Archive for Biblical Studies

When God Spoke Greek — Book Blog Tour

When I was approached about participating in the Book Blog Tour for Timothy Michael Law’s new book, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, I was beyond excited. I have, in the past, lamented how in all my years of theological training I have never once had a class on the Septuagint. I can count on one hand the number of times the Septuagint was mentioned in New Testament classes (usually in relation to how the NT author quoted the Old Testament), and I don’t think the Septuagint was ever brought up in an Old Testament class. Given this gap, I was hoping that this new book would help fill the gap. I can say with confidence, that this book definitely begins to fill said gap. Timothy Michael Law notes in his introduction that he was wanting to make the Septuagint more accessible. And he does.


Now, it’s important to note that I’m coming at this book as a seminary student, an aspiring theologian, and a person involved in church ministry. As such, the questions that I bring to this book include:


  • Would this book work as a textbook for college students? Would this book work as a textbook for seminary students?
  • Would this book have helped my studies as a student?
  • What are the theological implications of the NT authors quoting the Septuagint, especially when it differs from the Hebrew text?
  • Would this book be helpful for teaching lay people in the church about the history of Scripture?

Now onto my look at chapters 11 and 12!


In chapter eleven, TML begins by talking about the Septuagint influenced the transmission of Scripture into other languages. For example, the Latin Scripture were produced, not from the Hebrew text, but from the Greek. It is also from the Septuagint that the earliest Coptic, Armenian, Gothic and Arabic translations were produced. TML goes so far as to say, “Had there been no Septuagint, and had early Jewish converts remained in a Semitic world, the church may never have moved outside of its Palestinian birthplace.” (129)

He then looks at Philo and Josephus’ use and explanations of the origins of the Septuagint. For Philo, it was important to justify the text and he set out to demonstrate how it was divinely inspired. Josephus, on the other hand, is not so interested in justifying the divine inspiration of the Septuagint, so much as just reporting how the Hebrew Scriptures came to be translated into Greek.

By the 4th century, we find Eusebius arguing that “God providentially guided a translation into Greek so that when the Savior of the world did appear the nations would recognize him. This was the time when God spoke Greek.” (131) TML writes that by the 4th century, “the idea that the Septuagint was the inspired word of God was already so deeply rooted in the church that it allowed these writers to speak of it as the preparation for the gospel and as the superior, indeed, the only, word of God for the church.” (132)

TML then asks one of the questions that I myself was bringing to the text: “In what ways did [the Septuagint] contribute to the theological and exegetical formation of the early centuries of Christianity?” (132) He notes that the Latin and Greek Fathers were not concerned with how accurately the Greek translated the Hebrew, and that “presumably most Christians would have viewed the Hebrew Bible as strictly Jewish scripture, but the Septuagint was the treasure of the church.” (133) He explores examples of typological exegesis that were common because the Septuagint’s translations of key words like “Lord,” and “Anointed” made it easy for readers to see foreshadowing references to Christ.

As well, the Septuagint became extremely important theologically as the early church struggled against heresies. Over and over, it was the Septuagint and not the Hebrew texts that the Church Fathers would return to over and over again to craft a coherent defense of the faith.

TML concludes the chapter by noting that it wasn’t just theology that was profoundly influenced by the Greek text. Indeed, the Septuagint played a role in also developing preaching, liturgy and Christian piety (aka spiritual formation). Ultimately, “Most Christians would have heard the Septuagint taught and would have been shaped by it without knowing anything about its relationship to the Hebrew.” (139)

