Monday, January 31, 2022

Zechariah 4:6: An Addendum

My past research on Zechariah 4:6 turned up so many good resources and points that I would like to add a few thoughts to my earlier post about the verse:

Orthodox Jewish Bible: "Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying, This is the Devar Hashem unto Zerubavel, saying, Not by might, nor by ko’ach (power), but by My Ruach [Hakodesh], saith Hashem Tzva’os."

Rotherham Emphasized Bible:
"Then responded he, and spake unto me, saying, This, is the word of Yahweh, unto Zerubbabel, saying,—Not by wealth, nor by strength, but by my spirit, saith Yahweh of hosts."

Robert Alter (The Hebrew Bible):

Two Foci With Which I'm Concerned:

1)  What is the ruach YHWH in Zechariah 4:6?

2) In what sense is Jehovah (YHWH), "Yahweh of hosts"?

Concerning the first question, how most readers tend to understand the ruach YHWH has long been shaped by church theology. How many theologians have read the third person of the Trinity into passages that mention God's ruach? More than we care to recount now. Nevertheless, an objective reading of the Hebrew Bible reveals that God's ruach is not a person but more akin to a power: Jehovah's Witnesses believe the holy spirit (ruach) is Jehovah's active force that constantly emanates from him in order to accomplish his sovereign will.

The first mention of this ruach, which some understand to be "wind," is Genesis 1:2. Later in Judges 14:6, 19, the Hebrew Bible mentions the ruach YHWH becoming active on Samson.

Alan J. Hauser (The Genesis Debate) makes these points about the ruach YHWH in the Hebrew Bible:

"Let us briefly examine the use of 'spirit of God' in the Old Testament. The first part of the phrase, 'spirit of,' is commonly used in the construct state in Hebrew to denote the motivating force or dynamic power of a person or of God. In 2 Chronicles 36:22 we are told that 'the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia' to issue a proclamation allowing worshipers of Israel's God to rebuild His temple (cf. Ezra 1:1). In 1 Chronicles 5:26 God stirs up 'the spirit of Pul king of Assyria - that is, the spirit of Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria' to carry away some of the tribes of Israel" (pages 118, 119).

Additionally from Hauser:

"In these instances 'spirit of' does not denote an entity in any way separate from the person but rather the active, forceful power of that person (cf. also Gen. 45:27; 2 Kings 2:15; 1 Sam. 30:12; Hag. 1:14). Why should we presume that it is different when the object of the phrase 'spirit of' is God? When we are told in Judges 14:6 that the 'spirit of the LORD came mightily upon' Samson, and that Samson tore apart the lion, does this mean that the Holy Spirit seized Samson? What is meant instead is that God's power came upon Samson and gave him strength (see also, for example, Judg. 6:34, 11:29). There is no hint of a separate person within the Godhead from the Father acting upon the individual."

I would phrase matters slightly different and contend that God exerts his power through the holy spirit, a non-personal force that belongs to the Father, but Hauser makes the point well: the ruach YHWH is not depicted as a person in the Hebrew Bible.

After his sin with Bathsheba, King David implored Jehovah in Psalm 51:10-12, cast me not from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit away from me. For the king and former shepherd, God's ruach is good and it leads David in the way of righteousness (Psalm 143:10). So he begs Jehovah to teach him because David knows the ruach of God is good, and it directs God's people in the appropriate way. See 1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 23:2.

Now in Zechariah 4:6, within the context of building the Second Jewish temple amidst opposition, the inspired prophet foretells that this building work will be done not by human might or military force: it will only be effected by God's ruach--the ruach YHWH. Ralph L. Smith explains (Vol. 32 of the WBC Series):

"There are really two words from Yahweh here (4:6–7 and 8–10a) but they both say essentially the same thing. One, the temple will be built. Zerubbabel started the rebuilding and he will finish it. Two, strength to finish the temple will not be man’s physical ability or military might , but will be by the power of the Spirit of Yahweh of hosts (4:6)."

What about the divine title,
Yahweh of hosts?

"The interpreting angel attributed the divine quote to 'the LORD Almighty.'315 The Hebrew term ([ṣə·ḇā·’ō·wṯbôt]) is usually translated 'Almighty' or 'Hosts' and also connotes a military image, emphasizing the compelling power and authority that the Lord uses to accomplish whatever he wills.316 This unfathomable power belonging to the Lord awaits the people of God through his agent, the Spirit of the Lord."

