The Chosenness of Israel and the Interpretation of Scripture – Part 5 (Davis & Hays’s “The Art of Reading Scripture”)

Summary of the Four Previous Blogs in This Series

Essentially, in this series of blogs I have been arguing, in accord with T. F. Torrance’s The Mediation of Christ, that the chosenness of Israel extends to more than simply understanding Israel as a repository of salvation history or sacred texts.  Rather, I have maintained that the living, thought, and narrative world of Israel, as it had been shaped by Israel’s unique history with God, is as necessary for the revelation of God to humanity as the texts that have been preserved in what is now called the Scriptural canon.

As I brought these observations into conversation with George Lindbeck’s “The Story Shaped Church” in the second part of the series, I noted that Lindbeck argued that the Church should be understood to be Israel in the time between the times.  I disagreed with Lindbeck on that point and concluded instead that the Christian Church may appropriately be understood as a believing remnant within Israel.

In part three of the series, I attempted to bring Brevard Childs’s Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture into the discussion.  With Childs I maintained that the First Testament should be recognized as the theologically interpreted history of the Israelite people that has been worked and re-worked as a multi-generational endeavor for which God gave Israel a unique responsibility.  The First Testament is the nation of Israel and the nation of Israel is the First Testament–the two grew up together, interpenetrated each other, and cannot be understood apart from one another.

Finally, in last week’s segment I began a series of interactions with the compilation The Art of Reading Scripture which has been edited by Ellen Davis and Richard Hays.  That was the first of a series of blogs in which I intend to critique constructively a selection of theses from the introductory article “Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture,” by The Scripture Project–namely, theses 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

In the last blog I interacted with thesis number 3, which read:

3. Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative:  the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New (The Scripture Project, “Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture,” The Art of Reading Scripture, 2).

After highlighting some points of agreement, I went on to argue that it is not simply the First Testament which must be the context in which Jesus is understood.  We must situate Jesus within the First Testament as it had been interpreted by the larger Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.  I maintained that this implies, at the least, that we read and interpret Jesus in the context of the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, Jewish writers even of the like of Philo, the portions of the Talmud associated with the time periods prior to C. E. 70, and so on alongside of the First and New Testaments.

Wrestling with Thesis #4

So, that’s where we’ve been.  For this week’s blog I will wrestle with the language of The Scripture Project‘s thesis #4, which reads as follows:

4. Texts of Scripture do not have a single meaning limited to the intent of the original author.  In accord with Jewish and Christian traditions, we affirm that Scripture has multiple complex senses given by God, the author of the whole drama (The Scripture Project, 2).

When I read this sort of a contention regarding Christian Scripture I get a bit unsettled.  Now, it’s not that I disagree with the language precisely or even the underlying conceptuality.  For instance, it seems hard to argue that the idea of God becoming flesh and entering the human world through the womb of a virgin was what Isaiah had in mind when he prophesied:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (New Revised Standard Version, Isaiah 7:14).

The Hebrew of Isaiah, as many have observed, did not necessarily refer to a woman who had never had intercourse.  It more naturally referred to a woman who had not yet given birth to a child.  And, furthermore, the ensuing context of Isaiah indicates that this prophesy was fulfilled in the context of Isaiah and King Ahaz’s immediate future.  The natural reading of Isaiah indicates that this was a near prophesy volunteered by God in response to King Ahaz’s refusal to do as he was commanded–that is, God had commanded him to ask for a sign.  The fulfillment of the sign was intended to be for Ahaz.  In all likelihood, Isaiah seems to have been satisfied with the fulfillment he witnessed.  There simply is no reason in a plain reading of the text to believe that this prophetic word had any other meaning or any other referent.

However, once the events of Jesus’ life had unfolded, the Gospel writers seem to have returned to Isaiah–this time probably relying on the Greek translation which used a word that usually did mean virgin.  It would appear that it was only in hindsight that the Apostolic writers realized that Isaiah’s prophecy had another, somewhat hidden meaning.  As I have said, it would be difficult to argue that Isaiah intended this Christological implication.  In these sorts of instances, The Scripture Project‘s insistence that the meaning of Scripture cannot be discovered solely in the intention of the author but that Scripture has multiple possible meanings, some of which have been incorporated by God, makes a good deal of sense.

However, again, it is the way in which this statement seems to fail to appreciate the distinctions between texts in the Christian canon that makes me somewhat uneasy.  I have already revealed my affinity for Brevard Childs and his canonical approach to the reading and interpreting of Scripture.  However, the recognition of canonical priority must not be permitted to homogonize what is really a diverse collection of writings, particularly as we dissect the very different histories that gave rise to the First Testament and the New Testament respectively.

I hesitate to get into a discussion of genre for a couple of reasons.  First, I fear that the Western European/American dependence on genre distinctions for literary criticism may introduce quite a number of foreign assumptions to the more Hebraic writings of Scripture.  And second, once the issue of genre is introduced a great number of scholars seem convinced that a text can’t even be read without first discovering which literary category each pericope should rightly be indexed under.  I see value in these conversations to a degree, but I am not attempting to bring those debates into this context.

Instead, I want to sketch some slightly broader ‘genre’ strokes, here.  I should probably begin by saying that there appears to be quite a large distinction between the First Testament and the New Testament in regard to the apparent openness to multiple meanings that go beyond what might be called a plain reading of a given text.  And I’ll return to this substantial distinction momentarily.

However, let me begin by arguing that even the First Testament is not treated simply as a respository of possible hidden meanings generally by the Apostolic writers.  In fact, with very few exceptions, the texts that the writers of the New Testament seem to have re-interpreted were nearly always either prophetic texts in which the final form of the text in question implied that the words recorded were nearly dictated to the speaker by God or they came from poetic texts (like the Psalms) which, by their very nature, are quite open-ended in their details and applications.

In the context of the Isaiah passage that we discussed earlier, Isaiah simply said what God told him to say to Ahaz.  There’s no need to hypothesize an intention for Isaiah, since the words were not his and the intention was that of the God who told him what to say.  Those passages are the most common ones in which we find New Testament writers uncovering concealed meanings which found their fullness in Jesus.  All one needs to make room for in such instances is that God intended more than Isaiah or the other characters could comprehend.

