February 28, 2015
Anthony Thiselton is one of those scholars that I have frequently come across but have never read. Hermeneutics is not my forte. (The bliss of naive realism!)
Thiselton is one of the premier evangelical Anglican scholars working today. With the recent release of his massive (800+ page) encyclopedic volume, The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology, it is time to introduce him. Here is an excellent video of Thiselton introducing himself:
This is a very interesting and informative overview of his life’s work.
February 13, 2015
On a personal note, blogging will continue to be slow for the next several weeks. I am currently in the middle of an internship, in addition to my library job at Union Presbyterian Seminary and classwork at said seminary. I work six days a week. I am rather exhausted. Woe is me!
I have been meaning to publish a post on study Bibles, and so here it is. You wouldn’t know it from this blog, but I have been immersed in biblical studies for the past few years. This was spawned by learning Greek and Hebrew and doing standard exegetical papers, per the requirements of an M.Div. program. As a result, I have developed an interest in comparing different study Bibles, which are of considerable benefit for orienting oneself prior to delving deeper. I have also been in the situation of needing to recommend a study Bible to prospective students.
A Brief Note on Historical Criticism
Before we look at the various study Bibles, it would be helpful to account for the question of “historical criticism.” Every seminary student needs to be familiar with biblical criticism, where “criticism” is a value-neutral term and designates the “sources” or “forms” or “traditions” or “redactions” of the material that constitutes the biblical canon. Except for the most ardent fundamentalist, everyone recognizes this to some extent. But when it comes to mainstream historical criticism, there are three “test cases” (among others) that reveal the general orientation of a study Bible vis-à-vis the mainstream. These test cases are the dating and context of (1) the book of Deuteronomy, (2) Isaiah 40-66, and (3) the book of Daniel. When biblical criticism was being systematized and consolidated in the late 19th and early 20th century, these were the prominent controversies. For example, see S. R. Driver’s An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament. Driver was an important facilitator of the emerging consensus.
And scarcely little has changed. The magnificent speeches of Moses from the plains of Moad (in Deuteronomy) are not strictly historical, at least in their final textual form; rather, they represent later theological reflection and development in the life of Israel in the late period of the divided monarchy. Isaiah 40-66 represents the prophetic utterances of an Isaianic school during the exile and thereafter, not during the time of Isaiah. And the book of Daniel presupposes and reveals the details of Jewish persecution during the 2nd century BC, not the time of Daniel centuries earlier. Given the literary conventions of the time, this need not ipso facto destroy one’s confidence in the divine governance of scriptural formation and canonization. Nonetheless, we should harbor concerns about the priority and primacy of historical contingency in divine revelation. On this score, I tilt in a “conservative” direction, though obviously with latitude.
Regardless of where one locates oneself on the spectrum of liberal or conservative engagement with the Bible, everyone must responsibly engage the method and conclusions of historical criticism. With that in mind, you should be open to all of the study Bibles below. I will list the Bibles in alphabetical order, and you can click on the headings for the link.
Roman Catholic biblical scholarship is doing a lot of things right. Ever since Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu in 1943, Catholic scholars have pursued the rigorous enterprise of critical scholarship with vigor. And, yet, they have done so with sensitivity to theological concerns within a dogmatic framework. Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer are two of the most prominent names in this regard, as demonstrated in their volumes for the Anchor Bible and elsewhere. Brown will be too liberal for many of you, but he is a remarkable scholar, with a theologically adept mind.
The NAB was commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and you can hear it at every mass in the United States. The other favorite translation among American Catholics is the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), published by Ignatius Press. I love the RSV, but I have come to appreciate the NAB more and more. It may lack a certain elegance, but I appreciate its “punchiness.” See Psalm 10, for example. But the significant advantage for the student is the study material. The book introductions are consistently good, and the study notes are genuinely helpful. The overall perspective is “moderate critical,” much like the Protestant New Interpreter’s Study Bible. See the New Jerusalem Bible below for a similar study Bible from Roman Catholic scholars.
