Male and Female He Created Them

Some years ago I remember watching a movie in which Katherine Hepburn starred. I couldn’t tell you the name of the movie, but as I recall it, she was trying out for a job and in one scene someone was administering something like an IQ test to her. The question was asked, “What is the first thing you notice about a person?” To which she replied, “Whether they are male or female.”

Such self-evident, common-sense truth seems to be becoming rarer these days. But the biblical creation accounts affirm that maleness and femaleness is part of God’s creational design.

In Genesis 1:26, in his self-deliberations, God announces, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” And then in the very next verse, we see God carry out his self-deliberations: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (1:27).

Now, in previous posts I have explored what it means to be made in the image of God. I speculated that it may include the spiritual, intellectual, volitional, moral, social, and perhaps emotional dimensions of human personality, as well reflecting God’s image in our creative capacities and in our commission to have dominion over the created order.

But there is one other aspect of the image of God that I have not mentioned and which I think is explicit in the text: both maleness and femaleness—together—reflect the image of God.

Now, this is a profound mystery that is being depicted here. I certainly do not think that God has gender—as if he had maleness and femaleness contained in himself. Many ancient societies, whether it was ancient near-eastern, Greco-Roman, or Norse, depicted their gods as being male or female. Not so, the biblical text. God is not depicted as having gender.

Now, it is true that in the NT, God is called “Father.” But this does not imply that God is male. It only implies that: (1) He is a creator. But God is distinct from his creation. The father image better conveys this than the mother image. I think the biblical authors wanted to eschew the image of God as a mother giving birth as if creation was merely an extension of God’s self. There is a continuity between a mother and a child that is not true of a Father and a child. (2) He is a personal being that has a relationship with his created order.

Hence, what we have here in the biblical text is a profound mystery: maleness and femaleness—together—reflect the image of God. Maleness, by itself, does not reflect the image of God. And femaleness, by itself, does not reflect the image of God. But both, together, do.

Now, I want to make clear that the word used for “man” here in verses 26–27 does not indicate masculinity. The Hebrew word is adam, which simply means “human being.” The Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word is also generic: Anthropos, which is where we get the word “anthropology.” Anthropology is simply the study of human beings, or the study of human culture. But the word “male” used in verse 27 distinctly has a masculine referent. It refers to men, even as there is also a distinctive term for women used in this verse.

Now, God gives a commission to human beings: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (1:28). God desires human beings to flourish and to enjoy the created order in which they were placed and given dominion over. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

Now, it seems to me that when a man and a woman engage in the act of copulation and they conceive and give birth to a child, they are in a sense imitating God in his creative capacity. To put it another way: perhaps maleness and femaleness together reflects the image of God in that in the union of a man and a woman, together they have the creative capacity to produce life. A man by himself or two men together cannot produce life. And a woman by herself or two women together cannot produce life. But a man and a woman together can—and in this way together they reflect the image of God.

Ideally, this creation of new life should originate in the love of a man and a woman for one another. The creation of new life then becomes the overflow of their love for one another. God did not need to create the world or human beings. God as a tri-unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is in perfect harmonious relationship with himself. He needs nothing else. Yet, out of the overflowing abundance of his love, God creates so that he may share his love with other creatures. Human beings in some sense reflect this character of God in the loving act of a man and woman with one another.

Now, we have to turn to the second creation account in Genesis 2 to get some further reflections on maleness and femaleness. In Genesis 2 we read that God created the man first and then later he created the woman.

In 2:18 we read that God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” This is the first time in the creation accounts when we are told that something is “not good.” In Genesis 1, as God creates each part of the creation, it says that God looked on his creation and saw that it was good. Then after creating human beings at the climax of his creation, we are told that it was “very good.” But now, for the first time, we are told that something is “not good.”

Now, I mentioned in a previous post that we are made in the social or relational image of God. We are created to be in relationship with other human beings. It is not good for any person to be alone.

So God resolves to do something about it. He says, “I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

What follows in verse 19 has an air of quaintness about it. God creates each animal and brings it before the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called it, that was its name. So Adam named all the animals from aardvarks to zebras! It was like God was experimenting. “Well, let me try this animal . . .” “Nah, that didn’t work, let me try this one . . .” And so forth.

So, why didn’t these other animals work? Let me suggest that one reason is that they were not made in the image of God and so they do not have the same ability to have relationships in the depth that human beings do. There is a qualitative difference between human beings and the animal world.

My mother has a dog named Dollie. Whenever I go to visit my mother, as soon as I walk through the door (or even before I walk through the door), she starts going ballistic. She barks and carries on. She jumps up on my leg and then I pet her. When I go to sit on the sofa, she runs over and jumps on the sofa to sit beside me. When she gets a little energy, she gets playful and so I toss a ball for her to go chase. There is a relationship there, but the relationship does not have nearly the same depth that I have with other human beings.

And so, God finds out in verse 20 that there was no animal that was a suitable companion for Adam. And so God causes a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he opens up his flesh and takes a bone from his body and he fashions a woman from it. Here God is depicted as a surgeon as well as a sculptor (or perhaps a builder).

Most translations say that God took a “rib” out of Adam (the Hebrew word actually means side). It is said that God did not take her from his head because she is not over him, and he did not take her from his feet because she is not under him, but he took her from his side because she is his equal. There is certainly something to be said about this interpretation. I believe God created man and woman to be equals. It was only as a result of the curse of the Fall that men began to dominate over women.

However, I have reason to believe it was not a rib but another part of the male anatomy that is actually being described. It was not the rib but the male baculum or penis bone that was used. Unlike most animal species the human male lacks a penis bone. Could it be that this story is an etiology to explain this curious feature? See this paradigm-shifting post by OT scholar Claude Mariottini for a further explanation of this interpretive possibility.

Now as soon as God creates Eve, he brings her to Adam. Here God is acting like a matchmaker. And as soon as Adam sees her, he exclaims: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23).

It is interesting to note that these are the first words spoken by any human being in the biblical text. And it happened when a man saw a woman for the first time. If I were to paraphrase what Adam said, it would be: “Wow! Take a look at her!” There is an immediate connection, an immediate attraction. Here was someone who was different but also just like him. She was made of the same substance as him: bone and flesh.

Now the narrator of Genesis gives us an important comment: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

There is an important principle here about marital relationships: it is leave and cleave. Whenever I do premarital counseling with a couple, I explore this principle with them. A man first leaves his father and mother and then he cleaves to his wife (and of course the woman does the same). A new family unit is created. And this is how the human race becomes fruitful and multiplies and fills the earth.

Now the children do not sever the relationships with the parents. There is still a relationship. But if the parents meddle too much in their children’s marriage, it can create problems. There must be a leaving and a cleaving, where the attachment is transferred from the parents to the spouse.

But then there is another profound mystery: the two shall become one flesh. Now what does that mean? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that they become one person. They remain as two individuals with their own bodies. There may be several layers of meaning to this.

First, it may refer to the bonding process that takes place between a man and a woman. God designed us in such a way that when a man and a woman have an interest in one another there is a bonding process that takes place as the couple develops an intimacy with one another, as their hearts are knit into one.

Second, it may refer to physical intimacy. In the act of kissing as two persons press their lips against one another, in the act of embracing as they entangle their bodies together, in the act of intercourse, there is, I believe, an innate desire of the couple to become one with the other person. We want to get inside each other’s skin as it were.

Third, they become one in a sense in the procreative act of copulation as they conceive and give birth to a new human being. Each one contributes a part of their DNA to produce one new flesh.

Fourth, they become one as they become a new family unit. They ideally have a unified purpose as they build their lives together. They have a common goal as they look after the welfare of the other because it contributes to the well-being of the whole.

Now, here is an important point. Two whole human beings make one new flesh. It is not two half human beings that make a whole. I remember getting a wedding invitation some years ago that went something like this (in more flowery language than I can put it): “we were two lonely, incomplete people until we found each other and now we are complete.” Nonsense!

You have to make sure you are a whole person before you share your life with another. If you are incomplete, you need to work on things until you become complete. Two incomplete people do not make for a successful marriage. Ideally, two whole people do not complete one another, they complement each other. And that is a world of difference.

Marriage is a profound mystery. But it is a mystery that points to a greater spiritual reality: the marriage between God and his people. In various passages in the OT, such as in Hosea, the analogy is made between marriage and God’s relationship to Israel. In the NT, of course it is the marriage between Christ and the church. In either case, marriage is an earthly metaphor for a spiritual reality. In earthly marriages, as imperfect as many of them are, are glimpses into the eternal reality of God’s relationship with his people.

Humanity’s Role in God’s Creation

In my last post I mentioned that we have a twofold portrait of humanity in the two creation accounts in Genesis. In this post I want to explore further the twofold portrait of humanity with respect to humanity’s role in the created order.

(1) In Genesis 1 we are told that God gives to humanity a commission: “Let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26).

