A note on Catherine Keller’s Face of the Deep

The Face of the DeepCatherine Keller’s Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming is a wonderfully-creative, beautifully-written, and seriously-provocative read. An entanglement of biblical studies, poetry, and feminist and process theologies, Keller offers a profound commentary on a most neglected Hebrew text, Genesis 1.2: ‘… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep …’.

The book represents Keller’s effort to take seriously Genesis’s claim that creation is not creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) but creatio ex profundis (creation out of the deep waters, creation as the germinating abyss). She sees this in stark contrast to the tendency in western theology to emphasise the creative and omnipotent Word which is, in a sense, spoken against creation with a view to taming and ordering its chaos. She writes:

Christianity established as unquestionable the truth that everything is created not from some formless and bottomless something but from nothing: an omnipotent God could have created the world only ex nihilo. This dogma of origin has exercised immense productive force. It became common sense. Gradually it took modern and then secular form, generating every kind of western originality, every logos creating the new as if from nothing, cutting violently, ecstatically free of the abysms of the past. But Christian theology … created this ex nihilo at the cost of its own depth. It systematically and symbolically sought to erase the chaos of creation. Such a maneuver … was always doomed to a vicious circle: the nothingness invariably returns with the face of the feared chaos – to be nihilated all the more violently.

Our tradition, she says, has leaped from Genesis 1.1 to 1.3, from the beginning with God to the divine speech, ‘Let there be light’. In this view, God does not work with the ‘formless void and darkness’ but, in a sense, against it. But wedged between these two verses, she reminds us, is ‘a churning, complicating darkness’ which ‘refuses to disappear’. She writes:

It refuses to appear as nothing, as vacuum, as mere absence highlighting the Presence of the Creator, as nonentity limning all the created entities. It gapes open in the text: ‘and the earth was tohu vabohu, and darkness was upon the face of tehom and the ruach elohim was vibrating upon the face of the mayim’ …

To make her case, she engages constructively with the work of Augustine, Barth, Deleuze, Derrida, Whitehead, and others. My favourite chapter was on Melville’s Moby-Dick, ‘“Leviathanic revelations”: Melville’s hermenautical journey’, wherein she suggests that ‘the infinity of a chaosmic hermeneutic signals … not a dearth but an excess of meaning, a meaning-fullness or meaning-flux released by the refusal of hard lines and clear boundaries’. Religion which tries to protect us from the risk of ‘being eternally stove and sunk by [the great Leviathan]’ (Melville) has, Keller avers, ‘offered us cartoons instead: a God-thing, an evil thing, and a creation full of things, surrounded by nothing’. ‘When religion pretends to “systematized exhibition,” it removes us both from the streets and from the deep’.

One real achievement of Keller’s book is how effectively it reminds us that creation is not a beast to be tamed, but a deep mystery – a mystery that we experience the echo of in our own times of chaos and deepest prayer, and over which the ‘wind from God’, the ruach elohim, ‘vibrates’. We are, in our most primordial reality, vulnerable creatures of this earth in which the ‘formless void and darkness’ from time to time reasserts itself. Where Keller’s work is less satisfactory, however, and that characteristically so for a process theologian, is in the absence of any serious christology – the journey which the kenotic God undertakes into and with creation’s dark and formless depths. Put otherwise, while Keller certainly plumbs the subterranean depths of creation, and that with some existential bite, she stops short of going where God in Christ goes, and so where a fully Christian account of creation bids theologians go.

Reading Keller’s book reminded me of Arvo Pärt’s De profundis, and led me to reflect more deeply on three texts from the Hebrew Bible (Pss 47.2; 139.5–12; Gen 15.12–13), and two verses from the Second Testament (Mark 15.33–34). Perhaps the true test of any book, however, is whether or not it lures one to prayer. Keller’s did that for me:

O God, who created the heavens and the earth, for whom nothing that is is apart from you, and who mends all the tears in the canvas of creation, we bless you.

We thank you for the promise that nothing in all creation can keep us from your love, even while we confess that that love is so often a stranger to us and that our lives are more often characterised by anxiety than by the courage to enter the deep caverns of creation and of your love’s mysterious shadows.

We mostly live in the shallows, and for that we are relieved the burden of constant darkness – our greatest fear that the sense that our very being is under threat. And sometimes we find ourselves in water too deep, where your presence is marked by an absence, and our presence is marked by our own nightmares, the storehouses of forgotten memories and open wounds that recoil at your gracious promise of healing and redemption. Thank you that even the darkness is not dark to you.

Give us a candle of your Spirit, O God of the depths, as we encounter and are encountered by the deeps of creation’s being, that these might be for us the spring of new life, and that our service in your name might bear witness to the profound depths that you have traversed and continue to transverse in Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Mark Brett on why Christians should be championing the cause of asylum seekers

Boat people

So why should Christians be championing the cause of asylum seekers today? In short, this issue goes to the heart of our identity and calling as the people of God.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus started life as a refugee child, fleeing with his family to Egypt.  Even his father’s name, Joseph, reminds us that Jesus was not the first Jew to be a refugee in Egypt. All the tribal ancestors of Israel took refuge there. We read that scripture was fulfilled when Jesus went there as a child, because “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matthew 2.15). The quote is from Hosea 11.1:  “When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son”. That is, Matthew sees a spiritual analogy between the life of Jesus and the life of Israel: both are marked by the refugee experience.

And this experience is also embodied in the laws of Israel. So, for example, Leviticus 19.34 says:

The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.  (cf. Exodus 22.21)

Similarly, the later prophets came to recognize the treatment of asylum seekers as a litmus test of faith (e.g., Jeremiah 7.5-7).

In the Old Testament, the ‘immigrant’, ‘alien’, ‘refugee’ or ‘sojourner’ (all possible translations of ger) is a foreigner who has left his or her country to settle elsewhere. Perhaps the most common reasons for movement are famine and war.

Some things never change: the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), for example, arose as a response to international displacements following World War II, and since Australia is a signatory to this Convention, we recognize the legal right to seek asylum.

When people arrive in a host country, there are always complex questions about the extent of their assimilation. Not surprisingly, then, Old Testament laws sometimes set assimilating strangers apart from ‘the foreigner’ (thenokri or ben nekar) who is not given full rights of participation (e.g., Exodus 12.43 excludes such people from the Passover). This distinction is surprisingly overturned, however, in Isaiah 56.3,6 where the ‘foreigner’ (ben nekar) can offer acceptable sacrifices to God and is welcomed into the covenant community.

References to strangers in the New Testament are few but significant. Being ‘strangers’ (paroikoi) becomes a central metaphor for Christian identity in some books, building on the theological idea in Leviticus that all Israelites were in some sense ‘sojourners’ (Leviticus 25.23, cf. 1 Peter 1.1 and Ephesians 2.19).

Perhaps against our expectations, we may even find Christ present in the stranger. This is precisely the point that is made in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25: the hungry and thirsty stranger (xenos in vs. 38 and 44) may actually be the Lord, and not even the people in the parable called ‘the righteous’ have been able to discern this. In other words, no-one has the power to tell whether the needy stranger may in fact be Christ.

Ezekiel 47 is also a challenge to our political imagination: it takes us beyond random acts of kindness and demands that refugees be given a ‘fair go’ in the provision of land, that is, basic resources that provide the foundation of economic security:

So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe aliens reside, there you shall assign them their inheritance, says the LORD God. (Ezekiel 47.21-23)

In international comparisons (taking account of national wealth and population sizes), the welcome that Australia offers to asylum seekers is not very impressive.

– Mark Brett, ‘Hospitality: A Biblical Perspective’.

Ed. This piece, written in 2011, and which cites sources which are almost prehistoric, is, of course, completely irrelevant and dated now and I only draw attention to it for the benefit of those historians who may one day be interested in researching such obscure things. It’s almost impossible today to believe that once upon a time some Christians who happen to be living in Australia thought it an act of compassion and of mature political judgement to demonise some of the most vulnerable and yet extraordinarily courageous people on the planet, and an act of freedom to disregard not only the rule of law but, more importantly, the command of God.

Leunig - Refugees

NT Wright’s Inaugural Lecture: ‘Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity’

It was nearly four years ago now when I had the joy of hearing NT Wright lecture in St Andrews. It was one of the James Gregory Public Lectures, and his topic was ‘Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?’. Since then, of course, Tom Wright has been appointed to a Chair in New Testament and Early Christianity at that same university, and where just last week he gave his Inaugural Lecture titled ‘Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity’. Here’s a snippet:

The four gospels … are thus appropriately named ‘gospel’, in line both with Isaiah 40 and 52 and with the contemporary pagan usage. They themselves, in telling the story of how God became king in and through Jesus, invite their readers to the imaginative leap of saying, ‘Suppose this is how God has done it? Suppose the world’s way of empire is all wrong? Suppose there’s a different way, and suppose that Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, has brought it about?’ And the gospels themselves, of course, contain stories at a second level, stories purportedly told by Jesus himself, which were themselves, in their day, designed to break open the worldview of their hearers and to initiate a massive imaginative leap to which Jesus gave the name ‘faith’. The gospels invite their readers, in other words, to a multiple exercise, both of imagining what it might have been like to make that leap in the first century (both for Jesus’ hearers and then, at a second stage, for their own readers) and, as a further stage again, of imagining what it might be like to do so today. For too long gospel study has been dominated by the attempt to make the gospels reflect, simply, the faith-world of the early church. Why, after all, the radical critics used to say, would the early Christians have been particularly interested in miscellaneous stories of what Jesus actually said or did, when all that really mattered was his saving death, making the gospels simply ‘passion narratives with extended introductions’? The conservative response has been that early converts would naturally want to know more about this Jesus in whom they had come to place their faith. But this stand-off, on both sides, has usually failed to reflect the larger question: that the gospels tell the story of Jesus not out of mere historical anecdotage or faith-projection, but because this is how Jesus launched the kingdom of God, which he then accomplished in his death and resurrection. Even to hold this possibility in one’s head requires, in today’s western church, whether radical or conservative, no less than in the non-Christian world, a huge effort of the imagination.

This imagination, like all good right-brain activity, must then be firmly and thoroughly worked through the left brain, disciplined by the rigorous historical and textual analysis for which the discipline of biblical studies has rightly become famous. But, by itself, the left brain will produce, and has often produced, a discipline full of facts but without meaning, high on analysis and low on reconstruction, good at categories and weak on the kingdom.

You can read the whole lecture here.

Reading Genesis 1:2

A guest post by Rev. Dr John Emory McKenna. [John, a student of TF Torrance, serves as a Doctrinal Advisor to the Worldwide Church of God in California, as Professor & Vice-President at the World Mission University in Los Angeles, and as Adjunct Professor with Haggard Graduate School of Theology. He has published The Setting in Life for The Arbiter of John Philoponus, 6th Century Alexandrian Scientist and The Great AMEN of the Great I-AM: God in Covenant with His People in His Creation]

About Genesis 1:2, Karl Barth has written, “This verse has always constituted a particular crux interpretum – one of the most difficult in the whole Bible – and it is no small comfort to learn from Gunkel that it is a ‘veritable mythological treasure chamber.’”[1] After a rather thorough examination and analysis of the history of the exegesis this verse, the great Swiss theologian concluded in a fine print section of his reading, “Our only option is to consider v.2 as a portrait, deliberately taken from myth, as the world which according to His revelation was negated, rejected, ignored and left behind in His actual creation.”[2] Barth develops his understanding of ‘Das Nichtige’ (‘The Nothingness’), as belonging to the mystery of evil in the Biblical world, a world he reminds us that is very different from the one with which we are already only too familiar. The ‘chaos (תהו) and emptiness (בהו), ‘darkness’ (חשך) and ‘deep’ (תהום) of the ‘waters’ (מים) over which the Spirit of God ‘broods’ (מרחפת) in Genesis 1:2 are terms, then, that belong to the myths and idols of those views of the world that exists outside of God’s Revelation of His ‘Very Good’ Creation. Genesis 1:2 belongs to a confession, in common with the various ‘creation epics’ found among the nations of the Ancient Near East, that contradicts the perfection inherent to the Creation Week according Israel’s view of the world.[3]

In this post, I will argue that Barth’s understanding of the significance of Genesis 1:2 and his assertion that ‘Das Nichtige’ of Israel’s Creation Theory is only a partial grasp of the intent and purpose of the author of the confession of the Creation Week. I would argue that Barth’s grasp of the meaning of Genesis 1:2, achieved in the context of a general consensus accomplished by modern or post-modern methods of historical-critical methods of interpretation applied to Genesis, is only a partial understanding of the purpose of the significance of the confession. I will argue that, for suppositional reasons, the modern mind has become more comfortable with reading the creation out of chaos of v. 2 as the intent of the confession, when we tend to disregard the implication of doctrine of creatio ex nihilo found within the Judeo-Christian tradition of interpretation.[4] The willingness to divorce our understanding of chaos, emptiness, darkness, and the deep of the waters, over which the Spirit of God is said to ‘brood’, is the willingness of modern Biblical Theologians to remain separated from the meaning of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo of v. 1, a meaning with which the early fathers of the Church steadily wrestled.[5] We will argue that the preference for reading the concept of ‘creation out of something’, without a confession of the ‘creation out of nothing’ doctrine, perpetuates a fragmentation in our understanding of the meaning of ‘Day One’ in the Creation Week inherent in the confession of Israel’s Moses, the great prophet of her history among the nations. We need to recover the interpretation of the early fathers of the Church and obtain a fresh grasp of the theological wholeness of the confession in our time our theology and its relationship with science.

The confession of the Creation Week possesses, from beginning to end, a wholeness the polemical power of which is purposed to call Israel among the nations in God’s Creation away from her idols and myths about the gods and the world. It posits a background whereby the other creation epics prevalent in the Ancient Near East are denied their claims to the reality of the world, of mankind, and of God. It would transform any language into that service that is true to the intention and purpose of the Voice Moses heard in the Burning Bush and in the events of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. ‘The Beginning’ according to Moses’ claims that no other Voice than this Voice is to heard as the Creator of the world and its mankind. Against all the idol and myth-making among the nations surrounding Israel in the ANE, Israel as the People of God must bear witness to this One, who as the Creator is the Great I-AM and Lord of the world’s redemption. In the face of Moses’ witness as the Prophet in the Ancient World, mankind is to throw away its myths and idols about the world of the gods. This One is the Redeemer-Creator who as the Great I-AM would be known as the One He truly is, the Creator of ‘the Beginning’ in the Beginning.

Genesis 1:2 may not be construed as possessing, in common with the creation epics found and read among the nations in the ANE, a language influenced in its significance by the myths and gods of the ancient peoples, but a language meant to transform their beliefs into the real service of the Revelation that drove Moses to his confession. We will claim that, just as the Exodus of Israel is something new in the history of the world, Moses’ confession of the Creator, based upon the Revelation with him of the Redeemer, is something new in the history of the race’s understanding of the Creation and the Creator. The One of this Revelation is to be known as the true Creator of the heavens and the earth. The One of this Revelation, the Redeemer of Israel among the nations in His Creation, is to be known against the myths of the gods of the ancient peoples. This One is the True Creator who possesses nothing in common with the gods of the ancient worlds, with their cosmogonies, with their interactions with our kind, with the idol-making common to the times. Rather, with this One the reality of the world as God’s Creation is to known in its nature, free from the magic and the superstitions of these peoples. This is the One who is Israel’s Lord and God, the One who redemptive acts with Israel would have His People to know their true Creator. With His acts to deliver Israel from her bondage to Egyptian gods and Egypt’s Pharaoh, wrought through the priestly and prophetic servant of God Moses was called to be, Israel is commanded to understand and to throw away all her gods, her Mesopotamian gods, her Egyptian gods, her Canaanite gods, and so forth, and know Him as the Great I-AM He is. When Moses employs, then, the terms of his confession among the nations in the ancient world, he would transform their meaning and give them a new significance never before heard in the history of the world. We do well, I believe, to hear them on his terms and not our own.

The language of Moses’ confession, then, transforms the terms that may be found in common among the peoples of the nations in the ancient world into meaning that serves the Voice of God in His Beginning of the heavens and the earth and so forth. The Voice that spoke with him from the flames of the Burning Bush at Horeb is the Voice that speaks in the Creation Week. The events of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt all belong to this Voice. This is the Voice Moses learns to confess as the Creator with His Creation. To Israel with this Voice is given the knowledge that her Redeemer is none other than the Creator of the Creation. Moses’ confession is purposed to serve this Voice with an intention that belongs to the redemption of Israel in the Exodus and the knowledge of her Lord and God, the Creator of the Beginning. This is the One Lord God Israel must hear and follow. This is the Voice of the Great I-AM the One Lord God is. This is the Creator of the holy ground on which Moses stands at Horeb and on which Israel must always stand. This is the Creator. His Beginning is the Beginning confessed against all idols and idol-making about the gods of the world. This is the Lord God of space, time, and all things that exist as created realities. The power of Moses’ polemic ought never be allowed to escape our attention. It belongs to what is universal. It belongs to what is particular. It belongs to what mankind is under the heavens and upon the earth as rooted in this Self-Revelation of the Great I-AM the Lord God is with Moses, His Servant. The confession of the formation of ‘Day One’ of the Creation Week belongs to this Revelation. It is with this Beginning that Moses knows the ‘Very Good’ orders of the Creation Week, blessed by God. It is in the light of the Great I-AM the Redeemer is with His People among the nations that Israel can confess the Creator and His Creation.[6]

Israel’s history among the nations in God’s Creation then possesses a prophetic and priestly power we need to learn to grasp. Israel is made to bear witness to her Redeemer, Her Deliverer, as the Creator, who is none other than this Great I-AM that sent Moses for His People to Egypt. This One and no other ‘one’ delivers her from her bondage to her idols among the nations. No other One than this One gave her the Torah and Tabernacle of her history. No other One than this One freed her to serve Him as His Witness among the nations. This is the One and Only One, against all idols and idol-making, Israel must serve in her time and times in the world. The whole history of the Creation, Moses affirms, belongs to the priestly and prophetic power of Israel’s witness to this Creator and this Creation. Thus, the significance of the use of the Names, Lord and God, that Israel employs in her history, is to be found with the Voice of the Great I-AM. He is the One with her in His covenanted relationship for her in the world that gives meaning to her history and her language. We need steadily to hear the polemical nature of the argument of Moses’ confession from its beginning to its vision for her future in the world. We would argue that Moses’ confession of the Beginning is to be read, against all the idols and idol-making and mythologizing with the cosmogonies of the ancient peoples recorded throughout the ANE, is made with Israel’s priestly and prophetic service against these views of the world among the nations because it is rooted in the Self-Revealing and Self-Naming of the Great I-AM this Lord and God is for Israel and her history among the nations. It is the power of this redemption and its judgment that is also the history of the Redeemer-Creator of the whole world. When we will not to understand this ‘Beginning’, created out of nothing by this Creator and no other, we will not to understand the Divine Freedom and Sovereign Authority that commanded Moses with the People of God in the
Revelation to which the whole of the Bible is witness. When we will to understand Moses’ Confession in the service of this Revelation, we will to understand the heavens and the earth as home for mankind, created in the Image of God, the space and time that belongs holily to the real ‘Beginning’ begun in the Beginning by this One and no other ‘one’.

Moses confession thus demythologizes the ancient views of gods, men, and the nature of the world. The race is to be freed from the grip the caprice of these gods and their mythical places. Men are no longer to seek to appease with magic rituals and moralizing sacrifices pantheons of these deities. The superstitions of times past are not to shape and form the civilizations of the future. God, the Lord, has judged these gods as no-gods. They are less or worse than nothing. They belong to the wastelands of time and times past in the time of world history. In the light of Israel’s Exodus from the Egyptian pantheon, then, walks with Israel, as He did once upon a time in Paradise, the Creator God, known as the Lord, who would convert all peoples from the mythologies of their gods and cults to the freedom whose truth rests in the Great I-AM He truly is for them, a new found freedom made firm in the light of the Voice of the Great I-AM with Moses, the Servant of God. He is endowed with priestly and prophetic power for Israel’s freedom from her bondage to the idols and for her Redeemer-Creator, the One Creator of the heavens and the earth and their mankind as the Creation.

The Beginning’ of Moses’ Confession is to be understood, hand in glove then, as embracing the significance of Genesis 1:2, within the orders of the Creation established as the ‘First Day’ of the Creation Week in the life of Israel as the People of God among the nations. The whole of Week is blessed as ‘Very Good’ and a finished work with a polemical nature, then, we cannot allow to escape our attention. The gods and the myths of the nations are not ‘true’ about the Lord God of the Beginning of the World and its Mankind. The power of the ‘brooding’ (מרחפת) of God’s Spirit in v.2, interacting with ‘the Nothingness’ of the Creation in this ‘Beginning’, is to resonate with the whole of the blessed and very good Creation. Our understanding of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo with His act in this ‘Beginning’ (ברא) as the God and Lord He is must be accomplished within the orders of this wholeness. We are invited to read the ‘speaking’ of God in verse 3 in resonance with ‘the Nothingness’ of v. 2. and the ‘brooding’ in concert with verses 4 and 5 and the formation of ‘Day One’ of this Week. Genesis 1:1 is thus meant to entail all the acts of the Creator in the Creation Week. We are invited to listen in on an account of the harmony of the ‘Days’ from the Beginning to the Blessed finish of the work of Creation. Without this concert, we will miss the beauty of the Week, its polemical intention and it purpose as background for Moses’ confession about the ten generations that are told as the Book of Genesis in Moses’ service to the Great I-AM. We purpose that we are meant to hear as listeners a symphony intended to move the hearts of the People of God about what is true and beautiful about the Beginning of a world that is indeed to be seen as ‘Very Good’ with its Mankind and its fall from the One He truly is.

We need to seek to understand the wholeness of all the particular actions from the Beginning to the ‘Day One’ of verses 1–5 then. These are acts that together shape a harmony of action that makes ‘Day One’ what it actually is in the confession. They are the acts of the One who is the Redeemer-Creator of the Self-Revelation Moses experienced at the Burning Bush, at Sinai, and so forth, for Israel, as the priestly-prophet-servant of the Lord God he became for Israel among the nations in God’s Creation. It is this Revelation that stands as the origin of the power to create something new in world history, a new event in the space of the world this comes against all the idols and idol-making and myth-making that belong to mankind’s gods and its past times in the history of the world. It is the power of this Day from this Beginning to which Israel’s faith belongs in this world. It is truly something new, a beginning like no other beginning ever found on the mind of the human race in its past with its gods. It is this ‘the Beginning’ that is not any other kind of beginning. It is the Beginning not out of a war against chaos but out of nothing with a freedom then that with transcendent power transforms out of the something that chaos and emptiness is into what is the will of the Hand of God. Here is the place where God has chosen to speak into existence the orders of His light. Out of nothing and out of this something the First Day of the Creation Week, from the Beginning is given existence. When we read Genesis 1 with a sense of this wholeness, I believe we may and we must interpret v.2 in a resonance with the whole of in the ‘Very Good’ Creation, the blessed and finished work of the God who is the true Creator of the world (Genesis 2:1–3) against all other views about Him.