In chapter twelve, TML looks at Origen and his influence on biblical scholarship in the early church. He argues that Origen’s “textual scholarship inadvertently hastened the end of the Septuagint’s prominence in the church.” (141) Origen’s study of Scripture was extensive. He was continually learning about exegetical methods, not only from Christian scholars in Alexandria, but also from Jewish and Greek (secular) scholars. It was this deep passion for exegesis that led Origen to compile the Hexapla: “a six-columned Bible in which he placed six different biblical texts in parallel columns.” (143) This project made the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts stand how. But how would Origen explain the differences? “When the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint were at odds with one another, there were two possible explanations: copyists introduced genuine errors in the transmission of the manuscripts, or Providence introduced the divergences for the church’s edification.” (144) TML is quick to note that Origen had great respect for the Septuagint and that “Origen’s aim was never to dislodge the Septuagint from the lecterns of the churches in favor of the Hebrew Bible.” (145)

So how did this massive exegetical work by Origen hasten the demise of the Septuagint’s prominence in the church? By accident!

“If Origen included the Hebrew Bible in the first column of his Hexapla, didn’t that imply it was worth studying? The fifth column, in which he had created a hybrid text composed of the church’s Septuagint with additional readings from other Greek Jewish versions, may have begun as a scholarly tool for exegesis, apologetics, and textual analysis. But the new fifth column text was soon copied with the signs [that noted divergences from the Hebrew] removed and was dispersed widely. It moved out from a scholarly and professional realm, where caveats could have helped to prevent its misuse, and into the church. Unintentionally, Origen’s work contaminated the stream of biblical transmission: from the fourth century almost all Septuagint manuscripts had been influenced by the so-called Origenic, or Hexaplaric, version.” (145)

And this contamination was not gradual. Instead “it exploded on to the map and changed the course of the Septuagint’s history thereafter.” TML concludes the chapter by noting: “A new spirit was unleashed, and if scholars had not noticed before the divergent nature of the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible they would soon find it impossible to ignore. The final days of the Septuagint in the West had begun.” (150)


So would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Reading this book has begun to fill in some of the gaps of my theological education. If I was teaching a course, how would I use this book? If I was teaching a class on the Patristic Fathers, either at the college or seminary level, this would definitely be on the syllabus as a required reading. If I was teaching a survey NT or OT class, I wouldn’t necessarily assign this book, but would instead create a lecture or two on the Septuagint based on the material in this book. At a church level, I think it would be fantastic to do a small group study on the history of Scripture and use this book as one of the materials to be read over the course of a season (with 13 chapters plus a postscript, this book is ideally laid out for a fall (Sept-Dec) or spring (Jan-Apr) weekly study group).

My only real complaint is that once again a publisher has decided that a book aimed at a general audience needs endnotes. Publishers, please stop doing this! A general audience will not be put off by a few footnotes, and footnotes actually make the book easier to read.


You can follow the rest of the Book Blog Tour on When God Spoke Greek here.


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What if Barth’s Commentary on Romans had Been Published in the Age of Twitter?

(This post is inspired by Richard Burnett’s discussion of the release and response to Barth’s commentary on Romans. See,

Burnett, Richard. Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis: The Hermeneutical Principles of the Romerbrief Period. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001. p. 14-23)

Review: Did The First Christians Worship Jesus?

Did The First Christians Worship Jesus? is a continuation of an ongoing academic discussion on the nature of early Christian worship, between Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham and James Dunn. In this work, written at a level suitable for the general readership, Dunn notes that he does agree in principle with the writings of Hurtado and Bauckham, but that in this volume he wants to wrestle with those passages that seem to contradict the idea that the early Christians worshipped Jesus. If in fact the early Christians were hesitant to worship Jesus, Dunn believes that it is important to stop and ask why this is.

