Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Let the One Reading Understand

In the records of Christ’s Olivet Discourse reported by Matthew and Mark, as Jesus alludes to the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy concerning “the abomination of desolation,” the respective authors have inserted a parenthetical comment: “let the [one] reading understand” (Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14).1 What is the significance of this statement?


A Popular Inference


Because of the exact repetition of the words (ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω) in the two Gospels, a number of critics have claimed this is indicative (proof?) of literary dependency, i.e., copying from one or the other or from a common literary source.2 However, this explanation fails to appreciate the surrounding textual differences, the transmission of biblical data from an ancient-oral-culture perspective, the widespread dissemination of verbal instruction, as well as the function of collective memory.3


Notwithstanding the Holy Spirit’s guidance, both Matthew and Mark lived and wrote in the same historical period and would have shared much more in common than just literary sources.4 If we take the internal textual evidence at face value rather than relying on subjective literary theory and philosophical presuppositions that drive the conclusions of many liberal scholars,5 questions of authorship and dating are much less daunting and the biblical texts themselves are more readily explicable.


A More Contextual Approach


Seeing that no one in the early centuries of Christianity had his or her own personal copy of the Bible, the parenthetical comment in the accounts of Matthew and Mark appears to be a note inserted in the written text for the public reader in church assemblies.6 The Gospels of Matthew and Mark were likely written within a comparable timeframe not long before this prophecy was fulfilled, i.e., by the instigation of the Jewish War that led to Jerusalem’s destruction.7 Not only would the directive invite the reader (and listeners) “to identify with the immediate followers of Jesus and respond as they were expected to,”8 it would serve as “a clue to Christian eyes but an enigma to others, presumably the imperial authorities.”9


This simple parenthetical insertion, decades after the Lord issued the prophetic warning, confirms that the prophecy was to be fulfilled during the lifetime of his contemporary disciples (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30) and their awareness of the signs about which he spoke. Particularly relevant to Matthew’s reading audience was the object of the prophecy’s fulfillment (nationalistic Judaism), while particularly relevant to Mark’s readers was the channel of the prophecy’s fulfillment (Rome).


Although we live centuries after the fact, these words have been preserved in the biblical text for our learning. Therefore, let the one reading understand.


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. The Olivet Discourse is recorded in the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew and paralleled in Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 21:5-36.

     2 See, e.g., B. D. Ehrman, The NT: Historical Introduction (4th ed.) 93; R. H. Stein, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (2nd ed.) 46; H. B. Swete, Commentary on Mark 305; “almost universal assent among contemporary New Testament scholars …” (D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 91). Contra K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the NT 48-55.

     3 See K. L. Moore, “Oral Transmission of the Biblical Records,” Moore Perspective (18 Jan. 2012), <Link>.

     4 While Jesus and his immediate followers spoke Aramaic, from Pentecost onwards the oral transmission of the gospel message was not limited to this language (Acts 2:4-11; 8:4; 11:19-20). Since these teachings came to be recorded in Greek, it is only natural to assume they had also been verbally communicated in Greek, particularly among the Hellenists, the Greeks, and the bilingual populace of the Roman Empire. Even Aramaic-speaking Palestinian Jews were proficient in Greek. See A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek NT 26-29; D. A. Caron and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 240, 624, 644-45; J. D. G. Dunn, The Parting of the Ways 41-47; F. F. Bruce, NT History 217-19.

     5 Redaction critics scrutinize how authors allegedly created literary works by editing and modifying their source(s) of information. However, this popular theoretical approach is “based upon reasoning developed out of a ‘logocentric’ perspective -- the idea that any similarities MUST have been the result of copying -- out of a grossly anachronistic assumption that ‘simpler is earlier’ rooted in evolutionary thought, and out of grossly anachronistic assumptions about ancient methods of composition” (J. P. Holding, “Relationship of the Synoptic Gospels”). The authors of the NT Gospels “ought rather to be thought of as men who had keen interest in the material that passed through their hands and a full knowledge of the extent of the tradition, from which they were drawing what served their purpose to best advantage” (E. F. Harrison, Introduction to the NT 153).