Barth found among scholars both ready support and opposition to his position on v. 2. We may survey their interpretations in Bernard W. Anderson’s collection of essays about God’s Creation from eight Old Testament scholars.[7] Hermann Gunkel thought that the chaos and so forth of v.2 ‘belongs to mythology and cannot be viewed as the invention of an author, least of all the person of P’.[8] Gerhard von Rad believed[9] that the Creation, as read in conjunction with texts in the Old Testament other than Genesis 1, was written under the influence of Egyptian Wisdom, when Israel is dependent upon such Wisdom for her grasp of the skills for success in life.[10] Then the Jesuit Father, Dennis McCarthy, suggests that we ask the wrong question when we think to contend that Genesis 1 means to teach us the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.[11] The text is concerned with what German scholars have named Chaoskampf, a ‘war on chaos’. The Creator is thought to be a warrior at war with the ‘chaos’ and ‘emptiness’ that belongs to the ‘dark depths of the primeval ‘waters’, thus easily compared to what we read across the mythologies about the Creation among the nations. Westermann argues that Genesis 1:1–2:4a reflects a composition whose long history shows us a steady struggle and evolution of understanding of the myths and legends about the world. The lasting value of the texts in time and times are a result of this long evolution in our understanding of the nature of the world. In this sense, we may interpret the developments in the history of the cosmologies of the Western World, the Ptolemaic Cosmology of the Middles Age, the Newtonian ‘System of the World of the Age of the Enlightenment, and even Einstein’s Universe of Light as all related to the concerns of the confession Genesis 1 is.[12] Reminding his readers that the confession must possess in this way some eschatological significance, H.H. Schmidt believes that the ‘righteousness’ of the Creator must be implied in the significance of Creation texts. Moral law and natural law must possess similar values, even though they are difficult to heard as one law.[13] Working with the assumptions made by both Zimmerli and von Rad about the relationship between redemptions and creation, H.J. Hermission is yet unable to understand that the chaos and emptiness and so forth of Genesis 1:2 can be a part of what Creation is. Creation is still conceived as something done perfectly from ‘the Beginning’, without any chaos or emptiness and so forth belonging to its nature.[14] All of these scholars affirm with Anderson that the Chaoskampf , the war in this ‘Beginning’ is against the chaos and emptiness of v.2. The consensus is that Genesis 1:2 signifies some condition of pre-creation that is contrary to the Creation, when the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo does not obtain in the confession of the Week.[15]

Only Walter Eichrodt[16] and G.M. Landes[17] wanted to argue for the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo as obtaining in our exegesis of Genesis 1:1–3. Landes wrote concerning v.2 that ‘At the beginning of its creation, the earth is empty, enclosed by waters in total darkness. But when God’s Spirit moved over the waters to separate them, the earth can be born, so to speak, i.e. it can emerge from its primordial darkness into the light of time, its surrounding waters filled with plants, animals, and humanity.’[18] But with all of this interpretation of ‘Day One’, we find the study of R.C. Clements, investigating the covenant relationship from Abraham to David in Israel’s long history among the nations, without mention of Genesis 1. The Pentateuch is thus read without a grasp of the wholeness between Creation and Redemption, between Creator and Redeemer, as Israel’s covenanted witness to the Lord God of the Revelation in the histories of the nations in the world. The Witness of the Bible to this Revelation with Moses may become lost upon our understanding of its relations with us.[19] It is little wonder that Karl Barth, with his rejection of ‘natural theology’, can conceive that no antecedent conceptual system may provide a framework for interpreting the texts and he must be free to exegete them from any particular cosmological development we might experience from the history of science in our civilization. His opposition to the German Church’s association with Hitler and the Nazi Socialism at the heart of World War II could certainly provide the need for his argument against the spell of the consensus on v.2 on modern understanding of the confession of the Beginning according to Moses in the light of the Incarnation.[20]

After observing the various possible interpretations of v.2 in his time, Barth read with Augustine and Luther, and decided with Zimmerli on the ‘rudiments’ of the verse. He concludes that it possesses no positive connection with v.1.[21] He then contends for the position that v.2 belongs to a past that was never the will of God, a time the Creator never intended to fashion. The tohu and bhohu, ‘chaos and emptiness or the ‘unformed and unsubstantiated’, mean to point as a whole the reader to the ‘rudimentary’condition of the Creation that existed outside of the will of the Spirit of God, when the Spirit ‘…is not known in His reality and therefore hovers and broods over it impotently or wordlessly.’[22] The ‘speaking’ of the Word of God against this primeval condition does what the Spirit could not do. It posits an order of time and times of the ‘light’ that belongs to the ‘speaking’ of God. The argument then follows the views of the ‘Priestly Writer’, in some relationship with the ‘Yahwist’, and the prophets of Israel who contend for the creation of ‘things’ as perfectly good, over which the Spirit of God once brooded so impotently. Genesis 1:2 are the ‘old things’, ‘the things that have passed away’, and according to 2 Corinthians 5:17, ‘the things’ that must vanish in created time and times. Such ‘rudimentary things’ belong to a past that has been superseded, when evil has been rooted out of the Creation, by the time of light in the world’s order.[23] Therefore, Genesis 1:2 posits that which can only be found outside of God’s will for His Creation, even from ‘the Beginning’.[24]

With this position, Barth has thus embraced a very common rendering of the exegesis of the v. 2. In contrast, Brevard Childs, while addressing these same problems, concludes that there was and must be a real connection between v.1 and v.2 and that the ‘brooding’ of the Spirit of God in v.2, the power of God in v.1, and the speaking of God in v.3 must be heard to resonate with one another in some way for any full appreciation of what ‘Day One’ means in the confession. In this way, a full chord of action is struck in ‘the Beginning’ that must be heard with the divine intention and authoritative purpose of a wisdom with which the confession has to do. It is because of this Will and Wisdom that the confession’s polemic against the mythologies of the idol makers of the ancient world may be understood with its prophetic thrust. It is the resonance of this chord that allows the exegete to hear the uniqueness of Moses’ contentions. It is this resonance that allows the interpreter to hear the prophetic power of Moses’ affirmation of the times with Israel. It is this resonance that allows the Great I-AM who is the Lord God of the Revelation in the Exodus of Israel from Egypt to be understood as the Creator of ‘the Beginning’ and the Only One that Israel is commanded to love with all of her heart and strength and might (Deuteronomy 6:4). The One who is the Lord of Israel’s redemption in time and times is none other than the Creator of all the time and times that is ‘the heavens and the earth.[25] The emphatic use of the verb ‘to be’ in v.2, rather than signifying a disconnect with v.1, affirms concretely that the whole of the Creation is, with its particular orders experienced upon ‘the earth’, belong to a universal created and sustained according to the power of the Spirit of God’s embrace with this ‘Beginning’. The primordial condition of the world’s particulars are thus made to wait on the ‘Speaking’ of God and His ‘light’.[26] It is this world, before the time when ‘light’ was spoken into existence, that the clause intends to signify, this world of time past in the formation of the First Day. The verse thus signifies the condition of the earth under the heavens in a span of time that belongs to a duration before the speaking of God occurred and before the purpose of light gave the order of this time upon the earth in God’s Creation. The emphatic use of the verb ‘to be’ signifies the dynamical nature of the relationship between God, His Spirit, and His Speaking in the Beginning, when the divine actions of creating, brooding, and speaking all, each in their own ways, shape the cause of a world that is meant to be a home for mankind.

The ‘dark’ continues to exposit, then, this signification of the ‘chaos and emptiness’. Childs can consider its meaning as closely related to what death is, opposed to the ‘light’ and the life of the world. But for Childs, the ‘deep’ (תהום) belongs to the primordial waters in relationship to the Spirit of God possesses both negative and positive power (Deuteronomy 32:11). This is no ‘wind’ of God but real power that, when resonated with the meaning of ‘create’ (‘bara’, ברא), removes the confession from comparative into polemical relations with the myths of the gods and the cosmogonies of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and so forth. For Childs, the confession is to be read as the kind of transformed language I have already discussed. The ‘theogonies’ of the polytheism of the ancient peoples found in the history of the Ancient Near East world are to be transformed into serves of the Revelation and Prophecy of the Lord God with Israel among them.

Yet Childs embraces the notion that a ‘Priestly Writer’ from the post-exilic period in Israel’s history, as the compiler of the Genesis 1, and the ‘Yahwist’ of the Monarchial period are correlated to form two accounts of the Creation far after the time and times of Moses, with all the questions about their intentions and purposes with us to this day. Childs can finally write about the two accounts: Both accounts (P= 1:1–2:4a, J=2:4b–25) begin according to an ancient convention by describing the effects of creation in contrast to a condition which prevailed previously (1:2, 2:5–6),[27] leaving ambiguous any resolution to the problems of myth, reality, and Israel’s confession of the Creation.[28]

Among the more conservative exegetes of v.2 we continue to read a level of understanding that does not reach into the real significance of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. While not identifying v.2 with the mythologies found among the polytheists of the Ancient Near East and while understanding the terms of the verse to speak of the actual Creation in ‘the Beginning’ as not in contradiction with v.1, Bruce Waltke, a conservative scholar about the methods of the historical-critical schools of interpretation, makes no mention of ‘creation out of nothing’ as significant to the confession and the stories of its generations.[29] The Jerusalem Bible can still translate v.2: ‘And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the surface of the deep. And a wind of God moved over the surface of the waters.’ We remain, left and right, a long way from taking seriously the Judeo-Christian tradition of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo in ‘the Beginning’, according to the divine words of Moses’ priestly-prophetic-polemical confession of Israel’s past and present and future among the nations of the Creation that is the work of the Great I-AM the Lord God is His People in the world.

Yet when we read some older exegetes on v.2, we find no sense of the influence of mythologies upon the intent and purpose to be read as ‘Day One’ of the Creation Week. The days and nights of the first light and the first darkness belong to God’s ‘Good’ Creation, to the space and time that is the Creation before the Fall of Adam. Unlike most modern or post-modern exegetes, we find the willingness to argue for the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.[30] When we go back even further to John Calvin, we can read the Reformer’s belief that v.2 intends to signify the ‘confused’ place of the Creation, the status of which is sustained for the purpose of the speaking into existence of the ‘light’ and its orders as the heavens and the earth. We also read that the wholeness of this created reality is a result of the dynamical actions of God, the Spirit of God, and the Speaking of God in ‘the Beginning’ of ‘the heavens and the earth’. v.2 may then be read rightly as a part of the prophetic power of Moses’ confession, far from any embrace of the mythologies of the Ancient Near Eastern peoples.[31] If we go even further back to the early fathers of the Church, we find an even greater grasp of the polemical nature of Moses’ confession and the prophet’s power to grasp conceptually the wholeness of the meaning of the doctrine of ‘creation out of nothing’, creation that is sustained out of the nothing as well as out of the something that is described in v.2, something that waits as ‘cherished’ the ‘Speaking’ of God and the existence of light in its midst.[32] When we read as a whole in this way the existence of the heavens and the earth, with all the appropriate differentiations in the dynamics of this active chord of integration dependent upon the Freedom of God, the Spirit of God, and the Speaking God as the Creator of the Creation, then I believe we are getting in touch with Moses’ confession of ‘the Beginning’ of Israel’s history in the history of the Creation.[33]

What may we make of the intention and purpose of the confession in a positive way for us today? I have argued against the consensus in our day about its meaning and significance, and that Genesis 1:2 is better interpreted by attending to the earlier exegetes of the Genesis 1. Modern critical-historical scholarship may possess sensitivities unknown to the early fathers of the Church, who may seem quite quaint as some level to us today, but I would argue that, for all our technical progress, we are in danger in our time of the loss of the conceptual tools once developed in our history, tools the power of which were meant to be used to integrate the transcendent and the phenomenal levels of realities implicit and explicit in the confession the passage is. The ‘Very Good’ Creation of God, the Creator, blessed as His ‘finished’ (שבת) work, needs to be understood as a wholeness the particulars of which are to be dynamically integrated beautifully and truthfully with the ‘Good’ God has created in the Beginning. The whole with its parts belong to the Hand and Spirit and Speaking of God, the One who from ‘the Beginning’ with His Seeing and Differentiating (v. 4) and His Naming of things (v. 5), caused ‘Day One’ to be what it is in the Creation Week.[34] What has been revealed to the Moses of Israel’s Exodus and his confession of the Great I-AM the Lord God is in the history of His People and in the history of His Creation belongs to an action the acts of which are to be heard resonating together as one and many in an harmony that belongs to the symphony between the transcendent and the phenomenal inherent in the meaning of the confession.[35] It is with this purpose that Moses becomes the enemy of all idol and myth-making among the peoples in his time. It is with this intention that the priestly-prophet can general Israel from Egypt towards the Promise Land, when Israel’s time past and time present and time future belong to a created time that is marked with God’s time for His People in His Creation. It is in this way that we may read the confession of the orders of light and time that belong to the Beginning that marks Israel’s history with the Providence, Presence, and Prophecy of her Redeemer-Creator. There is nothing then in Genesis 1 that is to be confessed as ‘evil’. Nothing is to be understood here in opposition to or in contradiction to God’s Divine Freedom and Sovereign Authority and Power to will to act with wisdom as the Lord God of all space and time and so forth, as their Redeemer and Creator. When we say that He ‘created out of nothing’ the world that is the world that is this one and no other, against all idols, we mean a ‘nothingness’ that belongs, if as the past of His Creation, to His ‘Very Good’ Creation, blessed as His Finished Work and to be celebrated as the origin of all that Sabbath must mean to His People.

Genesis 1:2 ought to be understood, then, as laying down a condition that is cherished by the Spirit of God, and into which the God who is free to speak does speak and did speak the orders of light into the time and space of v.2, moving it to become a home for Mankind as that created reality made both out of nothing and out of something into the ‘Very Good’ and ‘Finished’ work it is of Him, the Great I-AM of Moses’ confession. In this way, human experience is confessed as bound up, under the heavens and upon the earth, with the evenings and mornings of the time and times the world of light is. As ‘day’ and ‘night’ then, the first ‘evening and morning’ of ‘Day One’ belong both phenomenally and transcendently to what Man is at home under the heavens on the earth. The created reality of the heavens and the created reality of the earth with the created reality of Mankind, male and female, are given their form and content in this place as the Image of God. The rational unity and objectivity of the Creation is this whole with these parts and no other. Even today, we may not allow the phenomenal-empirical realities of Moses’ confession to become divorced from the invisible and non-observable dimensions in the dynamical reality of the contingent wholeness of these created orders, given by the Hand and Spirit and Word of God to be what they are, according to Moses’ confession. This is, I believe, Moses’ confession of the Beginning of a world that is the background, primordial, primeval, and ancestral of Israel’s witness with her history among the nations in God’s Creation. We do well in our time, I believe, as best we can and as far as we may to spend our time seeking to penetrate as deeply and profoundly as we can into the significance of its intent and purpose and significance from the Beginning even with us on the moon and in space today. I would like to see our schools recover an attention to this Beginning and spend whole semesters on it as foundation to our theologies and sciences in our time.

Perhaps a short survey of the work of John Philoponus, the great theologian and physicist of the Museum at Alexandria, will suffice to draw out some of the content such a course could take, against great consensus we have developed among our scholars today. Even with the ‘Grammarian’ beginning to obtain today some of the credit he deserves as forerunner in the ancient world to the science of Galileo and so forth,[36] much of our appreciation of him does not yet shake itself loose from his condemnation by the Byzantium East and the Sixth Ecumenical Council of the Church in AD 680.[37] No one has championed Philoponus, not just as a commentator in his time on the works of Aristotle, but as the theologian in the early Church whose thought sought most profoundly to penetrate into the nature of the relationship between the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer-Creator of the world, and the conceptual foundations necessary for the development of a real empirical science, than Professor Thomas F. Torrance.[38] Philoponus needs to be given credit, not only for his contributions to the developments we have experienced with Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and even Einstein,[39] but for the success of his ‘thought experiments’ and the conceptual tools he was able to develop to penetrate into the real ‘nature’ of physics and cosmology of the world and argue against Aristotle and the Neo-Platonists of his day. We find the secret to his ‘thought-experiments’ lies with the fecundity of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo the Alexandrian believed was bound up the Incarnation of the Word, pre-incarnate in the Old Testament’s witness, become flesh in the New Testament’s witness to the Great I-AM the Lord God is. The revolutionary aspects of his success is found in the way he allowed the Incarnation and Creation ‘out of nothing’ to resonate together to inform a dynamical view of the nature of the Cosmos. His development of a ‘light theory’ and his ‘impetus theory’ together appear compellingly as a field physics of a dynamical nature that cannot, a priori, be grasped in all of its depths. He finds by integrating the wholeness of things with the particulars of things in a open-structured effort to grasp the nature of the world with the transcendent reality of the Great I-AM revealed in the Jesus Christ, the Word come as a man in the Cosmos, the power to disclose the actual laws by which things are experienced in this nature. Thus, he lays the ground for the theoretical-experiential science whose laws we still seek to understand today, when a new window onto the ‘glorious beauty of the fundamental laws’[40] of the ‘nature’ of the world belongs on our horizons. The dynamical reciprocities of his categories of thought, entailing both the uncreated and created realities of God and the world, may very well serve to give us that poise allowing us to make real progress in science in our times. We need with the same freedom he knew to be able to deal with an objectivity the Universe is as God’s Creation, especially now that we possess a sense of a Big Bang Beginning to the space/time of the world today.[41] Integration of theory and experiment is just as vital for us now as it was for the thought of Philoponus. Because of his belief, he was able to articulate theories of the Cosmos, against the Master Aristotle and the Eternity of the World, whose roots in the ground, the holy ground, belong to the Divine Power of the Incarnate Logos as the Redeemer-Creator of this world as our home. The beauty and truth of this kind, argued the Alexandrian, opposes all the gods and the mythologies the Greeks knew well with a science grounded in a belief seeking real understanding of the contingent rationality and unity of the heavens and the earth as they have come from the Hand and Spirit and Speaking of the Creator, as they have come from the transcendent One and truly free God, with a wholeness that takes us quite beyond the dualistic splits we read in Aristotle’s physics. There exists no logical necessity between God and the heavens in this poise. There is no arbitrariness in this poise. All dualistic splits that would cut in two the chord of the symphony of the Redeemer-Creator the Great I-AM truly is are to be overcome. Perhaps we may say that what Moses was to the gods of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Canaan, Philoponus was to the gods of the Greeks and the Pagans.[42]

The polemical nature of the Grammarian’s theological science and scientific theology was met with more than fierce opposition both within and without the Church. Debates raged throughout Justinian’s Empire, East and West, and John Philoponus found himself in the midst of them. In those times, the relationship between theology and science could indeed pit Athens against Jerusalem, the Philosopher or Scientist against Christian Dogma.[43] We would argue with Philoponus and the fathers of the early Church whose thought he inherited, though against much modern or post-modern critical-analytical trends in our efforts to interpret the ‘logic’ of Genesis 1:2, have real and definite contribution to make to our struggles to understand in our own times. Not the way that the ANE mythologies and cosmogonies viewed the world, but the way of Moses’ confession ‘In the Beginning’ will be the way we make real progress in our futures. The Self-Revelation of the Self-Naming and Self-Defining Lord God who spoke with Moses as the Great I-AM in the Burning Bush, with us now as the Incarnate Lord God, is still as vital to our civilization as ever.[44] The fulfillment of the purpose of this Great I-AM in the ‘fullness of times’ needs more than ever no symbolic or subjective appreciation today. We need to be able to teach the confession with that power and authority that drove it into existence in the Beginning. We need to be in touch with the Hand and Spirit and Word whose logic would deliver us from our idols and free us for our destinies with Him. If we are to read Moses’ confession as the priestly-prophecy it is in Israel’s history among the nations within the real history of the space/time of the real heavens and the real earth in this way, we will certainly do well. I believe that it is Philoponus’ theory of the dynamical nature of ‘created’ time in correspondence with ‘uncreated’ time, categories such as these, that will help us throw more light upon the order of light and time in our times. His dynamic and kinetic contemplations of both the transcendent and empirical dimensions of the Creation, invisible and visible, with his ‘thought-experiments’ disciplined by the reality of the Redeemer-Creator relationship with His Creation can help us, even as it helped the Grammarian to become what we now recognize as the forerunner in the ancient world to the science of Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein, to find that new window onto the world we need to discover in our times. This ‘Lover of Work’ liked to reflect upon created things (time and light) as possessing both invisible and visible dimensions of realities, the invisibility of which reached into the power of the Word of God Himself and His Divine Freedom to be who He is for us, in us, and with us. In this way, he could conceive of the dynamic participation of the wholeness of things interacting with the particularities of the same, where both, ultimately dependent upon the wholeness of the Divine One for being what they were, defined what actually is against any and all illusions about them. The whole existed in the parts and the parts existed in the whole, each in their own ways, yet all of which are bound up through the power of God as His Word with us. This is the One who is free to relate Himself to what has been given existence and what subsists in existence, without confusing the truly transcendent with the empirical or created experience with the transcendent power of the Almighty. In this way, the Alexandrian thought of created and uncreated realities as ‘composite things’, in analogy with the way we are taught to think about the Word of God become the flesh, the man that Jesus Christ is as God in space and time.[45] When read with real resonance 1:1 and 1:3–5, Genesis 1:2 is heard as affirmed by both the transcendent and phenomenal dimensions of the work of God in the Beginning of His Creation, when creation out of nothing and out of chaos and so forth as the place where the Creator spoke light into existence and gave the orders of time that make up what we mean when we read ‘Day One’ of the Creation Week. Rooted ‘in the Beginning’ of this Redeemer-Creator, the Whole that is finished on Day Seven of this Week, we are given to believe that the Redeemer-Creator of Israel is the One whose power and authority is, against all the idols and mythologies in the world, what even the angels have seen and what mankind experiences as the lights of the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars, world that comes from the Hand and Mouth of only Wise God with His intention and purpose for it. [46]

Much of Philoponus’ commentary on v.2 argues against any astrological speculations about super-natural creatures that might be thought to govern the created realities that Mankind experiences under the heavens and on the earth.[47] Genesis 1:2 ought to be read in relationships with both 1:1 and 1:3–5 in the light of the freedom and authority that is possessed alone by the Redeemer-Creator and His Freedom to act as the God He is with His Providence, His Presence, and His Prophecy in the relationship.[48] We cannot understand the text without grasping its connection with ‘the Beginning’ of which we read in 1:1 and the Speaking of God of which we read in 1:3, when the light is named day and the darkness named night and we experience the establishment of the ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ (a 24 hour period of time) as Day One of the Creator’s Creation. Obviously, the dynamical nature of such resonance demands both concrete differentiation of things, in the naming of them, as well as a profound integration at their boundaries for them, so that the wholeness of their existence is rightly grasped in all of their depths as the mystery of the Creation the world is. It is this resonant action, seeing ‘In the Beginning’ of the work of Creation, the naming of things in the Creation, that knows the whole of Day One as ‘good’ (1:4–5). On this Day, Day One, there exists no evil. It is impossible to oppose God at this level of reality.

It is true that Genesis 1:1 may be read as a subordinate clause: ‘When in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was formless and emptiness and darkness was upon the faces of the deep and the Spirit of God brooded over the faces of the waters, then God said…’ Vs. 1 and 2 are both governed then by v. 3, the first independent clause of the confession (And God said, Let there be light!), so that the Beginning possesses a first act that is the speaking of ‘light’ into the existence of the Creation, where the ‘nothingness’ or the ‘chaos and so forth’ of v.2 is in subordinate relationship with ‘And God said’.[49] I do not think it matters much whether we read v.1 ‘In the Beginning’ in the absolute or the conjunctive sense, the sympathy of the action with its acts goes on either way. If v.1 is read as the first independent clause, however, it seems to me that the punctiliar and continuous nature of the acts in the better entail the implication and explication of the meaning of the texts, when the Transcendence and the Sabbath Blessing of God are given their due in our understanding of them. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ entails a view of the whole of the Creation whose horizon is the ‘finished’ work and blessed activity of the creating of God, both the point of it and the continuity of it as One Creation. No grammar or syntax or morphology thus determines for the reader then what is to be heard ‘In the Beginning’. We find ourselves free to choose the way we shall interpret even these very first words of Bible, a very significant freedom indeed.[50]

I do not like to translate the Hebrew bara’ (ברא) with English ‘create’ (The Alexndrian Jews of the Greek Septuagint did no better with the Greek’s έποίησεν!). Among English speaking peoples the verb ‘create’ can have as its subject all kinds of persons, places, and things. I teach among Koreans, and I understand from them that the Korean Bible translates with a term that has for its subject only ever God, like the Hebrew texts. Only God acts in order to cause the existence of the heavens and the earth and so forth. In this way, we understand that they are established as a reality that is not Himself, a reality whose nature is quite independent of His Being and Nature. We understand that, established in its independence of Him, it is yet as absolutely dependent upon Him for being what it is in its existence. The real objective intelligibility of the rationality of the world is what it is not in dependence upon itself for its being but in its dependence upon its Creator. It is bound up in its independence with the Hand and Spirit and Word and so forth of God from the Beginning that is this Beginning and not another one. With His Divine Freedom and Sovereign Will this God has chosen to become the Creator and to bara’ the Creation into its existence and being. The significance of the term bara’ must be able to bear the transcendent in its significance as well as the empirical dimension that are given meaning as the evenings and mornings of the ‘Day One’ of the Creation Week. The phenomena of the 24 hour periods experienced by Mankind under the heavens and upon the earth are understood as bound up ‘freely’ with the ‘acts’ of this ‘action’ of God, the Creator, in the Beginning. The verb ברא as a ‘telic’ action with His acts in the formation of ‘Day One’ this signifies in freedom and dependence a point that is sustained continually according to the Nature and Being of the Great I-AM He actually is, and not any other. Only God can be this God and act in this way to cause out of nothing the something that is the order of light in a world that is His Creation.

Thus, His ‘cherishing’ in this Beginning, His ‘speaking’ with this Beginning, His ‘seeing’ and ‘differentiating’ and ‘naming’ of this Beginning are modes or acts of one action, with both instance and continuity of freedom and order that shapes the confession of the Creation Week against all the idols of the peoples of the ANE. This is a point whose subsistence is vital to grasp both on its empirical and transcendental levels of reality, both on the observable and non-observable levels of its reality. When we fail to understand this, the symphony becomes lost upon us and we are left like orphans without the Father, Almighty Maker, of the heavens and the earth. The whole in which ‘Day One’ is a part is lost upon us. Abstraction and reductionism sets into our conclusions. We lose the ontology of the Revelation in the Creation. The unique and the general become confused among us. The real meaning of the act that is the bara’ that only the Creator can do is never grasped, and the consequences of this fall from grace is felt quite commonly in our times even down to our own days. However difficult it is for us, we need to recover are ability to grasp the contingent nature of the world as its come from God for us in a freedom that is definitely bound up with who He truly is.