Dunn explores this by asking five primary questions: 1) What is worship, and does worship define God? 2) What did worship involve? 3) How was God’s self-revelation understood in biblical Judaism? 4) Was Jesus a monotheist? 5) What did Jesus’s exaltation to the right hand of the Father mean to the early Christians?[2] Dunn’s thesis is that, in the early Church, the worship of Jesus was not an alternative to the worship of God, it was a way of worshipping God. More precisely, the worship of Jesus was (and should be) wholly Trinitarian; that is, “Worship of Jesus that is not worship of God through Jesus, or, more completely, worship of God through Jesus and in the Spirit, is not Christian worship.”[3]

Dunn argues that the original question, “Did the first Christians worship Jesus?” is too narrow, and when taken at face value it should be answered in the negative. Better questions to ask, Dunn suggests, are “was the earliest Christian worship possible without and apart from Jesus?”[4] and, “did the first Christians include Jesus within this restricted worship, or did they somehow loosen the restrictions?”[5] Dunn is attempting to guard against the possibility of Christomonism, or in his words “Jesus-olatry”, wherein the worship of Jesus replaces the worship of God.

This book, while written at an easily-accessible level and marketed to the general Christian public, makes the reader feel like they have walked into the middle of a conversation without any prior context of the conversation. As well, because Dunn states that he is in agreement with Hurtado and Bauckham, the subtle arguments that he is making in relation to their broader conversation will probably be lost on those who have not fully followed the conversation. As such, Larry Hurtado’s review[6] helps to guide readers in understanding the broader conversation, as well as pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of Dunn’s argument.

From a theological perspective, Dunn’s book is useful because he affirms and wants to ensure that all discussion of Christian worship is Trinitarian in nature. At the same time, the question needs to be asked if Dunn’s fear of “Jesus-olatry” is overblown. An examination of the Patristic development of Christology, even though it is extends beyond the first century data that Dunn is analyzing, would be useful to explore, particularly some of the early writings of Justin Martyr and Tertullian, to see if the worship of Jesus actually displaces the worship of God the Father. (Though space does not permit, I would argue that the development of the doctrine of the Trinity prevents this from occurring). That being said, Dunn’s worry about “Jesus-olatry” does not warrant criticisms that Dunn is undermining the foundations of Christian orthodoxy with his scholarly examination of the biblical texts.[7]

[1] James Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus: The New Testament Evidence (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 58.

[5] Ibid., 60.

[6] Larry Hurtado, review of Did the First Christians Worship, by James Dunn, Journal of Theological Studies 61 (2010): 736-40.

[7] See for example, Paul Owen, review of Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence, by James Dunn, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54 (2011): 645-47.

Review: Paul In Fresh Perspective

Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright is based on a series of lectures delivered between 2004 and 2005. His aim, through these lectures, is “to let in some new shafts of light on Paul” (p. ix). He does this by dividing his lectures into two sections: themes found in Paul’s writing, and structures of Paul’s theology. While this book, in part, builds on his previous work on Paul, (notably, What St. Paul Really Said, Climax of the Covenant, and his commentary on Romans), it also points to Wright’s next project, namely the fourth volume in his series, Christian Origins and the Question of God.

In chapter one, Wright introduces the world, or more specifically the worlds, of Paul: Judaism, Hellinism, Rome, and the ekklesia. Wright argues that the narratives of these different worldviews all influenced Paul’s theology and thought, and that the focus in Pauline studies on narrative structures “is one of the most significant developments which the ‘new perspective’ revolution has precipitated” (p.8). Wright briefly outlines the shift from the “old perspective” to the “new perspective” and argues that many of the ideas in modern Pauline scholarship were/are born out of specific cultural and interpretative contexts that are now being evaluated and brought to light. (For example, he talks about how Ephesians and Colossians being seen as pseudo-Pauline arose out of a very specific context: German existentialism).

In chapter two, Wright explores the interconnectedness of the themes of creation and covenant. Building off of Psalms 19 and 74, Wright presents three Pauline texts (Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Cor 15; Romans 1-11) that display the same pattern of fusing creation and covenant together, even when the terms “creation” and “covenant” aren’t specifically referenced in the text. Wright’s thesis is that the Old Testament, and thus Paul in retelling the narrative in light of the work of Christ, portrays God as the creator God who is the covenanting God, and vice versa (p.24).

