Interpreting the Hebrew Bible at Harvard Divinity School

Word of Walter Kim’s appointment as the president of the National Association of Evangelicals could have an upside if Dr. Kim studied with Harvard’s Jon Levenson. The pastor at Trinity PCA in Charlottesville completed a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, which would put him in the vicinity of Levenson, the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard, is one of the foremost voices in the study of Hebrew Scriptures. Heck, even Pete Enns studied with Levenson.

The positive influence from Levinson on Kim could be interpreting the Old Testament and not letting it become a proof text for social justice. Consider the following:

Liberation theology has long had a problem with Jewish particularism. Consider the liberationists’ penchant for interpreting the poor and oppressed as the beneficiaries of one of their favorite biblical events, the Exodus. That the God of Israel is especially concerned with the vulnerable and eager to protect them is exceedingly easy to document from the many biblical passages that enjoin Israel to show special solicitude for the sojourner, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the (landless) Levite and that depict God as their special protector. Nor is it out of bounds to argue that such concern plays a role in the biblical account of the Exodus.

The problem is that what links the beneficiaries of God’s intervention in the Exodus is something very different: descent from a common ancestor. Those delivered from Pharaoh and his regime are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and it is explicitly God’s memory of his covenant with the patriarchs that galvanizes him into action in Egypt. Had the motivation instead been concern for the poor and oppressed, the story would have taken a very different shape. Not just Israel but all the slaves of Egypt would have been freed, and slavery, explicitly allowed in biblical law (including the possibility of lifetime enslavement in the case of foreign bondsmen), would have been abolished.

When the poor and oppressed replace the people Israel as the beneficiaries of the Exodus, an idea, or social norm, has replaced a flesh-and-blood people. It then becomes possible for any group that can be made to fit into that idea or to benefit from that social norm to be the new Jews. This is the replacement theology secularized, or supersessionism without the church—and it swiftly opens the door for the old anti-Judaism to reappear in a post-Christian culture—not in the mouths of theocratic reactionaries but in those of free-thinking progressives.

Imagine what that kind rigor would do to one of Kim’s colleagues’ handling of seeking the welfare of the city.

Mary, Queen not of the Scots but the Universe?

That at least is the claim by Roman Catholics, who last week celebrated the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

As was the custom in Israel, Mary was predestined to be the Queen Mother of Jesus. Since Jesus was to be King of all creation, his mother Mary — in dependence on Jesus — was to be his Queen. Since Jesus took his earthly flesh from his mother Mary, it was only fitting that her flesh, too, should have been preserved from the stain of original sin.

Mary was acting in her role of Queen Mother when, at the wedding feast at Cana, she turned to her Son for help — and then when she instructed the steward, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Protestants don’t think so, at least the Scot James Orr took a different view on the wholesomeness of queen mothers in the Old Testament:

It stands to reason that among a people whose rulers are polygamists the mother of the new king or chief at once becomes a person of great consequence. The records of the Books of Kings prove it. The gebhirah, or queen mother, occupied a position of high social and political importance; she took rank almost with the king. When Bath-sheba, the mother of Solomon, desired “to speak unto him for Adonijah,” her son “rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a throne to be set for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right hand” (1 Ki 2:19). And again, in 2 Ki 24:15, it is expressly stated that Nebuchadnezzar carried away the king’s mother into captivity; Jeremiah calls her gebhirah (29:2). The king was Jehoiachin (Jeconiah, Jer 29:2), and his mother’s name was Nehushta (2 Ki 24:8). This was the royal pair whose impending doom the prophet was told to forecast (Jer 13:18). Here again the queen mother is mentioned with the king, thus emphasizing her exalted position. Now we understand why Asa removed Maacah his (grand?)mother from being queen (queen mother), as we are told in 1 Ki 15:13 (compare 2 Ch 15:16). She had used her powerful influence to further the cause of idolatry. In this connection Athaliah’s coup d’etat may be briefly mentioned. After the violent death of her son Ahaziah (2 Ki 9:27), she usurped the royal power and reigned for some time in her own name (2 Ki 11:3; compare 2 Ch 22:12). This was, of course, a revolutionary undertaking, being a radical departure from the usual traditions.

