Posts for Dec, 2008.

12/15/2008 12:25:00 PM

The God i Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith

Posted Monday, December 15, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
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Wright, Christopher J. H. The God i Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.


After writing a trilogy of books on knowing God, Chris Wright has written an excellent book on not understanding God. This is a very helpful book which looks at four problem areas in the Bible. He does not seek to solve these problems, but presents some ways to think about them that might reduce the tension felt without removing it entirely. His attitude is commendable and I think the book is a great one to read for anyone struggling with these issues. The four issues are evil, the destruction of the Canaanites, the cross, and the end times.

The problem of evil is clear: where did it come from and why does God allow it? He traces evil back to Genesis 3, although that is only the entry of evil, not the origin of evil. He interestingly calls us not to believe in the devil, but against the devil (38). He thinks the fall is functional, not intrinsic; that is, the earth itself was not affected, only its relationship to humans and God was affected (46). He does not see any "right" explanation for natural disasters (50). He strongly and rightly argues for greater use of lament in the church today, calling for us to register our questions before God. Where does evil come from? We are simply not told. It cannot be dismissed as the price for free will, but must be condemned (58). Following Henri Blocher, he says three truths must be held at all times: the utter evilness of evil, the utter goodness of God, and the utter sovereignty of God. He sees these three played out in the Joseph story, the cross, and Revelation 6:1-8.

The section which most interested me was that on the Canaanites. He begins with several dead ends: thinking of it as an OT problem which the NT corrects, the Israelites doing what they thought God commanded them to do but being mistaken about it, and thinking of it as an allegory. As with evil, he does not think that there is a "solution" to the Canaanite problem (86), but he does pass along some perspectives. The first perspective is that of the framework of the OT story. Like other ANE warfare narratives, it includes a rhetorical aspect. If Jesus had been asked about herem (the ban) instead of divorce, would he have said that they had been given it because of their hardness of heart? The Conquest was a limited and one time event. The second framework is that of God's sovereign justice: the Canaanites were wicked. Also, other conquests happened at the direction of God (see Deuteronomy 2). Finally, the third framework is God's plan of salvation, which includes a vision for peace and blessings for the nations.

The third area deals with the cross: why is it that Jesus can suffer for us? He defends penal substitution against its British detractors, arguing against the straw man they have set up.
The last section is an odd one: why is the last times a problem? The problem he sees is the wild speculation that goes on about the end times. While I do agree with the essential foundation of what he is arguing against, I sympathize with his displeasure at the misuse of this foundation. One chapter is spent debunking problems with a pre-rapture position (including such abuses as blessing the modern state of Israel in whatever it does simply because it is Israel). Another chapter is a basic presentation of his eschatology (amillennial) and a final chapter on heaven and the new creation.

Not a very dense or difficult book to read, this is a perfect book for people who are struggling with these areas of the faith. It does not present itself as having all the answers, but honestly presents some ways forward. Highly recommended!

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12/12/2008 9:49:00 PM

“The Paradigm Root in Hebrew”

Posted Friday, December 12, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
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Rubin, Aaron D. “The Paradigm Root in Hebrew.” Journal of Semitic Studies 53 (2008): 29-42.

The basic idea of this article: you just can't win! The choice of a paradigm root does not have a perfect solution: each root has its pros and cons. שמע has the guttural, but it has many  attested forms. Some have used שמר, but it appears in only a few binyanim and has an odd hitpael form. פעל gave names to the binyanim, but is rarely used as a paradigm. פקד is a popular choice because it appears in all 7 binyanim, although it has an odd hitpael form (Judges 21:9). Some used למד. A popular one recently has been קטל, but it is very rare in the Bible, does not use dagesh lene, and it has an unpleasant meaning. Modern Hebrew inscruction uses כתב, but it is uncommon in Biblical Hebrew teaching. The article is interesting for the view of the history of the study of Hebrew grammar.

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12/10/2008 8:23:00 AM

“The Grammar of Social Gender in Biblical Hebrew.”

Posted Wednesday, December 10, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Hebrew   Comments: None
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Stein, David E. S. “The Grammar of Social Gender in Biblical Hebrew.” Hebrew Studies 69 (2008): 7-26.


Stein studies whether constructs which look to be purely masculine can also refer to females. Second person singulars do refer to females, as shown by Deuteronomy 28:3, which leads eventually into masculine and feminine plurals in verse 68. His rule: when speaking to a class of people in the second person singular, the audience cannot be determined to be exclusively male. While this is probably the case, his evidence is slim. The third person masculine singular is seen to be the same, drawing on a similar pattern in Exodus 35:5 and 22. Finally, he thinks that even male nouns (father, brother, son, man) can sometimes even include females. This is shown by the freeing of both male and female slaves in Jeremiah 34:8-16, which is then summarized using only the male word "brother". That is, it emphasizes the kinship part of the word while downplaying the gender part. These words can be gender inclusive, but never purely feminine, since there is a specific word for sister, etc. Another example comes from Jephthah, who makes his vow with a masculine participle. His conclusion is that these words are more "male" in English than in Hebrew.

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12/9/2008 11:34:00 AM

“Reading the Bible in Nazi Germany"

"Gerhard von Rad's Attempt to Reclaim the Old Testament for the Church”

Posted Tuesday, December 09, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old TestamentOld Testament Theology   Comments: None
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Levinson, Bernhard. “Reading the Bible in Nazi Germany: Gerhard von Rad's Attempt to Reclaim the Old Testament for the Church.” Interpretation 62 (2008): 238-255.

This fascinating article looks at von Rad in his social context of Nazi Germany and how he read the OT in that context. He taught at the University of Jena, the school where DeWette had given his famous dissertation on Deuteronomy many years earlier. The school was run by an ardent SS officer/medical scientist until 1945. Von Rad thought of Deuteronomy not as law but a collection of sermons from traveling Levites. But he does not back this up with exegetical support. Levinson thinks that this lack of support comes from his social context and passion to keep the importance of the OT. Von Rad was probably chosen for his position because of a supposed sympathy for the Nazi movement. Jena was the first school to remove the requirement to study Hebrew, a move which von Rad strongly resisted. New Nazi-flavored classes were begun, while von Rad taught his own OT classes in response. But he had very few students throughout the war. In 1936, there were 155 in the Faculty of Theology, but von Rad's three classes had totals of 4, 2, and 2 students. By 1944 the total number of students in the Faculty had shrunk to ten, and von Rad still had between 2 and 4 students in each of his classes. 45 dissertations were submitted during this time, none of which were supervised by von Rad. The Confessing Church sents students to von Rad every year just so the school would stay open. Levinson thinks that von Rad's move to call Deuteronomy sermons was arbitrary. Von Rad often spoke out publicly that the OT is important as Christian Scripture. He did not want the OT to be regarded as law (and hence Jewish), so he argued that it was filled with grace, which led him to sermon. While the conclusion of the article is tendentious against the idea of Deuteronomy as a sermon, the history presented is worth reading. I had often wondered what von Rad did during the time of the Nazis.

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