Christian Church and the Old Testament (Van Ruler)

Van Ruler, A. A. The Christian Church and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. trans. Bromiley.

The book’s initial purpose is to justify the Christian’s use of the Old Testament. He does, however, put the brakes on more fanciful readings. For the reader today much of it is dated, as is most OT work post-Vos (and certainly post-Beale). Nonetheless, there are a few fascinating and controversial sayings that are worth engaging.

He wisely points out that the OT’s identifying God as “Yahweh” and even “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” puts to rest any generic “God-in-general” god of the ecumenical movement (Van Ruler, 17; the comments on the ecumenical movement are mine, not his).

He argues that Calvin used the model of progressive revelation (II.x.2). On one level this is obvious. God didn’t give Adam and Eve a complete canon of Genesis-Revelation. That sounds silly, I know, but there are super-internet-covenanters today who say that any use of “history” or “organic” or “progressive” = pantheism. I leave that to you. On a more substantial note, however, we must question how glibly we can say that “Jesus” is in the Old Testament. He certainly is (1 Cor. 10; he is the Rock from which our fathers drank). Here’s the problem, though. If Scripture (and texts in general) have only one meaning–the meaning for the original audience is the intended meaning–then we need to ask if the original audience saw Christ as the rock. Indeed, that’s a tall (but not impossible) claim. Van Ruler questions that we can simply put Jesus wherever we want in the OT, since such knowledge, at least for the original audience, needed the death and resurrection at the very least (21).

Good quote by Kuyper: If our ideas of the Old Testament can’t incorporate national Israel in them, then those ideas are wrong” (Uit het Woord, II, 1, 180). Outstanding. In our conservative circles we might not realize how radical this claim is. A particular Israel is hard to square with “universal messages” or “timeless truths” or the ecumenical movement.

If you are somewhat familiar with Van Ruler, then you know the dangerous area he is now taking us. “The whole concern with Scripture is not with Jesus Christ” (69). That’s a fairly startling claim. What does he mean by it? He says the Spirit embraces more than Jesus does. That’s a vague statement and I am not sure how to take it. He then echoes 1 Cor. 15 that the Son’s mediatorial kingdom will come to an end. (Side note: Berkouwer claimed in The Return of Christ that Van Ruler said Jesus’s humanity will fade away, but Van Ruler doesn’t say that here). Van Ruler does leave us with a startling suggestion, though: “Jesus Christ is an emergency measure that God postponed as long as possible.” Suffice to say he probably isn’t a supralapsarian.

He does point out the wisdom of Reformed Christology and how it is anchored (and further develops) in Reformed anthropology. We believe that original righteousness “was natural rather than supernatural.” Rome believed in a pure nature to which was super-added a gift of grace. So far this is standard dogmatics. From it Van Ruler draws the inevitable but not always obvious conclusion: this means that Jesus doesn’t add a “higher life” dimension to created life. This is why with Reformed we say that grace restores, rather than perfects nature.

A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism

Gignilliat, Mark. A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism.

This is a great intellectual snapshot of Old Testament studies from the last 300 years.

Spinoza: he first tries to show the connection between Descartes’ rationalism and Spinoza’s conclusions. There is a movement away from the substance of the things themselves to the actual thinking process.

Much of Spinoza’s argument consists of typical academic grand-standing: we are neutral, etc.  He does make one important claim: the bible doesn’t make metaphysical claims. Not surprisingly, this allows Spinoza to operate on a hidden metaphysical claim:  deism. Another payoff (or more likely, crippling debt) from Spinoza’s method is the view that the Bible is a natural book with a natural history.

In light of that, Spinoza’s natural history denies Mosaic authorship, places divine law in naturalistic categories, and rejects miracles because scientific law is absolute.

M. L. De Wette: History Becomes Religion

Biblical critic as romantic rationalist.  While de Wette himself was probably a critic, he claims that Johann Herder protected him from the wasteland of biblical criticism.Herder had rejected the Enlightenment’s devaluing of historical particulars. The Enlightenment also ignored the relationship between language and culture. Herder even suggested a link between language, culture, and consciousness.

Unfortunately, de Wette’s foundation, already weakened by criticism, was shattered by Kant. The result is that we now focus on “timeless truths,” truths that only exist outside of space and time. To be fair, de Wette saw where this was going and backed off.

De Wette later discovered Schelling’s lectures on art, where Schelling argued that art manifests the Absolute. The surprising payoff is that this meant that Kant’s dominant philosophy was only a partial reflection of the Absolute.  

Julius Wellhausen: Israel’s History and Literary Sources

He says he learned from Ritschl that Graf said the law came after the prophets chronologically. Wellhausen’s project aimed to reconstruct Israel’s history from various sources.  Well. wasn’t simply saying that there were different authors for the Pentateuch. That wasn’t new. He used those various sources to construct an Israelite religion based off that most pure form of human expression: 19th century German liberalism.