     6 See K. L. Moore, “Sociocultural Context (Part 8): Public Reading” Moore Perspective (14 Aug. 2019), <Link>; and “The Public Reading of God’s Word,” Moore Perspective (29 Jan. 2020), <Link>. C. Bryan says this “is probably to be understood as a stage direction to ‘the one who reads aloud (that is, to the assembly).’ If so, then in performance these words should be omitted, on the principle that one does not recite stage directions, one carries them out” (Preface to Mark 111 n. 9). Others, however, see this as applicable to the reader of Daniel [cf. 12:10] (R. T. France, Gospel According to Matthew TNTC 340; R. H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary 481). 

     7 Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse does not include the parenthetical statement, which is understandable if his Gospel was published much earlier. See K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the NT 55-57; also “The Dating of Luke-Acts and Why it Matters,” Moore Perspective (4 March 2012), <Link>.

     8 L. Perkins, “‘Let the Reader Understand’ – a Contextual Interpretation” 11.

     9 V. Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (2nd ed.) 511.

 

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Wednesday, 20 October 2021

The Hard Work of Bible Study

If we accept the Bible as the inspired word of God, we are compelled to approach its message with utmost respect and care. “Scripture begins a conversation that is interpersonal and potentially life-changing, because it is God who initiates the dialogue.”1 Bible study is rewarding only when it is done right, requiring a serious mind and a strong commitment. “We are dealing with God’s thoughts: we are obligated to take the greatest pains to understand them truly and to explain them clearly.”2 


At the end of a remarkable life in the Lord’s service, including an enormously impactful teaching and writing ministry,3 the apostle Paul produced his final apostolic manuscript that preserves his last documented words. What the aged apostle regarded as of highest importance was knowing and serving the Lord (2 Tim. 1:1, 3, 8, 11, 12; 2:3, 10, 21; 4:5, 11), while rightly discerning, obeying, defending, and propagating the Lord’s revealed will as recorded in scripture (1:13; 2:2, 9, 14-19, 24-25; 3:14-17; 4:2-4, 17).


In 2 Timothy 2:15 we read in English translation:

·      “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (NKJV).

·      Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (NASB).

·      Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (ESV).

·      Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately” (NET).4


What is this passage saying, and how does it apply to us today? Among other things, Bible study (exegesis) involves establishing the literary context, considering the broader context, translation, comparative analysis, identifying key concepts, and word study. By engaging in biblical exegesis, we learn something here about biblical exegesis. 


The current text follows a previous letter to Timothy that provides background and supplementary information, along with the larger context of Paul’s life and ministry, his other writings, and the rest of the Bible. Leading up to the above admonition the apostle has been urging Timothy to be brave, faithful, and strong, to endure and work hard. And Paul’s instructions have much broader applicability (cf. 2:2; 3:16-17; 4:2; also 1 Tim. 1:3; 4:6-16).


The verbal spoudázō (lit. “hasten”) conveys the sense of “labor,” “exert,” “give full diligence.”The verbal orthotoméō (lit. “cut straight”) means to “handle correctly” or “rightly expound.” The expression, “the word of truth,” consists of “the word  [tòn lógon], descriptive of deliberate and specific communication, while “the truth” [tēs alētheías] implies an objective standard of doctrine.6


What do we learn from this text about how the word of truth is to be interpreted and applied? What would be the opposite of this that ought to be avoided? What is required, according to this passage, to receive God’s approval and avoid shame? 


“The problem of interpreting a passage from the Bible is one to which we would all like to find the key, some simple and easy formula that will enable us to approach any text of Scripture and quickly establish its meaning. Alas, there is no such simple answer …”7 Without the investment of considerable time, devotion, mental exertion, and prayer, we run the risk of missing and/or misunderstanding God’s revealed will.


When I read a local newspaper or newsfeed, I interpret its contents with little conscious effort because I am familiar with the literary conventions and share the same cultural context as those who wrote and published the articles. However, the interpretive process becomes more complicated when I try to understand a literary work from another country or different culture, and the task becomes even more daunting when attempting to interpret ancient literary texts, like the Bible, even further removed. 


