Biblical studies: August 2006 Archives

One of the bigger difficulties of an old-earth view of the early chapters of Genesis is how to deal with what seems to to be the biblical teaching that death came into the world through sin, since old-earth views usually involve lots of animals dying, eating each other, and even extinction of species long before humans even existed, never mind sinned. David Heddle has some very interesting thoughts on what old-earthers can say about death, some of them entirely new to me.

The most important suggestion is perhaps that death was already around before the human fall because of the earlier angelic fall, but this was not death for humans. That's what made Eden special. What separates Eden from the rest of the world on the young-earth view? If there's no good answer to that (and there are some answers in the comments, but nothing as huge as death), then this problem, originally against old-earth views, one of the few that I consider serious enough to worry about) actually favors old-earth views on one score rather than undermining them.

Henry Imler posts some arguments from N.T. Wright in favor of the historicity of the virgin birth accounts. I don't think I've seen these arguments before. He lists three. The first is more an argument against arguments against the virginal conception. The other two actually support the historicity of the virgin birth passages in Matthew and Luke, and those are what caught my interest:

2. Isaiah 7 was never part of any pre-Christian Jewish view of the Messiah being born of someone who was still a virgin by the time of the conception. Everyone who read the passage took it in the way that an ordinary person would. It says that a virgin would engage in sexual relations, conceive, and then give birth. In its immediate context about the children whose names are mentioned in that very passage, it had to mean exactly that. So no one thought of this as a messianic passage about someone who would conceive and then give birth, all while remaining a virgin. But what that means is that it's extremely unlikely that someone would concoct this legend about Jesus being born of a virgin to fit a prophecy that no one interpreted that way. When people invent circumstances to fit a prophecy, they don't usually recast an already existing prophecy in a way that no one interpreted it. It would be one thing to look back on Isaiah 7 if a virginal conception happened. It would be quite another thing to interpret it anew without any such an event. Why insist on taking a passage in a way no one had before if it's not to explain an event that makes much more sense with the newfangled interpretation?

2. Matthew and Luke record two very different sets of traditions about the birth of Jesus. If they were importing a pagan myth because of some theological value, it would be surprising to find no theological hay made of it in either of the two very different literary traditions. But yet that's what we have. Even if the authors of the two accounts didn't think it was a pagan importation but believed it, it would be strange that this was done earlier for theological purposes and yet neither account would actually include such reasons or any sign that there ever were any. What would be more likely is that they didn't believe it because of its theological significance but believed it simply because it had its basis in actual events.

For those who are interested in upcoming biblical commentaries who don't regularly check my posts on those (and I know some of my readers do check in on those posts fairly often), I wanted to make it known that there have been lots of updates to them recently. [You can look at the same information organized in two different ways: by book of the Bible and by commentary series.] In this post I'll give several highlights and major updates among a lot of smaller changes that I won't mention here but are at the main posts. As always, the main posts just linked to will be updated when there is new information, and they include much that's changed that's not here. I will not be updating this post. This is just to draw attention to changes that have occurred on the other posts for those who don't check them regularly.

I'm perhaps most excited about this first item, which I haven't included in the other posts since it's not new commentaries but new books about commentaries. Baker is releasing new editions of Longman's OT commentary survey and Carson's NT one in January. Also, John Glynn is expecting the new edition of his own commentary review to be published by the end of the year. I've already ordered Longman and Carson at Amazon. I couldn't find them there by searching, but you can use the Baker links above to get the ISBNs and then type them into the Amazon search box. I don't believe they have the new Glynn edition listed at Amazon yet.

Gift of Singleness

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Andreas Kostenberger has a thoughtful post on singleness in the Bible. I especially found one observation noteworthy. He finds a trajectory across salvation history with regard to singleness and marriage. Marriage is part of the creation order, part of God's original intent before the fall. It isn't until Jesus comes along to initiate the new covenant that you get any sense at all that there's anything but marriage as the norm, with singleness as an extraordinary exception (e.g. widows, serious illness). But Jesus indicates that some will be single by choice, and Paul even argues that the kingdom is more greatly served (in certain kinds of situations?) by those who are single, and therefore what was once the exception becomes something especially useful.

