Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thinking like Atom


In chapters 8 & 9 of Matthew's gospel, we find a series of ten miracles in a row which, as I have mentioned in an earlier post, frames in a type of "wilderness wandering" motif in the life of Jesus as it once was played out through the life of Israel.  But instead of coming to judge Israel for her ten rebellions, the Lord has come as promised to heal and restore Israel (Matt. 8:17).  Years ago, R. T. France noted carefully that these ten miracles were presented as one "collection," and that there also appears to be a unique placement of each miracle into three distinctive groups when compared with the other two synoptic gospels.  He writes:
The collection consists of nine separate miracle stories comprising ten individual miracles (since one of the stories, 9:18-26, contains two intertwined miracles of healing), which are arranged in three groups of three (8:1-17; 8:23-9:8; 9:18-34).  Between these three groups are two narrative interludes (8:18-22; 9:9-17) each of which focuses on the call to discipleship and the response of a variety of individuals to that call."1


Below is a simple outline of what R.T. France just described:


Miracle #1 - Leper  (8:1-5)

Miracle #2 - Centurion's servant  (8:5-13)
Miracle #3 - Peter's mother-in-law  (8:14-17)
  • Narrative interlude: Two types of disciples  (8:18-22)
Miracle #4 - Miracle on the sea with disciples -- calms the sea  (8:23-27)
Miracle #5 - Miracle across the sea in another city -- casts demons out of two men  (8:28-34)
Miracle #6 - Miracle back across the sea in his own city -- comforts & heals paralytic  (9:1-8)
  • Narrative interlude: Two types of disciples  (9:9-17)
Miracles #7 & #8 - Dead daughter & Bleeding woman  (9:18-26)
Miracles #9 - Two blind men  (9:27-31)
Miracle #10 - Demon-possessed mute man  (9:32-34)


This information is helpful for us in a few ways.  First, it helps modern readers of Matthew's gospel gain an appreciation for the artistic side of biblical narrative.  The average modern-day reader has no clue that there even is an art of biblical narrative!  Secondarily, it clarifies many misunderstandings surrounding the accusations of "random" or "contradictory" events in Matthew's gospel when compared with the other synoptic gospels.  If Matthew is highlighting true historical events, but he is also writing with different and more ancient literary conventions than what are commonly used today, such accusations and allegations become exposed for what they truly are: false.



Last of all, the details of literary structure help the student of Holy Scripture to focus upon the way in which individual narratives were intentionally knit together by Matthew.  Consider closely the example above.  Instead of merely focusing upon each miracle atomistically (which is probably how many students approach each story in the Bible), each group of three miracles can be viewed atomistically.  What might at first glance appear to be an isolated, atomized miracle can instead be viewed like a proton within an atom.  The remaining two miracles are like the neutron and electron knit together with the proton, thereby comprising one atomic particle.  But this is only one of the building blocks of the larger story.  Each sub-atomic story works harmoniously with other sub-atomic stories, comprising one atomic story, which is only one part of one unit of mass within the larger living story of the Gospel.









1.  R.T. France, NICNT: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), p. 300



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

McDurmon on "Markets"



Joel McDurmon, author of The Bible and War in America and Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice, has recently released another comprehensive, easy-to-digest strategy for implementing a Biblical worldview. The title and purpose of this unique book is self-explanatory, and is called Restoring America One County at a Time. Here McDurmon presents a thorough and thoughtful treatise which, as the back cover reveals, focuses "on practical steps, local solutions, personal sacrifice, and a multi-generational vision." So far I have devoured 244 pages of this 400-plus page book, and when I finally finished his chapter on "Markets" I couldn't help but quote a lengthy excerpt from it because I found it to be somewhat of a missing link among arguments presented by critics and advocates of modern-day "Capitalism."

McDurmon is one of those authors that you either love or hate. He's either loved or hated because he writes in such a logical, biblical manner that the reader knows his overall argument is either absolutely right or dead wrong. There isn't much wiggle room for neutrality. He will challenge your presuppositions about education, welfare, local government, state government, taxation, money and banking, "free" markets, court systems, foreign and domestic war, the military, and executive power. And yet, he doesn't do so like a bull in a china shop, leaving you with an overwhelming mess of worldview-pieces to pick up on your own. In this book he actually provides a step-by-step program for reform that can and will work if implemented with thoughtfulness and consideration of what's really going on in the world around us.