God’s Creation is thus His Unique Universal Creation. Out of all that might have been and could have been, out of the nothingness of the something-ness of the world the Creator has chosen with His Freedom to act with Himself and to make in this ‘Beginning’. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, as it is known in Latin, is to be understood as rooted in a created and creative ground that is the Lord God and Great I-AM of Moses’ confession and no other. The Great I-AM speaking with Moses from the Burning Bush is the Creator speaking for him with His Creation. The purpose of Israel’s Exodus from the Egyptian and its pantheon of gods intends that Israel shall know Him as this One and not anothyer. Because only He ‘creates’, bara’, we may understand the teaching of creatio ex nihilo as fundamentally in resonance with the theology and the experience of the world inherent in Moses’ confession of the Redeemer-Creator. The Deliverer is the Creator. The Creator is the Deliverer. The priestly-prophetic power of the Servant of God as Israel’s great leader would ever cause His People to throw away their idols and to embrace Him as the One He truly is, the Creation of the Creation Week. Redemption brings understanding of the Creation. The Redeemer brings understanding of the Creator. Genesis 1 is thus a confession to be read as Israel’s witness in the world, times past, times present, times future, as experience of freedom and order that is bound up with His Beginning. The first verse of the first chapter of Moses’ confession of Israel’s primordial and primeval and ancestral generations belongs to the Lord who is the God of the whole of Creation, even as all time and times are bound up with His Eternal Time for Mankind and His Creation. God did not create (bara’) nothing and something out of Himself, but as a particular and universal created thing out of nothing so that the whole of it existence and being, outside and independent of Him, would know Him in it as the One He is. Only this Lord as this God and only this God as the Lord can bara’ the Beginning of the heavens and the earth, according to Moses’ confession, when all other gods and all other myths about the world shall not obtain. Other than this ‘Beginning’ there are only myths about time and time’s Eternity.[51]

Common to the Judeo-Christian tradition, the doctrine of creation out of nothing and the rational unity of the order and freedom of the contingency of the world would assert that human freedom with the Divine Freedom of the Almighty is fundamental to the Revelation of the Great I-AM the Lord and God is with Moses’ confession.[52] This concept of the contingency of the world has not enjoyed easy going in the Western world across the centuries of the development of its thought, theologically or scientifically.[53] Against all necessity and any arbitrariness, the world’s unity and rationality as contingent reality rests upon this Revelation. In the light of its revealing, we may hear His Word as belonging inherently to the Acts of His Being the One He is. The Freedom of God thus creates creatively the ground upon which all human freedom stand and understand what it is and is meant to be in the space/time of the world. For this reason, and for no other, the Judeo-Christian tradition has had to seek to struggle to distinguish its way of carving up the reality of the world from any and all dualistic manners of relating the One God is to the one the Creation is. The tradition would remain faithful to the Uniqueness of this One as the Universal Father of the All that is Creation. Attempts to marry this One with other ‘one’s result inevitably in a reduction of the significance of Moses’ confession. The One that the Lord God is in His Unique Universality not the ‘one’ we read in the doctrines of Plato or Aristotle or any of the Neo-platonic efforts that came after the confession. With the Incarnation of the Word, Being, and Act of this One as the Person of Jesus Christ, the Christian tradition would understand the nature of the world and its relationship with God in a wholeness that belongs to the Wholeness of God with His Revelation. The integration of the transcendent and the immortal with the immanence and the phenomenal of mortal experience of the human race upon the earth and under the heavens belongs to a unity and rationality that is God’s Creation and to no other.[54] Stanley Jaki, thus, has written: “The contingency of the universe obviates any a priori discourse about it, while its rationality makes it accessible to the mind through only an a posteriori manner”.[55] Even the laws of the nature of the Universe belong to this kind of dynamical nature. By implication and explication, the concept of creatio ex nihilo and its affirmation with the Incarnation of the Lord God ‘in the Beginning’ affirms a freedom with which the human imagination is redeemed from its idols and myths, an imagination that must have to do with the real space and time and places of matter and motion that John Philoponus was able to turn into his physics of a Cosmos that is God’s Creation.[56] We do not have room here for a more thorough discussion of Philoponus’ concepts here. But we would claim that his arguments against Aristotle’s ‘Eternity of the World’ and for the impetus and light given the Beginning as implicated with what Genesis 1:1 makes explicit as the creatio ex nihilo doctrine is cogent even for our own times.[57] The particular beginning that is the Beginning needs to be heard daily and nightly now just as it was needed with Moses and the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.

We want to argue, then, that the relationship of Genesis 1:2 to 1:1 possesses a conjunctive and appositive connection, the assertion of which compels our understanding of ‘the heavens and the earth’ as a whole the parts of which is the object, in differentiation and integration, who has for cause God and His Freedom to ‘create’ without contradiction what the world is with its Mankind. The Divine Freedom and Sovereign Power of the Great I-AM the Lord God is, according to ‘the Beginning’ of Moses’ priestly and prophetic confession of Israel among the nations in the Creation, the origin of all things created, great and small. It is this freedom with its wisdom and power that gives the confession the authority and order over and against all the mythologies of the ancient peoples of the nations. In becoming this Creator and in revealing this Redeemer, this I-AM that sent Moses and sends as Lord and God even the People of God today, His Revelation will not be denied. It is His Self-Revelation and He gives in this freedom and wisdom and power the knowledge of His Being as this Creator in interaction upon the earth and under the heavens with Mankind. The emphatic use of the verb ‘to be’ in 1:2 means to signify that, as a part of the whole of this Creation, the earth as ‘formless and void’ (ובהו תהו) when it was ‘darkness over the depths (תהום על פני חשך) and with the primordial waters (מים), was being cherished (מרחפת ) by the Spirit of God,[58] like an eagle with her eaglets in their nest (Deuteronomy 32: 11). The whole of this created nature is subject to the Will and Freedom and Authority of this Creator. The primeval condition from ‘the Beginning’, established out of nothing, exist in accordance with the transcendent Wisdom of the Uncreated Nature of His Will of this Creator as a reflection of who He truly is with the heavens and the earth. This is the Creator who is the One that revealed Himself to Moses and gave Israel among the nations in His Creation the knowledge that He is who He is. The formlessness and emptiness, along with the darkness of the depths of these primeval waters, are that which the Spirit of God cherishes from ‘the Beginning’ with divine intent and purpose, where and when as such they form the created times before the Speaking of the Word of God in interaction with the world. They participate in the ‘Very Good’ Creation of the Beginning. The bara’ and the amar of this God as this Redeemer-Creator calls things what they really are, in belonging to what ‘Day One’ is in His Creation Week. Genesis 1:2 signifies what the created reality of the earth under the heavens was life before the time when light had been spoken by God into existence. Thus, God filled the primordial chaos and emptiness with the times of the orders of created ‘light’, when they became the way to the future of the ‘Very Good’ Creation from the Beginning to the Sabbath Blessing. The time and space of the Creation before light filled its place and moment in the world’s times is as such as real as any other created time the world is. Genesis 1:2 cannot be divorced from the time and times of the orders of light that marks the heavens and the earth with the Will and Wisdom of the Redeemer-Creator God is in the Beginning.[59] Time and time past of this Creation are thus real for Moses in the Revelation, in whose light all time and times are made to resonate together with one another in the light of this Lord God who is the Great I-AM of Moses’ confession. It is the power this confession that stood and stands still today against all myth-making and idol-making to which the human imagination is prone. I am sure this is the reason that the man who walked on the moon in our time read from Moses and no other.

In this freedom, we understand that the action (bara’) the Creator takes to accomplish the Beginning of ‘the heavens and the earth’ (a merism) is sustained, cherished, (merechephat) to provide the space and time where and when light (אור). was spoken (אמר) into existence, so that what God sees (ראה) He differentiates (בדל) and names (קרא) as the reality of the objective intelligibility that ‘Day One’ is at the beginning of the Creation Week. We are to hear a created whole with its parts and created parts in the created whole the ‘Day’ is. I would suggest that exists a kind of hypostatic union of the whole and the parts that belong to a symphony of differentiation and integration we may learn to hear as the logic of the Wisdom, Hand, Spirit, and Word of God with Himself in His Beginning of His Creation. His Holy Love and Divine Wisdom, the Uncreated Light of His Being and Nature, are free to make ‘Day One’ what it is in this Blessed Week. It is the Nature of this Being that we should come to know the One who sustains what He has caused to exist out of nothing, out of chaos and emptiness, out of the darkness of the depths, out of the faces of the primordial waters, kept in being by His Spirit, for the intent and purpose of His Word in the Beginning. This is the ground that is intended as home for Mankind, created male and the female in His Image, after His Likeness, among all things great and small that abound in His Creation. Genesis 1:3 reads: ‘And God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light.’ Into the primordial stuff of the ‘nothingness’ of the world is established the orders of light and time in which we exist even today. Out of the formlessness and the emptiness and the darkness and the depths of these existences comes the light that makes the world a home of our being the men and women in time and space the world is meant to be. The ‘light’ of the Speaking God, who as the Uncreated Source of Light of the World has made created light to reflect who He is as this Creator has become, we believe, the ‘Light of the World’ in this symphony. The Redeemer has kept the faith as the Creator He is in the form of Jesus Christ. It is this Divine Freedom of the Great I-AM we come to know as the Voice that Moses experienced coming from the flames of the unconsumed Burning Bush and the events of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt and the Egyptian gods of the Pharaoh. It is this Divine Freedom we experience, out of nothing, out of chaos and emptiness, and so forth, that belongs to the Mighty Hand and the Cherishing Spirit who Speaks in time and times as the Holy One even today. This is the Voice that sustains His People and His Creation. This is the Voice Moses could not avoid and we may not avoid even today.[60] This the Voice of the laws and the freedom of the heavens and the earth in our time. This is the Voice of Mankind in our time. This is the Voice, among all the voices in all the rooms where we may exist, that matters most and seeks our attention even today. This is the Voice of the Great I-AM the Lord God is even as the Person of Jesus Christ in His Time for our time and times.

It is under the impact of the power of the Voice of this Word in His Divine Freedom and Sovereign Authority that we are to learn to read what the making of ‘Day One’ means: ‘And God differentiated between the light and the dark, and God called the light ‘day’ and the dark He called ‘night’ and there was evening and morning – Day One.’ The ‘calling’ of this Voice is the First Day of a Creation Week that Moses confesses under the compelling power of the Voice that commanded him at Sinai. The Providence, Presence, and Prophecy of the Voice of this Great I-AM as the Lord God of Israel’s witness among the nations never sounds with the vanity of man or world. It is the Voice of Truth against all the idols of the human race.

Colin Gunton is worth quoting here: ‘The latter (Barth) tends to minimize the part played by the Holy Spirit in the act of creation, refusing an explicitly pneumatological reading of Genesis 1:2 because of his concern to see in the verse the promise of the eschatological defeat of das Nichtige (3/1, pp. 108–10). Surely we can agree with Barth’s Word of God as that Voice which will have nothing to do with sin and evil. Yes, He did not and does not and will not create sin and evil in His World. But surely we must agree with Gunton that the identity of sin and evil directly with the ‘chaos and emptiness’ and so forth of Genesis 1:2 is a mistake.[61] Evil and sin come into the ‘Very Good’ Creation out of nothing of God in Genesis 3, when the lie is given about God and His Creation to Adam. Surely, we must agree with Professor Torrance’s argument about the contingency of the creation, out of nothing, confirmed and affirmed with the Incarnation of the Word speaking in the ‘fullness of times’ as the Redeemer-Creator, the Lord God, who is the Great I-AM with Moses and Israel and as Christ with His Church, the One without sin and evil and the One who makes the ‘chaos and emptiness’ and so forth to serve the Creator He is as the Man He has become for us in His Creation, in whom we can hear and see what we need to see and hear about these things, about the foundation of the heavens and the earth and our mankind.[62] It is the I-AM that this One actually is, whose Spirit has been sent to work in our times for us, in us, and with us, that we need to hear in Genesis 1:2.

Perhaps we are not used to thinking the impossible with our thoughts. The One who in ‘the Beginning’ and in the New Beginning, who is both the Uncreated Light that God is and the created light the Lord is in the fullness of time and times and of space with us, would give us to hear with the symphony of His Word in the world the ‘beginningless-beginning’ of His Being and Nature which, according to Moses’ confession, would deliver us into the very Kingdom of God Himself. We are not used to thinking about the Transcendence of this One, who once gave Israel deliverance from Egypt and who gives the whole of the human race deliverance from sin and evil in our time and times, as this One He is as the Great I-AM of our redemption even from the times of chaos and emptiness into the time when light filled them with the orders that will justify the Beginning. In Him, we are given to hear His Sabbath Blessing of all time and times, times past, times present, times future, with the atoning work of the holy love of the Redeemer working as the Creator to give us knowledge of who He truly is for us, in us, and with us. It is with Moses’ Israel that we may learn to hear His Beginnings, His Apocalypse of time and times, and what created destiny is in the fullness of times. ‘Day One’ of Moses’ Creation Week is meant to serve the Day of the Lord, the King of the Universe, Israel’s Son of David, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Sage even of the physical laws of the world. It is this Creator that we may know as the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God for all space and time, of whom Moses was the priestly-prophet and general of Israel road to the Promised Land.

We need to hear in Genesis 1:2 that time past that is ‘Very Good’ in the light of the ‘Light of the World.’ We need to untwist the lies about the Beginning that would not give us to hear the Redeemer-Creator in His Way and Truth with us in the world. We need to know the One who cherishes what we might think has vanished from us. We need to hear again as it was then that out of the nothingness the world is comes the light of His Speaking for us, making the world our home, giving us to know that we are loved and not alone, embraced by the freedom and power only the Great I-AM possesses in our times. This is what we mean when we would name Him the Almighty Maker of the heavens and the earth. It may not be the common hearing of common sense among many in our time, but even so it is no myth.


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III.1, p. 102. By 1946 in American scholarship, Jack Finnegan could compare Genesis 1 to Babylon’s Enumah Elish and refer the terms of Genesis 1:2 to the Tiamat of that mythology, while recognizing that differences ought to be considered more important than similarities (Light From The Ancient Past, Princeton University Press, p. 53.) Thus, the difficulties are introduced into the interpretation of the verse. An opposite interpretation is proposed by Paul L. Seely in his article ‘The First Days of Genesis in Concordist Theory and in Biblical Context’, PSCF, Vol. 49, Num. 2, June 1997, pp. 85–95. My article in the same publication on ‘Natural Theology’, pp. 96–104, represents my earlier understanding of Barth and the relationship of science to Genesis One.

[2] CD, pp. 102–110. Along with most modern critical Old Testament scholars, Barth comes to believe that the ‘rudimentary’ conditions laid down in v.2 posit that which the will of the Creator opposes. He must contradict its contradiction of Him.

[3] The great Swiss theologian in his exegesis of Genesis 1 took seriously in his time the supposition that it was in the light of the Incarnation we might read rightly the Creation Week. With it, he could then argue that the ‘Nothingness’ of the Creation could be identified with the evil that opposed the created orders of the Creator, without attempting to relate his findings to the scientific developments of Special and General Relativity Theories and the cosmologies come out of Einstein’s great legacy.

[4] See, for instance, John Goldingay’s Genesis for Everyone (John Knox Press, 2010), pp. 5–9. The author claims there is no ‘absolute beginning’ in mind, no philosophy in mind, and that the author is interested in the ‘transformation’ of ‘empty wastes’ into ‘formed cosmos’, creation out of chaos, than in the doctrine of ‘Creation out of Nothing’ a doctrine, that was common in interpretation of the early Church. It is my observation that the significance of this doctrine is quite lost upon us today.

[5] There is a long tradition among the fathers of the early Church, but I have in mind the way the doctrine can be understood in its fullest form with the work of John Philoponus, who attempts to take the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo most seriously even for the physics of the cosmos in his time. Professor Torrance has written of the Grammarian: “Never in all the history of science has Christian theology had such a transforming impact on science as through John Philoponus of Alexandria in the sixth century. His was a bibilical and Christocentric theology in which he sought to give an adequate account of its contingent rational order.” (in Theology and Natural Science, Wipf & Stock, 2002, p. 107). Philoponus thus became in the ancient world with his ‘impetus theory’ and a ‘light theory’ forerunner to the developments we experienced through Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, and even down to the Einstein and our modern theories for the cosmology of the world.

[6] I have attempted to argue for this exegesis of the Five Books of Moses in my book, The Great Amen of the Great I-AM (Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 2008). See especially chapters 2 and 3. The wholeness of the Pentateuch’s argument is polemical from beginning to end. The reality of the relationship between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as Creation and Redemption of the Creator-Redeemer needs to be evaluated in this light.

[7] B.W. Anderson, Creation in the Old Testament (Fortress Press and SPCK, 1984). He is aware of the chasm created between science and theology in our times created by these Biblical scholars.

[8] Ibid, pp. 26–52.

[9] G. von Rad, Genesis, Westminster Press, 1972, pp. 46–52. The critical assumptions lead the great scholar to read v. 2 as a contradiction to the creatio ex nihilo of v. 1, but a necessary one and to an understanding P’s theology of ‘Day One’ as the unit Genesis 1:1–5. Thus, creation out of nothing, creation out of chaos, and creation of the light of the Word of God is discussed. But P’s theology is not Moses’ I-AM.

[10] Ibid, pp. 62–63, when Yahweh as the Creator absorbs Egypt’s ancient mythologies and enters in this way into the confession of the Elohim of Genesis 1.

[11] Ibid, p.75

[12] Ibid, pp. 90–101.

[13] Ibid, pp. 102–117.

[14] Ibid, p.130. ‘The world well ordered, chaos excluded, the world therefore comprehensible within limits: this fits in very well with the concept of wisdom.’ Thus, he exegetes the text with Barth.

[15] Ibid, p.18.

[16] Ibid, pp. 65–73. But with no comment on v.2.

[17] Ibid, pp.135–151, where Landes rightly connects the whole movement up with freedom.

[18] Ibid, p. 138

[19] R.C. Clements, Abraham and David (Studies in Biblical Theology: SCM Press,1967.)

[20] See the account of T.F. Torrance’s meeting with Barth over this point in his Space, Time, and Resurrection, (Eerdmans, 1976), pp. ix–xiii. Torrance would argue that it is ‘a sovereign freedom and lordly authority’ that judges all the beginnings made by the Lord God with His Self-Revelation in the space and time a world that is indeed His Creation.

[21] Ibid p. 103–4. “The decisive objection against this exposition (Luther’s contention that the verse explained the primal condition of God’s Creation in the Beginning before its light was spoken into existence), which Zimmerli rightly calls a ‘desperate expedient,’ is as follows.” Barth goes on to explain that, with the connection between v.1 and v.2 as inadmissible, we must face the fact that God did not will the ‘things’ of v.2. He quotes Isaiah 45:14 as evidence the world was meant to be inhabited right from the beginning and never meant to be chaos and void, dark and deep, with waters the Spirit of God must control against the will of the Creator to create a heavens and an earth of light.

[22] CD, Ibid, p.108. The Silence of God is not necessarily the Time of Judgment.

[23] CD, Ibid, p. 110. As if the future will possess no chaos and so forth.

[24] Perhaps Barth is not able to shake himself free from Greek ‘essentialism’ and ‘perfection’ and ‘order’, after all.

[25] B.S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament (SCM Press, London, 1960), pp. 30–42. “It will be the purpose of this chapter to show the problem which was caused within the Biblical tradition when mythical material entered.” He focuses his argument on the relationship between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. He suggests three choices for interpretive speculation: 1) There was a time when ‘chaos and emptiness’ and so forth was the heavens and the earth. 2) Darkness exposits death and the deep belongs to that over which the Spirit broods for life. 3) There is a real resonance between this ‘rudimentary’ stuff that transforms any use of the terms found in the ancient mythologies into service of Moses confession, or P’s, of ‘the Beginning’. Thus, we need to come to a new understanding of their meaning in real time and not in mythical time.

[26] I believe that the Beginning of Genesis 1:1 is to be thought out as rooted in the ground of the ‘beginningless-beginning’ of the Living Being of God who transcendently holds the whole of the Beginning in all of particulars in real relationship with Himself. Created realities, though independent of the Nature of God, are dependent upon Him for their nature and being and existence. The hypostatic union of these cannot be reduced up or down into any philosophical sense away from His Freedom and Transcendence and Will for ‘order’ and ‘goodness’. Neither necessary nor arbitrary connections may grasp the real relations between the Creator and His Creation as the Lord of all space and time and so forth.

[27] B.S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Fortress Press, 1993), p. 107. It seems evident to me that these scholars are more at home with the evolution of things more than they are with things as created out of nothing, creatio ex nihilo, when the chord between transcendence and the phenomenal in our experience of the world is cut in two. The implicit and explicit dynamics of the orders in the nature of the Creation become lost upon us, when even subsistence and processes are not understood in relationship with the uncreated Eternity of the Lord God.

[28] See A.J. Bellinzoni, The Old Testament (Prometheus Books, 2009) for a recent, decent, presentation of the so-called scientific historical-critical analysis of the formation of the Biblical texts. The critics have become quite sure that the Creation accounts are myths redacted together by post-Exilic Israel. If the Bible is composed by men, it cannot be the Revelation of God, only the stories told by Man in the Universe.

[29] B.K. Waltke, Genesis (Zondervan, 2001), p.p. 58–60. He simply refers to ברא (create) as a ‘telic verb’, encompassing the ‘All’ that is the Creation, without further explanation. The implication is, of course, that time possesses times as times are possessed of time even before the time of light.

[30] See C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume I, The Pentateuch (Eerdmans, 1973 reprint), pp. 46–52. The verb ‘create’ signifies that which is ‘divine creation’. The terms of v.2 mean the condition of the creation before the time ‘light’ was spoken into existence. The author is aware that others seek to rid interpretation of the doctrine of ‘creation out of nothing’ (p. 46).

[31] John Calvin, Genesis (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1554, 1975), pp. 69–78. Calvin is the only theologian I have found willing to understand the ‘brooding’ of the Spirit of God as that ‘cherishing’ necessary to ‘sustain’ the world before ‘light’ was given existence in it (p. 74). The ‘confusion’ here is not evil.

[32] I am grateful to Leslie S.B. MacCoull for providing me with her translation of De Opificio Mundi, and the comments of John Philoponus on Moses’ Genesis. See F. Christiani, JOHANNES PHILOPONOS, DE OPIFICIO MUNDI, Herder, 1887, for its translation into German.

[33] I have in mind an exegetical line of thought that we may trace from Athanasius (in works from AD 325–381), through Basil of Caesarea (in works from AD 329–379), and others to the works of John Philoponus in Alexandria (AD 517–560), with whom the doctrine of ‘creation out of nothing’ is steadily championed. It is through the actuality of the Incarnate Word that we are given to understand the Word or Speaking of God in the Beginning and His relationship to ‘light’ in the Creation. Thus, the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit throws light upon the I-AM the Lord God is as God, the Spirit of God, and Speaking of God for the formation of the First Day of the Creation Week and the Sabbath Blessing.

[34] See T.F. Torrance’s ‘The Transfinite Significance of Beauty in Science and Theology’ in L’Art, La Science et la Metaphysique, Studies offered to Andre Mercier, Peter Lang, 1993, pp. 393–418, for a wonderful account of what beauty is in the creatio ex nihilo of Genesis 1.

[35] Torrance would turn our attention to Barth’s appreciation of Mozart’s music to speak of this symphonic significance between Redemption and Creation in theology and science, Ibid, pp. 407–418.

[36] See R. Sorabji, ed., Philoponus and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science (Cornell University Press, 1987), followed by a number of translations of Philoponus’ works by a team of translators under Sorabji’s supervision.

[37] See my The Setting in Life of ‘The Arbiter’ by John Philoponus (Wipf and Stock, 1999), where I argued that his Anathema was a mistake of tragic proportions and consequences for the history of the relationship between Christian Theology and the development of our scientific culture. S.L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God, (University of Chicago, 1978) p. 39, reminds us that Aquinas knew Philoponus only for his heretical monophysitism and not for his critic of Aristotle and his contributions to Western science

[38] Among his many references in his books to Philoponus, see especially T.F. Torrance, Theological and Natural Science (Wipf & Stock, 2002), especially chapters 4–7. Torrance echoes Shmuel Sambursky’s, The Physical World of Late Antiquity (Basic Books, 1962, p. 158) with the contention that Philoponus possessed ‘…the reasoning of a man carried away by his revolutionary zeal and the momentum of a new and irresistible conception.’ The fecundity of this revolution is still to be appreciated.

[39] See Shmuel Sambursky, PHYSICAL THOUGHT From the Presocratics to the Quantum Physicists (Pica Press, NY; 1974) pp. 115–119. The ‘lover of labor’ established doctrines on 1) the Dynamical Nature of the Relationship between the Whole and the Parts in science 2) an impetus theory for the Beginning and for the light of the cosmos 3) a theory of the motion of the elements in vacuum 4) the unity of the heavens and the earth according to nature and the 3–dimensional extension with matter/motions 5) the role of Infinity in our knowing of the nature of the world 6) the Generations of God and the power of the really Infinite.

[40] The phrase belongs to Kip Thorne, Black Hoes & Time Warps, W.W. Norton, 1995, p. 19.

[41] In Transformations & Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge, Eerdmans: 1984, p. 79, T.F. Torrance argues with Einstein that such categories belong to ‘freely invented’ concepts bound up with the actual nature of the world.

[42] Philoponus inherited from his successors in Alexandria, Athanasius and Cyril, the struggle of the fathers against both Gnostic and Ebionite views of Man in God’s World, the Person of Christ as Redeemer-Creator of the All.

[43]As a contemporary of Philoponus, a man called Simplicius could consider the Grammarian as doing less than his duty in the common effort made to harmonize Plato and Aristotle as the Masters in the field of human thought. Simplicius wrote: ‘But one of our contemporaries, i.e. the Grammarian, a hunter of fame, as it seems, who has passed off some of Xenarchus’ objections as his own and collected other, similar ones, has sprung up to criticize Aristotle, aiming at the objective, as he says, of proving the whole world perishable, as if he would receive a big reward from the Creator if he proved him <to be> a creator of perishable things only, but not of imperishable.’ See C. Wildberg, Philoponus, Against Aristotle on the Eternity of the World, (Cornell University Press, 1987), p. 39. The whole of the debate was about the nature of the Beginning and the matter and motion of time filled with the light that had been confessed by Moses.

[44] Henry Chadwick records as editor of Alexandrian Christianity (Westminster Press, 1954), pp. 17–24) that it was often claimed that the Greeks had stolen from Moses what they thought they knew about the Cosmos.

[45] I owe this insight to L.S. B. MacCoull, who in her translation of De Opificia Mundi by John Philoponus, understands that Christology informed the cosmological considerations of the Grammarian. The ‘hypostasis’ of created time existed as a whole entailing the ‘hypostases’ of times past, present, and future, all of which belonged as one created reality to the power of the freedom of God to be the Redeemer-Creator He actually is with us. Thus, the empirical and the theoretical are integrated substantially in all of his speculations about the physics and cosmology of the Creation (private correspondence).