Two verses later, God says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

These two verses probably describe another aspect of the image of God in humanity: God has given humanity dominion over the animal world, and indeed over all the earth. Human beings may not be the strongest or fastest creatures on the planet but they have the ability to tame even the most powerful or quickest animals. With our ingenuity and cunning we are able to train, capture, or kill any animal regardless of its strength, size, speed, or capacity to soar to the greatest heights or plunge to the deepest regions of the oceans.

Likewise, we have the ability to subdue the natural world. We are able to reroute rivers or to dam them up and create great lakes (I currently live between two such manmade lakes). We have the capacity to cut a tunnel through solid rock or to level an entire forest. We can travel over vast expanses of the ocean in ships, plumb the depths of the ocean in submarines, or to soar into the skies in airplanes. We have even sent men to the moon and back. As human beings we have been able to overcome our physical limitations to do almost anything we want in the created realm.

Now the language in Genesis is rather strong: rule, subdue. But I don’t think that Genesis 1 is given humanity license to exploit the earth. Instead, we are given responsibility to care for the earth and its creatures. And human beings have not always done a good job of this.

The ancient Romans actually caused the extinction of some animal species because of how many animals they capture and killed as sport for their games in the arenas. Over the centuries numerous species of animals have gone extinct. Today there are numerous species that are on the verge of extinction in our lifetimes due to poaching and habitat destruction.

Humans have also caused (whether wittingly or unwittingly) irreparable harm to our environment in many other ways. Pollution, deforestation, and climate change are just some of the detrimental effects that human beings have caused.

(2) In Genesis 2 we get a slightly different but complementary picture of humanity. In verse 7 we read: Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground” (Gen. 2:5).

Then later we read, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).

Humanity was given responsibility of cultivating the garden. In Genesis 1, humanity is given dominion over the animal world. In Genesis 2 humanity is given the responsibility to tend the plant world.

God gave humanity a job to do. He gave them work. Adam and Eve were placed in a beautiful garden, but they didn’t just lounge around in hammocks all day. They were told to cultivate the garden. Hence, we see that Genesis endorses the goodness of work. Work is not a result of the fall. Work is a good thing.

(3) Now, I find one similarity in both accounts. Genesis 1 says, Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food’; and it was so” (Gen. 1:29-30).

In Genesis 2 we get a couple of passages: “Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). And, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely” (Gen. 2:16).

From both accounts we learn that the plant world was given for our pleasure and enjoyment. We learn two things: (1) The plant world is pleasing to the sight. The variety of trees, plants, and flowers can be pleasing to the eye. We can enjoy the natural world for its beauty. (2) The plant world is given to us for food. There is an amazing variety of plant foods such a fruits, vegetables, and grains that are delectable to our taste buds. God has given all of this for our enjoyment.

(4) However, there is one last thing. In Genesis 2 humanity is given one other command: but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

There was a prohibition. Humanity was not given free reign over everything. Even in the Garden of Eden there were limitations. There were rules to be followed. And there were consequences for not following the rules.

A Twofold Portrait of God and Humanity

Genesis actually offers us not one, but two different creation accounts. The first account is found in 1:1–2:3, while the second account is located in 2:4–25. For the sake of simplicity, I will just call them the Genesis 1 or Genesis 2 account. It has been recognized that there are significant differences between the two accounts. I mention a few of them.

First, there is a difference in the time element. In Genesis 1, God creates the heavens and the earth in six days and rests on the seventh day. Time is the structuring element to the whole account. In Genesis 2, there is no indication of time. We are not told how long Adam lived in the garden before Eve was created. Presumably it took some time for God to create all the animals of the earth and to parade them before Adam to see what he would name them. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve lived in the garden before they ate the fruit and were cast out of the garden. There is almost a timeless quality about the story.

Second, the setting is different. Genesis 1 is more cosmic in scope. It recounts the creation of the heavens and the earth. Genesis 2 is much more narrowly focused. It takes place in a garden.

Third, there is a difference in the ordering of creation. In Genesis 1, God created the sky and sea animals (1:20–22) and the land animals (1:24–25), before he created humanity (1:26–28). In Genesis 2, God first created the man (2:7), then the animals (2:19), and then the woman (2:21–22).

Fourth, God is named differently in the two accounts. In Genesis 1 he is named Elohim (God). In Genesis two he is called YHWH Elohim (LORD God).

Fifth, the actions of God are described differently in the two accounts. In Genesis 1, God simply speaks creation into existence (“God said . . .”) and he names the different parts of creation. In Genesis 2, God gets personally involved. Notice the action verbs. God formed man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man. God planted a garden. Then he placed the man in the garden. God caused the plant life in the garden to grow. God commanded the man, warning him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God formed the beasts of the ground and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. God caused Adam to sleep, then he took one of his ribs, closed up the flesh and fashioned a woman and brought her to Adam. These action words continue into chapter 3. God was walking in the garden. God made garments for Adam and Eve and drove them out of the garden. In these two chapters God is depicted in a variety of ways: sculptor/potter, gardener, surgeon, builder, matchmaker, and clothier.

No matter what you believe about the composition history of Genesis, it appears that two different creation traditions were employed. Now, while there is a tension between these two different creation accounts, I believe that these two different accounts together provide us some significant insights into the twofold nature of God and of humanity.

First, with regard to God, Genesis 1 depicts God speaking creation into existence. He is distant and remote from the created realm he created. Genesis 1 depicts a transcendent God who is over and above his creation. Genesis 2–3, by contrast, shows God intimately involved with his creation. He plants a garden; fashions man, woman, and animals; walks in the garden; and has a conversation with the man and woman. Genesis 2–3 depicts an immanent God who is personally involved with his creation. These two characteristics of God need to be held in tension. On the one hand, he is the lord and creator of the universe. On the other hand, he can be like a personal friend.

The closest analogy I can think of is: imagine that you are the child of the president of the United States. On the one hand, he is the president. He is the head of state. He is often unapproachable; he is constantly surrounded by secret service. People everywhere show deference to him. Military personnel salute him. People stand when he enters a room. People call him “Mr. President.” Everywhere he goes there is great fanfare; pomp and circumstance surround him at every turn. On the other hand, at the end of the work day, when you are at home together in the White House, you can crawl up in his lap and call him “daddy.”

The two accounts of creation also reveal a twofold portrait of humanity. First, Genesis 1 depicts humanity as the pinnacle of creation. After God made the oceans/atmosphere; dry land; sun, moon, and stars; water and sky animals; and land animals; God created humanity. It is only then that God looked on his creation and pronounced it “very good.” God’s creative activity climaxes with the creation of humanity.

Second, Genesis 1:26 indicates that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God. Now, unfortunately, the author of Genesis does not tell us what he means by the “image of God.” Here, I can only speculate, but one thing that I do not think it means is that we are made in the physical image of God. God does not have a body. “Body” implies boundaries and limitations. My body only takes up so much space; it is bounded. Moreover, it is limited in that it can only be in one place at a time. God is spirit; he is unbounded and unlimited. He is omnipresent.

While the Bible describes God as having body parts and doing physical things like walking in the garden, we must understand this as anthropomorphic language: ascribing human characteristics to God. Our minds are limited and our language is limited and so the only way we can describe God’s activity in the world is to use human language.

What then does being made in the image of God mean? Let me offer some suggestions. (1) We are made in the intellectual image of God. We have intelligence. We can think. We can learn. We can acquire knowledge. We can reason. We have memory. We have imagination: we can imagine things that don’t exist. We can plan for possible future scenarios.

(2) We are made in the volitional image of God. We can make decisions. We can select among various options. We have the power of choice. We are not simply controlled by our instincts. We are not automatons.

(3) Related to this, we are made in the moral or ethical image of God. Our choices have moral or ethical implications. We can choose between right and wrong. We are called to be responsible for our choices. We assign moral culpability to our actions.

(4) We are made in the social or relational image of God. Human beings need to be in relationship with other human beings (and with God). It is how we are wired. No man is an island unto himself.

(5) We are made in the spiritual image of God. We are not just physical beings. There is a spiritual component to each one of us. I believe that it is that spirit that gives us life; that vivifies us. We connect to God on the spiritual level through worship and prayer.

(6) We are made in the creative image of God. We have the ability to create things. I am endlessly amazed at the creative capacity of human beings.

(7) It is possible, and here I am speculating even more, that we are made in the emotional image of God. Now, God does not experience emotion as we do, that is, chemical reactions in the body. But it is hard to imagine that God is loving or compassionate or angry without some emotional component belonging to those qualities. But that could be my own limited understanding of God.