This brings me to the lengthy quote I mentioned before, which I would like to post below. The post below is stripped from 232 pages of previous context, and so I don't expect the entirety of it to sink in to every reader. But it is explicit enough to demonstrate a fascinating misunderstanding among "liberals" and "conservatives" today who have some opinion about the "free" market. When discussing the history of big "conservative" business at the turn of the 19th-20th century, McDurmon notes:
    The Big financiers -- J. P. Morgan & Co., etc. -- would not give up their quests for total domination simply because they could not win fairly in a free marketplace. They had no qualms at all about turning to government intervention and regulation. Thus, in the period immediately following the failed merger movement -- the beginning of the twentieth century -- we saw a rise in Progressive government domination. Indeed, "The dominant fact of American Political life at the beginning of this century [20th] was that big business led the struggle for the federal regulation of the economy."1 So we return to our earlier statement about covetousness and greed armed with the guns of government. Big business interests simply have used the government coercion as a means of gaining a market advantage forcing out smaller competitors.
    And the big business was not shy about admitting their agenda clearly. For example, J. P. Morgan owned the agricultural machine company International Harvester. After Teddy Roosevelt established the Bureau of Corporations -- designed allegedly to investigate and expose any monopolistic powers on the part of big corporations -- IH came under suspicion and an investigation was ordered. The matter was a joke, for IH already had a back-room deal with the administration that an informal warning would give time to correct any "illegal" activity in the meantime. Indeed, IH's lawyer told the administration that the company welcomed exposure showing actual losses on the Company's behalf, "for then they would have just ground for raising American prices."2  The Company was quite serious, and it raised prices with sanction from the Federal Bureau's reports "to prevent attacks from less friendly parties, and as a general shield."3
     Noticeable also in this respect were the massive railroad companies. Not only had they used "federal and local governments for subsidies and land grants" from early on, but "railroads themselves had been the leading advocates of extended federal legislation after 1887."4 Indeed, the railroads wanted to use Federal authority to guarantee their pooling agreements and thus free them from the disruptive pressures and temptations of the market.5
    What has been said so far is a large part of the reason it is such a joke when modern leftists rail against free market principles as the historical cause of inequality, class warfare, and all our economic woes. There has been very little "free market" to begin with; this country hasn't had free markets very often at all, historically speaking. And the "capitalism" of the big bank-government collusion that we have today is hardly free-market capitalism. It's rigged state capitalism, which is to say it's socialistic to a large degree.

And then, a few paragraphs later, McDurmon begins a ten-page long explanation of how to put "free" back into free markets. I really admire his pastoral candidness in the opening words of this section. He writes:
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to freedom is rocky, uphill, and lined with thieves lying in wait. The path to restore freedom in markets and even to arrive at a totally free marketplace is the straight and narrow way indeed. Traveling it to its end will require personal integrity, fortitude, sacrifice, patience, and endurance. It will require these qualities in society -- not just a few scattered individuals.
In simple terms, the road to free markets requires a personal and society-wide return to the principles that headed up this chapter: non-violence to a person's life or private property and enforcement of contracts. We must personally embrace these principles, and structure our lives, work, and businesses accordingly. More importantly, we have to maintain this discipline: we must absolutely refuse to depart from God's laws even when it is more profitable, more convenient, and more socially acceptable to do so. We won't have a moral leg to stand on until we practice fiscal integrity ourselves. We can't demand of society what we are unwilling to abide by ourselves. The model here is the Messiah, of whom David said in Psalm 15: 
                              O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
                              Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
                              He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
                              and speaks truth in his heart;
                              who does not slander with his tongue
                              and does no evil to his neighbor,
                              nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
                              in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
                              but who honors those who fear the Lord;
                              who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
                              who does not put out his money at interest
                              and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
                              He who does these things shall never be moved.6




1  Cited from Kolko, Triumph of Conservatism, 57-58
2.  Ibid., 119-120
3.  Ibid., 120
4.  Ibid. 59
5.  Cited from Stephen Skowronek, Building a new American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 129.
6. Joel McDurmon, Restoring America One County at a Time: How Our Freedom Was Lost And How We Get It Back (Powder Springs, GA: The American Vision Inc.,  2012), pp. 232-235

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jesus Marvels




As I was preparing for a bible study this past week, I noticed a handful of differences between Matthew's account of the Centurion and Luke's account (cf. Matthew 8:5-13 & Luke 7:1-10).  Below is a list of five things that stood out to me, one of which deserves some extra special attention (as you will see below):

