Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thankful for many versions

From time to time I like to look at the variety of Bible translations in my library, and every once in a while, when I pick up a really old English version, I remember how much more thankful I should be to have a variety of modern Bible translations. In order to illustrate what I mean, I have posted a sampling of the exact english type-set used for John chapter one, verses one through five, from five different English Bible versions.

Which version do you prefer to study?

In the bigynnyng was the word, and the word was at God, and God was the word. This was in the bigynnyng at God. Alle thingis weren maad bi hym, and withouten hym was maad no thing, that think that was maad. In hym was lijf, and the lijf was the liyt of men; and the liyt schyneth in derknessis, and derknessis comprehendiden not it.
Joon (1:1-5)
John Wycliffe Version, New Testament, 1388

In the begynnynge was that worde, and that worde was with god; and god was thatt word. The same was in the begynnynge wyth god. All thynges were made by it, and without it, was made noo thinge, that made was. In it was life. And lyfe was the light of men, And the light shyneth in darkens, and darcknes comprehended it not.
The Gospell off Sancte Jhon (1:1-5)
Tyndale Version, New Testament, 1526

1.  In the beginning was the Worde, and the Worde was with God and that Worde was   God.
2.  The fame was in the beginning w God.
3.  All things were made by it, & without it was made nothing that was made.
4.  In it was life, and the life was the light of men.
5.  And the light fhineth in y darkenes, & the darkenes comprehended it not.
The Holy Gospel of Iefus Chrift, according to Iohn  1:1-5
Geneva Version, First Edition, First Printing, 1560

1.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2.  The same was in the beginning with God.
3.  All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.
4.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5.  And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not.
According to John 1:1-5
American Standard Version, 1901

1.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2.  He was in the beginning with God.
3.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
5.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5
English Standard Version, 2010

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Alpha & Omega

The formulation of what follows is not original to myself at all, but rather is taken and rearranged from various sources among Peter Leithart's works, but most especially his scholarly article, Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew's Gospel.

Matthew begins his gospel with these words (in English): "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." In Greek, the phrase is "[The] biblos geneseos of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." The phrase biblos geneseos literally means "book of beginnings," even though by the time Matthew was writing his gospel, the word geneseos had evolved into a reference to genealogy and not so much a literal "beginning."

More important than the fact that words can evolve in their meaning over time, is the recognition that these opening words are an overt quotation from the common bible used by Jews in the first century: the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint was a translation of the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures into more common, but nevertheless reverently styled, Greek text. This means that Matthew began his gospel with words that biblically literate Jews would recognize immediately. In the Septuagint (commonly abbreviated among scholars as the LXX), the book of Genesis records the biblos geneseos of heaven and earth (Gen. 2:4) and of the first man, Adam (Gen. 5:1).

Genesis 2:4 (ESV) reads:
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Genesis 5:1 (ESV) reads:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.

The Septuagint (LXX) translation of both these passages includes the phrase biblos geneseos, making the point that when God created the heavens and the earth, He recorded it as a "book of beginnings" of the heavens and the earth. Likewise, with the LXX translation of Gen. 5:1, the "book of beginnings" of Adam and his descendants are recorded for us. And so, when Matthew begins his gospel, he wants to make clear to his audience that there is a new beginning at hand, beginning with the biblos geneseos of Jesus the Christ, the anointed one.

But Matthew not only begins his gospel with a very clear echo from the Old Testament; he also ends his gospel with similar literary indicators familiar to Jews in the first century. It is unfortunate that our modern bibles end the section of the "Old Testament" with the book of Malachi. In the first century, that was not the only option available. It is true that the LXX did end with Malachi, which is what modern english bibles use for the order of the canon. But in the first century, Palestinian Jews also had a Hebrew canon, which ended with the book of II Chronicles and the "great commission" of Cyrus, the Persian monarch, to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and YHWH's temple (Ezra 6:3-9; II Chron. 36:22-23). And so, it was common knowledge among 1st century Jews that, technically, the last words of II Chronicles were the last words of the "Old Testament" scriptures.

The last words of the Old Testament, in II Chronicles 36:22-23 (ESV), say this:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up!'"
The last words of Matthew's gospel, in 28:18-20 (ESV), say this:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Leithart makes some important observations regarding this unique ending to the Hebrew canon and Matthew's gospel. He points out that there are three common elements between those two endings:

  1. There is a statement by YHWY's "anointed one" regarding universal authority (see II Chron 44:28; 45:1)
  2. There is a statement regarding the source of his authority
  3. There is a commission to "Go!" and build God's House/Make disciples of all nations
I would like to add a fourth element in common among the two passages: the promised presence of the Lord to be with his people.

All of this typology is important because it connects the beginning of Matthew's gospel with the book of beginnings in Genesis and the final "Great Commission" of Jesus the Christ (the "anointed one") with the "great commission" of the Lord's "anointed" in the end of Malachi, the last book of the Bible. 

