The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Dec 29, 2012

Book Alert: Peter, Paul, and Prepositions

“Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12, kjv). Ah, if only the Preacher knew how true this would be in the modern era! Today we are overly-blessed (or cursed, perhaps) with a seemingly infinite influx of new books each year, and 2012 is no exception. Naturally, some books are more worthy of attention than others. While it is ultimately impossible to give a nod of recognition to every book in Biblical studies that deserves it, I’d like to highlight four noteworthy books from 2012 that caught my attention (and, subsequently, my credit card).
Note: the following are not reviews (though I might review one or all of them later), but rather just brief descriptions designed to pique the reader’s interest.
1. First of all, we have Larry R. Helyer’s The Life and Witness of Peter (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2012; 329 pages including indices).  To a certain degree, this is the book I’ve been waiting for the past few, ever since I decided to focus on Petrine studies. If you threw a stone, you could probably hit a dozen Pauline theologies or studies, but works focusing on Peter’s theology and writings are comparatively rare. Now Helyer’s book is not a pure Petrine theology per se, but rather a comprehensive study of both Peter and his writings (part of the book, then, is a Petrine theology; e.g., chapter 7, which deals with “Peter’s Christology”).  Much of The Life and Witness of Peter focuses on Peter’s role in the early church, but Helyer also devotes two chapters to 1 and 2 Peter, chapters which serve a similar role to their equivalent chapters in a standard NT Introduction (i.e., discussing issues of authorship, date, key themes, etc.). Other chapters, as mentioned above, deal with specific theological themes in Peter’s writings. Ultimately, The Life and Witness of Peter fills a very important, oft-neglected niche in scholarship. Furthermore, Helyer is a better writer than most; The Life and Witness of Peter is very scholarly but not at all stuffy, usually finding that right balance between overly-simple and too technical. This is a characteristic he carries over from his other  works, as well. In the doctoral seminary “Second Temple Literature,” Dr. K√∂stenberger required us to read Helyer’s Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period (as well as George Nickelsburg’s excellent Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah), and I remember being struck by how enjoyable Helyer’s book was compared to most required textbooks.
2. Secondly, we have my own advisor, Dr. David Alan Black’s, revision of an earlier monograph (and his dissertation) Paul, Apostle of Weakness: Astheneia and Its Cognates in the Pauline Literature (Eugene, Oreg.: Pickwick, 2012; 193 pages including indices). Throughout this book Black examines the concept of “weakness” in the Apostle Paul’s writings and how it is developed throughout. Chapter 5 contains both an excellent overview of “weakness” in Paul’s theology (culminating in the conclusion that Paul’s concept of weakness is "markedly theocentric," p. 161) as well as a very valuable section on “Pauls’ Relevance for Today” (a welcome  addition to any academic monograph!) with the following thought provoking statement, “Too many Christians are disheartened over their infirmities, thinking that only if they were stronger in themselves they could accomplish more for God. But this point of view, despite its popularity, is altogether a fallacy. God’s means of working, rightly understood, is not by making us stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker until the divine power alone is clearly manifested in our lives” (pp. 161-162).
Like Helyer, one of Dr. Black’s strengths in writing lies in the fact that his works are generally easily accessible and often enjoyable (the reason Learn to Read New Testament Greek remains one of the most popular 1st year Greek textbooks). Even Paul, Apostle of Weakness, which is a monograph (and should, by definition, be incredibly dull!), still manages to be both interesting and surprisingly easy to follow. Despite the occasional citation of untranslated German (he did, after all, get his doctorate at the University of Basel), this is a book that most Christians, even those without much education, can get some value out of (especially chapter 5).
Let me emphasize again, then, that accessible, enjoyable writing is a skill that should be prized in Biblical studies. Now, granted, it’s not like we want our scholars making their academic works read like the next Michael Crichton novel (although, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea . . . [Zondervan, give me a call! I’ve got a great idea for Minnesota Mounce and the Participles of Doom!]) Yet the fact remains that academic works in Biblical studies do not have to be dry! (two of the best examples of enjoyable NT writers, in my opinion, are Michael Bird and N. T. Wright, regardless of whether or not one agrees with them).
3.Thirdly, we have a book that is already making quite the splash within Biblical scholarship. Murray J. Harris’ Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012; 293 pages including indices) does not represent a new area of research per se, but is itself, to a certain degree, a refinement or expansion upon Harris’ essay in volume 3 of Colin Brown’s New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Harris provides a thorough overview of the Greek preposition in the New Testament, helpfully discusses “Dangers to Be Avoided in Any Examination of New Testament Prepositional Usage” (ch. 3), and then proceeds to examine every proper and improper preposition that occurs in the NT, paying special attention to important and/or controversial usage. At this point, Harris’ work does indeed seem to be turning into what the title promises: “An Essential Reference Resource.” See my friend Craig Hurst's review here. 
4.Finally, here’s a fantastic idea that makes you wonder why nobody thought of it sooner: Devotions on the Greek New Testament: 52 Reflections to Inspire & Instruct, ed. by J. Scott Duvall and Verlyn D. Verbrugge (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012). This book is exactly what the title suggests: devotional treatments of Greek texts, basically Our Daily Bread for seminary students. The authors write in a casual, occasionally personal manner (sometimes including stories). Each writer focuses on one Greek text (a verse or two) and unpacks it, pointing the reader to its practical application in the Christian life. The authorial lineup is a partial “who’s-who” of New Testament scholarship (Darrell Bock, George Guthrie, Lynn Cohick, Ben Witherington III, to name a few) with a few “rising stars” (such as my friend Alan Bandy, recent doctoral graduate from SEBTS).
Well, there’s a whole lot more books worth reading from 2012, but hopefully these will prove to be helpful to those interested in New Testament studies. Looking forward to what 2013 will bring!