1)  If both gospels are compared chronologically, Matthew’s story takes place before Luke’s account does. Matthew places the two miracles of healing a leper and a centurion’s servant after the Sermon on the Mount. Luke, however, places the healing of the leper before Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and the healing of the centurion’s servant after the Sermon. Many faithful scholars attempt to distinguish Luke's "sermon" as being "on a Plain" and not on a "Mount," as in Matthew, and as though they were two separate "sermons." But because the content and environment of each sermon account remains remarkably similar (as though it were the exact same sermon), I am comfortable assuming that they are the same. And I just think that makes many scholars uncomfortable. It may be the case that many Christians don't want to accept the viewpoint that Matthew's gospel was written with different literary conventions than modern ones, because that may lead some people to consider it as historical fiction, instead of true historical accounts. Anyway, sorry for the digression. My point is that the chronology is noticeably different, and I don't think that is enough evidence to conclude that both accounts are contradictory or fictitious. Rather, I believe that this is another very clear indicator that Matthew is writing his gospel to a very specific audience which understood and used different literary conventions than Luke's audience, and therefore none of the history recorded in each gospel ought to be viewed as fictitious or contradictory if interpreted from each perspective (as shown below). 

2)  Another thing which stands out is that Matthew’s gospel describes a beloved servant-child1 who is "paralyzed" and "suffering terribly," whereas Luke’s gospel describes a valuable slave (doulos) who is "sick" and "at the point of death." These two descriptions are not contradictory, but the differences do appear to be striking at first glance. It is evident that each author wants his audience to focus upon certain details and not others. In this instance, the focus of Matthew's version is upon a specific illness (paralyzation) which needs healing, and nothing more. Luke's account, however, is more general in it's description. Matthew's account describes a condition in which one can anticipate a life of agony for the servant-son and his loving master, the Centurion; whereas Luke's account get's right to the point: there is a Centurion whose highly valued slave is at the point of death. And this particular Centurion also happens to be highly valued by the Jews because he helped build their local synagogue (Luke 7:5). 

3)  Matthew's account is also written in such a way that it appears as though the Centurion himself is talking with Jesus.  But in Luke’s account, the centurion sends leaders from the Jewish community to represent him, and to talk with Jesus, and there is also no indication that Jesus ever meets the Centurion face-to-face. It's as though the Centurion sends2 his own "apostles" to represent him before Jesus. This again, is another indicator that Matthew is writing his gospel with a different literary convention than Luke.  Matthew records this historical account with a heavy emphasis upon Jesus' communication with the Centurion, and nothing more. The communication between Jesus and the Centurion is the most important factor of Matthew's account, because if the reader can sense what the Centurion is feeling for his servant, the reader can also sense Jesus' feelings for his servant (the Centurion).

4) This brings us to the most striking aspect of Matthew's account (in my opinion). Only Matthew's account records the first and last words which Jesus uses to address the Centurion. Luke's account shows more about Jesus' actions, but doesn't tell us what Jesus actually said to the Centurion. Just look briefly at a red-letter bible. Matthew's account shows what Jesus actually said. And when the Centurion provides a question for Jesus to answer, Jesus doesn't respond immediately with an affirmative "yes" (contrary to modern translations). Instead, Jesus responds with a question: "Am I to come and heal him?"3 Another way of looking at this scenario is through the more subtle lens of Luke's account, which says that after "pleading with Jesus earnestly," Jesus went to visit the Centurion's suffering servant (Luke 7:4). In Matthew's account, the reader is supposed to feel and empathize with the agony of the paralyzed servant-son and his compassionate lord (the Gentile Centurion). But after finally reaching Jesus, he is not immediately received with compassion, as he probably was among the other Jews who knew that he loved Israel and built them a synagogue. Instead, Matthew's account shows that Jesus is the cautious one. And it appears as though Jesus is cautious because he is being solicited by a Gentile from afar. This sets the stage for the reader to imagine what Jesus' reaction might be if other faithful Gentiles in the future came to him from afar. The response of the Centurion is what really seals this feeling of distance between Jew (Jesus) and Gentile (the Centurion), which, as we'll see in a few moments, leads us into understanding why Jesus' spoke even more shocking words to his surrounding Jewish audience.  