So, humanity is the peak of God’s creation and is made in the image of God. We have a spark of the divine in us. Perhaps that is why the psalmist in Psalm 8 can wonder:

3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; 4 What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? 5 Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! (Ps. 8:3-5 NASB)

Genesis 1 depicts the glory and majesty of humanity. Humanity is the crown jewel of God’s creation. But lest we get too big a head over our place in God’s creation, Genesis 2 brings us down to earth—literally. Genesis 2 reminds us that we are dust! The same elements that are found in the earth are also found in us. And yet I have consciousness, self-awareness, personality, while a rock or tree does not. What makes the difference? Genesis 2 says that God breathed into that dust the breath of life and man became a human being. I believe that is the soul or spirit that God breathes into the body to vivify it.

So, on the one hand, we are told that humanity is made in the image of God. On the other hand, we are told that humanity is made from dust.

The two creations accounts, then, complement one another in giving us a fuller picture of God and humanity. I believe that we should be ever cognizant of this twofold portrait of God and humanity that the Genesis creation accounts provide us.

Theological Reflections on Genesis 1

I would like to do some theological reflection on the creation narrative in Genesis 1. Today, Genesis 1 generates a great deal of controversy. There are some Christians who view Genesis 1 as a scientifically accurate portrayal of creation. That is, they believe that God created the world in a literal six twenty-four hour days, and that the world is only about 6,000 years old. I, however, do not think that Genesis 1 is making a scientific claim. Rather, it is making a theological claim: God created the world.

There are a couple of hints within the text itself that indicates that we cannot take the Genesis 1 account literally. First, God created light on the first day, but didn’t create the sources of light (the sun, moon, and stars) until the fourth day. What is this light that God created on day one? How is there an evening and a morning without the sun? Second, is the fact that the order of creation differs in the two accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, God first created the animals and then he created man and woman. In Genesis 2, God created man, then the animals, and then he created woman. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 cannot both be literally true at the same time.

However, apart from literary considerations, I am also one who does not reject modern science. I accept the scientific consensus that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old and that our solar system is about 4.6 billion years old. I accept the current standard model that the universe began with a ‘big bang’. At the big bang, scientists believe that space, time, matter, and energy all had a beginning. Of course ‘big bang’ is a misnomer. There really wasn’t a ‘bang’ per se; there was no explosion that made a big noise — rather the theory states that space itself suddenly and rapidly expanded. While nothing within our universe can exceed the speed of light, scientists believe that space itself can expand faster than the speed of light. In the first second, the universe expanded so rapidly that it defies comprehension. It took an enormous amount of energy to generate the big bang. I am convinced that the only reasonable explanation is that an infinitely powerful God was behind the big bang. When I think about the tremendous energy that it took to generate the sudden, rapid expansion of the universe, and when I think about the absolute enormity of the universe, I am actually more in awe of God. At any rate, I am interested in what we can discover theologically about the character of God in Genesis 1.

(1) Genesis 1:1 begins, “In the beginning God.” The text assumes that at the very beginning of the universe, God already was there. He preexisted the universe. Theologians talk about God’s aseity or self-existence. God was not created, he was not born, he did not come into existence. He is the one who always was — and is — and is to come. There were other creation accounts in the ancient world (e.g., the Enuma Elish, the Atrahasis epic, Hesiod’s Theogony). But the biblical account of creation differs in significant ways from all these other creation accounts. In those other accounts, there are multiple gods who are born, created, or come into existence. In Genesis, there is only one God and he is uncreated.

(2) The second thing we learn about God is that he created. First, this implies that he is the source of all life. All living things derive their origin from God. But second, he is a creative God. He created living creatures with great complexity and diversity. Our world has an amazing diversity of animal life. It has an amazing diversity of plant life. No two human beings look alike and each person has their own unique personality. Even in the microscopic world, the diversity and complexity of organisms is astounding. Even with something as bland looking as snow, it is said that no two snowflakes are alike. We have an infinitely creative God.

(3) Third, we learn that God created the heavens and the earth. It takes a very powerful God to create the heavens, the earth, and everything in them. Perhaps it would be pushing the text too far to suggest that God is omnipotent or all-powerful — there are certainly other texts that point in that direction. But God is certainly extremely powerful to be able to make the heavens and the earth and everything in them. In the Genesis 1 account, God simply speaks creation into existence. It is effortless for him to create. He speaks and it happens. Now, human beings have done some amazing things. We have built skyscrapers, and jumbo jets, and ocean liners, and rockets that can go into outer space and land on other planets. But no human being has been able to create a planet. And despite all of our abilities, human beings are powerless before hurricanes or earthquakes or tsunamis. Only God is all-powerful.

(4) Fourth, the orderly account of Genesis 1 suggests that God is a God of order. The Genesis 1 account is very formulaic; it follows a certain pattern, a certain structure. God speaks (“let there be . . .”), something is created, God names it, God saw that is was good, and then there was evening and morning — a day has passed. This pattern, with some variation, takes place for all six days. Verse 2 says that “the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep.” While there is some mystery as to exactly what this text is implying, it seems that it is saying that there was no form, there was emptiness, and darkness. Emptiness and darkness of course are not things — they have no substance in and of themselves. They are merely the absence of something. God created an ordered universe out of this emptiness.

(5) Fifth, God speaks creation into existence and then he names the different parts of his creation. God gets all the speaking parts in Genesis 1. This suggests that God communicates. He desires to communicate to his creation and to make himself known. God reveals himself. Theologians talk about two types of revelation. General revelation is that God makes himself known through the natural world. Paul seems to suggest this in Romans when he says “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (1:19–20). We can learn much about the character of God by looking at natural world. But general revelation can only tell us so much about God. Our minds are finite. Theologians also talk about special revelation: God directly reveals himself to humanity. In OT times this happened in various ways: dreams/visions, prophetic pronouncements, angelic visitations, signs/wonders/miracles, and even through the casting of lots. For us it primarily takes place through the communication of his word through the Scriptures. But more importantly, he reveals himself in his Son, who became incarnate in human flesh. It is no accident that John calls Jesus the ‘Word’ — he is God’s ultimate communication/revelation of himself to humanity.

(6) Sixth, the fact that God speaks creation into being suggests that God is distinct from his creation. When God speaks something into existence, that thing is separate from God. This is why I believe the biblical texts eschew using motherly images for God. It is not because ancient Israel was a patriarchal culture and hence saw God only in terms of masculine imagery (other ancient cultures were patriarchal and yet had female deities). Rather, it is because fathers are separate and distinct from their children in a way that mothers are not. Theologians use the word ‘transcendence’ to describe this remoteness of God from his creation. This is another way in which the biblical creation account differs from other ancient cosmogonies. In all these other creation accounts, the gods are identified closely with parts of the natural world. This is not true of the God of the biblical account. God transcends his creation. This is why the second commandment forbids making any graven images of God in order to use them as objects of worship. Taking something that God created (stone or wood), fashioning it to look like something that God created, and then claiming that that thing, that idol, represents God is an offense to the character of God. The gap between an infinite God and finite human beings is infinite. Yet, Christians believe that God spanned that infinite gap through his Son Jesus who became incarnate in human flesh.

(7) Seventh, in Genesis 1 we are told six times that God looked on his creation and saw that it was ‘good.’ And then after he created humanity and God looked on all that he made, he saw that it was ‘very good.’ This suggests that God himself is good. That which is good can only come from one who is good. An evil god could not make something that is good. And a good God would not make anything that was evil or bad. Hence, a good God created world that was good. This is counter to many ancient philosophies which claimed that the material world is bad, while the spiritual world is good. Of course Christians believe that God put his ultimate imprimatur on the goodness of the material world when Jesus became incarnate in human flesh. Not only that, but he was bodily resurrected, giving hope to Christians that they will receive new resurrected bodies and live on a renewed earth.

I think one of the implications of the goodness of creation is that creation is worthy of study. Hence, the sciences are worthy of study: biology, chemistry, physics, geology, zoology, astronomy are all worthy endeavors. But since humanity is also part of this good creation, human activity is also worthy of study and pursuit. Hence, the arts and humanities such as history, literature, art, music, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and so forth, are also worthy endeavors to pursue.

(8) Finally, I believe that the Genesis 1 account suggests that God delights in his creation. God looked on his creation and saw that it was good and very good. Moreover, twice blesses his creation. First, he blessed the sea and air animals and told them to be fruitful and to multiply (1:22). Second, he blessed the land animals, and humans in particular, with the same blessing. God delights in his creation and desires the best for it. He wants his creation to be fruitful and to multiply. His wants his creation to prosper. A good God wants what is best for his creation. The biblical account of creation seems to counter any deistic view of God, that is, a view that God created the universe and then left it alone to run its own course. No, the biblical view is a God who delights in and cares for his creation.

All this shows that we have a God who is worthy of our awe and worship, who is worthy of our obedience and allegiance, and is a God whom we can turn to in time of need, because he is a good God and delights in us as his creatures.

Review of Varner’s Commentary on James

William Varner. James: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Fontes Press, 2017. Paperback. Pp. xvi + 423.