In chapter three, Wright focuses on the themes of Messiah and the Apocalyptic. He argues that this pairing of themes demonstrates that for Paul, the “apocalypse of the Messiah as Israel’s king and therefore the world’s true Lord challenges…the grand claims of the pagan empire” (p.40). Wright rightly challenges the modern misunderstandings of “Christ” that downplay the Jewishness of Jesus’ title. Wright then looks at the themes of Gospel and Empire in chapter four. Wright argues that not only was Paul discussing the Gospel as fulfillment of Israel’s narrative, but he was also subverting (implicitly and explicitly) the ideology of the Roman Empire (pg. 59).

Wright then shifts from themes in Paul’s writings to the structure or shape of Paul’s theology. Wright critiques previous attempts to structure Paul’s theology, because they ended up emphasizing certain doctrines at the expense (or outright dismissal) of other doctrines. Wright suggests the adoption of a three-fold Jewish framework that would categorize Paul’s theology under “one God,” “one people of God,” and “one future for God’s world”, and then tweaking it to focus on the Messiah and the Holy Spirit (p.84). Chapters five, six and seven look at each of the three aspects in turn, and these chapters form the beginning sketches of Paul’s exploration of the Christological and pneumatological foci of each category.

In his concluding chapter, Wright looks at some of the corollary questions that arise from his proposed restructuring of Paul’s theology. First, Wright examines the supposed dichotomy or polarization between Jesus’ message and Paul’s message. Wright argues that both Jesus and Paul saw the world through the same set of themes (as explored in chapters two through four), but their functions were different.  Paul was not attempting to modify or better Jesus’ theology, instead Paul saw his role as being the conductor who simply conducts the music written by the composer, that is, Jesus (p.155). But, if this is the case, Wright asks, what should be done about the apparent discrepancies between Jesus and Paul, in areas like teachings on the Kingdom of God, justification by faith, and Christian ethics? Wright, briefly explores each of the issues and concludes that the solution lies in understanding that Jesus and Paul had two different vocations that served the same over-arching vision (p.161).

While this book has a very conversational tone, and is aimed at more of a general rather than an academic audience, Wright would have been better to have offered more endnotes with references and clarifications to help the reader along. As well, the endnotes that merely reference Scripture should have been changed to parenthetical references to make it easier for the reader who has to continuously flip from the chapter to the endnotes at the back of the book. In terms of Wright’s overall presentation of his perspective on Paul, a reader who is familiar with Wright’s more academic works would understand the summaries and overviews that he gives, but for the reader who is unfamiliar with Wright, the summary nature of Wright’s arguments may actually be overwhelming and disorienting.  As someone who has read Wright, I found his chapter on messiahship to be a good review of his fuller discussions of messiahship as found in Jesus and the Victory of God. On the other hand, his chapter on Paul and Empire was actually confusing instead of clarifying, and as such readers would be better off reading his essay “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire.” That being said, this book serves as a way for evangelicals to re-read Paul with new insights, and to understand the narratives that Paul is using and retelling in his presentation of the Gospel.

Given the introductory nature of these “shafts of light,” and given that the book is written to a general, rather than academic audience, I would suggest that judgment and evaluation of Wright’s re-thinking of Paul be held in reserve until the more complete volume is released. The danger in critiquing Wright at this stage is that, because Wright does not set out to “prove” his re-thinking but rather to gather people together to begin to re-think with him, the reader is in danger of attributing issues or implications to Wright that may or not actually be indicative of Wright’s thought.

As a theologian, I find Wright’s suggested structure for exploring Paul’s theology to be both intriguing and useful, especially in a post-modern context that has moved, and is moving, away from the modernistic structures of systematic (particularly Reformed) theologies. I would suggest that Wright’s proposal could be the beginning of a bridge between biblical studies and theology, and specifically between the fields of biblical theology and systematic theology, especially if there was a way to subsume the systematic categories under the broader structure that Wright proposes.

