Go And Preach No More? Six Contextual Problems With John 7:53–8:11

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Few passages in the Bible are more beloved than the story of the adulterous woman being brought to Jesus, condemned by the scribes and Pharisees, and then set free by the wisdom and compassion of Christ. At the same time, few passages in the Bible are more debated. Should John 7:53–8:11 be included in the Bible, or not?

In the early church, it was recognized that this passage was not present in the earliest Greek manuscripts. And Augustine and others suggested that the teaching in the passage is what led to exclusion. In On Adulterous Marriages (2.7.6), he writes, “Some men of slight faith” and others “hostile to true faith” removed the passage for fear that it would encourage adultery.[1]

In the modern era, the problem of the Pericope Audulterae (PA)[2] has not been a matter of questionable ethics, so much as questionable evidence. As most translations admit, “The earliest manuscripts does not include John 7:53–8:11” (ESV). Likewise, a majority of evangelical scholars also question the inclusion of this passage in the Bible. See, for instance, Daniel Wallace, Jim Hamilton, and a list of others.

On the other hand, there are biblical scholars who do argue for the inclusion of the PA in the biblical canon. This would include advocates of the King James Version, Majority Text advocates, and others who would point to the Byzantine text tradition. For instance, Maurice Robinson, a retired professor from SEBTS, who is not KJV-Only, has done the most extensive work on this subject.[3] And he has made the case for including this passage as original.

Still this is the minority report. And accordingly, Bible readers and preachers are left to wonder: How do we handle this text? Continue reading

Reading Leviticus Wisely: Moving from Israel’s Sacrifices to Christ without Allegory or Pure Historicism

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“All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable . . .”
2 Timothy 3:16

This is what Paul says when speaking to Timothy about the origin of his faith, and this profitability is true for all parts of Scripture, including Leviticus. Yet, for Leviticus to be profitable, one must avoid pure historical interpretation, an approach to Leviticus that only discerns what priests did back then and what they should do today if the tabernacle was reconstructed and the old covenant were re-enacted. Similarly, for Leviticus to be profitable, one must avoid wild allegory, where every facet of the sacrifice becomes a token of some gospel truth.

Between these two poles, one must deal with the historical context of the book and yet see how the book draws us into a sacrificial system that leads us to Christ. Indeed, because Leviticus reveals to the “pattern” (typos) of worship that God commanded at Sinai (see Exodus 25:40), it is appropriate and necessary to see how Leviticus outlines a series of shadows (types) that find their substance in Christ (cf. Heb. 10:1). Continue reading

Perfect Praise: Seeing the Seven’s in Psalms 96–99

tanner-mardis-612668-unsplash (1)In his commentary on the Psalms, Konrad Schaefer shows a “pattern of sevens” that permeates Psalms 96–99. In a section of the Psalter that already demonstrates remarkable structure, these “septets” (a group of seven) add to the unity and message of Book IV in the Psalms.

Let’s hear what Schaefer says about these septets, and then consider the merit of his observations. Why should we care about these groups of seven? (Hint: It may have something to do with the number of perfection).

Continue reading

Seeing Christ in All of Scripture: A Few Words from Herman Bavinck

enoc-valenzuela-WJolaNbXt90-unsplashThus the whole revelation of the Old Testament converges upon Christ,
not upon a new law, or doctrine, or institution, but upon the person of Christ.

— Herman Bavinck —

As Herman Bavinck closes out a section on special revelation in Our Reasonable Faith, he reminds us that the goal of Scripture is not a law, nor a religious belief or practice, nor even a gospel, as in an impersonal message of good news. Rather, the unified goal of Scripture is a single person—Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In recent years (and for all of church history), there has been debate about how much Christ we can find in the Old Testament. This sort of thinking, one that sets limits on how much of Jesus we can see in the Old Testament, seems fundamentally at odds with the tenor of Scripture. Yes, we cannot turn every word, object, or event into a mystical revelation of Christ. But as Christ and his church is the mystery once hidden now revealed, the canon of Scripture leads us to see how every parcel of the Old Testament belongs to Christ and brings us to Christ.