Certainly this structure of Matthew's gospel was no accident.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Genesis 10: Relevant antiquarian data

In his book, Style and Structure in Biblical Hebrew Narrative, Jerome T. Walsh makes an interesting observation concerning the genealogies of Genesis 10, and how they correspond chiastically to the names of Noah's three sons in the first verse:

10:1 -- "These are the generations of Noah's sons"
A.  Shem
B.  Ham
C.  and Japheth
       --  "Children were born to them after the flood"
C'.  The children of Japheth... (10:2-5)
B'.  The children of Ham... (10:6-20)
A'.  The children of Shem... (10:21-31)
        --  "These are the families of Noah's sons, by their generations, in their nations; from these the nations were                            dispersed in the earth after the flood."

Walsh then elaborates on the purpose of this literary structure:
[This] sets the parameters for subsequent elaboration, namely all the nations of the world, since all are descended from Noah. By naming Shem first the text assures Israelite readers (who are descended from Shem) that what follows is not irrelevant antiquarian data but is germane to themselves; it then expands the readers' focus from their own people outward to a distant universal horizon. Finally the text narrows the focus to nearer nations and, eventually, to the line of Eber, the eponymous1 ancestor of the Hebrews, and therefore of the readers themselves.2

1.  Eponymous refers to naming some thing after a person. In this case, the title of "Hebrew" people is named after Eber, their ancestor among Shem's descendants. The term "Hebrew" (ibrim) shares the same root as Eber (eber).
2.  Jerome T. Walsh, Style and Structure in Biblical Hebrew Narrative [The Liturgical Press; Collegeville, MN; 2001] p. 76


N. T Wright makes a very interesting series of observations concerning the Gospel of Matthew, it’s opening words, it’s overall structure, and it’s purpose as a whole. He writes:
Matthew’s first chapter has long been a puzzle to modern Western readers. The genealogy (1:1-17) appears to be about as unexciting an opening as it could be. But to those with eyes to see (itself a Matthean theme, as in 13:16), it tells the story that must be grasped if the plot of the whole gospel is to be understood… 
The Structure of the genealogy shows where he will lay the stress. Other Jewish books of the period structured Israel’s history into significant periods (e.g. 1 En. 93:1-10; 91:12-17; 2 Bar. 53-74); Matthew is following a standard tradition, though adapting it to his own ends... This is not the story of world as a whole, as in Luke (whose genealogy goes back to Adam), though Matthew has not forgotten the world outside Israel, as we shall see. It is the story of Israel.1

Continuing his thoughts a page later, he says that Matthew is “a book so clearly crafted and sculpted, and, moreover, [is] one which proclaims on page after page that it chronicles the way in which the scriptures were fulfilled."2

And in conclusion, he writes:
Matthew, I suggest, had this entire scene in mind as he arranged his material into its eventual form. …Jesus, like Moses, goes to his death with the promises and warnings still ringing in his people’s ears. After his resurrection, Jesus, like Moses goes up the mountain and departs from his people, leaving them with a commission to go in and possess the land, that is, the entire world (28:16-20). And, if my suggestion is correct, Matthew has woven this covenantal choice into the very structure of his gospel, portraying it as the choice set before his contemporaries by Jesus, and thereby himself setting the same choice before the church of his own day. 
Matthew’s story, I suggest, is structured so as to bring out this entire theme. The motifs of plot… need to be set within this wider framework. Matthew presupposes a telling of the Jewish story according to which Israel has failed, has ended in exile, and needs a new exodus; and he undertakes to show that this new exodus was accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He does this at a multiplicity of levels: the often-remarked ‘fulfillment’ passages (‘All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet…’) are simply the tip of the very large iceberg. Matthew’s plot and structure presuppose the entire Jewish story-line to day. They claim to be bringing about that of which Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 30. They are not simply a collection of types, historical precedents arbitrarily repeated. They claim to be the continuation and proper completion of the whole history itself. 3

In my previous post, I briefly mentioned R. T. France and Peter Leithart, and their contributions to the study of Matthew's gospel. In connection with that post, I believe N. T. Wright definitely seems to be on the same page as them when it comes to the overall story of Matthew’s gospel. Each of these scholars have arrived at the conclusion that Matthew did not just write the story of Jesus; Matthew wrote the story of Israel. France holds the perspective that Jesus “fulfills” the essence of what the Old Testament teaches concerning Israel: their life, death and resurrection as God’s covenant people; and it’s that general pattern (life, death, resurrection) to which he is willing to commit, thereby placing limits upon further interpretations (or what he considers to be unnecessary speculations). France definitely sees Matthew's gospel saturated with Old Testament typological symbolism; but he isn't as ready to go as far as Leithart and N. T. Wright with the details. 