Dec 22, 2012

Book Review--"Hymns Modern and Ancient" (with a subsequent discussion of lyrics and theology)

Ever been part of a spontaneous "singspiration"? Just within the past year at my local church, occasionally after the evening service a few of us, both young and old, have started gathering around the piano and begun singing even while folks are still mingling in the auditorium (sometimes we're still singing past closing time; Pastor Joe just reminds us to set the alarm code when we're done). This is not a part of the "formal" worship service, but it is worship nonetheless. This can easily last for an hour or so, and can include anywhere from 3 to 16 or so of us together at one time. We sing from a variety of songbooks, but one of our favorites is the recent Hymns: Modern & Ancient (compiled by Fred R. Coleman; Milwaukee, Wis.: Heart Publications, 2011).

We are told multiple times in the Psalms to sing a "new song" to the Lord. While there are plenty of old classics ("There is a Fountain Filled with Blood" remains one of my favorites), I don't think the Creator of the universe, the ultimate Creative Genius, intended us to sing the same songs day after day. Rather, I believe he intended us to stretch our intellect and our imagination in both poetry and music, and to appreciate the efforts of others, especially when it teaches us good theology!

This, then, is my greatest praise of Hymns: Modern & Ancient--it has taught me many new songs with powerful theological messages which have consequently had a positive impact on me at the emotional and spiritual level.

The first section of this post will give a basic overview of the book, the second section will offer some positive (and slightly negative) critique, while the third section will then launch off into a discussion of lyrics and their theological message.

Hymns: Modern & Ancient (hereafter referred to as HMA) deliberately patterns its title after the great Anglican book Hymns: Ancient and Modern (1861). Like the older work, ultimately the purpose of HMA is to "include both ancient and modern texts that articulate the timeless truths of Scripture and are rich in biblical doctrine" (from the introduction, n.p.). Unlike the older work, however, compiler Fred Coleman hopes that HMA will prove more accessible to the average congregation of a local church. Concerned that "modern congregations ignore too many great hymns of the past and shun too many great hymns of the present," Coleman hopes that "the tunes in this collection will prove to be both accessible and memorable for any who revel in the Gospel and its life-changing power."