William Varner, who teaches Bible exposition and Greek exegesis at The Master’s University in Santa Clara, California, must love the book of James. As far as I can tell, this is the third book on James that he has written. He has also written a linguistic commentary applying discourse analysis and a devotional commentary. This commentary actually is a thoroughly revised edition of an earlier commentary published with Lexham Press in 2014. He identifies the major changes in the commentary in a brief forward. Of the three works on James, this one appears to be the most substantial.

In the introduction Varner deals with various issues pertinent to the study of James. The translation and commentary is primarily based on the NA27/UBS4 edition of the Greek text. But he does make note of the five changes that the NA28/UBS5 makes to the text of James and he also consults the SBL edition of the Greek NT.

Varner believes that the author is James the Just, the half-brother of Jesus. From John 7:5 Varner concludes that James initially was not a follower of Jesus until after the resurrection. He briefly considers and dismisses the views that the siblings of Jesus were either his cousins or his step-siblings from Joseph’s prior marriage. He attributes the latter position to Epiphanius of Salamis in the fifth century. However, Varner seems unaware that the Protoevangelium of James, likely dated to the late second century, already indicates that Joseph had children prior to marrying Mary (see Protoevangelium of James 9.2).

Varner believes that James not only was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, but became the leader of the entire early Jesus movement. He lays out the evidence from the scant details found in the NT and early patristic tradition. I find nothing really surprising with this claim and it is probably correct.

Varner argues that the book of James is an encyclical letter written from Jerusalem to Jewish-Christian congregations of the Diaspora, mostly in and around Syria, around A.D. 46–48. He offers a number of compelling arguments to back up his assertions including the lack of any mention of the destruction of Jerusalem; it evinces no awareness of the Gentile mission, or of any early controversies regarding circumcision, the Sabbath, and the ritual law. Varner also notes similarities of language between the epistle and James’ speech in Acts 15. Hence, he believes that James is the earliest written Christian document that we have.

In his discussion of the language of James, Varner takes issue with those who claim that James could not have been written by a Galilean because of its elevated style. All of first-century Israel was thoroughly Hellenized and the town of Nazareth was located near the Via Maris, the most important international highway in the Middle East, as well as Sepphoris, a cultural hub of Hellenization. James’ distinctive vocabulary can be attributed to his particular subject matter. James actually employs simplified sentence structures which often lack subordinate clauses. Yet James writes with an energetic and forceful style.

In his discussion of genre, Varner highlights James’ expansive use of imperatives, along with several other grammatical features, which point to its hortatory character. He suggests that James is a circular letter which was disseminated among “the Diaspora of the twelve tribes” (1:1). Yet, Varner is reluctant to nail down James to a specific genre.

Varner next turns to consider two major themes in James: wisdom and faith. James shows both similarities and differences to the Jewish wisdom literature. While James reflects the wisdom tradition, it evinces greater indebtedness to the teachings of Jesus. With regard to the relationship between faith and good works, James is often read as foil over against Paul. But neither author is addressing the views of the other. Varner demonstrates that they are not in contradiction to one another, but complement one another.

Varner next turns his attention to James and the sayings of Jesus. While James does not directly quote any of Jesus’ sayings, as found in the gospels, he does appropriate them and adapt them for his own purposes. Varner suggests that James may be relying on the oral tradition of Jesus’ sayings; hence, we do not have the ipsissima verba but the ipsissima vox of Jesus. Varner avers that James’ heavy use of the oral tradition of Jesus’ sayings is strong attestation to its early date. He provides a chart highlighting the numerous echoes between James and the teachings of Jesus.

In terms of its canonical role, Varner notes that James, along with the other Catholic Epistles, is usually placed after the Pauline corpus in our Bibles. However, some ancient witnesses place the Catholic Epistles immediately after Acts, followed by the Pauline Epistles and Hebrews. Varner seems to prefer this order since it places the pillar apostles (James, Peter, John) in their rightful position in the canon.

Varner takes issue with those scholars who contend that James does not have a coherent structure to its discourse. Here, Varner applies discourse analysis by identifying the peaks in the discourse. He contends that the thematic peak is found at 3:13–18 which urges the readers to follow heavenly wisdom, not earthly wisdom. Furthermore, he avers that the hortatory peak is the following paragraph, 4:1–10, which urges them to become a friend of God. These two sections differ from the remaining sections of the book by employing rhetorical questions to begin the section rather than direct address. The chart on page 39 illustrates these features quite nicely. He offers both a simplified (p. 40) and a detailed (pp. 41–42) structural outline of James. The introduction concludes with a bibliography containing English language commentaries which given particular attention to the Greek text.

The commentary proper is divided into sixteen chapters, which are further subdivided into subsections. These divisions correspond to the detailed structural outline offered in the introduction. Each subsection follows a similar format with some considerable variation: (1) Varner provides a title for each section and subsection; (2) sometimes he includes an introduction of some kind to the subsection; (3) the Greek text of James; (4) textual notes usually comment on text-critical issues; in places he also mentions differences between different Greek versions (NA27, NA28, SBLGRNT); (5) sentence flow and translation—Varner diagrams the passage and offers his own translation; (6) Varner situates the pericope within the larger context of the epistle; (7) exegetical comments give a detailed phrase-by-phrase commentary on the Greek text; (8) the subsection sometimes ends with a summary or conclusion of some kind.

The context component seems to move around, sometimes appearing right after the textual notes, sometimes appearing before the Greek text component, and sometimes not appearing at all. In the middle of chapter 4 the context component is replaced by an introduction. Also, by chapter 4 he often drops the sentence flow diagramming and only provides a translation. The exegetical comments also get lengthier by the end of the commentary. In chapter one, Varner often comments on singular words or phrases, but as one gets further into the commentary, he is commenting on whole sentences at a time. Hence, there is a lack of a uniform feel throughout the commentary as a whole.

End matter concludes with some final thoughts on James and his message, a couple of appendices, and a general bibliography.

The commentary will make some demands on the part of the reader. Knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is expected. Also, the reader should be conversant in grammatical and text-critical terminology as these terms are usually not defined.

His translation contains surprises and so is best construed as dynamic. For example, at 1:8 the phrase ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ὁδοῖς αὐτοῦ is translated as “in everything he pursues” rather than “in all his ways”, which is a more literal translation. One must go to the exegetical comments to understand the reasoning behind his translation choices. On occasion his translation and commentary are not always consistent with one another. For example, again at 1:8 he translates ἀνὴρ δίψυχος as “double-minded individual” on page 61, but on page 71 he translates it as “double-souled man.”

The strength of this commentary is its attention to the linguistic details of the text. This is generally true, but on occasion there is a surprising lack of attention to a grammatical detail. I found this to be true towards the latter portion of the commentary. For example, I was fully expecting a comment explaining the genitive articular infinitive in 5:17 but none was forthcoming. But overall, if I was doing a study on James, this would be one of the first commentaries I would pick up to help me understand what is going on grammatically in the text. The commentary also gives some attention to the literary structure of James. Varner is convinced that James does not contain a random set of teachings on various topics. Rather, he makes a concerted effort to find a unifying theme and structure.

In my opinion, the commentary could be strengthened by providing a summary at the end of each subsection which gives a sense of the overall flow of thought. After giving such detailed attention to the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax in each subsection, I believe it would be helpful to the reader to step back and get an overall sense of what James is doing in each section.

Thanks to Todd Scacewater of Fontes Press for a review copy of this book.


In what follows I make some more detailed observations, which the reader may choose to skip.

P. 61: In the translation of v. 5, he does not translate πᾶσιν (“to all”), but he mentions it in the commentary on the verse.

P. 66: When commenting on μηδὲν διακρινόμενος, he construes μηδὲν as a direct object (“doubting nothing”), but it could be construed as an adverbial accusative (“doubting in no way”). See, for example, Dan G. McCartney, James, page 91. Varner does not make mention of this possibility. I tend to favor the adverbial accusative construal.

P. 69: In 1:8, Varner wants to remove the comma after δίψυχος, thus rendering the verse: “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Leaving the comma would require reading ἀκατάστατος appositionally to ἀνὴρ δίψυχος, but Varner’s reading makes good sense of the verse as well.

P. 74: Commenting on ἐν τῷ ὕψει αὐτοῦ, Varner calls ὕψει a dative of “sphere.” But if I might be overly pedantic, this does not seem to be entirely correct since the dative is the object of the preposition. It is the preposition ἐν that carries the spatial/spherical force in this phrase (see Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics, p. 372). In all of the examples that Wallace provides for datives of sphere, none of them include the preposition (Wallace, Greek Grammar, pp. 154–55).

P. 78: The Greek text is missing verse 14. But he does include it in his sentence flow and translation.

P. 94: When commenting on two Greek words that are normally taken to be synonyms, δόσις and δώρημα, Varner helpfully distinguishes between the nuances of these words: δόσις refers to the act of giving, while δώρημα refers to the result of giving. This distinction is reflected in his translation.