It has many naysayers, but I am a fan of the NIV, especially the 2011 revision (see a related post here). This study Bible is the evangelical standard. As such, it is minimally concerned with appropriating historical critical research, except in an adverse position. When it comes to the Pentateuch, for example, Moses is the author, albeit with some recognition of later redaction. When it comes to Isaiah, the similarities among the parts overrule the differences (e.g, “Holy One of Israel” throughout), yielding a single author. And the book of Daniel is not a species of late AD apocalyptic, intertestamental literature. In each case, appeal is made to the New Testament’s use of the OT and how traditional authorship is ascribed.
For many people, this would be enough to dismiss the NIV Study Bible. But that is a shame. The NIV Study Bible is enormously beneficial to one and all. As you would expect from an evangelical study Bible, the NIV-SB does a marvelous job of systematizing the disparate material in the biblical canon. Agree or disagree, it is helpful, especially for the pastor. The 2011 NIV-SB also includes a wealth of charts (in color!) that will serve every student well.
The NISB is a distillation of The New Interpreter’s Bible, one of the most important commentary series on the market and the successor to the widely utilized The Interpreter’s Bible. There is also the accompaniment, The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, which is also an academic standard. And all of this derived from the “biblical theology” movement of the mid-twentieth century, with Interpretation as the flagship and leading journal for mainline Protestants facilitating both critical and theological analysis of the Bible. Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond continues to house Interpretation. And there is also a commentary series, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. This is a favorite among preachers, and it includes the likes of Brueggemann on Genesis and Thomas Long on Hebrews.
So, the “Interpretation” enterprise is vast, and it is much beloved among mainline Protestants. It represents the best of “moderate critical” scholarship. This means that the theology of the NISB is largely congenial to “neo-orthodoxy” of the 20th century, but it also features aspects of liberation and feminist theology, also rather congenial to mainline Protestantism of today. Personally, I have a mixed reaction to the NISB, but I am largely favorable to it. It is certainly worth owning and worth frequently consulting, but I think that the NAB (above) and NJB (below) are superior on the whole.
As with all of the mainline Protestant study Bibles, the translation is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). I am not overly fond of the NRSV for stylistic reasons, but it represents some of the best of biblical scholarship in the late 20th century (including the indomitable Bruce Metzger at Princeton) and is the academic standard.
This is an astonishingly good study Bible. The book introductions are alone worth the price of the volume and should be published independently as an introductory survey of the Bible. Like the NAB, the NJB is a Roman Catholic translation of the Bible, featuring academic introductions and study notes. (Note: the “Reader’s Edition” lacks the study material.) But most importantly, these academic features are also combined with theological commitments, much like the NAB. For example, the study note for Romans 9:5 (“…Christ who is above all, God, blessed forever. Amen.”) is a splendid account of the divinity of Christ within the doctrine of the Trinity. I do not know of any other study Bible that combines such theological depth with academic-critical rigor.
While the NJB is a Roman Catholic Bible, it could easily be called an ecumenical Bible. Most of the mainline Protestants would be comfortable with it, and I would encourage evangelical Protestants to utilize it as well. There are only a few instances where peculiarly Roman Catholic “bias” could be detected. For example, the study note for Matthew 1:25 allows for the ever-virginity of Mary: “The text is not concerned with the period that followed and, taken by itself, does not assert Mary’s perpetual virginity. This is assumed by the remainder of the Gospel and by the tradition of the Church.” The NAB says basically the same. But this is not significant. I think the Epiphanian view is plausible — why else was Mary entrusted to the beloved disciple and not to Jesus’ “brothers”? (John 19:26-27). So, I am not concerned with this particular “bias.” More importantly, the controversial matters on justification in Romans and Galatians are notably unbiased and fair to everyone concerned, if you sufficiently understand the complexities involved.
The NOAB is the long-standing standard in academic study Bibles, widely utilized in both mainline Protestant seminaries and secular universities. This was the Bible we were assigned at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The original edition (with the RSV translation) is still in print, and it is considered a classic, thanks in large part to the influence and labor of Bruce Metzger. Metzger also supervised both the NRSV translation (1989) and the revision of the NOAB. But later additions of the NOAB have gone beyond Metzger, who was a moderate-critical, neo-orthodox Presbyterian scholar. The editors of the third and fourth editions of the NOAB, Michael D. Coogan and Marc Z. Brettler, have incorporated a decidedly secular and non-theological perspective throughout the NOAB. This is my opinion, after using both the third and fourth editions extensively. Nonetheless, the NOAB remains a valuable resource for understanding the mainline academic/liberal perspective on the Bible.