Not the best model for Mary.

And then we have the perspective of Judaism. In addition to Michal and Bathsheba, perhaps not the best of precedents, we have Ataliah:

The daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (or else of Omri), wife of Jehoram of Judah, and sole reigning queen of Judah. Like her husband, she murdered all familial rivals upon her accession to the throne. Only her grandson Joash escaped her clutches thanks to his aunt Jehosheva (Ataliah’s daughter). Ataliah fostered the idolatrous worship of Baal-Melqart, and her reign was odious to the Judahites. She received condign punishment when her son-in-law, the stalwart high priest Jehoiada, proclaimed her grandson Joash as king in a coronation ceremony in the Temple. The despairing Ataliah tore her clothes and protested the act of treason, then was promptly led off and summarily executed at the horse gate of the royal palace. In the aftermath of Ataliah’s demise, the temple of Baal was destroyed and its priest Mattan slain.

But if you can look at queen mothers in the Old Testament as the institutional model for Mary’s status in the Christian faith, you might have no trouble believing the New York Times about slavery in America.

Supersessionist Shrug

An apologist’s post caught my eye and led to an exchange that produced this assertion:

I did admit Rome’s problems, but I didn’t bother laying them out in detail because that wasn’t the point of the post. And as I pointed out in the post and have said over and over again in our exchange, they don’t really affect my conclusion one way or another. If my main argument were that Protestants don’t act like Christians and Catholics do, you would have a point. But I never said that and never would. Sure, Rome has a lot of ‘skeletons:’ the Catholic Church is the oldest and largest of the communions; it makes sense that there would be more crimes, sins, and failures in her past than in that of the others. What of it? A one-by-one comparison of the crimes of the different Christian churches, even if we agreed on what constituted a crime, would tell us nothing about which one among them had the best claim to being the church founded by Christ. Again, the evil done by the Church is accounted for by hypothesis: that of being a Divine commission entrusted to fallen humanity.

Imagine if Jeremiah had said that to the Israelites. Don’t worry about your sins, you go all the way back to Abraham:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: You have seen all the disaster that I brought upon Jerusalem and upon all the cities of Judah. Behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them, because of the evil that they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to make offerings and serve other gods that they knew not, neither they, nor you, nor your fathers. Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’ But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their evil and make no offerings to other gods. Therefore my wrath and my anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, and they became a waste and a desolation, as at this day. (Jeremiah 44:2-6 ESV)

Too old to fail? Where would anyone reading the whole Bible come up with that?

But if the church is so different from Israel in a supersessionist way, then the lessons of Israel don’t apply to the church. And by the way, don’t bother reading the epistle to the Hebrews.

Ichabod Indeed

Noah Millman’s post about Passover observance among non-strict Jewish persons like himself reminded me of a stunning Old Testament reading from Sunday’s morning worship service. It is hard to believe how far God’s chosen people had fallen until you read all that King Josiah needed to do just to return to square one. For instance:

Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. 16 And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. 17 Then he said, “What is that monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.” 18 And he said, “Let him be; let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came out of Samaria. 19 And Josiah removed all the shrines also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which kings of Israel had made, provoking the Lord to anger. He did to them according to all that he had done at Bethel. 20 And he sacrificed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, jand burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem.

21 And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” 22 For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.

24 Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. 25 Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. (2 Kings 23:15-25)

Sounds like the sort of text that would have come in handy for Protestant iconoclasm in the sixteenth century.

But back to Millman. Unlike the Israelites who had gone 18 years without observing Passover, it is now wallpaper for modern Jews no matter what the level of observance:

Although I have fallen away from observance in many areas, Passover remains a special case where I remain a bit medakdek – not by comparison with somebody strictly observant, but in comparison with my year-round standards of observance. In particular, we always do a fairly complete rendition of the Passover seder, reading (and singing) the complete text of the haggadah.