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Evangelical Theological Society — Day Two

Wednesday afternoon was a bit of a mixed bag. First up was a great presentation by doctoral student James Gordon on Barth and speculative theology. There were some great post-paper questions raised by the audience. Next up was a very weak paper which was disappointing because the topic was fascinating. The day concluded with a great paper on Irenaeus and his emphasis on teaching catechumens how to read and interpret Scripture.

For supper, I wandered a bit and found a great pub about a block from the hotel that had great (and cheap) burgers. And then I spent the evening unwinding. (Once again, I am reminded why I’m glad I don’t have cable. Commercials are annoying.)

This morning started with an unexpected surprise. William Webb’s presentation was canceled, so on a whim, I decided to pop into Richard Bauckham’s paper on naming practices in Jewish Palestine from 330BC to 200AD. I ended up sitting beside a Briercrest professor who I didn’t even know was going to be at the conference! Yay Briercrest! Next up was a paper on Cyril of Alexandria and John Chrysostom on Baptism by Talbot professor Ashish Naidu, and then on to the presentation by Francis Beckwith on ethics. My final session of the morning was cancelled, but that’s okay because it meant BOOKS!!!

I promised some friends I would post a list of the books I’ve purchased. So here goes:

I bought a three volume set of books on the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall: Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Worshipping with the Church Fathers, and Learning Theology with the Church Fathers.

I bought Zondervan’s Four Views on Christian Spirituality.

I bought Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s Clouds of Witness: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia.

I bought Hans Boersma’s Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry. (The school library has this book and it’s one of those ones where I keep signing it out and never actually finishing it. But since I was able to pick it up for $10 now I should have a bit more flexibility to finally finish it).

And the best book purchase ever has to be Kim Paffenroth and John Morehead’s edited book The Undead and Theology. Chapters include (but are not limited to):

Vampires are People, Too: Personalism in the Buffyverse (Jarrod Longbons)

The Living Christ and The Walking Dead: Karl Barth and the Theological Zombie (Jessica DeCou)

Zombie Walks, Zombie Jesus, and the Eschatology of Postmodern Flesh (John Morehead)

“Eat of My Body and Drink of My Blood”: Johannine Metaphor, Gothic Subculture, and the Undead (Beth Stovell)

I can’t wait to read this book!

The plan for the rest of today is to find some lunch, and then spend the afternoon in the session on Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals.

Evangelical Theological Society — Day One

After a horrific day of travel, I am now officially at the ETS conference in Milwaukee. (Horrible travel day included a canceled flight after we were already boarded, two hours in line to be rebooked, being rerouted through Denver, another delayed flight, and horrible customer service at security. I arrived in Milwaukee a full 6 hours after I was originally scheduled to arrive).

First on the agenda was Kevin Vanhoozer’s paper on the relationship between biblical studies and theology, specifically the need and importance for a theological interpretation of Scripture. The room that the presentation was to take place was teeny-tiny (maybe 50 seats), so they moved to a larger room (200 seats) and even that room wasn’t big enough as several people were left with standing room only at the back. What I appreciated about Dr. Vanhoozer’s presentation (besides the topic), was that it was conversational and affable in tone. (Trust me, this is a big deal because often times paper presentations can be the most wooden and boring things to listen to.) Vanhoozer suggested that the danger in “pure” biblical studies is that it becomes “magic”, that is, a way to exert power and control to ensure the results the scholar wants, in this case discovering the “true” meaning of the passage in the original context. Because the Bible is not merely human and historical, but also points to the Divine discourse that God had and continues to have with his people, theological interpretation opens the way for us to participate in the Story of scripture.

Unfortunately, Dr. Vanhoozer’s presentation ran overtime, so I was unable to get to my second session. Instead, I went and checked out the exhibitors (translation: BOOKS! CHEAP BOOKS) I am a little ticked at IVP though, they won’t ship books to Canada, and Canadian ETS attendees who order books have to order through David C. Cook, but David C. Cook won’t give the 40% ETS discount. Grrr. Argh!