For Bavinck, this is exactly how he sums up the Bible, as he states, “in the Old Testament everything led up to Christ,” and “in the New Testament everything is derived from Him.” Truly this is what is at stake when we, a priori, set limits on seeing Christ in all the Scriptures. Here’s the full text of Bavinck’s conclusion, Continue reading

Seeing the Streams of Scripture: A Biblical-Theological Approach to Philippians 2

trail-wu-2a1TKBuc-unsplash.jpgBy myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
— Isaiah 45:23 —

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:8–11 —

Whenever we read the letters of Paul we are sure to encounter quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. Often in the same passage, there are multiple layers from the Law and the Prophets. Commentators are usually in agreement when there are explicit citations or linguistic repetitions. Interpreters of Scripture are much more at odds when there are not direct biblical parallels.

One example of this kind of interpretive difference is found in Philippians 2:5–11. In Paul’s famous “hymn,” there is an unmistakeable quotation from Isaiah 45:23 in verses 10–11. There are also many connections with the Servant in Isaiah 53. But one connection that is more tenuous is the relationship between Christ who obeyed God unto death and Adam who disobeyed God unto death.

In a remarkably balanced presentation on Adam and Christ in Philippians 2:5–11, Matthew Harmon rightly affirms the many conceptual connections between Adam and Christ. At the same time, he rightly denies any linguistic connections between Philippians 2 and Genesis 1–3. This helpfully sets up a discussion concerning what it takes for allusions to be recognized in the Scripture.

Yet, instead of siding with a narrow reading of Philippians 2 which denies all connections between Christ and Adam (a Pauline theme developed explicitly in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15), Harmon shows how the explicit connections between Philippians 2 and Isaiah 53 stands a servant typology that goes back to Israel, and from Israel to Adam. Continue reading

Reading Joshua with the Early Church: Ten Quotes from the Patristics

joshua07C. S. Lewis has said that for every three books we read from our century, we should read one from an earlier century. This is not because other places and other periods of time do not have a lock on truth. Other centuries have many errors, but—and this is Lewis’s point!—they do not share the same errors that we do. Thus, by reading books from other eras, we are given problems, solutions, and perspectives (read: wisdom) that we cannot find in our own time period.

When it comes to the book of Joshua, we find an example of this in the connections that the Early Church made between Joshua, son of Nun, and Joshua (Jesus), son of Mary, son of God. In the last few centuries, modern scholars have provided copious literary analyses of Joshua; they have proven Joshua’s vocabulary comes from Deuteronomy; and they have corroborated the form and content of Joshua with other ancient Near Eastern covenant documents, as well as archaeological research.

Yet, what continues to be lacking in today’s studies are the canonical connections that filled the writings of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and others. In the first three centuries of the Church, especially as the Church grappled with the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, these early apologists made numerous connections between Joshua and Jesus.

In particular, these Church Fathers made much of the name of “Jesus,” or “Joshua,” or as it is found in Hebrews 4:8 and 4:14, Iēsous. Indeed, as any reader of the Greek New Testament will discover the name translated “Joshua” in 4:8 is the same name translated “Jesus” in 4:14. While our English Bibles lead us to view these names as different (Joshua and Jesus), the Greek name is the same.

Similarly, Jude 5 (ESV) speaks of “Jesus” who saved Israel out of Egypt. Here again the name Iēsous appears in multiple early manuscripts.[i] While Jude may have been saying that Jesus of Nazareth, who is the eternal Son, led Israel out Egypt, there is better evidence for seeing a typological connection in Jude 5. The God of Israel led Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land by means of Joshua (Iēsous), who is a type of Christ. Or as Richard Ounsworth puts it, “Joshua’s role as savior of his people . . . points toward the fulfilment of this foreshadowing of Christ by one who shares Joshua’s name” (Joshua Typology in the New Testament13). Continue reading

From Law to Gospel: Seeing the Literary Structure of 1 Timothy 1

bibleIn his chapter “Cohesion and Structure in the Pastoral Epistles,” Ray Van Neste argues for literary cohesion in 1 Timothy (in Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles, 84–104). While many critical scholars have denied this unity and declared 1 Timothy is a patchwork letter (not written by Paul), Van Neste shows how the letter demonstrates internal cohesion. From a careful reading of the letter, he shows how thematic and linguistic connections unity the first and last chapter (98–104).