However, The HarperCollins Study Bible (NRSV) appears to be a better resource for grappling with the theological implications of critical research, from the perspective of liberal mainline Protestantism. But, I am not as familiar with the HCSB, so I have to reserve judgment.
Other Study Bibles
There are several other study Bibles worth mentioning. The NLT Study Bible is very good, and in certain respects it is even superior to the NIV Study Bible. More than the latter, it gives greater recognition to the mainstream, as in providing the “lower chronology” of Moses and the Exodus (13th century BC) set beside the higher chronology. Yet, it lacks many of the features that make the NIV-SB special, and it is an inferior translation.
Also on the evangelical side, we should recognize The Reformation Study Bible, edited by R. C. Sproul. Next month, the RSB is scheduled to release its latest edition. This is the traditional Calvinist study Bible, par excellence. It first appear in the mid-1990’s as The New Geneva Study Bible, in the NKJV translation only. It then expanded to the ESV translation, which is the sole translation of the new edition. There is also an NIV edition, The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, edited by Richard L. Pratt and based upon the Sproul edition of the RSB. The NIV edition features more expansive study notes. And most importantly, the NIV edition includes the Reformed confessions (Three Forms of Unity and Westminster Standards) at the end and footnoted throughout the text.
The ESV Study Bible is easily the most talked about study Bible to emerge in the last decade. This is thanks in large part to the wide publicity of Crossway and enthusiastic support from leaders within the “New Calvinism,” such as John Piper. The theology is basically the same as The Reformation Study Bible, but I find the RSB to be more theologically in-depth and elegant. Yet, the ESV-SB features more material and more study aids, much like the latest NIV-SB.
On the mainline Protestant side, there is The Discipleship Study Bible, which appears to be very similar to the NISB (above). It comes from the same “Interpretation” group of scholars, with pastor-scholars like Thomas Long, and is published by Westminster John Knox.
Alright, I think that is enough for now! We have a wealth of study Bibles in the English-speaking world: evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic. And each of the above have something worthwhile to offer us all.
January 20, 2015
Mark Gignilliat is Associate Professor of Divinity (Old Testament) at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University. He received his Ph.D. from St. Andrews, Scotland, and is the author of Karl Barth and the Fifth Gospel: Barth’s Theological Exegesis of Isaiah.
Who knew that a book on OT criticism could be enjoyable?
Mark Gignilliat’s A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism is a superb introduction to modern historical-criticism of the Bible. The format, the style, the scholarship is all excellent. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular figure: Benedict Spinoza, W. M. L. de Wette, Julius Wellhausen, Herman Gunkel, Gerhard von Rad, William F. Albright, and Brevard Childs — a list that he recognizes could be expanded to include other prominent persons (Eichrodt, Noth, Barr, et al.). By choosing to focus on major figures, situating each in his biographical context, there is a liveliness to the book. As Gignilliat writes in the introduction:
People and their ideas are more interesting (at least to me) than abstract discussions of critical theories. For example, I do not have a chapter on form criticism. But I do have a chapter on Hermann Gunkel, with form criticism discussed therein. Also, I find these figures fascinating as people located in the broader cross-stream of ideas, cultural norms, and ecclesiastical battles. [p. 12]
And indeed, the little biographical tidbits enhance the discussion immensely. The audience for this book is fairly broad. Gignilliat has a very engaging style and presupposes little, if any, insider knowledge of the field. And since Gignilliat’s prose is always clear and brisk, many laypersons could find it accessible and enjoyable. For the academic, you will appreciate that Gignilliat is studious and unbiased in his explanations of these diverse figures, though he freely acknowledges his preference for Brevard Childs. The concluding chapter features a who’s who of my favorite theologians: Thomas Torrance, John Webster, Karl Barth, and Herman Bavinck. This is where Gignilliat offers some constructive theological commentary, but the previous chapters on De Wette, Wellhausen, Gunkel, etc., are not distorted in any way by his own commitments. These chapters could have been written by any competent scholar in the field.