P. 105: Varner has a helpful discussion on δικαιοσύνη in 1:20 and how righteousness in James differs from Paul’s usage. However, he describes θεοῦ as an “objective genitive,” which I find to be quite odd, since that would imply that God is receiving the action implied in the noun. God is not being made righteous.

P. 132: In 2:1, Varner comments that the genitive in the phrase τὴν πίστιν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ may be construed either as subjective or objective. I tend to agree with Varner that the subjective genitive makes good sense of the verse. It is the faith that comes from Jesus Christ that shows no partiality.

P. 141–42: At 2:5, Varner translates the following phrase, οὐκ ὁ θεὸς ἐξελέξατο τοὺς πτωχοὺς τῷ κόσμῳ πλουσίους ἐν πίστει, as: “has not God chosen those considered poor in the eyes of the world to be rich with respect to faith.” I find this translation to be quite interpretive in that it adds words not in the text, and it demonstrates the more dynamic equivalence translation that Varner employs.

P. 174–75: In 2:15 I found Varner’s translation of γυμνοί as “poorly clothed” to be quite surprising, but Varner explains in his comments that the word could refer to someone that was ill-clothed.

P. 194–195: Varner rightly argues that James’ and Paul’s usage of “justification” differs. He says, “While James uses “justify” and “justification” to refer to God’s ultimate declaration of a person’s righteousness, Paul uses it to refer to the initial securing of that righteousness by faith” (p. 194). James “sees faith and deeds as bound together in a necessary unity” (p. 195).

P. 213: At 3:2 Varner here rightly construes πολλά as an adverbial accusative.

P. 262: On 3:17 Varner makes the interesting observation that alliteration contributes to the sense of harmony that is characteristic of heavenly wisdom as opposed to the description of earthly wisdom which lacks alliteration and thus is suggestive of its more disorderly character. Since James may originally have been delivered orally to an audience this makes good sense.

P. 323–24: On 4:14 Varner makes another interesting observation that the disordered syntax of this verse may have been intentional on the part of James to “convey the resulting disorder that characterizes a life that is lived without God in its plans” (p. 323).

My Visit to the Museum of the Bible

IMG_1855During my last vacation I took a road trip to visit some “bucket list” sites that I wanted to see. Included in this trip was a visit to the new Museum of the Bible located in the heart of Washington, D.C. Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, is the founder and CEO of the Museum of the Bible. The Green family has one of the largest private collections of biblical artifacts in the world. The Museum, in part, was built to display part of this private collection.

The Museum has been under a cloud of controversy ever since the announcement that it would be built. One of the issues is the alleged illegal acquisition of some of these artifacts. It was reported last year that the Green family had to pay a 3 million dollar fine for approximately 450 cuneiform tablets and 3,000 clay bullae smuggled out of Iraq. The acquisition of many of their other artifacts is under a cloud of suspicion. Whether the Green family has acquired these artifacts by dishonest motives or whether they simply made mistakes due to naiveté or inexperience in the antiquities market, I will leave others to sort out. My understanding is that none of the artifacts of dubious provenance is displayed in the Museum.

The second cause of controversy stems from the fact that the Greens are overt evangelical Christians. Some have feared that they are trying to propagate a fundamentalist view of the Bible on an unwitting public. Now, I must say that it is impossible to present the story of the Bible from a completely unbiased point of view. One cannot have an unbiased perspective on the Bible, whether it is Jewish, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, or secular, or what have you. The fact that there is one large museum dedicated to one book (or if you will, collection of books) speaks volumes about the founders’ vision of the Bible as an important and influential book. The story of the Bible must be told from some perspective. However, in my opinion, some of the initial fears and accusations of a fundamentalist presentation are unfounded. I think the Museum has tried to be even-handed in its presentation of the Bible.

In what follows, I will relate my own experience of my visit of the Museum. While I claim some expertise as a biblical scholar, I will not claim any expertise as a text critic, paleographer, epigrapher, or archaeologist. The Museum makes use of many consultants and so I trust that the Museum has attempted to describe the artifacts as accurately as possible.

I arrived at the Museum shortly before its announced opening time of 10:00. I wanted to make sure that I had enough time to see all of the exhibits. I was allowed entry before the opening time. After passing through a high-tech security checkpoint I entered into a large, capacious lobby. I was directed to my left to the ticket counters. The suggested admission fee was $15. This is a reasonable fee compared to many other places that I visited during my trip. But the fact that this was a suggested fee suggests to me that the Museum is open to anyone, no matter what one’s capacity to pay is.

The Museum is six stories high with a basement. Also on the first floor is a gift shop with the usual fare of t-shirts, coffee mugs, knick-knacks, and books. Also on the first floor is a gallery featuring a collection of Renaissance art illustrating some of the ecumenical councils, facsimiles of some illuminated Bibles and Codex Vaticanus, and a sarcophagus “of Jonah” on loan from the Vatican Library. A movie was being shown in a back room which I did not stop to watch.

I next ventured down to the basement, where some of the temporary exhibits are held. Unfortunately, some of the exhibit halls were closed due to deinstallation. The only exhibit open featured bronze sculptures by Gib Singleton on the 14 stations of the cross. According to the sign, “Singleton sculpted each station to convey a spiritual and emotional connection to the soul.”

I then entered one of the elevators to go to the second floor. On the walls of the elevator were videos of the Holy Land. It was unlike any elevator I have been in, in my life. One could spend some time in the elevators just watching the videos.

The theme of the second floor is the “Impact of the Bible.” The first exhibit I entered featured the “impact of the Bible in America.” It traces the influence of the Bible from colonial America up unto modern times. It displayed numerous old Bibles, historical documents, and other artifacts which help to tell the story of the impact of the Bible in America. Among its oldest artifacts are a 1614 King James Bible, a 1599 Geneva Bible, a 1516 polyglot psalter, a 1588 Hugenot Bible, Bibles in Native American dialects, a redacted Bible for use by Negro slaves, a 1582 Rheims New Testament, and a 1743 German Bible.

The section focusing on the first Great Awakening in America in 1700s featured sermons by George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards, and a reproduction of George Whitfield’s field pulpit. The exhibit also featured a to-scale reproduction of the liberty bell (on which Leviticus 25:10 is inscribed around the top). Among the more impressive artifacts were a copy of Charles Thomson’s translation of the Bible (containing the first English translation of the Septuagint), Bibles published by Robert Aitken (the first Bibles published in America), a facsimile of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, Francis Asbury’s ordination certificate (!), a signed letter by Charles Finney, Julia Smith’s translation of the Bible (the first woman to translate the Bible into English), and Billy Graham’s personal copy of the Phillips translation of the New Testament.

While this exhibit certainly tries to show the influence of the Bible in American history, it also acknowledges the use and misuse of the Bible. It explains how, for example, the Bible was used both by those who supported and opposed slavery. Nor does it try to paint all of America’s founding fathers (such as Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson) as devout Christians.

The next gallery I entered focused on the “impact of the Bible in the world.” This section featured various displays highlighting the Bible’s impact upon languages, literature, fashion, music, stage & screen, art, architecture, education, the calendar, health, work, science, everyday life, and so forth. This gallery also included a life-sized replica of the Gutenberg Press, and a section on how the Bible has been banned over the centuries by different groups. The section on art featured how Mary and the baby Jesus have been depicted in artwork through the centuries.

Also on the second floor is “Washington Revelations,” which is a virtual ride that takes you throughout Washington, D.C. highlighting some of the scriptural texts and imagery that is found on the landmarks throughout the nation’s capital. It costs an extra $5 to get into this venue. The “ride” lasts about 10 minutes. I personally did not find it worth the money.

The theme of the third floor is “stories of the Bible.” This floor features three venues. The first is the “Hebrew Bible Experience.” This is a 30 minute immersive sight-and-sound experience that narrates the story of the Hebrew Bible. We were first ushered into a room with benches. We watched a video narrating the creation story and fall in Genesis. Then I looked to my right and saw the wall move back revealing a corridor with the narrator inviting us to journey forward. I found myself silently mouthing “wow!” We walked through the corridor visually relating the story of the flood until we came to another room with benches. We sat down and heard the narrator recounting the stories of Genesis. This process repeated itself as we journeyed from room to room hearing about the story of the Hebrew Bible. The narration focused heavily on Genesis and Exodus. The stories of Joshua and Judges were related very cursorily. In one room we got a brief narration of the story of Ruth, and in the final room the rest of the Old Testament story was related very cursorily. I found the treatment of the Old Testament to be uneven. Why give so much more attention to the story of Ruth than to Joshua and Judges, for example? At any rate, while I did not learn anything new from this venue, I found the experience a bit thrilling as it appealed to my sense of adventure. I would do it again, just because it was so much fun. I won’t spoil the surprises in store for anyone who wants to visit.

