educated unprofessional Christian scribes. Now, we need to know what the skeptics believe an error is.

For skeptics, it is beneficial for them to make statements, like what Ehrman (Ibid., 90) says in Misquoting Jesus: “[t]here are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” For the skeptics, then, the errors in the manuscripts were one of two types: accidental changes and intentional changes, of which there are several kinds (Ibid., 90-95). In other words, for the skeptics, accidents were understandable due to abbreviations, no punctuations, skipping lines due to the ending words of some lines being the same, etc. (Ibid.). In regards to the intentional changes, the skeptics view them as very serious issues and make them their smoking gun. First, these intentional changes were done to correct those earlier problems, eg., Mark’s statement of a prophecy from Malachi, yet attaching it to Isaiah, or Matthew’s recording of Jesus saying that He doesn’t know the time of the end, which upset some later scribes who dropped that saying altogether (Ibid., 94-95). Another intentional error was to circumvent a possible misunderstanding of the text (Ibid., 95). Possibly, the most important one of them all for the skeptics was the changing of the text to promote “orthodox” theology (Ibid., 95-96). Lastly, there were scribes who would alter the text to “harmonize” them, mostly found in the synoptic gospels (Ibid., 97-98). What these mean to the critic and skeptic is that the texts cannot be trusted, we can never know what the original meant, and most importantly, the modern version of the Bible was the version of Christianity that won out, which means that the originals may actually have held more heretical views. Is this true though, are we hopelessly lost and unable to get back to the original words of the Old and New Testaments? Is our version of Christianity incorrect due to changes to the texts; is our Christianity actually the heretical one? What do you think? Do some exploring for yourselves, seek out the truth. The next post will be the answer to these questions, and maybe more.

 

C. B.

The Bearded Scholar

 

Reference List

 

Alvarez, Pablo. 2016. “500 Years of Erasmus’s New Testament!” Beyond the Reading Room: Anecdotes and Other Notes from the U-M Special Collections Research Center, July 29. Accessed July 14, 2018. https://www.lib.umich.edu/blogs/beyond-reading-room/500-years-erasmuss-new-testament.

Bruce. F. F. 1981. New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Carson, D. A. 1979. King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Demarest, Bruce A. 2013. “Jerome.” In Introduction to the History of Christianity. Edited by Tim Dowley. 162-163. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Ehrman, Bart D. 2005. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Norton, Mark R. 2003. “Texts and Manuscripts of the Old Testament.” In Origin of the Bible. Edited by Philip Wesley Comfort. 155-183. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, INC.

Wallace, Daniel B. 2013. “Has the New Testament Text Been Hopelessly Corrupted?” In In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. Edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder. 139-163. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academics.

________. 2011. “Lost in Transmission: How Badly Did the Scribes Corrupt the New Testament Text?” In Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence. Edited by Daniel B. Wallace. 19-55. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Wegner, Paul D. 2013. “Has the Old Testament Text Been Hopelessly Corrupted?” In In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. Edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder. 119-138. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academics.

Bibliology Part Two—B: The Manuscripts, Their Transmission, Translations, or What is Textual Criticism

 

Synagogue at Capernaum

This is an image of the Synagogue at Capernaum. The Jewish place education and religious meetings, as well as political meetings, was the synagogue. The image is taken from the Faithlife Study Bible Infographics.

Introduction

 

Earlier in the week, I watched a debate between Christian scholar Dr. Michael Licona and atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. Sadly, I do not feel Licona did a good job debating Erhman. The debate was on whether the Gospels were historically reliable. Honestly, Licona did a good job explaining how an actual historian views ancient manuscripts. However, during his actual debate with Ehrman, he conceded to ridiculous, fallacious arguments put forward by Ehrman. I am continually amazed at how agnostic/atheists, critics, and skeptic scholars commit heinous fallacies without even blinking an eye. If you watch the debate, you will notice that Ehrman presents his argument for viewing the Gospels alone, we are not even allowed to compare them to any other writings, we cannot interpret them, if they do not say something then it did not happen, we are only allowed to read the Gospels in English, and we have to approach the Gospels with modern worldview presuppositions.* Today, this is how most scholars are teaching their students in secular colleges (as well as in a few divinity schools and seminaries). The truth is, the Bible is completely reliable, historically, socially, economically, and theologically. This is why Paul charges Timothy to be prepared, in season and out, to preach the word (2 Tim 4:1-5 CSB). The Word itself is God-breathed, inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16 CSB). God prepared it for us to be able to know Him, to teach, rebuke, correct, and be trained in all righteousness (2 Tim 3:16 CSB). It’s also why the authors of the Westminster Confession stated, in regards to the whole of the Scriptures, that

“the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6.1).

As the evidence will show, the Bible is more reliable than any other source for history. The evidence will also show that God has worked in and through history, proving that Christianity and the Bible are reliable, authoritative, and completely accurate for today.

To understand the reliability of the Bible, we have to approach them as any good historian would.  First, we need to be aware of several fallacies, especially those made by the agnostic/atheist, critic, and skeptic scholars make and make sure to avoid them. One of the first things to know about the Bible is that it is a historical document. What this means is it is prima facie (at first view). In other words, the Bible records history, which means we do not need to accept outside material as more historical in nature, or more authoritative in regards to describing historical facts (Barrick 2008, 16). Unfortunately, critics and skeptics do this all the time. If the Bible records a historical event, such as the census by Caesar Augustus and the governing of Syria by Quirinius, the critic and skeptic look at other sources during the time, find no record of a census and conclude that the Bible is incorrect and the other sources are more authoritative in their telling of the events; in regards to Quirinius as governor, they state that Luke was wrong because of the dating of Jesus’ birth and that Josephus was correct, yet they do not wonder whether Luke was correct and Josephus was wrong (Luke 2:1-3 CSB; Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 18.1-2). We also need to avoid the fallacy of arguing from silence. If there is silence in the Bible we have to find out why; we cannot just determine that the silence means that nothing happened. We also cannot make any over-generalizations, in other words, history is done in a very specific way. The past did not just happen in a vacuum. We cannot expect to think that the Bible is not reliable because it left material out, or shortened certain events, or even reorganized them. Doing historical research is best explained in the way Conal Furay and Michael Salevouris (2010, 12-13) do in their book on historical methodology; Furay and Salevouris stated that history is like walking in a dark landscape where you have a spotlight that only lights up sections at a time. All you want is to be able to see the whole thing, however, you can only see what the spotlight shines into view for you (Ibid.). This is how historians perceive history, they are unable to completely see the whole, instead, they are only able to imagine the whole with the small amount they can see. John says something similar in his Gospel when he explains to his audience about all of the deeds of Jesus, John states that the world would not be able to hold them (John 21:25 CSB).