The New Testament’s various uses of the Hebrew Psalter are somewhat more difficult to quantify.  Certainly the Psalmists had intentions when they wrote, but then again, these are poems, songs of praise, theological attempts to wrestle with or to confess Torah sometimes in spite of the evidence.  Furthermore, though the Hebrew scribes often tried to guide our readings by associating Psalms with various writers and circumstances, for the most part the occasion of the writings of many Psalms have been obscured.  The Jewish culture of Jesus’ day seems to have embraced the idea that many of the Psalms functioned in ways similar to prophetic sections of the First Testament.  It would appear that the Apostolic writers had similar interpretive presuppositions.

Genesis is perhaps another exception, but I’m still convinced that the New Testament’s use of Genesis is more tied to the events themselves that we often find in prophesies or Psalms.  Paul certainly believed, for instance, that the language of Genesis which used a singular descriptor for Abraham’s offspring was a veiled prophecy of Jesus.  That certainly qualifies as a veiled meaning which is quite hard to believe was in view of the author(s) and/or editor(s) of Genesis at any point of the book’s historical development.  But, again, the particular language that Paul was discussing referenced words that proceeded from the mouth of God directly.  Paul may have simply been arguing that God chose His words carefully so as to be faithful to what He intended to do.

In any case, the point here is that many texts and passages of the First Testament do not appear to have had these sorts of ‘hidden meanings’ for the Apostolic writers–at least, not in the way we’ve been talking about to this point.  It seems that First Testament texts which were simply narrating or interpreting historical events rarely if ever were read in these ways.

What I’m suggesting is that it is the language of God in the First Testament that often proves to have been multifaceted for the Apostolic writers.  And it seems to me that it would be an oversimplification to say that the First Testament or the Apostolic authors present all the material in the First Testament as the language of God, specifically–that is, dictated words.  God may prove to have meant more than the original audience could comprehend, but that is not true of all of the writers and editors of the First Testament generally.  At least, that’s what I’m arguing here.

When we move to the New Testament, these distinctions become much more important, for me for a number of reasons.  First, let me observe that whereas the First Testament often obscures the kinds of details we might require to determine authors, occasions for writing, audiences, and so on, the New Testament often gives us precisely these details.  To approach Deuteronomy (see last week’s blog) in precisely the same way that we approach 1 Corinthians, for example, seems irresponsible to me.  1 Corinthians seems to intend us to have information that Deuteronomy has not–e.g., the author, the audience, some details regarding the occassion for writing, and so on.

To approach these texts in their final form (as Childs and The Scripture Project both seem to advise), must also imply that we should appreciate the distinctiveness of their respective presentations.  In other words, it seems to me that Paul’s intention in writing 1 Corinthians is both more accessible and more necessary for our reading than that of the writer(s) and/or editor(s) of Deuteronomy, precisely because Deuteronomy obscures these details where 1 Corinthians puts them on display.  I hope that makes some sort of sense.

Furthermore, and this is my primary concern with the language of thesis #5, I again want to insist that we need to distinguish between the election of Israel in terms of inspiration and revelation and that of the post-Apostolic Church.  I’m convinced that the cessation of the Covenant of Sinai that was precipitated by the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 C. E. brought the historic nation of Israel as a people endeavoring to be faithful to Torah to an end.  From that point on faithfulness to Torah, from a Jewish perspective, had to be radically reinterpreted.

I have suggested in this series of blogs that the election of the inspired community of Israel which God set apart to be the vessels of His revelation–a community that included Jesus and His Apostles–has come to a historic end.  The Jewish people still persist, of course, but their capacity as revealers of God who could live and write inspired texts was tied to Torah and to the presence of God in their midst in the context of Torah and Tabernacle/Temple, in my view, anyway.

What is important to me in this respect is the contention that the closing of the New Testament canon which seems to have prioritized the writings of the Apostolic era above all later writings of the Church might be seen to reveal a recognition of the Fathers of the Church that the elected era of God’s inspiration and revelation which gave rise to a community who wrote, re-wrote, edited, and generationally produced a set of texts now sacred for all believers had come to an end in the first century C. E.

The implication of this line of thought is that we are simply no longer free to speculate about God’s veiled intentions in the Church the way Israel was.  What that elected people has given to us, now must be read for what it appears to have contended–for its plain sense.  Certainly where the Apostolic or Prophetic writers saw veiled meanings, we should presume and embrace their authority to re-visit the words of God in authoritative ways, but I would suggest we should not presume that we have been given the authority or the inspiration to do likewise.  I believe a cursory survey of post-Apostolic Christian history should more than suffice to show the value and wisdom of this sort of a contention.

Now that, of course, is not to say that Scripture does not have multiple possible meanings.  Let’s face it, even attempting to exegete the plain meaning of these texts still often produces a multitude of possible meanings in many instances.  I am not here arguing that Christians will be able to say with certainty in every context what a passage meant or means.  But, I am convinced that our task is to wrestle with the plain sense of the text which in some circumstances necessitates that the meaning be limited to the intent of the original author–particularly in texts which intentionally reveal the author and that author’s credentials.

The Scripture Project goes on to write the following:

The authors and editors of the canonical texts repeatedly gave new contexts and senses to earlier traditions, thereby initiating the process of discerning multiple senses within the text.  The medieval “fourfold sense” is a helpful reminder of Scripture’s multivalence.  The church’s traditions of bliblical interpretation offer models and guidance about how the fuller sense of Scripture should be understood (The Scripture Project, 3).

John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno in writing about this idea of the ‘multivalence’ of the text in the Patristic Fathers, wrote the following in their book Sanctified Vision:

Thus, for the church fathers, what Scripture does in any particular verse or episode, which may entail presuming reference to historical events or intentions or theological ideas, was very much a matter of debate.  However, Origen and the rest of the patristic tradition presumed, as their tacit theory of scriptural meaning, the importance of the words themselves.  To know the words is prior to and more decisive than knowing if they refer and to what.  Scripture is the center of reflection.  This assumption  is the foundation of patristic exegetical practice (O’Keefe & Reno, The Sanctified Vision, 12).