The next session I attended was a paper on the shift in Basil the Great’s understanding of the Ascetical Life. The presenter, Jason Scully, compared Basil’s “Epistle 2” to his “Longer rule” and argued that Basil moves from being preoccupied with the soul’s intellectual purity (emphasis on purging bad habits), to being focused on the need for loving actions (emphasis on fostering good habits and pursuing virtues).

The last paper of the morning was by doctoral student Susan Rieske. Her paper looked at the language of “delight” that is used to describe God’s attitude towards Israel’s destruction and ruin if she breaks the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:63). She proposed three ways to interpret this “delight”: as a term of volition or determination; as a rhetorical device meant to get Israel’s attention; and as pointing God delighting in his overarching purposes for Israel (over and above judgement).

So far, it’s been a great experience. Yay for brainy Christians who serve God through scholarship!

ETS: The Final Plan

The ETS conference starts on Wednesday. I have scoured the program and I have come up with the final list of presentations I plan on attending. Here’s the plan:

Wednesday Morning:

  • Kevin Vanhoozer, “Exegesis I know, and Theology I know, but who are you?”: Biblical Hermeneutics and the Theological Interpretation of Scripture.
  • Taylor Worley, “The Splendor of Holiness”: The Church as the Theatre of Divine Beauty.
  • Jason Scully, The Loving Soul: Basil the Great’s Biblical Conception of the Ascetical Life.
  • Susan Rieske, Yahweh the Sadist? An Examination of God’s “Delight” in Destroying Israel in Deuteronomy 28:63.

Wednesday Afternoon:

  •  James Gordon, Is it Possible and Desirable for Theologians to Speculate After Barth?
  • Micah Meek, The Role of the Anglican Puritan Pastor in the Moral Formation of the Church.
  • Stephen Presley, Intertextuality as Catechesis in the Early Church.
  • John Auxier, Technology and Sanctification.

Thursday Morning:

  •  William Webb, Corporate Solidarity: An (In)justic in Holy War.
  • Ashish Naidu, The Transformation of Fallen Creation: Cyril of Alexandria and John Chrysostom on the Sacramental Implications of Christ’s Baptism.
  • Francis Beckwith, The Case of After-Birth Abortion in the Journal of Medical Ethics: A Critique.
  • Brian Goard, Critical Realism in the Thought of Alister McGrath.

Thursday Afternoon:

  • Michael Allen, Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals: Challenges and Approaches.
  • Marc Cortez, Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals: Universalism as a Test Case.
  • Matt Jenson, Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals: Ecclesiology as a Test Case.
  • Keith Johnson, Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals: Nature and Grace as a Test Case.

Friday Afternoon:

  • David Cramer, Does (Church) Practice Make Perfect (Christians)? MacIntyre, Yoder, and the Moral Significance of the Sacraments.
  • Jordan Hillebert, The Mystery of Faith and the Mystical Theology of Henri de Lubac.
  • Randal Rauser, Is Penal Substitution too Provincial?
  • Timothy Erdel, The Great War, the “Good War,” and Their Challenges to Christian Pacifism.

Again, if you’re going to be at ETS I’d love to meet you. If you’re not going, feel free to check my blog daily for updates, and my twitter feed (@CWTheology).


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The Relationship Between Biblical Studies and Theology

“In the modern period, but especially in the last few decades, the disciplines of biblical studies and systematic theology have grown so far apart as to seem hardly within shouting distance of each other. The two disciplines are natural partners who have lost the means of effective communication with each other, so absorbed have they become in their own issues.” Richard Bauckham in R Bauckham and C Mosser, eds. (2008) The Gospel of John and Christian Theology.

The chasm between biblical studies and theology continues to baffle me. Why do so few biblical scholars interact with, reference, or acknowledge theologians who reflect on or exegete Scripture?