 

Oral Tradition into Written Tradition or A Brief History of How the Bible Became Written

 

 

Doing history prior to the 15th-century is a bit difficult. This is mostly due (as is true for all nations’ histories, including America’s) to the fact that these earlier nations and cultures had passed their histories down verbally, to which at some point someone believed these stories to be important enough to have been written down. This is known as oral history. This is where the problem of manuscripts comes in and why historians, as well as the rest of us, need the field of textual criticism. This is a field of science that takes various copies of manuscripts, like the ones behind the modern English Bible, compare them together, and decide what the original (also known as an autograph from the German which loosely means author’s original work) said. This means, unfortunately, that anything pre-15th-century, or ancient works, are copies of the original works (Presnell 2007, 122). What makes this difficult is that many times the copies may have been altered, whether on accident or on purpose, leaving the text critic and historian to decide what the original may have actually said. What is good about this, especially for the Bible, is that the more copies there are the more precise the text critic can be on discovering what the original said, as well as knowing that there were more people who could read them as well (Ibid., 123). This also means that the knowledge of how important the message of the manuscript was weighed on the people of the time the copy came from (Ibid.).

For us, then, it is the same with the Kingdom of God. God spoke, the universe and mankind came into being, Abraham and his descendants acted, Moses moved, and a nation bowed to the power of Him by releasing His people from their slavery (Pelikan 2005, 9-11). The same should be said of the New Testament. Paul recounts the words of Jesus when he expresses to the Church at Corinth about the Lord’s Supper as being instituted by Christ Himself (Ibid., 18). Paul says,

and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24-25 CSB).

Peter told his congregation that the Bible had been orally passed on by the Word of the Holy Spirit,

No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20b-21 CSB).

In regards to showing the oral history of the early church, Paul tells the Church at Corinth, again, how he had passed on to them the Gospel, which he, himself, had received:

Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me (1 Cor 15:1-8 CSB).

And Paul tells the various churches in Galatia, possibly the earliest written document of the New Testament, how he received his Gospel (that is, for us, here, his oral history):

I did not go up to Jerusalem to those who had become apostles before me; instead I went to Arabia and came back to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas,and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I didn’t see any of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother…Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas,taking Titus along also. I went up according to a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those recognized as leaders. I wanted to be sure I was not running, and had not been running, in vain…On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, since the one at work in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in me for the Gentiles. When James, Cephas, and John—those recognized as pillars—acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do (Gal 1:17-19; 2:1-2, 7-10 CSB).

Luke also, in his Gospel (which I believe one of his major sources was Paul), gives an example of the passing of the early churches’ oral history on to his community:

Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed (Luke 1:1-4 CSB).

And Peter also tells his congregation about how he passed on orally the message of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death. Peter explained that they did not pass on myths, but that they were actually there, they saw and heard everything. Peter even reminds his audience about being present at the Transfiguration of Jesus and hearing God give his approval of Christ:

For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased!” We ourselves heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18 CSB).

 

Parthenon

The image is taken from the Faithlife Study Bible photos.

From oral to written was a process that took time. For Marcus Borg (2012, 11), a Liberal Christian and former New Testament Scholar and Jesus Seminar Fellow, the world of the New Testament may have only had, roughly, five percent of people who were literate (this is debatable). Borg (2012, 12) also holds that the only reason the Gospels were written down was two-fold: to preserve a Christian Communities tradition in regards to Jesus and due to the process of early institutionalization of some churches. Borg (Ibid.) holds that oral history in the Christian tradition “involved memory, development, and testimony” making it a communal process. One of the things that would have helped in the ability of the oral tradition to become written is an example from the New Testament. Jesus was a rabbi, who moved around the land of Palestine teaching and preaching the Tanakh. In order for his close students, the twelve disciples, to remember His words, Jesus taught in aphorisms and parables, which he would have done several times. In other words, Jesus, more than likely, repeated all that is recorded in the four different Gospels more than once to different audiences all over Palestine (Borg 2012, 13; Howard 2010, 1596; Keener 2009, 149).

 

 

 The biggest part of any culture’s oral tradition has to do with memorization. Craig S. Keener (2009, 139-152), in his book on the Historical Jesus, states that in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures, memorization by disciples of teachers and rabbis was a critical part of their education, more so than having something written by the teacher (though, the oral portion was more important in the Jewish world than in the Roman). In the Greco-Roman world, it was not uncommon for people, ie. Seneca, to work extraneously hard to memorize names, sayings, teaching, and even lifestyles of their master teachers (Ibid.). Keener (Ibid.), gave an example of the students of Pythagoras who would not even get out of bed until they had completely recited, by memory, everything they had learned in class the day before. Josephus (Life of Josephus 2; Against Apion 1.2; 2.17; Keener 2009, 149) even mentions how the Jews worked extremely hard to memorize the whole of the Torah.

Sermon on the Mount
The image is taken from Blue Letter Bible.