I have included both of these quotations because I think they get to the heart of what I am trying to warn the Christian community against.  I agree that the writers and editors of Scripture gave new contexts and senses to earlier traditions.  In fact, I have maintained that that was part of what Israel was elected and inspired to do.  However, I do not believe that this observation somehow authorizes the post-Apostolic, principally gentile, Christian community to do likewise.  Even in the wake of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Christian community, we should not confuse our inspiration with that of the historic people of Israel.  If O’Keefe and Reno are correct and the patristic Fathers allowed this presumption to be the foundation of their exegetical practice, then I would suggest they presumed too much.

I am much more sympathetic with Martin Luther when he wrote:

In my view, no theologian should waste time on allegories until he has become expert in the proper and simple sense of Scripture.  Otherwise, as in Origen’s case, he will endanger his theological reasoning (Martin Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, 343).

Staying engaged with the conversation…

J. Thomas Johnson

The Chosenness of Israel and the Interpretation of Scripture – Part 4 (Davis & Hays’s “The Art of Reading Scripture”)

Essentially, in this series of blogs I have been arguing, in accord with T. F. Torrance’s The Mediation of Christ, that the chosenness of Israel extends to more than simply understanding Israel as a repository of salvation history or sacred texts.  Rather, I have maintained that the living, thought, and narrative world of Israel, as it had been shaped by Israel’s unique history with God, is as necessary for the revelation of God to humanity as the texts that have been preserved in what is now called the Scriptural canon.

As I brought these observations into conversation with George Lindbeck’s “The Story Shaped Church” in the second part of the series, I noted that Lindbeck argued that the Church should be understood to be Israel in the time between the times.  I disagreed with Lindbeck on that point and concluded instead that the Christian Church may appropriately be understood as a believing remnant within Israel.

Finally, in last week’s installment (part three of the series), I attempted to bring Brevard Childs’s Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture into the discussion.  With Childs I maintained that the First Testament should be recognized as the theologically interpreted history of the Israelite people that has been worked and re-worked as a multi-generational endeavor for which God gave Israel a unique responsibility.  The First Testament is the nation of Israel and the nation of Israel is the First Testament–the two grew up together, interpenetrated each other, and cannot be understood apart from one another.

By looking at these contentions of Childs through the lens of Torrance, I pushed Childs’s claims further.  I contended that to know one necessitates the other…to understand one, one must comprehend the other.  Fundamentally I was suggesting that the words of Scripture are not inherently inspired or inherently revelatory.  In my opinion, there are ways of reading these texts which make them little more than human documents.  More directly, the First Testament is not inspired or properly the revelation of God if it is read outside of the cultural, conceptual, and narrative framework of the people of Israel.

Plenty of controversial stuff in these contentions, I realize.  However, my agenda in writing these blogs is to bring this intepretive trajectory into a public forum.  So, if you have comments, criticisms, or whatever else in regard to what I’ve offered so far, please don’t hesitate to comment on any of these blog entries.  In fact, that is what I envision one of the purposes of these sorts of forums to be.

Well, without further ado, permit me to expand the scope of this exploration.  To this point we have been speaking primarily about the First Testament.  I have made allusions to my conviction that both Jesus and His Apostles should be understood properly as part of the community of Israel.  However, I have only tangentially discussed the implications of these observations for the New Testament and for the successive history of the Christian, predominantly gentile, Church.

I’d like to touch on these subjects through an engagement with the anthology The Art of Reading Scripture which has been edited by Ellen Davis and Richard Hays.  I have chosen this particular text because, as was true with Torrance, Lindbeck, and Childs, I find myself to be sympathetic to the fundamental approach to Scripture that the scholarly contributors advocate–an approach which, at the time, was sometimes called ‘theological hermeneutics’ or the ‘theological interpretation of Scripture’.  With that said, the purpose of this essay is not to highlight primarily points of accord but rather to offer critical contributions to the conversation.

The opening article of the book is an essay entitled “Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture” by a group called The Scripture Project.  Over the next few weeks, I intend to engage primarily with theses 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9.  This week, I will explore thesis 3, and it reads as follows:

3. Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative:  the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New (The Scripture Project, “Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture,” The Art of Reading Scripture, 2).

In the explanation of this thesis, the authors go on to describe an almost circular approach to reading and interpreting the Biblical text.  They contend that the beginning of the narrative (i.e., the First Testament) should be read in light of the climax (e.g., the events of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus).  But they also maintain that the climax must be understood in light of what has preceded it.  I have no particular objection to this way of explaining the interrelationality of the First and the New Testaments.  Though admittedly, a great deal depends on precisely how this circularity is understood.

However, as the explanation progresses I begin to get more uncomfortable.  The following quotation makes me particularly uneasy:

Against the increasingly common contention that Christians should interpret “the Hebrew Bible” only in categories that were historically available to Israel at the time of the composition of the biblical writings, we affirm that a respectful rereading of the Old Testament in light of the New discloses figurations of the truth about the one God who acts and speaks in both, figurations whose full dimensions can be grasped only in light of the cross and resurrection.  At the same time, against the assumption that Jesus can be understood exclusively in light of Christian theology’s later confessional traditions, we affirm that our interpretation of Jesus must return repeatedly to the Old Testament to situate him in direct continuity with Israel’s hopes and Israel’s understanding of God (The Scripture Project, 2).

Now, not everything in those lengthy sentences causes me discomfort.  I agree that  the common contention that “Christians should interpret ‘the Hebrew Bible’ only in categories that were historically available to Israel at the time of the composition of the biblical writings” appears irredeemably problematic.  As Childs has observed, the very process of the canonization of the First Testament seems to have obscured deliberately the kind of information that we would need to determine the authorship, dating, and original audience(s) of a majority of the texts with any certainty.

It may be near impossible to say what categories were available to Israel at the time of most of these writings, since we cannot say for sure when many of them were written.  Deuteronomy, for instance, presents itself as a Mosaic record of events which preceded the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan.  However, it includes details that indicate that at least parts of the text were written after the events which it records (e.g. the death of Moses).  How long after?  It’s hard to say.