To give you one, fairly random, example of Gignilliat’s style, here is part of his discussion of Spinoza’s account of the prophets:
The language of being filled with the Spirit is an internal claim about the prophet’s uniquely cultivated piety and virtue. Revelation in such an account becomes religious self-awareness. Spinoza does claim that within the prophet’s imaginative gifts genuine divine communication can take place. Therefore, Spinoza does not dismiss the veracity of prophetic knowledge. As natural knowledge has its source in the mind, prophetic knowledge has its source in the imagination. But both sorts of knowledge are an act of self-discovery. [p. 30. Referencing Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, Cambridge 2007, pp. 24-25.]
This is a somewhat technical passage, but in the context it is perfectly clear what Gignilliat is explaining about Spinoza.
The book is 176 pages, plus a name index and subject index. The publisher mercifully chose to use footnotes instead of endnotes! I honestly do not understand why endnotes are still in existence.
2015 will be the 50th anniversary of the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible. More precisely, 2015 will be the 50th anniversary of the commencement of the translation committee. The NT would not be published until 1973, the OT in 1978, and with major updates in 1984 and 2011.
The NIV is a controversial translation among some folks. The KJV-only crowd, which has vastly diminished over the years (praise the Lord!), cannot fathom an imperfect late textual tradition. On the other end of the spectrum, mainline Protestants have never trusted a translation that was founded upon dissatisfaction over the RSV (“expiation” instead of “propitiation”; “young woman” instead of “virgin”). More seriously, the NIV has been criticized for intentional mistranslations for the sake of harmonization and other evangelical biases (well beyond Isaiah 7:14). Paul Davidson’s very long list is probably the most exhaustive to date. Davidson’s list is valuable, even if I don’t agree with every complaint (and some of the more important faults were corrected in the 2011 update). It is hard to defend the NIV’s use of the past perfect tense in Genesis 2, to give one of the more famous examples. And sometimes the NIV will put the better translation in a footnote (e.g., Gen 47:31).
Within the last three years, I completed both the Greek/NT and Hebrew/OT cycles at our seminary. Both were fairly intense, in good Presbyterian fashion. We used the NRSV as our base translation. Even the most gifted seminarian could scarcely claim to have attained serious competence in his or her translation skills. I certainly did not. But in the process of doing my many translations and exegesis, I was routinely surprised by the NIV. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it and even preferred it to the NRSV in many cases. Both the NIV-2011 and NRSV are excellent translations, and I generally use both, side by side. On the whole, the NRSV is more defensible in its translation choices, but the NIV is precisely what the NIV claims for itself: an accessible translation with a frequently mellifluous quality. For someone who works closely in the local church — teaching and (more recently) preaching — this is no small factor. And where the NIV’s interpretive bias is on display, for the sake of clarity, I tend to agree (e.g., ἁμαρτίαν in 1 John 3:6 as “keeps on sinning” and “continues to sin”). When compared to other “accessible” translations, like the New Living Translation (NLT), the NIV is downright old-fashioned with its insistence on “technical” language like “righteousness,” instead of the NLT’s “made right,” in Romans 3 and elsewhere. Likewise, the CEV has “acceptable” instead of “justified” in Romans 3:28. In my opinion, these alternative renderings from the NLT and CEV do not fully capture the meaning of δικαιοσύνη.