[46] I believe that Professor T.F. Torrance’s assessment of Barth’s opposition to ‘natural theology’ as an antecedent conceptual system of thought and argument for a concept of ‘nature’ as a contingent reality belonging to the actual relationship establishe by the Revelation between God and the world is vitally important here. See, Transformation & Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge, Christian Journals, 1984, pp. 285–301 for full discussion of the problem and the power of the argument for a ‘natural theology’ that is inherent or co-inherent in the nature of the Revelation in history.

[47] Philoponus has a long section on angels with reference then to Genesis 1:2, yet for the sake of making the point that the ‘hypostases’ with which we have to do in the physical world are contingently related to the power of the free God whose wisdom only is the source of their existence. It is in this discussion that the Grammarian can refer to other views of the Creation read in the Scriptures, Job, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so forth.

[48] I like to think of this kind of reading as an affirmation of the ‘primordial healing’ that is restorative of our race after the Fall and from the Beginning.

[49] von Rad has shown that this reading does not obtain with the intent of the author, op. cit. p. 49.

[50] It is good to remember that freedom without order and order without freedom is impossible in the way of God with His the contingent rationality and unity of His Creation. The nature of the world is such that both freedom and order of a contingent kind as bound up with non-contingent Being of God in His Freedom and Wisdom, however difficult for us to hear, must be heard. I like to think that the Revelation of the Great I-AM is ultimately to be followed in Christ then.

[51] I like to think that, even though the contemplation of the Big Bang Beginning of modern cosmologies may be more friendly to Moses’ confession that cosmologies of the past, we remain able to distinguish the nihilo of Christian Doctrine from the Quantum Vacuum contemplated by modern scientists.

[52] See T.F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith (T&T Clark, 1988), pp. 98–109, for a succinct account of the vital character of freedom, contingent and divine, for understanding the God, Man, and the World of the confession.

[53] See T.F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order (Oxford University Press, 1981) for a fully developed argument on the cogency and fecundity of the concept in both science and theology.

[54] See S.L. Jaki, Genesis 1 (Thomas More Press, 1992)) for an account that argues for the reality of this chapter in time and times across the centuries, against all the mythologies posited from time to times and so forth. Moses is successful with his confession against the idols of the nations among the peoples of God’s Creation because of its veracity with space and time.

[55] Again S.L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God, Ibid, p. 39. An historian of science, the Benedictine scholar knows, for instance, the concept of the contingency of the creation may become lost upon Aquinas and the Middles Ages and the arguments for the existence of God mere sophistry.

[56] See my The Setting in Life of ‘The Arbiter’ by John Philoponus (Wipf & Stock, 1999), especially chapter three, for my account of the contingent rationality, unity, and freedom of the Creation against Aristotle’s physics and cosmology in the science of the Alexandrian. See, C. Wildberg, Philoponus, Against Aristotle on the Eternity of the World, Cornell University Press, 1987, pp. 81–91, for the Grammarian on the ‘nothingness’ and the ‘perishable nature’ of the Creation and the freedom of God to interact with them.

[57] Ibid, pp. 143–146, for a few cogent remarks about motion in the Ptolemaic Cosmos of the Grammarian’s times.

[58] I have found the translation of merachephat (‘brooding’) read by Syriac speaking Christians, found still today in Iran and Iraq, rendered as ‘cherished’, even as a wave offering (P. Smith, Syriac English Dictionary, Oxford, 1902) p. 538) Evidently, the power of the Spirit of God in the Beginning embraced with Love and Wisdom and Divine Freedom what had been the object of His action (bara’) in His Beginning, not out of Himself but out of nothing with a will He alone can exercise.

[59] The Grammarian assumed the ‘hypostasis’ and ‘hypostases’ of time and times as the uncreated time that belongs creatively to God’s Eternity. It was this kind of relational thinking that we read everywhere with the development of the thought of John Philoponus.

[60] Philoponus believed that, whatever Plato or Aristotle got right about God and the Cosmos, they got it from Moses. The Grammarian wrote at the beginning of his treatise on the Creation of the World: ‘That Plato too, in his treatise on the coming into being of the cosmos, imitated Moses.’ This Moses wanted to implant knowledge of God with his confession of the Great I-AM the Lord God is with Israel, a confession not about science but about the world the race experiences as a phenomenal reality whose explanation must be found with its Creator. It was this Judeo-Christian tradition that laid down the foundation for the empirical science we exercise today, and not Greek philosophy.

[61] C.E. Gunton, The Triune Creator (Eerdmans, 1998), p. 160. Again, see T.F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order for the challenge this argument is for both scientist and theologian in our times.

[62] For a recent discussion of the problem modern scientific ‘chaos theory’ and its relationship to our theology of Creation Out of Nothing, see John Jefferson Davis, ‘Theological Reflections on Chaos Theory’, PSCF, Vol. 49, Num. 2, June 1997, pp. 75–84. I like to think we will take seriously the need for ‘free invention’, ‘intuition’, and ‘creativity’ in both science and theology not in necessary of arbitrary relational logic but in atoning relations of real redemptive work of the Holy One in the history of the world.

Walter Brueggemann on biblical theology and skillful hermeneutical moves

‘… the discipline of biblical theology needs no “case” to be made for it, and certainly not by me. There is deep and wide ferment in the field, indicating that scholars and interpreters across the theological spectrum are ready to be engaged in work that is fresh and suggestive. It is possible that such an interpretive enterprise may be primarily historical, that is, reading old texts to see what they “meant.”

My own interest is much more “confessional,” as I am a church person who reads for the sake of the faith and life of my community. I suppose, without great intentionality, that I read according to Ricoeur’s nice pairing of “suspicion and retrieval.” The “suspicion” is an awareness that every text and every reading, including my own, is laden with ideological interest. This is true of skeptics, minimalists, and fideists of all kinds. The “retrieval” is to see what may be said after one has done rigorous criticism. What one finds, after criticism, is that there is still this character “God,” who continues to haunt and evoke and summon and address. No sort of criticism, so it seems to me, finally disposes of that character. Now it may be that the character is an act of literary imagination; or it may be that the character is indeed an agent who is in, with, and under the text. Either way, one cannot dispose of that character. I find myself moving back and forth between a literary character and an active agent. Either way, that character haunts and causes everything to be redefined.

But being haunted by this character is not just a confessional act for “believers.” I believe the best exposition of this testimony for “non-believers” is by Terry Eagleton in his Terry Lectures at Yale. Eagleton is not a “believer,” but he takes seriously the claims of this text that are more than “literary.” Eagleton shows that the claims are not merely cognitive and so readily dismissed by “silly atheists.” Rather, Eagleton sees that the claims of the tradition are that this holy character is linked to the valuing of “the scum” of the earth. The point is a practical one, not an intellectual one …

Given the current frailty of the capitalist system and the fact that the “big money” continues to grow while ordinary people increasingly become poor and homeless, I suspect that this character, embedded in this tradition, is a wake-up call for contemporary social-political thought. It is not difficult to imagine that dominant ideologies and narrative explanations of reality have reached a dead end. For that reason I judge that it is a worth-while effort, regardless of one’s “faith commitments,” to continue to pay attention to and exposit this character and the tradition that clusters around the character. I understand that to be the work of biblical theology. Such a perspective refuses to be boxed in by the critical categories of Enlightenment rationality, for it is a reach behind that rationality to see about the haunting that cannot be so readily dismissed. I take that to be an important task. And if some judge it not to be important, it is at least interesting …

The capacity to find an alternative to biblicism or historical criticism requires skillful hermeneutical moves, whether made intentionally or intuitively. If one begins with the assumption of neighborly covenant—the outcome of Sinai—then neighborliness becomes the test for policy and practice. Such a focus does not resolve all of the complexities of real-life decisions, but it does preclude from consideration some possibilities that are anti-neighborly and anti-covenantal. Such an approach does not just find a specific text, as is so often done, but participates, as we are able, in the “world” that is constructed by the text. It is odd and disappointing that some of the loudest citers of texts love to refer to specific texts but have no interest in or awareness of the broad claims of the text or the way in which the dots are connected to provide an alternative vision of social reality and derivatively, an alternative mandate about social reality. Thus I believe that the clue to fruitful connections is a practice of imagination that is self-aware and well-informed about the complexity of the issues. There is no reason for biblical interpreters to be simplistic or to imagine that easy or ready connections can be made …

As I have gotten older and as our social scene has become more dysfunctional, I have become more aware of the ways in which the central claims of the Bible contradict the practices of our culture. This means, in my judgment, that now as never in my lifetime the full and bold articulation of biblical claims is urgent as a serious offer in our pluralistic society. There are no easy accommodations between those claims and the dominant modes of our culture, even though the old model in which I was nurtured—“Christ transforming culture”—mostly imagined an easier connect. My practical hope is not very great. I do think that the younger generation in our society is not so boxed in on the hard questions as are many older people. I think, moreover, that the growing diversity in our society may offer openness for genuinely human options, as I do not think that our diverse and younger population will settle easily for the old answers of the privileged. After all of that, of course, our hope is not a pragmatic one; it is an evangelical one, that God is faithful and that God’s purposes will out. The wonder of the Biblical tradition is that the holy purposes of God cohere readily with the pain of the vulnerable. It is entirely possible that the convergence of holy purpose and vulnerable pain may “change the wind,” as Jim Wallis voices it. Since the old resolutions of our problems are clearly now failed, there may be an openness to initiatives that are more humane. That of course depends on courageous, sustained testimony… and it is a fearful time’. – An interview with Walter Brueggemann.

John Webster on T.F. Torrance on Scripture [updated]

In his recent lecture on ‘T.F. Torrance on Scripture’ (presented in Montreal, 6 November 2009, at the Annual Meeting of the T.F. Torrance Theological Fellowship), Professor John Webster argued that Torrance’s most sustained writing on Scripture lay not in extended cursive exegesis but rather in ‘epistemological and hermeneutical questions – in giving a theological account of the nature of the biblical writings and of the several divine and human acts which compose the economy of revelation’ (p. 1). Such an account requires the theologian to both develop an anatomy of modern reason, in order to expose a ‘damaging breach in the ontological bearing of our minds upon reality’ (Reality & Evangelical Theology, 10), and to make an attempt at ‘repairing the ontological relation of the mind to reality, so that a structural kinship arises between human knowing and what is known’ (ibid., 10). Webster contends that Torrance’s writings on these matters constitute ‘one of the most promising bodies of material on a Christian theology of the Bible and its interpretation from a Protestant divine of the last five or six decades – rivalled but not surpassed’, Webster suggests, ‘by Berkouwer’s magisterial study Holy Scripture’ (p. 1).

Webster devotes the bulk of his paper to three related areas of Torrance’s thought on Scripture: namely, that (i) Scripture must be ordered from a trinitarian theology of revelation; (ii) that the biblical writings are complex textual acts of reference to the Word of God; and (iii) that the Bible directs its readers to ‘a hermeneutics of repentance and faith’ (p. 4).

On this first point, Webster notes that ‘a theological account of the nature of Scripture and its interpretation takes its rise … not in observations of the immanent religious and literary processes, as if the texts could be understood as self-articulations on the part of believing communities, but in the doctrine of the self-revealing triune God. Torrance is unhesitatingly and unrelentingly a positive dogmatician at this point, in a couple of senses. First, and most generally, he takes revelation as a given condition for the exercise of theological intelligence, not as a matter about which intelligence is competent to entertain possibilities or deliver a judgment … Second, more specifically, Torrance’s positivity concerns the way in which knowledge of God, including knowledge of God through Holy Scripture – arises from the specific modes in which God deals with rational creatures’ (pp. 4–5). In support of this claim, Webster cites from (among other sources) Torrance’s Divine Meaning:

‘The source of all our knowledge of God is his revelation of himself. We do not know God against his will, or behind his back, as it were, but in accordance with the way in which he as elected to disclose himself and communicate his truth in the historical theological context of the worshipping people of God, the Church of the Old and New Covenants. That is the immediate empirical fact with which the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New testaments are bound up’ (Divine Meaning, 5).

Such a move, Webster recalls, enables Torrance to develop an account of revelation in which the relation of divine communication to the biblical texts is not fundamentally problematic, but rather is one in which ‘creaturely media can fittingly perform a service in relation to the intelligible speech of God’ (p. 6). He continues:

‘It was this, perhaps more than any other factor, which led to his estrangement from mainstream British theological culture, preoccupied as it was both in biblical and doctrinal work with the supposedly self -ontained realities of Christian texts, beliefs and morals, struggling to move beyond historical immanence, and weakened by a largely inoperative theology of the incarnation. Torrance was able to overcome the inhibitions of his contemporaries by letting a theology of the divine economy instruct him in the way in which God acts in the temporal and intelligible domain of the creature’. (p. 6)

Webster proceeds to note that the ultimate ground of Torrance’s claim that only God speaks of God is the Word’s assumption of flesh, an event which ‘carries with it the election and sanctification of creaturely form’ (p. 7). He concludes the section by underscoring Torrance’s refusal to be ‘trapped either by the kind of revelatory supernaturalism in which the Bible is unproblematically identical with the divine Word, and so effectively replaces the hypostatic union, or the kind of naturalism in which the Bible mediates nothing because it has been secularised as without residue a product or bearer of immanent religious culture’ (p. 8).

In the next section, Webster recalls how for Torrance the relation between the divine Word and the human words of Scripture is a positive one: ‘there is no crisis about the possibility of human text acts serving in God’s personal activity of self-presentation to intelligent creatures’ (p. 9). At this point the doctrine of Scripture exhibits similar formal features as does that of the hypostatic union. And Webster goes on to identify three ways in which Torrance amplifies this basic proposal: (1) Scripture as an accommodated divine Word (a theme that betrays Torrance’s indebtment to Calvin); (2) Scripture as sacrament; (3) Scripture’s expressive or referential relation to the divine Word. On the first, divine accommodation, Webster writes:

‘A theology of accommodation is a way of overcoming the potential agnosticism or scepticism which can lurk within strong teaching about the ineffable majesty of God. Doctrines of divine transcendence can paralyse theological speech, severing the connection between theologia in se and theologia nostra, and cause theology either to retreat into silence or to resign itself to the referential incapacity of secular human words. If, however, we think of divine revelation actively accommodating itself to creaturely forms, we make use of language about divine action, but without the assumption that divine action can only be efficacious an trustworthy if it is direct and immediate, uncontaminated by any created element. We retain, that is, a measure of trust that divine communicative activity is uninhibited by creaturely media, which it can take into its service and shape into fitting (though never wholly adequate) instruments. In terms of the doctrine of Holy Scripture, this means that, although we do not receive the Word of God directly but only ‘in the limitation and imperfection, the ambiguities and contradictions of our fallen ways of thought and speech’ (Divine Meaning, 8), nevertheless we do have the divine Word. Creaturely limitation, imperfection, ambiguity and contradiction do not constitute an unsurpassable barrier to the Word as it makes itself present to created intelligence … Divine appropriation, moreover, brings with it the transformation of creaturely speech, its transposition into a new field of operation and its being accorded a new set of semantic functions’ (pp. 11, 13).

In the next section, Webster turns to the question of biblical interpretation, where he allows the agenda to be set by Torrance’s own questions; namely, What is biblical interpretation’s most characteristic posture before the divine Word? What is the general tenor of its activity? From whence does it come, and to what end does it move? How does it come to learn to dispose itself fittingly in the domain of the divine Word? Webster recalls that for Torrance, the governing rule for the interpretation of Scripture is that the Scriptures ‘are to be interpreted in terms of the intrinsic intelligibility given them by divine revelation, and within the field of God’s objective self-communication in Jesus Christ’ (The Christian Doctrine of God, 43). He later cites from Torrance’s brilliant Reality & Evangelical Theology, noting that for Torrance theological interpretation is, therefore, a matter of ‘subjecting the language used to the realities it signifies and attend[ing] to the bearing of its coherent patterns upon the self-revelation of God which it manifestly intends’ (Reality & Evangelical Theology, 117). Webster concludes that ‘because of this, hermeneutics is not a poetic activity. The interpreter is not a co-creator of meaning by the work which he or she undertakes with the text. And so, in biblical hermeneutics the interpreter’s task is more than anything to receive with the right kind of pliability the gift of meaning which the divine Word extends through the text’s service. It is this all-important alertness to the text’s relation to the reality which it signifies which constitutes the scientific character of biblical hermeneutics … If the all-important property of the Bible is the semantic relation between divine Word and created text, the all-important hermeneutical activity is that of probing behind or beneath literary phenomena in order to have dealings with that which the phenomena indicate. The “depth – surface” language, that is, goes hand in hand with what has already been said of Scripture as sign or sacrament: the movement of which the Bible is part does not terminate in itself, and the interpreter must not be arrested by the merely phenomenal, but instead press through the text to the Word of which it is the ambassador’ (p. 16, 17).

A gravely important point. Webster does not, unfortunately, unpack the claim about poetic activity, nor does he proceed to relate this directly to preaching, and to what sense (if any) preaching – and, indeed, the Church’s entire liturgical witness – entails poetic action, that divine speech in Scripture calls not only for ‘crucifixion and repentance’ (Divine Meaning, 8) but also for a rigorous affirmation of the imagination, not as, to be sure, a ‘co-creator of meaning’ or where readers and hearers might be said to ‘make’ meaning, but as part of the Word’s faithful and sanctifying unveiling. Is imagination somehow not included in the claim, made earlier, that the Word’s assumption of flesh ‘carries with it the election and sanctification of creaturely form’ (p. 7)? I think here of Brueggemann’s Finally Comes The Poet, of Nicholas Lash’s Holiness, Speech and Silence (see, for example, pp. 3–4), and, indeed, of Torrance’s own The Mediation of Christ. Unless I have misunderstood Webster here, surely this is a matter of both/and. So Trevor Hart:

‘We must insist, to be sure, that God’s self-revealing initiative (in Scripture, in his own self-imaging in his Son, and in his personal indwelling of the church in his Spirit) be taken absolutely seriously and accounted for adequately in Christian discipleship and theological construction. Yet we must also acknowledge the vital roles played by imagination in laying hold of the reality of this same God and in enabling our response to God’s engagement with us. For faith, as evangelicals above all know very well, is a relationship with God that transforms and transfigures. It is a relationship in which the Father’s approach in Word and Spirit calls forth from us ever and again imaginative responses as we seek to interpret, to “make sense” of, and to correspond appropriately with what we hear God saying to us. It is not a matter of having a divine image impressed on us like tablets of wax but of having our imagination taken captive and being drawn into a divine drama, playing out the role that the Father grants us in the power of the Spirit, whom he pours out on the entire group of players’. – Trevor A. Hart, ‘Imagining Evangelical Theology’, in Evangelical Futures: A Conversation on Theological Method (ed. J. G. Stackhouse, Jr.; Grand Rapids/Leicester/Vancouver: Baker Books/Inter-Varsity Press/Regent College Publishing, 2000), 197–8.

Professor Hart, who has, I think, engaged with these questions more deeply and more satisfactorily than most in recent centuries, has argued elsewhere that imagination remains a key category for any discourse about themes eschatological, that in order to make sense of the kind of hopeful living towards God’s future that Scripture bears witness to demands that we take the imagination seriously. ‘One of the key functions of imagination is the presentation of the otherwise absent. In other words, we have the capacity through imagination to call to mind objects, persons or states of affairs which are other than those which appear to confront us in what, for want of a better designation, we might call our “present actuality” (i.e. that which we are currently experiencing). I do not say “reality” precisely because the real itself may well prove to be other than what appears to be actual’. He continues: ‘Another key role of imagination in human life is as the source of the capacity to interpret, to locate things within wider patterns or networks of relationships which are not given, but which we appeal to tacitly in making sense of things. We see things as particular sorts of things, and this is, in substantial part, an imaginative activity. And, since more than one way of seeing or taking things is often possible, what appears to be the case may actually change with an imaginative shift of perspective, rendering a quite distinct picture of the real’. – Trevor Hart, ‘Imagination for the Kingdom of God? Hope, Promise, and the Transformative Power of an Imagined Future’ in God Will Be All In All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann (ed. Richard Bauckham; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 54. In other words, the present, Hart insists, does not contain its full meaning within itself, but only in its relation to what is yet to come.

It is precisely imagination, the capacity which is able to take the known and to modify it in striking and unexpected ways, which offers us the opportunity to think beyond the limits of the given, to explore states of affairs which, while they are radical and surprising modifications of the known, are so striking and surprising as to transcend the latent possibilities and potentialities of the known. If, therefore, the promise of God is the source of hope, it may be that we must pursue the suggestion that it is the imagination of men and women to which that promise appeals, which it seizes and expands, and which is the primary locus of God’s sanctifying activity in human life. (Hart, ‘Imagination’, 76)

Returning back to Torrance (and to Webster), it seems to me that the graced value of the imagination is not necessarily excluded from Torrance’s own rigorous scientific method, though, as Tony Clark has argued in a 2006 paper given at St Mary’s College, St Andrews, Torrance does have a tendency to see the scientific nature of theology as an exclusive paradigm for theological knowledge and in this the Scottish Presbyterian ‘discounts or marginalises other approaches to theology which ought properly to complement the “scientific model”’. [BTW: I heartily commend the published version of Clark’s PhD thesis, Divine Revelation and Human Practice: Responsive and Imaginative Participation]. If Webster’s point that hermeneutics is not a poetic activity is simply to underscore the basic unilateral givenness of the text then I can have no problem with his statement, but if by this claim he means to suggest that ‘the scientific character of biblical hermeneutic’ takes place apart from human imagination, then I would want to suggest otherwise.

To be sure, Webster touches on something of this in the final section of his lecture wherein he alludes to ‘a theology of the Word’s majestic freedom and condescension in appropriating and adapting created speech to revelation’ (p. 24), but he leaves this point undeveloped, electing instead to focus on Torrance’s trumpeting of ‘a genealogy of exegetical and interpretative reason … not only to give a pathology of hermeneutical defect but also to retrieve a set of useable dogmatic, metaphysical and spiritual principles by which to direct the interpretative exercise’ (p. 25).

My relatively-small reservation aside, Professor Webster’s paper is a superb introduction to Torrance on Scripture, and betrays his own longlasting engagement with questions of Scripture and hermeneutics, most obviously in Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch but also in other places. It certainly rekindled my appetite for Webster’s own forthcoming commentary on Ephesians (as part of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series). Many thanks to the TF Torrance Theological Fellowship for making Professor Webster’s paper widely available.

Robert Jenson: Burns Lecture 6 – Genesis 1:1 and Luke 1:26–38

jenson-2For his grand finale Robert Jenson offered a practical demonstration of what had been argued for in the first five lectures, namely, a creedal critical exegesis of Scripture. Due to time limitations Jenson took as his text Genesis 1:1-3 only. The joy of hearing him on this text was that it touched on many of the key themes of Jenson’s thought and gave us a kind of overview of his doctrine of creation and time.

His starting point was the observation that, although the two well-known translations of Genesis 1:1 are both grammatically possible, the shift in the NRSV to the temporal subordinate clause (‘when God created the heavens and the earth’) is a move from the most straightforward and default translation to something that more closely reflects the religiosity of ancient paganism. (There is no reason, Jenson contends, to abandon the LXX and KJV here) It is a departure from radical Judaism to a view of the universe in which chaos is antecedent to and coeval with God’s creating. Jenson noted that if in the beginning there is both God and chaos then both God and chaos are involved – at least at one level – in our creation. Creedal criticism, where the creed provides the lens for our suspicion of appearances, makes us immediately alert to this reading which assimilates YHWH to the anthropomorphic gods of religion. Even if it is only chaos it is a foothold outside God – a point of independence – something other than the absolute beginning of the Christian faith. It challenges our faith in the world’s ‘self-founded timeless being’. It is, says Jenson, Scripture’s scandalous ‘metaphysical put-down’ that we try and avoid. Interestingly, Jenson notes this same impulse in the cosmologist’s attempt to avoid creatio ex nihilo by means of positing multiple universes – a totally untestable and therefore unscientific hypothesis, which has nothing other than the conviction of ‘no absolute beginning’ as its basis.

With an eye on the creed Jenson continues: ‘Who is this God who tolerates no antecedents of his work?’ Creedal criticism assumes it to be obvious that it is the Father of the Son, Jesus Christ. It thus justifies the gloss ‘In the beginning the Father of Jesus created the heavens and the earth’. Thus we may conclude that ‘the contingency of the world is founded on the contingency of the life of Jesus’.

Jenson cites Westermann to claim that Genesis 1:1 is a caption summary for the whole story that follows. This then leads on to 1:2, which is where the creation narrative properly begins. Jenson claims that the best scholarship locates this verse in the post-exilic editing of a priestly savant in the second temple and then poses the question of whether this scholar was (a) thinking paganly or (b) using pagan language of Near Eastern mythology to serve the purposes of 1:1. Under the guidance of the creed, Jenson choses to read it the second way. His account of 1:2 is something like this. Given the unavoidable sequentiality of the narration of events, the writer wields the language of subsistent nothingness as a place-marker to indicate an absence. There can be no question about before. In Jenson’s phraseology, ‘To ask what was God doing before he created the world is a dumb question.

Again in verse 3 Jenson’s creedally-suspicious mind spots ideology at work in the NRSV’s translation of ‘a wind from God’ where in every other instance of the phrase ruach elohim is translated ‘Spirit of/from God’. What’s more, because Genesis 1:3 is a late text the tradent knew this title. Jenson’s creedal reading thus concludes ‘The Holy Spirit agitated the empty possibility posited when God begins to create and there is nothing’. What’s more, this suggests that there is an ‘inner liveliness in God’ which is directed towards making something when there is nothing.

At this point Jenson offered asides on the Nicene concept of the Holy Spirit as ‘enlivener’ and the folly of continuing to insist on the filoque which was after all an illegal addition.