Perhaps some was written by Moses and the rest by Joshua, or someone contemporary with Joshua.  Or perhaps the text continued to be reworked as the Israelite prophets, guided by the Holy Spirit, continued to reflect on their history as more and more of that history unfolded.  Perhaps the text was originally written to some degree prior to the conquest, but didn’t reach its final form until the time of King Josiah, or perhaps the exile.

The point here is not to debate the validity of various historical reconstructions of Deuteronomy.  The point is simply to illustrate Childs’s observation that Deuteronomy seems to have obscured the process deliberately.  The final form–the final product of this likely multi-generational Israelite endeavor–is what was eventually called canon, considered inspired, and codified as authoritative for successive communities.

Given this lengthy process, who’s to say who the original audience might have been?  Was Deuteronomy as we now have it intended for the people standing on the cusp of Canaan in the 15th or 13th century B.C.E. (depending on the date of the Exodus)?  Is it with their ‘categories’ that we are to limit our reading of Deuteronomy?  Or perhaps Deuteronomy was the text found in the days of Josiah (as many commentators maintain).  Certainly the categories in Josiah’s day might have differed from those of the conquest, to some degree anyway.  Is it Josiah’s categories with which should limit our reading of Deuteronomy?  Or perhaps the text reached its final form in the exile…I’m sure you can see how the argument might proceed.

Furthermore, I find myself in tacit agreement with the affirmation

. . . .that a respectful rereading of the Old Testament in light of the New discloses figurations of the truth about the one God who acts and speaks in both, figurations whose full dimensions can be grasped only in light of the cross and resurrection.

In fact, I believe this principle of re-intepreting previous writings in light of the continuing revelation of God might be at the very heart of the Israelite canon project.

It seems to me that one real benefit of higher criticism has been the discovery that there was likely a process through which the books of the First Testament arrived at their final forms.  In fact, I would even go on to argue that the Apostles of Jesus saw themselves to be in continuity with Israelite prophetic tradition at this point, as they re-read the First Testament in light of the revelation of God in Jesus.

What is of particular significance to me in this regard is that the Apostles, too, were of the people of Israel.  Jesus was not the first prophet and/or event in Israelite history to cause a split in the interpretive tradition.  Much of what has been preserved in the First Testament, and certainly in the post-exhilic rabbinic tradition does not seem to reflect, for instance, much from the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  The very contemporary name of Judaism associates the people of Israel in Jesus’ day with the southern kingdom of Judah.

Perhaps we might understand Jesus in a similar way.  Like the tribe of Judah before them, the Apostles were the heirs of the prophets, and their theological re-interpretations of Israelite history were to be seen as authorized by God by the Israelite people.  The split between Rabbinic Judaism and Messianic Judaism might have been akin to the split between Northern and Southern Israel–that is, if the Christian community had continued to see itself as a remnant within Israel.  Instead, the split seems to have become, regretably, a split between gentile followers of Jesus and the Jewish people.

We could pursue that line of thought further, but I fear that might take us dreadfully off course.  To return to our discussion of thesis number 3, it is the next contention that makes me particularly uneasy:

. . . .At the same time, against the assumption that Jesus can be understood exclusively in light of Christian theology’s later confessional traditions, we affirm that our interpretation of Jesus must return repeatedly to the Old Testament to situate him in direct continuity with Israel’s hopes and Israel’s understanding of God.

I am, as might be evident by now, in agreement with the rejection of the idea that Jesus might be understood exclusively through the confessional tradition.  However, my concern is that this statement appears to assume that the First Testament itself is a sufficient context in which to situate Jesus.  As I’ve been arguing throughout this series, I believe that reading the First Testament as gentiles, or as Americans, or as Wesleyans, or as Calvinists, or even broadly as Christians will effectively transform the inspired revelation of God into a merely human text, devoid of divine inspiration.

I would suggest that it is not simply the First Testament which must be the context in which Jesus is understood.  We must situate Jesus within the First Testament as it had been interpreted by the larger Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.  This implies, at the least, that we read and intepret Jesus in the context of the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, Jewish writers even of the like of Philo, the portions of the Talmud associated with the time periods prior to C. E. 70, and so on alongside of the First and New Testaments.

What I am arguing is that we must come to appreciate the revelatory necessity of the Israelite people themselves, comprehending the reality that God’s election of Israel is the election of a people who have interpreted their history with God, not simply a text.  The First Testament, if read in isolation from the living people of Israel prior to the destruction of the temple in C.E. 70, is an inadequate context for Christology.

Next week, I will move on to thesis 4 of The Scripture Project‘s “Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture.”  Until then…

Staying engaged with the conversation,

J. Thomas Johnson

The Chosenness of Israel and the Interpretation of Scripture – Part 3 (Brevard Childs’ “Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture”)

At the heart of this blog series is a discussion of some implications of T. F. Torrance’s proposal that Israel should be embraced as one of two contexts in which Jesus must be understood (the other again, for Torrance, is the context of the Godhead).  My goal in this conversation has been to argue that the chosenness of Israel extends to more than simply understanding Israel as a repository of salvation history or sacred texts.  Rather, I believe that Torrance was correct to recognize that the living, thought, and narrative world of Israel, as it had been shaped by Israel’s unique history with God, is as necessary for the revelation of God to humanity as the texts that have been preserved in what is now called the Scriptural canon.

Last week I brought these foundational observations into dialogue with some assertions regarding the relationship of Israel and the Church which were made by George Lindbeck in his essay, “The Story Shaped Church.”  In that context Lindbeck argued that the Church should be understood to be Israel in the time between the times.  However, by bringing Torrance’s observation into dialogue with Lindbeck, I ended up disagreeing with Lindbeck and concluding instead that the Christian Church may appropriately be understood as a believing remnant within Israel.

This week I would like to push the conversation further by bringing it into dialogue with Brevard Childs’ Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture.  This text certainly represents Childs’ most exhaustive attempt to express his stress on the significance of canon for the reading and interpreting of the Bible in the Church.  Childs’ observations in this regard connect both with Torrance and with Lindbeck in that Childs situated the canonical process and the final canonical shape of the texts of the First Testament deep within the historical and cultural contexts of Israel.

