May 2009

The next question that I must answer in my academic pursuits is why would a Christian get their PhD in the Old Testament? Wouldn’t you rather learn about Jesus? Isn’t Paul more edifying and instructive? Well the answers to those questions may be yes, for some. But I have always found the Old Testament (I do not say Hebrew Bible because I am thinking of both the MT and LXX, as I will be studying both) to be fascinating, edifying and immensely instructive. I have also found the OT incredibly difficult. Many of the most difficult issues in the Bible, especially those that repulse non-Christians, come from the OT. For this reason I feel the need to truly understand this greater half of the Christian Bible. 


The OT also has the uncanny ability to be inexhaustible (I do not mean that the NT does not, but the OT does in a different way, as we will see presently). As a boy, my Mom tried all the tricks to get me to read my Bible. The most successful ‘trick’ was to point me to all the warfare and violent passages of the OT. I remember vividly reading about Ehud the left-handed judge  and David’s mighty men. Nothing sounded more un-Biblical to me than these passages of testosterone filled heroism and unmitigated gore. They were fascinating to me as adventure stories on a very basic level and they got me asking questions about God and his dealings with people. I am now, however, going to study one of those stories (David and Goliath) on the most detailed level, a PhD dissertation, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that that text will not disappoint me on any level. My point is this, the OT narratives have the incredible ability of distilling their main messages to the most basic level where they are understandable to simple readers (not that there are not some significantly R-rated parts of the Bible that children should not read, there are), but on the other hand the OT was written with such literary sophistication and depth of meaning that a short passage can sustain a great deal of study and illumine a whole array of meaning. This is part of what draws me to the OT.


I am, however, a Christian and the NT is immensely important to me. I will always read the NT and I will always be a student of it. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us Christians read our Bibles in the wrong direction…back to front. I have heard it said numerous times that it is only in light of the NT that the OT can be understood. This seems fundamentally backwards to me. I am more of the opinion that only in light of the OT can the NT be understood! Try reading the Return of the King without having previously read the Fellowship of the Ring and the Two Towers. You have no idea what this great climax is about. I feel the same way about the NT. Now, that does not mean that knowing where the story ends (NT) does not illuminate more precisely what has gone before. Any good novel reveals new information on a multiple readings because you know where the story is going. But that doesn’t mean that you should read the end first. So in my desire to understand the NT I find it necessary to start with the OT. 


Furthermore, I have a suspicion that the OT is significantly under-appreciated within Christian circles. Aside from Psalms and Proverbs I don’t think the OT is widely read. I think this is incredibly unfortunate. Let me give you one anecdotal example of why this is so. When my dad told his friend Tony Campolo, that his son would be pursuing a PhD in the Old Testament, he said this: “That’s great. We need people to read the OT. You can know Jesus from the NT but YOU DON’T KNOW GOD, unless you read the OT!” I think he may have been intentionally overstating the issue, but I think he’s got a point. Thus, I will be studying the OT, as the greater half of the Christian Bible.

C. Hassell Bullock, Franklin S. Dyrness Professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, has offered a very interesting study of the canonical relationship between “Wisdom” (ketuvim?) and Torah (“Wisdom, the ‘Amen’ of Torah,” JETS 52/1 [2009]: 5-18). Bullock’s thesis is that wisdom literature functions as “the ‘amen’ of Torah” (p. 5). What he means by this is that wisdom literature functions in a dialogical relationship to Torah that affirms the major tenets of Israelite faith from the Torah. 

He examines three Pentateuchal themes that “wisdom” affirms: 1) the creator God, 2) monotheism, and 3) the theme of the “fear of the Lord/God.” In each section he examines texts from Psalms, Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes to show how they affirm these Pentateuchal themes to varying degrees of success. 

For the most part I enjoy these kinds of intertextual and pan-biblical studies. However, (more…)

It has been quite a while since I’ve put my hand to the Septuagint. I’ve been rather busy, the last few months have been applications, working on papers, thesis, etc. However, in my reading I came across an article (Moberly, see below) that contains a very interesting discussion of the interpretive difference in this verse. Here is a brief discussion of a possible (probable?) reason for the main difference between the MT and LXX of Jonah 3:4. (more…)

R.W.L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), xvi + 224 pps [repr. by Wipf & Stock, 2001, 240 pps.]. My pagination will refer to the original Fortress Press edition.

