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Archive for the ‘Biblical Theology’ Category

A new house

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In his lectures on the book of Acts, James Jordan argues that in Acts 27, Luke is deliberately portraying a picture of the transfer of God’s kingdom from Israel to the church. The ship is a kind of Roman ark that has carried God’s people, but in order to survive and enjoy the fulfillment of God’s promises, everyone must now follow the man appointed by God (v. 24) on an exodus. Thus Luke is urging his readers: Rome and especially the temple in Jerusalem are both sinking; Rome’s protection for Israel and the church is ending; salvation is now found only in the church.

Obviously the parallels to Jonah‘s ship (and whale) and the ark are significant. In some ways this is an extension of those cases, as we must now abandon the ship-whale for salvation and instead follow Paul.

Jordan notes in support of his reading that midnight on the 14th day of the month is the same time as Passover (v. 27), there is a kind of communion (v. 35), and being without food is a kind of wilderness experience in which God must provide (v. 21). Furthering the Passover imagery, everyone must remain in the house (v. 31). Then in Acts 28 Paul seems to be saying that the special transition era of ministering the gospel to the Jew first is coming to an end.

With this in mind, we can venture a guess as to what Luke is underscoring by taking the time to tell us that 276 persons were saved (v. 37). If Jordan is correct, we should not be surprised to find some references that are related to God’s house or to exile and exodus patterns. There are no other occurrences of the number 276 so we need to look at a couple of ways of breaking it down.

276 is a triangular number: it is the sum of 23 + 22 + … + 1. It is also 23×12. Twelve is certainly significant for God’s house and kingdom. Twenty-three has a couple points of significance related to God’s house: (1) in 2 Kings 12:6ff, God’s house is repaired beginning in the twenty-third year of King Jehoash; and (2) in 2 Chronicles 7:10, the people return rejoicing from the consecration of God’s house on the twenty-third of the month.

There are also a few references that relate to defeat and exile and captivity, which is suggestive that those who do not escape the Roman-Jewish ship will have no further opportunity of repentance (as Hebrews 10:26 warns, there “no longer remains a sacrifice” in the old temple): (1) in 2 Chronicles 36:2, Jehoahaz begins his brief and plundered reign at the age of twenty-three; (2) in Jeremiah 25:3, Jeremiah prophesies seventy years of captivity after twenty-three years of ignored prophecy; (3) in Jeremiah 52:30, Nebuchadnezzar makes his final plundering of Israel in the twenty-third year of his reign.

There is a final reference to 46 = 23×2 in John 2:20, which is the length of time to build Herod’s temple. All of these references lend credence to Jordan’s interpretation of the underlying message and application that Luke is giving: escape to the church, the new house of God.

You may find this approach unfamiliar or uncomfortable. There are certainly many attempts at Biblical numerology out there that are pure flights of fancy. However, in this case we are not linking numbers to abstract ideas but rather using them to link together texts that have a related theme (in this case the establishment or destruction of God’s house), and to identify possible ways in which this connection reinforces or enriches the theme of those texts.

We can consider other examples of this approach to show that it is reasonable. Obviously the significance of the numbers seven (creation or new creation) and twelve (God’s people) is well known. The number seventy is less well known, but it occurs quite often in a way that symbolizes the nations, since it is the number of names populating the earth after the flood in Genesis 10. You can see some clear examples of this in Exodus 1:5 (the nations were already and will again be saved through Jacob and his family) and Exodus 15:7.

There is a case to be made that 17 is somewhat interchangeable with 70 in that it is 7+10 rather than 7×10. There are many groupings of 17 that occur in the Psalms, and it is at just this time where there is an explosion of Gentile involvement in God’s house. And this likely also explains the significance of John’s taking care to mention 153 fish in John 21:11, since 153 is the triangle of 17 + 16 + … + 1. The Holy Spirit through John is encouraging the church that, by Jesus’s word, we fishers of men will capture the nations!