 The rabbis would expect their students to be able to memorize their teachings and be able to recite them back; this was done through repetition (Keener 2009, 149). In the oral history of Jesus and his Gospel that His disciples passed on was mostly, if not completely, inflexible (Ibid., 150). In Judaism, eyewitnesses were more important in the reliability of the passing on of the oral history, which passed on through early Christianity (Ibid., 139). What was important to the memorization, especially when it comes to the Gospels and to the oral tradition passed on within the early Church, was that the “gist” of the events and sayings was made since verbatim sayings was slightly improbable (Ibid., 150). Also, it was not uncommon for both the Greco-Roman world and the Jewish one to have some who would be able to take notes, to be able to polish up the lectures, sayings, and speeches to publish them for their teachers later on (Ibid., 148-149). The Apostles came from this world, they sat at Jesus’ feet, learned how He lived, what he taught, saw why He came and placed it all to memory.  The message of the Bible is reliable because the process that was used to safeguard it was predetermined by God. That means, simply, God has kept His message safe, from beginning to end. Thus, the Scriptures are historically and theologically reliable.

 

Author’s Notes

* I need to make a single disclaimer here about the approach of Ehrman’s points from the debate. First, Ehrman is not an actual historian, though he does teach NT history at UNC (and all the Duke fans now understand the problem with Ehrman). He is a textual critic, which means he deals, mostly, with finding the original texts of the Bible. This means that he does need to know some history. Second, an actual historian would never approach an ancient document as Ehrman speaks of in the debate. To do proper history, historians must compare different documents from the same time period, this is done to help corroborate the reliability of the document, in other words, is the document telling the truth in events it gives of the time period of which it is said to be written in (Marius and Page 2010, 49-54; Presnell 2007, 130). History is all about interpretation, you cannot do history without this. The best way to explain this is is that historians evaluate their sources and make inferences based on the evidence (Marius and Page 2010, 49-54). When the text is silent, then the historian begins to question why. Erhman makes the fallacy of arguing from silence. Historians want to know why an author did not say something, was it due to ignorance, was it to make a statement, or was it on purpose for whatever reasons we may never know (Presnell 2007, 130). The silence is another reason why comparing different primary sources together is important. Ehrman knows better than to infer on his audience to only use the English translations, mostly because he is a textual critic. Historians know that ancient documents are best understood when read in their original language (Ibid., 122). Ehrman also knows that we cannot truly approach the Bible, as an ancient document, with 21st-century mindsets. To do so corrupts the original message of the material. The best historians know what their biasses and presuppositions are before they approach any historical material so they can keep the original message as pure as possible (Ibid., 88-89). If you want to see a better debate, check out the one I linked in my previous post between Daniel B. Wallace and Bart Ehrman on whether the original writings of the New Testament are forever lost. Also, if you want to watch a great lecture on the oral history of the early church, then watch this video by Darrell L. Bock:

C. B.

The Bearded Scholar

Reference List

Barrick, William D. 2008. “Exegetical Fallacies: Common Interpretive Mistakes Every Studen Must Avoid.” In Master’s Seminary Journal 19, no. 1 (Spring): 15-27. https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj19a.pdf.

Borg, Marcus J. 2012. Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written. New York: Harper One.

Furay, Conal and Michael J. Salevouris. 2010. Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Howard, Jeremy Royal. 2010. “Origin, Transmission, and Canonization of the New Testament Books.” In HCSB Study Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

Keener, Craig S. 2009. Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Marius, Richard and Melvin E. Page. 2010. Short Guide to Writing About History. New York: Longman.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. 2005Whose Bible is it?: A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages. New York: Vikings.

Presnell, Jenny L. 2007. Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bibliology Part Two—A: The Manuscripts, Their Transmission, Translations, or What is Textual Criticism

Jefferson Bible

An image of Jefferson’s Bible. The image has been taken from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/evangelical-history/jefferson-bible-founders-deism/.

Introduction

In 1820, Thomas Jefferson created his Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth: Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French, and English. As the title states, Jefferson compiled some of the sayings and events in the Gospels that he believed were authentic to Jesus and threw out the “rubbish” (Pelikan 2005, 188). If this sounds familiar, it should. This notion of chopping up the Bible and finding “the authentic words of Jesus” is something the Jesus Seminar did in the 1980s.

In their massive tome, Five Gospels: What did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, published in 1996, the Gospels were sifted through, the sayings of Jesus were voted on, and the outcome was very bleak. William Lane Craig (Reasonable Faith), in an article he wrote for his website criticizing the Jesus Seminar, states their view of Jesus as ” a sort of itinerant, social critic, the Jewish equivalent of a Greek cynic philosopher.” Interestingly, in Jefferson’ s situation, he had Latin and Greek texts, which means he could have found variants to base his dissecting of the Gospels, however, the Jesus Seminar did not use textual criticism (the science of comparing ancient documents together to come to a conclusion of what the original may have been), they used a non-canonical gospel, one based in a heresy, to decide what the authentic words of Jesus were. Unfortunately, this is what happens daily in pop-Christian criticizing circles. They take the English rendering of the Bible and decide, both inside the faith and outside the faith, whether there are contradictions or not. I am not saying this is wrong, however, there is no looking at the Hebrew and Aramaic texts for the Old Testament and the same for the Greek of the New Testament. R. C. Sproul (2009, xii) says it best: “If the Bible is unreliable in what it teaches…[then] the church is left to speculate and has nothing of value to speak to the world.” The reliability of the manuscripts behind the English Bible gives us the trust we can have in the teachings of God’s Word, making it possible for the Church to have value in speaking to the world today.

What the Skeptics are Teaching

Before we can get into the actual understanding of the manuscripts, what they are, and how they are used in translation, we need to first look at the arguments, used by textual critics (some are not textual critics, but historians and such) who are not believers, as well as those who are so-called Christian scholars.

One of the first things most non-Christian and liberal-leaning Christian scholars state about the Bible are the various variants (differences in the texts of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts). Sometimes, these are considered contradictions. In one of Rob Bell’s (2017, 273-277) latest books, What is the Bible?, he states that the reasons for the contradictions is with the evolution of the thinking of God that, he assumes, happened in the Jewish communities. Bell (2017, 275) says “[o]ver time, peopled evolved in their thinking about God.” In this section of his book, Bell poses questions, which then he proceeds to answer (honestly, Bell is a very confusing author; he writes with very short sentences and almost in a bloglike fashion). Bell (2017, 276) attempts to answer the question of why there are contradictions by saying that it is better to look at them as not contradictions but as an evolution in thinking. Timothy Beal (2011, 104) talks about the various variants between most of the older manuscripts, not just the Greek but those in Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. Beal (2011, 104) does state, somewhat correctly, that some of the variants are not important, simply scribal errors, but that most are extremely important, made on purpose (this is where I disagree with him, as well as scholars like Daniel B. Wallace, and we will discuss this more in a bit). We will come back to the issue of the variants later, however, let us now turn to another argument posited by the skeptics and critics of the manuscripts to the Bible–we do not have the originals of the manuscripts.