But Jesus also indicates that there will be no marriage in the resurrection. That means the intermediate phase between the initiation of the new covenant and its ultimate fulfillment in the resurrection is in tension between the marriage norm of the old covenant and the singleness norm of the resurrection. Seeing this according to a trajectory makes so much sense of how Paul can have such a high view of marriage and yet also view singleness as something for some to strive for. This doesn't (as some have argued) imply a lower view of marriage but simply reflects the tension between these two norms, one eventually to be replaced by the other but both having value in the in-between time. But Kostenberger does take marriage as a sort of norm even in this age, citing Matthew 19 as evidence. It's just not a norm in the fuller sense of when most everyone would be expected to get married.

Ecclesiastes and Joy

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From one of the recent Christian Carnivals: Ecclesiastes and Joy at Thinking Christian. A number of scholars go to one extreme or the other on how pessimistic Ecclesiastes is, and Tom Gilson seems to me to get the balance right.


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This is a list of the current and forthcoming commentaries in the Hermeneia series. For more series, see my post on commentary series. For a listing in alphabetical order, see this post.

The Hermeneia series is noted especially for its comprehensive attention to parallels in other literature. This will almost invariably involve many speculative connections with literature not necessary for interpreting the biblical text and just amounts to distraction. A number of these commentaries are absolutely excellent and in fact the scholarly standards on their respective books (e.g. Psalms 51-100, Song of Songs, Amos, I Peter. Others are outdated or eccentric (most notably John and the earlier Bultmann I-III John), and such books might be better served by other commentaries. It uses the original language and will be harder to read by those unschooled in Hebrew and Greek, but there is usually a translation of any non-English, which makes it much easier than some other series. Even though it's more detail than necessary in most cases, some of these volumes really are the best detailed exegesis of the book they cover, and I'll indicate some of those when I do the review of commentaries for each book. In most cases, scholars will need to refer to them, but expositors will not. The series is still very much in process in the Old Testament, with only one volume on the historical works in print, and that was just this year. The prophets and wisdom literature have much better coverage, and the NT is much further along. Non-canonical books also appear in this series.

One misleading element of the following lists is that many volumes are translations of German or French works, and the delay between the original and the Hermeneia translation is sometimes more than a decade. Some of these are much older than they seem to be from the date given, which is the date of its release in English translation in this series . Others were new works produced in English.

Volumes out so far:

Biblical scholar Leon Morris died last week at age 92. I have a lot of respect for Morris' work, defending traditional doctrines in times when the majority of biblical scholars had rejected them, in some cases leading to a resurgence in the scholarship of the traditional view (e.g. on propitiation as opposed to expiation). During during the months between New Years and Easter of the last five years, our congregation has been studying John, with one more quarter to go to finish up chapters 18-21. I've appreciated his commentary on John a great deal as we've been doing this lengthy study. I dont know which chapters he wrote in the original Carson/Morris/Moo Introduction to the New Testament (now revised by Carson and Moo without Morris), but I read the whole book with much profit. I've also spent a smaller amount of time in some of his other commentaries. My overwhelming sense of his contribution to biblical studies is that he was one of the most influential evangelical biblical scholars of the last generation, and I think evangelical scholars of our day owe a good deal to his work in a time when evangelical scholarship was only just beginning to be recognized as legitimate work among mainstream biblical studies circles.

The Anglican newsletter for Melbourne has an obituary. See also posts at Rebecca Writes, Between Two Worlds, Boar's Head Tavern, American Anglican, and Jesus Creed.

Update: See also D.A.. Carson's tribute. [Hat tip: Cafe Apocalypsis]

The 8th Biblical Studies Carnival is up at Biblicalia, featuring some of the best posts in the blogosophere from last month in the general area of biblical studies.



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