Herman Gunkel

While he began on a promising note that we must understand the writings as the ancient Hebrews did, leading to the idea of a Sitz im Leben, Gunkel never transcended the methodological naturalism that crippled German scholarship. 

Gerhard von Rad

Von Rad’s life was filled with dangerous irony.  He championed the OT but was appointed by Nazis to teach at Jena.  He openly condemned the Nazi church but was later forced into the German army.  He ended the war as a prisoner of war in an American camp. 

Problem of the Hexateuch: Moses + Joshua. 

Brevard Childs

While he lived in the Northeast growing up, Childs had the background and manner of a Southern aristocrat.  He taught himself Greek while on the way to World War II.

When Childs was in Europe, he studied under the legends of the time.  


Behind almost all of these critics is a desire to get to the reality “behind the text,” whether it is “ultimate feeling” or “real history.”  The author does a good job in showing the influence of German philosophical movements on the critics without reducing the critics’ position to German romanticism.

Theology of the Old Testament vol 1 (Eichrodt)

“That which binds together indivisibly the two realms of the Old and New Testaments…is the irruption of the Kingdom of God into this world and its establishment here” (26).  

The Meaning of the Covenant Concept

  • Factual nature of divine revelation (37).  “God’s disclosure of himself is not grasped speculatively.”  As “he molds them according to his will he grants them knowledge of his being.”   
  • A clear divine will is discernable.  “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.’ Because of this the fear that constantly haunts the pagan world, the fear of arbitrariness and caprice in the Godhead, is excluded” (38).  
  • The content of that will is defined in ways that make the human party aware of the position (39).  
  • Divine election and kingdom:  Jer. 2:1; 1 Sam. 8:1-10; this dual pattern provides the interpretation of Israelite history.  
  • The bond of nature religion was broken (42).  The covenant did not allow an inherent bond in the believer, the order of nature, and the god.   Chain of being is broken. Divinity does not display itself in the mysterium of nature. Election is the opposite of nature religions (43).  Israelite ritual does not mediate “cosmic power.” “One indication of decisive importance in this respect is the fact that the covenant is not concluded by the performance of a wordless action, having its value in itself, but is accompanied by the word as the expression of the divine will” (44).  

The History of the Covenant Concept

Eichrodt discusses the dangers the covenant idea faced.  Canaanite ideas quickly muted the sharp sounds of the covenant.  “The gulf set between God and man by his terrifying majesty was levelled out of existence by the emphasis laid on their psycho-physical relatedness and community” (46).  It is interesting to compare this description with Paul Tillich’s claim that the church placed the intermediaries of saints and angels over the Platonic hierarchy of Forms.  

Refashioning of the Covenant Concept

Dt 4.13, 23 understands berith simply as the Decalogue.   A shift to the legal character. Man can violate the conditions of the covenant, but he cannot annul it (54).  

The Secular LAW

The Cultus

“Alien from primitive Yahwism, and introduced into the Yahweh cultus predominantly as a result of Canaanite influence, were the massebah, the Asherim and the bull image” (115).  The Canaanites believed this was a transference of the particular object of the divine power effective at the holy place as a whole.

  • Special places were always seen, by contrast, as memorials to Yahweh’s self-manifestation (116).

Pictorial Representations

“The spiritual leaders of Israel, however, always made a firm stand against this adoption of heathen image-worship, regarding it as an innovation which contradicted the essence of Yahweh religion” (118).  


“Indicative of the pattern of Old Testament piety is the fact that the dominant motives of prayer never included that of losing oneself, through contemplation, in the divine infinity.  There was no room in Israel for mystical prayer; the nature of the Mosaic Yahweh with his mighty personal will effectively prevented the development of that type of prayer which seeks to dissolve the individual I in the unbounded One.  Just as the God of the Old Testament is no Being reposing in his own beatitude, but reveals himself in the controlling will of the eternal King, so the pious Israelite is no intoxicated, world-denying mystic revelling in the Beyond, but a warrior, who wrestles even in prayer, and looks for the life of power in communion with his divine Lord.  His goal is not the static concept of the summum bonum, but the dynamic fact of the Basileia tou Theou” (176).

The Name of the Covenant God

Exodus 3:14:  “This is certainly not a matter of Being in the metaphysical sense of aseity, absolute existence, pure self-determination or any other ideas of the same kind.  It is concerned with a revelation of the divine will” (190).

The prophet Isaiah connects the fact of Yahweh is King with Yahweh’s eschatological act of salvation.



Theology of the Old Testament (Brueggemann)

Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament. Fortress Press.

It is always dangerous to write a theology around “a unifying theme.”  Still, everyone does it. Brueggemann suggests “rhetoric” as a device that evokes an alternative reality (Brueggemann 57).  To quote current sociologies of religion (Charles Taylor), it is a rhetoric that challenges the world’s social imaginary with a new and even more impossible one. 