The next venue featured the “world of Jesus of Nazareth.” An antechamber had a display of the second temple, a replica of the famous mural of Alexander the Great, and a few ancient artifacts from the first century A.D. There was also a small theater that showed a brief video about the life of John the Baptist. The main attraction in this section is the reconstructed first-century Jewish village. The visitor is suddenly transported back in time to experience what life was like in Jesus’ time. One small room featured Jesus’ teaching in parables. It displayed some artifacts of things that Jesus used to illustrate his parables. Among the other reconstructions included a wine press, a room featuring the kinds of foods people ate, a kitchen, breadmaking, clothing manufacturing, a well, a mikveh used for ritual purity, an olive press, a synagogue, and a view of the Sea of Galilee. The third venue is the New Testament theater. I did not get to go into this venue but apparently it shows a film narrating the story of the New Testament.

The theme of the fourth floor is the “history of the Bible.” This was the floor I should have started with as it contains most of the ancient manuscripts that the Museum is famed for. The battery on my camera died about a third of the way through this floor, so I am going to go on memory without the aid of my pictures. The first section I entered featured ancient archaeological artifacts, many of them facsimiles, that have helped shed light on the biblical world. These artifacts included the Gilgamesh tablets, the treaty of Esarhaddon, the Hammurabi Stele, the Merneptah Stele, the Tel Dan Stele, the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, the Mesha Stele, the Lachish reliefs, the Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder, and the Cyrus Cylinder. The next section featured some Dead Sea Scrolls including a large display of the Great Isaiah Scroll, which was found in cave 1 at Qumran, and the Copper Scroll.

The room opened up to reveal numerous displays of manuscripts, some of them facsimiles. One of the highlights is the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, which is an uncial palimpsest dated to the 6th to 8th century A.D. Other manuscripts included a fragment of a gospel codex from Oxyrhynchus, pages from the Bodmer Papyrus, a facsimile of Codex Vaticanus, and various ancient translations in languages such as Ethiopic, Armenian, and Syriac. Other displays highlighted the differences between a scroll and a codex, the differences between the various Old Testament canons, and a miniature model of the second temple and ancient Jerusalem.

The gallery features a variety of medieval manuscripts (and from here on I am going purely by memory). This section features manuscripts in various translations. It also includes numerous illuminated Bibles. The Museum highlights the impact of the printing press on the history of the Bible, the role of the great translators of the Bible (such as John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther), and the history of the English Bible. One display that I found quite impressive is that the Museum displayed a copy of each of the English translations from Wycliffe to the King James Bible: the Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the Bishop’s Bible. They also had a section dedicated to the King James Bible, the most successful English translation of all time. The gallery included numerous other editions and translations of the Bible up until the present day. I found it a bid odd to find on display editions of the Bible that I have on my shelves at home. The Museum also had a glass display of dozens of Torah scrolls.

The fourth floor is filled with multimedia exhibits. You can watch short clips of the Drive Thru History dude (Dave Stotts) talk about the history of the Bible. Or can stop and watch Jerome or John Wycliffe or Martin Luther explain their translation theories. Or you can work with several interactive screens that explore various manuscripts. There are various other video clips throughout the Museum. Overall, I think the Museum does a good job of showing the various aspects of the history of the Bible.

The final exhibit on the fourth floor is called IllumiNations, which highlights the fact that the Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages around the world, and it awaits translation into many other languages.

The fifth and sixth floors do not have much to see. There is a theater which takes up part of both floors. There is also a gallery for temporary exhibits on the fifth floor, but on my visit it was not open. On the sixth floor is the Manna Restaurant. It is a little bit pricey and it serves what I assume to be Mediterranean style food. If you want something a little exotic, it is worth a try. The sixth floor also contains a “Biblical Garden” which is basically an outdoor eating area adjacent to the restaurant. The top two floors have a large glassed in corridor from which you can get a view of part of the city. You can see the capitol building and Washington monument from here.

The Museum is open from 10:00 to 6:00. There is a lot to see and learn in the Museum and a Bible nerd like me could spend the whole eight hours there. The Museum is large, capacious, and state of the art. The displays are well-done and impressive. I would visit the Museum again. I did not get to see everything while I was there, and with the rotating exhibits, there will be new things to see in the future. In my estimation, a visit to the Museum of the Bible is well worth the trip.

Review of Westerholm, Reading Sacred Scripture

This review first appeared in Review & Expositor 115.1 (February 2018): 121–23.

Stephen Westerholm and Martin Westerholm. Reading Sacred Scripture: Voices from the History of Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016. Pp. x + 470. $40.00. Softcover. ISBN 978-0-8028-7229-6.


In contrast to many histories of biblical interpretation which present a vast parade of names of figures who affected the course of the history of interpretation, the authors of this volume, father and son, have chosen to focus in a more detailed way upon twelve influential figures who have shaped the interpretation of the biblical text (Stephen is responsible for ten of the case studies, while Martin contributed the chapters on Schleiermacher and Barth).

In the opening chapter, the authors take to task those who want to read the Bible “like any other book.” This approach cuts against the implicit claims of the biblical authors that they are conveying the word of God which demands a response of obedient faith from its readers. The task of this volume is to examine twelve influential interpreters who have taken a more sympathetic reading of the biblical texts.

Chapter 2 focuses upon the Old and New Testament writings as they existed before the formation of the Christian Bible. The four gospels and ten of the letters of Paul, along with a few other writings, (1 Peter; 1 John) were deemed to be authoritative by the early Christians almost from the very beginning, while the remaining writings were slower in gaining acceptance. Early on, there was a concern to transmit these writings accurately and to translate them into other languages. Christians regarded themselves as the rightful heirs and interpreters of the Jewish Scriptures. The Old Testament was properly understood only in light of Christ, and Christ in turn was properly understood in light of Israel’s Scriptures.

The twelve chapters that follow feature twelve major interpreters dating from the second century to the twentieth century. These interpreters represent some of the most significant and influential theologians in the history of the church. Each chapter situates the interpreter within his historical and theological context, along with a brief biography. Each chapter examines the particular hermeneutical contributions the interpreter makes.

Irenaeus countered Marcion and the gnostics by defending the Old Testament as Christian Scripture, and he began to lay down some important principles of interpretation in the refutation of the idiosyncratic interpretations of his opponents.

Origen represents the “Alexandrian” approach to interpreting Scripture. He employed allegorical interpretation in order to get behind the literal sense of Scripture to uncover the spiritual sense.

By contrast, John Chrystostom represents the “Antiochan” approach. He believed that the plain or surface meaning of the biblical text was the means of divine revelation and should be the primary focus of interpretation.

Augustine combined both the Antiochan and Alexandrian approaches to Scripture: he insisted on the truth of the literal, historical meaning of the text while also employing allegorical interpretation to get at the spiritual meaning of the text.

Thomas Aquinas advocated for both the literal and spiritual interpretation of Scripture. The literal interpretation is that intended by the author (which may include a metaphorical intent). He identified three spiritual senses of Scripture: allegorical, anagogical, and moral. He believed that divine law is twofold. The old law that is found in the Old Testament consisted of moral, ceremonial, and judicial precepts. It was imperfect but preparatory for the new law, which is contained in the New Testament.

Martin Luther believed that the Word of God comes to individuals through the proclamation by others or through the reading of Scripture, but it is the Holy Spirit who brings conviction about its truth. Luther did not clearly define which books belong in the canon; instead he believed that what promoted Christ is truly Scripture. The law refers to those things which God demands of human beings, while gospel refers to what God has given or accomplished for humanity. Hence, law and gospel can be found in both the Old and New Testaments.

John Calvin believed that God accommodated himself when he spoke to human beings through the Scriptures due to humanity’s weakness and ignorance. Since God does not change, the differences found in the old and new covenants amount to differences in form not substance. Calvin advocated for the plain meaning of Scripture and avoided allegorical interpretation.

Chapter 10 differs from the other chapters in that it introduces three Pietist theologians (Philip Jacob Spener, August Hermann Francke, and Johann Albrecht Bengel) before discussing Wesley in more detail. The Pietists and Wesley recognized the importance of scholarship in the interpretation of the biblical texts, but they were also concerned about the personal application of the text to the spiritual life of believers. The study of Scripture should not just be about satisfying intellectual curiosity but should lead to a life of obedience and devotion to God.

Friedrich Schleiermacher did not view Scripture as the source and guarantor of Christian teaching. Rather, it is the faith of the church that establishes Scripture’s authority. He classified the exegesis of Scripture under the branch of historical theology; it is an examination of the faith of the earliest disciples, when the faith of the church was in its purest form.

Søren Kierkegaard disliked the objective, detached scholarly study of Scripture. The Word of God demands our attention and obedience, but human beings rebel against God through disguised insubordination. Scripture must be personally appropriated and lived.

Karl Barth viewed historical-critical scholarship as preparatory work in addressing the old world of human activity. Study of Scripture must be taken to its ultimate goal of understanding the new world of the activity of God. Scripture points beyond itself to the sovereign reality of God; it is a witness to God’s revelation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that all of Scripture, including the Old Testament, witnesses to Christ. He advocated spending time in Scripture and allowing God’s Word to speak to us daily.