Another interesting triangular number is the 666 of Revelation 13:18, the number of the beast, the number of a man. This is the triangle of 36 + 35 + … + 1. Thirty-six in turn is 6×6. So many sixes! The sixth day of creation is the day on which man was created, so it is the number of an Adam. The first Adam failed in his ministry precisely by giving the creation over to a beast. This number is also the number of another Adam who turned away from God: Solomon, who disobeyed the laws of kingship (Deuteronomy 17) and gathered 666 talents of gold per year (1 Kings 10:14, 2 Chronicles 9:13). With Jordan, I believe all of this points towards the land beast’s representing unfaithful Jewish leadership rather than Rome or Nero (which I believe corresponds to the sea beast, but we can explore that at another time). We have already considered that Revelation’s Babylon is Jerusalem rather than Rome.

It is possible to have an approach to numerology which is grounded in Scripture itself, and which enriches the message of the priority of God’s kingdom and the certainty of the Holy Spirit’s victorious work in and through the church.

Written by Scott Moonen

August 13, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology

Two tables

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In 1 Samuel 28, king Saul of the tribe of Benjamin consults a witch and shares a midnight meal with her. This is a table of demons, an anti–Passover, an anti–exodus ending in defeat and death and disgrace.

In Acts 16, the apostle Paul (or Saul) of the tribe of Benjamin casts a demon out of a witch and shares a midnight meal with the Philippian jailer. This is the table of the Lord, a Passover, an exodus ending in deliverance, victory, conquest (salvation), and vindication.

On a different tack, this is also a victory of Paul over a serpent, as the spirit of divination is literally the spirit of a python. This adds to the exodus motif as it parallels Moses’s and Aaron’s victory over the Egyptian magicians in Exodus 7, and also points to Jesus’s great victory over the great serpent.

The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14–15 ESV)

Written by Scott Moonen

June 8, 2019 at 11:42 am

Posted in Biblical Theology

Conceal

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In his lectures on Exodus, Jim Jordan mentions his (then) recent interview with the science fiction and fantasy novelist Gene Wolfe:

“Wolfe’s most striking piece of fiction so far is a set of five novels which are in continuation with one another called The Book of the New Sun. It’s real complex and there’s been a lot of analysis saying ‘What did he mean by this? What’s really going on in this chapter?’ and so forth.

“I asked him about it. ‘Are you trying to confuse the reader?’ He said, ‘No, I always leave enough clues and you have to find them.’ He said, ‘Remember: I worked on this for five or six years, so I had a lot of time to put in everything I wanted and to get it the way I wanted it to be.’ He rewrote it five times before it was done.

“Now the reader doesn’t usually take that much time. It’s true of Wolfe’s books—as one reviewer put it: ‘If you buy a novel by Gene Wolfe, you really get about four novels because you can read it over and over and get all kinds of new things out of it each time, so it’s a good investment.’

“But I was struck by the fact that he said: ‘I had five years to work on this and to get things exactly the way I wanted it and to rework this and to get the story exactly the way I wanted it, to make some things clear, to obscure some things, and to put challenges before the reader.’

“And I thought, ‘Well, God had eternity to put things in the Bible and there are plenty of things in the Bible that are clear to us and then there are things that are puzzles.’ The Book of Proverbs says, ‘The glory of God is to conceal a matter and the glory of kings is to search it out.’

Jordan goes on to mention that when Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, preaches the sermon we call Deuteronomy, he has been meditating on Genesis and Exodus and Leviticus for thirty-eight years. If we haven’t done that, we can’t really expect Deuteronomy to be crystal clear to us on a first reading:

“Moses has done that for 38 years. You and I haven’t. Now he puts Deuteronomy down, and what is Deuteronomy? It’s the fruit of 38 years of reflection on all the details in Exodus and Leviticus.

“To understand Deuteronomy really well, we would need to understand everything in Exodus and Leviticus and then we’d have to think about how they go together in a real life context for a long time. Then you’d be in a position to understand what was in Moses’ mind when he wrote Deuteronomy.

“That’s not to say that we can’t get anything out of Deuteronomy. But it is to say that there’s some complicated things in here that a lot of people haven’t gotten and that we’re not going to get today either.

“But it illustrates just how rich this book is, because Deuteronomy is the culmination of the first five books of the Bible. Everything is rolled together in Deuteronomy as a result of Moses’ reflections, under divine inspiration. So we shouldn’t expect it to be completely transparent.”