Although arguably more observant and thoughtful about it, Millman’s experience reinforces how common it has been for Passover to be observed even in those families like the one Barry Levinson portrayed in Liberty Heights.

The contrast between Passover frequency and infrequency is to (all about) me staggering.

Culture Redeemed

I find it odd that the books on Christ and culture (which may not be legion but are numerous) pay almost no attention to Old Testament Israel. If you wanted to find a case where God (in good sufficiency of Scripture fashion) specifies what a saved, holy, or transformed culture is supposed to look like, you can’t find a better example than what the Israelites received in the pages of the Pentateuch. Here is a sampling of OT laws governing the culture of the saved (borrowed from here):

Times and Seasons

That the new month shall be solemnly proclaimed as holy, and the months and years shall be calculated by the Supreme Court only (Ex. 12:2) (affirmative) (the authority to declare months is inferred from the use of the word “unto you”).
Not to travel on Shabbat outside the limits of one’s place of residence (Ex. 16:29) (CCN7). See Shabbat.
To sanctify Shabbat (Ex. 20:8) (CCA19). See Shabbat.
Not to do work on Shabbat (Ex. 20:10) (CCN6). See Shabbat.
To rest on Shabbat (Ex. 23:12; 34:21) (CCA20). See Shabbat.
To celebrate the festivals [Passover, Shavu’ot and Sukkot] (Ex. 23:14) (affirmative).
To rejoice on the festivals (Deut. 16:14) (CCA21).
To appear in the Sanctuary on the festivals (Deut. 16:16) (affirmative).
To remove chametz on the Eve of Passover (Ex. 12:15) (CCA22). See Passover.
To rest on the first day of Passover (Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:7) (CCA25). See Passover.
Not to do work on the first day of Passover (Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:6-7) (CCN147). See Passover.
To rest on the seventh day of Passover (Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:8) (CCA27). See Passover.
Not to do work on the seventh day of Passover (Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:8) (CCN148). See Passover.
To eat matzah on the first night of Passover (Ex. 12:18) (CCA23). See Passover.
That no chametz be in the Israelite’s possession during Passover (Ex. 12:19) (CCN3). See Passover.
Not to eat any food containing chametz on Passover (Ex. 12:20) (CCN5). See Passover.
Not to eat chametz on Passover (Ex. 13:3) (CCN4). See Passover.
That chametz shall not be seen in an Israelite’s home during Passover (Ex. 13:7) (CCN2). See Passover.
To discuss the departure from Egypt on the first night of Passover (Ex. 13:8) (CCA24). See The Passover Seder.
Not to eat chametz after mid-day on the fourteenth of Nissan (Deut. 16:3) (CCN104). See Passover.
To count forty-nine days from the time of the cutting of the Omer (first sheaves of the barley harvest) (Lev. 23:15) (CCA26). See The Counting of the Omer.
To rest on Shavu’ot (Lev. 23:21) (CCA28). See Shavu’ot.
Not to do work on the Shavu’ot (Lev. 23:21) (CCN149). See Shavu’ot.
To rest on Rosh Hashanah (Lev. 23:24) (CCA29). See Rosh Hashanah.
Not to do work on Rosh Hashanah (Lev. 23:25) (CCN150). See Rosh Hashanah.
To hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (Num. 29:1) (CCA30). See Rosh Hashanah.
To fast on Yom Kippur (Lev. 23:27) (CCA32). See Yom Kippur.
Not to eat or drink on Yom Kippur (Lev. 23:29) (CCN152). See Yom Kippur.
Not to do work on Yom Kippur (Lev. 23:31) (CCN151). See Yom Kippur.
To rest on the Yom Kippur (Lev. 23:32) (CCA31). See Yom Kippur.
To rest on the first day of Sukkot (Lev. 23:35) (CCA34). See Sukkot.
Not to do work on the first day of Sukkot (Lev. 23:35) (CCN153). See Sukkot.
To rest on the eighth day of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret) (Lev. 23:36) (CCA37). See Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Not to do work on the eighth day of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret) (Lev. 23:36) (CCN154). See Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
To take during Sukkot a palm branch and the other three plants (Lev. 23:40) (CCA36). See Sukkot.
To dwell in booths seven days during Sukkot (Lev. 23:42) (CCA35). See Sukkot.