From here the story of creation begins: (a) God said let there be light; (b) God saw that the light was good; (c) God separated the light from the darkness. The world simply is an affirmative response to God’s command: ‘That’s all there is to it’! And this explosion of energy (light) is good (for something). Here Jenson explores all the non-creedal and non-trinitarian puzzlements surrounding this text. A monotheistic/Unitarian/Aristotelian God cannot speak. For such a god eternity is necessarily silent.  At best, if a god like Aristotle’s did speak it would be an act of condescension. Moreover, for such a god to speak presupposes a polytheistic pantheon. However the creedal critic knows that not only can the Triune God speak, but God can be conceived as a conversation. ‘God is a conversation’. Only the Triune God who is a conversation can issue a command to creation before creation existed because the second person of the Trinity is himself a creature – Jesus of Nazareth. At this point Jenson talked of a conversation in which the Son, as the creature Jesus Christ, hears and speaks. ‘In what language does God speak?’, Jenson provocatively asks. In the language of Spirit – that universally self-translating language heard by the prophets, and which at Pentecost all the nations heard as their own.

And God saw that the light was good. Was it good because he saw it so, or did he discover it to be good? Jenson responds that there is ‘no humanly ascertainable difference’. However the key question Jenson moves quickly on to is, ‘Good for what?’ And here he refers us to the second and third articles of the creed – that is, that creation is the good stage for the drama of Jesus Christ. Moreover, this 78-year old ‘unreliable’ Lutheran affirms with Barth that creation is the ‘outer basis’ or ground for the covenant and its events, and that covenant is the inner ground of creation.

What about darkness? Does God create a non-good. Jenson accepts Augustine’s reading of darkness as absence, where light runs out. Evil is the ‘running out’ of being in its finitude. Thus like the dimming of light an apparent necessity (or at least an actuality) of created finitude. The creation of life includes within it ‘death on an enormous scale.’

The story moves from the creation of life (‘energy’ in (post-)modern parlance) to its endless differentiation. Jenson comments: ‘Never rest too much on agreement between science and theology’ precisely because science is constantly changing and it is inherent in its claim to be science that it is open to such change. So Jenson argues, our priestly savant used the best science of his day to tell of God’s creation of the world – ‘what other science was there?’ We ought to emulate his courage?

Question time followed. The first question in the gladiatorial fray went to the heart of Jenson’s theology asking whether the creatureliness of the Son (no logos asarkos) implied the eternity of creation (pantheism?). Jenson, clearly familiar with the need to defend this ‘novelty’ in his thought, was surprisingly brief in his response. It was two-fold: (a) his Ockham’s razor saw no need for a pre-incarnate logos (begging some prima facie questions posed by John’s prologue, of the Word’s becoming) and (b) a pre-incarnate logos becoming flesh presupposes a common timeline in divine and human history. This doesn’t correspond to Jenson’s view of the relation between time and eternity, and is a nonsense. However, he didn’t feel the need to defend this claim here. No doubt time did not permit.

Further questions focused on theodicy. In different ways, Jenson’s succinct conclusion was that ‘we can’t get God off the hook for evil. We can’t do it, but we have confidence that God can do it!’ Jenson mentioned in passing the open theist theodicy which diminishes the notion of omnipotence so that God is not morally responsible for all that happens. Jenson is not personally happy with this, but was not completely dismissive either.

The lecture was a powerful presentation of Christian reading/exegesis which depends on the premises of his previous lectures (see I, IIIIIIV and V). One might reasonably be not entirely convinced by Jenson’s radically post-modern/pre-modern scepticism with respect to objective meaning in texts (see Lecture 5) and therefore have some doubts about the pathway Jenson takes to a theological interpretation. Are authorial intentions really as private as Jenson suggests (and Vanhoozer, for example, denies)? A comment Jenson made to post-graduates at a seminar on Wednesday morning about the infinite malleability of texts makes one wonder about the distinction between reading a text and projecting onto the text – if this distinction is lost the proposal of a creedal exegesis seems to have a certain kind of arbitrariness. However, even if Jenson is wrong about hermeneutics, it does not follow that his theological reflections on the text of Genesis 1 are wrong, just that its relation to something one might call ‘the meaning of Genesis 1’ is different from how he conceives it.

One might also think that Jenson’s suggestion that the contingent creaturely life of Jesus is part of the eternal life and conversation which is the Triune God requires considerably more unpacking than Jenson is want to do. Might Jenson’s formulation suggest that this creature who is also creator might be in fact self-creating? Might Ockham be cutting himself shaving?

A final thought: however one arrives, one never leaves a Jenson lecture unchanged. Whether he is lecturing on theology proper, on eschatology, on the Trinity, on culture, on anthropology, on ecumenism or on the relationship between Holy Scripture and the Church’s Creeds, Jenson is undoubtedly one of the most original and erudite theologians of our time. Certainly, as one commentator noted, ‘Jenson’s mind makes stimulating company’. One comes away from this series of Burns Lectures with a renewed love for Scripture, with a new appreciation of the abiding witness and value of the Church’s Creeds, and with a lively sense of doxological fervour for the Triune God. At the end of the day, isn’t that what all theology exists to be about?

 

Past Lectures:

1. Creed, Scripture, and Their Modern Alienation

2. The Tanakh as Christian Scripture

3. The New Testament and the Regula Fidei

4. The Apostles’ Creed

5. The Creed as Critical Theory of Scripture

 

Notes by Bruce Hamill and Jason Goroncy

NT Wright’s Lambeth Lecture: ‘The Bible and Tomorrow’s World’

NT Wright’s lecture from the 2008 Lambeth Conference (Wednesday, July 30) is available. The topic: ‘The Bible and Tomorrow’s World’. I thought it was a good piece and was worth reposting here:

Introduction

My theme today has obviously been designed to go with today’s Indaba group work on our use of the Bible. This is an opportune time, as our Conference quickens its pace, to reflect on how we use scripture, not least how we Bishops use scripture as part of our vocation, as in the main theme of this Conference, to be ‘bishops in mission.’

Let me draw your attention to a book of mine which is foundational for what I’m going to say. Scripture and the Authority of God grew directly out of my work on both the Lambeth Commission and the International Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission. It was published in America under the strange title The Last Word – strange, because it certainly wasn’t the last word on the subject, and also because if I was going to write a book called The Last Word I think it ought to be about Jesus Christ, not about the Bible. But such are the ways of publishers.

The puzzle about the book’s title, though, points forward to the first thing I want to say this afternoon, which is about the nature of biblical authority and the place of the Bible within the larger edifice of Christian theology and particularly missiology. I turn to my first main section.

1. Scripture and the Authority of God

a. Scripture as the vehicle of God’s authority

Debates about the authority of scripture have tended to get off on the wrong foot and to turn into an unproductive shouting-match. This is partly because here, as in matters of political theology, in the words of Jim Wallis ‘the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it’. And sometimes the other way round as well. We have allowed our debates to be polarized within the false either/or of post-enlightenment categories, so that we either see the Bible as a holy book, almost a magic book, in which we can simply look up detached answers to troubling questions, or see it within its historical context and therefore claim the right to relativize anything and everything we don’t immediately like about it. These categories are themselves mistaken; the Bible itself helps us to challenge them; and when we probe deeper into the question, ‘what does it mean to say that the Bible is authoritative’, we discover a new and richer framework which simultaneously enables us to be deeply faithful to scripture and energizes and shapes us, corporately and individually, for our urgent mission into tomorrow’s world.

Consider: How does what we call ‘the authority of the Bible’ relate to the authority of God himself – and the authority of Jesus himself? When the risen Jesus commissions his followers for their worldwide mission, he does not say ‘all authority in heaven and earth is given to – the books you people are going to go and write.’ He says that all authority is given to him. When we say the closing words of the Lord’s prayer, we don’t say that the kingdom, the power and the glory belong to the Bible, but to God himself. And when Jesus commissions the disciples for mission in John 20, he doesn’t say ‘receive this book’ but ‘receive the Holy Spirit’. Authority, then, has a trinitarian shape and content. If we want to say, as I certainly want to say in line with our entire Anglican tradition, that the Bible is in some sense our authority, the Bible itself insists that that sentence must be read as a shorthand way of saying something a bit more complicated, something that will enable us to get some critical distance on the traditional shouting-match. From very early on in the church, it became clear that those entrusted with God’s mission included some who were called to write – to write letters on the one hand, and to collect, edit and write up the stories about Jesus, and the story of Jesus, on the other hand. The composition-criticism of the last few decades has moved us on a long way from the old half-truth that the biblical authors ‘didn’t think they were writing scripture’. Paul certainly believed that God had entrusted him with an authoritative mission, and that his letter-writing formed part of that Spirit-given, Christ-shaped, kingdom-bringing activity. And the gospel writers, in their different ways, write in such a manner as to say, with quite a rich artistry: here is the continuation and culmination of the great story you know from Israel’s scriptures, and this is how, through its central character, it is now transformed into the narrative of God’s dealings not just with Israel but with the whole world. Any first-century Jew who has the nerve to begin a book with ‘In the beginning’, weaving the themes of Genesis and Exodus, of Isaiah and the Psalms, into the story of Israel’s Messiah, and doing so in such a way as to provide a framework around and energy for the mission and life of the followers of this Messiah – anyone who does something like this is either astonishingly un-self-aware or is making the definite claim to be writing something that corresponds, in a new mode, to the scriptural narrative of ancient Israel.

From very early on the first Christians discovered that the church was to be shaped, and its mission and life taken forward, by the work of people who were called to write about Jesus, and about what it meant to follow him in his kingdom-mission. The new dispensation, the Messianic age, did not mean the abandonment of the notion of being shaped by a God-given book, but rather its transformation into something new, new genres and themes developing out of the old. But this already indicates that the Bible was not something detached, an entity apart from the church, simply standing over against it. The Bible as we know it, Old and New Testaments, was, from the first, part of the life of God’s people, and remained so as it was read in worship, studied in controversy, and made the basis for mission. But this did not mean then, and does not mean now, that the Bible can be twisted into whichever shape the church wants at a particular time. You can’t say, as some have tried to say, ‘the church wrote the Bible, so the church can rewrite the Bible’. Paul would have had sharp words to say about that, as would the author of Revelation. From very early on, all the more powerful for being implicit and not yet much thought through, we find the first Christians living under scripture, that is, believing that this book is its peculiar gift from its Lord, through the work of his Spirit, designed to enable the church to be the church, which is of course as we have been thinking throughout this Conference not a static thing but to be the church in mission, to be sent into the world with the good news of God’s kingdom through the death and resurrection of his Son and in the power of that same Spirit.

b. God’s Authority and God’s Kingdom

When we say ‘the authority of scripture’, then, we mean – if we know our business – God’s authority, Christ’s authority, somehow exercised through the Bible. But what is ‘God’s authority’ all about? To look again at scripture itself, it is clear that one of the most common models assumed by many in today’s world simply won’t do. We have lived for too long in the shadow of an older Deism in which God is imagined as a celestial C. E. O., sitting upstairs and handing down instructions from a great height. The Bible is then made to fit into the ontological and epistemological gap between God and ourselves; and, if it is the Deist God you are thinking of, that gap has a particular shape and implication. The Bible is then bound to become merely a source-book for true doctrines and right ethics. That is better than nothing, but it is always vulnerable to the charge, made frequently these days, that it is after all only an old book and that we’ve learnt a lot since then. The Left doesn’t get it, and often all the Right can do is to respond with an ever more shrill repetition of ‘the Bible, the Bible the Bible’. As the late great Phil Ochs sang during Vietnam,

And they argue through the night,

Black is black and white is white,

And walk away both knowing they are right;

And nobody’s buying flowers from the flower lady.

I know that quoting a Vietnam protest song dates me, but I guess that I’m not the only one in this room radically shaped by the events of the late 1960s . . .

The real problem with the Deism that infected so much of the western world in the eighteenth century and dominates it still – thank God for our brothers and sisters from elsewhere who didn’t have that problem! – is that it lives by serious reaction against the whole notion of God’s kingdom coming ‘on earth as in heaven’. (Actually, much Protestant theology couldn’t really cope with this idea either, perhaps in reaction against the perceived worldly kingdom of mediaeval Catholicism, which is why it privileged a particular reading of St Paul over against the gospels, a problem still with us in the guise of the Bultmannian legacy.) But when we re-read the gospels and the kingdom-announcement we find there into the centre of our own life and thought, we discover that God is not a distant faceless bureaucrat handing down ‘to do’ lists, our ‘commands for the day’. The God of scripture is with us in the world, his world, the world in which he lived and died and rose again in the person of his Son, in which he breathes new life through the person of his Spirit. Scripture is the vehicle of the kingdom-bringing ‘authority’, in that sense, of this God. That is why the Left, which prefers a detached Deism so it can get on and do its own thing, disregarding instructions that seem to come from a distant God or a distant past, gets it wrong, and why the Right, which wants an authoritarian command from on high, doesn’t get it.

There is a particular problem here, because our Anglican formularies speak of scripture and its authority in terms of ‘things which are to be believed for eternal salvation’. Living as they did within the late mediaeval western view, our Anglican fathers rightly saw scripture as the norm which guided you towards God’s promised salvation through faith in Jesus Christ; but, like everyone else at the time, they saw that salvation less in terms of God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven and more in terms of being rescued from this earth for a ‘salvation’ somewhere else. We can’t go into this in any detail, but I just want to note that part of the exciting work today of re-integrating gospels and epistles and rethinking the whole notion of the kingdom and particularly new creation and resurrection is not without its effect on the place and role of scripture in the whole process. Basically, I believe that scripture is the book through which the church is enabled to be the church, to be the people of God anticipating his sovereign rule on earth as in heaven, and that this fleshes out what our formularies say in a three-dimensional and energetic fashion. I have said more about all this in the relevant section of Surprised by Hope. And to say more about it I move to my third sub-section.

c. Scripture and the Story of God’s Mission

So how does the Bible function in the way I have described? Answer: by being itself; and ‘being itself’ means, primarily, being itself as story. I do not mean by this what some have seen as ‘mere story’, that is, a cheerfully fictive account to be relegated to the world of ‘myth’. The Christian Bible we know is a quite astonishingly complete story, from Chaos to Order, from first creation to new creation, from the Garden to the City, from covenant to renewed covenant, and all fitting together in a way that none of the authors can have seen but which we, standing back from the finished product, can only marvel at. Speaking as a student of ancient literature, I am continually astonished by the shape of scripture, which can’t simply be explained away as the product of some clever decisions by a third- or fourth-century Council. Of course scripture contains many sub-plots, and many parts which are not in themselves ‘narrative’ at all – poems, meditations, wisdom sayings, and so on. But the narrative shape continues to stand out, and indeed to stand over against all attempts to flatten scripture out either into a puzzle-book of secret gnostic wisdom, which deconstructs the stories, or into a book of true answers to dogmatic and ethical questions, which also deconstructs the stories but from a different angle.

And this raises the question, how can a narrative be authoritative? This is the right question to ask, and it raises some exciting possibilities. As I have set out at length elsewhere, scripture offers precisely the unfinished narrative of God’s heaven-and-earth project, God’s great design, as Paul puts it, echoing the Law and the Prophets, to join everything in heaven and earth into one in Christ. And the unfinished narrative functions like an unfinished play, in which those who belong to Jesus Christ are now called to be the actors, taking forward the drama towards its intended conclusion. This is actually a far stronger, and more robust, version of ‘authority’ than the one which simply imagines the Bible as a source-book for true dogmatic and ethical propositions. Of course such propositions are to be found in it, and they matter; but they matter as the tips of a much, much larger iceberg, which is the entire drama. And it is by soaking ourselves in that whole drama that we, God’s people in Christ Jesus, are to live with and under scripture’s authority, not simply by knowing which bits to look up on which topics, but by becoming people of this story, people formed and shaped in our imaginations and intuitions by the overall narrative, so that we come to know by second nature not only what scripture says on particular topics but why it says those things. And living under scriptural authority, contrary to what has been said by liberalism ever since the eighteenth century, does not then mean being kept in an infantile state, shut up to merely parrotting an ancient text, but rather coming alive, growing up, taking responsibility for seeing how the narrative has gone forward and where it must go next. We are, in short, to be improvisers, which as any musician knows doesn’t mean playing out of tune or out of time but rather discerning what is appropriate in terms of the story so far and the story’s intended conclusion.

This, I submit, has a strong claim to be an intrinsically Anglican way of thinking about scripture, insofar as there can be said to be such a thing. I am always intrinsically suspicious of claims to discover a specifically or intrinsically Anglican approach to anything, not just because of the myriad of local variations but because of the characteristic Anglican claim that Anglicans have no specific doctrine of their own – it’s just that if something is true, Anglicans believe it. The truth behind that old joke is that we have tried over the years, when it comes to scripture at least, to nourish a tradition of careful scholarship, rooted in philology, history and the early Fathers, hand in hand with a readiness to let the Bible resonate in new ways in new situations. As an example of this I cherish Brooke Fosse Westcott, Bishop of Durham a hundred and ten years ago, who is buried close to J. B. Lightfoot in the great chapel at Auckland Castle. Westcott is known, of course, for his meticulous textual criticism, and his magisterial commentaries on John and Hebrews. But in Durham he is also remembered for being the Bishop who, before the days of trade unions, settled a long and damaging miners’ strike by negotiating so hard with the mine owners that eventually they met the workers’ demands. For Westcott, careful biblical scholarship and hard street-level work for God’s kingdom were two parts of the same whole, and we should be proud when Anglicanism reflects similar combinations.

All this is of course nurtured by the straightforward but deeply powerful tradition of the daily offices, with the great narratives of scripture read through day by day, preferably on a lectio continua basis, so that ‘living prayerfully within the story’ is the most formative thing, next to the Eucharist itself, which Anglicans do. Classic mattins and evensong, in fact, are basically showcases for scripture, and the point of reading Old and New Testaments like that is not so much to ‘remind ourselves of that bit of the Bible’, as to use that small selection as a window through which we can see, with the eyes of mind and heart, the entire sweep of the whole Bible, so that our ‘telling of the story’ is not actually aimed primarily at informing or reminding one another but rather at praising God for his mighty acts, and acquiring the habit of living within the story of them as we do so. That, I suggest, is the heart of Anglican Bible study.

Seeing the Bible in terms of its great story enables us, in particular, to develop a layered and nuanced hermeneutic which retains the full authority of the whole Bible while enabling us to understand why it is, for instance, that some parts of the Old Testament are still directly relevant to us while others are not, and how this is not arbitrary but rooted in serious theological and exegetical principle. In the book I have developed the model of the five-act play, with Creation and Fall as the first two acts, then Israel, then Jesus himself, and then the act in which we ourselves are still living, whose final scene we know from passages like Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21 and 22. The point of this model is partly to explain the notion of ‘improvising’ I mentioned earlier – when living within the fifth act, we are required to improvise our way to the necessary conclusion while remaining completely faithful to the narrative, and the characterisations, of the earlier acts and indeed to the opening scenes of our own present act, i.e. Easter and Pentecost. But it is also partly to provide a way of understanding how it is that though, for instance, the book of Leviticus is part of our story, a non-negotiable part of that story, it is not the part where we presently live. When you live in Act 5, you cannot repeat, except for very special effect, a speech which was made in Act 3. Thus we do not offer animal sacrifice; the Letter to the Hebrews makes that abundantly clear. A similar argument is mounted by Paul in Galatians about God’s gift of the Mosaic law: it was good and God-given, but those of its prescriptions which separate out Jews from Gentiles are no longer appropriate, since we are not any longer in Act 3 but in Act 5, and with that eschatological moment the old distinctions are done away. This could be pursued at much greater length, but let me just make one particular and important point. There are of course a good many features of the Pentateuch which are not only retained but enhanced in the New Testament; one cannot assume that because some features of Mosaic law are abolished that all are equally redundant, just as it would be a bad mistake to suppose that the reason some parts have become redundant is simply because they’re old or because we now ‘know better’. Things are not that shallow. In fact, it gradually becomes clear that the OT is continually calling Israel to a way of life which is about discovering a genuinely human existence, and that, granted the achievement of Jesus the Messiah in Act 4, a good many features of the Mosaic law are not only retained but enhanced. This holds true for the Decalogue itself, with the sole exception of the sabbath law, and it certainly holds for the codes of sexual conduct, as a great wealth of scholarship has shown again and again. In the whole Bible, what men and women do sexually resonates with larger cosmic issues, and particular commands and prohibitions are not arbitrary, detached rules, but tip-of-the-iceberg features revealing a deep and structured worldview underneath. I commend the five-act model to you as a creative and fresh way of understanding and using the Bible for all it’s worth.

But it is of course particularly designed to explain how the great story of the Bible is designed to point us to our mission and to equip us precisely for that mission. The story begins with the creation of heaven and earth, and it ends with their eventual marriage, their coming together in fulfilling, God-ordained union. The biblical story reaches its climax of course in Jesus Christ, where this union of heaven and earth was inaugurated, modelled and accomplished – against all the powers that would keep them apart – through his death and resurrection. And the mission of the church in the power of the Spirit is to implement the achievement of Jesus and so to anticipate the eventual goal. Mission, in other words, takes place within the overall narrative of scripture, and is reinforced and kept in place by the reading and studying of the text that speaks this way, drawing together all features of wider culture that point in this direction and standing over against all features of wider culture which point elsewhere. It is only by living within this overall narrative that we, as bishops committed to leading the church in mission, can keep our bearings when so many elements of our own culture and our various traditions would threaten to sidetrack us this way or that. As I have written elsewhere, the larger biblical narrative offers us a framework for developing and taking forward a wholistic mission which refuses to split apart full-on evangelism, telling people about Jesus with a view to bringing them to faith, and full-on kingdom-of-God work, labouring alongside anyone and everyone with a heart for the Common Good so that God’s sovereign and saving rule may be glimpsed on earth as in heaven. Anglicanism has tended to oscillate between these two, between a primary reading of the epistles as being about private and personal salvation and a primary reading of the gospels as being about ‘social justice’. The two need one another, and in the best Anglican traditions they join up, like all the other complementarities in God’s world. So my point at this stage is this: a serious Anglican reading of scripture can and should generate a five-act hermeneutic in which our goals in mission are greatly clarified and our energy and sense of direction for that mission reinforced, as the Spirit uses our telling and retelling of the story to shape the habits of our hearts, minds and wills. And to say that is of course to say that, at the very heart of it all, the point of scripture is to root, form and shape our spirituality as a people and as individuals. We are to be a scripture-shaped praying people, which of course means a Jesus-shaped praying people, which of course includes being a scripture-shaped and Jesus-shaped eucharistic people. It is out of that scripturally formed well of personal and corporate spirituality, continually confronting, transforming and directing us, that we draw water to be refreshed as we find our way forward in the service of God, his gospel and his kingdom. But all this points us on to our present culture and the challenges it presents. How can scripture form us for mission in tomorrow’s world?

2. Scripture and the Task of the Church

a. Foundation: Bible and Culture

The confrontation between Christian faith and contemporary culture, between (if you like) Jerusalem and Athens, is as old as the gospel itself. It is rooted in turn in the confrontation between the Old Testament people of God and the surrounding cultures of Egypt, Canaan, Assyrian, Babylon and then, later, Persia, Greece, Syria and eventually Rome. Indeed, cultural confrontation and the complex negotiations it generated are woven into the very fabric of scripture itself. Jonathan Sacks, who we so revelled in listening to last night, wrote an article the other day about the way in which languages without vowels, such as Hebrew, tend to go from right to left, driven by right-brain intuition, whereas languages with vowels, such as Greek, tend to go from left to right, as the left-brain passion for getting things worked out accurately drives from that side. I asked him at dinner whether he’d had any feedback on the article, and he said rather disappointedly that he hadn’t; but he drew the moral, which I now develop, that part of the power of the early Christian faith was to take a right-brain religion such as Judaism and express it within a left-brain language like Greek. (Of course, you could argue that the Rabbis made up for lost left-brain time with the Mishnah and Talmud, but that would be another story.) From the very beginning Christianity was engaged with its many surrounding cultures, and no one model – Niebuhr, you recall, explored five in his classic book Christ and Culture – will catch all the nuances we might wish. Even in a short address such as Paul’s on the Areopagus we can see all kinds of different things going on. Paul is in head-on collision with the great temples all around him, and the endless stream of sacrifices being offered at them, yet he can begin from the Altar to the Unknown God and work up from there, quoting Greek poets on the way. And, reading between the lines, we can see how the message he brought could say both Yes and No to the Stoic, the Epicurean and the Academic. The Stoic supposes that all is predetermined, that divinity is simply suffused within the world and working its purpose out. Well, says Paul, you are right that God is not far from any of us, but wrong to suppose that God and the world are the same thing. The Epicurean supposes that God, or the gods, are a long way away, and that the best thing to do is make such shift as we can in this world. Well, says Paul, you are right that God and the world are not the same thing, but you are wrong to suppose that God is not interested in the world, and us human creatures. The Academic sits on the fence: there isn’t really enough evidence to be sure about the gods, so it’s best to keep the old state religion going just in case (a position not unfamiliar, alas, to some Anglicans).Well, says Paul, you are right that there hasn’t really been quite enough evidence to be sure of anything; but now all that has changed, because there is a man called Jesus whom God raised from the dead, and he is going to sort everything out from top to bottom.