“There are significant gaps in our knowledge of the literary conventions, language, and social settings that surround and inhabit biblical texts. We live in a different time and place than the times and places in which and to which the Bible originally spoke. Deliberate attention to these issues and painstaking work at many junctures are required.”8 In other words, exert full diligence to present yourself acceptable to God, an unashamed worker correctly handling the word of truth.


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 J. K. Brown, Scripture as Communication (2nd ed.) 3.

     2 D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (2nd ed.) 15. 

     3 Note, e.g., 2 Tim. 1:12-13; 4:6-8; 2 Pet. 3:14-16.

     4 Other interpretive renderings include: “Study … a workman … rightly dividing the word of truth” (KJV); Be diligent … a worker … correctly teaching the word of truth” (CSB); Do your best … a worker … rightly explaining the word of truth” (NRSV). Ernst Wendland renders the text, “to present yourself to God as a person who has proven to be worthy and with no cause for shame” (“2 Timothy—translationNotes” 34). 

     5 See Gal. 2:10; Eph. 4:3; 1 Thess. 2:17; 1 Tim. 2:15; 4:9  21; Tit. 3:1; Heb. 4:11; 2 Pet. 1:10, 15; 3:14.

     6 When Paul penned these directives, “the word of truth” was not limited to just the OT and the spoken word. The Greek term graphē (“scripture”) applies to something written, and Paul goes on to say that all “scripture” is divinely inspired (3:16). At the time, the writings of Luke were already regarded as “scripture” (1 Tim. 5:18), and within a comparable timeframe so were Paul’s (2 Pet. 3:15-16). See What the Scriptures say about the Scriptures.

     7 I. Howard Marshall, “Introduction,” in NT Interpretation 11.

     8 J. K. Brown, Scripture as Communication (2nd ed.) 11.

 

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Addendum: Seeing that God desires all to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), he has clearly made this knowledge accessible and attainable. However, it is not the case he has made it so easy (note 2 Pet. 3:16!) that knowledge just happens by accident with no effort from the recipient. “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (Psa. 14:2, NKJV). God seeks those who seek him. “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 4:29); “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). For those sincerely desiring to know the Lord and his will, demonstrated by the effort expended, he provides the way. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8).

 

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Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Zechariah 13:8-9, two-thirds cut off, one-third refined through fire?

The prophet Zechariah prophesied around 520 BC, the second year of Darius, king of Persia. Like his contemporary Haggai, Zechariah was commissioned to motivate the post-exilic Jews, but unlike the fiery speeches of Haggai, Zechariah encouraged with positive glimpses of Jerusalem’s future. He pleaded with his fellow-Jews to learn from and not repeat the sins of their forefathers, while he issued warnings to the enemies of God’s people. He also shared visions of Jerusalem’s glorious future, along with a number of messianic allusions (e.g. 9:9; 12:10; 13:7; 14:9).

In the midst of these prophecies the Lord declared: “‘And it shall come to pass in all the land,’ Says the Lord, That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, But one-third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (Zech. 13:8-9 NKJV).


This is clearly a messianic prophecy, as v. 7 is quoted in Matthew 26:31 and applied to Jesus. The initial focus of Christ’s earthly ministry was “the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). Although most would reject him, ultimately the Lord’s flock was much larger than the physical descendants of Abraham (John 10:16; Rom. 9:24-26). Nevertheless, the Jewish people were God’s initial flock. They were the first or “firstborn” (cf. Rom. 1:16; 2:10, 17-20; 9:4; cp. Luke 15:11-32). 


In Judaism the firstborn not only had special status but greater responsibility and was therefore granted a double portion of the family’s inheritance (Ex. 4:22; Deut. 21:17). This, it seems, is the significance of “two-thirds” in Zechariah 13:8. The majority of the original flock, having been granted a double portion – a covenant with God, the law, the land, special favor (Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4-5; etc.) – rejected Christ and would then suffer the consequences (Matt. 23:37-38; Rom. 2:5). 


