‘Do Not Muzzle the Ox’: A Logical, Intra-biblical, and Eschatological (but not Allegorical) Reading of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9

 

paulDo I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop,
– 1 Corinthians 9:8–10 –

When Jesus describes the value of the sparrow in Luke 12 and says, “Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (v. 7) is he speaking allegorically? What about when he tells the elaborate parable about the four soils (Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23) or the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43)? The answer will depend on how you define ‘allegory,’ but most will not see Jesus’ comparison with the sparrows as an allegory, even as many do see Jesus parable as incorporating allegorical elements.[1] What makes the difference? And do we rightly read allegory, without allegorizing?

Allegorical Literature vs. Allegorical Interpretation

In truth, there are in Scripture elements of allegory. When Jesus explains some of his parables by saying, “The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:38–39), he is speaking in allegory. Allegory by definition is

A work of literature in which many of the details have a corresponding “other” meaning. The basic technique is symbolism in the sense that a detail in the text stands for something else. Interpreting an allegorical text must not be confused with allegorizing the text. To interpret an allegorical text is to follow the intentions of the author. Allegorizing a text  implies attaching symbolic meanings to a text  that was not intended by the author to be allegorical.[2]

This distinction between between allegorical literature (e.g., The Pilgrim’s Progress) and allegorical methods of interpretation (e.g., Origen’s approach to the Bible) is one of the most confused and confusing aspects of modern evangelical hermeneutics. To be sure, Scripture includes multiple instances of allegory.

  • When Jotham told his story of the bramble who would be king, he used allegory (Judges 9).
  • When Nathan confronted David in his sin with Bathsheba, he employed allegory (2 Samuel 7).
  • When Jesus told his parables he often intended for one element (“the field”) to stand for another (“the world”). This is allegory.
  • Paul even understands the story of Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16ff) to be written “allegorically” (Galatians 4).[3]

In each of these instances, the author’s intent is allegorical. (Except the last example, Galatians 4, is best understood as typological writing in Genesis). Therefore, the extant literature is allegorical, which requires any literal method of interpretation (i.e., one that aims to understand and reproduce the authorial intent) to read the passage “allegorically.” But—and this is where the confusion comes in—in reading the biblical allegory, we must not allegorize the text. And even more, we must not adopt an allegorical method because we find some allegories in Scripture.

But this brings us to the text in question (1 Corinthians 9:8–10): Did Paul use an allegorical method in his quotation of Deuteronomy 25:4? And if he is allegorized a passage from the law—a genre not given to allegory—can we do the same? Or did he, like Jesus with the sparrows, make a simple comparison between oxen and men? Or did he do something else entirely?

Logical, Intra-biblical, Eschatological: Tracing Paul’s Argument

Following the lead of John Calvin, Richard Hays, and others, I will argue that Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 is (1) logical in its structure (not fanciful), (2) textual (not twisting the original context of Deuteronomy), and (3) theological (specifically, eschatological). But in no way is it allegorical. Continue reading

The Sevenfold Spirit of God: Seven Truths About the Doctrine of Illumination

 

menorahIn the book of Revelation John speaks of the “seven spirits of God” (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). While enigmatic, the symbolic use of the number seven in Revelation gives credible explanation: The seven spirits are God is a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is the perfect and complete Spirit of God. In no way does the number represent something contradictory to the triune nature of God (three-in-one), nor does it crassly suggest there are seven spirits who represent God. Rather, as with so many images in Revelation, the numeral seven represents the fullness of the Spirit abiding in God’s throne room and dwelling with the churches. Wonderfully, the same Holy Spirit who dwells in God’s heavenly temple (1:4) has been sent to dwell in local churches (5:6).