Now of course the point of all that is not simply an interesting set of skirmishes about different ideas. The point is that these ideas had legs, and went about in the ancient world making things happen. They altered the way you saw things, the way you did things, the goals you set yourself and the ways you ordered your world and society. From the beginning no serious Christian has been able to say ‘this is my culture, so I must adapt the gospel to fit within it’, just as no serious Christian has been able to say ‘this is my surrounding culture, so I must oppose it tooth and nail’. Christians are neither chameleons, changing colour to suit their surroundings, nor rhinoceroses, ready to charge at anything in sight. There is no straightforward transference between any item of ordinary culture and the gospel, since all has been distorted by evil; but likewise there is nothing so twisted that it cannot be redeemed, and nothing evil in itself. The Christian is thus committed, precisely as a careful reader of scripture, to a nuanced reading of culture and a nuanced understanding of the response of the gospel to different elements of culture. You can see this in Philippians, where Paul is clear that as a Christian you must live your public life in a manner worthy of the gospel, and that whatever is pure, lovely and of good report must be celebrated – but also that Jesus is Lord while Caesar isn’t, and that we are commanded to shine like lights in a dark world. There are no short cuts here, no easy answers. Prayer, scripture and complex negotiation are the order of the day.

There is of course a very particular Anglican spin to some of this. Many parts of the older Anglican world, not least here in England itself, have become very used to going with the flow of the culture, on the older assumption that basically England was a Christian country so that the Church would not be compromised if it reflected the local social and cultural mores. That strand of Anglicanism has always been in danger of simply acting as Chaplain to whatever happened to be going on at the time, whether it was blessing bombs and bullets in the first world war or going to tea at Buckingham Palace. Within that world, the Bible has often been quietly truncated. We don’t like the bits about judgment, so we miss them out. We are embarrassed by the bits about sex, so we miss them out too – and then we wonder why, in a world full of hell and sex, people imagine the Bible is irrelevant! The Bible is a kind of spiritual Rorschach test: if you find you’re cutting bits out, or adding bits in, it may be a sign that you’re capitulating to cultural pressure. Equally, of course, there are many parts of the Anglican world where nothing but confrontation has been possible for a long time, and there people may have to learn the difficult lesson that actually the world is still charged with the grandeur of God, and that the biblical Christian must learn to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, no matter who they are, what they believe or how they behave. It is crucial to our vocation, and to our particular vocation granted our particular histories, that we rediscover the art, which itself is rooted in scripture, of discriminating (as Paul says) between things that differ, and of affirming what can and must be affirmed and opposing what can and must be opposed. Those of us who are involved in the business of politics and government know that this is a difficult and often thankless task, but it must be undertaken.

b. The Bible and Gnosticism

All this brings us to three particular features of tomorrow’s world which stand out particularly and call for a biblical engagement as we take forward our God-given mission. I am here summarizing the Noble Lectures I was privileged to give at Harvard University two years ago, which are yet to be published. The three features are gnosticism, empire and postmodernity, which fit together in fascinating ways and which provide a grid of cultural and personal worldviews within which a great many of our contemporaries live today. I speak particularly of the western world, and I regret that I am not qualified to do more of a ‘world tour’. But I remind all of us that, whether we like it or not, when the West sneezes everyone else catches a cold, so that cultural trends in Europe and North America will affect the whole world. (I notice that, though the current American election will affect everybody on the face of the earth for good or ill, only Americans get to vote. This strikes me as odd, though of course we British were in the same position for long enough and didn’t seem to mind at the time.)

Addressing these three issues could sound like an abstract intellectual exercise, but believe me it isn’t. This is the real world where people struggle and sin and suffer, and it is fatally easy for the church to be pulled down into the cultural assumptions of the day and so have no gospel, nothing to offer, no basis for mission or content to it either.

The first of the three makes this point graphically. When I was in college we studied Gnosticism as a strange ancient phenomenon, little imagining that it was already alive and well in western culture and that it would sweep through our world dramatically, not only in obvious thing like The Da Vinci Code but in the subtext of half the Hollywood movies and, more sadly, half the would-be theological thinking in our church. Two features stand out. First, a radical dualism in which the created order is irrelevant because we, the enlightened ones, are just passing through it and can use or ignore it as we please. At this point the Gnosticism of the right says, We can do what we like with our planet, because it’s all going to be destroyed soon and we’ll be snatched away to a distant heaven. And the Gnosticism of the left says, We can do what we like with our bodies, because they are irrelevant to the reality within us. And both are held in place by the larger Gnosticism of the western Enlightenment itself which has said, for the last two hundred years, We westerners are the enlightened ones, with our modern science and technology; we can make up the rules, we can saunter around the world exploiting its resources and its people, we can drop bombs on people to make whole countries do what we want, and it doesn’t matter much because we, the enlightened ones, are the natural possessors of justice, freedom and peace so those other people don’t matter as much as we do.

Along with the radical dualism goes Gnosticism as a religion, not of redemption, but of self-discovery. This is the real ‘false gospel’ at the heart of a good many contemporary debates. The Gnostic does not want to be rescued; he or she wants to discover ‘who they really are’, the inner spark of divine life. There is even a danger that we Anglicans spend time discussing ‘who we really are’, as though there were some inner thing, the Anglican spark, and if only we could identify that then we’d be all right. And in some of our most crucial ethical debates people have assumed for a long time that ‘being true to myself’ was all that really mattered (at this point the existentialism and romanticism of the last two hundred years reinforce the underlying gnosticism). This is a religion of pride rather than of faith, of self-assertion rather than of hope, of a self-love which is a parody of the genuinely biblical self-love which is regard for oneself, body and all, as reflecting the image of the creator.

And this false religion, though it often uses the language of Christianity, makes it impossible for people to have real Christian faith, or for that matter real Jewish faith; because in the Bible you discover ‘who you really are’ only when the living God, the creator, is rescuing you and giving you a new identity, a new status, a new name. The Bible is itself the story of, and the energy to bring about, the redemption of creation, ourselves included, not the discovery within ourselves of a spark which just needs to express itself. Gnosticism hates resurrection, because resurrection speaks of God doing a new thing within and for the material world, putting it right at last, rather than God throwing the material world away and allowing the divine spark to float off free. And it is resurrection – the resurrection of Jesus in the past, and of ourselves in the future – which is the ground of all Christian ethical life in the present. Christian ethics is not a matter of ‘discovering who you truly are’ and then being true to that. It is a matter, as Jesus and Paul insist, of dying to self and coming alive to God, of taking up the cross, of inaugurated eschatology, of becoming in oneself not ‘what one really is’ already but ‘what one is in Christ’, a new creation, a small, walking, breathing anticipation of the promised time when the earth shall be filled with God’s glory as the waters cover the sea. A biblically-based mission must learn from the great narrative of scripture to set its face against all Gnosticism, because it cuts the nerve of the mission both to the world of politics and society and to the life of every man, woman and child.

c. The Bible and Empire

Second, Empire. We British had an empire on which the sun never set, and we have spent the last hundred years puzzling over what went wrong and counting the cost. As I have said often enough, I hope and pray my beloved American friends don’t have to do the same. Let’s be clear: there is nothing absolutely wrong with empire in itself; empires come and go, they always have done, and the point is not ‘wouldn’t it be a better world without empires at all’ but ‘how can empires be called to account, be reminded that God is God and that they are not?’ All empires declare that they possess justice, freedom and peace; Greece did it, Rome did it, the British did it a century ago, the Americans do it now. Who will be next, and are we ready for that with a biblical narrative of empire that will say, with Colossians 1, that all the powers in heaven and on earth were created in and through and for Jesus Christ and were redeemed by the blood of his cross? Are we ready, in our biblically-shaped mission, to transcend the futile rhetoric of left and right – a very recent invention, in fact itself an invention of the Enlightenment – and to understand power the way the Bible understands it, as given by God to bring order to his creation on the one hand and, on the other, to anticipate in the present that final putting-to-rights of all things which we are promised? If we are thinking biblically we have a narrative which encodes a mission, the mission of God both to the rulers of this age and to those whose lives are either enhanced by them or crushed by them, or quite often simply confused by them in the middle. We in the West need to learn from our brothers and sisters who live under regimes which are deeply hostile to the church and would prefer that it disappeared altogether. And, dare I say, we need to learn these lessons quite quickly, because people are already talking about the next great superpower, and whether it is India or China we can be sure that, unless something truly extraordinary happens, the world will be dominated for the first time since ancient Rome by a superpower that does not stand within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and which will see that tradition as a threat. If we don’t prepare ourselves now for the future reality, and if we don’t learn the biblical lessons here and now of what Christian mission looks like under empire, we will fail not only the world of our own day but also the world of our children’s and grandchildren’s day.

Notice how empire and Gnosticism go together. Gnosticism arises under empire, because when you are powerless to change anything about your world you are tempted to turn inwards and suppose that a spiritual, inner reality is all that matters. Carl Jung put it nicely if chillingly: who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens. Welcome to the world of navel-gazing. That’s why second-century gnosticism arose when it did, following the collapse of the final Jewish revolt in 135 AD. And the empires of the world are delighted when people embrace gnosticism. Again in the second century the people who were reading the Gospel of Thomas and other books of the same sort were not burnt at the stake or thrown to the lions. That was reserved for the people who were reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the rest. There is a massive lie out there at the moment, which is that the canon of scripture colludes with imperial power while the gnostic literature subverts it. That is the exact opposite of the truth. Caesar couldn’t care less if someone wants to pursue a private spirituality. But if they go around saying that all authority in heaven and on earth is given to the crucified and risen Jesus, Caesar shivers in his shoes. And going around saying that is at the heart of Christian mission, which is sustained and energised by scripture itself, the book that will keep not only individual Christians but whole churches steadfast and cheerful in that mission when everything seems bent on blowing them off course.

c. Postmodernity

Whenever I mention postmodernity my wife either groans or yawns. Sadly she’s not here today to demonstrate the point, but before you have those same reactions let me say what I mean. We live in a world – the western world, but increasingly the global community – where truth is at a discount. Relativism is everywhere; there is only ‘your truth’ and ‘my truth’. Facts don’t matter, spin is all that counts. Likewise, and deeply worrying for the church, because we easily get sucked into this, argument and reason are set aside, and instead of debate we have the shrill swapping of hurt emotions. ‘I am a victim; you are prejudiced; end of conversation’. Or, in one of those worrying irregular verbs, ‘I am speaking from the heart, you are prejudiced, he or she is a bigot.’ My friends, this entire way of thinking – a world where the only apparent moral argument is the volume of the victim’s scream – is an affront to the biblical world, to the Anglican world, to the world of scripture, tradition and reason. Reason is not the same as emotion or indeed experience. Genuine screams of genuine victims matter enormously, of course, and are all taken up into the cry of dereliction from the cross. But they are to be addressed, not with more screams, still less competing ones, but with healing, biblical wisdom. The reaction against scripture within postmodern Christianity is no worse than the reaction against reason itself. And ‘experience’, which for John Wesley when he elevated it alongside scripture, tradition and reason meant ‘the experience of God the Spirit at work transforming my life’, has come to mean ‘whatever I feel’ – which is no more a safe guide to anything than a glance at the English sky in the morning is a safe guide to the weather later in the day.

Of course, postmodernity doesn’t stop with the deconstruction of truth. It deconstructs the self as well. At this point the Gnostic would do well to hide, because in postmodernity there is no such thing as the inner spark, the true inward reality. That’s why, for instance, in today’s debates among the gay community, the essentialist position (‘this is who I am’) is increasingly discounted by the constructivists (‘this is what I choose to be today’) – though you wouldn’t know that from the way the church still talks about the matter. But the greatest deconstruction of all is of course that of the overarching narrative, the great stories. Big stories, like truth-claims, declares the postmodernist, are claims to power. Live within the modernist story and the modernists will end up running the show. That’s how the world has worked for long enough.

And of course that presents quite a challenge to the Christian; because the Bible, as I have stressed, is precisely a great narrative, the huge, sprawling story of creation and new creation, of covenant and new covenant, with Jesus in the middle of it. That is why many Christians today shrink their mission to the mere attempt to give some people, here and there, a spiritual life and a hope out beyond, rather than taking the mission where it needs to go, into every corner of God’s world and its systems and structures. But please note: the deconstruction of power-stories is itself a claim to power. Pontius Pilate asked Jesus ‘what is truth’, because for him the only truth was what came out of the scabbard of a sword. Indeed, the conversation between Jesus and Pilate in John 18 and 19 stands near the heart of a biblical theology of mission, though sadly I’m not sure if that will come out in our Bible Studies in the next few days. In other words, though the postmodernist sneers at empire and its grandiose dreams, in the final analysis it colludes with it. It can scoff, but it cannot subvert. All those years of Jacques Derrida, and we still got George Bush. And Tony Blair.

So what does the Bible itself have to say on the matter? How can the great story I’ve been speaking of respond to the postmodern challenge – because make no mistake, if it doesn’t, our mission will shrink into a sad little parody of its true self. The answer is that the story of scripture is not a story of power, but a story of love – genuine love, overflowing love for the world God made. Note carefully what happens at this point.

I said postmodernity had one moral value only, the scream of the victim. That isn’t quite true. It has one other: the duty to, as is often said ‘embrace the Other’. This has come from various sources and it’s sometimes joined up, though I have to say with minimal justification, with some elements of the work of Jesus. This is at the heart of the appeal that we ‘live with difference’, and so on. I have spoken about that elsewhere; it all depends on a decision as to which differences you can and should live with and which you shouldn’t and can’t. There is an enormous amount of begging the question currently on this matter. But when we consider the biblical narrative we discover that here again postmodernity has produced a parody of the reality. In scripture, God makes a world that is other than himself, and that is full of complementarities: heaven and earth, night and day, sea and land, vegetation and animals, and ultimately humans, with the complementarity of male and female growing more evident within that world until it is finally affirmed, producing a picture of a world of radical differences with the differences made for one another. Within the biblical narrative, of course, this reaches its great conclusion when heaven and earth finally come together, with the new Jerusalem as the bride of Christ. This is the biblical story of love: the love of God for his world, the love within that world for that which is radically different from me, from us, the love which really does ‘embrace the other’, not in a casual and floppy sense of ‘anyone who’s a bit different from me’, but in the deep ontological sense of a love which goes out into a different country altogether to affirm the goodness of God’s creation there and to discover, in that affirmation, the greatest delight which mirrors the delight of God the creator, the delight of Christ the lover.

What we desperately need, if we are to pursue a biblical, Christian and indeed Anglican mission in the postmodern world, is the Spirit of Truth. There is no time to develop this further, but it is vital to say this one thing. We have got so used to the postmodern sneer that any truth-claim is instantly suspect. And at that point many Christians have lurched back to the apparent safety of a modernist claim: conservative modernists claim that they can simply look up truth in the Bible, without realising what sort of book it is, while radical modernists claim they find truth in today’s science, without realising what sort of a thing that is either. But we cannot go back; we have to go on; and the Spirit of Truth, often invoked in favour of any and every innovation in the church, is actually at work when we live within the great story, the love story, God’s love-story, and become in turn agents, missional agents, of that story in the world. Truth is not something we possess and put in our pockets, because truth is grounded in the goodness of creation, the promise of redemption for that creation, and the vocation of human beings to speak God’s word both of naming the original creation and of working for new creation – the word, in other words, of mission. The Spirit of Truth is given so that, living within the great biblical story, we can engage in those tasks.

Conclusion

There is much more to say, as Jesus himself said in the Farewell Discourses, but you cannot bear it now. I hope I have said enough to spark off some discussion and open up some topics of more than a little relevance to who we are as bishops in the Anglican Communion and what we should be about in our mission in tomorrow’s world. I have tried to offer a robust account of the way in which the Bible is designed to be the vehicle of God’s authority, not in an abstract sense but in the dynamic sense of the story through which God’s mission in the world goes forward in the power of the Spirit. And within that larger picture, the small details slot into place, not as isolated fragments of disjointed moral or theological musings, but, as I said before, as tips of the iceberg which show what is there all along just under the surface. There are other questions I haven’t addressed, not least the way in which the Bible demands to be read both individually and corporately in each generation, so that each generation can grow up intellectually, morally, culturally and Christianly. We will never get to the point where scholarship has said all that needs to be said and subsequent generations will just have to look up the right answers. Thank God it isn’t like that. But, as we in turn give ourselves to the tasks of being bishops-in-mission, of being biblical-bishops-in-mission, we must always remind ourselves that the Bible is most truly itself when it is being, through the work of God’s praying people and not least their wise shepherds, the vehicle of God’s saving, new-creational love going out, not to tell the world it is more or less all right as it is, but to do for the whole creation, and every man, woman and child within it, what God did for the children of Israel in Egypt, and what God did for the world in the death and resurrection of Jesus: to say ‘I have heard your crying, and I have come to the rescue.’

Source: ntwrightpage.com

On Bauckham’s criticism of Moltmann’s exegetical method

The November 2000 edition of International Journal of Systematic Theology includes Stephen N. Williams’ review of Richard Bauckham, ed., God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann, a book I commended here. One of the things Williams’ review highlights is a tension between Bauckham and Moltmann’s exegetical method. Williams writes:

‘Substantively, the most glaringly problematic response is to Bauckham’s essay on time and eternity. This lengthy essay, it should be said, contains constructive material on eschatology and aesthetics which is well worth pondering. In its midst comes a complaint worded with surprising strength, that ‘what little exegesis’ Moltmann offers on the things of time and eternity ‘tends to be remarkably ignorant and incompetent’ engaging in ‘exegetical fantasy’, a ‘substitute for disciplined exegesis’ (pp. 179f.). Moltmann’s reply reveals what is perhaps the Achilles’ heel of his whole theology. Bauckham, he says, is a New Testament scholar and he is not; Bauckham is thus ‘bound to a literal exegesis and committed to the colleagues in his particular field’ whereas he himself must develop his own theological relationship to the texts; he (Moltmann) is a ‘hearer of the texts’ who ‘becomes a friend of the texts, who discusses with them what they are talking about’ but, unlike the biblical Richard Bauckhams of this world, the theologian, or theology, ‘is not subject to the dictation of the texts, or the dictatorship of the exegetes’ (p. 230). One does not need to hold a remotely traditional position on the role of scripture in theology to find the spectre of conceptual chaos looming over Moltmann’s formulations on this point. He has left himself with much to do in a future volume on norms and method in theology’.

A new Scripture and Theology blog

One of the more exciting things about studying at St Mary’s College (University of St Andrews) is the rich interaction between biblical studies students and their dogmatic theology comrades. There may be lots of other smells around St Mary’s College, but there is little here that smells of ‘keeping the disciplines separate’. Some of my colleagues have now started a blog called Scripture and Theology in order to facilitate discussion beyond metropolis of St Andrews. It is well worth checking out.

Here’s a taster from Luke Tallon on Augustine’s reading of Genesis 1:

God did not create his creatures to live in the colorless borderland of the evening, but in the glorious light of the breaking dawn “when the creature is drawn to the praise and love of the Creator.” With this language Augustine certainly foreshadows the twilight following the fall and the rising of the glorified Son, but Augustine also has in view the progressive development of creation under the command of the creator. Thus, Augustine provides two comforts to his audience. First, just as God in his activity in the six days of creation moved towards the goal of the Sabbath, so too God is moving creation history to a climactic “seventh day” (note: towards the fulfillment, not the abolition of creation). Whether we see this in the morning light or it is hidden from us in the colorlessness of evening, this providential movement is happening. Second, although the twilight still lingers, the darkness will never come, and in God’s own time he will usher in an eternal morning. Thus, Augustine reminds us that it is both natural and right to yearn for the morning (cf. Ben Harper’s “Morning Yearning”).

Conference: The Holy Trinity in Holy Scripture

On May 28-30, Tyndale University College will be hosting a conference on ‘The Holy Trinity in Holy Scripture: Interpreting the Bible for the Church’. They have announced a call for papers here.

The conference will be of ‘interest to scholars, preachers, students and all those who may be concerned with how an ancient set of Scriptures can speak authoritatively and powerfully today.  The conference will address questions such as:

  • Is the doctrine of the Trinity the outcome of imposing Greek metaphysics on Scripture?
  • In what sense is it responsible to claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is a biblical doctrine?
  • What kind of doctrine of Scripture is necessary if we wish to make such a claim?’

Speakers thus far include:

Dr. John Webster, Professor of Systematic Theology, King’s College, University of Aberdeen
Dr. Lewis Ayres, Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Dr. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Assistant Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church, New Haven, Connecticut
Dr. Nathan MacDonald, Lecturer in Old Testament, St. Andrews University
Dr. Ephraim Radner, Professor of Historical Theology, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
Dr. Christopher Seitz, Professor of Biblical Interpretation, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
Dr. Peter Widdicombe, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, McMaster University

More details here.

Introductory bible texts

A most conscientious first year theology student recently asked me for some recommendations of introductions to the old and new testaments for his holiday reading. It’s been a while since I read an introduction to the testaments, so I basically suggested to him what I found helpful when I was a first year student. Here’s what I suggested to him (denoted with *) … plus a few that I didn’t mention:

Introduction to the Old Testament

*Adrio König, Here Am I: A Christian Reflection on God

Brevard S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context

*Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture

*Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments

Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology: The Theology of Israel’s Traditions

*John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology (3 vols)

Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy

*Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination

Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (2 vols)

*William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel. A Theological Survey of the Old Testament

*William J. Dumbrell, Covenant & Creation: A Theology of Old Testament Covenants

William J. Dumbrell, Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus

*William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, and Leslie C. Allen, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament

Introduction to the New Testament

*Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles

*Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, Introduction to the New Testament

Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: An Introduction and Commentary

E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels

*George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament

*Herman Nicolaas Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology

J. Christiaan Beker, Paul The Apostle

Joel B. Green (ed.), Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation

John H. Hayes, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook

Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans

Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation

*Merrill Chapin Tenney, New Testament Survey

N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology

Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

Richard Bauckham, James: Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage

Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation

Richard B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul As Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture

Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics

Robert H. Gundry, Survey of the New Testament

Now what have I left off this list that is as ‘must’ as they come? For those who can remember that far back, what did you find most helpful (or otherwise) as a first year biblical studies student?

NB: This list plus a few others have been added to this blog’s Reading List.

Nicholas Lash on ‘Doing Theology’

‘“It is not reason that is against us, but imagination.” … The ways in which we “see” the world, its story and its destiny; the ways in which we “see” what human beings are, and what they’re for, and how they are related to each other and the world around them; these things are shaped and structured by the stories that we tell, the cities we inhabit, the buildings in which we live, and work, and play; by how we handle through drama, art and song the things that give us pain and bring us joy. What does the world look like? What do we look like? What does God look like? It is not easy to think Christian thoughts in a culture whose imagination, whose ways of “seeing” the world and everything there is to see, are increasingly unschooled by Christianity and, to a considerable and deepening extent, quite hostile to it.

In such a situation, continuing to hold the Gospel’s truth makes much more serious and dangerous demands than mere lip-service paid to undigested information. Unless we make that truth our own through thought, and pain, and argument through prayer and study and an unflinching quest for understanding – it will be chipped away, reshaped, eroded, by the power of an imagining fed by other springs, tuned to quite different stories. And this unceasing, strenuous, vulnerable attempt to make some Christian sense of things, nor just in what we say, but through the ways in which we “see” the world, is what is known as doing theology’. – Nicholas Lash, Holiness, Speech and Silence: Reflections on the Question of God (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 3–4.

On knowing God – Some pitfalls of biblical theology

Last night’s reading consisted of a number of dabblings. I found this John McKenna article from Quodlibet Journal 1 No. 8 (December 1999); http://www.Quodlibet.net to be refreshing and wondered if his more rhetorical style will have an increasingly significant place in theological discourse in the future. Anyway, I wanted to reproduce it here to foster thought and discussion.

The Great I-AM of God in Biblical Covenant Relationship with His People in the Old Testament World
The consensus of modern scholars with reference to the interpretation of the significance of the Self-Naming God of the Old Testament can be indicated by quoting Professor Bernard Andersen’s comment on Exodus 3:13-15 in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (Oxford, 1991). There he writes, “The Name does not indicate God’s eternal being but God’s action and presence in historical affairs” (p. 72 OT). [1] He would differentiate and then essentially divorce knowledge of God in His eternity from the knowledge of God that obtains from with in the history of Israel. God’s action and presence in the deliverance and salvation of Israel occurs in a mode of rationality fundamentally different from God as He is in Himself in His eternity. I will argue in this essay against this understanding of the passage. Certainly, we must be able to distinguish God in His interaction with created reality from the Creator before the Creation, but this does not and cannot mean that we are not given permission to know God as He is in Himself. It does not give us permission to divorce the one reality from the other. These may be two dimensions of being that cannot be identified absolutely with one another. But these levels of being must come to signify the relational veracity that actually exists between them. In this way, in fact, we come to understand the way that they are made to participate with and in each other. The Lord God does not remain unknown in His self-revelation to the reader of the Bible. The essential nature of God’s being, outside of the created reality in which He has acted to reveal Himself, cannot escape our attention. Interpretation cannot be confined to some self-understanding or opinion we may construct about God from out of our own vaunted piety or consciousness. This would mean a subsequent loss of the kind of transcendent air that is necessary for human life to possess in real knowledge of God. [2]

I believe Anderson’s assertion may reflect the thought of G.E. Wright and others when, in the early part of this century, scholarship contended that a dynamical view of the God of the history of Israel in the Bible had to be established. Over against abstract notions shackling the Biblical Doctrine of God with rationalistic definitions of the Being of God, the God of History was to be apprehended. [3] The past Dogma of the Church did not come to grips, it was claimed, with the demands of history upon our explanations of God in history with Israel and the Bible. Biblical interpretation needed to free itself from the general assumptions of this so-called Enlightenment’s essentialism. The abstract thought imposed by its epistemology and ontology did not finally rest upon the Word of God, but on our own systems of thought about God. These were no more than a priori notions imprisoning God in a logical box from which the scholars sought to deliver Biblical interpretation. No generic definition of God was now acceptable. Class exclusion and inclusion modes of rationality were inadequate The nature of the divine substance possessed a freedom to interact with His People for their salvation completely missed by the Systematic and Dogmatic theologies of the past. Essentially, at this point the ontological was divorced from the soteriological aspects of God with the history of the world. We only knew in Revelation something about God—whatever He chose to reveal about Himself to us. But in this Revelation, God essentially remained incomprehensible to us.