One of the major arguments, as outlined above, is that we do not have the originals of the letters penned by Paul, Peter, or James, or the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We do not even have the originals of the Torah written by Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Because of this, many skeptics and critics see this as a huge problem. To them, this means we cannot be sure that what we have today as the manuscripts behind the Bible are faithful in their representation of the originals (also known as autographs, which comes from the German which translates, loosely, as written by the author). Bart Ehrman (2005, 4-5), an agnostic leaning atheist, New Testament scholar (who ironically began as a conservative Christian who studied at Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and then received his MA and PhD from Princeton), in his book Misquoting Jesus, says that his changing from an evangelical believer to an agnostic began when he learned of the dilemma of not having the originals of the New Testament and the many variants within them. Ehrman (2005, 7) says that there were two seemingly problematic questions he kept having while he learned to study the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek, mostly the Greek). These two questions were spurred by the doctrine of inerrancy and plenary inspiration, which he had presupposed while studying at Wheaton (Ibid.). His questions were: “how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact [sic] we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired” (Ibid.). Ehrman (2005, 7) then goes on to state “[w]e don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways ” (emphasis not mine). After Ehrman (2005, 10) reached his time in Seminary at Princeton, he realized that there were errors in the Bible, which is ok because we don’t have the originals (Ehrman 2005, 10). However, he begins to answer his own questions with one point, simply, that for most of Christian history we have not had access to the originals and therefore, we cannot say with certainty that they inspired (Ibid.). Here is what Ehrman says, and this is the crux of his argument, this is the foundation to his understanding of the Bible; here is where atheists, skeptics, critics, and now, Muslims get their information for attempting to debunk the Bible as God’s holy word. Ehrman (2005, 10) says:

…the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration somehting of a moot point. Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places…these copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even  know how many differences there are…there are more differences among our mansucripts than there are words in the New Testament.

Basically, Ehrman’s argument is this—since we don’t have the original manuscripts, we do not have the original words given by God. If we do not have these words, then God did not give them. If God did not give the words, then God did not preserve the words either. Therefore, God did not inspire the Bible (Ehrman 2005, 11). For Ehrman (2009, ix-xii), his coming to this knowledge was not about keeping to a doctrine, it was chasing the truth and for him, the truth is that God did not inspire the Bible, nor did He preserve it. Therefore, for Ehrman (2005, 12-15; 2009, ix-xii) the Bible is nothing more than another book, from history, that was written by humans, for humans, that helps to explain life (if this also sounds familiar, see anything written by Rob Bell on the Bible and the Christian faith).

How do we Answer the Critics and Skeptics in regards to their Arguments?

Honestly, it’s not easy to answer these guys. Most of them have studied, for years, in prestigious universities. To answer these arguments, we must first realize that there is nothing new under the sun. Basically, what is being lauded today as genius and, sometimes, as original, is really recycled attacks on the Bible.

celsus library virtual reconstruction 800x494

 This is an artist’s reconstruction of the Celsus Library in Ephesus. The Celsus Library was named after the second-century Greek philosopher and writer, Celsus. The image is taken from http://virtualreconstruction.com/wp/?p=579.

In the second century, a Greek philosopher and writer, Celsus, wrote an attack on the belief of Christianity which included the Bible. He says

[i]t is clear to me that the writings of the christians [sic] are a lie, and that your fables are not well-enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction: I have heard that some of your interpreters…are on to the inconsistencies and, pen in hand, alter the originals writings, three, four and several more times over in order to be able to deny the contradictions in the face of criticism (Hoffman 1987, 37 quoted at  http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/celsus3.html).

In the late third century, a Roman philosopher Porphyry wrote about the Christian Bible, saying,

If ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote concerning me.” He said it, but all the same nothing which Moses wrote has been preserved. For all his writings are said to have been burnt along with the temple. All that bears the name of Moses was written 1180 years afterwards, by Ezra and those of his time. And even if one were to concede that the writing is that of Moses, it cannot be shown that Christ was anywhere called God, or God the Word, or Creator. And pray who has spoken of Christ as crucified (Macarius, Apocriticus 3.3).

If that sounds familiar, as well, then it is because modern scholastics still hold to this view today. Modern academia believes the Torah to have been either written, or finalized, in the return from Exile by Ezra or some other scholar. With the Enlightenment and its redheaded step-child Romanticism, many fanciful ideas in regards to the Bible were put forward. One of them, a child of Romanticism, Walter Bauer argued that there were many different types of Christianities during the early church, which, basically, battled over which faith was to be the correct one. Bauer believed that some of the heretical sects of Christianity were most likely earlier than those of the orthodox one (Wasserman 2012, 326-327). All of these arguments seem to actually be absurd when you look at the evidence. So, again, how do we answer their arguments? Daniel B. Wallace gives some great advice in this area.

Basically, we have more copies of the New Testament than any other material of the ancient and classical period (Wallace 2012). Wallace (2012) also states that we can answer with the relative dating of the New Testament (this just means how close we can date the earliest copies with the events they speak of or to their actual written time period). Next, Wallace (2008) also argues for the understanding of the various variants in the manuscripts. Finally, Wallace (2008) states we can know for sure what this means in regards to the manuscripts themselves and our faith.