Dietary Laws

To examine the marks in cattle (so as to distinguish the clean from the unclean) (Lev. 11:2) (affirmative). See Animals that may not be eaten.
Not to eat the flesh of unclean beasts (Lev. 11:4) (CCN93). See Animals that may not be eaten.
To examine the marks in fishes (so as to distinguish the clean from the unclean (Lev. 11:9) (affirmative). See Animals that may not be eaten.
Not to eat unclean fish (Lev. 11:11) (CCN95). See Animals that may not be eaten.
To examine the marks in fowl, so as to distinguish the clean from the unclean (Deut. 14:11) (affirmative). See Animals that may not be eaten.
Not to eat unclean fowl (Lev. 11:13) (CCN94). See Animals that may not be eaten.
To examine the marks in locusts, so as to distinguish the clean from the unclean (Lev. 11:21) (affirmative). See Animals that may not be eaten.
Not to eat a worm found in fruit (Lev. 11:41) (CCN98). See Animals that may not be eaten.
Not to eat of things that creep upon the earth (Lev. 11:41-42) (CCN97). See Animals that may not be eaten.
Not to eat any vermin of the earth (Lev. 11:44) (CCN100). See Animals that may not be eaten.
Not to eat things that swarm in the water (Lev. 11:43 and 46) (CCN99). See Animals that may not be eaten.
Not to eat of winged insects (Deut. 14:19) (CCN96). See Animals that may not be eaten.
Not to eat the flesh of a beast that is terefah (lit torn) (Ex. 22:30) (CCN87). See Kosher slaughtering.
Not to eat the flesh of a beast that died of itself (Deut. 14:21) (CCN86). See Kosher slaughtering.
To slay cattle, deer and fowl according to the laws of shechitah if their flesh is to be eaten (Deut. 12:21) (“as I have commanded” in this verse refers to the technique) (CCA48). See Kosher slaughtering.
Not to eat a limb removed from a living beast (Deut. 12:23) (CCN90). See Kosher slaughtering.
Not to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day (Lev. 22:28) (CCN108).
Not to take the mother-bird with the young (Deut. 22:6) (CCN189). See Treatment of Animals.
To set the mother-bird free when taking the nest (Deut. 22:6-7) (CCA74). See Treatment of Animals.
Not to eat the flesh of an ox that was condemned to be stoned (Ex. 21:28) (negative).
Not to boil meat with milk (Ex. 23:19) (CCN91). See Separation of Meat and Dairy.
Not to eat flesh with milk (Ex. 34:26) (according to the Talmud, this passage is a distinct prohibition from the one in Ex. 23:19) (CCN92). See Separation of Meat and Dairy.
Not to eat the of the thigh-vein which shrank (Gen. 32:33) (CCN1). See Forbidden Fats and Nerves.
Not to eat chelev (tallow-fat) (Lev. 7:23) (CCN88). See Forbidden Fats and Nerves.
Not to eat blood (Lev. 7:26) (CCN89). See Draining of Blood.
To cover the blood of undomesticated animals (deer, etc.) and of fowl that have been killed (Lev. 17:13) (CCA49).
Not to eat or drink like a glutton or a drunkard (not to rebel against father or mother) (Lev. 19:26; Deut. 21:20) (CCN106).

