Fresh, insightful, and as always, made me want to read the Bible more! Enjoy.
I have profited more than I can say from Desi Alexander’s essays, his work on the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, and especially his books The Servant King and From Paradise to the Promised Land, so I am eager to dive into his latest book, which arrived in my mailbox just moments ago, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: Exploring God’s Plan for Life on Earth.
Congratulations to our co-contributor on this new book!
In a series of posts, I plan to blog my way through Jeffrey Niehaus’s recent book, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology. Hopefully this will both draw attention to and generate discussion about Niehaus’s work. The posts will likely be short summaries, and they will generally end with questions that can be discussed in the comments.
I’ll first present a terse Summary of a chapter or section of a chapter. The summary is going to be terse because I think you should buy and read this book! I don’t want the summary to be so full that people could conclude that since they read my summary, they don’t need to read the book. The summary will be followed by a Discussion section, where I’ll try to raise issues and pose helpful questions. The semester is in full swing, so there should be plenty of time between my posts for you to buy the book and start reading.
Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, Chapter 1, part 1:
“Approaching Biblical Parallels in the Ancient Near East”
Niehaus sets out “to understand the parallels between ancient Near Eastern thought and biblical thought” (20). He writes: “Comparative studies have become virtually mandatory for a proper understanding of the Old Testament. But a foundational question to comparative study is this: What is the proper comparative method that will assure true results?” (13–14)
Niehaus sets out three options:
To use the comparative method, whereby the unknown is compared with the known, “to understand pagan data from a biblical perspective” (16). This is the option he will advocate, first, though, other approaches:
2) The Universal Approach
Exemplified in Sir James George Frazer’s 13 vol. The Golden Bough—“Frazer detected a pattern in the evolution of human thought: from belief in magic through belief in religion to belief in science” (16)
“magic . . . seemed to give [man] control over nature”
“religion . . . projected gods in man’s image who might be appeased and enlisted”
“and finally science, which appeared ‘to revert in a measure to the older standpoint of magic by postulating explicitly what in magic had only been implicitly assumed . . . an inflexible regularity in the order of natural events”
Frazer, Freud, and Jung—“Both Freud and Frazer reduced the complexities of civilization to something essentially natural, simple—and, we may add, trivial” (18, citing Frankfort, Problem of Similarity, 19).
Jung explained parallels of religious thought as arising from a “collective unconscious,” which might be defined as “the storehouse of latent memory traces inherited from man’s ancestral past” (19, citing Hall and Lindzey, Theories of Personality, 80).
3) The Derivative Approach
Babylonian Scholars: Gunkel, Delitzsch, and Company—three possible explanations for the similarities between the Babylonian (Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh Epic) and Hebrew creation and flood narratives: (1) Babylonian dependence upon the Hebrew, which is impossible because the Hebrew narratives are later than the Babylonian; (2) Hebrew narratives dependant upon the Babylonian, which is often assumed but unlikely; (3) Babylonian and Hebrew derived from a common source (21–23).
Gunkel—sought “to understand the biblical Creation account as a fabrication based upon the Babylonian creation myth” (23, noting that Heidel has shown Gunkel’s proposals to be false).
Friedrich Delitzsch—also argued “that significant Old Testament accounts and ideas derived from Babylonia” (25).
Niehaus’s Conclusion: Parting Company—Niehaus proposes better ways to account for the parallels proposed by Frazer and Jung on the one hand and Gunkel and Delitzsch on the other.
The OT preserves the true account, while extrabiblical sources around the world reflect distorted memories of the same.
The OT uses contemporary literary and legal forms as “vehicles of God’s special revelation.”
Some parallels arose “because God allowed concepts that are true of him and his ways to appear in the realm of common grace” (29, noting in fn 52 that unfashionable as it may seem to say so, the Bible asserts that the source of extrabiblical revelation is demonic, citing Deut 32:16-18; 1 Kgs 22:1-28; 1 Cor 10:20; and 1 Tim 4:1).
It seems to me that Niehaus’s starting point here is terribly important, and terribly neglected. It is not fashionable in biblical studies, or anywhere else in our culture, to assert that one has a true position from which everything else is going to be evaluated. But if I understand Niehaus, he is doing just that. It seems to me that everyone does this implicitly, but it also seems that the fashionable thing to do in biblical studies is to play down these issues so as not to offend the reigning secular mindset in the academy. We may also observe that like Beale (in his JETS review of Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation), Niehaus sees more than one possible relationship between biblical material and extra-biblical parallels.
I say kudos to Niehaus for throwing down the gauntlet. Fodder for discussion:
What might be the best argument against the procedure Niehaus adopts?