Klein, George. New American Commentary Vol. 21B: Zechariah (Kindle Locations 4865-4869). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Whether one translates "the LORD Almighty," Yahweh of hosts or "Jehovah of armies," some questions arise as to whether entities on earth, stars or angels are meant by the word "hosts/armies." Could it be both stars and angels (i.e. spirit creatures)? The context doesn't necessarily make clear the intended meaning, so either meaning is possible.
It doesn't appear that we can be dogmatic about the expression.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

What Is Jehovah Asking From You? (Modified Talk)

Jehovah is such a generous God: he is the giver of every good gift and every perfect present (James 1:17). All throughout creation, we see evidence of his love, goodness and generosity (Romans 1:20). Therefore, how should we respond? What does Jehovah expect from us in return for all his goodness?

Read Deut. 10:12-We should obey Jehovah out of reverential awe and love. But what does it mean to be in awe of Jehovah or to fear him? The fear of Jehovah is a healthy and reverential regard for God and his ways. It means that we fear to displease Jehovah much like we might fear to displease a loving parent. Malachi 3:5 indicates that the fear of Jehovah can keep us from being lured by spiritism and sexual immorality. Yet in addition to reverential fear, our primary motive for obeying Jehovah is love for him and his benevolent laws (Matthew 22:37-39).

Yet if we fear Jehovah and love him, what can we expect in return? Read Deut. 10:13. So what can we expect when we obey Jehovah? A multitude of benefits, both now and in the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8). Think about it: all of Jehovah's commandments are for our lasting benefit: not one law that he commands us to keep is meant to harm us. Isa. 48:17; Ps 19:11--in keeping Jehovah's commandments, there is a large reward.

Yet none of us live a charmed life in this system, but we still benefit from serving Jehovah. Besides personal health benefits and emotional benefits, Deut. 10:15 mentions another benefit that comes from obeying Jehovah. (Read)

There is only one person in the Bible whom Jehovah explicitly called "my friend," and that was Abraham. Does this mean that others cannot be friends of Jehovah? No, for the words of Deut. 10:15 were addressed to the entire nation of Israel. Furthermore, James 4:8 invites all of us to draw close to Jehovah and he will draw close to us. Therefore, we too can have a close relationship with God: we also can be his friends. See Psalm 25:14.

So what is Jehovah asking of us? Jehovah wants us to love and obey him “from the heart.” (Romans 6:17) Those who choose to serve Jehovah enjoy the best way of life now, and we can look to the real life in the world to come.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Hermeneutics, Exegesis, and Multiple Senses of Scripture

Hermeneutics is one of many terms that has multiple definitions, and it's possible that even scholars unintentionally conflate terms when defining "hermeneutics." Some definitions for hermeneutics include, "the methodology of interpretation" (SEP); "the science of interpretation"; "the study of the principles of interpretation" and "The art of finding the meaning of an author's words and phrases, and of explaining it to others" (Webster's 1828 Edition).

Another definition that the American Heritage Dictionary proffers is: "
The theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text."

Therefore, it appears safe to contend that hermeneutics tries to study the how of interpretation and the principles that undergird it. What does it mean to interpret (exegete) a text? What does it take to extract meaning from a text as opposed to reading our own ideas into a text? Hermeneutics wrestles with such questions, and in today's environment, one finds all types of hermeneutical approaches from the African-American hermeneutic to the standard historical-critical method. Feminist criticism is likewise common in today's scholarly world. I'm not endorsing any one approach, just letting readers know what's out there in scholarship.

My own approach to the Bible is eclectic: I see a place for social, historical, and theological concerns driving one's quest to understand the biblical text. However, my preferred method is a modified historical-grammatical approach, which privileges grammar (Hebrew-Aramaic or Greek) but does not ignore theology or the original context of what is written in Scripture.

To build on these comments, let us consider how the early Christians read the Hebrew Bible and understood it, under the guidance of holy spirit. It seems evident that the New Testament applies Old Testament passages differently from the original writers. Maybe it is better to say that the New Testament consummates and goes beyond (transcends) the apparent meaning of the Hebrew-Aramaic text. However, I don't have a problem with levels of interpretation or with positing different senses for the same verse (e.g., the historical, moral, allegorical and analogical sense). In one place, the apostle Paul writes that the verse about yoking a bull with a donkey refers to humans, not animals (1 Corinthians 9:9-10). Was Paul denying that the verse originally applied to animals? I don't think so. Furthermore, Habakkuk 1:5-7 about the Chaldeans is applied to the resurrection of Christ in Acts 13:38-41. Other examples could be adduced to show that the early Christians recognized there are different levels of scriptural interpretation. See 2 Corinthians 4:6.