Business Practices

Not to do wrong in buying or selling (Lev. 25:14) (CCN47).
Not to make a loan to an Israelite on interest (Lev. 25:37) (CCN54).
Not to borrow on interest (Deut. 23:20) (because this would cause the lender to sin) (CCN55).
Not to take part in any usurious transaction between borrower and lender, neither as a surety, nor as a witness, nor as a writer of the bond for them (Ex. 22:24) (CCN53).
To lend to a poor person (Ex. 22:24) (even though the passage says “if you lend” it is understood as obligatory) (CCA62).
Not to demand from a poor man repayment of his debt, when the creditor knows that he cannot pay, nor press him (Ex. 22:24) (CCN52).
Not to take in pledge utensils used in preparing food (Deut. 24:6) (CCN58).
Not to exact a pledge from a debtor by force (Deut. 24:10) (CCN59).
Not to keep the pledge from its owner at the time when he needs it (Deut. 24:12) (CCN61).
To return a pledge to its owner (Deut. 24:13) (CCA63).
Not to take a pledge from a widow (Deut. 24:17) (CCN60).
Not to commit fraud in measuring (Lev. 19:35) (CCN83).
To ensure that scales and weights are correct (Lev. 19:36) (affirmative).
Not to possess inaccurate measures and weights (Deut. 25:13-14) (CCN84).

Employees, Servants and Slaves

Not to delay payment of a hired man’s wages (Lev. 19:13) (CCN38).
That the hired laborer shall be permitted to eat of the produce he is reaping (Deut. 23:25-26) (CCA65).
That the hired laborer shall not take more than he can eat (Deut. 23:25) (CCN187).
That a hired laborer shall not eat produce that is not being harvested (Deut. 23:26) (CCN186).
To pay wages to the hired man at the due time (Deut. 24:15) (CCA66).
To deal judicially with the Hebrew bondman in accordance with the laws appertaining to him (Ex. 21:2-6) (affirmative).
Not to compel the Hebrew servant to do the work of a slave (Lev. 25:39) (negative).
Not to sell a Hebrew servant as a slave (Lev. 25:42) (negative).
Not to treat a Hebrew servant rigorously (Lev. 25:43) (negative).
Not to permit a gentile to treat harshly a Hebrew bondman sold to him (Lev. 25:53) (negative).
Not to send away a Hebrew bondman servant empty handed, when he is freed from service (Deut. 15:13) (negative).
To bestow liberal gifts upon the Hebrew bondsman (at the end of his term of service), and the same should be done to a Hebrew bondwoman (Deut. 15:14) (affirmative).
To redeem a Hebrew maid-servant (Ex. 21:8) (affirmative).
Not to sell a Hebrew maid-servant to another person (Ex. 21:8) (negative).
To espouse a Hebrew maid-servant (Ex. 21:8-9) (affirmative).
To keep the Canaanite slave forever (Lev. 25:46) (affirmative).
Not to surrender a slave, who has fled to the land of Israel, to his owner who lives outside Palestine (Deut. 23:16) (negative).
Not to wrong such a slave (Deut. 23:17) (negative).
Not to muzzle a beast, while it is working in produce which it can eat and enjoy (Deut. 25:4) (CCN188).

Agriculture and Animal Husbandry

Not to cross-breed cattle of different species (Lev. 19:19) (according to the Talmud, this also applies to birds) (CCN142).
Not to sow different kinds of seed together in one field (Lev. 19:19) (CCN107).
Not to eat the fruit of a tree for three years from the time it was planted (Lev. 19:23) (CCN105). See Tu B’Shevat.
That the fruit of fruit-bearing trees in the fourth year of their planting shall be sacred like the second tithe and eaten in Jerusalem (Lev. 19:24) (affirmative) (CCI16). See Tu B’Shevat.
Not to sow grain or herbs in a vineyard (Deut. 22:9) (negative).
Not to eat the produce of diverse seeds sown in a vineyard (Deut. 22:9) (negative).
Not to work with beasts of different species, yoked together (Deut. 22:10) (CCN180).

Clothing

That a man shall not wear women’s clothing (Deut. 22:5) (CCN179).
That a woman should not wear men’s clothing (Deut. 22:5) (CCN178).
Not to wear garments made of wool and linen mixed together (Deut. 22:11) (CCN181).