After receiving Jesus' sharp response, the Centurion responds as one whose faith was unshakable. Not only does he respond by addressing Jesus directly as his "Lord," but he argues further that he is not even worthy to have the Lord under his roof. Moreover, his faith is so great that he truly believes Jesus only has to say "a word" and his servant would be healed. (Modern translations have "but only say the word," when actually the Greek is much more casual than that: "but say only a word, and my servant will be healed.") The faith of this centurion is marvelous indeed! But this is not all! Not only has the centurion endured a blockade of caution from Jesus, but he presses onward and over that apparent obstacle with a testimony of faith which trusts God so much that even though his servant is far away, all his Lord would have to do is say one word -- any word -- and His will would be done. 

At this point in the story, we might want to take a breath and pause for a moment or two just to reflect upon how great this man's faith was. This Centurion is not acting in mere desperation, believing blindly in anyone who claims they can help him. No! This Gentile has true faith in the Lord of all creation!  And just when we might think the Centurion has shown us how great his faith is, Matthew provides us with one more illustration of his faith, straight from the centurion's own mouth.  It's always great to see a man whose faith is unshaken by obstacles and disappointments in life. It's even more encouraging to see such a man confess a faith so great that he doesn't need to see the miracle in order to know that its power is standing before his very own eyes. But this man has such a marvelous faith that, after all this, he is willing to admit publicly that he is a man under authority like Jesus. He says, "for I also am a man under authority." This Gentile Centurion knows what it's like to tell one of his servants, "Go!" and his will is accomplished. He says "Come!" to another, and his will is obeyed with only a word. And he believes that Jesus is Lord over all creatures, and because He is the Lord, He only has to say a word. This Gentile has an extra-ordinary faith! It has not even dawned across this Gentile's mind that Jesus is merely a prophetic leader like John the Baptizer, or simply another self-proclaimed leader, like Judas Maccabaeus, who has come to restore pure worship and begin a revolution in Israel again. Instead, this Centurion sees Jesus as someone under authority, as well as someone with authority over life itself. And it is to this compound expression of faith which Jesus "marvels" (Matt. 8:10).

The fact that Jesus "marvels" is really fascinating. “Marveling” is the typical response of the people who see Jesus’ miraculous works (cf. 8:27; 9:33; 15:31). But Jesus is the one who marvels this time! And then Jesus turns to the crowds that followed him, saying "with no one in Israel have I found such faith!" (v. 10)  And it is to that faith which Jesus finally responds directly to the Centurion. And he does so with only a word. He says "Go." No long drawn-out explanation of what to do next, and no protracted conditions. Further assurance is simply granted by the closing statements of Jesus and Matthew: "It shall be done for you as you have believed.' And the servant was healed at that very moment."

5)  It's no wonder that Matthew's account includes the somewhat cryptic statement of Jesus about Gentiles traveling from all over the world -- from east and west -- coming to feast with the patriarchs in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11-12). The Jews considered themselves to be the "children of the kingdom" who, of course, thought they had inherent legal rights to recline and feast with the saints of God in heaven. But Jesus does not mince words with the crowds who followed him. He's explicit about a promised flood of faithful saints from east and west -- saints with faith like the Gentile centurion standing before him -- who would inherit a place at the Lord's Table. Interestingly, Jesus describes the kind of place where the "children of the kingdom" (who are wise and righteous in their own eyes) will be while the kingdom of heaven is ushering in faithful saints from east and west. The place is described as a location where there will be "gnashing of teeth" and "weeping" in complete "darkness" (8:12). Now, it doesn't take much imagination to realize that when teeth are being gnashed together, it's probably not because they are trying to express great comfort. And weeping isn't supposed to conjure up expressions of joy either. In other words, this place of "darkness" is probably not a place where the patriarchs spend a whole lot of time when they're not feasting with the rest of God's saints. And that's Matthew's point. That's why he highlights the fact that Jesus "marveled." Jesus wasn't marveling at mere faith, but a faith that stood out as being so contrary to the faith proposed by "children of the kingdom." The self-righteous "children of the kingdom" who remain completely befuddled by the faith of this Gentile are not going to be feasting at the Lord's Table with all His saints.







1.  The Greek word παῖς used here can mean both "servant","child", and "son."
2.  The Greek verb for "sent" used here in Luke 7:3 is apesteilen, from which the noun, "apostle," is derived. The Centurion "sent [apesteilen] to him elders of the Jews."
3.  Most modern translations have Jesus saying: "I will come and heal him." But in order to get that particular translation from the Greek, the pronoun Ἐγὼ ("I myself") has to be overlooked. And that pronoun is not only grammatically unnecessary to form a declarative sentence in Greek, but, according to R.T. France, it "is also given added emphasis" for forming an interrogative sentence "by being placed first in the sentence." [NICNT: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007) p. 313]. The Nestle-Aland Greek text and United Bible Society Greek text both give the interrogative punctuation in the margin.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Highway to Zion


In Matthew 11:1-6, Jesus is asked a question by John the Baptist: "Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?" The response of Jesus is fascinating: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."