“At the center of Israel’s imaginative enterprise are Yahweh’s impossibilities (Heb. pela’), which regularly transform, reverse, and invert lived reality, either to the delight or dismay of other participants in the narrative” (Brueggemann 68).

Brueggemann’s thesis:  God lives in the text via rhetoric (66).  Advocacy is seen in the witness to Yahweh’s sidqoth (triumphs, righteous deeds) that defies challenge and construes a new reality (133, 135).  

What is Imagination?

It is the capacity to evoke alternative plausibility structures, a new social imaginary.

“A Yahwistic version of reality refused to be monitored or tamed by safer, more controllable, more credible givens” (68).


Brueggemann introduces another category for understand old testament.  

  • Yahweh is not tamed by classical ontology but is subject only to the rules of the narrative.

Part One: Israel’s Core Testimony

Israel’s Practice of Testimony

If our subject is speech about God, then the subject of rhetoric is inescapable.  

What Israel says about God is taken by the text to be a reliable description of God’s character. Yahweh is characteristically the subject of the active verb (123).  Causative verbs in the hiphil stem.  This means Yahweh acts in decisive, transformative ways.    The active verb has a direct object, the one on whom Yahweh has acted.

God binds himself to Israel, but in an asymmetrical way.  Yahweh initiates and acts (125).  

Normative Structure of Israel’s Testimony

todah = thanksgiving.  This is the standard context for Israel’s testimony (127).  The substance of Yahweh’s action is Yahweh’s sdqh, “which is the way Yahweh is present to this needy Israelite” (127).  

Key PointThe beginning point of an “Old Testament theology is in the liturgical, public acknowledgement of a new reality wrought by Yahweh (128). 

  • This testimony (Psalm 111) is also political, since it is addressed to the nations.
  • It is also political because it is addressed to any outside observer of the todah who is neutral and reserves judgment about this rhetorical claim.

The Righteousness of Yahweh

righteousness:  “Yahweh’s ready capacity to be present in situations of trouble and to intervene powerfully and decisively in the interest of rehabilitation, restoration, and well-being” (130).  


  • Judges 5:10-11 (“triumphs” is the cognate sidqoth)
  • 1 Sam. 12:7
  • Micah 6:5

All of these memories are consolidated into the plural term “righteousnesses.”  The interplay between todoth and sidqoth is Israel’s way of construing “reality and utilizing its narrative grammar.”  Further, “The reference to Yahweh cannot be removed without disintegrating Israel’s testimony.”  


The Kantian turn to the subject has meant a turn away from the divine “Thou” to the “I.”  As a result, our suspicions continually decode the Thou until it becomes an object, not a subject.

Wrong Utterances

The Old Testament doesn’t really worry about atheism.  The real danger is idolatry. It is a wrong utterance about Yahweh.  

  • Jeremiah 5:12 and Zeph. 1:12 attack wrong speech about Yahweh.
  • right speech = Yahweh’s power to transform, create, and renew. (Isa. 44:9-20, 44:24-45:7)
  • Psalm 113:5 combines the large scope of Exodus 15 with the intimate concern of Psalm 35:10.  

Testimony in Verbal Sentences

The God who makes Promises

Yahweh creates the world by royal utterance–speech.  All ancient regimes sponsored a creation narrative. Israel’s witness about creation was heightened in Babylon.  Babylon legitimated its political authority by appealing to its gods.  

“The effect of liturgy is to create an alternative world of ordered life, made possible by Yahweh’s powerful word and will” (153).

Yahweh, the God who makes promises

The exile is the arena for which Yahweh utters new promises (171).

The newness that Yahweh intends for his people does not arise from within human agency (172).  Yahweh’s identity in the Old Testament can never be divorced from concrete events (176).

As Yahweh is the subject of these transformative verbs, he is often seen as the agent of social newness (179). 

Key Point: Holiness is linked to the concreteness of material existence in the world (169)

The God Who Delivers

“Yahweh, as the subject of these transformative verbs, is characteristically said to be an agent of social newness” (179)

Yahweh, the God who Commands

Commands are God’s way of warding off the Pharaonic system.  God deabsolutizes every other claim to political allegiance. Sabbath: at the core of creation is an invitation to rest.

“The conduct of Yahweh on the seventh day is in sharp contrast to the world of pharaoh, in which there is no rest but only feverish productivity” (185).

“The true appearance of nihilism, however, is not in some philosophical argument, but in the brickyard of Pharaoh where human life is completely exploitable, a deep, deathly disorder” (186).

“What Yahweh does in the wilderness tradition is what Yahweh does cosmically in creation” (204).  


Job NIVAC (Walton)

Walton, John H. Job The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Walton does theology by avoiding easy, cliched answers. It pays off in his commentary on Job. Although he is criticized for reading Ancient Near Eastern culture into the biblical text, Walton doesn’t actually do that. He goes to great pains to show how Job is different from ANE (Walton pp.33-37).