With confidence, we can know that we have “an embarrassment of riches” (Wallace 2008). Basically, we have too many copies, which is a problem worth having. Just in the Greek, we have roughly more than 5,700 copies to compare (Ibid.). If Greek wasn’t enough, we know that the New Testament, alone, was copied (a lot), early on, into various local languages (Ibid.). To date, we have about 20,000-25,000 various copies in Latin, Coptic, Syrian, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic, and Gothic (Ibid.). Not to mention the overwhelming amount of quotes, in their entirety, of the New Testament by the early Church Fathers, that’s about a million quotes; that means we could basically reproduce the entire New Testament if we only had their quotes and no other copies (Ibid.). This is just the tip of the iceberg. We will spend the rest of the next post touching on the arguments surrounding the manuscripts and how to best answer them.

Helpful Links on the Battle over the Bible

That is a great place to start because its a discussion in regards to the canonicity of the Bible between Dr. James White and Dr. Michael Kruger.

This next video is a wonderful instruction on how the early church used and saw the Bible by Dr. Michael Kruger.

Next, this is a bit more popular level, making it more understandable, plus the videos are very short. Matt Whitman, the host of Ten Minute Bible Hour, has a complete series on the Bible called the Nuts and Bolts of the Bible. I linked the first video below, however, I highly suggest you watch all 22 videos (you know, when you can).

Lastly, this is a great video, extremely long coming in at just over three hours. This video is a debate over the original texts of the New Testament between Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. Daniel B. Wallace.

C. B.

The Bearded Scholar

Reference List

Beal, Timothy. 2011. Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Bell, Rob. 2017. What is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything. New York: Harper One.

Craig, W. 2018. “Presuppositions and Pretensions of the Jesus Seminar.” Reasonable Faith. Reasonablefaith.org. Available at: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/presuppositions-and-pretensions-of-the-jesus-seminar/ Accessed 23 Jun. 2018.

Ehrman, Bart D. 2009. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York: Harper One.

________. 2005. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. 2005Whose Bible is it?: A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages. New York: Vikings.

Sproul, R. C. 2009. Can I Trust the Bible? Vol. 2. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Wallace, Daniel B. 2012. “Bart Ehrman Blog and the Reliability of the New Testament Text.” Daniel B. Wallace, Daniel B. Wallace, May 1, 2012, https://danielbwallace.com/2012/05/01/the-bart-ehrman-blog-and-the-reliability-of-the-new-testament-text/.

________. 2008. “Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts.” In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Wasserman, Tommy. 2012. “Misquoting Manuscripts?: The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Revisited.” In Making of Christianity: Conflicts, Contacts, and Constructions: Essays in Honor of Bengt Holmberg.  Edited by Magnus Zetterholm and Samuel Byrskog. 325-350. Coniectanea Biblica: New Testament Series 47; Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns.

Image

Bibliology Part One: History of the Bible

Versions of the Bible

The image is taken from Logos 7, Faithlife Study Bible Infographic.

Introduction

 

The Bible, as God’s inerrant, inspired, and without errors, Word has a fascinating history. Ever since the close of the first century, the Bible has been debated, used, interpreted, and misused. The battle for the Bible began, in the late second century, when early Church father’s, like, Iraeneus, Tertullian, and Origen began to compile lists of what most early Christians believed to be authoritative Holy Scripture, mainly a list of New Testament writings (Smith and Bennett 2005, 62-65). The Bible’s next major battle began in the seventeenth century with the birth of the Enlightenment. Skeptics and Critics began to question everything. This battle has been raging for centuries. It would not be till the 1970s when about 200 evangelical scholars would get together and produce the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This battle for the Bible is still ongoing today.

 

 

In the Barna Group’s State of the Bible 2017 (2017), a controlled group of roughly 2030 people was polled in regards to their views and practices of the Bible.   The largest percentage in the group was what Barna labeled “Bible-friendly.” This group holds to the traditional Evangelical doctrine of the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible, however, they only read the Bible four times, or less, in a week. What this tells us is that most Americans, in 2017, believe the truth of the Bible, though, they do not participate enough in reading and studying of God’s Word (only 38% of the 2030 people, that’s about 771 people). The next largest group, right under the “Bible-friendly” are the “Bible neutral.” Only 23% of the group held to the Bible being inspired as the Word of God, yet they believed there to be some historical and factual errors in it (Barna Group 2017). 20% believed the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, factual, historically accurate, and without any errors and read the Bible four or more days a week, these are the ones the Barna Group (2017) called “Bible-engaged.” Right underneath the “Bible-engaged” are who the Barna Group (2017) call the “Bible skeptics.” This group made up only 19%, with a sub-group that the Barna Group (2017) called the “Bible hostile” which were 13%. However, most skeptics tend to be more hostile toward the Bible, roughly 78% (Barna Group 2017).

Both of these groups held that the Bible is not inspired and chalk full of errors and is nothing more than just another book written by mere men (Barna Group 2017). Ironically, most of these skeptics still have at least one Bible in their house with 62% being the hostile ones and 67% of the skeptics (Ibid.). Apparently, only half of Americans, according to this statistic study and/or read, listen, or pray with their Bibles one to three times a year (Ibid.). Also, one in five “Bible-neutral,” as well as the skeptics, wished they read the Bible more often (Ibid.). This is what this series on the Bible is going to be about. Why have a high view of the Bible (ie., that the Bible is God’s literal Word, historically accurate, written by the Holy Spirit through human authors, without any errors)? What will reading, studying, and praying the Bible do for you, in your life? How you view the Bible will define how you view God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the human condition.

 

History of the Old Testament

 

The Old Testament, as we Christians call it (the Jews know it as the Tanahk), was written and covers a history of some 1500 years. It covers the beginning of time, from creation to the fall and return of the Jews. Beginning with Genesis-Deuteronomy (also known as either the Torah or the Pentateuch), Moses wrote all five books sometime in the fourteenth or thirteenth century BC. The next portion of the Old Testament is categorized as the Historical Books. Inside this collection are the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Esther. These books were written around the thirteenth century to around the closing of the fourth century BC. The next section of the Old Testament is known as the Wisdom Books. These books contain Job, Psalm, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon). The dating for when the Wisdom Books were written between the tenth century to around the close of the fourth century BC. Finally, there is the Prophetic Books, which can sometimes be split into the major prophets and the minor prophets. The books included in this section are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel (these are usually known as the Major Prophets). Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obediah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (sometimes referred to as the Minor Prophets). The dates for their composition are between the sixth century and the fifth century BC. As can be seen, then, the Bible has been written by several human authors, one divine author (who is the Holy Spirit), and tells one overarching story within 1500 years. There is much more to the Old Testament than just knowing the composition of the books, though this is very helpful in attesting to its historicity.