A number of important questions regarding Scripture emerge from these chapters. What is the nature of Scripture? How do we interpret Scripture rightly? What do we do with the difficulties and apparent inconsistencies of Scripture? What is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments? What should be the attitude of the interpreter towards Scripture? Should Scripture be read like any other book? The answers that each interpreter gives to these questions prove quite instructive and illuminating. The final chapter assesses some of the results of this study.

The authors provide a fair and evenhanded overview of each interpreter. They give a lucid description of each interpreter’s views and approach towards Scripture. The authors provide a copious selection of quotations allowing each interpreter to speak in his own voice. By giving concentrated attention to twelve major interpreters of Scripture, the authors have offered to us a fascinating and enlightening exploration into the history of biblical interpretation. Anyone interested in the history of biblical interpretation or in hermeneutics in general will find much that is fruitful in this study.

Review of Gray, Paul as a Problem in History and Culture

This review first appeared in Review & Expositor 114.3 (August 2017): 498–99.

Patrick Gray. Paul as a Problem in History and Culture: The Apostle and His Critics through the Centuries. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016. Pp. x + 262. $32.99. Hardcover. ISBN 978-0-8010-4883-8.


Is Paul the true founder of Christianity? Did Paul distort the simple teachings of Jesus? Is Paul the source of much that is wrong in Christianity and in our world? These are some of the questions that Patrick Gray, associate professor of religious studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, explores in this fascinating survey of two millennia of anti-Paulinism. In this survey Gray attempts to report on Paul’s critics and to uncover the attitudes and assumptions underlying their critiques.

The study is divided into two parts. The first five chapters trace the history of anti-Paulinism in roughly chronological order from the first century up until modern times. In essence, Gray provides in these chapters a negative reception history about Paul. The remaining five chapters elaborate on particular topics and themes that emerge in the history of anti-Paulinism.

Chapter 1 begins with the New Testament writings themselves. The New Testament writings, particularly Acts and the Pauline Epistles, disclose that Paul received opposition regarding his teachings, manner of life, and personality from the very inception of his ministry. Chapter 2 surveys anti-Paulinism in the premodern era beginning from the early church through late antiquity and the middle ages. Gray presents critiques from the angles of Christian, Jewish, pagan, and Muslim sources. Chapter 3 focuses on Paul’s critics in the Enlightenment and beyond. This period saw the beginnings of modern anti-Paulinism with the emergence of Deism and the rise of modern biblical criticism. Paul is frequently criticized for departing from the teachings of Jesus and starting a new religion. Chapter 4 traces anti-Paulinism in the nineteenth century. Gray highlights the critiques of such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson, Jeremy Bentham, Ferdinand Christian Baur, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ernest Renan, Leo Tolstoy, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Chapter 5 brings his survey into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This chapter gives a topical overview of contemporary anti-Paulinism. Gray addresses the following topics: Paul as viewed in the academy, Paul as a man of the people, Paul’s psychological makeup, Paul’s sexuality, Paul as depicted on stage and screen, conspiracy theories involving Paul, and Paul as misogynist.

Chapter 6 explores Paul’s reception among Jews and Muslims. Jewish interpreters largely viewed Paul as the true founder of Christianity who misunderstood and misrepresented Judaism. In the latter half of the twentieth century there emerged attempts to rehabilitate Paul. The New Perspective tried to place Paul within the first-century Jewish milieu and it resisted identifying Paul as a convert to a new religion. Debates also involved whether to properly identify Paul as a Christian or a Jew. Muslim interpreters largely accuse Paul of being influenced by Greco-Roman philosophy and mythology and for corrupting the teachings of Jesus. Chapter 7 examines critiques of Paul in light of the current trend to distinguish between spirituality and religion. While Jesus was the disseminator of simple ethical truths, Paul is largely responsible for propagating an institutionalized, ritualized, speculative, dogmatic religion. However, many critics find the “spiritual but not religious” approach to Paul to be vapid, shallow, and superficial. Chapter 8 investigates counterfactual perspectives on Paul: what would the world look like without Paul? Many of Paul’s detractors believe that the world would be a better place without Paul. There are many critiques about these approaches. Counterfactual approaches to history are arbitrary, speculative, myopic, unfalsifiable, and based on emotionalism. Chapter 9 explores the contention that Christianity was not founded by Paul alone, but that there were other important founders. Important figures include John the Baptist, Mary, Peter, Mary Magdalene, James, and John the Evangelist. The chapter includes a few surprise proposals, including Isaiah; Philo, Seneca, and Mark; and Apollonius of Tyana. Chapter 10 presents “an experiment in comparative religion.” Gray surveys the major world religions (Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), asking who can properly be identified as the true founders of these religions, how faithful to the founder’s teaching have their successors been, and what this might suggest about the relationship of Paul to Jesus.

In the conclusion, Gray attempts to organize the variegated perspectives on Paul into a “provisional taxonomy of anti-Paulinism” (p. 201). He identifies the following categories: Paul the pagan, the Judaizer, the libertine, the moralizer, the propagandist, the misogynist, the neurotic, the teacher, and the hypocrite. In light of such diverse perspectives on Paul, should Paul be considered the founder of Christianity? One option is to view Paul, not Jesus, as the founder of Christianity. A second option is to view Paul as the “accidental” founder of Christianity. A third option denies that Paul is the founder and reclaims him as a Jew and rejects his label as a Christian. Gray critiques each one of these views as untenable. But there is a fourth option: “one may resist the ‘founder’ label and argue that Paul, though different from Jesus in many respects, maintains a creative fidelity to his person and to the proclamation of the early church” (p. 209).

Gray writes with a very lively and engaging style that should hold the interest of both specialists and non-specialists alike. In his survey of anti-Paulinism, Gray covers an extraordinary amount of territory in such a short space. He often highlights the historical, cultural, and intellectual trends that undergird the various critiques of Paul. Often his survey includes not only critiques of Paul, but critiques of Jesus and/or Christianity in general. His survey reveals an astounding array of critiques of Paul that arise out of varying motivations and often result in conflicting perspectives. At the end of the day, Gray’s survey demonstrates that criticisms of Paul may betray more about his opponents than they do about Paul.

Review of Marshak, The Many Faces of Herod the Great

This review first appeared in Bulletin for Biblical Research 26.4 (2016): 578–80.

Adam Kolman Marshak. The Many Faces of Herod the Great. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015. Pp. xxxi + 400. ISBN # 978-0-8028-6605-9. $35.00 paper.


The reputation of Herod the Great as a brutal and ruthless king has come down to us from ancient times, the most well-known story being the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem as portrayed in Matthew’s gospel. Other stories of his brutality include the assassination of his own family members, including one of his wives and two of his sons. Was it Herod’s use of violence and oppression that led to his political success? In this biographical investigation, Adam Kolman Marshak proposes an alternative theory. It was Herod’s skillful use of political self-presentation—his “ability to depict himself as a worthy and effective king” (p. xxix) to the various cultural entities (Roman, Hellenistic, and Judaean) of his time—that contributed to his success.

Section I is comprised of three chapters dealing with the cultural and intellectual milieu of Herod’s time. Chapter 1 examines client kingship in the Roman Empire. A client king was expected to engage in certain behaviors that would ingratiate him to his Roman patrons. In return Rome was obligated to provide benefits in order to keep the client king loyal to Rome. A good client king was an ally to Rome maintaining peace and stability; he cultivated friendly relationships with Roman politicians and elites; he bestowed gifts, praise, and honor on his Roman patrons; and he advanced the process of Roman enculturation within his country. Chapter 2 looks at the Hellenistic monarchy in the Graeco-Roman world. Good Hellenistic kings were expected to rule virtuously; to give just laws; to possess majesty, wealth, and power; to protect and defend his subjects; and to act piously towards the gods. Chapter 3 traces Judaean history from the Maccabees to Herod. While the Hasmoneans managed to gain Judaean independence and to create a monarchy, they still received considerable opposition from a large portion of the Judaean population. In response, the Hasmoneans attempted to create a positive image through the use of Jewish tradition and the high priesthood, while also adopting Hellenism and Hellenistic kingship. The remainder of the book proceeds to give a comprehensive analysis of Herod’s “attempt to create and maintain legitimacy through a complex and multivalent political self-presentation” (p. 72).