Ancient Near Eastern thought believed in “The Great Symbiosis.” We provide sacrifices for the gods and in return they protect us. If bad things happen to us, it’s probably because either a) that’s just how the cosmos is, or b) we made a ritual faux pas. Walton points out that the justice of a particular god is irrelevant. A god might be interested in promoting justice in a city, but ancient man had no reason to believe that the god himself is just.

This places “Satan’s” challenge in a new context. If the Great Symbiosis is true, and there is a strict “Retributive Principle” at work, then Satan is right. If Job even concedes that the evil has come as a result of Job’s sin, and in doing so expects God to restore the balance, the Challenger wins. By the end of the book we are affirmed in believing that God is just. The point of the book, however, is that wisdom, not justice, should be the epistemological foundation. We see God’s wisdom in the cosmos.

This book is unique among the NIVAC set in that Walton allows one of his former students to tell her story concerning a crippling nerve injury she had. It reads like a novel. Walton ends with some moving meditations about God’s will and suffering.

The ancient world believed the cosmos was ordered. However, within this ordered cosmos are spheres of disorder. Eden was an ordered cosmos, but not so the area outside Eden.

We do not always see God’s justice. The book of Job, however, promises us God’s wisdom. As Walton notes, “God has ordered the cosmos by his wisdom; justice is one of his attributes, but the cosmos do not always mirror his justice. Wisdom is at the heart of order” (Walton 411).

Chapter 1

Who are the “sons of God?” Walton correctly identifies the bene elohim as divine council members (64). They are not angels. Angels have a messenger function, whereas these have an administrative function.

Who is Satan? This is tricky. While Walton offers a lucid commentary on the morphology of the term, he muddies the waters by bringing in passages from Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Let’s say for the sake of argument this is the “devil.” You could never make that case from Job 1. This “challenger” isn’t cast out from heaven. Nothing he says is evil (in fact, he makes a good case against the pagan ANE mindset of the time). All of that is true.

Walton, however, goes out of his way to prove that the “devil-figure” can’t be placed in the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages. This is irrelevant. I think he is wrong, but he does make a good case that since Ezekiel calls him “a cherub,” he can’t be the Serpent of Eden. That’s true. If anything, the Nachash would have been a seraph.

Some notes

4:15 is a reference to Zaqiq, the dream god (157). This would explain why when talking of the wind, Eliphaz mentions “a form before him.”

9:5-9 gives a beautiful description of cosmic geography. We have reference to the ‘pillars of the earth,’ implying a flat disc. The stars are “sealed” away (v. 7).

19. When Job asks for a mediator, does he mean Christ? Probably not. Job wanted a mediator to prove his innocence. Christ mediates for us precisely because we aren’t innocent!

25:5-6: The Realm of the Rephaim. The Rephaim are either the royal dead or quasi-demonic beings (or both). While they live in the underworld, Job identifies one of the access points as “beneath the waters.” Walton suggests that the language is the “cosmic waters,” rather than regular ocean water (250). This makes sense, otherwise we could access Sheol via submarine.

Walton correctly notes that eres can mean underworld in several locations (1 Sam. 28:13Job 10:21-22Eccl. 3.21Isaiah 26:19Jonah 2.6). Netherworld works instead of “earth” because it would be the opposite of the “heights of Zaphon.”

28:11: Sources of the Rivers. In Ugaritic literature the high god El dwells “at the source of the rivers” (Walton 286). Genesis 2 speaks of the origin of the four rivers coming from a sacred space (Eden). The origin of wisdom, then, is a cosmic mystery. There are several personifications in this passage:

  • Deep (tehom)
  • Sea (Yamm)
  • Abbadon (Destruction; Gk. Apollyon, personified as an evil Angel in Revelation 9). While Abbadon could be an evil entity, we need to be careful about reading later demonology into this passage.
  • Death

Nota Bene: Elihu mentions the spirit of God. We should be careful not to read a full Nicene theology into that phrase. For Elihu (and much of the Old Testament) the spirit of God is seen more as an extension of God’s presence than a separate person (though, of course, it is not contradictory to the later idea of the Spirit’s being a distinct person). Further, the spirit of man is “on loan” from God (Walton 376).

From the Stone Age to Christianity (Albright)


Albright, William F. From the Stone Age to Christianity. Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957.

Reading this book was like being introduced to an old friend. No one can read widely in Old Testament studies without coming across the name of William F. Albright. But one might not have read him: some of his major works are out of print. In any case, Albright was a scholar of the highest caliber. Albright’s methods are more critical than mine, but he does defend the basic historicity of the Old Testament. While sections of the book are tedious (e.g., the dating of various pottery), the book as a whole is a literary joy to read. He writes with that old school style, somewhat similar to Arthur Lovejoy.

