Et Cetera, Et Cetera

Hello. Late-night thoughts here.

Why are there so many stories in the Old Testament? It’s chock-full of tales. This is God’s word to man- can’t we just cut out the fluff and get to the important bits? One possible approach to one possible explanation occurs to me, mediated by Leithart filtered through the Wagner and Beethoven I’ve been listening to all evening.

All music has this quality of repetition to it. In most songs there will be a section of music which repeats several times, and while sometimes there is development from iteration to iteration in the form of a crescendo or the addition of instruments or underlying strains, sometimes the sections just repeats. And repeats. And repeats again. And then, just as the listener becomes aware that he is waiting for something to happen, the cycle breaks and a new section begins. It builds tension. It builds anticipation. Often these sections end on a leading tone, causing that sleeping musician’s ear in all of us to long for the resolution brought about by a tonic or dominant note or chord.

God doesn’t just want your mind, and so his book isn’t a list of propositions. He doesn’t just want your obedience, and so his book isn’t just a list of commands. God wants your worship, and so his book is all about the majesty of his Son, the Deliverer of Israel who appears at the end of the song to put away sin for all time. Something happens to a person when they read the unfinished story that is the Old Testament, and hear the broken deliverer theme over and over and over again. We were created listening for the resolution to come in Christ. Thank the Lord, the sweet strains of that resolution have come, and it’s a catchy tune.


They Have Seen His Star

I know I’m indebted to Peter Leithart and Jim Jordan on this one, but I cannot tell you how much of this is from them or where I read it. It seems to have just leached into my brain.

In the beginning, God set the lights in the sky in order to serve as signs, among other things. He also set them in the sky to rule. Throughout the Old Testament, stars seem to be associated with kingship and ruling. In Numbers 24:17, for example, “star” and “scepter” are parallels, and in Judges 5:19-20 “kings” and “stars” are parallel. In Isaiah the king of Babylon is called the Day Star (14:12).

At the beginning of the New Testament, we see the same thing. Three wise men see a star and surmise that a king was born. This isn’t just eastern paganism, either; when the magi tell Herod about the star, he and all Jerusalem are concerned (Matthew 2:3). And again at the end of the New Testament: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16).  The root and descendant of David– meaning the king of Israel– the bright morning star.

Abraham was promised descendants like the stars, and physically speaking, that was fulfilled (Deuteronomy 1:10). But Abraham is the father of the faithful also. Jesus’s star is first of a mighty innumerable host who rule with a rod of iron and receive the morning star (Revelation 2:26-28). At the end of Revelation we’re told that the sun and moon are replaced by the Lamb, but what of the stars? Perhaps they are replaced by the church, shining like stars in the universe (Philippians 2:15)

And if stars are kings, then perhaps when God told him he would have descendants as numerous as the stars he was also hinting at the future reality of the church- “And you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign with him on the earth” (Revelation 5:10).

Against the Arians, Against the Paedobaptists?

I sure hope that title doesn’t get me into trouble.

I’m reading Peter Leithart’s book Athanasius right now, and I just came across a blurb from Athanasius which struck me. He is defending the Nicene definition against the Arians (who deny that Christ is coeval with the Father), and he uses the traditional baptistic formula to do so. I pick up in the middle:

For not he who simply says, “O Lord,” gives Baptism; but he who with the Name has also the right faith. On this account therefore our Savior also did not simply command to baptize, he first says, “Teach;” then this: “Baptize into the Name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost;” that the right faith might follow upon learning, and together with faith might come into the consecration of Baptism. (Leithart, Athanasius, p. 35)

Interesting. So here’s my question: If Athanasius is correct in saying that the command to ‘teach’ (or make disciples) comes before ‘baptize,’ then isn’t that an argument against paedobaptism? I’d love to hear what you Reformed and Presbyterian folks think.


Worth Reading: Deep Exegesis


I finished reading Peter Leithart’s book Deep Exegesis last week, and it rocks. If you are interested in learning how to read your Bible well, I highly recommend this book as a place to start.

Leithart’s method is not universally accepted, but I think it makes sense. Without the book in front of me (I lent it to Kerry), let me try to explain his thesis. In fact, let me just trace his argument by chapter, since there are only six, and I think they’re great. I’m not going to discuss each chapter, but just try to whet your appetite.

The Text is a Husk– in Chapter One, Leithart explains what he believes to be the modern exegetical method, which arose shortly after the Enlightenment and depends on separating the spiritual truth of the text from the method in which it is communicated. Never mind talking about poetry or history or any such linguistic or literary features of the text- what nugget, what kernel of truth can be derived? Leithart thinks this is a bad idea.