Section II (chapters 4–6) deals with Herod’s early reign (46–30 BCE), while Section III (chapters 7–11) focuses on Herod’s later reign (30–4 BCE). Chapter 4 traces Herod’s rise to power (47–42 BCE) as governor of Galilee during the reign of Hyrcanus II. Herod demonstrated his loyalty to Hyrcanus and his skill as a military and administrative leader, while also beginning to cultivate a relationship with Rome. In chapter 5 he tracks Herod’s relationship with Marc Antony during the years of 42–30 BCE. Herod proved himself a loyal client to Antony during his failed campaign against Parthia and then later in the civil war against Octavian. Herod received formal recognition from the Roman Senate to be appointed as king of Judaea. Chapter 6 shows how Herod tried to present himself as the rightful successor to the Hasmonean dynasty. Although Herod had secured the Judaean throne through his successful defeat of Mattathias Antigonus, Herod was an Idumaean and was not considered fully Jewish by his Judaean subjects. Herod tried to legitimate his rule through his familial connections with the Hasmonean dynasty, architectural design, and numismatic images.

The remaining chapters focus upon Herod’s rule during the Augustan era. In chapter 7, Marshak demonstrates how Herod fulfilled his obligations as a client king to his new overlord Augustus. Herod provided financial and military support; he sought approval from Augustus for major decisions; and he publicly honored his Roman patrons through monumental buildings and the erection of new cities, and through public inscriptions and coinage. Chapter 8 concentrates on another way that Herod acted as a client king. He employed a policy of Romanization which included the education of his sons in Rome, the importation and consumption of Roman luxury goods, the adoption of Roman military tactics, the construction of Roman type buildings (such as baths, palaces, amphitheaters, and temples), and the employment of Roman building technology and decoration. Chapter 9 focuses on how Herod depicted himself as a typical Hellenistic king. Herod accomplished this through various acts of benefaction (e.g., construction of buildings; endowments; monetary gifts); through the construction of cities and monumental architecture, which advertised his power and wealth; through the organization of his royal court in the manner of other Hellenistic kingships; and through various acts of piety (building temples and observing proper religious practices). Chapter 10 shows how Herod tried to present himself as the king of the Jews. When Herod first came to power, he recognized his tenuous claim to the Judaean throne due his lack of priestly credentials and his reputation as a usurper of the Hasmonean throne. Herod attempted to establish his legitimacy by connecting himself to the heroes of Israel’s past (David, Solomon, Abraham), by adhering to Jewish customs and religious observances, and by his generous patronage to the diaspora Jews. Chapter 11 establishes that Herod’s self-presentation culminates in the project to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. While Herod was bound by certain Jewish laws regarding the construction of the Temple, the OT texts allowed for some ambiguity which Herod exploited by incorporating Hellenistic and Roman architectural features into the Temple.

Marshak has written an interesting and informative study on Herod. He deals even-handedly with Herod, choosing not to focus on his atrocities, but his political career. The resulting portrait is of a skillful and competent ruler who managed to stay in power despite the many vicissitudes in circumstances that the Mediterranean world of the first-century BCE presented. Marshak’s study is well-researched, even employing items such as inscriptions, architecture, and coinage to build his case. At times Marshak does engage in speculation and conjecture due to the gaps and biases in the historical records (for example, he often does not take Josephus at face value), but his historical reconstructions are usually quite plausible and not far-fetched. Overall, Marshak presents a persuasive argument that Herod’s ability to stay in power was due to his skillful self-presentation as an ideal Roman client king, Hellenistic monarch, and rightful successor to the Jewish throne. Marshak demonstrates that Herod is a much more sophisticated figure than the jaundiced depiction of him in Matthew 2 as a brutal king who slaughters innocent babies.

Review of Myers & Schuchard, Abiding Words

This review first appeared in Review & Expositor 113.4 (November 2016): 549–550.

Alicia D. Myers and Bruce G. Schuchard, eds. Abiding Words: The Use of Scripture in the Gospel of John. Society of Biblical Literature Resources for Biblical Study 81. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015. Pp. xvi + 284. $39.95. Paper. ISBN # 978-1-62837-093-5.


The essays in this collection emerged out of the work of the Johannine Literature section of the Society of Biblical Literature. The opening essay by Alicia Myers introduces perspectives on John’s use of Scripture. Myers presents a historical overview of past scholarship under three categories: (1) the sources of John’s references to Scripture; (2) the method of John’s incorporation of these references; and (3) the sociological, theological, and rhetorical functions of these references. While a consensus has emerged that John uses Greek source material and employs Jewish interpretive practices and a Christocentric hermeneutic, debates over John’s use of Scripture continues. Myers then introduces the essays in this volume which seek to advance the discussion through new approaches and methodologies. The essays center around three themes related to the use of Scripture in the Fourth Gospel.

Part 1 deals with the form of John’s citations. The first essay by Bruce Schuchard focuses on citation technique and authorial intention in the Fourth Gospel. He identifies thirteen explicit OT quotations in John. Three citations correspond exactly to the Greek OT, an additional seven quotations vary slightly, while the remaining three differ considerably. He attributes the differences in the quotations to the intentional redactional activity of the author. The quotations are distributed among the two halves of the Gospel (the midpoint being at the end of chapter 10) thus conveying an overall balanced and rhythmic design which contributes to the Gospel’s persuasive power to evoke belief in Christ.

William Randolph Bynum examines two quotations of Zechariah in John: 12:15 quotes from Zech 9:9, while 19:37 cites Zech 12:20b. The two quotations together form an inclusio for the passion narrative beginning with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ending with his crucifixion. The hope and salvation promised to Judah in Zechariah finds its fulfillment in Christ. With the two Zecharian quotations John invites his readers to gaze upon “the triumphal king who comes, who is crucified, and who is now the resurrected Lord and Lamb of God ‘who takes away the sins of the world’” (p. 73).

Michael Daise examines three quotations with “remembrance” formulae in John: Ps 69:10 in 2:17; Ps 118:25–26 in John 12:13; and Zech 9:9 in John 12:13. The three quotations together form an inclusio for Jesus’ public ministry, they are part of the recollection that the disciples’ would receive by the Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection (John 14:25–26), and they reflect the “cosmogonic ideas of temple and monarchy” that enhance the Genesis creation motifs of the narrative, “so as to identify the new order created by Jesus with a new monarchy established by him” (p. 90).

Part 2 attends to social and rhetorical perspectives. Jaime Clark-Soles explores the social function of the use of Scripture in John. Drawing on the work of sociologists of religion, she creates a taxonomy about how Scripture might function within sectarian groups. She also incorporates the comparative method of social history, and the sociological insights of Ann Swidler and Harold Garfinkel and applies them to two test cases in John’s Gospel (12:37–41 and 15:25) to illustrate how Scripture is used to reinforce sectarian boundaries between those who are insiders and those who are outsiders.

Alicia Myers applies insights from classical rhetoric to the testimony of John the Baptist in 1:19–34. While ancient rhetorical handbooks did not explicitly instruct on how to use quotations, Myers demonstrates the implicit importance intertexts played in classical rhetoric. She shows how the categories of classical rhetoric enrich our understanding of the scriptural allusions in 1:19–34, particularly Isa 40:3, in serving the Fourth Gospel’s purposes of pointing to Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the Son of God.

Benjamin Lappenga argues that the citation of Ps 69:9 in John 2:17 is a double entendre. Initially, Jesus’ actions are portrayed as a demonstration of his zeal for the purity of the temple, but the passage is shaped in such a way that retrospectively the focus falls upon the Jew’s zeal for the temple that compels them to put Jesus to death. Psalm 69:9 which originally referred to the zeal of the psalmist is now applied by John to a new context.

Ruth Sheridan explores the significance of Jesus’ reference to the testimony of two witnesses alluded to in John 8:17. In particular, she investigates the “metaleptic transfer of meaning” (p. 170) between the three Torah texts (Deut 17:6; 19:15; Num 35:20) that deal with the need for multiple witnesses and the larger context of John 8:17. She uncovers several metaleptic resonances (such as the themes of apostasy, idolatry, false witnesses, and blasphemy) between the three Torah texts and John 7:1–8:59.

Part 3 is concerned with memory and Scripture in John. Catrin Williams employs social memory theories to examine the intended effect the evocation of three significant scriptural figures (Moses, Abraham, and Isaiah) has on John’s audience. While the resulting portrayal of each of these figures differs significantly, they are evoked because they were deemed to be reliable witnesses to Jesus. They were “privileged to have been able to testify to that which has remained hidden until the coming of Jesus” (p. 211).

Jeffrey Brickle describes John as an “intertextual memory artisan.” He argues that John was a skilled practitioner of ancient memory arts as he employed Greco-Roman techniques that were designed to aid the memory and to facilitate recall during oral performances. He proposes several metaphors which could serve as paradigms for conceiving John’s mnemonic usage of the OT (a theater; an intersection; a hypertext; sympathetic resonance; an image; a mnemonic journey; and a film or motion picture).

Bruce Schuchard’s concluding essay underscores the significance of the contributions in this volume to the ongoing discussion about John’s use of Scripture. He then highlights potential future areas of research that fall under the three groupings of this collection.

The essays in this volume represent a diverse array of approaches to the study of John’s use of Scripture. Anyone who is interested in John’s use of Scripture or, more generally, the use of the OT in the NT, will certainly find much that is profitable in this collection.