Source: John Barach

Written by Scott Moonen

April 14, 2019 at 4:51 pm

Eucharist

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We consecrate the things we receive by prayer, the word of God, by thanksgiving. Everything we touch becomes holy if we receive it with gratitude, with the word of God, and prayer: our food becomes holy food for holy people if we give thanks; our friends and family are holy to us; our talents are holy to us; . . . the material goods we receive are holy as we receive them with thanksgiving.

As we are giving thanks for everything in all circumstances we are consecrating the world, which means we are laying God’s claim on everything. When something is holy, it doesn’t belong to us; if I receive food and I give thanks to God for it, that means this is now God’s food, and I better use it the way God wants me to. That means, among other things, that I better share it, because that’s part of what God wants me to do with my food: it’s not just mine anymore; I’ve consecrated it to God.

Everything you give thanks for—every person, every circumstance you give thanks for, every material good you give thanks for—you are laying God’s claim on that thing, you are extending God’s rule over the world by acts of thanksgiving. . . .

Receiving something with thanksgiving also means to ask how can this thing, this person, this circumstance, how can this thing which I’ve consecrated to God by thanksgiving, how can that become, as it were, food that I can share with others? And this, I think, helps us to see how . . . we can respond with gratitude [for] even the bad things that happen in our lives: . . . you’re looking for ways to break out those circumstances as bread, to make them nourishing for other people. . . . How can you turn that into eucharist, a shared meal? . . .

We can also give thanks in bad circumstances, because thanksgiving is proleptic; we give thanks before the deliverance comes. David does this constantly: he’s surrounded by enemies, but then he gives God thanks even though he’s not yet rescued. We celebrate the Lord’s supper in the midst of our enemies; the Lord sets his table in the midst of our enemies. He sets us a table of thanksgiving when he hasn’t yet fulfilled all his promises, and yet we’re giving thanks to him for fulfilling all his promises.

How can we do that? Because his promises are so certain to be fulfilled, because we are so confident that they will be fulfilled, that our deliverance will come whatever form it might take, that we give thanks for it now, before it happens.

Peter Leithart, Continuous Gratitude

Written by Scott Moonen

April 14, 2019 at 4:44 pm

Debt

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The church is a debt-free zone; . . . it’s a zone where every single member has received gifts by the Spirit, gifts that are to be used to benefit the entire body. That’s part of thanks: proper gratitude for the reception of the gift is to use the gift to benefit others. . . . Part of what it means biblically to show gratitude is to use the gifts to benefit and to support and to nourish others.

Everybody in the church is party to this; everyone in the church is gifted, and everyone in the church benefits from all the gifts of everyone. . . There’s no fixed hierarchy in the church; it’s a debt-free zone; it’s a community of mutual giving and receiving, of mutual construction that is all underwritten by the gifts that come from the Father: because the Father is a party to every single gift exchange that exists in the church. . . .

That’s the kind of community where people are free to give, free to receive without being enslaved, free to give even to those who are not very grateful; . . . ; freed up by the gospel, by the knowledge that the Father is the true and absolute patron, that he’s a party to every transaction. That knowledge frees people to give and receive gladly and cheerfully.

Peter Leithart, Jesus the Ingrate

Written by Scott Moonen

April 4, 2019 at 3:08 pm

Inescapable

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Everyone tithes. You tithe to something, just like everybody worships. There are no atheists: everybody worships something; everybody has a god.

In the same way, tithing is an inescapable concept, since the first fruits . . . is either going to go to God or it’s going to go to somebody else. You can give it to yourself, or your creditor, or your vacation savings account, or your recreation. but you’re going to give it to somebody. . . .

The one who gets the fruit of our labor is the one we call god. We give the tithe to the person who we believe has blessed us. And that belongs to no other than our Creator.

Duane Garner, Performing Our Vows

Written by Scott Moonen

March 25, 2019 at 5:11 pm

Life-giving bonds

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The covenant is the happiest place on earth.

Duane Garner, Performing Our Vows

Written by Scott Moonen

March 25, 2019 at 5:03 pm