Take my recent work on Karl Barth. For those of you who are not in the loop, my research focuses on Barth’s use of his original exegesis of John 1:14 (found in the book Witness to the Word which is his lecture notes from his class on John) in the Church Dogmatics. Barth is no exegetical slouch. In fact, exegesis is at the very heart of his theological method. And yet, as I navigate through the Johannine scholarship there is very little reference by Johannine scholars to the exegesis done by Barth. Indeed, only in the above cited book, The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, have I found much reference to Barth.

Is there value to be had in including theological exegesis such as Karl Barth’s? Is exegesis done by theologians always useful? Not necessarily.

Take for example John Owen’s exegesis of Hebrews 4:10. Here, Owen suggests that “the one having entered the rest” refers to Christ and not to the Christian believer. Modern translations and most modern commentaries all understand this verse to be in reference to the Christian believer. Owen seems so focused on cramming Christ into an already Christological passage (Hebrews 3:1-4:16) that he actually does injustice to the text through his excessive Christocentrism. Most biblical scholars don’t even entertain or interact with Owen’s exegesis. And when they do it is, I think, to rightly dismiss it. For example, Paul Ellingworth considers the Christological interpretation of Hebrews 4:10 and rightly notes, “It is difficult to understand why, if the author had wished to speak of Christ’s entry into God’s place of rest, he should not have done so plainly.” (The Epistle to the Hebrews, 257.)

But this kind of interaction with theological exegesis is rare. What would happen if there was more cross-over and collaboration between biblical studies and theological studies? Of course, part of it requires theologians to spend time learning the biblical languages and doing exegesis, which many seem loathe to do. But why is there more emphasis put on learning theological German than on learning Greek and Hebrew? (says the theology grad student who knows that learning German is going to be an inevitable requirement for further study, even though I’d much rather learn Hebrew). Likewise, it requires biblical scholars to be explicit in their commentaries that in doing their exegesis they are also doing theology.

The Identity of Leviathan and the Meaning of the Book of Job — By Dr. Eric Ortlund

One of my favourite things about seminary is being able to hear about what the professors are currently researching. At Briercrest, there are monthly/bi-monthly colloquia, where faculty present their latest paper, research, or test out material for presenting at academic conferences. On Friday, Dr. Eric Ortlund, professor of Old Testament presented on “The Identity of Leviathan and the Meaning of the Book of Job.” The tech people recorded the colloquium and it’s now available for those who weren’t able to attend. (Let’s hope they video all the colloquia this year!)

Donald Gowan’s “The Bible on Forgiveness”

Donald Gowan takes a comprehensive look at forgiveness in the Bible. In looking at both the Old and New Testaments, he divides each into two sections: ‘God Forgives Us’ and ‘We Forgive One Another’. In both cases, ‘the God Forgives Us section’ is longer. It is this aspect, ‘God Forgives Us’, that is the focus of this review. In particular two theological themes emerge from Gowan’s book. The first is God’s forgiveness being grounded in his character. And the second is the complicated relationship between repentance and forgiveness.

The idea that forgiveness is grounded in the very character of God finds its roots in Exodus 34. Here, God forgives Israel for the purpose of keeping the covenant relationship intact. As God passes before Moses, God describes his character and actions that are foundational to his very being. He is gracious, compassionate, loving, and forgiving, even in light of the horrendous sin committed by turning so quickly to the idols (Exodus 34:6-7). Gowan then traces how the Old Testament continues to echo Exodus 34:6-7, and how it is repeated throughout the prophets and the psalms. That God forgives is ultimately tied to his faithfulness, and Gowan argues that this is the inherent difference between God and Israel: God can and does maintain the covenant relationship, while Israel is unfaithful and unable to do the same. Closely related to this is Gowans assertion that “Forgiveness is God’s work alone.” This theme, that God forgives, carries into the New Testament. The healing of the paralytic and the story of the woman who anointed Jesus point to Jesus’ action. Indeed, Gowan rightly argues that the point of the parables, such as the Prodigal Son, is to point to the forgiver, to show that God forgives, and that the parable makes no mention of what is “involved in receiving forgiveness.”