A remnant (Rom. 9:27; 11:2-5), inclusive of Gentile believers (Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; 11:15-23), would face fiery persecution and be refined through it (1 Pet. 1:6-7), calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21; 9:14, 21; 22:16). They would be counted as the people of God “in all the land” (Heb. erets, or “earth”), beginning in Jerusalem and all Judea but ultimately throughout the world (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 15:17).


“Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Return to me,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 1:3).


--Kevin L. Moore

 

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Wednesday, 6 October 2021

The Priesthood of Melchizedek

The order of the Melchizedek priesthood is a prominent theme in the NT epistle of Hebrews (5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1-28), even though the inspired writer(s) acknowledge the doctrine is “hard to explain” (Heb. 5:10-11). The teaching begins with the historical account of Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Heb. 7:1-10; see Gen. 14:17-20; Psa. 110:4). His name means “king of righteousness,” and “Salem” (or shalom) means “peace” (Heb. 7:1-2). Righteousness and peace are also qualities of the messianic king and his kingdom (cf. Heb. 1:8; Psa. 72:7; Isa. 9:6-7). 


Melchizedek was “priest of the Most High God,” long before the Levitical priesthood of the Israelites. Some form of mediatorial priesthood seems to have existed from the earliest times, the duties of which were discharged by those who occupied positions of leadership.Abraham gave Melchizedek “a tenth of all [the spoils of his victory],” following the rescue of Lot and after Melchizedek had blessed him (Heb. 7:1-2a; cf. Gen. 14:14-20). 


Melchizedek is said to have been without father, mother, genealogy, beginning or end (Heb. 7:3a), which must be understood with respect to his priesthood. Under the Law of Moses the office of priest was determined by ancestry (cf. Deut. 18:1-8). Melchizedek’s priesthood was conferred directly from God, perhaps based on personal credentials, but was not inherited from his parents or according to genealogical descent. The Levitical priesthood (through Aaron’s family) was passed on from generation to generation, so there was a beginning and an end in conjunction with the lifespan of each priest (cf. Heb. 7:23; Num. 20:24-29). Melchizedek’s priesthood was not inherited by a predecessor or passed on to a successor, thus there was no beginning or end in the sense of succession. 


Melchizedek was “made like the Son of God” in that his priesthood abides “continually” (NKJ) or “perpetually” (NAS) or “forever” (NIV) (Heb. 7:3b). The Melchizedek order of priesthood is superior to the Levitical order of priesthood (Heb. 7:4-10) for the following reasons. First, Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham (vv. 4-6) – the acknowledged father of all Jews. Second, Melchizedek (the greater) blessed Abraham (the lesser) (v. 7). Third, mortal (lit. “dying”) men (i.e., Levitical priests) receive tithes “here” (presently–at the time of writing), but they eventually die and are succeeded, whereas Melchizedek received tithes “there” (in the past) but he “lives on” (v. 8); as far as historical documentation, his death is unrecorded and he lives on in scripture, and he lives on in the sense that his priesthood has no end (cf. v. 3). Finally, Levi himself, in proxy through his great-grandfather Abraham, paid ties to Melchizedek (vv. 9-10). 


The rest of the chapter addresses the importance of the new priesthood (Heb. 7:11-28), and the main point is that Jesus is now our great High Priest and therefore superior to the old-covenant system of the Jews (Heb. 8:1–10:23). As a descendent of Judah rather than Levi he could not serve as high priest under the old system. But since his priesthood is according to a different order, viz. the order of Melchizedek, his role is divinely authorized and scripturally justified for the reasons just given.


-- Kevin L. Moore


Endnote:

     1 Cain and Abel made offerings to the Lord (Gen. 4:3-4; Heb. 11:4). Noah “built an altar to the LORD . . . and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Gen. 8:20). Job offered burnt offerings for his children (Job 1:5). Abraham built an altar and offered a ram for a burnt offering (Gen. 22:9-13; cf. 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18). Melchizedek was “the priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:1-10). Jethro was “the priest of Midian (Ex. 2:16; 3:1). Following their deliverance from exile in Egypt, a priesthood limited to Aaron and his family was established among Israel (Ex. 28 ff.).

 

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