Readers of this blog will not need to be told of my bias for this book. Moberly is going to be my doctoral advisor at Durham, so obviously I think very highly of him and his scholarship. But don’t let my bias dissuade you, this really is a wonderful book.

Moberly’s stated purpose in this book is to explore the question of what it means to do biblical theology. The chosen topic for this exercise is the importance of the giving of the divine name in Ex. 3 and 6 and the relationship to the patriarchal narratives that went before, and the Mosaic Yahwism that followed. He begins in ch. 1, by establishing two things: 1) that in the texts of Ex. 3 and 6 “God was revealed to Moses, on behalf of Israel, as having the name YHWH,” 2) Moses and Israel did not previously know that name and 3) the one revealed as YHWH is the same God as the God of their ancestors (p. 35). This chapter is quite exegetical and a brief review cannot do it justice. Let us just say that Moberly is a very careful reader of Scripture and his exegesis is always worth reading.

Moberly follows the conclusion of the first chapter by asking the logical question: (more…)

V. Philips Long is Professor of Old Testament at Regent College. But back when he taught at Covenant Theological Seminary he offered this course on Biblical History.

Long is, in my opinion, one of the best scholars on Biblical History. A good supplement to this online course would be his work with Iain Provan and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel. This work is, again in my opinion, probably the best work on Biblical History (specifically of Israel, but their methodology is equally applicable to the NT).

Long is in the camp of Maximalists, which basically means that his view of the history of Israel is roughly that of the biblical testimony. This is in contrast to the minimalist view of Israelite history which argues that there is little historical information in the biblical witness. However, he is not a biblical maximalist in the fundamentalist frame which merely repeats the refrain, “the Bible said it so its true.” He is merely not a methodological skeptic. So for him, the Bible is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, he assumes the historical reliability of the Bible unless there are compelling reasons to believe otherwise. He furthermore does not believe in the myth that archaeological finds are somehow more fact than texts. I find his approach very helpful and his book worth reading. But, thankfully, you get a large gist of it from listening to this series of lectures.

This is a full seminary course so it’s pretty detailed, but its taught in such a way as to be both engaging and informative. I recommend it to anyone who would like to learn a little more about biblical history and about the ‘historical books’ of the OT. It is a fantastic resource.

V. Philips Long – OT230: Old Testament History at Covenant Theological Seminary

I just received my copy of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 52, No. 1 in the mail today. I must say that usually I read a couple of articles in each volume and the book reviews of books that I am interested in. However, in this volume I find myself interested in every single article. The theme, which I do not think JETS often has, appears to be the canon and textual criticism. There looks to be some fascinating essays by some first rate evangelical scholars:

C. Hassell Bullock, “Wisdom, the ‘Amen’ of Torah”

Peter J. Gentry, “The Text of the Old Testament”

Stephen Dempster, “Canons on the Right and Canons on the Left: Finding a Resolution in the Canon Debate”

Daniel B. Wallace, “Challenges in New Testament Textual Criticism for the Twenty-First Century”

C.E. Hill, “The New Testament Canon: Deconstructio ad Absurdum?”

This may very well be the first time I am tempted to read my copy of JETS from cover to cover. Since my thoughts have been turning to canon anyway I may use this issue of JETS as a jumping off point for a discussion of the Christian canon. Stay tuned.

Words: 51,400, footnotes: 530, pages: 133, finishing the first draft of my ThM thesis: PRICELESS!

Yes, that gag is overdone, but it still made me chuckle, and that’s the point. . . isn’t it? Maybe not. Anyway a big part of my work is done. Most of my thoughts are now on paper. Now I just need to work on making them good and coherent thoughts. 

Title: “The Story of the Vineyard: Jesus’ Retelling Isa. 5:1-7 in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants”

Jennifer M. Dines, The Septuagint (New York: T & T Clark, 2004), xvii +196 pp.

The newest introduction to the Septuagint, by Jennifer M. Dines, is also perhaps the most brief on the subject. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it successfully provides, for the uninitiated reader, an introduction that is accessible. It is a curse, however, because it is forced to only briefly interact with a subject that is among the most complex and technical in all of biblical studies.