There is something of elitism in this book. Albright has little patience for amateurs. He’s probably justified, though. Amateurish lexicography has ruined many sermons, for example. Albright writes, “In few fields of learning has more nonsense been perpetrated by amateurs, i. e., by enthusiasts who are unwilling to submit to the painfully rigid discipline of the linguistic method” (Albright 45). He then explains how proper linguistic analysis proceeds: induction, deduction, and analogical reasoning (42-43). In other words, he helps you avoid the word = concept fallacy. “Actually, no competent lexicographer in any language fixes the precise meaning of a word by its etymology but rather by collecting as many passages where the word occurs as possible or practicable and by listing all meanings and shades of meaning in them” (46).

He explains why Hegelianism was so popular among Old Testament scholars in the 19th century. It was something of a necessity (pardon the pun). Scholars read the OT and saw a wide variety of data representing different time periods. One doesn’t even have to accept the documentary hypothesis to realize that some parts of the Old Testament represent a more “prophetic” cast while others have a “priestly” accent. Hegel allowed the reader to put all of these facts into a coherent system. He was wrong in the end, to be sure, but his system had great explanatory power.

While we don’t have to accept an evolutionary development of Israel’s worship (which Albright himself doesn’t advocate), we have to be honest that Israel didn’t fall out of the sky with a fully intact Old Testament. We know that, but examining the history can be messy at times.

We also have to deal with the problem of monotheism. The word is something of an anachronism and doesn’t really explain all the data in the Old Testament. There is only one Yahweh. No one is like him. Sui Generis. For a while it was fashionable to posit henotheism: Israel worshipped Yahweh, but other nations worshipped their gods. That doesn’t really explain the evidence, either. Those who advocate henotheism are usually pushing an evolutionary worldview, anyway. So, henotheism is out of the question. Nonetheless, we still have to deal with apparent henotheistic passages. Jepthath’s response in Judges 11:24 sounds henotheistic: “Wilt thou not possess what Chemosh thy god has given thee?” Albright fails to connect this with Gen. 10-11 and Deut. 4 and 32: God allotted the nations to various beney ha-elohim. That solves the henotheism problem.

Albright’s comparisons with other religions of the time are quite interesting, yet he doesn’t always draw the most powerful inference. He notes of Ninurta that she “spans the whole cosmos and all the gods and goddesses may be symbolically equated with parts of his cosmic body” (218). This doesn’t sound anything like monotheism or henotheism. Rather, it is almost a pure monism. And while Albright notes of monotheistic-sounding religious movements in Egypt, he cautions against reading too much into them. When men like Akhenaten or even Plato spoke like this, this was hardly a religion. These “monotheisms” were so rarified and abstract tha the masses would never fall for it. Sort of like medieval scholasticism. This is why Yahweh, perhaps ironically, is always described in anthropomorphic terms. Calling him “The Ground of Being” or the “essence beyond essence” would have guaranteed failure, and rightly so.

Albright has a quite good account of the Joshua narrative, although speculating that Joshua 10 and Judges 4-5 are probably the same event (275). He also notes clear editorializing in Judges (18:30). He then suggests a striking line of argumentation: there might have been Hebrews in Palestine before Joshua. There is very little spoken of the conquest of north-central Palestine, except for a list of conquered towns in chapter 12 (277).

This book was a joy to read. However, it is only for the intermediate level student.

Old Testament Textual Criticism (Brotzman)

Image result for introduction old testament textual criticism

Brotzman, Ellis. Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994.

The Old Testament text finds itself in the strange place of being remarkably well-preserved yet also relatively young (in its final form).  On the other hand, it is attested by early and reliable translations and traditions. Complicating the matter is the BHS text itself.  It has strange markings in the margin.  What do they mean? Ellis Brotzman walks us through these issues.

This books gives the student confidence in approaching the Old Testament.  On one hand he can tell the Roman Catholic or EO apologist that the LXX isn’t perfect and that Jesus didn’t carry around a completed (blue) copy of the LXX.  Yet he can also show how the early dating of the LXX provides a witness to a surprisingly stable Hebrew text.

Brotzman begins by surveying different writing styles in the Ancient Near East.  This is important because the variations in spelling and grammar reflect later on in the text.

Chapter 2 is the heart of his book.  It describes OT transmission. The OT was copied by hand for 3,000 years before its first printing (37).  Its key feature is a multiplicity of family groups. If you look at the Qumran scrolls, some scrolls will line up with what was later known as the Masoretic Text while others resemble the Samaritan Pentateuch (43).

Ancient Versions of the Old Testament


Septuagint.  It’s probably better to speak of Septuagints rather than one monolithic text.  It underwent several transmissions.

Intentional and Unintentional Changes

“Typos” are going to happen.  This makes textual criticism not only necessary, but inevitable. Textual criticism is not a sinister group of atheistical scholars funded by the World Council of Churches.  Rather, it’s often just making sense of different readings that happened because of human fallibility in the copying process. Here are some examples.