This is not the venue for an exhaustive review of Childs’ weighty tome, but I would like to discuss what I consider to be the heart of Childs’ proposal for reading and interpreting the First Testament–namely, chapter 3, “Canon and Criticism.”

Childs initiated his discussion in this chapter with the following delineations:

Rather, the issue at stake is the nature of the Bible’s historicality and the search for a historical approach which is commensurate with it.  The whole point of emphasizing the canon is to stress the historical nature of the biblical witness.  There is no ‘revelation’ apart from the experience of historical Israel. . . . The study of the canonical shape of the literature is an attempt to do justice to the nature of Israel’s unique history.  To take canon seriously is to stress the special quality of the Old Testament’s humanity which is reflected in the form of Israel’s sacred scripture (Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 71).

Childs was responding to the criticism that his canonical approach resulted in the invalidation of historical inquiry.  In response he maintained that the focus on canon was a focus on history.  However, he did argue that this historical concern should not represent a concern for the details of the long process of canonization simply for the sake of explicating the process.  Childs did not believe there to be enough information available for such a reconstruction.

Childs contended that “The major task of a canonical analysis of the Hebrew Bible is a descriptive one” (Childs, 72).  Here Childs was interested in listening to the plain sense of the Old Testament.  Furthermore, according to Childs:

Canonical analysis focuses its attention on the final form of the text itself. . . . Its concern is not to establish a history of Hebrew literature in general, but to study the features of this peculiar set of religious texts in relation to their usage within the historical community of ancient Israel.  To take the canonical shape of these texts seriously is to seek to do justice to a literature which Israel transmitted as a record of God’s revelation to his people along with Israel’s response (Childs, 73).

For Childs, and I am interpreting him a bit here, it would appear that the object of the canonical approach is the text as it is.  However, such an approach is not ahistorical.  Contrarily, the historical shape of the final form of the text in the context of the historic community of ancient Israel demands deep historical inquiry and interpretive sensitivity.  Far from simplifying the exegetical task, Childs argued, “To understand that canonical shape requires the highest degree of exegetical skill in an intensive wrestling with the text” (Childs, 73).

As has already become apparent, Childs insisted that the final form of the text is of critical importance.  He explained:

The shape of the biblical text reflects a history of encounter between God and Israel. . . . It assigns a special quality to this particular segment of human history which became normative for all successive generations of this community of faith.  The significance of the final form of the biblical text is that it alone bears witness to the full history of revelation.  Within the Old Testament neither the process of the formation of the literature nor the history of its canonization is assigned an independent integrity (Childs, 75-76).

In this way, Childs understood the final form of the canon as providing a “critical norm,” but he insistently maintained that this should not result in a loss of “the historical dimension.”  Rather it represented a “theological judgment regarding the process” (Childs, 76).

There is so much more from Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture that I would love to discuss.  However, I believe for our purposes this brief overview of chapter three will serve to highlight the importance of Childs’ observations for the main theme of this series of blogs–i.e., the chosenness of Israel and the intepretation of Scripture.

Among so many other things, Childs has recognized that the First Testament is not simply a collection of histories, stories, or teachings that have been handed down in more-or-less static forms.  For Childs, and for much of the scholarship of higher criticism that he represents on this point, the First Testament is a text that has been shaped over centuries by a community of people who had a unique set of experiences and interactions with God.

To bring Childs and Torrance together, the First Testament cannot be extricated from the context of the people of Israel, dissected, stripped down to sources or stages of development, and pillaged for its historical or propositional nuggets.  The First Testament is not a repository of sources, history, or any other such thing.  The process of canonization, as Childs has observed, seems to have sought to obscure authors, editors, occassions for writing, and so on.  The First Testament is the theological reflection of a people that has been worked and re-worked as almost a generational effort and responsibility.

The only way that I can think to explain this in accessible terms is to compare it with the cultivation of corn.  Most experts tell us that corn as we know it is the result of a very long community-wide endeavor to selectively breed certain grasses.  In a documentary I watched recently, the narrator opined that the communal commitment that it took to develop corn from grass was so monumental and generational that it is unlikely that we would even attempt such a thing in contemporary societies.   I believe Childs has revealed that the First Testament is just such a generational product.

To read or interpret the First Testament, along with the successive teachings of the Jewish Apostles of Jesus, apart from the context of Israel is to do more than simply liberate the text to speak to a greater diversity of cultures.  The First Testament is the nation of Israel and the nation of Israel is the First Testament–the two grew up together, intepenetrated each other, and were not what they were without each other.  To know one necessitates the other…to understand one one must comprehend the other.

I’ll conclude this week’s discussion with another quotation from Marvin Wilson:

. . . .God breathed his word into the minds of the biblical authors within a Jewish cultural environment.  Consequently, for us, in the most succint terms, “to ignore Hebraic ways of thinking is to subvert Christian understanding.” [citation omitted]  We must, therefore, focus on the language and thought-patterns found in the Scriptures so that we are able to penetrate the mind of the Hebrew people (Wilson, Our Father Abraham, 135). 

Staying engaged with the conversation,

J. Thomas Johnson

The Chosenness of Israel and the Interpretation of Scripture – Part 2 (George Lindbeck’s “The Story-Shaped Church”)

In last week’s blog I discussed some implications of T. F. Torrance’s proposal that Israel should be embraced as one of two contexts in which Jesus must be understood (the other, for Torrance, is the context of the Godhead).  My goal in that conversation was to argue that the chosenness of Israel extends to more than simply understanding Israel as a repository of salvation history or sacred texts.  Rather, I believe that Torrance was correct to recognize that the living, thought, and narrative world of Israel as it had been shaped by Israel’s unique history with God is as necessary for the revelation of God to humanity as the texts that have been preserved in what is now called the Scriptural canon.

The question I’d like to pursue this week is this:  Are we to distinguish between Israel and the Church in this regard?  In other words, is this special election of Israel also true of the Church, or should we distinguish between Israel and later Christian communities?  I believe George Lindbeck in his essay, “The Story-Shaped Church: Critical Exegesis and Theological Interpretation” has made some claims about the relationship between Israel and the Church that help us to flesh out what is at stake in this debate.