The Old Testament, though, is not just one massive book, it’s a massive multivolume text. The Old Testament is, as well as the whole of the Bible, a library. It has, according to the Protestant tradition (the Catholics believe in the same list, though they have added to it with the Apocrypha, expanding it to 57) 39 books. All of these books fit into particular genres: historical narratives; poetry; prophetic (a sub-genre of prophecy is apocalyptic); and wisdom literature. Basically, all of these genres help us to understand what the human authors intended message (also what the divine author, the Holy Spirit) is trying to teach.

The structure of the Old Testament is based on the Hebrew layout. The Jewish Scriptures are aligned differently, mostly in the grouping. The Hebrew Scripture is called the Tanahk, which is actually an anacronym for the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nebi’im), and the Writings (Ketubim). This is how each section, within the Tanahk, are structured. The Torah has five books (which are also known as the Pentateuch meaning five books/scrolls); they are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Prophets have, well, all the prophets except for Lamentations and Daniel; they also add Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel (which in their text is only Samuel), and 1-2 Kings (also only known as Kings). The Writings have the rest, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Job; however, it also adds Ruth, Ezra/Nehemiah (which I also believe is only one book in their text), 1-2 Chronicles (which is also only one book, Chronicles), Esther, Lamentations, and Daniel.

 

 

As stated before, the Old Testament is a library of books, all with their own story to tell, yet they have one overarching message. The Pentateuch begins with the beginning, tells the story of creation, the fall of humanity, the call and lives of the Patriarchs, the enslavement of the Israelites, God’s calling of them from Egypt, God’s deliverance of them from slavery, the structure of their culture and religious lives, a census, and ends with God’s promises for them as long as they follow His decrees. The Historical Books cover the conquering of Canaan, the set up of the judges (not judicial characters, these guys were more like individual heroes for Israel), the establishment of the monarchy, the division of the Northern tribes (ten total) and the Southern ones (Judah and Benjamin), the fall away from following God and his decrees, the conquering and captivity of the Northern and Southern kingdoms into Babylon, as well as their return. The Wisdom Books hold more theological statements. These books offer reflections of who God is, His role in regards to Israel, as well as how Israel should live and act. The Prophets tell what would happen to both kingdoms if they would not return to a proper relationship with God. Essentially, these books show the relationship of God to Israel (as well as humanity itself), by the creation of everything, how God covenants with us, our fall and God’s plan of redemption for us.

 

History of the New Testament

 

Composition of New Testament Books

The image is taken from the Logos 7 Faithlife Study Bible Infogr.

 

The New Testament is a collection of 27 books (a diverse eclection) that shows the climax of God’s plan for redemption. Just like the Old Testament, the New Testament is structured in a very particular way. The New Testament opens with the Gospels and Acts, written between ca. AD 50s to 90s. The Epistles of Paul, James, Jude, John, and Peter, along with an anonymous Hebrews dating from the early to mid AD 40s to 90s. The last section of the New Testament is known as the Revelation of John, or also as the Apocalypse of John, dated either around Nero’s reign, AD 60s, or Domitian’s, AD 90s. Also, just like the Old Testament, the New Testament has various genres. The Gospels and Acts are considered Historical Narratives (some scholars do believe the Gospels are a genre all their own, while other scholars tend to believe them to be historical/ancient biographies), Epistles, and Apocalyptic literature. Within the structure of the New Testament, as we just saw, are the Historical Narratives which have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. The Epistles which hold the thirteen letters of Paul (there are no so-called Pseudo-Pauline Epistles as some Liberal scholars believe, Paul wrote all the letters attested to him) Romans, 1- 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1- 2 Thessalonians, 1- 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Hebrews (which some of the Church fathers believed was written by Paul), James, 1- 2 Peter, 1- 3 John, and Jude. Interestingly, The Epistles are set up in several minor structures; Within the Pauline corpus, the letters are arranged longest to smallest, with Hebrews following because the Church fathers thought it written by Paul, though they were unsure. Also, Paul’s letters are divided into his usual letters Romans through 1- 2 Thessalonians and Philemon; however, 1- 2 Timothy and Titus are sub-categorized into the Pastoral Epistles. The rest of the Epistles, the ones not written by Paul, are known as the Catholic Epistles (not because they teach Catholic doctrine, but because they have universal teachings, the word catholic actually means universal, which is why this grouping of the letters is known as catholic).

The New Testament, just like the Old Testament, is a library of books that have their own message, yet tell an overarching story. The Gospels tell us the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (all from various viewpoints, which is a historian’s dream).

Jesus on the Cross
The image is taken from https://www.blueletterbible.org/images/TheGospels/imageDisplay/tlc_392b.

 The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the Apostles took the Gospel message (also known as the kerygma) to various nations in the Roman Empire. The Letters or Epistles are much like the Old Testament Wisdom literature. Within the Letters are theological statements, how to live with each other in communion, how to worship God, and how to live as Christians within God’s Kingdom. The Apocalypse is the only tough one to explain, mostly because John echoes many Old Testament prophecies and apocalypses, as well as sharing what he sees of the Spirit that has to do with both his day, time, and culture, and with the future when God will complete his salvific history plan. However, as stated earlier, the major story of the New Testament is the completion of God’s salvation history, His redemption plan, for humanity. The New Testament tells of how God became a man, Jesus Christ, lived, died, and rose from the grave to give us life and to completely heal the fall that we caused. This plan ends with the glory of God in his defeat of Satan and his minions, the re-creation of humanity, earth, and heaven. Where the New Jerusalem sits on the new Earth, where God’s glory is our own light, where we live in peace forever.