  1. There could be a physical defect in the scroll copied on (107).
  2. The scribe’s eye skipped from one line to the next (cf the note on BHS, 162).
  3. Confusion of similar letters: resh and dalet; he and het; beth and kaf (1 Chron. 17:20), and yod and vav (Isaiah 30:4).
  4. Haplography (copying once of a letter that was written twice).
  5. Dittography.
  6. Errors related to faulty hearing (the negative particle sounds identical to the third person masculine singular suffix, 115).  We do the same thing. If you were copying something someone was reading aloud, and you heard them say, “You can see four miles.”  Would you write, “You can see for miles”?


Choosing the Right Reading

(1) Weighing external evidence.  This is mostly choosing between the Masoretic Text and other authorities.  Normally, we go with the Masoretic Text, but sometimes other witnesses offer a better reading, like in Deut. 32:8 where DSS read “sons of God” rather than “sons of Israel,” of which the latter doesn’t make any sense.

(2) Internal evidence.  Other things being equal, the shorter reading is preferred.  Other things being equal, the more difficult reading is preferred


Ugarit and the Old Testament

Image result for ugarit

Peter C. Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983).

This is probably the best short introduction to Ugaritic culture as it relates to the Bible. It can be read in one sitting and even the parts that have Cuneiform aren’t too hard to read (and you can even decipher them, if you want to).

Craigie tells the amusing story of how the archeologist Villeroud, fearing that the locals might steal some artifacts, had the Turks and the Alawites–mortal enemies–work in the same units. He reasoned that if one side started stealing artifacts, the other would snitch on them.

Deciphering the Cuneiform

As the cuneiform tablets were different from the Mesopotamian kind, how did they “crack” the code? Craigie explains in some detail: “ He noted that the writing system was alphabetic and that words were separated by a small vertical wedge shape. Identification of the word divider was important, for it enabled him to recognize that most words were short, consisting of only three or four le!ers; the shortness of the words made it highly unlikely that the language concealed by the script was Greek or an ancient relative of Greek” (15).

Assuming the language was akin to either Hebrew or Phoenician, Virolleaud guess that the single mark on an axehead was probably a preposition, such as “to,” or the consonant “l.” He then figured that the word “king” would be prominent, and since this was a Semitic language, he would be looking for the lemma mlk. Same with Baal. Here is another way to demonstrate the method:

If the language was Semitic:

(a)Prefixes must include: ’, y, m, n, t (and possibly b, h, w, k, l).

(b)Suffixes must include: h, k, m, n, t, (and possibly w and y).

(c)Single-le”er words: l, m, (and possibly b, k, w).

Old Testament Parallels

Ugaritic and Psalm 29. While the biblical author certainly did not “copy” Ugaritic poetry, he certainly used the form as a vehicle for the divine words.

“Cooking a kid in its mother’s milk.” This isn’t just a command against animal cruelty. It’s related to Canaanite cosmogony. Craigie writes: “Canaanite (Ugaritic) text appears to describe some kind of ritual which related to fertility and sexuality; it is possible that the ritual involved sexual activity by the participants. Cooking of a kid in milk would simply be one small part of the larger ritual” (66). That could be the case, but later scholarship is far from certain.

Psalm 104. There are parallels to the “rider in the clouds.”

Of course, none of this means that the OT writers “stole” from Ugarit. Rather, these concepts would have been common currency. Of course a strong deity would ride on the clouds.

Genesis: NIVAC (John Walton)

Image result for john walton genesis

Walton, John.  Genesis NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

John Walton begins the introduction not with dull academese about Genesis, but with creation and covenant.  The Babylonian and Egyptian gods (and its Freemason god today) could not be covenantal.

His intro is good and sane, but there are still some iffy parts. Against the fundamentalist he says there is an undeniable mythical element.  Against the liberal he rejects the attempt to reduce all of it to myth. I actually think the mythical content is…well….true. That stuff is real.  More on that later.

Genesis is structured around the toledoths (2:1; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2). And Genesis is Covenant History, with the covenant aimed for an election to revelation (Walton 37ff). Abram was elect partly because the knowledge of God had been lost (52). So, God reveals himself.  And he reveals himself through Covenant.

A question about methodology.  Walton has been accused of simply reading ANE back into the Bible.  This isn’t entirely accurate. There is no “Bible-equivalent” of ANE texts, nor is the ANE uniform.  Take creation: in Babylonian legends creation births the gods (or the gods birth creation). In some Egyptian accounts the “god” speaks creation into existence.  

Genesis 1:1-5

Resit refers to a duration of time, not a specific point (Walton 68).  Evidence for this is in Job 8:7, “which speaks of the early part of Job’s life.”

Regarding bara Walton argues that it refers, not to material creation, but to assigning functions and tasks (71).

Day 1

Walton argues that it is not the phycists’ light being created, but that ‘or refers to a period of time.  This makes sense since God separates the light from darkness (and you can’t draw a physical boundary and keep light on one side, darkness on the other).

Rather, God is creating time, which is the first of the functions he creates (79). Genesis 1 is operating on functional, rather than structural terms (83).  There is something to this, since it avoids some of the problems of “how is there light before the sun?” and the neutered “it’s all myth” approaches.

What did God do on Day 4?