At the same time, the sevenfold spirit of God may also refer to Isaiah 11, where the Spirit of the LORD is said to “rest upon” the shoot of Jesse (i.e., the forthcoming king from David’s tribe). Greg Beale affirms the plausibility of Isaiah 11 (and Zechariah) being in the “background of the ‘seven spirits.’”[1] In that passage, which “shows that God’s sevenfold Spirit is what equips the Messiah to establish his end-time reign,” the prophet writes,

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (11:1 –5)

Verse 2 is where the seven descriptors of the Spirit are found, in that the Spirit is

  1. Of the Lord
  2. Of wisdom
  3. . . . and understanding
  4. Of counsel
  5. . . . and might
  6. Of knowledge
  7. . . . and the fear of the Lord.

This sevenfold description locates the work of the Spirit in the realm of wisdom and knowledge. While Lordship and might (גְּבוּרָה) are mentioned, the primary emphasis is cognitive. Significantly, this stands behind much of what Jesus says in John’s Gospel (see 14:26; 15:26; 16:13–14). As mentioned in a previous essay, the working of the Spirit is not seen primarily in visible acts of supernatural power, but in granting spiritual life and mental receptivity of God’s work of salvation. While the Spirit has power to restore creation (Isaiah 32:15) and raise the dead (Romans 8:11), the primary way he works today is in the granting spiritual understanding, what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:10–16. Continue reading

What Demonstrates the Power of God? Miraculous Signs or Spiritual Resurrection

powerAnd I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
— 1 Corinthians 2:3–5 —

A number of years ago I visited a church where the pastor proclaimed that God would build the church “on signs and wonders.” From his statement, the pastor revealed his theology—the miraculous gifts of the early church (e.g., tongues, healings, prophecies, etc.) are still normative and should be pursued, even promoted, as the normative means by which God builds his church.

More recently, Bill Johnson, a popular-but-false teaching ‘pastor’ from Redding, California, has argued that “working miracles is closer to the normal Christian life than what the Church normally experiences.”[1] In his bestselling[2] When Heaven Invades Earth, Johnson makes apology for the place of the miraculous today. He argues that denial of miracles has to be taught to Christians, stating, “The doctrine stating signs and wonders are no longer needed because we have the Bible was created by people who hadn’t seen God’s power and needed an explanation to justify their own powerless church” (105–06).

That’s a strong claim, and one that bears examination. Is it true the church—for most of the nineteen centuries leading up to the birth of the Charismatic movement (1906)—hadn’t seen God’s power because they failed to pursue the miraculous gifts? Is it true that God’s power is, as Johnson defines it, in “working miracles”? Or might it be the case that power as emphasized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:3–5; 4:14–20, for instance, is something different than what these Charismatic pastors mean? Continue reading

The Wisdom of the Cross: Paul’s Use of Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 1

crossFor it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
— 1 Corinthians 1:19 —

In 1 Corinthians 1:19 Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14 to make a case that the cross has destroyed and is destroying the wisdom of the wise. This verse sets the trajectory of this pericope (vv. 18–25), and with a second quotation from Jeremiah 9:23 in 1 Corinthians 1:31 (“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”), it frames Paul’s double argument: the cross of Christ humbles the wise (vv. 18–25) and the call of God is for those who see how humble they are (vv. 26–31).

In the context of 1 Corinthians, this is the first of “at least fourteen clear quotations from the Old Testament.”[1]  And as is typical with New Testament quotations of the Old Testament, the verses supply conceptual and linguistic material for the apostles. In Paul’s case,

The backbone of the discussion in 1:18–3:23 is a series of six OT quotations (1:19; 1:31; 2:9; 2:16; 3:19; 3:20), all taken from passages that depict God as one who acts to judge and save his people in ways that defy human imagination. Paul thus links his gospel of the cross to the older message of judgment and grace proclaimed in Israel’s Scripture, and he challenges the boastful pretensions of his readers.[2]

Therefore, to understand the full import of 1 Corinthians 1:19, we must return to Isaiah 29 (and Isaiah 25) to see how that ancient prophet anticipates what Paul says to the Corinthians. In the process, we will learn a few things about how Paul reads the Bible, with an eye to the cross. Continue reading