Now, for those who have been paying attention to the larger narrative of Matthew's gospel, when Jesus gave this response, he had just finished giving his first commission to the twelve disciples. Their mission, should they have chosen to accept it, was clear: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and proclaim as you go, saying 'The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, so give without pay." (Matt. 10:5-6).  In this narrative, the twelve apostles are like the twelve disciples in the wilderness, sent into the promised land to spy it out, and Jesus, like Moses, is the representative of Israel throughout this mission (Num. 13:1-2, 17-20). The twelve apostles go into the land with the authority of Jesus resting on them, performing the miracles which only Jesus has shown can be done.

Just before the twelve disciples permeate the land to proclaim the news about the kingdom of God, Matthew records a series of ten miracles performed by Jesus, miracles of healing and restoration which cover all of chapters 8 & 9. Within this historical framework, Jesus shows compassion toward the people of Israel because they are like "sheep without a shepherd" (Matt. 9:36), which was a worry of Moses in the wilderness as well (Num. 27:17).

These are significant factors if one wants to understand the larger narrative of Matthew's gospel. After all, it was in the wilderness that Israel rebelled ten times (Numbers 14:22). But instead of judging Israel for rebelling ten times, their Messiah comes to heal and restore ten times. In chapters 8 & 9 of Matthew's gospel, the people of God are seen as wandering in a wilderness of barren spirituality, but Yahweh is in their midst to restore them to fullness. Yahweh is quenching their spiritual thirst and bearing their infirmities so they can walk on the highway of holiness which John the Baptist prepared for them (Matt. 3:1-3; Luke 3:1-6). All of this information helps place the people of Israel within a type of "wilderness" setting in Matthew's narrative at the time of Jesus' response to John's question, "Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?"

Within this larger "wilderness" motif of healing and restoration, Jesus gives sight to the blind, strength to walk for those who are lame, as well as the ability to hear for those who were previously deaf. And lest we forget, such signs of authoritative healing and restoration are the evidence that Jesus presents to John when asked if he is "the One."

But there is more to Jesus' response than what ordinarily meets the eye. Jesus' response to John is also a very clear allusion to the ministry of the Lord himself as presented in Isaiah 35:5-6.

Isaiah 35
1.    The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus.
2.    It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
       The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
       They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
3.    Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
4.    Say to those who have an anxious heart, "Be strong! Fear not! Behold your God will come with
       vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you!"
5.    Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6.    Then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
        For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
7.    The burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.
        In the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8.    And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness.
        The unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way.
        Even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
9.    No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it.
       They shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.
10.  And the ransomed of Yahweh shall return and come to Zion to singing.
       Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
       They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

In Isaiah 35, Israel is a "wilderness" and desert being restored with the "glory" and "majesty" of great cities, and even the "glory" and "majesty" of God Himself (verses 1-2). Israel is fatigued like a man with weak hands and knees, wandering in a wilderness; but God Himself is coming to save them (verses 3-4). Pools of water will cool the scorching heat of burning desert sand, and streams of water will quench the thirsty ground of this "wilderness." Even the places where wild jackals used to lie down and wait for their prey in this wilderness will become inhabitable because of the great flood of salvation promised to come (verses 6b-7). A highway of holiness is being paved for the people of God, even people who were formerly fools (verse 8). No lion or ravenous beast will remain on this path which God is laying down as a highway of holiness. And only the "redeemed" ones -- the "ransomed of the Lord" -- will walk on this highway, singing with everlasting joy, on their way into the city of Zion (verses 9 & 10).

In the middle of this grand description of salvation and entrance into the city of Zion, we find the passage which Jesus alludes to in his response to John the baptist. Blind eyes are opened. Deaf ears start listening. Lame men start walking, all because the gospel of God's coming Kingdom is preached to them. But within the larger narrative of Matthew's gospel, Jesus is not merely proclaiming God's good news. Jesus is God's good news. In Isaiah 35, a highway of holiness is being paved so that the "ransomed of the Lord" can travel with everlasting joy on their way to Mount Zion. But in Matthew's gospel, Jesus is not only the Coming One who paves the way for Israel's healing and restoration; He is also the One to whom the blind, deaf, and lame of Israel come. 