The book itself (available from Heart Publications; it also appears on Amazon.com but is currently listed as "unavailable") comes either in a hard-cover format or a "concealed spiral binding" format that allows it to be opened on a music stand without closing. It's roughly 16 dollars and contains 133 songs, together with an introduction and the indexes you would expect. Interestingly, the songs are all in alphabetical order.

The reader should note that first and foremost this is a supplementary songbook. In other words, this is not the kind of songbook that you'll find in the pew of your average church, simply because most of the songs will not be as familiar to the average Christian (or at least the average Baptist). This is deliberate, and simultaneously represents both the songbook's greatest strength and its only major obstacle to widespread use. You won't find "A Mighty Fortress" or even "Amazing Grace" in here, but those songs exist in virtually every mainstream Christian hymnal and there is no need to introduce them to believers. You will find many obscure (yet awesome) songs, as well as some that have started becoming more popular lately such as "Before the Throne of God Above" and "Complete in Thee" (and for good reason). Some songs will be familiar, but most probably will not be.

The book does live up to its name. Some of the songs have very old roots (e.g., "Jerusalem the Golden," with the words written by Bernard of Cluny; also a song paraphrased off of the 4th century Te Deum Laudamus, etc.), while others were penned by contemporary authors (NT scholar D. A. Carson himself is behind about five of the songs). In fact, you'll find a lot of songs by Keith and Kristyn Getty, Bob Kauflin, Stuart Townend, and Fred Coleman himself (along with his wife). As will be discussed below, given the ecclesiastical background of this particular book, this is actually more surprising than you would think (I'm deliberately being cryptic here; more on that below).

Here's some of the more noteworthy songs. First of all, "Before the Throne of God" (#14) is fast becoming a Christian classic, as it should! When I took the doctoral seminary "Hebrews" with visiting NT scholar George Guthrie (possibly the Best Class Ever!), Dr. Guthrie ended the week-long seminar by having us sing this song together as a class. The theology is straight out of the book of Hebrews and contains a powerful message. Christian, if you have not yet learned this song, do so immediately!

Other modern classics that may be better known in broader evangelical circles include "Complete in Thee" (28) and "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" (#52), which has even been sung by The Irish Tenors.

Other songs may be lesser known but contain familiar tunes. "O Love Divine," for example, is based off of the Irish tune "Star of the County Down" (still sung by modern group Celtic Woman). The rhythm, however, has undergone a major overhaul, going from a fast-paced, "spunky" folk song to something slower and considerably more reverent. The lyrics, of course, are first-rate.
More importantly, however, there are some songs that I learned directly as a result from singing from this book alongside of friends. These include #70 "Jesus, the Son of God", #15, the Getty's "Behold the Lamb,"#48 "His Robes for Mine," and the emotionally powerful #35, "Free from Guilt and Free from Sin."

Note: copyright laws prohibit me from quoting even a tiny snippet of the lyrics of these songs, though I can quote older songs that are public domain. However, I urge you, dear reader, to find the lyrics somewhere and meditate on them.

HMA, then, has enough content in it to keep any congregation occupied learning both new and old songs.

As already mentioned, my greatest praise for HMA is that it taught me new songs rich with powerful theology. When I take  that into consideration with all the hours I've spent singing these songs in spiritual fellowship with my friends, and the powerful conviction and assurance that these songs can bring, I conclude that this songbook is definitely spiritually beneficial both to the individual Christian and to any community of believers (provided you aren't daunted by learning new songs). Thus, although I cannot critique individual songs, I believe overall this is an all-star selection that is reasonably accessible to a church.

It may, however, be a bit too obscure for its own good. Since the vast majority of songs are not those you'd find in the average hymnal, the average Christian may struggle a bit to get enjoyment out of it without help.  Even though I can more-or-less read music (if you don't rush me!), I still feel that as an individual Christian I had no hope of utilizing the songbook to its fullest potential without the help of my friends. Only when paired with somebody who knows how to use the piano have I truly benefited from it initially; once I learn the song, though, then I'm set and can sing it by myself. This will not be an issue for the truly musically talented, of course, but may be a stumbling block for most individual Christians.