One of the classical and most thorough studies regarding this subject is by 
Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture, which is a three-volume work. As we study the book of Ezekiel, it becomes evident that more than one proper sense or application can be derived from a study of the Bible.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

"God and the Nature of Time" by Garrett J. DeWeese--A Discussion (Part III)

In my last post about this book by Garrett DeWeese, I dealt with personal identity and time. As we learned, DeWeese is not impressed with the project by Schlesinger to define time and make sense of personal identity, but what about how other thinkers approach the question of God in relation to time or time itself? And, most importantly, does the Bible help to resolve these questions? These two questions are my focus in this last post about God and the Nature of Time.

Pages 212-213 discuss Nicholas Wolterstorff's argument for God being in time, that is, being infected by temporality. I will summarize Wolterstorff's line of reasoning this way:

(1) No one can know about some temporal event (E) that it is occurring except when it is occurring.

(2) Before E begins to occur, one cannot know that E is occurring, for it is not.

(3) After E ceases to occur, one cannot know that it is occurring, for it is not.

(4) Every case of knowing that E is occurring therefore seems to be infected by the temporality of E.

(5) Therefore, the act of knowing about E that it was occurring and that it is occurring and the act of knowing about E that it will be occurring are all infected by the temporality of E.

(6) God (according to Scripture) performs all of these acts of knowing since he knows what has happened, what is happening and what will happen. Hence, some of God's acts (his acts of knowing) are themselves temporal events. Consequently, God is not timeless.

DeWeese thinks Wolterstorff's argument is strongly plausible prima facie, but he suggests that an atemporalist (one who does not believe God is temporal) might counter with an offer to render the tensed propositions of Wolterstorff into tenseless statements. However, since this strategy might not work for reasons stated heretofore, DeWeese categorizes Wolterstorff's argument as "weak."

However, while characterizing Wolterstorff's argument as weak, he indicates that there might be a way to make it stronger. Maybe it is the case that God's redemptive acts are "infected with temporality." For instance, if God is first wrathful toward a sinner but then subsequently adopts the sinner as his child, Wolterstorff's argument might be salvaged. Such divine actions might be temporal and not merely relational changes (so-called Cambridge changes). It is possible that God likewise has a genuinely personal relationship with his rational creatures and being in a personal relationship with humans might necessitate that God be temporal. DeWeese concludes: "If such an argument from personality could be mounted, it would certainly be in the spirit of Wolterstorff's article" (page 213).

The book then turns toward another philosopher who thinks God is temporal, Stephen T. Davis.

He argues:

1. God creates x.
2. x first exists at T.
3. Therefore, God creates x at T.

DeWeese finds 3) to be ambiguous between 3a) God, at T, creates x and 3b) which is God creates x, and x first exists at T. I think it can readily be seen that 3b) is nothing more than the collocation of inferences from 1) and 2) above.

Ultimately, DeWeese decides that Davis' argument might need to be patched up before it's accepted, but he is basically sympathetic to the view of Davis regarding God's actions. However, any evaluative remarks directed toward Davis are postponed until later in the book.

On the other hand, Edward Wierenga launches some criticisms at Davis' argument in The Nature of God: An Inquiry into Divine Attributes, pages 196-198. Do his objections have probative force? The answer to that question will end up being in the beholder's eyes.

Pages 258-259 discuss the potential implications of affirming divine temporality. If God is temporal, then God is not absolutely simple: neither is God strongly immutable. DeWeese thinks these divine attributes owe much to Neoplatonism. Therefore, he does not think giving up these attributes for the sake of divine temporality fatally wounds Christian theology.

On page 273, three options concerning God's temporal status before creation are posited: 1) God's existence could have been one amorphous and temporal moment, 2) his existence could have been divided into a timeless and temporal existence (before and after creation) or 3) God could have existed from the infinite past sans creation. To really understand these distinctions, one must introduce the distinction between metaphysical and physical time. In any event, DeWeese professes that each one of these views have their own problems, but he rules in favor of divine temporality, mutatis mutandis by reckoning that it is possible for the divine temporalist to bite a smaller bullet than the divine atemporalist: DeWeese himself adopts omnitemporality which is a modification of other divine temporalist accounts.

