It would be difficult to call a single book my best theological purchase ever, because of the different ways that books can come to us at just the right time and can interact with and build upon each other. Lewis was a particular help to me because I was in a season of doubt. If Van Til hadn’t taught me to be a conscious Calvinist, I would never have needed Carson to steer me out of the hyper-Calvinist ditch, nor would I have been willing to work hard enough at Vos to learn more. And Middle-earth and Narnia are clearly in the running. Plus, I just haven’t read enough to be making such lofty pronouncements.
But realizing this, and even though I’m only partway into it, in my own small way I think the James Jordan audio collection will stand as my best theological purchase ever. Jordan has really incredible insights into the Bible. There are many books worth of material here; five months in and I have only made it through his Genesis lectures and partway into Exodus. But I am hooked, and if nothing else, I feel much better prepared and much more excited for family Bible reading. Jordan has the ability to illuminate many of the “weird” parts of the Bible so that they begin to make sense, and I’m having to give up some patronizing attitudes toward parts of history. It’s exciting to see someone wrestling with why God gave us particular details or obscure passages, even if we don’t have yet have enough information to answer that in every case. Jordan is constantly drawing out vast connections throughout Scripture, including rich symbolism and typology. Here’s a small but surprising example: combining Genesis 39:1, 39:20-23, and 41:10, we see that Joseph never left Potiphar’s house in his imprisonment! It is not clear whether the “keeper of the prison” is Potiphar himself or another of Potiphar’s servants. Regardless, Potiphar seems to have recognized that God blessed him through Joseph, and perhaps even recognized Joseph’s innocence (which would heighten the injustice of Joseph’s imprisonment).
This week I am listening to Jordan’s comments on Exodus 21. While drawing connections to related passages elsewhere in the Pentateuch, he observes that Hebrew uses a single word, goel or ga’al, to convey both the idea of the kinsman redeemer and the avenger of blood. So the word conveys a person’s status as next-of-kin as much as it does these distinct responsibilities attached to it. Jordan has several valuable observations to make on the blood avenger; in particular, he distinguishes it from a mere family feud by showing it to be a real civil responsibility to guard against bloodguilt (Numbers 35:30-34). Otherwise the land itself will rise up to serve as avenger instead (as in Genesis 4:10-12, Leviticus 20:22, Leviticus 26:18-20). Considering the cities of refuge, Jordan points out that the death of the high priest’s cleansing the land (Numbers 35:28) is another type of Jesus.
Jordan also makes the fascinating offhand remark that this dual use for goel lends further support for the doctrine of particular redemption (or limited atonement). First, it is not possible to identify Jesus as redeemer in the abstract: he is the redeemer of particular individuals who share a kinship with him. Second, we cannot separate the office of redeemer from that of avenger: as a redeemer there are others estranged from him who will suffer his vengeance. Like so many other things, it comes back to adoption.
I’m not trying to prove the doctrine of particular redemption in offering this, and if I were I would take pains to guard against the hyper-Calvinist idea that there is simply no sense in which Jesus shows kindness to those who perish, or in which he died for the sins of the whole world. But as someone who holds to particular redemption, this is a neat confirmation, as well as a great example of the sort of depth that Jordan routinely offers even in passing comments.
Picture source: Rembrandt.