Given the obscure nature of most of these songs, and given  that this is a supplementary songbook, perhaps a brief history of some of the older songs might have been appropriate. In addition, some other hymnals place an appropriate Scripture verse below the song's title; off all songbooks, that would have been especially appropriate here given that the theological depth of the songs in HMA put many others to shame.

Other than that, my only negative critique stems from certain omissions. There are only two Christmas songs that I could tell (#59, "Holy Child,"and #106, "See in Yonder Manger Low"). A few more would have been very beneficial since generally we end up singing the same dozen or so every November and December (and not all of them are theologically deep).

It's hard to critique HMA beyond that, since making the book any bigger would have hindered its accessibility. I do wish, however, that "Be Thou My Vision" had been included, just because it would "feel right" in this kind of book even though it's more well-known that most (yes, I realize that's a purely subjective critique; deal with it :)

This are all very minor, picky critiques (and I'm only offering them as a matter of principle; it's a personal quirk of my writing that I'm not going to give any book a perfect, 100% score unless I'm reviewing Scripture itself!), and they are fairly insignificant in light of the benefit this book can bring.
This, then, naturally leads into a discussion of lyrics in our songs . . .

Lyrics and Theology
I have a confession: it irritates me to no end when people sing only the first verse to "A Mighty Fortress" (yes, I've heard this done, including on an otherwise top-notch CD by a men's music group). Think about it; where does the verse end? "And armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal," a reference to the devil himself! You absolutely must follow it with the second verse ("Did we in our own strength confide our striving would be losing/were not the right Man on our side? The man of God's own choosing").

The sad fact is, many congregations don't pay attention to the actual content of their songs (this is why, this December, many congregations singing "The First Noel" will skip from verse 1 to verse 3, which makes absolutely no sense if you're actually paying attention to the lyrics). This results in some flat-out inaccurate phrases. In "Away in a Manger," for example, the phrase "No crying he makes" is, at best, inaccurate, and at worst, a diminishing of Christ's true humanity. Likewise, "We Three Kings" is inaccurate even in the title. It should be "We Three Magi" (there's a major difference between a "king" and a "magi"). Even theologian Roger Olson recently noted in a blog post about the irony of a premillennial church singing the postmillennial song "We've a Story to Tell to the Nations" (right after a sermon on the imminent return of Christ, no less!)

Now, this can be taken a bit too far, of course. I'm not going to stop signing "We Three Kings," I'm just going to replace "Kings" with "Magi" because accuracy matters, especially in worship. How can I dare to sing a lie to God who is literally "the un-lying One" (Titus 1:2--Gr. apsudeis)? Thus when singing "Away in a Manger," I replace "no crying" with "some crying."

I'm a little less harsh on theological issues in songs. The writers of "We've a Story to Tell to the Nations" felt they were accurately representing Scripture, and I'll respect them for that even as I disagree with their eschatology. I'm not going to throw out the song, I'll just hum a certain part of the chorus. Similarly, I have some friends who believe a certain phrase in verse 4 of the song "In Christ Alone" (by Getty/Townend) is too Calvinistic for them to sing. I'm not totally convinced that the phrase necessarily implies hyper-Calvinist theology, but even if it did I'm unwilling to throw out a beautiful and powerful love message to the Creator simply because I disagree on a relatively minor theological issue (and I firmly believe issues of Calvinism and Arminianism are relatively minor, in the grand scheme of things).

I say all that with a recognition that my own theology and exegesis and thinking is going to be inaccurate and even flawed in some places. Yet I hope that people will still read what I write in spite of that!