Of course, good reasons exist for not following the Old Testament in the creation of redeemed or holy culture (which I assume would be transformed). One is that little delicacy of theonomy. If we follow OT laws, are we not obligated to keep all of them, including the ones about monarchy and slavery? The way around this theological riddle is to distinguish among the ceremonial, judicial, and moral laws of the Israelites, with the moral law still in effect but the judicial and ceremonial nonbinding because of Christ’s fulfilling them. This is why the Confession of Faith says:

3. Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.

4. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require. (ch. 19)

The other way around using these laws as the model for redeeming culture is to go to Paul who says in Romans 14 that for Christians, for instance, no food is unclean. Again, the sufficiency of Scripture comes to the rescue and tells Christians that they don’t have to follow all the restrictions that determined a “Christian” or redeemed culture before Christ.

But if Scripture says that Christians no longer have rules governing business, agriculture, food, or slaves, why do some Christians want to establish rules independent of Scripture for transforming culture? If this question suggests that transformationalists are the contemporary equivalent of the Judaizers, then wear the shoe comfortably. For those on the 2k side of the aisle, transformationalism has always seemed to be essentially theonomic with a progressive facade.

The Gospel Coalition and Race: Part III

The day before Justin Taylor posted about Eric Metaxes’ children’s book on Squanto, the Coalition blogger referenced an explanation about forthcoming changes in translations for the English Standard Version. The biblical words for slave — ebed (Hebrew) and doulos (Greek) have been particularly vexing to the Committee responsible revising the ESV. Taylor cites the Committee’s explanation for their current dilemma:

A particular difficulty is presented when words in biblical Hebrew and Greek refer to ancient practices and institutions that do not correspond directly to those in the modern world. Such is the case in the translation of ‘ebed (Hebrew) and doulos (Greek), terms which are often rendered “slave.” These terms, however, actually cover a range of relationships that require a range of renderings—either “slave,” “bondservant,” or “servant”—depending on the context. Further, the word “slave” currently carries associations with the often brutal and dehumanizing institution of slavery in nineteenth-century America. For this reason, the ESV translation of the words ‘ebed and doulos has been undertaken with particular attention to their meaning in each specific context. Thus in Old Testament times, one might enter slavery either voluntarily (e.g., to escape poverty or to pay off a debt) or involuntarily (e.g., by birth, by being captured in battle, or by judicial sentence). Protection for all in servitude in ancient Israel was provided by the Mosaic Law. In New Testament times, a doulos is often best described as a “bondservant”—that is, as someone bound to serve his master for a specific (usually lengthy) period of time, but also as someone who might nevertheless own property, achieve social advancement, and even be released or purchase his freedom. The ESV usage thus seeks to express the nuance of meaning in each context. Where absolute ownership by a master is in view (as in Romans 6), “slave” is used; where a more limited form of servitude is in view, “bondservant” is used (as in 1 Corinthians 7:21-24); where the context indicates a wide range of freedom (as in John 4:51), “servant” is preferred. Footnotes are generally provided to identify the Hebrew or Greek and the range of meaning that these terms may carry in each case.

The juxtaposition of the post about Squanto and this one about slavery were indeed vexing if not arresting. In the case of a Turkey-stuffed happy ending for Squanto and the Pilgrims, Taylor and the Co-Allies who read him were willing to overlook the enormities of Europeans’ treatment of native Americans, slavery (based on abduction), and death of a native-American village. But in the case of the nineteenth-century U.S. slavery, the Co-Allies cannot prevent the knowledge of white Americans’ treatment of African-American slaves from tarnishing these evangelicals’ reading of Holy Writ. I would have thought that the same stomach that could overlook Squato’s difficult life (not to mention his native American relatives’ lives for centuries to come) might also understand that the biblical references to slavery were part of narrative that resulted in an even happier ending — namely, the redemption of the world through Christ.

In other words, the sensitivity to questions of race and ethnicity at the Gospel Coaltion — if Taylor’s blog is any indication — appears to be selective bordering on arbitrary.