 

C. B.

The Bearded Scholar

 

Reference List

Barna Group. “State of the Bible 2017: Top Findings.” Barna Group, Barna Group, 4 Apr. 2017, http://www.barna.com/research/state-bible-2017-top-findings/.

Beckwith, Roger T. 2008. “Canon of the Old Testament.” In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

________. 2003. “Canon of the Old Testament.” In Origin of the Bible. Edited by Philip W. Comfort. 51-64. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishing.

Smith, Charles Merrill and Jame W. Bennett. 2005. How the Bible was Built. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

 

 

Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: 1:1-10 No Other Gospel Part B—Paul’s Defense of the Gospel

Galatians 1:1-6

Paul has completed his introduction. Paul has given is greetings, has even begun his argument from verse one, right out of the gate. Paul has established his authority, in case it was being questioned. Now we move from the introduction to why Paul wrote his letter. Here, we find Paul’s argument. Paul says that we should not turn from the Gospel that has been taught us. We are not to accept anything stating to be the gospel when there is no other gospel at all, and those that deliver a false gospel are to be cursed, cursed to Hell. Paul teaches us that we are to stand fast, firm, to the Gospel.

This is the portion of the letter where we get the purpose or occasion. Here, in this section of the epistle, we are introduced to the notion that there are “some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:6 CSB). Some of the Galatians are turning away from the Gospel that Paul had preached to them. The Gospel is so important that if anyone else were to teach something other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they are to be damned to Hell. One major thing, here to note, is Paul’s use of the rhetoric device of omission (Osborne 1991, 40). Paul omits his usual, and customary Greek/Jewish, thanksgiving/prayer section. This is important because his audience would have expected it, may have been excited to see what he may have been thankful for in their Churches. However, Paul is not extremely happy with the Galatians, therefore he moves right in to tell them why he is upset with them. A close reading of this section will show how serious it is as well, the reason why Paul is upset and writing to his Churches in Galatia.

Don’t Quickly Flee from the Gospel

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Gal 1:6 CSB)

tacheos word pie

The image is taken from Logos 7 Word Study

Two key words in this section are vitally important. In most of my studies for this section, I have noticed that they are overlooked. Paul uses an adverb, followed by a verb. These words are tacheōs, the adverb meaning quickly, and metatithesthe, the verb meaning turning. Of these two, we can safely say that tacheōs is easily understood at face reading. However, metatithesthe needs to be explained more for us to understand it.

tacheos word pie

 The image is taken from Logos 7 Word Study

In Greek, this word had a tone of revolting, in a military style, and a complete attitude change (Boice 1976, 428). The word was also used to show someone’s conversion from one school of philosophy to another (Hays 2000, 204). Since this was in the middle voice, the only persons forcing the Galatians to do this was themselves and no one else (Boice 1976, 428). To the Galatians, who heard this message in the original language, they would have heard Paul telling them that they were abandoning the Gospel on their own volition. This would have been crushing to the Galatians. That is how serious Paul sees this issue, the Galatians were revolting against God by their own doing.

Exodus 3319 [widescreen]

The image is taken from Logos 7 media files.

Not only are the Galatian’s revolting against God, they are ignoring the fact that it was He who called them. Paul uses the aorist verb, kalesantos when he speaks to the Galatians as being “called” by God. The aorist verb, as we stated last time, is something that happened in a fixed moment, however, it is something that is on-going without completion (Osborne 1991, 51). The other thing to note about the word kalesantos is that it is connected to the word Christou.

Kalesantos word pie

In Greek, much like in Latin, the verbs are connected to nouns by cases. Since this verb is in the genitive (this is sometimes the case of possession), it must match the noun of the same case. It was Christ who did the calling, not Paul, this is the main point of this statement. It must be made evident that Paul is not claiming, here, to be the one who called the Galatians. Most other scholars, linking back to John Calvin’s interpretation of this verse, believe that it is Jesus who called the Galatians (George 1994, 92). Paul’s writings use “him who called you” interchangeably with God (Gal 1:15; 5:8; Rom 4:17; 9:12; 1 Thess 2:12; 5:24 CSB; George 1994, 92). The Galatians were defecting from God, Christ, and Paul—though it is more important to note that it was God who they were deserting (George 1994, 92). Paul calls God the Father in this letter, several times (Gal 1:1, 3, 4; 4:2, 6 CSB). It was this God the Father, the One who calls, who created everything, and who raised Jesus from the dead that the Galatians were deserting (George 1994, 92).

This is where there are variant readings on Gal 1:6. Remember that variants are differences between the manuscripts we have on the various collections of the base texts for the Bible. Most manuscripts, all from the west (Latin side of the Roman Empire), have “by the grace of Christ.” However, there are some manuscripts (P46 c. 200 AD and the heretical Marcion Canon, mid to late second century) that have “by grace” (which is thought to be the original since it is the smallest version), some have “by the grace of Jesus Christ”, and some that have “by the grace of God.” Since the version that just has “by grace” is thought to be the original, we can make an assumption that later scribes felt the need to clarify who’s grace the Galatians were called by, hence the modern translation of the “by the grace of Christ” (textual note in the NET). It can also be argued that in the Pauline Corpus, the use of “by the grace of Christ” is used more often. Since this is also true, we can also deduce that the original statement was this one. However, most scholars see the first argument as the valid one (Ibid.). Either way, what is most important is that whichever variant someone takes, the theology is still the same—the Galatians were called by God, either through Christ as God, or just God as Himself by His grace.

John 116 [widescreen]

The image is taken from Logos 7 media files.

chariti word pie

The image is taken from Logos 7 word study.