Having said all that, my point is simply that lyrics do make a difference and we should be aware of them and seek those songs that will be edify the church. I've long wondered, for example, what theological benefit a classic song like "I Come to the Garden Alone" really brings. Granted, the song isn't heretical, and it may even be quite beautiful. It reads like a personal love letter to Jesus, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Yet there is not much theological depth to it, nothing that can really teach the congregation. As such, I wonder whether or not this song is best sung by oneself rather than by the congregation. (feel free to disagree with me on this, dear reader)

In closing consider two modern songs about Mary. The first one, "Still Her Little Child" by Ray Boltz and Steve Milikan, I once heard sung in an IFB church by two ladies who cried all throughout the song (nothing wrong with the crying part per se; frankly, I think we should cry more often when we sing). The song is all about how Jesus was still, in Mary's eyes, her little boy throughout his ministry and culminating in the crucifixion. Now, there is a hint of theology in the song (find it for yourself; copyright laws prohibit me from quoting from it). The focus, however, is all wrong. Not that it focuses on Mary per se, but rather that in this song Mary's relationship to Jesus as her child trumps everything else in the Gospel narrative. Not only is this a wrong focus, it may be bad theology, because in both Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 11:27-28, Jesus declares that obeying God trumps genetic relationship. Indeed, it is not the one who gave birth to him that is family, but rather the one who follows him and does the will of God (not that this is any excuse for us to neglect our moms on Mother's Day! :)  Whatever the case, this is theologically inadequate for worship, especially congregational worship. I don't mean to criticuze Boltz/Milikan directly; I'm sure they're good folk who love the Lord. I just wish they had thought their song through a bit more.

Consider, on the other hand, "Mary Did You Know," by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene. Now, granted, I've heard this song sung in ways that I would consider inappropriate for congregational worship (that's a very subjective discussion for another time), but I've also heard it sung very reverently. More importantly, however, the message is extremely power and focuses on Christ's deity, the mystery of the incarnation, and the fact that the Child whom Mary gave birth to will actually bring her (and others) redemption.

Notice the difference between these two songs. The first one focuses on Mary's relationship to her little boy; the second one focuses on Mary's relationship to her Lord and Savior!! This makes all the difference in the world. The first one is nice and sweet, but it's not worship. The second one makes you want to fall down on your face or raise your hands in triumphant adoration.

Dear reader, let's celebrate good lyrics, especially those that reflect good theology! If the ESPN commentators pull out all the stops to both imaginatively and accurately describe a football game, should we not strive to do the same when worshipping the Uncreated One?

Dec 1, 2012

Lament and Jubilee: Two Test Cases for OT Relevance in the Church Age

During my time in Southeastern's doctoral program, I have come to know a few fine Old Testament scholars-in-the-making. Occasionally I gently rib them about the OT being a "prologue" for Scripture, to which they respond with a suitably snarky comment (often calling into question my sanctification!)

Yet kidding aside, all Christian's must realize the unmeasurable importance of the Old Testament as a major portion of God's word, profitable for reproof, instruction, etc. Yet this begs the question: how exactly do we apply the OT to everyday life? Do we give up our BLTs and ham sandwiches? Do we adhere to all the purity laws that the Jews did? What about the festivals?

Of course, Christians live practically as if we were not under the same obligations the Jews were regarding such Old Testament commands, and I'm not about to suggest otherwise (seriously, my life's complicated enough as it is!) Yet in what way then can the Old Testament be instructional to the New? Likewise, whole books such as Lamentations or (dare I say it?) Song of Solomon get frequently ignored in our preaching or forced into a role they were never meant to fill (yeah, Song of Solomon 1:2 is pretty hard to explain when the whole book is treated as an allegory for the church).