The purpose of this is to introduce Douglas Moo’s paper on the NIV, recently delivered at the Evangelical Theological Society’s meeting in San Diego. Professor Moo has been the chair of the NIV’s translation committee for the past few years and a member since 1996. He has taught at Wheaton since 2000 and previously at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for over two decades. In addition to his widely touted commentary on Romans, I found his commentaries on Colossians/Philemon and James to be especially helpful for my research. Here is Moo’s paper:
In the paper, Moo defends three linguistic principles that have too often been neglected:
First, linguistics is not a prescriptive but a descriptive enterprise; second, meaning resides not at the level of individual words but at the level of collocations of words in clauses, sentences, and ultimately discourses; and third, the meaning of individual words is expressed not in a single word gloss but in a semantic field. [pp. 3-4]
For those of us who have long been exhausted by those who exclusively defend so-called “formal equivalence” translations, you will appreciate this paper from Professor Moo. A lazy appeal to “literal” or “word-for-word” meaning is what Moo opposes. To quote Luther, as Moo does:
…what is the point of needlessly adhering so scrupulously and stubbornly to words which one cannot understand anyway? Whoever would speak German must not use Hebrew style. Rather he must see to it — once he understands the Hebrew author — that he concentrates on the sense of the text, asking himself, ‘Pray tell, what do the Germans say in such a situation?’ [LW 35:213 –14]
December 8, 2014
For the past several weeks, I taught through the book of Hebrews at church. In the first lesson, I introduced the three offices of Christ (often associated with John Calvin) and referred to them throughout the course. Priest. Prophet. King. For Hebrews, as most of you know, the primary office is priest, but king is prominent as well.
For one of the lessons, I used the following video from Fr. Robert Barron, and the class really enjoyed it. It is part of a video curriculum created by Fr. Barron (see priestprophetking.com) on the offices of Christ. The production quality is excellent.
As far as I can tell, he has his whole presentation memorized — no manuscript and no notes!
October 28, 2014
Now it is time for some theological heavy-lifting, sort of. Trust me, this is fun stuff!
The “incarnational analogy” for Scripture is when the incarnation of the Son, in the hypostatic union of true man and true God, is used as a model for understanding the ontology of Scripture. Basically it goes like this: the humanity of Jesus is capable of union with the divine Word, therefore the humanity of the biblical texts is capable of union with the divine Word, and in neither case is the humanity’s constitutional integrity compromised. If the biblical texts were to be understood as something other than fully human, then you could be accused of being a “monophysite” in regard to the what-ness of the Bible.
This analogy sounds good at first, but I have my doubts. It is interesting to observe the contrary ways in which this analogy can be put to use. For example, we can look at Al Mohler and Peter Enns. In his contribution to Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Zondervan, 2013), Al Mohler uses this model:
The incarnational model of Scripture is, of course, genuinely helpful; it rightly recognizes the Bible to be both divine and a human book. But the truth of this model does not lead to the conclusion that Enns would have us draw. The incarnate Christ was fully God and fully human, but his humanity was without sin. Just as theologians have for centuries argued over whether Jesus could not sin or merely did not sin, theologians may argue whether the Bible cannot err or merely does not err. But the end result is the same in any event — Jesus did not sin and the Bible is without error. [p. 126]
You see how that works? Mohler slipped from “sin” to “error” without signaling a shift. For this to work, Mohler would have to argue that the humanity of Christ was without error, not just without sin. This is a scholastic-style debate, whether Christ could err during his earthly sojourn. Could Jesus get a math problem wrong? Mohler would seemingly have to say no. Otherwise, the analogical use of Christ’s humanity would fail when applied to Scripture, for those like Mohler who want to uphold that all error is precluded by the text’s divine nature.
By contrast, Peter Enns believes that the humanity of Christ was capable of error, which includes a wide range of matters, such as cosmology and cultural traditions and presumably math problems. Thus, following the analogy, the humanity of Scripture is likewise capable of error. For Mohler, we must uphold an exhaustively inerrant humanity for Christ, so that the analogy can support an inerrant Scripture. He believes that the perfection of Christ’s humanity as sinless is a basis for arguing for the perfection of the Bible’s humanity as without error. But, once again, this only works if “Jesus did not sin” is the same as “Jesus did not err.” That has to be proven first, in order for Mohler’s use of the analogy to work. Likewise for Enns, “Jesus did not sin” but “Jesus did err” has to be demonstrated first, before turning to its analogical use for Scripture.
In other words, the analogical use of the Incarnation for the nature(s) of Scripture is dependent upon and determined by one’s prior christology, as we would expect. For Mohler, a sinless Jesus needs to be an errorless Jesus in all respects, given Mohler’s commitment to an inerrancy that makes no allowances for “accidental” (non-essential) errors. For Enns, a sinless Jesus does not need to be an errorless Jesus in all respects.