Leithart holds the perspective that Jesus “fulfills” the role of God’s faithful “son”, and that Matthew structured his gospel according to Israel’s general narrative (the position of which I have become thoroughly convinced). But N. T. Wright’s view is a bit different from the other two, yet comparatively more distant from France than Leithart. The only areas in which I find Leithart disagreeing with Wright (or perhaps I should say, complementing Wright’s work) is with the detailed order of parallels between Israel’s life and Jesus’ life. Wright doesn’t go into as many details as Leithart does, which is why I find Leithart’s final analysis to be more helpful. Again, Leithart's scholarly contribution can be found on his website. I plan on utilizing Leithart's contribution in future posts, but expanding upon it in a variety of ways, using the notes I made about a year ago for our small bible study group. 

Back to my main point though: Notice carefully that whatever the difference may be between these great scholars, Wright is in complete agreement with France and Leithart when he says that “Matthew presupposes a telling of the Jewish story according to which Israel has failed, has ended in exile, and needs a new exodus; and he undertakes to show that this new exodus was accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.”

 I believe this profound insight must not be overlooked when studying Matthew's gospel.

1.  N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992] p. 385
2.  Ibid., p. 386
3.  Ibid., p. 388-389

Sunday, August 26, 2012


About one year ago I started leading a small group of Christians in the Milwaukee area through a study of Matthew's gospel. My wife and I hosted this small group once a week, for two hours of study each time, with a couple hours prior to, and afterward, to enjoy plenty of fellowship together. The whole experience has been a real blessing to my wife and I, and we feel very fortunate that God brought together such a great group of people. But as of last week, when we finished chapter seven of Matthew, which is the end of Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount", the time had come for our group to 'shift gears' a bit.  

My wife and I are expecting our first child, Jadon Enoch, to come into the world any day now (literally any day now, because my wife is already five days past her due date), and my older brother will be taking the responsibility of leading our small group for at least the next few months. Consequently, this has freed up a little bit of time for me to start this blog! I've had a number of people ask me to post my notes and thoughts on a blog of some sort, and so I decided to just bite the bullet and learn how to get this blog going.

For my first post, I thought I'd start off a bit light, beginning where our study group started in Matthew's Gospel. Of course, I don't intend every blog post to be about Matthew's gospel, because I come across all sorts of interesting insights from scholars as I do my own studies each week, and on top of that, I run into enough interesting people to spark up conversations and get their insights as well. My hope is that over time this blog will become the home of many insights to help spark many more conversations and insights!
With all of that in mind, let's begin with some stuff concerning Matthew's gospel.
I suppose it would be cliche to say that Matthew's gospel is a very unique gospel. Of course it is. It's a gospel recorded centuries ago, to a specific audience, for a specific purpose, and based on internal evidence alone, it's obviously different than the other three gospels. But different in what way? Well, the beginning and ending is different. Matthew begins with a genealogy, while the other three don't. Matthew ends with a "Great Commission", and the others don't. Matthew structures his gospel around five "pillars" of dialog from the mouth of Jesus, which no other gospel does. But there's a lot more than just these cursory observations needing to be discussed if a definitive conclusion to the question is to be reached. Such questions as 'Who was Matthew's intended audience?' and 'Was there any central theme to his gospel?' need to be addressed first.

According to R. T. France, in his commentary on The Gospel of Matthew, there is an answer to the question about the central theme of Matthew's gospel. He writes: 
I have argued… that the central theme of Matthew’s gospel is “fulfillment.” The opening genealogy is designed to portray the coming of the Messiah as the climax of the history of God’s people… The opening of the book thus sets the tone for Matthew’s whole gospel. The UBS Greek New Testament lists fifty-four direct citations of the OT in Matthew and a further 262 “allusions and verbal parallels,” and that is a conservative figure based only on the most widely recognized allusions.

This “typological” understanding of OT scripture, which is widely deployed in the NT (notably in the Letter to the Hebrews) finds one of its most enthusiastic exponents in the author of the first gospel. It is thus for Matthew not only the explicitly predictive portions of the OT that can be seen to be “fulfilled” in Jesus, but also its historical characters, its narratives, and its cultic patterns.1 
Peter Leithart has also made a valuable contribution to this discussion of Matthew's central theme, except, far from providing a full-length commentary as France did, Leithart just focuses heavily upon the typological relationship between Israel and Jesus. In other words, according to Leithart, certain historical characters, narratives, and cultic patterns of Israel's history find fulfillment in the life of Jesus, which makes Matthew's gospel not just a gospel about Jesus, but a gospel about Jesus the faithful "Son" of God which Israel failed to be. And there seems to be something to these great insights from Leithart and France, but additional explanation will have to be saved for a future post. And Lord-willing, by the time the next post is ready, I'll be sitting in my office, reviewing my notes while holding my newborn son.

1.  R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament) [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; Grand Rapids, MI, 2007] p. 10