Of course, as evangelicals we argue that the Old Testament points to Christ, and that is certainly true (and Jesus himself argued this, as my friend Matt Emerson wisely pointed out in a recent blog post entitled "The Bible is about Jesus"). Nevertheless, it sometimes becomes difficult to actually apply specific texts in this manner while simultaneously doing justice to the historical-sociological background (although, as Emerson points out, we must not take OT texts in isolation from the grander meta narrative). Preaching and teaching from the Old Testament can be tough! (at least for some of us)

What I'm offering here is not a comprehensive answer to how Leviticus 11, for example, should be preached in the church. Instead, this post will focus on two treatments of the Old Testament that, in my opinion, do an excellent job of making difficult sections of the Old Testament relevant to the modern Christian. The first is Dr. Heath Thomas' article "'My God! My God!' Lament and the Christian Life" in Miqra 7 (Summer 2008): 11-15. Dr. Thomas is the newly appointed director of Ph.D. studies at Southeastern; he taught a  1-credit class on Lament a few years ago that opened my mind to a whole new paradigm of thinking regarding this particular genre (not that I had done much thinking on it in the past!) The second article is Christopher R. Bruno's "Jesus Is Our Jubilee" . . But How? The OT Background and Lukan Fulfillment of the Ethics of Jubilee" in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53 (March 2010): 81-101.

1. Lament and the Christian
(note: while I am careful to credit Dr. Thomas whenever citing directly from his article, I should also point out that the way I discuss the topic or use certain terminology may also have been unconsciously carried over from his class lectures in the Integrative Seminar "Lament" at SEBTS, Fall 2008). Naturally, any mistakes, heresies, or even misinterpretations of anything somebody else wrote is completely my fault.

I can't remember the last time I heard Lamentations preached anywhere. Furthermore, while such phrases as "great is thy faithfulness" (Lam. 3:23) are well-known among Christians,  the rest of the book and much of OT Lament as a whole are neglected by Christians. Yet should they be? Is there really room for "lament" in the Christian life when we are commanded to be joyful? (and to say that Lament always ends in joy in the Scriptures is not entirely accurate, as seen in Psalm 88).

First of all, a definition. Lament, biblically speaking, is "an expression of distress directed to God" (Thomas, "My God! My God!", 12).  Naturally we find Lament all throughout the OT, including but not limited to much of Job, almost all of Lamentations, and various Psalms (e.g., Psalm 22). Significantly, however, we find a Lament on the very lips of Jesus himself, Mark 15:34 where he quotes Psalm 22:1. Elsewhere we see Lament in such New Testament texts as Revelation 6:10.

As we survey Lament throughout Scripture, we see that Lament is ". . . not petty complaints, but serious issues of justice about which the lamenter cannot keep silent" (Thomas, 12). Indeed, true Biblical Lament itself "recognizes that [the] world is upside down" (Thomas, 11), both in the sense that the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer (e.g., Job) and that God's mercy seems far away from his beloved (e.g., Lamentations).

We cannot minimize the real, raw emotion apparent in the cries of Lament, especially that of Christ himself. Whatever else Jesus was feeling on the cross, this was a desperate cry of pain and sorrow. As such, it is obviously not a sin for a Christian to cry out in the same manner. Well does Thomas note that ". . . the belief that lament lacks virtue because it is impious and unbefitting Christian ethics inevitably distorts (at best) or censors (at worst) a good deal of the biblical witness" (Thomas, 13).

Now, granted, there is a point in which Lament may cross the line into whining or, even worse, attacking the character of God. This is what Job came dangerously close to doing and why God rebuked him somewhat at the end (but this does not invalidate his Lament; my point is only that he began to go from Lament into something else; this is an immensely complicated issue--we cannot deny that Job is just, and that God himself holds him up as a paradigm for the others [Job 42-7; note that Job actually spoke rightly concerning God]; yet in his last speech it's possible that Job went from true Lament into a demand that God answer him together with an assumption that God was punishing him unjustly; see, for example Job 31:33-37)

Nevertheless Lament as seen in Scripture is not whining, nor is it undesirable, nor is it something that belongs strictly to Old Testament times. It is a genuine outpouring of grief, even a genuine questioning, expressed by believers of all eras and circumstances. When we are struck down with sorrow or despair, it is not only accepted but expected that we cry out to God, even if it means asking (as Christ did), "Why?!"