Her study is broken down into 7 chapters. The first chapter is an attempt to get a working definition for the Septuagint, this discussion reveals the complexity of the term ‘Septuagint.’ She ends by reminding the reader that “at the material level, the LXX ‘is’: a vast diverse corpus of religios texts in Greek” (p. 24). The second chapter is the first to deal with the origins of the LXX; she interacts mainly with the Letter of Aristeas and the works of Aristobulus on the LXX. These sources, Dines, concludes “agree on situating [the LXX] in the early third century BCE, as an initiative of Ptolemy” (p. 38). The third chapter is the second on the issue of the origin of the LXX. Here Dines focuses on the various translations of the LXX, noting that even in Aristeas the first translation was just the Pentateuch, and the various modern hypotheses for the impetus of the translation and the translation style (e.g., interlinear vs. free rendering). She concludes by (more…)

I don’t often listen to Christian radio, but this morning I was glad I did. As I was driving to work I happened to hear the song, “The One Thing that I know” by Jars of Clay. I have heard this song numerous times, but this time the importance of its message really struck home to me.

In the context of speaking about the crucifixion, and the redemptive nature of the crucifixion, the song repeats the chorus line:

This is the one thing,
The one thing that I know.

It finally struck my how true and important this is. As a student, specifically of the Old Testament, I frequently find myself wrestling with such issues as the historicity of the OT (or the minimalist vs. maximalist debate) or other historical critical issues regarding the OT. However I come down on these issues it is important to remember that it is the death and resurrection of Christ that is THE ONE THING THAT I KNOW!

Evangelicals (or at least some) may condemn me for admitting to be lenient on issues of inerrancy or the historical reliability of the OT, but the truth is I’m epistemologically humble. There are very few things that I claim to know for certain. One thing I do claim to know is the truth and significance of the death and resurrection of Christ. That is enough for me.

There are several good, if less than encouraging, discussions of why or why not to do a PhD in Biblical Studies out in the blogosphere (e.g., see here and here). In light of such daunting realities someone, like me, who is beginning the process of a PhD in biblical studies must necessarily defend their decision to do so. I can’t really advise anyone on what they should do, all I can do is tell my story. So here it goes…


My story begins in college as an Undecided Major, tossing around majoring in English, Biblical Studies, Music and Business. At the advice of my father and my practical nature I decided on Business, but I reserved the right to do a biblical studies minor. The first class that really piqued my interest in biblical studies was a class on Israelite Religion. The professor was Craig C. Broyles, and it really planted the seed of excitement for studying the biblical texts. Years later, as a Senior, I was talked into being a mentor (read teaching assistant) for a freshman class on integrating Christian thinking into a holistic education. I hated the class when I took it, but I loved leading my once a week discussion groups. It was there that the first seeds of a desire to teach were planted.


From there I went to Seminary. I realized that much of what I believed was spoon fed to me, so I wanted to further my education regarding what I believed. It was there, writing my first real research papers that I began to realize that I loved the academic study of theology and biblical studies. At this point I had affirmed to myself 1) a desire to teach, and 2) a love of academic biblical studies. If this were all I had to go on, I would probably be looking for a job right now. But, add to these realizations the affirmations of the leadership of my church and several professors that this is a good fit for me, and that I would be able to contribute to knowledge and to the church, I began to seriously plan on partaking in doctoral studies.


I realize that my prospects for a job are not great. It is a tough market out there for PhD’s and with the economic environment it looks like it might get worse for a time. But I also realize that this is what I desire to do, it is what I have been confirmed by family and friends as what I would be good at. So I believe that this is, in some sense, my calling. I am not one of those who went to Seminary to become a pastor but then changed his mind to try teaching instead, thinking that if teaching doesn’t pan out I can always fall back on pastoring. For me, the teaching was always the point. Now, if I go this route and never land a tenure position in a University or college does that mean I was wrong about this being my calling? No. Right now, all I know is that my route is taking me to Durham to earn a PhD in biblical studies. I would love to teach at a university with that degree, but I am open to what comes my way. Ultimately I am being trained for whatever role life has for me. No matter what I do, I will be a servant of Christ and of the Church, so I don’t think my training will be wasted in any way. My wife and I are both ready to take on whatever comes, and we both realize that the future may not look anything like what we decide, but we’re going for it.