The second theological theme that runs through Gowan’s book is the complicated relationship between repentance and forgiveness. As Gowan traces the passages that speak of forgiveness, it becomes clear that the Bible does not always demonstrate that repentance must precede forgiveness. Indeed, as Gowan demonstrates, more often than not, God forgives, which in turn allows the person (or nation) to repent and turn to him. This starts, according to Gowan, in the narrative of Exodus 34. God forgave the unrepentant Israel so as to insure the continuation of the relationship. And while it is true that the Deuteronomistic History of Joshua-Kings, as well as the sacrificial system, demonstrate a theology of repentance preceding forgiveness, the prophets demonstrate that God forgives, and promises to forgive, without Israel first repenting. Repentance appears to be dependent on God’s work. God revokes the punishment, prior to repentance, and because of God’s action of forgiveness Israel is able to repent.

Even in the New Testament, while the model in Acts is “repent and be baptized”, this repentance and the possibility of forgiveness comes in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. To state it another way, because Jesus forgave, we can now respond by repenting in light of the proffered forgiveness. Indeed, when a person’s sins are forgiven, they receive the indwelling of the Holy Spiri,t which brings about the change that the Old Testament authors had hoped for. Gowan argues that this becomes the impetus for the activity of the apostles and early Christians in the book of Acts. They were able to go out and proclaim the Good News precisely because Christ had forgiven them. The parables, like the Prodigal Son, demonstrate the model of forgiveness preceding repentance. Even in the epistles, like 1John, the message is that we can confess our sin because God is forgiving and has forgiven us through the work of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Interestingly, Gowan notes that Paul rarely speaks of forgiveness, choosing instead to speak of justification, and that on the one or two occasions that he refers to repentance (in the Corinthian church) he does not also speak of forgiveness.

Gowan argues that forgiveness in the Old Testament is not only a forgiving of past wrong, forgiveness also encompasses the idea of healing, cleansing and change. From a theological perspective, what this demonstrates is that, in the Old Testament, forgiveness is not just justification, it is also sanctification. When God forgives, it involves the changing and healing of the offending person with the goal of restoring the broken relationship. To just have sins forgiven does not mean that there is a restoration of relationship, there needs to be change. This is also the message of the New Testament, with the only change being that this forgiveness, which brings healing and restores and sanctifies the relationship, is now offered specifically in the name of Jesus, and is no longer just for Israel, but is available for all peoples of all nations.

That forgiveness is a part of the very character of God, and that this is repeated throughout the Old Testament, may suggest a way through the two God (God of the Old Testament vs. God of the New Testament) dichotomy to which many Christians hold. It would be an intriguing project to develop a theology of God that finds its focus on the forgiving nature of God, rather than on the holiness or love of God. A possible weakness may be found in one of the conclusions Gowan draws about forgiveness. He writes that, “forgiveness may begin entirely by the initiative of the injured party, but it can never achieve what is intended unless it can be accepted by the guilty one.” The question arises, is Gowan’s understanding of forgiveness then not dependant on repentance so much as it is on acceptance of said forgiveness? Gowan demonstrates how forgiveness precedes repentance more often than repentance precedes forgiveness, and so the question becomes, what is the role of repentance? Could the downplaying of repentance be an example of God’s reformed theology that emphasizes the monergistic work of God? While a theology of repentance is outside the scope of this particular work, it is important to remember that repentance and forgiveness, in whatever order they appear, are still theologically related.

Gowan’s book is an important contribution to the Church’s development of a theology of forgiveness and reconciliation. By tracing all of the passages concerning forgiveness, and how they are all connected back to the very character of God, this book offers a much-needed corrective to today’s pop-psychology-saturated church. It is important to understand the broader biblical picture of forgiveness, as it will help the Church to translate, interpret and apply those popular passages on forgiveness that we too often read through the lens of our contemporary culture’s definition of forgiveness.