Just as troubling about this post and the translation committee’s discomfort over slavery is what this group of scholars do with the Bible not only when they translate but when they teach, interpret, and preach. After all, slavery in the Old Testament may be different from nineteenth-century American practices — I have no doubt that it was. But it was not any more pleasant or even rational (in the modernizing sense). If Abraham can “go into” his “servant,” Hagar for the sake of fulfilling the covenant God had just made with him, I am not sure that Old Testament saints were any more noble or inspired than Thomas Jefferson dallying with Sally Hemmings. And if just after Israel receives the very tablets containing the Decalogue, God instructs the Israelites through Moses, “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do,” (Exod. 21:7), I am not sure that nineteenth-century masters were any more patriarchal than Old Testament patriarchs who sold their daughters into slavery.

The point here is not to bring the Bible down to the level of the antebellum South or to mock evangelicals who feel uncomfortable with the way humans beings treat each other — whether in nineteenth-century Alabama or the eleventh-century (BC) Ancient Near East. Confessionalists and pietists both get uncomfortable with slavery or other expressions of man’s inhumanity to man. Instead, the point is to avoid whitewashing the biblical text for the sake of contemporary race relations. The level of morality among the Old Testament saints was truly low (though I’d hasten to add that contemporary saints are not necessarily more virtuous). But if you read the Bible not for moral heroes or exemplary villains but as the story of God saving moral misfits, then you know that the Bible is not given either as blueprint or justification for contemporary social relations. But if nineteenth-century slavery looms as the most dehumanizing instance of masters’ treatment of servants and if biblical servants are simply forerunners of Squanto, then the most troubling and most glorious features of the Bible will surely be missed.

Submit or Suppress?

Despite the modern Reformed churches’ rejection of older confessional views about the responsibility of the magistrate for true religion in the realm, apparently the idea of a ruler who can crack down on idolatry and suppress heresy still appeals, at least if some of the comments at blogs are an indication.

I think I understand the appeal, at least in part, because the idea seems to be part of a desire for the state to impose law and order on a lawless and chaotic society. What I don’t understand is the biblical basis for this appeal. Yes, the Old Testament will supply you with all the theonomic ammunition you need to execute heretics and banish blasphemers. And if you start to use the OT why only the parts about suppression of idolatry and not the bits about goats and bulls? But does the example of Christ and the apostles bear such law-and-order fruit?

When Jesus addressed rulers, did he remind them of their ordained responsibility to suppress unbelief? In Luke 23, for instance, Jesus had a chance to go into an Al Pacino, “no-judge-you’re-out-of order”-like rage but refused the opportunity. He simply responded to Pilate’s questions in such a way that the governor declared Jesus innocent. Did Jesus not care about the slaughter of the innocents or the idolatry and blasphemy that was rampant in the Roman Empire? If he did, he chose another means of expressing that concern other than reminding the magistrate of his duty to enforce the Ten Commandments.

Of course, Jesus had more important work to do than to clean up society so maybe this is not the best example. But when Paul was on trial and he had another chance for a showdown with the tolerant and iniquitous Roman authorities, he followed the example of his Lord. In Acts 24 when Paul appeared before Felix, Paul defended his own actions and words. He did also discourse “on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come,” but if he spoke on the need to suppress heresy Luke sure had a funny way of reporting it. What is more likely is that Paul addressed Felix about his own spiritual condition, not about his irresponsibility as a magistrate appointed to uphold God’s law.

At the same time, when the New Testament writers addressed the subject of the magistrate, they always told believers to submit. Paul does so obviously in Romans 13 and also in 1 Timothy 2, and Peter echoes Paul in his epistles.

So if the Baylys are right about the duty of Christians to speak out against the atrocities of a corrupt state, the New Testament is of no help. And since Reformed Christians need a biblical warrant to bind believers to certain conduct or words, the silence of Christ and the apostles and the magistrate’s religious duties is deafening.