Yet here is what makes such Lament Biblical. Lament, first and foremost, is characterized by faith!! Thus Biblical Lament is "not tepid or weak in faith, but robust in the belief that God will hear and respond" (Thomas, 14). Indeed, "Lament remains a prayer to God, first and foremost" (Thomas, 14). In other words, the Christian may cry out to God, so long as he or she remembers just who it is they are calling out to! Thus, the Christian cries out to God, asking for an answer, precisely because he or she knows that God is capable of giving one!

Furthermore, Lament ultimately expresses a desire to see God's "Kingdom come." Lament does  this because "[it] knows of a time of God's goodness and intimacy with he faithful, but plays upon the 'gap' between that former reality and a present reality in which injustice, sin, oppression, and God-forsakenness reign. The desire for God to overcome that 'gap' and establish his justice in the world comprises the motivation for lament prayer in the Bible" (Thomas, 11).

So for the Christian living today, a in true Lament one  recognizes that something is not write with the world, whether it be sickness, sin, persecution, or loss of fellowship; but Lament prayer also recognizes that the one he or she is crying out to possesses the capability of making it right (and will someday do so). All this is seen par excellence in the death and resurrection of Christ. Going back to Mark 15:34, we see that "It is in the Christ-event that the present suffering of the world is embodied as well as (finally) overcome by God's reign" (Thomas, 12). Indeed, God did not allow Christ's body to suffer corruption but ultimately raised him up and glorified him. Consequently, the church may take comfort in that fact and provide a partial answer to the world regarding suffering: "By embracing suffering in the present, identifying with Christ, and allowing God to comfort, the Church becomes the minister of peace in the world (2 Cor 1:5-7)" (Thomas, 14).

So, what does this mean practically for the Christian living today? First off, there is no shame or sin in crying out to God in the midst of sorrow, even when accompanied by questions, so long as we remember who it is we are crying out to. This does not mean that God will or has to give us an immediate answer as to the "why," (e.g., Job never actually gets an answer), but we do get an Answer in the form of Christ, who has suffered beyond what we have. Thus we allow Lament to give proper expression to our grief and confusion, while at the same time looking forward to the time when God will answer everything and restore peace to his creation.

2. Jubilee and the Christian
In his article "Jesus is Our Jubilee . . . But How?", Christopher Bruno analyzes three  modern calls for a Jubilee (Jubilee 2000, Christopher Wright's Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, and John Yoder's The  Politics of Jesus) while examining Luke 4:18-19 in light of its Jubilee background in Leviticus 25:10 and Isaiah 61:1-3.

Bruno's discussion of the Jubilee begins with Leviticus 25. Here we see 3 key components of the Jubilee: 1. rest for the land, 2. the re-establishment of "proper distribution of land among tribes, clans, and families," and the 3. "resetting" of the Israelite economy via freedom for indentured servants (Bruno, "Jesus is Our Jubilee," 88). For this passage, Bruno especially emphasizes that Leviticus 25 focuses on "the centrality of the covenant," and that "The reason that Israel was to treat the poor among them with compassion was not simply out of magnanimous spirit, but as a demonstration of their loyalty to YHWH, their understanding of their own places as his redeemed people, and their trust in his care for them" (Bruno, 88-89).

In Isaiah 61:1-2, which Jesus quotes, Bruno argues that most likely Leviticus 25 is the background for some of the terminology here, especially as seen in the third and fourth items the Messiah is supposed to accomplish: the proclamation of liberty (Heb. drvr, a key word from Leviticus 25) and the proclamation of both the Lord's favor and vengeance. Ultimately, in the context of Isaiah 61, the "liberty" that is to be proclaimed to the captives "is, like Leviticus 25 and subsequent references to it, a proclamation of release or liberty for the oppressed members of the covenant community," and this is "part of a more general proclamation of Israel's restoration" (Bruno, 93).