I believe that this divorce between the ontological and the soteriological in the history of Israel is a plague upon our modern analyses of the Bible. We may grant that the static basis of thought gripping the nature of God’s being with abstract definitions divorced his reality from which He truly is in real history. But still the Biblical Theology movement’s insistence that no identity is to be thought between the transcendent and divine freedom of God as He is in Himself and who He is in His acts in history appears a tragic mistake. It is surely an inadequate response to the intention and purposes of the older theologies. I will agree that scholars need to rid their minds of false ontologies. But the dynamical interaction between God, the world, and His People cannot mean that the command to know God may be confined only to who He is in His acts. Who He is in Himself must in some way be integrated with who He is in His Act.

This means that we need to stop associating God’s incomprehensibility with our human ignorance of Him. We need to understand the infinite freedom of God to be with us in the world as a gift that allows us to apprehend Him in His Act and in this way to know Him in His incomprehensibility. We need to forge out afresh a Doctrine of God in our time that does not separate and divide of the Revelation of this Self-Naming Lord. The modern mind needs to breathe the transcendent air of this God’s divine freedom to act in history in a far more dynamical way than the old rationalistic and static categories of the past could allow. But this air is and must be filled with life of nothing other than God Himself. It is this life about which the Old Testament speaks so strongly. It is this One God who is in His own way present as the Creator and Redeemer of all things. We cannot pretend to know Him for who He truly is except in the history of Israel. But this One is to be confessed as none other than the Creator. We cannot pretend that who He is in history does not rely upon for the significance who He truly in Himself before the world was created. [4]

But in order to avoid reading back some abstract nature into the being of the biblical God in the history of Israel, biblical scholars created a great divide between Biblical and Systematic Theological over which ever since they have struggled to get. Categories of thoughts whose definitions bore but empty ideas about God in the world were utterly vanquished from consideration. Old Testament scholars set out afresh to grasp from within the actual relations belonging to the acts of God in the history of Israel a more real doctrine of the dynamic Biblical God. The god of the Enlightenment was definitely not the God of the Bible. The dogmas of the Church inherited from the past had nothing to do with the living Lord that the Bible would teach us is our Savior. The truth of the God for which we must seek is hidden deep within the secrets of Israel’s history. We could only know of Him in these acts of revelation. Outside of this knowing, we knew nothing of Him. For this reason, until very recently, commentary on Old Testament texts became curiously free from the thought of Patristic scholars and the proclamations the Church. Scholars have sought to introduce us more realistically and dynamical to a view of faith and history free from ontology. But it has been at the expense of confining the divine acts to a salvation history with only a very refracted relation to actual history as our modern scientific culture has come to define history. Salvation history and scientific history now find a great divide between them. [5]

The result has been that our modern concern for God and history has lost any real interpretive grip of any real ontological depth upon His transcendent relations with history. Revelation and reason remain at odds with one another. We have, thus, alienated ourselves from the transcendental dimensions inherent in our relations with the Covenant-Making God of the Bible. The relational poise of our knowledge of God belongs to history in such a way that we can know something about God at this or that time, but who He truly is in Himself, outside of His acts in history, appears to escape our attention. I have called this development the tyranny of vision in our modern life. People have now become imprisoned in their perceptions of things. They think they can only apprehend what is sensible to them. Revelation and common sense have become equated with one another for methodological reasons that do not allow experience to rest truly upon the transcendent and divine reality God Himself. The God who is free to be present with us in His acts in history is not free to give us knowledge of Life in Himself, life that has to do with who He truly is in His own eternity. I believe this Biblical Theology movement has reached a dead-end precisely because of its rejection of any real ontology inherent in God’s saving acts in the history of Israel and the Church as the People of God.

How has this happened? Why has this happened? What must now be done to overcome the impasses in biblical studies that this loss of freedoms has generated? What new power of integration could establish our interpretive efforts to understand in some compelling way the free God of the Biblical witness? These are important questions that require real answers if Biblical Scholarship is to take its appointed place in our time as a true servant of the People of God. To overcome any split between we must learn to integrate things that may have in the past truly escaped our attention. With the loss of an ontology that is firmly rooted in the ground of God’s own nature and being, we have posited a dualistic carving up of reality, alienating and fragmenting our wills and interpretive power from the divine will and power over us. This essay would make some contribution towards this fresh integration of God, the world, and its humanity in a covenant relationship of which the prophets, priests, and sages of the ancient Israel were vitally aware. It is hoped that we may well expand the scope of the results we obtain when we read and interpret the Bible while taking seriously the real dimensions of Divine Revelation our world.

We can also observe that the modern concern for the dynamical God of history witnessed to in the Bible, split apart from the Being of God Himself, cannot resolve the problem of time and eternity in biblical world. Who He is in His eternity remains unknown to us, and this ignorance is supposedly the kind of humility we need when we face the mystery of Him who acts for us. We actually live in a divide we have created with this assumption between the Biblical world’s theological dimensions and its empirical basis. The phenomenological realities of the world that provide the experience for the theological ground upon which the Bible builds up its concerns for us with God are split wide apart from one another. Even when we are given to know Him, we do not really know Him. We read the Bible then with these schizoid tendencies in the depths of our knowing. We suffer from this fragmentation, this alienation from the real being of God. We suffer from all of the consequences of such alienation in our interpretive processes. Perhaps the most plaguing notion to which I can point is the divide we have created between the Heilsgeschichte of the theologians and the Historie of the secular historians. Two kinds of history are thought to be posited, one a salvation history belonging to the People of God and the other a real history that belongs to the rational man throughout the rest of the world. It seems evident to me that this carves time up in a way I cannot read anywhere in the Bible. The Bible as a record of the history of Israel nowhere teaches us that this record is a matter for private faith. Everywhere that we read in this record, we find faith seeking an understanding of God who is universally one over all that is the world, its space and its time included. This theological orientation of the actual history of Israel would ever point beyond its witness to the Living God. Brute facts and phenomenal dimensions in this history must be understood as open to an investigation that rests ultimately upon the veracity of the being and nature of God Himself. This is what we mean when we observe the nature of the covenant the Lord God has established between his uncreated reality and the created reality of all things that have been given their existence according to the divine freedom of His Holy Love and Will. To think that the so-called hard sciences can prove or disprove this belief is to be utterly naive about the nature of science and theology. The deep split between the intelligibility of the world as God’s Creation and the empirical experience of its realities in the consciousness of men and women is the cause of much of our critical scholarship’s failure to produce anything the Church can rightly proclaim. But we need to integrate the form and content in our understanding of the wholeness of the Biblical witness. We need to understand the significance of time in the preservation and development of its records. We also need to grasp real purpose in the world. This is our most deep need and would take us a long way towards the kind of healing for which our people cry out today. Fragmentation and alienation and causes isolated the reality of time and eternity soon empty of real substance the whole of our efforts to teach the Good News. Schools are moved by one fashion after another without penetrating with their educational process into the depths of why we are who we are in the world. We are moved by polls and the fashions of causes rather than by God’s real freedom to be present with us in our time.

I do not wish to imply that we do not do well to differentiate between the God as He is in His relationship with us in His acts in history and who He is in Himself. But the Peopleof God are to understand this work is done to the glory of God, a glory that is inherent to His Being and Nature. Even without the Creation, He is glorified. The older abstract notions about God certainly did not rest upon the God of the Bible. We see clearly today the failure to distinguish between our statements about God and God Himself. But when this is taken to mean that experience must let go of God in His Self-Revelation in history, then we are committed to a superficiality incapable of the fiery marriage we must face in Moses’ Burning Bush and in the Incarnation of that Word whose humanity shapes the life and theology of any period of time in our history. Such dichotomy in much of our modern research serves to divide and to drive a wedge between the Church and the Academy. Ministry and theology seldom can rest upon the same ground, where much that has been proclaimed by the Church is judged questionable by scholars, whose findings seldom find their way into the pulpits of the Church’s preaching of the Word of God. Such chasms produce a famine of the Word of God in the land, a people hungering without hope for something that, so far as they have heard, does not actually exist. In this kind of vacuum, existential projections with very romantic notions about God one after another win the hearts and minds of people who suffocate for lack of real transcendent relations in their lives. Their phantoms may serve well the heart-felt causes of social or societal reform, but they are hardly the stuff that can heal the depths of the real lives of peoples. Neither abstract principles applied by our self-wills nor any subjective human imagination alone are adequate enough for real reflection upon the truth with which we all have to do in this world. These can only commit us to some very superficial kind reason and will, when we continue to fragment and alienate our lives both in the Church and in the world. Here we can only experience some self-imposed desolation of what we were truly meant to be. We remain unhealed in the depths of being and lost in our destiny with the Creator and Redeemer. Here all things become utterly suspect to us. That people lack a real solid vision for their lives is obviated by the self-destructive forces we experience daily in our society.

We say, then, that we cannot divorce the Creator from the Redeemer. We cannot divide the Creation from God’s Redemption. The Biblical record never contemplates any absolute chasm between them. We cannot tear God’s Being out from His Acts with us. We cannot posit an abyss between His Word and His Acts and His Being. Nowhere in this record are we asked to read of some deep split between God and His People. We read of His wrath and His curses in covenant with His People. We read of His holy love and His blessing in covenant with His People. We even read in the silence of His Word with us that those who will not to believe in Him in His Self-Revelation for us cannot deny some strange immanence of the Lord in the world.
Because these accusations and assertions are so vital for the study of the Bible, I would like to look at their claims somewhat further. The dualism at the foundations of our knowledge about which I have been speaking forces us again and again into a confinement that imprisons life in history conceived away from the freedom with which the Living God is free to be present with us in our time. We may free ourselves from our duty or obligations to Him, but then our freedom is barred from any real grasp of the true divine freedom in which human freedom is significantly embedded. Human freedom and divine freedom can toll no bells on any day of our lives.

Here, one only emphasizes the apophatic dimension of our knowledge of God. We confuse humbleness with ignorance. We deny confession of what is truly know its real place and value in our lives. Humility is described not as a confession to what is by nature truly there, but a posture we assume because of our ‘perspectives’ towards it. There is no real positive grasp of any true intelligibility to confess with us. Truth is a matter of opinion. The Lord of the history of the world is denied any truthful presence in it. We may possess or be possessed by God in time, but this time does not and cannot witness to His eternity. We may know God as present in our history, but we cannot know Him as the Lord God who is who He is whether there is a Creation or not. We cannot know God as God knows Himself. We are only permitted to know God through his acts in history, in His Relationship with us. We are unable to know Him as He is in Himself outside of this history. We are only given to understand Him in history according to what He is not. We can confess that to know Him as He is in His acts with us is also to know as He is in Himself in His Eternity. We cannot confess His essentially divine and holy and free being and nature as He exists apart from us.

Thus, we can never really participate in the life of God as such. Our knowing is never lifted up to the knowing that is God’s experience in Himself. We will not know Him for who He truly is in Himself, know Him with the same kind of knowing by which He knows the divine freedom to act with Himself in order to create and sustain and redeem a world that is His Creation. With such manners, we are committed merely to a negative confession about the One. We suffocate our lives in our vaunted self-understanding and mask our condition with a false humility. We secretly then value opinion over truth. We can even decide that science itself has not to do with such, destroy the nature of objectivity in our lives, and imagine that the world is only whatever we can come to know about it.

In this way, it is impossible for us to apprehend the celebration of the Self-Revelation of this One inherent in the covenant relationship He has freely posited with and for His People in the history of the world. The real saving significance of His divine freedom to be present with us as the Lord God, the One who is who He truly is, from before the creation of all things, is utterly lost upon us. We are thus found even with the best of our scholarship preventing others from entering into the fullness of what it means to experience this Only One in the Self-Revelation of the His Self-Naming Act to which the Bible has been made to bear witness. [6]

These accusations, I believe, fairly characterize the malaise in much of our educational process today. We can see that the pervasiveness of these dichotomies lies behind so much of the trouble the fragmented experience and the alienation that marks so much of the modern world. Society seems gripped by a spell both tragic and foolish in so many of its efforts to create a just culture or civilization. Unable to possess real Knowledge of God, we make the confession of an unknown god define as humble the confession we allow ourselves. We are unable to acknowledge that in the true relationship where we are made to understand God with us bears also who He is in Himself. These are not two gods, but we treat them as such. We will not know God in His Self-Revelation in this world. We continue in this way to insist that Reason and Human Passion are in fact our gods.

Still He is in Himself what He is in His acts with us. We must, indeed, learn to breath the real transcendent air necessary for true progress in the development of human thought. When we find ourselves plagued by relationships that will not allow us to rest our lives upon the Living God, to whom the Bible would refer us, we must learn to breah a new kind of air. Yet often the nothingness of God’s Creation haunts our existence still. We will understand the positive dimension of its reality with us. We suffer with alien ideas about God’s grace for us. We do not set ourselves free from that which threatens our existence and apprehend the actuality of the divine freedom with which the true nature and holy being of the Creator and Redeemer has acted with us. We remain in one spell or another alienated from this divine freedom. Even in His covenant relationship for us, we do not rest upon the One who is on His own freedom who He is with us. We do not actually enjoy His divine freedom and eternal life in our time. We remain locked up then in our own self-centeredness.

We mistake our notions about infinity with God’s. We mistake our grasp of the invisibility of the world with God’s Spirit. We confuse ourselves with Him. Manners invented by our vaunted need and longings define humanity for us. We suffocate our experience, like fish in water, in a world unable to live beyond the life where we are born to die, unable to ask and answer those deeper questions about the deepest secrets in the depths of our being in the world, unable to know what shapes the destiny of this world in which our lives occur. The heights and the breadth and the depths of what it means for us to be human beings remain unactualized beyond our selves. And in the confusion even the animals and the plants upon the planet seemed threatened by us. All appear destined for dust in this kind of world. Admittedly, these are strong accusations against the modern mind-set, but I believe that it is necessary for us to hear them today. [7]

Such reductionism, for instance, at the heart of our knowing about the nature of our knowledge has led many scholars to believe that the covenant relationship taught us in the Old Testament can be conceived as merely an idea. [8] The confusion here is between a statement about truth and the truth itself. What we know and can state is confused with what actually exists as the world outside of our knowing of it. We become the judges rather than servants of the nature of the world. If we will to embrace the world only as our tests verify it for us, we lose the reality of its beauty and beauty’s function in its desing. If only by our own standards of measurements we think the world is what it is, we destroy the role of mystery in our rationality. We may even think that beyond our knowing lies only some nightmare we would refuse to experience. Our lives are then really imprisoned in the history of the world. In this reductionism of human thought, it is often suggested that we should doubt the veracity of God in covenant relationship with Ancient Israel and the Church in the world.

The confession of the People of God in the Biblical World is nothing but a private faith acting in her history upon one stage in the world’s progress with this kind of reductionism. The fact that this People were to know God for who He truly is, even in the freedom of His Divine Life, is never actually apprehended. The Bible is made at its foundations a product of the minds of those ancient writers who believed something about God in their times, but not God as He is outside of them in His own Eternity. The result has been the debates about the nature of covenant in the Old Testament that we can read in modern scholarship today.v [9] Here we are not asked to take seriously both the real historical dynamics inherent in the reality of covenant relationship with Israel and the source of their meaning in the reality of the life of God. There are, in fact, some today who would suggest that Biblical covenant cannot be employed at all to exegete the Old Testament, while others simply continue to struggle to apprehend its significance for the development of a theology that might overcome the apparent fragmentation in all these efforts. [10] In the midst of these problems, Brevard Childs, perhaps intuiting that the trouble is bound up with the relationality in the overlap between theology and science, has written, “I am aware that T.F. Torrance has devoted much of his energy to the issue of relating the Christian faith to the sciences. Although I have tried reading several of his learned books on this subject, I do not feel that I understand him well enough to offer a critical assessment and I shall leave this task to others”. [11] One of the purposes of this study is to work towards the establishment of a framework of Biblical interpretation for Biblical study that is rooted truly in the Biblical World as the real world. I want to argue that it is possible to find a direction for study that shall resolve the impasses and splits of which many are now becoming aware. The theology and the phenomenality of the world as God’s creation revealed to us through the real nature of the covenant relationship taught us in the Old Testament must be thought together with, not only the development in the New Testament, but also the Church and our Science. We would argue that Torrance’s works, in fact, are more than helpful for pursuing Biblical Theology, even seminal in our time and, properly understood, will make a creative and integrative contribution to our study and interpretation.

We must consider first Exodus 3:14. [12] Professor F.W. Bush has written an excellent little article on this text that will help our purposes here. [13] He has shown that the idiom (‘ehyeh ‘asher ‘ehyeh) in Semitic is equivalent to idem per idem of the Latin grammarians. It is widely used in Hebrew and Arabic and signifies both indeterminacy and totality of the existence of the thing that exists as it actually does exist. He translates the term, “I am there, wherever it may be…I am really there.” The idem per idem of the I-AM (‘ehyeh) would in this way refer us to a superlative of being with the Lord’s presence in space and time for us. This presence is with us in its own unique free way and not in any other. It is in fact both a gift of apprehending Him entailed by the knowledge that what we have been given to know of Him is bound up with who He truly is, in His freedom, for us. It is important to notice here how the author relates this to God’s gracious and merciful being in covenant relationship with Israel as the People of God. Exodus 33:18-19 employs the same idiom as we find in Exodus 3:14. [14] This language asks us to understand that the ‘Little Credo’ explicated in Exodus 34:6-7 is to be understood in the light of the ‘ehyeh of the covenant made at Horeb. [15] It is the great I-AM of the Burning Bush who is divinely free in the Exodus Tradition. He is compassionate and favorable, slow to anger, and of great covenant love and faithfulness (yaweh, yaweh, el-rachun we-chanun, ‘erek ‘apayim we-rabh chesed u-’emet) with His People, even in the fact of their preference for a Golden Calf. He is this even in His punishment of His People for their rejection of Him. The purposes of His covenant relationship shall be fulfilled in Him who freely continues in His Presence with the history of the People of God. The uniqueness of this great I-AM of Israel’s Exodus Tradition is then bound up substantially with the Creator God. He is who He reveals Himself to be in His world with His People. He thus teaches His People to regard His divine freedom as necessary for grasping the nature of the relationship between them. The establishing of the command of God over His People should be understood to rest in the authority the Redeemer possess as the One and Only free Creator of the world. [16] He is thus self-defining in history in such a way that history knows Him for who He truly is or ever will be in its time and space. In His Divine Freedom He is the same with them.

In this way of thinking, there is no room for interpreting the essence of God as unknowable and the mystery of God as something rooted in human ignorance of the Lord. Through the freedom of God to make Himself as present in the history of Israel known to Israel, He is the One He says that He is. That is precisely what covenant relationship is—the created and creative means by which God has chosen freely to speak with His chosen people. In this knowledge of God, they were to appreciate the mystery of God for what it really is and fear God and seek His wisdom. They were to appreciate that, in their knowledge of Him and precisely here in their knowledge of Him, they had apprehended the One in His incomprehensibility. Outside of this One, the mystery of the profound incomprehensibility of Him is nothing. All of this is substantially what is meant by the idem per idem of the idiom bearing God’s answer to the question Moses has put to Him about His Name and the deliverance of His People from Egypt. It was the force of this command over His People that God created a worshipful community for Himself.

At the heart of this Worship Tradition in Ancient Israel lies, of course, the Psalter and we may understand that Psalm 50 belongs to this tradition as a prophetic covenant renewal ceremony of the People of God. [17] It accuses Israel of attending improperly to that object who has called her to worship in covenant with Himself and to a renewal of her devotion. Both the Levitical and Prophetic Traditions are involved in the renewal. The purpose is to create that gratefulness with the People of God that is appropriate for the God who truly is who He is in covenant with the People of God. Thus, the purpose of the Thanksgiving Offering in Israel (todah–Ps 50:14) is explicit. Here we are face to face with God Himself in the way He has given Himself to be in covenant relationship with His People, who are to be grateful to Him for His great deeds and the gift of Torah in their history. Thus, the psalm celebrates His Name and warns against its misuse in the worship of the community of faith. Its uniqueness is meaningful in the ultimate sense.

The text of special interest to us here is verse 21, the conclusion of the accusations against Israel. We may read: “These things you have done and, when I was silent, you thought to compare the being of I-AM to yourselves.” The phrase that it is in contention, usually translated something like “…you thought that I was just like yourselves,” is most often emended on the ground that it is impossible Hebrew. [18] But if we read the finite verb as a personal name and relate it to the great I-AM of the Exodus Tradition, there is no awkwardness and I believe we are more to the point. [19] The People of God are to be grateful to God on the ground of who He actually is with them in their history (‘ehyeh) not for who He is not (lo-‘ehyeh). It is not as if He could be some image they have made of Him out of themselves and with which they can compare themselves.

Having celebrated the Name of God, the Psalmist accuses the community of offering sacrifices unacceptable to Him. The people may have His Name upon their lips, but they hold Him off far from their hearts. They thus allow room in their lives for the making of shameful things among themselves. They turn the being of the I-AM into something He is not. Here, at the heart of the Worship Tradition of Israel, we may learn that Israel is capable of making her God into another idol of her own choosing. Surely, the Golden Calf of the Exodus Tradition could not have been far from the mind of the Psalmist. The Great I-AM, who made Himself intelligible to Moses as the loving and faithful God of the covenant, even beyond the preference of the People for their idol-making, is the subject of the object of the psalm’s concerns. I like to read the cleansing of Psalm 51 in relationship with this purpose of Psalm 50. The reality of the Name in the worship tradition of Israel is of that nature that a clean heart, not a profane one, is necessary to walk in the presence of Yahweh (Ps 51:12) in the history of Israel. Offer what you will to God, if you cannot offer that gratefulness which is appropriate to His really being with you for who He truly is, all that you offer is but idol-making with His Name.

If next we consider this same point being made in the Prophetic Tradition of Israel, we will begin to understand more vividly the significance of the revelation of the Self-Naming of God in covenant with Israel. In Hosea 1:9, we may read that the Name of God as the great I-AM (‘ehyeh) of the covenant with Israel has been forsaken and the People of the covenant have transformed Him into the Not-I-AM (lo-‘ehyeh) and married His Name to the Baal that they found in the Land God had given them. [20] This is the purpose of the Word of God embodied in the marriage between Hosea and Gomer and in the naming of their children. Just as Israel has been to Yahweh, so Gomer is to Hosea. Just as Hosea is to Gomer, so Yahweh is to Israel. Jezreal (Hos 1:4 –yizr’ael), Not-Pitied (Hos 1:6 –lo-ruchamah), and Not-My-People (Hos 1:9 –lo-´ammiy), the three children of the marriage, are named with theological significance. They are the fruit of turning away from the God of the covenant in Israel. They are what they are because of their faithlessness with the Great I-AM. They bear the marks upon them of God’s curses in His relationship with them. They must and shall be transformed into Israel (yizra`el=>yisrael), Pitied (lo-ruchamah=>ruchamah) and My People (lo-‘ammiy=>’ammiy), when the Not-I-AM (lo-‘ehyeh) has become the I-AM (‘ehyeh) in covenant once again with and for the People of God. The rhetoric of this literature is unmistakable. With a passion that may seem ironic, God will turn to her who has turned away from Him and turn her once again to Himself. This is the whole point of the covenant’s root in the ground of God’s love or grace (chesed) with Israel (cf. Ps 136). Thus, the Lion of God’s salvation in chapter 11 and the Love Song of chapter 14 reverse the reversal of Israel in covenant with her God. We can see God in His Day like the dew upon the Land giving as the great I-AM the great fertility that becomes in the prophetic hope the messianic kingdom promised by God for His People. The whole purpose of the prophecy is to envision the future that God will make for her after the punishment for her faithlessness has been completed. God’s judgment of her is never a last word. It serves a purpose that lies quite beyond the curse of God in His relationship with her. It serves to create a vision of her future that allows Israel to develop the hope that freely develops the shape of her history in the world.

In this light, we may understand the concerns of the prophets for making the Word of God heard as the speaking of God Himself, a voice that makes God known for who He truly is in covenant relation with His People. Think of the assertions of “I am Yahweh” in the Light of the Vision of Isaiah [21] and the contention in the Book of Ezekiel that Israel should know that “He is Yahweh,” [22] and we begin to appreciate the divine passion of the free God who will, beyond the disobedient history of His People, create a world in covenant with Him in such a way that all will know Him for who He truly is. This is, in fact, the fundamental passion of the prophetic hope created in Israel. No prophecy is given except for the purpose that God shall be known for who He truly is in covenant with His People. It is the loving faithfulness of Yahweh that is the source of the future of the People of God. Though the kingdom may lie in ruin, Israel is to trust Him for a future that was rooted in the passion of His promise freely made by God with her. We cannot read the prophetic tradition of Israel properly without appreciating this passion. It is in this way that the prophets relate the hope of the future they see being created out of their past. The Torah of Sinai and the hope of the future are connected together with this certain hope. The God of the covenant struggles across the centuries, and beyond the complete devastation of everything she has ever known as sacred, with Israel. She is meant ultimately to know that her God is none other than the great I-AM who delivered her from Egypt, who is both her judge and her future’s Saviour.

If the worship tradition and the prophetic tradition are both bound up with the reality of the Self-Naming of the Self-Revealing God of the Exodus Tradition in the history of the People of God, then this same God must be known for who He truly as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. As such, He is before whom no other gods in the history of the world can stand. Because He is this One, we must learn to relate Israel’s wisdom tradition to these developments in her time. Past efforts have shown that this question is very important to our ability to integrate the world of the Old Testament with its God and His People. [23] Scholars are still busy attempting to explicate the role of Wisdom in the history of Israel. How is the tradition actually related to Covenant and the prophetic hope developed in Israel? It is an important question for which scholars seek answers today.