Most impressive in his argument is his treatment of 1 Timothy 1 and 6, where he shows multiple ways the letter shows cohesion and structure. For instance, developing a number of “hook words,” Van Neste observes,

  • The use of “teachers of the law” (v. 7), law (v. 8), and lawfully (v. 8) link verses 3–7 with verses 8–11.
  • Pisteuō (“entrusted”) ends verse 11 and serves as the keyword for verses 12–17: “faithful” (v. 12), “unbelief” (v. 13), “faith” (v. 14), “trustworthy” (v. 15), “believe” (v. 16). In each case, the Greek word has pist- as its root.
  • Faith and a good conscience also mark the beginning and end of the chapter (v. 5 and v. 19).

With these various “hook words,” we see how the chapter holds together and unfolds. This strengthens our commitment to Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy, and it shows us how to read the chapter as a whole. Yet, the unity is more than just linguistic. There also appears to be a literary structure in 1 Timothy 1. Continue reading

Of Spaceships and City Streets: G.K. Beale on Two Kinds of “Literal” Reading

In his massive and massively helpful A New Testament Biblical TheologyG. K. Beale spends the opening chapters outlining the storyline of the Bible and the eschatological nature of the Old Testament. Rather than defining eschatology as merely that category of doctrine that describes future events, he rightly explains how the original creation came with “eschatological potential” (89). Still, what is most helpful in his approach to reading the Bible eschatologically is his approach to reading the Bible “literally.”

Much debate continues on this point today, and to quote the “theologian” Mandy Patinkin (of Princess Bride fame), I do not believe most people who demand a literal reading know what that word means. Or at least, their definition and use only consider one aspect of a literal reading—namely, a narrow reading of individual texts, without considering how a literal reading can also be applied to whole books, including the whole canon itself. Continue reading

Read the Whole Bible as a Whole Bible: Rejecting Critical Source Theory and Reconciling Genesis 1 and 2

alexander-michl-724529-unsplashOne of the great questions about the opening chapters of Genesis is the relationship of the two creation accounts. Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 two different accounts? From two different sources? Or is there a rhyme and reason for the repetition and ostensible differences between the six days of creation in Genesis 1 and the formation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2?

Since Julius Wellhausen—a pioneering German scholar in the 19th C who advocated a source theory to the Pentateuch and who fabricated a competition between priests and Levites behind the Bible—there has grown a small cottage industry arguing that the books of Moses and the opening chapters of Genesis have multiple authors. While various “documentary hypotheses” have been put forward, four sources have often been posited. Labeled by the letters E, J, P, D, these four sources are various traditions in Israel—respectively, Elohim, Jehovah, Priestly, and Deuteronomist.

I first encountered this higher-critical approach to the Bible in my liberal arts college—stress on the word liberal. Though I had no way of knowing how to counteract this teaching at the time, I have since seen how reductionistic and unfaithful this approach is to the Bible. In particular, it short-circuits any theological intentions of the original author. In other words, whenever a tension or apparent contradiction is observed, the solution is to attribute contrasts to various sources behind the Bible. Consequently, it denies the need to wrestle with the text and understand the author’s original text.

In this way, it actually diminishes scholarship and the theological glory of the biblical text. That is, it reduces the weight of the full revelation of God. And thus, I happily and unswervingly repudiate the source theory of the Bible. Likewise, I give praise to God for Old Testament scholars who stand against the critical consensus and write for the upbuilding of the church. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper as the Origin of Christ-Centered Hermeneutics

jesus.jpegThere are many arguments for reading the Bible with Christ at the center. But where do they come from? Are they the product of biblical interpreters? Or is there a source found in Scripture itself?

In answer to this question, the best place to see the Bible’s Christ-centeredness may come from Christ himself. Not only does he say explicitly that all Scripture speaks of him (John 5:39), but in the Passover he interprets the most important event in Israel’s history as his own. As Alastair Roberts and Andrew Wilson note, “Jesus is specifically identifying the unleavened bread as representing his body, . . . and he is telling his Jewish followers to celebrate the Passover in memory of him, not just their liberation from slavery in Egypt” (29). Continue reading