The Text Is An Event– in this chapter Leithart argues that because texts are written in time, they have to be read in time. In other words, because John is written after Isaiah, which is written after Deuteronomy, we need to read John with Isaiah and Deuteronomy in mind. Just as we read Virgil with Homer echoing in the background, so we need to read more recent texts in light of earlier ones.

Words Are Players– Leithart argues (and I’ll do some arguing of my own here in a later post) that words in texts have a sort of life of their own. They dance around each other, giving context and layered meanings to other words. It is up to the insightful and imaginative exegete to see the dance for what it is and interpret it thusly.

The Text Is A Joke– I already wrote about this chapter, so I’ll sum up- because texts are events, and later texts refer to earlier texts, much of what is intended in these later texts depends upon what is not said, in the same way that jokes depend upon what is not said, but inferred or called to mind. Responsible exegetes diligently follow the unspoken trail of words not said.

Texts Are Music- Just as music is unique among art-forms in that it cannot be taken in at one glance, but must be listened to over a period of time, so the text must be read to discern the melody out of the flow of words. And just as music has repeated themes and interwoven melodies, so the text has repeated themes and interwoven meanings and stories inside a single passage.

Texts Are About Christ- The text always bears witness to Christ in some form or fashion. Not all texts speak of Christ to the same degree or in the same way, but all speak of Christ. The task of the exegete is to see Christ in the text.

I have some questions about the book, and some reservations as well, but all in all, I think this is a must-read.


What a Joke


Since much of what I would’ve written about Isaiah 6 went up this morning at Trinity House, I think I’ll probably just expound one more point from the text tomorrow, and that’ll be the end of it.

Right now I’m reading the last chapter of Peter Leithart’s  Deep Exegesis, a fantastic book. I wanted to share a little something he wrote about intertextuality.

In Chapter 4, “The Text Is a Joke,” Leithart tells us a joke:

A priest, a rabbi, a nun, a doctor, and a lawyer all walk into a bar. The bartender says, “What is this, a joke?” (Leithart, 113)


What makes this funny? Leithart says “the joke depends on a confluence of two joke traditions: jokes about diverse religious figures or professionals on the one hands, and jokes about barroom conversations on the other” (Leithart, 113). If you aren’t familiar with these joke traditions, then the bartender’s insight in perceiving that he is in a joke fails to connect. Leithart points out that the joke depends upon what is not said.

Scripture, he argues, acts in the same way. When Matthew records for us that Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), he does not continue on to say that Jesus was quoting Psalm 22. We must go outside the text to see it, and if we don’t see Psalm 22 in Jesus’ last words, we didn’t get it.

But there’s more.

Let’s say you and I plan to take a walk in the park to enjoy the sunshine, and as we’re getting our shoes on to go, we hear the boom of thunder followed by the sound of a million little raindrops. I look over at you and say, “The best laid schemes of mice and men,” and we decide to watch John Malkovich make a fool of himself instead.
How is my comment to you relevant in any way? What do mice have to do with anything? Our plan could hardly have been called a scheme, and much less one best laid. Yet when I said what I said, you nodded in silent agreement as though you understood perfectly what I meant.

If you went to high school, you probably had to read Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men, and if your teacher was any good, she probably had you read the Robert Burns poem off of which it was based. So, you remembered not only the full phrase of which I quoted only a part (“The best laid schemes of mice and men/Go often awry”), but you also knew the context in which it was originally said, and so you recognized that I was simply lamenting our disrupted afternoon plans with a poetic allusion. What’s important here is that I relied on you to know the context in order for my lament to be understood. My communication depended on what wasn’t said, and it depended on you filling in the rest.

Reenter Psalm 22.

Even in the agony of death, Jesus is the true prophet, the greatest teacher in Israel, and so his words aren’t without meaning. Read the rest of Psalm 22 with the crucifixion in mind and it becomes plain that Jesus was affirming both that it was “necessary for the Christ to suffer these things” (Luke 24:26, see Psalm 22:16-18) and that he would rise from the dead (Psalm 22:22-26). In fact, in referencing Psalm 22 Jesus proclaims that his is a salvation for all nations and all generations (vv 27-31). Jesus knew his audience would know the Psalms, and with one breath he preached the whole of the gospel message. This line which initially seemed tragic turns comic when we realize that Jesus may have said verse 1, but he meant the whole Psalm.

Jesus knows that the best jokes involve misdirection and surprise, and so what seems a cry of defeat turns out to be a shout of victory. What a great joke.