We’ll spend some time here since this is largely why Walton is so controversial.  His larger argument is fairly sound: there is evidence that when “creation language” is used, it is not always in a structural sense.  For example:

  1. Job 9:9 shows that constellations are arrangements of objects and not structures.  ‘Sa can refer to acts like arranging (124).
  2. Isaiah 41:17-20. “Both verbs bara and asah are used to describe the establishment of functions.”
  3. Isaiah 45.  Both verbs are referring to nonmaterial objects.

So did God “make” the sun on the 4th day?  On Walton’s reading, no. God gave the lights a functional task

Image of God

Walton lists the three interpretative options: theological, grammatical, and conciliar.  The theological says the “us/our” language refers to the Trinity. The grammatical says it is a plural of majesty.  The conciliar says it refers to the divine council. The grammatical option is the easiest to eliminate, since there aren’t many (or any?) examples of the plural of majesty in Hebrew. The theological one won’t work, either.  It wouldn’t have made any sense to an OT Jew for the Father to be speaking to the Son and Spirit. Further, it has God the Father telling God the Son and God the Spirit what they are going to do, but how would this work, given that they all share the same mind?  Wouldn’t they already know?

The conciliar option has God telling the divine council what they are going to do, yet in the end God is the one doing it.  This fits the grammar and is attested elsewhere in the Hebrew bible. Someone might object that “We aren’t created in the image of angels?”  That misses the point on what the image of God really means? If it means a set of metaphysical properties like will, rationality, etc., then maybe we don’t share those with angels (then again, maybe we do).  But that’s not what the image is about.

Definition of the image of God: it is the capacity to be God’s vice-regents (131). “The image is a physical manifestation of divine (or royal) essence that bears the function of that which it represents; this gives the image-bearer the capacity to reflect the attributes of the one represented.”

Genesis 2

“Divine rest is the principal function of a temple, and a temple is always where a deity finds rest, so the cosmos is God’s temple” (147).  On another note, in this earlier volume Walton is quite hostile to theistic evolution (156).

How should we honor the Sabbath?  This is the big-time money question for Reformed folks.  And if you are a Covenanter, all of theology reduces to this moment.  Walton makes a number of wise comments: if you have to reduce Sabbath-keeping to a bunch of rules, you’ve missed the point.  Sabbath is the way we acknowledge God on his throne and as priest-kings, it is how we reflect the stability and equilibrium of rest (158).

Genesis 6

Walton rightly skewers the “Sethite” thesis about the “sons of God” in Genesis 6.  There is zero syntactical evidence for such a claim. Walton rejects the angelic thesis, but not for the usual reasons.  While he correctly notes that whenever the “sons of God” appear in Scripture (e.g., in Job), it means angelic beings. But he says the Bible doesn’t give us a large enough sample size, so we can’t use that evidence. Further, contra Enoch and Jude’s use of Enoch (sorry fundies), the angelic beings would have taken wives in marriage, which goes against Enoch’s usage of porneia.

Walton claims the “sons of god” are sort of like Gilgamesh, tyrant kings of old who took extra wives.  To be fair, Walton admits there is zero evidence in Scripture for his position but he notes, accurately, that it matches the Gilgamesh account.

There are several problems here.  (1) Gilgamesh was an apkallu, or maybe a son of an apkallu.  That supports the angelic thesis. So if Walton is correct, then he is thrust back upon the angelic thesis. (2) Precisely about what event in the OT does Jude allude to?  Genesis 6. Jude connects this account with the sexual sins of Sodom. Again, we are thrust back upon the angelic thesis.

The Flood

True to Walton’s methodology, he doesn’t argue for any specific extent of the flood.  He notes some problems in each view, lists the grammatical and syntactical options, and lets the reader decide. And the options aren’t simply universal vs. local.  Rather, they are a) global, b) known world, c) regional, d) local (322). There are some problems with the Universal Flood view:

  1. If the sea level rose for 150 days until it covered the tops of the mountains, and the sea level rose 16, 946 ft to the top of Ararat, then it was logically 16, 946ft across the earth.  This requires about 630 million cubic miles of additional water weighing 3,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. Here is the problem: the oceans had to triple in volume in 150 days and then shrink quickly back to normal.  Where did the 630 million cubic miles of water go? There is no ocean to drain to because the oceans are already filled.

There are other logistical problems but they aren’t ultimately decisive.  What matters is the text. Didn’t the flood cover “all” the earth? As good Calvinists we know that all doesn’t always mean all (Dt 2.25).  True, but didn’t it cover the mountains? The text uses the Pual form of ksh, which suggests a variety of possibilities (325). Water can “cover” not simply by submerging but also by drenching.  If we tell someone “you are covered with water” during a storm, we just mean they are drenched.


The commentary is weighted towards the earlier chapters of Genesis.  That’s probably inevitable as that is where all the questions are. I don’t always agree with Walton’s conclusions, but his handling of the text and syntax is masterful.