Von Rad may be typical of the modern approach. [24] He suggests that the Wisdom of Proverbs 8 is the link to the Ancient Near East and the means by which Israel related her worship to the rest of the nations. As such, she is influenced by others outside of the community of faith (Prov 8:22) but always in a transforming embrace of the others. Von Rad writes, “For in the process of this transference of foreign ideas to the Hebrew thought-world, many of them have become completely different.” [25] Israel’s Wisdom cannot be readily compared, say, with Maat in Egypt or Ishtar in Babylon, however influential the others are on her. All such influence is transformed and any transference of ideas made to serve in the Hebrew world the God of Israel. It is understood that any tradition of speculation in world attribution, employed to give some character to God, is now in the service of Yahweh. [26] It is in the dynamics of this world that the tradition of the Sage is divided up into Old and New, when Job and Ecclesiastes can be read over against the early Doctrine of the Two Ways developed, it is claimed, out of the empirical nature of the proverbial wisdom of the ancients. That the righteous do not always prosper and the world is of no ultimate value are views that contradict the theology of the wisdom developed out of the empirical sayings of experience of old. [27] Here, von Rad and the modern consensus are against the classical tradition of the fathers of the Church, who read the Old Testament in quite another way. [28] Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8 had been identified with Christ, the fathers could claim, in the New Testament, and must be understood as speaking God Himself in Christ, not about some first principle of the world as God’s creation or any other created reality. This is what Karl Barth sought to defend when he read the wisdom tradition. [29] For Barth, “The divine wisdom is the divine self-communication ordering and determining the world for itself.” [30] In Barth’s view, the modern consensus in Old Testament scholarship against the fathers of the Church is not appropriate because it lets go of God in that place where we most need Him to be with us. Barth argues that the ‘fear of Yahweh’ is turned on its head if Lady Wisdom is not read as God Himself and the divine love forced to remain opaque to her children.

The Lady Wisdom of Proverbs 8 is in this way the key to grasping the way Wisdom and Covenant are indeed to be related to one another and therefore throws light upon the way God takes with Himself as Judge and Redeemer of Israel in the nature of the covenant relationship taught us in the Old Testament. I would look at the situation in this way: The I-AM of God (Ex 3:14) with His ‘credo’ (Ex 34:6ff) both judges and saves disobedient Israel with Himself in a ‘slowness to anger’ ( ‘erek-‘appayim) that is controlled by His Wisdom. Thus, the beginning of Wisdom in Israel is the ‘fear of Yahweh’ in covenant and creation. Who God is with Himself in covenant relationship with Israel is none other than who He is in relationship with His creation. The world possesses in itself no first principle about which humanity is left to speculate. It is what it is directly related to God with His Wisdom in a freely created and creative relationship that informs not only what the world is but also its destiny. The begetting or possessing of wisdom (qanah, Prov 8:22) and the play of wisdom as master worker (‘ammon, Prov 8:30) in the beginning of the world cannot be defined by ideas read off of what the world has been made to be. Thus, Lady Wisdom participates not merely in the primordial judgment that orders the world in the beginning, but also in the judgment whose patience allows the mercy and faithfulness to be the means by which God has freely chosen to make Himself known in His world. The secret of Wisdom lies in the long-suffering of God’s patient wisdom and the way that in time this wisdom participates in the free and merciful God’s judgment of His People among the nations. He is this in covenant with them in the world. He is not this way as we might judge Him to be the development in the creation of His covenant relationship with Israel. Thus, she, this Lady Wisdom, is the ground of creation as the sphere in which humanity purposely has its being with the God, where freely she lives to give purpose and meaning to all that has made to exist.

I would suggest that the point to make here is that the personal “I” of all these traditions, Prophetic, Priestly, and Wisdom, cannot be read in isolation from one another. It was in the light of this “I” that all these great traditions of Israel were developed, and it is in the light of this “I” that the whole history of the People of God is shaped and formed into its role among the nations (cf Jeremiah 18:18). The connection between the covenant and the wisdom traditions in Israel is to be found in God Himself. The personal reality of God and the develpment of the great traditions of Israel are bound up with one another in such a way that God is free to fulfill in them His ancient promise to her. It is upon this connection fulfilled in Christ that Barth really posits his thought. Lady Wisdom is for Israel God Himself against Dame Folly, just as she is in the history of Israel’s covenant with Him. As difficult as it may be for us, we must read the “I” in all the traditions as none other than the great I-AM of the Self-Naming of the Self-Revealing God with His People. [31]

For our purposes, the important point to reach now is the one about the personhood of God as the One who is or will be who He truly is throughout the fabric of life in Israel. It is within this freedom’s definitions that the messianic hope is developed and with this freedom that new dimensions are introduced into the complex that points the People of God to their future. The Self-Naming God of the Old Testament does not allow His Name to be torn away from the actuality of His real personhood in His reality with Israel. In fact, all the traditions of Israel are what they are because they are bound up with this God and with no other. It is idol-making to use His Name without reference to the reality of His Being and it is idol-making to seek in the world a first principle which lays down another ground upon which the divine can be known for who He truly is with His People.

Throughout his works, Professor Torrance has attempted to persuade us about the semantics of this kind of relational veracity inherent in any real interpretation of the Biblical world and its God. [32] God does not act in the history of the world to reveal something about Himself but Himself. In this way, He is dynamic being free to become something He has never been in the history of His People for their sakes. He is true and faithful Being both with Himself and with His People. Because He is who He is and He will be who He will be with them and for them, His People can trust Him for a future that is bound up with His love and faithfulness. His eternal Being and what He is in Christ cannot be divorced from one another without negating the whole history of Israel and her covenant with Him. [33] In this way of understanding, then, I find Torrance’s work most vital for Old Testament interpretation, and very satisfying in helping me to integrate my investigations of the history and theology of the Old Testament World.

This kind of personhood of God is what we must face if we are going to speak about who we are and who we ought to be and what shall become of us in the history of this world. The great I-AM of the Burning Bush and the I-AM of God made known in Christ are One and we need to learn to read the Bible with the Church again in our time in the light of the divine freedom in this Revelation of our Lord and God. We will not know who we are as persons without this kind of dynamical wholeness open to us in our time. This means that we must reject the assertion that the eternity of God and the revelation of God in history are to be held apart from one another. The scholars were certainly right to reject the abstract categories of the Enlightenment of the past, but they were not right to let go of God’s Being in Himself what He actually is in covenant with His People. We are to know Him for who He truly is in covenant relationship with Himself in the way that He has given Himself to be known with us. Because the nature of this relationship is rooted in God’s own free and divine nature, we who know that we are known by Him know that He is who truly is for us, and that He knows us for who we truly are. In this way, we may indeed gratefully know as we are truly known.

Endnotes
[1] Anderson, B.W., Creation In The Old Testament (1984) p. 4, thinks that the Name here is hapax legomenon, and does not deal with cosmic issues and has nothing to do with the Creator. W. Zimmerli in his Old Testament Theology (1978), p. 18-21, would point to the divine and sovereign freedom of God as the source of the definition of the Name.
[2] This reductionistic view is sharply contrasted with Karl Barth’s exegesis of the passage in his Church Dogmatics II. 1 and 2. Barth understands the name of God as ontologically and soteriologically related even to Revelation 22:8 of the New Testament (III. 2, pp. 464-66). The contrast well illustrates the substantial question of my argument in this essay.
[3] Wright, G.E., The God Who Acts (1952) and The Old Testament Against Its Environment (1950) were both written to overcome the loss of the Old Testament’s significance for the Gospel. The author first separates salvation-history from real history and then goes on to argue that the tension between redemption and the world marks the significance of the history of Israel. But this history and its relationship to the God of Eternity is ultimately conceived as a truth that belongs to a faith whose relational veracity with the science of the world is not relevant, is agnostic. Wright would justify the history of redemption in Israel recorded in the Bible but not its God in the real world.
[4] See R.W.L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament, (1992), pp. 13-26. No discussion of the ontological nature of the Revelation can be found here. Salvation must be understood based upon the literary character of the texts and the problem of the names of God found in the Old Testament. His attempt in chapter four to answer the question ‘Why is the Name Yahweh used in Genesis?’ rests on the idea that something about God is implied, without discussing the problem of the new and the old One in Israel’s history (pp. 36-67).
[5] See B.W. Anderson’s Creation versus Chaos, (1987) for a finished discussion of this position and its background, where creation is absorbed into history’s faith and expounded in comparison with ANE mythologies without appreciation for its unique and real relationship with the real world as God’s creation out of nothing.
[6] See Buber, M., I and Thou, (1958), when the personal reality of God and His holy love for what has been made to be is found to be deeply involved in its destiny as well as its beginning. History and its redemption cannot be divorced from the personalizing God who is their real explanation. Form and content of created reality must be bound up with the substance of the eternity of God Himself (see pages 118-120 for example).
[7] See the works of Michael Polanyi, eg. Personal Knowledge, (1958) for an argument that would argue for some real resolution to this problem.
[8] Hillers, D., Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea, (1969). If the nature of Biblical Covenant were merely an idea, then the principles we may derive from it and apply to our lives would necessarily be valid as interpretations of the Word of God. Covenant relationship as taught us in the Bible is, however, a reality and not merely an idea, and when we lose our grasp of it , history itself seems but an idea to us. We are confined to giving meaning to history rather than reading out of the its nature its true significance in the world. But we cannot make ourselves the judges of time in this way, except with profound consequences. We must learn to serve its nature and its substance with our lives , if we are going to appreciate the Biblical world and its history.
[9] See the essays in Studies in Old Testament Theology, a festschrift for David Allan Hubbard upon his retirement from the Presidency of Fuller Theological Seminary (1992), all of which assume in their analysis of the relationship the dichotomy asserted by Anderson in the Oxford Study Bible.
[10] Childs, B.S., Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, (1993), where the author’s efforts to understand the form of the canon as rooted in the history of Israel’s God with her has caused him to question methodologies that reduce the relationship down or away from the actuality of the realities taught us in the Bible. It is not true that Childs would reduce the concept of canon to a final form in a return to pre-critical interpretation. He has, perhaps, a tendency to abstract the authority of the canon somewhat away from the Self-Naming God in the history of Israel, but surely he is right to object to the fragmentation produced by the historical-critical schools.
[11] ibid, p. 406. A champion of the epistemic poise in the work of Karl Barth, Torrance has been arguing that Biblical Theologians have been slow to appreciate the advances in epistemology made by our our modern scientific culture. As a result, they continue to analyze the texts with assumptions that need critical questioning under the compelling insights science has learned to possess. The consequences would be, argues Torrance, a new, open structured apprehending of reality with which covenant relationship has to do. In this way, we could learn to overcome the split between the God of eternity and the God of history in so much of the modern analytical mode of thinking (see for instance his Karl Barth, Biblical and Evangelical Theologian, Edinbrugh, 1990, especially the chapter on ‘the Latin Heresy’ pp. 213-240, or Transformation & Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge, Belfast, 1984, especially chapters VII-IX).
[12] The literature is voluminous. For an example see Schild, E., “On Ex iii 14–‘I am that I am,'” Vetus Testamentum 4 (1954): 296-302.
[13] Bush. F.W., “‘I Am Who I Am’: Moses and the Name of God,” in Theology, News, and Notes, Fuller Theological Seminary, December 1976, pp. 10-14.
[14] Bush refers to D.N. Freedman’s article on “The Name of the God of Moses,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 79 (1960): 151-156, while reading the phrase as a Qal stem.
[15] I have called the knowledge God gives Moses of Himself here for the purposes of covenant renewal in the wake of the Golden Calf incident a ‘little credo’ because of the use of the phrase throughout the Old Testament (Num 14:18, Neh 9:17, Ps 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jon 4:2, Nah 1:3). It is also true that the I-AM lies behind the use of the other name of God in the Pentateuch—yhwh. The Tetragrammaton is the name of the God of the Exodus in relationship with the ‘ehyeh, which remains uniquely and universally employed in the Old Testament to signify the covenant-making God of the history of Israel. Identified also with the ‘elohim, the I-AM is understood as the One who is both the Creator and Redeemer of Israel and the heavens and the earth. See Abba, R., “The Divine Name Yahweh”, JBL Vol. LXXX, IV, 1961,pp. 320-378, where the Name is understood within the context of the Promise of God in covenant with Israel, and Gianotti, C.R., “The Meaning of the Divine Name YHWH”, BS t. 142, 1985, pp, 38-51, where a new beginning is signified not merely for the history of Israel but for God Himself in this Name.
[16] I understand that a proper exegesis of this ‘little credo’ would yield the kind of perfections in the divine freedom which have been articulated throughout the work of Karl Barth, where both judgment and grace belong to the perfect freedom of the wisdom of the great I-AM of God.
[17] Kraus, H-J., Theology of the Psalms, pp. 56-58. The author’s call for a new start in attempting to grasp the significance of this content, especially in regards to the covenant relationship, is very well taken. I like to think of Psalm 50 as a Panda among the Gattungen of the critical scholars. Its uniqueness defies our generic classifications.
[18] Kraus writes, “The infinitive construct twyh is syntactically impossible at this point. We should probably read wyh (Psalms, p. 488)”. This is true, however, only if we are unable to take the hyha as a substantive. I would argue with Youngblood, R., “A New Occurrence of the Divine Name ‘I AM’,” JETS Vol XV, III, Summer, 1972, pp. 144-52, that we are to read with reference to Exodus 3:14. I believe that the emendation was first made by Gesenius, Hebrew Grammer, 1910, p. 491 of the 1976 edition.
[19] The point is made by Calvin that “…in their secret and corrupt imagination they figure God to be different from what he is…” (Institutes, Vol. II, p. 278), where a false conception of Him is unable to offer the sacrifice of praise that is appropriate to the great I-AM.
[20] F. I. Andersen and D.N. Freedman, Hosea, Anchor Bible, 1980, pp. 198-199, read with others the Ehyeh as the name given in Exodus 3:14. Also, D.A. Hubbard, Hosea, IVP, 1989, has indicated this reading is possible for the meaning of the Book of Hosea’s concerns for understanding the dsj of Yahweh as the character of the hyha in Israel’s prophetic hope. I am centralizing this concept in the history of Israel and her covenant relation with God.
[21] cf Is 42:5-9, where “I am Yahweh” (verse 8) would assure those of the Vision that trust is certainly appropriate in covenant with the God of Israel. The whole of the Vision of the Word of God before the reader of the Book of Isaiah would create a fearless trust that God is who He says He is in covenant with His People (see the purpose of the Fear-Not Oracles of Second-Isaiah in relation to the I-AM of God, J.B. Becker, Gottesfurcht im Alten Testament, Rome, 1965, pp. 51-52.)
[22] cf W. Zimmerli, I Am Yahweh, Atlanta, 1982, where the author argues this point.
[23] Old Testament theologies by Eichrodt and von Rad both required additional treatments of the Wisdom Tradition in order to explain how their work was to be related to the Sage of Israel and the contribution of this dimension of Israel’s culture to her history.
[24] G. von Rad, Wisdon In Israel, Abingdon, 1978, pp. 144-176.
[25] ibid, p. 153.
[26] ibid, p. 156. “But Israel did not agree to the mythicization and deification of the first principle of the world.”
[27] See for example D.A. Hubbard’s Tyndale Lecture for 1965, The Wisdom Movement and Israel’s Covenant Faith, delivered at Cambridge University, July 10. So far as I can see, this represents much modern analysis of the relationship between Wisdom and Covenant Faith.
[28] From R.B. Y. Scott’s Proverbs-Eccelesiaste, New York, 1965, to Roland Murphy’s article in Old Testament Theology, ed. R.L. Hubbard, Jr., R. K. Johnston, R.P. Meye, Word, 1992, pp. 192-195, Lady Wisdom is considered a piece of poetic personification with origins that remain less than God Himself. The indentification with the hypostasis of Christ is what is denied, in spite of the recognition that Prov 8, Jn 1, Col 1, and Heb 1 ought to be read together in some way. The understanding of the verb qanah (hnq) in Proverbs 8:22 that posits a divine action taken prior to the action that created the heavens and the earth is implicit here.
[29] K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, II.1, p. 429-430. See also T.F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, Edinburgh, 1988, p. 83-84, where this reading was vital for the Church’s struggle against Arian views of Christ and the Wisdom of Israel.
[30] ibid, p. 433. This point is made over against any attempt to project out of ourselves a world-view that can be equated with god’s creation. No analogy of being exists between ourselves and God and the divine freedom to create a world for Himself. Barth defended this thesis throughout the steady argument he made with his Doctrine of God in CD, II.
[31] Already in the intertestamental period we can see the struggle to integrate the Word with the Work or Acts of God in the world (Sirach 24, Wisdom of Solomon 7-9), when also the development of the apocalyptic genre is related to the Sage rather than the Prophet or Priest of Israel’s Royal gaze into her future. In this way, all that we had to say about Ex 3:14, Psalm 50:21, and Hosea 1:9, we must be able to say about Proverbs 8:22 in relation to the actual nature and being of the Lord God of the Biblical World.
[32] He argues that the Hebraic basis upon which the Nicene Theology is developed shows us that the Incarnation of the Word of God provides the connection that allows us to understand that God will not allow His Being to be divorced from His Word and Acts in history (op. cit. pp. 68-75.)
[33] See for intstance Torrance’s recent work, Trinitarian Perspectives, Edinburgh, 1994, where the I-AM of God and the Trinity of God are shown to be fundamental to the Biblical witness in the Church.


On Adolf Schlatter

Over at Biblical Foundations, Andreas Kostenberger has a post on Adolf Schlatter as a model of biblical scholarship and theology. I reproduce it hear because Schlatter was an important influence on Forsyth. His book, The Theology of the Apostles, recently published by Baker, is a fantastic read and an excellent model of biblical theology. Too many of his perceptive insights have been ignored.

Adolf Schlatter: A Model of Scholarship

One of my scholarly and personal heroes is Adolf Schlatter. At a time when Adolf Harnack espoused his liberalism, and Rudolf Bultmann eclectically appropriated David Friedrich Strauss’s mythological approach and Martin Heidegger’s existentialism, Schlatter stood firm in his advocacy of a biblical-theological, salvation-historical reading of the Bible and a high view of Scripture.

In the foreword to The History of the Christ in 1920, Schlatter wrote, “The knowledge of Jesus is the foremost, indispensable centerpiece of New Testament theology.” This stands in marked contract to Rudolf Bultmann, who opened his famous two-volume New Testament Theology thus: “The message of Jesus is a presupposition for the theology of the New Testament rather than a part of that theology itself.”

In his approach to hermeneutics, Schlatter was ahead of his time and uttered timeless principles such as these:

It is the historical objective that should govern our conceptual work exclusively and completely, stretching our perceptive faculties to the limit. We turn away decisively from ourselves and our time to what was found in the men through whom the church came into being. Our main interest should be the thought as it was conceived by them and the truth that was valid for them. We want to see and obtain a thorough grasp of what happened historically and existed in another time. This is the internal disposition upon which the success of the work depends, the commitment which must consistently be renewed as the work proceeds. (History of the Christ, 18)

In a day when interpretation increasingly becomes an exercise in reader response, or when texts are said to have a life of their own apart from the intentions of the author who willed them into being, Schlatter’s hermeneutic of perception, that is, of perceive listening and apprehension of the words of another, speaks a powerful message. Much of the contemporary interpretive confusion arising from undue subjectivism could be avoided if Schlatter’s words were heeded.

Also timeless if Schlatter’s emphasis on Jesus as the center of the biblical message read as a whole. This conviction is fleshed out compellingly in his 2-volume New Testament Theology, entitled respectively, The History of the Christ and The Theology of the Apostles. It also underlies Schlatter’s final work, a devotional called Do We Know Jesus? which he wrote in his old age during the last year of his life.

In this his final work, the 85 year-old Schlatter penned the following words, just shortly before the outbreak of World War II:

Do we know Jesus? If we no longer know him, we no longer know ourselves. For in our ancestral line, he is at work with unrivaled power. Compared to him, what is a Hildebrand become one with his sword, or a Krimhild burning with passionate lust? The condition of our inner lives and of our national community proves that the things Jesus built into this world are both present and at work among us. This is not obscured even by the numerous antichrists among us. For precisely when they, with blazing wrath, seek to suppress any memory of Jesus, their thoughts and intentions are inevitably shaped by the One they combat as their enemy.

It is on account of this raw courage, and this power of prophetic insight, that Schlatter, though dead, still speaks to us today and challenges us to engage in a hermeneutic of perceptive insight and humble confidence, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

For material on Schlatter see his two-volume theology, The History of the Christ and The Theology of the Apostles (Baker, 1997 and 1998). See also his biblical theology presented in devotional form, Do We Know Jesus? Daily Insights for the Mind and Soul (Kregel, 2005); and “Schlatter Reception Then and Now: His New Testament Theology (Part 1),” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 3/1 (Spring 1999): 40–51.

Forsyth on the Bible and authority

Ben Myers, over at Faith and Theology, has posted a great post by Kim Fabricus on preaching. Well worth checking out. On a related note, here’s a list of points that Forsyth makes about the authority over (or source of) the Bible.

1. There is something authoritative for the Bible itself.

2. It is not something which comes up to it from without like the scientific methods of the Higher Criticism. To make that supreme would be rationalism.

3. It is something which is in the Bible itself, provided by it, and provided nowhere else. We must go back to the Bible with modern scholarship to find what the Bible goes back to.

4. It is not truths extracted from the Bible and guaranteed by prophecy and miracle. That is the antiquated supernaturalism with its doctrinaire orthodoxy.

5. In a word, that is over the Bible which is over the Church and the Creeds. It is the Gospel of Grace, which produced Bible, Creed, and Church alike. And by the Gospel is meant primarily God’s act of pure Grace for men, and only secondarily the act of men witnessing it for God in a Bible or a Church.

6. The Gospel was an experienced fact, a free, living, preached Word long before it was a fixed and written Word – as was the case also with the prophets.

7. It is not enough to say the authority in the Bible is Christ unless you are clear whether you mean the character of Christ or His Gospel. All admit Christ’s character to be a product of God’s action; is the same true of Christ’s Gospel?

8. To apply the Gospel of Grace as the standard of the Bible is to go higher than the Higher Criticism. It is the highest. The Gospel is not merely the final test of the Bible, but its supreme source; and the Bible is its humble vassal to be treated in any way that best obeys and serves it. The security of the Gospel gives us our critical freedom.

9. The Bible is not merely a record of the revelation. It is part of it. It is more true that God’s great Word contains the Bible than that the Bible contains the Word. The Word in Christ needed exposition by the Bible. The Gospels find their only central interpretation in the Epistles.

10. The Bible is not so much a document as a sacrament. It is not primarily a voucher for the historian but a preacher for the soul. The Christ of the Gospels even is not a biographical

Christ, so much as a preached Christ. The Bible is not so much a record of Christ as a record and a part of the preaching about Christ, which was the work of the Spirit and the apostles. There is no real collision between the Christ of the Gospels and the Christ of the Epistles. The apostles, and especially Paul, moved by the heavenly Christ, form an essential part of Christ’s revelation of God’s grace.

11. It was a theological Gospel, though not authoritative as dogma but as living, personal revelation. The Christian experience must cast itself more or less in the forms of its historic origin, and not merely in those of human relations and affections. E.g., Christian sonship is not natural, or even spiritual, but evangelical; it is the sonship of adoption. So conversely with the Fatherhood of God.

12. This subordination of the Bible to the Gospel was the relation felt by Jesus Himself. He used His Bible for its Gospel, not for its information – as a means of grace, and not as a manual of Hebrew history. That is, He read His Bible as a whole. He commits us not to the whole Bible but to the Bible as a whole. The Bible is not a compendium of facts, historic or theological, but the channel of redeeming grace. Faith is something more than the historic sense dealing with documents. It is the moral and spiritual sense dealing with revelation as Redemption.

13. The appeal of the Bible is not to the faith of the individual but to that of the whole Church, which is the other great product of the Gospel. My dullness or disbelief does not affect the witness of the saints, classic or common, in every Church and age.

14. In the Church the Bible becomes more than a product of the Word. It is a producer of it in turn. It generates the faith that generated it. As the greatest of preachers it produces preachers. And it is at home only in a Church whose first duty to men is to preach.

15. The detachment of faith from the Bible and from its daily use marks both Romanism and the religiosity of the modern mind.

16. The disuse of the Bible by Christians is due to a vague sense of insecurity rising from critical work on it, and to the extravagant claims made for it which criticism prunes.

17. The Christian creed has really but one article, great with all the rest. It is the Gospel of God’s redeeming Grace in Christ. The charter of the Church is not the Bible, but Redemption. Those words of Christ are prime revelation to us, and of first obligation, which carry home to us the redeeming grace incarnate in His person and mission.

18. The Higher Criticism has been a great blessing, but it has gone too far alone, i.e., without final reference to the highest, the synthetic standard of the Bible – the Gospel of Grace. What we need, to give us the real historic contents of the Bible, is not a history of the Religion of Israel, but of Redemption – with all the light the Higher Criticism can shed on it, and much more that it cannot.

19. Christianity will not stand or fall by its attitude to its documents, but by its attitude to its Gospel and to the soul.

20. The Free Churches have yet to face the spiritual problem created for them by the collapse of an inerrant Bible and the failure of an authoritative Church. And the only key lies in the authority of that grace which called them into being as the true heirs of the Reformation, the trustees of the Evangelical tradition, and the chief witnesses of the Holy Spirit of our Redemption.

(Taken from PT Forsyth, The Church, the Gospel and Society (London: Independent Press, 1962): 67-70)