In “The Story-Shaped Church” Lindbeck writes:

From this it follows, fourth, that Israel and the Church were one people for at least many early Christians.  There was no breach in continuity.  A new age had begun, but the story remained the same, and therefore also the people it identified.  The French remain French after the revolution, the Quakers remain Quakers after becoming wealthy, and Israel remains Israel even when transformed by the arrival of the eschaton in Christ.  The Church is simply Israel in between the times.  The continuity of the story and the identity of the people are not broken (Lindbeck, “The Story-Shaped Church,” in The Theological Interpretation of Scripture,  43).

In this section of the essay Lindbeck is laying out tautological rules for a narrative reading of Scripture in the Church, and the paragraph I’ve just quoted is rule number four.  I appreciate much of what Lindbeck is trying to achieve in this section.  After all, there is a long traditional understanding in the Church that the Church has somehow superceded Israel or fulfilled Israel or something like that.  For Lindbeck, the two communities should not be distinguished in this way.  As he says, “The Church is simply Israel in the time between the times.”

Later in the essay, Lindbeck recognizes the discontinuity that the infusion of Gentile Christians into the Christian community presented, at least for the Gentile Christians themselves.  However, he reconciles this difficulty by arguing that the grafting in of unnatural branches does not change the “identity of the chosen people” because in both ages this identity “depends utterly on God’s election” (see Lindbeck, 44ff).

If we are to bring Torrance’s observations to bear in this conversation, I’m not sure Lindbeck’s argument of election solves the difficulty caused by the infusion into the Church of believers who had not been shaped and inculturated in the living, narrative, and thought world of Israel.  Historically it would seem that once Gentile Christians began to outnumber Jewish Christians, the specifically Hebraic context of Christian theology began to shift.

The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A. D. 70  and the Jewish revolt in the A.D. 130’s accelerated this process.  By the middle of the second century, the Church had begun to understand itself, it’s stories, and it’s teachings from a more Gentile perspective.  As Marvin Wilson has observed in his book, Our Father Abraham:

Although a few Jewish Christians apparently still attended synagogue in Jerome’s day (ca. A.D. 400),[footnote omitted] the parting of the way seems to have been largely finalized by around the middle of the second century.  By the time of Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 160) a new attitude prevailed in the Church, evidenced by its appropriating the title “Israel” for itself.[footnote omitted]  Until this time the Church had defined itself more in terms of continuity with the Jewish people; that is, it was an extension of Israel. . . .To this point not only had Jewish Christians considered themselves part of the national body of Israel, but so too had gentile believers.  They saw themselves as grafted into Israel, as part of a believing remnant within Israel, not those who had usurped the place of Israel, not as a separate people independent of Israel.  Therefore, as long as the Church had a reasonable balance of Jews and Gentiles in the same body, there was no tendency to take over the term Israel.  But by Justin’s time that balance had been lost.

. . . .A trimphalistic and arrogant Church, largely gentile in makeup, would now become more and more de-Judaized–severed from its Jewish roots.  This de-Judaizing developed into a history of anti-Judaism, a travesty which has extended from the second century to the present day (Wilson, Our Father Abraham, 83-84).

Now, I recognize that Lindbeck is trying to rectify some of this historical supercessionism by arguing that the Church is Israel in the time between the times, but the problem here is that a community of Israel still exists outside of the Church.  This reality is one that Lindbeck does not address, and it seems to me it is of some significance here.  It seems to me that one might argue, in Lindbeck’s words, that just as the French did not cease to be French after the revolution, Israel did not cease to be Israel after their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

I suppose what I am attempting to suggest is that when we speak of Israel as the elected context through which God has intended to reveal himself and in which Jesus must be contextualized if we are to understand Him, we are not talking here about the Church as it de-Judaized itself and re-narrated the stories of Jesus and the teachings of the prophets and apostles through the largely gentile contexts of the increasing majority of its members.

What I want to insist is that Israel has been and continues to be elected by God as the contextual framework in which His revelation must be read, understood, and embodied.  I am not arguing, necessarily, that contemporary permutations of Judaism retain this election and inspiration–though I think that argument could be made to an extent.  But, if Torrance is correct in his arguments regarding the interpretive priority of Israel for Christology, then I am convinced that Torah-observant Israel is the proper living, narrative, and thought world for all Christian theological exploration.  And Israel remained Torah-observant up until the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, after which full submission to Torah became practically impossible.

This means, I believe, that much of even the creedal tradition of later Christianity must be re-examined in light of a more Jewish/Hebraic approach to Biblical texts as expressed in the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Targums, and so on.  I am in fundamental agreement with Lindbeck’s argument for a theological interpretation of Scripture which allows narrative a certain priority, as opposed to the contemporary preference of many theologians for propositions, principles, and factual history.  I do believe that the Scriptures are better understood as theological interpretations of history than they are as primarily historical repositories.  But I would argue that this theological reading must be done in the context of Israel and with a conviction that these inspired texts cannot be excised from the context of this uniquely inspired community, a community which included both Jesus and His Apostles.

The Church may appropriately be understood as the believing remnant within Israel.  But situating the Church within Israel in this way seems to reconstruct radically the understanding of the Church that we have been working with for quite a long time in Christianity.  There are, of course, many implications of this sort of a shift in perspective, and I’ll turn to some of those next week as I bring Brevard Childs’ Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture into the conversation.  Until then…

Staying engaged with the conversation,

J. Thomas Johnson

The Chosenness of Israel and the Interpretation of Scripture – Part 1 (T. F. Torrance’s “The Mediation of Christ”)

This week I am going to begin a series of blogs discussing the interpretation of Christian Scripture.  Though we are often told by well-meaning and, in many ways, godly people that our task as Christians is simply to ‘read the Bible’, we are also privy to a long and convoluted history of Christian theology in which just ‘reading the Bible’ has produced almost innumerable trajectories regarding what the Scriptures mean.  Some of our resulting disagreements are arguably minor, but many appear so pivotal to Christian faith and practice that one can understand why some people have simply thrown up their hands in despair and declared, “These things can mean almost anything we make them mean!”