Jesus, then, in Luke 4 takes this task upon himself. The Messiah is to "bring good news of aphesis [Gr. "liberty/release"] to the poor, blind, captives, and oppressed" (Bruno, 97). Ultimately, "Jesus' claim to 'fulfill' Isaiah 61 must be seen as a claim to inaugurate the eschatological Jubilee of God's people the time when their freedom from captivity and oppression would be permanent. . . . Therefore, it seems that the fulfillment of Jubilee through Jesus' ministry was an inauguration, but not completion, of the eschatological Jubilee" (Bruno, 98).

Nevertheless, there is something more going on here. Jesus' proclamation of liberty is inextricably linked first and foremost to his forgiveness of sins (Bruno, 98-99; this becomes the basis for Bruno's even-handed critique of other treatments of the Jubilee on pp. 99-100). Thus Bruno declares, "In the NT, the economic aspects of the Jubilee, although not altogether absent, are of a piece with the forgiveness of sin" (99) and "we cannot disconnect the forgiveness of debt from the forgiveness of sin and call it 'Jubilee'" [as some  do] (100). Furthermore, Jesus' proclamation in Luke 4 constitutes an inauguration of the Jubilee for the church age; no new "proclamations" of a Jubilee are needed (Bruno, 100-101).

So, what does this have to do with us today? What follows is a couple things that I take away from Bruno's article (if I've interpreted him correctly). First of all, even if the Jubilee is not observed in a technical sense like it was in the Old Testament, it is still a paradigm of living for the Christian today in the sense that we are still to show mercy, including economic mercy, to others as we are able (because this is what God has done to us through Christ). Too often a large portion of evangelicals has allowed liberal churches and theologians to be the ones focusing on helping the poor, etc., when in fact this should go hand-in-hand with the living out of the Gospel. This is not Walter Rauschenbusch's "Social Gospel," for we are not replacing Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, or the need for personal salvation, with economic "salvation"; rather, we are simply saying that true Gospel living manifests itself in helping those in need, as Christ did.

Secondly, as Bruno aptly emphasizes, the Jubilee concept of "proclaiming liberty" cannot be taken apart from the forgiveness of sins. One can and should help the poor (and done regardless of whether or not they are believers or whether or not we think they will come to Christ), but this should not be done apart from a concern for their spiritual well-being or for the proclamation of Christ's saving power. In light of this, I believe Bruno does a good job of summing up his overall point on p. 101--we are "to proclaim the Jubilee in the way that the NT teaches: striving for an economic and social justice that points to the reality of forgiven sin and the reconciliation of God, his people, and the world" (emphasis added).

Though I have had the privilege of preaching from OT texts to my church family, I am woefully unqualified to write on either OT theology or OT homiletics. Nevertheless, both Thomas' and Bruno's articles impressed me because I believe they show clearly how specific Old Testament texts do indeed apply today to the Christian church, and I believe Thomas and Bruno's observations hold true regardless of whether one is a dispensationalist, covenant theologian, or something in-between (e.g., "progressive inter-mil Reformed kingdom covenantalist"). As for Christological significance, we see both that (1.) true Lament is exemplified by Jesus himself on the cross, and it is to his relationship with the Father that we can look to for comfort, and that (2.) the Jubilee is taken up in Christ himself and his mission; consequently no true "Jubilee" can exist without forgiveness and faith in Christ.


Bruno, Christopher R. "'Jesus Is Our Jubilee' . . . But How? The OT Background and
Lukan Fulfillment of the Ethics of Jubilee." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53 (March 2010): 81-101.

Thomas, Heath A. "'My God! My God! Lament and the Christian Life." Miqra 7 (Summer 2008): 11-15.

For a more technical discussion on the genre of Lament and misuse of its terminology, see my friend D. Keith Campbell's article "NT Scholars’ Use of OT Lament Terminology and Its Theological and Interdisciplinary Implications" in Bulletin for Biblical Research 21.2 (2011). Now that I think of it, I hope I haven't committed any of the mistakes in terminology Campbell discusses in his article! :) (it's been awhile since I read it)