As I see it, to err is not necessarily to sin. All sin is error, but not all error is sin. There may be another basis upon which we must claim that Jesus was errorless in all respects, so I will recuse myself from answering this question for now. But, prima facie, it should be evident that the incarnational analogy is not as helpful as may first appear, especially when figures as diverse as Mohler and Enns can use it for their purposes. But we should question fundamentally the legitimacy itself of using this analogy in respect to the Incarnation of the Son. Michael Bird, following John Webster, says it well:
…I categorically reject Enns’ proposal of an “incarnational model” for explaining Scripture as a divine-human book. I am aware that such a model is merely a starting point for explaining how the Bible is both a divine and human work. However, this incarnational model is, as John Webster calls it, “Christologically disastrous.” It’s disastrous because it threatens the uniqueness of the Christ event, since it assumes that hypostatic union is a general characteristic of divine self-disclosure in, through, or by a creaturely agent. Furthermore, it results in a divinizing of the Bible by claiming that divine ontological equality exists between God’s being and his communicative action. [Ibid., 131-132, quoting Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, 22]
Thus, the doctrinal implications of the analogy are suspect, if you accept Webster’s argument. It is worth pondering.
Image: “Adoration of the Child,” by Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst (1590-1656)
September 29, 2014
I don’t think Calvin could get a job at Westminster Philly:
Hebrews 2:7. Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels. A new difficulty now emerges in the exposition of these words. I have already shown that the passage is properly to be expounded as referring to the Son of God, but the apostle now seems to use the words in a different sense from that in which David understood them. The phrase ‘a little’ (βραχύ τι) seems to refer to time, as meaning for a little while, and denotes the humiliation when Christ emptied Himself, and restricts His glory to the day of resurrection, whereas David extends it in general to the whole life of man. I answer that it was not the purpose of the apostle to give an accurate exposition of the words. There is nothing improper if he looks for allusions in the words to embellish the case he is presenting, as Paul does in Rom. 10.6 when he cites evidence from Moses — ‘Who shall ascend into heaven’, etc. — adding the words about heaven and hell not as an explanation but as an embellishment. David’s meaning is this: Lord Thou hast raised man to such dignity that he is very little distant from divine or angelic honour, since he is given authority over the whole world. The apostle has no intention of overthrowing this meaning or of giving it a different turn; but he only bids us consider the humiliation of Christ, which was shown forth for a short time, and then the glory with which He is crowned for ever, and he does this more by alluding to the words than by expounding what David meant.
[John Calvin, Hebrews and I & II Peter, eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, p. 22-23]
According to Westminster Theological Seminary, if the NT author is not “expounding what David meant,” then you can find yourself a new job. Sorry, Calvin. You’ll have to go to Fuller. By the way, Herman Bavinck could not get a job at Westminster either, as Wyatt Houtz has provided for us. If Calvin and Bavinck are too loosey-goosey for your Reformed seminary, then you might want to reevaluate your doctrine of Scripture.
I am referring to the fiasco surrounding the forced retirement of Professor Douglas Green from WTS. Professor Bill Evans (Erskine College) has given the most thoughtful responses. I mentioned the controversy briefly back in June:
Professor Green teaches that the “authorial intent” of the OT writers need not include an explicit christology. The divine intent, partially veiled in earlier redemptive history, was discerned by the NT writers in their (inspired) appropriation of the OT. Call me naive, but I thought this is what everyone believed.
It seems to me that the administration is benefiting, for their purposes, from the example of Peter Enns, who was similarly dismissed a few years ago. With Enns proving to be far more controversial, culminating in the rejection of Israel’s portrait of God in the conquest narratives, WTS can feel rather vindicated in dismissing him. Now with Green, they can likewise weather the criticism and point to the example of Enns. The problem, however, is that Green has not ventured along Enn’s path, not to any significant extent that I have seen. And if Bill Evans’ theological evaluation is sound, as I believe it is, then WTS is tragically isolating themselves — not in some brave contra mundum stance, but against the best of their own tradition.