In the very beginning of the ten miracles (chapters 8 & 9), Matthew records three distinctive accounts in a row: Jesus heals a leper first, a gentile second, and a woman third. And according to first century records, these three categories share interesting similarities with the three intrinsic boundaries of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem (by which all of God's people would draw near to Him). Outside of Herod's Temple there was a court for women, surrounded by a court for gentiles, surrounded by another outer court. These constructed boundaries were the product of theological innovations among first century Judaism.  Such boundaries were not prescribed in God's Law. Modern research also confirms other first century Jewish customs which were not prescribed in God's Law. For example, a leper was never allowed within the Temple walls, a Gentile was not allowed access beyond the "Court of Gentiles," and women were not allowed beyond the "Court of Women." And yet, in Matthew's gospel, the first thing Jesus comes to heal and restore is access to God. In Matthew's "wilderness" account, the first places of restoration are the lawless boundaries of first century Judaism which restrict access to Mount Zion.

In Isaiah's "gospel" the people of Israel are called to draw near to Yahweh in the city of Zion. But in Matthew's gospel, the people of God draw near to Jesus. In Isaiah's "gospel" Yahweh has come to save His "redeemed" ones. But in Matthew's gospel, Jesus has come to save them. This was a tremendous offense to those who idolized Herod's Temple and it's theological construction. Herod's Temple was a world attraction, and many Jews idolized it because people would come from all over the world to see it and to learn about their god through it. But in Matthew's narrative, the world doesn't come to Herod's Temple. Instead, the world comes to Jesus. And Jesus says, "Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me."








Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Israel's First King


Various scholars have pointed out that there are five "collections" of Psalms within the single "book" of Psalms currently found inside our Bibles (cf. Ross, Leupold, VanGemeren, Craigie, Wilson, etc.). The first collection describes God's kingdom among Israel, beginning with the coronation of Israel's king, followed by the various struggles of King David with the enemies of God, and the deliverance that God brought for the sake of His kingdom.

With this in mind, let's not forget that David was not the first king of Israel; and neither was Saul. YHWH was the first King of Israel (I Sam 8:7), enthroned within the Tabernacle that was constructed at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The ark in the Most Holy Place was His footstool, with Him seated above the Cherubim (I Sam. 4:4; II Sam. 6:2; II Kng. 19:15; Isa. 37:16; Psa. 80:1; 99:1). That's why the first collection of Psalms (especially Psalm 2) begins with the coronation of Israel's king: YHWH

If the biblical interpreter misses this aspect of biblical narrative, they may very well be misunderstanding the OT narrative in a big way.







Monday, January 14, 2013

O Sing a New Song to the Lord


On the second friday of each month, a robust, worship-filled event is hosted for evangelical Christians in southeastern Wisconsin. This event is formally known as a Community Evensong, and is represented by a handful of trinitarian, gospel-preaching, conservative churches that are committed to serving the communities of southeastern Wisconsin. It is hosted in Milwaukee, WI by Crossroads Church of God, a non-denominational church that has deep roots in Milwaukee soil. Every month at the Community Evensong, evangelical christians gather together to learn the Scriptures and to sing what they learn. The reason why I mention all of this is because last month I had the privilege of teaching at the Community Evensong for the first time. The scriptures we learned to sing in parts were from a hymn titled "O Sing a New Song to the Lord", which comes directly from the opening lines of Psalm 98. And so, my job this month was to teach that Psalm.

I didn't mention this in my message that evening, but it wouldn't surprise me if Psalm 98 was overlooked by many christians today, simply because it's a short 9-verse psalm that doesn't look much different than many other Psalms. In fact, it's so short, and so much like other Psalms, that some scholars think the author plagiarized earlier authentic Psalms for the composition of this one. For example, within it's nine short verses, Psalm 98 talks about the Lord doing wonderful things. It talks about the Lord's salvation and faithfulness, as well as His victory and righteousness. It talks about seas roaring and the waves of rivers clapping their hands together, all for the praise of God. But if you have ever read through the Psalms before, you know that you've heard all these themes before. This isn't new information. This isn't unfamiliar imagery. And so why did we bother learning this Psalm and this song for the Community Evensong event, especially if we already know what this Psalm is talking about?  The following is a brief response to that question.