Like William Lane Craig, DeWeese concludes that the Bible does not give a definitive answer to whether God is atemporal or temporal, and if so, in what way God might be temporal. He accordingly opts for omnitemporality, choosing to believe that God is present at all times but somehow transcends ordinary physical time. A book reviewer and academic, Marcel Sarot, summed up DeWeese's work this way though he highly praised it:

"While this book does not develop a major new theory, it is an excellent survey of the field. For a reviewer that is, in a sense, a pity: summarizing an excellent survey provides less opportunities for original arguments than criticizing a flawed survey or a highly original new theory. If, however, he has been able to convey that this is an outstanding introduction to the field, this particular reviewer is more than content."

Sarot, M. (2007). "Review of the book God and the nature of time, G.J. DeWeese, 2004, 075463518X." Ars Disputandi: The Online Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 7(7).

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Brian Tabb on Revelation 11:1-2 (Screenshots)


Revelation 11:1 and the Temple of God

Greek: Καὶ ἐδόθη μοι κάλαμος ὅμοιος ῥάβδῳ, λέγων Ἔγειρε καὶ μέτρησον τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον καὶ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας ἐν αὐτῷ.

Analysis: ἐδόθη is aorist indicative passive 3rd person singular of  δίδωμι (compare Revelation 6:4, 8, 11; 11:2; 13:5-7); the comments made by Grant Osborne are worth consulting in his work Revelation, BENTC.

The noun κάλαμος ("a reed, measuring rod") is nominative singular masculine. See Ezekiel 40:3b, 5 (LXX): "It was about ten feet four inches in length" (Osborne). Cf. Revelation 21:15.

The reed is
ὅμοιος ῥάβδῳ ("like a staff"). λέγων is the present active participle, nominative masculine singular of λέγω : the participle applies to the angel being used in the revelatory disclosure (see Revelation 10:11). Aune observes that the antecedent of the participle is not clear but the angel is the most likely candidate.

William Webster and William Francis Wilkinson think the accusatival noun phrase τὸν ναὸν signifies the Christian ecclesia (see 2 Thessalonians 2:4). They submit that τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας applies to the "true and spiritual Christians, real Christians" (The Greek Testament, page 795).

Period of Application: John is bidden to measure the temple of God and the altar and the ones worshiping in the temple sanctuary. If Revelation was written circa 96 CE (the so-called late date for the book), then the temple in Jerusalem would have been destroyed at the time of writing. This raises a question about how the words of Revelation 11:1 might apply and when.

Some writers argue that John wrote Revelation circa 68-69 CE right before the Jerusalem temple's destruction in 70 CE. If that were the case, how would Revelation 11:1 then undergo fulfillment? Preterists contend that the temple of God in this account refers to the Second Temple built in Jerusalem or Herod's temple. Hence, they insist that Revelation 11:1-2 underwent fulfillment before 70 CE when there still was a Jewish temple standing in Jerusalem or during that fateful year.

The difficulties with preterism and Revelation 11 have been addressed in other studies, and the objections set forth by scholars seem fatal to preterism in my opinion. This account simply does not refer to the temple in Jerusalem.

Stephen S. Smalley approaches Revelation, not with a preterist template, but with a "modified idealist" hermeneutic instead. This means that he understands the temple of Revelation 11:1 to be symbolic:

"The temple, worshippers and altar of verse 1 must signify the Christian community and its faithful members; just as the concept of ‘measuring’ symbolizes the preservation of the servants of God who have been sealed from danger of every kind. The outer court and holy city then represent the Church in its vulnerability. Its adherents, the Johannine circle included, remain subject to physical oppression from imperial and Jewish sources, and to the possibility of martyrdom (2.13; 6.10–11; 20.4).

See Smalley, Revelation to John, page 270.

Other Scholarly Observations:

Ernst W. Hengstenberg (Revelation):
"The church appears under the symbol of the temple, which for so many centuries was the seat and external representation of the kingdom of God, and hence occurs, otherwise than in vision, in a series of passages in the New Testament as the designation of the church, John 2:19; Mark 14:58; Ephesians 2:21-22; Tim. Revelation 3:15; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:4; Hebrews 3:6. The temple proper denotes those, who are deeply filled and penetrated by the spirit of the church, the outer court those, who are only superficially affected"

Craig R. Koester (Revelation, page 495):