The word grace is very important, especially to those of us practicing orthodox Protestant Christianity. In the Greek, this one-word chariti is where the action is taking place. This word is stating that grace is what the Galatians (as well as us) receive. What is grace? A. Boyd Luter (2016), in his article on grace in the Lexham Bible Dictionary (LBD), defines grace, simply, as “a more powerful person toward another.” It is also demonstrated by God towards His people (Luter 2016). Contextually, here, Paul is using the word “grace” as being distributed divinely. There are plenty of texts in the Old Testament (OT) that shows God’s grace (sometimes favor) toward Israel. Noah found favor in God (Gen 6:8 CSB); Moses was also able to find favor in God in Exod 33, 34 (CSB). God is expressed as being “compassionate and gracious.” Israel worshipped God as being gracious, mostly throughout the Psalms (Ps 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8 CSB; Luter 2016). Even the Prophets spoke of God’s graciousness (Jer 31:2; Zech 12:10 CSB; Luter 2016). Titus 211 [widescreen]By the time of Paul, the early Christians had expanded upon the notion of God’s grace, as being fulfilled in Christ Jesus. The early Church saw grace as being connected to salvation, Spiritual gifts, and was used in some of the epistles as greetings and farewells (Luter 2016). It is here, though, where we need to understand what Paul means when he uses the word chariti. From beginning to end, Paul soaks this letter in the notion of charis—grace (Gal 1:3, 15; 2:9, 21; 3:18; 5:4; 6:18 CSB; George 1994, 92). The word grace, here, is meant to be taken as absolute. Timothy George (1994, 92), in his commentary on Galatians, states that grace “show[s] that this is the only basis on which we can relate to God in any sense.”

A Different Gospel that is not Another Gospel

Not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Gal 1:7 CSB)

The end of verse six and the beginning of verse seven are connected together with the notion of a different gospel, which Paul states is no other gospel at all. The words heteros (different) and allos (another), as J. Louis Martyn (2008, 110) in his commentary on Galatians states, “are virtual synonyms in Paul’s vocabulary.” In ancient Greek, these words were not differentiated from each other, however, Paul, here, makes that happen (Martin and Wu 2002, 106). A distinction between the two words, heteros and allos, needs to be drawn. Heteros was a word that differentiated something different from the statement or thing already mentioned, where allos expresses another of the same thing (George 1994, 93). Basically, then, what Paul is stating is that the Galatians have embraced something completely different than the Gospel, yet there is no other similar or same version of the Gospel. Timothy George (1994, 93), in his commentary on Galatians, says it best—”[the Galatians] had embraced a heteros gospel, one drastically different in kind from that they had received from him, for there is, in fact, no other (allos) genuine gospel to be placed alongside the real thing.”

1 Corinthians 118 [widescreen]

The image is taken from Logos 7 media file.

The true Gospel that Paul distinguishes in this letter is that of Christ crucified and resurrected—that we are saved by the grace of Christ and justified by our faith in that grace. Euangelion throughout the New Testament, basically, means a message of good news, or the process of delivering it (Seal 2016). First, an understanding more broad than Paul, the early Christians, and the other New Testament authors needs to be sought—context is everything. To really understand this, we need to look at the Greek translation of the Old Testament—the Septuagint (LXX) which was, for the most part, the translation the early Church used. The Septuagint uses the term “good news” as verbal form and once in the noun form (Smith 2016). In the Greek translation of Isaiah (Esaias) Jesus quotes, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor” (Esaias 61:1a; CSB translation is “The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor). Isaiah also said of God speaking of Himself “as a season of beauty upon the mountains, as the feet of one preaching glad tidings of peace, as one preaching good news: for I will publish thy salvation, saying, O Sion, thy God shall reign” (Esaias 52:7, LXX—”How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace, who brings news of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isa 52:7 CSB).The Romans had their own understanding of “good news.” On an inscription from Priene (a Roman city on the western portion of Turkey) that states the divine Roma (a believed goddess who personified the divinity of the city of Rome) had made Augustus bring an end to all wars (there had been three separate civil wars in roughly twenty years over the single control of Rome) and usher in peace, a saviour of the Roman people, as prophesied of—possibly a nod to the Aeneid—denoting the “good news” of his victories (Crossan and Reed 2004, 239). After this inscription (ca. 9 BC) the Romans began using “good news” for the imperial cult, for military victories and honors for an emperor (Hays 2000, 205; Martyn 2008, 127-128). However, by the time of Paul’s writing, anyone who was a Christian euangelion came to mean something completely different in Jesus the Christ.

1 Thessalonians 24 [widescreen].png

Paul’s Gospel, in a nutshell, was the centrality of Jesus—the climax of the salvation history was on the death and resurrection of Christ, not the Torah (Schreiner 2001, 22-25). In 1 Corinthians 15:3b (CSB), Paul says “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Again, in Acts 13:37-39 (CSB), Paul gives his message of the Gospel to Pisidian Antioch in Galatia. There he tells them that God raised Jesus from the dead, unlike David, to justify those that could not be justified under Moses. This was Paul’s Gospel.

Author’s Notes

This seems like a good spot to wrap-up our study in Galatians this week. I apologize for the long wait on this passage. Galatians, it would seem, has become a very difficult book to study. As you can, hopefully, see in this post. Next week we will finish this portion of the text by looking at who the troublemakers are in the churches of Galatia. Till next time, please subscribe, like, comment, and share.

C. B.

The Bearded Scholar

Reference List

Boice, James Montgomery. 1976. “Galatians.” In Expositor’s Bible Commentary With the New International Version: Romans through Galatians. Vol. 10. 407-508. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelien. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed. 2004. In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom, a New Vision of Paul’s Words and World. New York: Harper San Francisco.

George, Timothy. 1994. Galatians. Vol. 30. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Hays, Richard B. 2000. “Letter to the Galatians.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible: General Articles and Introduction, Commentary, Reflections for each Book of the Bible Including the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books in Twelve Volumes. Vol 11. Edited by Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Luter, A. Boyd. 2016. “Grace.” In  Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Martin, Ralph P. and Julie WU. 2002. “Galatians.” In Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Romans, Galatians. 100-134. Edited by Clinton E. Arnold. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Martyn, J. Louis. 2008. Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 33A. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

Morwood, James. 2001. Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek. New York: Oxford University Press.

Osborne, Grant R. 1991. Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 2001. Paul Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press.

Seal, David. 2016. “Euangelion.” In Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Smith, Zachary G. 2016. “Gospel Genre.” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Lookup a word or passage in the Bible


BibleGateway.com


Include this form on your page