September 3, 2014
It is sometimes heard, within feminist and liberationist circles, that the original creation of אָדָם (Adam) was androgynous, not differentiated into the gender binary of male and female. אָדָם only becomes male and female in Gen 2:21-23, which is interpreted as the splitting of the original אָדָם into two distinct and gendered beings (with צְלָעֹת translated as “side” and understood conceptually as “half”). Phyllis Trible is best known for popularizing this view.
This androgynous reading of Adam as merely a neuter “earthling” has come under criticism and not just from the usual suspects (evangelicals like me). Jerome Gellman, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, has a hard-hitting article in Theology & Sexuality 12:3 (2006), “Gender and Sexuality in the Garden of Eden,” which takes this feminist reading to task for trying, in his opinion, to smooth over the obvious misogyny of the text. So, basically, he argues that Trible’s reading is not only bad exegesis, but it is also a disservice to feminism. And Robert Kawashima, NYU and now University of Florida, has an article in Vetus Testamentum 56:1 (2006), “A Revisionist Reading Revisited: On the Creation of Adam and then Eve,” wherein he takes the feminists to task for their faulty reader-oriented epistemology.
What might a dogmatician have to say? As someone who is concerned about the gnosticism that underwrites our current gender theorizing, I highly appreciate Emil Brunner’s rejection of this androgynous reading of אָדָם in the second volume of his Dogmatics. Brunner is discussing the imago Dei, using the familiar Brunnerian lense of relationality within differentiation. He notes a “special satisfaction” that Barth uses an analogia relationis in CD III.1 (citing p. 219 in the German KD).
Below is the relevant excerpt, namely the second paragraph and following. This is among my favorite material in Brunner’s works:
Hence from the outset man has not been created as an isolated being, but as a “twofold” being; and not simply as two human beings, but as two beings who necessarily belong to one another, who have been created for this purpose, and whose whole nature is ordered in this direction, that is, as two beings who cannot be, apart from each other. In the older version of the Creation story (J) this is explicitly stated: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). The Creation of Man is not finished until the partner is there. In the later version (Gen. 1) the twofold Creation is presupposed from the outset, and follows immediately on the definition of man as made in the Image of God. Because God is Love, because in God’s very Nature there is community, man must be able to love: thus “man” has to be created as a pair of human beings. He cannot realize his nature without the “Other”; his destiny is fellowship in love.
This twofold character of man in the Creation Story is in contrast to the world-wide myth of androgyny. The latter is necessarily connected with rational thinking, for which the ultimate and supreme truth is Unity, just as the fact of the two sexes is necessarily connected with the God who wills community. Either community or unity is the final supreme truth. The God of the Biblical revelation is the God of community; the God of rational philosophy is the God of unity. It is no accident that Plato’s Symposium accepts the myth of androgyny. Androgyny belongs to the thought of Platonism, and sexual polarity to Christian thought. [fn., It is therefore no accident that the gnostic thinker, Berdyaev, accepts the androgynous principle, and conceives the fact of the two sexes as the result of the Fall. Die Philosophie der Freiheit des Geistes, p. 238]
Androgyny is the ontological basis of narcisissm. Within the sphere of speculative thought love is always, in the last resort, self-love, because the final end sought is unity. Within the sphere of Biblical thought love is never narcissism or self-love, because love is always self-communication, the will to community. Agape presupposes the “I” and the “Thou” over against each other; narcissism, androgyny, presupposes thought which aims at unity; it presupposes the elimination of anything opposite; it presupposes the identity of object and subject. …
Sexual polarity, however, as such, is not itself the “I” and the “Thou.” It is only a picture of the purpose of Creation, and the natural basis of the true “I” and “Thou.” Sexual polarity is therefore not intended for eternity [Matt. 22:30] whereas the “I” and the “Thou,” the communion and the fellowship of the Kingdom of God, is certainly intended for eternity. Hence sexual polarity is not itself the Imago Dei; it is, as it were, a secondary Imago, a reflection of the Divine purpose, and at the same time the natural basis of true community. …
[The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, trans. Olive Wyon, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1952, pp. 64-65]
The point about narcissism is especially astute.