Psalm 98 (ESV) is as follows:         
          1         Oh sing to the Lord a new song, 
        for he has done marvelous things! 
His right hand and his holy arm 
        have worked salvation for him. 
The Lord has made known his salvation; 
        he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. 
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness 
        to the house of Israel. 
All the ends of the earth have seen 
        the salvation of our God. 
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; 
        break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, 
        with the lyre and the sound of melody! 
With trumpets and the sound of the horn 
        make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! 
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 
        the world and those who dwell in it! 
Let the rivers clap their hands; 
        let the hills sing for joy together 
before the Lord, for he comes 
        to judge the earth. 
He will judge the world with righteousness, 
        and the peoples with equity. 


In order to appreciate this Psalm, it's important to first notice the way it is balanced. In the verses above, there are three distinctive units (vv. 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9). These three-part units are shown separately because this is the way it's composition would appear if read out loud from the original Hebrew scriptures. This balance of three-part units was intentional on the part of the original Hebrew author. The first unit is comprised of perfect-tense verbs, which, in English grammar, translates into past-tense verbs. In other words, the first unit is encouraging the reader in the present to look to the past and remember the past. The reader is to remember that "the Lord has done wonderful things!" (v. 1). The Lord "has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations!" (v. 2).  "The Lord has remembered His steadfast love," the result of which has been that "all nations have seen the salvation of our God." (v. 3).  All the credit of salvation, and even all the hope of God's people, rests upon God's sovereign initiative. And here, God's people are called to look back at God's loyal love to encourage their faithfulness in the present.

The second unit is comprised of imperfect, imperative verbs, which (to oversimplify what that means) is a fancy way of describing what God's people should be doing now in the present. And because this unit is filled with imperatives, it's content shouldn't be viewed as mere suggestions or whispers of advice. The text in Hebrew is actually shouting at us! Unfortunately the ESV has smoothed out the english translation of this section. More literal translations (like the NASB) are typically more helpful for understanding the emphasis of this unit. A more literal rendering of verse 4 would be:  "Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth!!  Burst forth and sing for joy! And sing praises!"  The last verse of this unit is similarly expressed: "Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord!" This is what God's people are to do when they consider the faithfulness and lovingkindness of the Lord in times past. Our King, the Lord, is worthy of such emphatic praise!

The third unit refers entirely to the future, and this completes the balance for this Psalm. Again, some English translations have smoothed over the future emphasis contained in the original Hebrew. A better translation may be considered as follows:  "Tell the sea to roar and all it contains! Tell the world and all those who dwell in it! Tell the rivers to clap their hands! Tell the mountains to sing together for joy before the Lord! For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and it's people with equity."  Not only is God worthy of such emphatic praise because He has proven Himself to be faithful and loyally loving to people in covenant with Him; but this passage teaches us that His praiseworthiness ought to be proclaimed from one generation to the next. The future of God's kingdom on earth is a glorious one that cannot be hindered from coming, and because of that expectation in the future, there is no reason to stop making a joyful noise in the present.

Of course, we must also keep in mind that this Psalm was written before the coming of the Messiah. Once the Messiah came, all that was merely anticipated became an inaugurated reality. This is why Jesus, at the inauguration of his public ministry could proclaim, "Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" (Matt. 3:17).  The gospel is not merely a message of personal salvation.  It is far more than that!  Keep in mind that it was a "gospel of the kingdom" that Jesus proclaimed (Matt. 3:23), and it is that gospel which his disciples proclaimed too. The disciples of Jesus today are to proclaim that gospel as well. And according to Psalm 98, we proclaim the gospel of the kingdom loud and proud in the present for two reasons: First, it's because we know exactly what God's steadfast love and faithfulness has produced in the past. Secondarily, we know that God has promised the advancement and victory of His kingdom on earth throughout the future of redemptive history. These three aspects of our Lord's kingdom -- the past, present, and future -- is what Psalm 98 is all about.  Deo Gratias.




Thursday, January 10, 2013

More than five pillars


A few months ago I began a series about the literary structure of Matthew's gospel. Until now, a number of circumstances have kept me from continuing that series. And so, now that a few people have asked me to continue that series, and I have a little time on my hands to do so, I plan on picking up where I left off back then, which was a discussion about the "five pillars" of Matthew's gospel. (The three posts related to that can be found here, here, and here.)

As I mentioned previously, Matthew's gospel is structured around five major discourses, or "pillars." Each of the five major discourses is extremely obvious with a red-letter bible in hand. Just scroll slowly through Matthew's gospel with a red-letter bible and you'll see what I mean. There are five long chunks of red-lettering -- the words of Jesus -- which stand out on their own. These are the "pillars" which support the story of Matthew's gospel. And as I also noted in earlier posts (here and here) Matthew's story of Jesus is also intentionally written to cue in memories about the story of Israel. Or, as Leithart aptly titled his thesis, Matthew's gospel is the story of Jesus as Israel.