Review: Lost World Canaanite Conquest

The book was a sheer joy to read. It was accessible yet maintained the highest rigors of scholarship.  John and John Walton affirm the historicity of the conquest narrative, yet they avoid “easy” answers often given by evangelical apologists.  They invite us to enter the thought-world of an ancient Hebrew. They do so by outlining 21 propositions (see below)See the source image

Walton’s propositions:

  1. Reading the Bible consistently means reading it as an ancient document.
  2. We should approach the problem of the conquest by adjusting our expectations about what the Bible is.
  3. The Bible does not define Goodness for us or tell us how to produce goodness, but instead tells us about the goodness God is producing.
  4. The bible teaches clearly and consistently that affliction by God cannot be automatically attributed to the wrongdoing of the victim.
  5. None of the usual textual indicators for divine retribution occur in the case of the Canaanites.
  6. Genesis 15:16 does not indicate that the Canaanites were committing sin.
  7. Neither the Israelites nor the Canaanites are depicted as stealing each other’s rightful property.
  8. The people of the land are not indicted for not following the stipulations of the covenant, and neither is Israel expected to bring them into the covenant.
  9. Ancient law codes such as Lev. 18-20 are not lists of rules to be obeyed, and therefore the Canaanites cannot be guilty of violating them.
  10. Holiness is a status granted by God; it is not earned through moral performance, and failing to have it does not subject one to judgment.
  11. You can’t make a comparison between the Canaanites expulsion from the land and the Israelites’ exile.
  12. The depiction of the Canaanites In Leviticus and Deuteronomy is a sophisticated appropriation of a common ANE literary device.
  13. Behaviors that are described as detestable are to be contrasted with ideal behavior under the Israelite covenant.
  14. The imagery of the conquest account recapitulates creation.
  15. Herem does not mean utterly to destroy.
  16. Herem against communities focuses only destroying identity, not killing people of certain ethnicities.
  17. The wars of the Israelite conquest were fought in the same manner as all ancient wars.
  18. Rahab and the Gideonites are not exceptions to the Herem.
  19. The logic of the Herem in the event of the conquest operates in the context of Israel’s vassal treaty.
  20. The OT, including the conquest account, provides a template for interpreting the NT, which in turn gives insight into God’s purposes for today.
  21. The application of Herem in the New Covenant is found in putting off our former identity.

Examination of his Propositions

P(1) – (2) should be noncontroversial.  The Bible is an ancient semitic document and it should read like one.  It has different assumptions on “what is the worst that could happen?” For us, the worst that could happen in life is genocide or famine.  For a Hebrew it was an improper burial and being forgotten (Ecclesiastes).

P(3) is problematic in how it is stated, though I know what they are getting at. The Bible isn’t a manual for ethics or law, but I do think it gives more detail about “goodness” than they allow.  But they do raise a good point about justice and goodness: justice in the ancient world is tied to order, not so much about “getting what is owed me.”

P(4)-(8)  In many cases, this is John 9.  Walton’s argument is that the Canaanites aren’t simply being driven out of the land “because they are bad.”  I think they are much worse than Walton makes out, but his point holds. The Canaanites are losing their land because God promised the land to Israel.

But what about God’s saying that he will expel/vomit Israel out like he did the Canaanites?  True, Walton downplays that objection. ~8. “No nation other than Israel is ever reprimanded for serving other gods” (79). That kind of makes sense, since Yahweh had disinherited the nations in Genesis 10 and given them over to the beney elohim.

P(10) Good reflection against Pelagianism.  Holiness (qds) Doesn’t mean my good behavior that I have accumulated.  Objects and land in the OT are holy, yet they aren’t moral agents.

P(12) That might be true, but if the Canaanites were guilty of these actions, and if there were demonic Nephilim and Rephaim in the land, then full-scale slaughter was warranted.

P(13) His argument is that the Hebrew ra is relative to the covenant, and not an absolute standard. Nevertheless, one hopes that bestiality and child sacrifice is universally evil.

Demons and idolatry: demons were extraneous to the ANE ritual system.


“The etymology of the words enforcest he unworldly aspects of the enemy, similar to the monstrous bird-men of the Cuthean legend” (148).

“The Rephaim are most commonly associated with the spirits of dead kings, specifically” (149).

Emim: comes from the root word “ema” which would therefore mean “terrible ones” (cited in Eugene Carpenter, “Deuteronomy,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament, I:432.

P(14) This was a beautiful chapter.  The conquest narrative is much more than a typological recapitulation of creation.  In being such it shows Yahweh’s victory of chaotic cthonic forces.

P(15)-(16) Herem does involve a lot more killing than modern readers are comfortable with, but that isn’t the point of herem.  It was killing an identity. And it can’t mean total destruction. While gold and metals are herem, Bronze Age technology simply couldn’t destroy and un-atomize these metals.

However, Walton failed to note that most of the cities targeted were those with a heavy presence of Anakim and Rephaim.