So, how are we to read the Bible?  I am not so arrogant as to believe such a question could ever be answered entirely, but that is the question that I’ll be wrestling with in this series of blogs over the next few weeks.  And I want to begin this week with a discussion of some suggestions that T. F. Torrance has made in his book The Mediation of Christ.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past in which many of us in the Western European/American traditions assumed that it was entirely appropriate to study components of the natural world in very unnatural environments.  We presumed that we could sufficiently learn about monkeys, for instance, by plucking them out of the wild, placing them in a laboratory, and proceeding to administer a myriad of tests and examinations.

However, science today has recognized that things studied in isolation from their natural environments often appear quite different than they might have appeared in their original contexts.  In other words, we’ve come to appreciate that the ways in which things relate to each other and how they interact with each other are essential components of what those things in actuality are.  In The Mediation of Christ Torrance has argued that these insights should be applied to the study of theology and to the study of Scripture.

Torrance uses Christology–that is, the study of Jesus–to illustrate what is at stake for him in this sort of an approach to theology.  For Torrance, we can only understand Jesus Christ if we seek to understand Him within His two distinct, relational contexts—i.e., the context of Israel and the context of the Godhead (Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 3).   Consequently, our understanding of revelation generally (that is, Christian Scripture), the cross, Christ’s mediation, the salvation of sinners, etc. must be understood within and out of these dual, relational Christological contexts (see Torrance, 47-72).

For the purposes of this reflection, I want to focus on Torrance’s insistence that Jesus Christ must be understood within the context of the people of Israel.  Torrance seems to recognize something that a great number of post-modern language theorists have been arguing forcefully over the last few decades.  Even when two parties appear to share a similar language (or even the same language), words are a poor means of communication across contexts.

For instance, what I believe I am saying when I confess with Jesus that God is our Father may be quite different than someone who says the same thing but grew up in an abusive or neglectful home.  Furthermore, I am male, and so saying that God is Father may mean something very different to me than it does to a woman who has experienced abuse, assault, prejudice, and/or exclusion from positions of authority based soley on her gender.

Hopefully, the point here is becoming clear.  Our life stories, the cultural contexts in which we have been raised and educated, the ways in which we have been treated by those around us, the values which have arisen out of those contexts (and the list could go on), all of these things contribute to the meaning that words and phrases and stories have for us.  In this way, different people groups, different families, and often even different individuals hear different things, even when they are reading and studying the same text in the same language.

The significance of Torrance’s argument, in my opinion, is that he appears to be arguing that the context in which we read and interpret Scripture is not meant to be up-for-grabs, nor has God intended it to be indefinitely relative.  We are not free simply to read Scripture within our own narrative and cultural framework and allow meaning to be generated in those contexts uncritically.  In my own tradition, for example, we often speak of reading the Bible in Wesleyan ways.  For Torrance, the Christian interpretation of Scripture must be situated in the cultural context of the people of Israel.

For Torrance, this is what it means essentially for the Christian Scriptures to be inspired.  Torrance maintains that throughout the history of God’s covenanted relationship with Israel,

A two-way movement was involved: an adaptation of divine revelation to the human mind and an adaptation of articulate forms of human understanding and language to divine revelation (Torrance, 7).

Understood in this way, the narratives of Genesis-Exodus, the Torah of Moses, the cultic instructions regarding sacrifice, cleanliness, etc., the long historical cycle of deliverance, peace, apostasy, judgment, deliverance, and so on, the ministry of the prophets, the reigns of the kings, the destruction of the northern and southern kingdoms, the exile, the eventual return to the land, etc., were all ordeals

. . . .in which Israel was again and again broken upon the wheel of divine Providence in order to become pliable and serviceable within the movement of God’s intimate self-giving and self-communicating to it as a people set apart for that end (Torrance, 8).

To say it another way, the chosenness of the people of Israel is not simply an ethnic choosing or the election of a repository for God’s contextless revelation of Himself.  Israel has been chosen in part to be a people whose history with God has fashioned a narrative, linguistic, and conceptual framework in which God’s words to humanity might be understood.  Taken together, the structures of thought by which we might understand Jesus, the Son’s revelation of the Father, the inner-relationality of the Godhead, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and even our own relationship with God as humans are uniquely and absolutely confined to the “permanent structures of thought and speech about [God]” which have been fashioned on the anvil of Israel’s past history, interpreted through the theological narrative histories of the Hebrew Bible, and embodied by the people of Israel themselves (possibly up to and including modern day Jews).

Perhaps put more simply, the First Testament, the Covenant of Sinai included, has given shape to a history, worldview, and language without which Jesus’ ministry and the kingdom which He has mediated are meaningless.  Torrance has gone on to express the indispensable role that the people of Israel and the First Testament play within the Christian interpretation of Scripture in the following way:

. . . .In his desire to reveal himself and make himself knowable to mankind [sic], he selected one small race out of the whole mass of humanity, and subjected it to intensive interaction and dialogue with himself in such a way that he might mould [sic] and shape this people in the service of his self-revelation. . . .Thus God established a special partnership of covenanted kinship with Israel, so that within the intimate structure of family relations he might increasingly imprint himself upon the generations of Israel in such a way that it could become the instrument of his great purpose of revelation (Torrance, 7).

Consequently, it is only within the conceptual worldview of the people of Israel and within the linguistic and narrative framework of the First Testament that any of us are capable of comprehending and articulating the revelation of God in Jesus.  For these reasons, the First Testament and Jewish culture itself remain the contexts in which all Christian theology must be worked out.

I believe that these insights from Torrance can be brought into dialogue with other contemporary conversations regarding the interpretation of Scripture, and I intend to do that throughout this series of blogs.  However, I have begun with Torrance because I think he has demonstrated what is at stake in reading the Christian Bible not simply as a collection of ancient religious texts, but principally as the revelation of God.  If we are to do that, I think Torrance has suggested (whether consciously or unconsciously) that we must embrace not only the words on the page, but the people through whom those words have come to us.  The people and culture through which the word has been spoken cannot be excised from the narratives and texts that have been passed down to us (let us not forget that Jesus and the apostles were also of the people of Israel).