In order to appreciate the larger picture which Matthew has painted for us in this gospel, I have decided to extract some of the details in Leithart's thesis and place them below. I have also changed a few of the words which Leithart used, but all of the essential content remains the same. The five major discourses, or "pillars" of literary structure, are as follows:

1.  Matt. 5-7 = Sermon on the Mount
2.  Matt. 10 = Mission of the Twelve
3.  Matt. 13 = Parables of the Kingdom
4.  Matt. 18 = Instructions for a divided Kingdom
5.  Matt. 23-25 = Prophecy/Warnings for “The House of Israel”

If we take into account the theme of the first four chapters as well as the three closing chapters of the gospel (as noted in two previous posts, here and here), the five "pillars" of discourse would be sandwiched in the middle as follows:

1.   Matt. 1-4 = Beginnings, Birth, and Youth of God’s Son
2.          Matt. 5-7 = Sermon on the Mount
3.          Matt. 10 = Mission of the Twelve
4.          Matt. 13 = Parables of the Kingdom
5.          Matt. 18 = Instructions for a divided Kingdom
6.          Matt. 23-25 = Prophecy/Warnings for “The House of Israel”
7.   Matt. 26-28 = Death, Resurrection, and Great Commission of God’s Son 

If we were to translate this structure of Matthew's gospel from Israel's history, or, more properly, if we were to point out the shadows of Israel's life-history which Matthew is manifesting in the full reality of Jesus' life, it would look something like the following:

1)   Beginnings, Birth, and Youth of God’s Son = Genesis, Exodus, Travel to Mount
2)   Sermon on the Mount = Giving of the Law/Sinai Revelation
3)   Mission of the Twelve = Deuteronomy/Preparation for Conquest
4)   Parables of the Kingdom = Wisdom/Parables of King Solomon
5)   Instructions for a divided Kingdom = Period of Divided Kingdom
6)   Prophecy/Warnings for “The House of Israel” = End of Judah/Warnings of Babylonian Exile
7)   Death, Resurrection, and Great Commission of God’s Son = Death and Resurrection of Israel, and the “Great Commission” of the Lord’s “Anointed” (Cyrus)

The only portions which are not shown in this outline are chapters 8-9, 11-12, 14-17, and 19-22, which are simply narrative segments that provide continuity between each of the five "pillars" of discourse above. Again, with a few minor alterations to the wording which Leithart uses, the inclusion of those segments is as follows:


1) Matt. 1-4 = Genesis, Exodus, Travel to Mount
2) Matt. 5-7 = Giving of the Law/Sinai Revelation

Narrative  –  Matt. 8-9 Wilderness Wandering   (Israel under Moses + Joshua)

3) Matt. 10 = Deuteronomy/Preparation for Conquest

Narrative  –  Matt. 11-12 Entrance into Land/Rest + Rise of a King   (Israel under Joshua + David)

4) Matt. 13 = Wisdom/Parables of King Solomon

Narrative  –  Matt. 14-17 = Prophetic Ministry in the Northern Kingdom   (Israel under Elijah + Elisha)

5) Matt. 18 = Period of Divided Kingdom

Narrative  –  Matt 19-22 = Prophetic Ministry in the Southern Kingdom   (Israel under Jeremiah + Ezekiel)

6) Matt. 23-25 = End of Judah/Warnings of Babylonian Exile
7) Matt. 26-28 = Death + Resurrection of Israel, and the “Great Commission” of the Lord’s “Anointed” (Cyrus)

Now that the remaining narrative segments have been inserted, it should be clear that it is at least possible, if not likely from the looks of things, that Matthew has organized his gospel in a more intricate manner than many twenty-first century scholars would like to admit. Instead, Matthew has framed the story of Jesus in such a way that many of the historical events throughout his life are portrayed together as a fulfillment of Israel's story. Israel, of course, was God's firstborn "son" (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:13-14); but Israel was only a shadow of Christ, the true Son of God. Therefore, from a literary perspective, Matthew's design seems to be exactly what Leithart has posited. The story of Matthew's gospel is the story of Jesus as Israel. Of course, just saying so doesn't make it so. In the near future I intend on explaining the way in which each segment of Matthew's gospel highlights the sections as noted above. I have already started one post pertaining to the opening four chapters here, so enjoy for now.