Image: “Eve” by Irina from Romania
September 1, 2014
During the height of the biblical theology movement in the middle of the last century, it was common to make a rather sharp distinction between the primeval period of Gen. 1-11 and the Abrahamic patriarchal period of Gen. 12-50. On this view, the primeval history is heavily mythical in its construction of ancient realities, replete with numerous etiologies (e.g., the tower of Babel as the origin of diverse languages), whereas the ancestral history is the beginning of history proper, more or less, focused as it is on Israel’s lineage from Abraham. Or to put it another way, the former is universal and therefore prone to mythical media of interpretation; the latter is particular and therefore historically contingent and “real” as we think of history, though not without “embellishments.”
This view was popularized by OT scholars like John Bright, and others at Union Seminary in Richmond, and Bernhard Anderson at Drew and Princeton, both of whom wrote OT surveys that were widely used at seminaries across the country. To this, we could add the “biblical archaeology” movement of William F. Albright and George Ernest Wright. For a nice summary statement, we can quote the old Metzger-edited New Oxford Annotated Study Bible (NRSV):
The primeval history reflects a “prehistorical” or mythical view of the movement from creation to the return of chaos in a catastrophic flood and the new beginning afterwards, while the ancestral history can be read, at least to some degree, in the context of the history of the Near East in the latter part of the second millennium (1500-1200 B.C.). The primary purpose of the book, however, is not to present straightforward history but to tell the dramatic story of God’s dealings with the world and, in particular, to interpret Israel’s special role in God’s purpose.
However, this consensus (and it did basically form a consensus in the mainline, as far as that was once possible) would eventually come under significant criticism. Evangelicals had long been critical of the divide between non-historical and historical, splitting the book of Genesis where the text gives no such indication of a shift to real history. The primeval history presents itself as just as historical as the Abrahamic history, especially indicated by the genealogies (albeit stylized in some way) in the primeval history. From the opposite vantage point, criticism came from within the mainline Protestant guild and elsewhere. The archaeological data became more contested, just as postmodern exegesis emerged to uncover the (alleged) ideologies and agendas that shaped the purported history(ies) of Israel. By the time we get to Walter Brueggemann’s An Introduction to the Old Testament, first published in 2003, things are rather different. Brueggemann never tires of reminding the reader that we have no knowledge of what really happened (e.g., exodus, conquest, temple, monarchy, etc.). It is all imaginative reconstructions, but that’s alright in Brueggemann’s account because we are called now to recapture the same imagination that inspired their confidence in God.
As for myself, I am not clear on how to precisely answer the question of historicity in the primeval chapters of Genesis or even the rest of the Pentateuch and historical books, though obviously the stakes are higher when speaking of Israel’s history. Brueggemann is a bridge too far, to say the least, and it appears that Peter Enns (like Kenton Sparks) is following the same path. The evangelical criticism itself would have to be modified today in the light of John Walton, Kevin Vanhoozer, and others’ (“progressive inerrantists”) recognition that ancient historiography may not follow the same conventions as modern historiography, which would bring them closer to the old biblical theology guys mentioned above, albeit with a sharper interest in preserving historicity where that appears to be the unambiguous affirmation of the text, not merely incidental. My inclinations are with the progressive inerrantists, as well as the biblical theology movement, though with some significant reservations with how the latter legitimates historicity.
I was inspired to write this post after browsing through Alice Linsley’s blog, Just Genesis. Linsley is a “biblical anthropologist,” that is, an anthropologist who brings her research to the text of Scripture for illumination of the context, especially the kinship ties. I can hardly render a judgment on the quality of her work, but it is fascinating. She argues for a “meta-historical” reading of Gen. 1-3, but she sees a shift to history proper, by and large, soon thereafter — thanks to anthropology and other research into ancient ethnic groups. So, for example, you should see her posts, “Are Adam and Eve Real?” and “Adam and Eve as Archetypal Ancestors.” Also, a good overview is “Objections to the Fundamentalist Reading of Genesis.” Her most recent index is very helpful. By the way, she is a former Episcopal minister and
convert to Eastern Orthodoxy revert to Anglicanism.
Image: “The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man” by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. They collaborated on this work at Rubens’ studio in Antwerp, (Spanish) Netherlands, now Belgium, in the 1610’s.