Curiously, in most instances these kinds of requirements would prove to be interesting or even compelling but ultimately impossible to fulfill.  Most ancient cultures that have left texts for us to peruse have long since disappeared, and our contemporary access to their world is scant.  However, the people of Israel may prove to be significantly unique in this respect.  Not only are there a wealth of historical resources regarding Israel, Judaism, and their near cultural neighbors availabe to us that date to the time periods with which we are concerned, but a living community has persisted, perhaps by the very hand of God, to this day–the Jewish people.  Perhaps a Christian reading of Scripture might begin with the rabbis, with the Talmud, with the texts of Qumran, with the histories of Josephus, and so on.

In the words of Marvin Wilson:

A Christian’s frame of reference must be constructed of sound building blocks derived from Scripture.  But God’s people can scarcely be expected to heed Paul’s admonition to “work out” their salvation (Phil. 2:12) within that biblical frame of reference unless they know how that frame is constructed.  How does today’s Christian learn to think and approach life as Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets did, and as Jesus, Paul, and the apostles did?  This knowledge comes only by uncovering the overarching mind-set that the writers of Scripture reflect.  We must enter their world and become conversant with their culture.  We too must “look to Abraham our father” (Wilson, Our Father Abraham, 5). 

Staying engaged with the conversation…

J. Thomas Johnson



 

Reflecting on Our Commemoration of September 11, 2001

In William Faulkner’s Light in August there is a character named Gail Hightower who is a pastor.  In Faulkner’s telling, Rev. Hightower had allowed one significant episode in his family’s history to permeate his preaching, his ministry, and even his life–the death of his grandfather in the Civil War.  The people of the town explain their experience of the young pastor in the following way:

And they told Byron how the young minister was still excited even after six months, still talking about the Civil War and his grandfather, a cavalryman, who was killed, and about General Grant’s stores burning in Jefferson until it did not make sense at all.  They told Byron how he seemed to talk that way in the pulpit too, wild too in the pulpit, using religion as though it were a dream. . . .

It was as if he couldn’t get religion and that galloping calvary and his dead grandfather shot from the galloping horse untangled from each other, even in the pulpit.  And that he could not untangle them in his private life, at home either, perhaps (Faulkner, Light in August, 61-62).

As I have reflected on the ten-year commemoration of the September 11 attacks, I am reminded how easy it is to allow significant events from our past to subsume our present.  Now, I am not attempting to question the value of remembering.  If not with the intention, I can agree with the language of George Santayana’s observation, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it” (Santayana, The Life of Reason, 121).  However, it seems to me that there is a difference between remembering the past and worshipping the past, learning from the past and living in the past, rooting ourselves in history and losing ourselves to history.

On September 11, 2001, I was serving as an associate pastor in a church in a southwest suburb of Chicago.  In the weeks and months following 9/11 I had a number of opportunities to speak with the teenagers in that church about the attacks.  One conversation stands out specifically in my recollection.  On that occasion the young person to whom I was speaking said (and I am paraphrasing), “This is our Pearl Harbor.  This is our Vietnam.”  At the time I received his words as somewhat inappropriate–not because of what he said, but because of how he said it.  He seemed almost excited, perhaps even relieved.  Why would he respond in that way?

It occurred to me then that we often speak as though generations–great generations, anyway–are defined by the tragedies they witness and to which they respond.  It seemed to me that this young teenager was pleased that something monumentally tragic, something that promised to have historical repercussions had occurred in his youth.  Years later, when I read Faulkner’s story I found myself back in that tiny office in Downers Grove seeing that look in his eyes and hearing the expectation in his voice.

Is there anything problematic with allowing one moment of tragedy to become the defining moment of a generation in our popular imagination?  As a Christian, my initial response is to say, “No, of course not!  After all, isn’t that the cross?  Don’t we as Christians define all of our lives by that monumentally humbling event?  Even more, didn’t the people of Israel define themselves by the events surrounding God’s deliverance in Israel’s exodus out of Egypt?”  Aren’t the lives of Christians necessarily subsumed by the past?

But, then, I am also a cancer survivor, and I have wrestled personally with the grip that past tragedy has had on my present.  My cancer began as a small ache in my knee, so now I often find myself awake at night fretting over insignificant discomforts.  Once I was in remission, I became so fearful of my cancer returning that I refused to consider becoming a father until I had reached my five-year survival mark.  I have difficulty planning ahead for retirement, because cancer has left me with a gnawing feeling that I will not live long enough for it to matter.

My point here is that though there is value in remembering the past (let’s face it, we could hardly forget these events even if we tried), there is also a danger of allowing tragedy to define us.  There is a darkness to tragedy, a helplessness in the midst of it, and a fearfulness that permeates it.  Even for those of us who have faced such moments with courage and determination, we carry the scars of these experiences with us.  Scars can be instructive, and at times even useful, but they also can be crippling and, more perilously, distorting.  As I experienced with cancer, as much as tragedy can clarify and redirect our focus, it often does so in disproportionate ways.

I am reminded of Simeon and Levi’s conviction that the sin committed against their sister, Dinah, somehow justified the violence that they did to the Shechemites in Genesis 34.  Though the Israelites were commanded to do many frightful and violent things throughout their history, the Torah had insisted that they were never to do such things out of vengeance or wrath but out of obedience to the commands of the Lord.  As Deuteronomy 32:35 had instructed them, vengeance belongs to God alone.

My point here is that though tragedy may serve to instruct both those who experience it and those who witness it, it is, more often than not, a perilous leader.  However we come to understand the evils that have befallen us both as individuals and as communities, my admonition would be that we allow them to clarify but not to distort–that we allow them to open our eyes but not to blind us.  My hope and prayer is that as we commemorate 9/11 this weekend, we will also stand in unity against the urge to allow the things we’ve suffered to rob us of the memory of the kind of people we had set out to become.  If we allow violence and abuse to recreate us in its own image, then we have allowed evil not simply to harm us, but to infect us.

As the Apostle Paul reminded the congregations in first-century Rome:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (The Bible: NIV, Romans 12:17-21).

Amen, may it be so.

Blessings,

J. Thomas Johnson

A Christian interaction with Scripture, theology, and practical living.


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