Assuming that one is seeking to conform one’s worldview to the teaching of the Bible, are there other options than the one Niehaus embraces?
Vern Sheridan Poythress’s essay, “Kinds of Biblical Theology,” which appears in the most recent issue of Westminster Theological Journal (70.1 , 129-42) is available online here.
Here are the article’s subtitles:
I. History of the Expression ‘‘Biblical Theology’’
II. Vos’s View of the Relation of Biblical Theology to Systematic Theology
III. Murray and Gaffin on the Value of Biblical Theology for Systematics
IV. The Reverse Influence of Systematic Theology on Biblical Theology
V. Distinct Foci in Kinds of Biblical Theology
VI. Biblical Theologies of Individual Authors and Books
VII. Global Restructuring of Systematic Theology?
VIII. Difficulties about Restructuring
Great post, Mike (on the definition of BT), I like Rosner’s definition. It is interesting, in light of developments since that definition was published, that the first two words you cite are “Theological Interpretation.” The developments I’m thinking of are the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible and Daniel J. Treier’s recent book Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture.
In a footnote in the introductory chapter of a book I’m working on [Lord willing, my book on the center of biblical theology will appear in the fall of 2010–please pray for me!], I briefly interact with Treier’s fivefold typology of ways to relate biblical theology to theological interpretation of Scripture.
Here is part of that footnote:
Daniel J. Treier has presented a “fivefold typology of ways to relate” biblical theology to “theological interpretation of Scripture,” and it seems to me that most evangelical biblical theologians would see themselves as occupying both Treier’s second and fourth categories—believing biblical theology that is both historical (category two) and literary (category four). Treier understands himself and “theological interpretation of Scripture” to be in the third category. Treier concedes that D. A. Carson, his example of someone who belongs in category two with its historical emphasis, has balanced his approach with more literary sensitivity, which Treier says belongs to category four (Daniel J. Treier, “Biblical Theology and/or Theological Interpretation of Scripture?” SJT 61 , 16–31, the note on Carson is on p. 26 n. 24). Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a historical emphasis prevailed among evangelicals in the twentieth century, with more and more attention being given to literary/narrative features near the end of the millennium and at the beginning of the twenty first century.
Note: Treier does not claim that theological interpretation of Scripture is the perfect balance of literature and history. . . I am responding to aspects of his categories not reproducing them.
A question regarding the relationship between theological interpretation of Scripture and biblical theology:
In the essay noted above, Treier writes (30): “The process of a biblical theology discipline . . . will involve a more historically and literarily focused approach, whereas the process of a systematic theology (or interdisciplinary theological interpretation of scripture programme) will involve a more literarily and philosophically focused approach.” It thus seems that Treier understands biblical theology as starting from history and exegesis and moving toward whole Bible, Christian theology (at least for evangelicals), while theological interpretation of Scripture starts from literature, philosophy (and perhaps historically orthodox systematic theology) and moves toward whole Bible, Christian theology. Is this an accurate way to think of these two programs (BT and th. int. of Scrptr): that both are, in a sense, moving in the same direction from different starting points?
This blog exists for the glory of God, in service to the church, to promote the study and discussion of biblical theology’s history, methodology, aims, achievements, developments, direction, and points of contact with other approaches to the study of the Bible. This will be a collaborative effort, and the purpose of this post is to introduce the contributors to the blog. Other contributors will likely be added later, but for now, this is who we are:
Dr. Desi Alexander is Director of Christian Training for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, based at Union Theological College, having previously lectured for nearly 20 years in Semitic Studies at the Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK. He co-edited the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP) and has recently written a book on biblical theology, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, published in the UK by IVP and coming out soon in the US from Kregel. An elder in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, he is married to Anne, and they have two children, Jane and David.
Dr. Michael Bird is Tutor in New Testament at the Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. He is an Australian and holds a Ph.D from the University of Queensland. Michael’s research interests include the historical Jesus, the Gospel of Mark, Pauline theology, New Testament theology, and Christian origins. He is married to Naomi and they have two children and together they attend Dingwall Baptist Church.
Dr. Steve Dempster is the Stuart E. Murray Professor of Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, where he has taught for the last twenty-four years. His specialty is Old Testament Studies and Biblical Hebrew. He is passionately interested in the subject areas of biblical theology and Old Testament Canon. He has written papers in both fields and has published a book on Old Testament theology, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible. He is married to Judy Ducsharm and they have six children: Jessica, Joanna, Nathan, Michael, Holly and Victoria.
Dr. Jim Hamilton is Associate Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, USA, having previously served as Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Houston campus and as the preaching pastor at Baptist Church of the Redeemer. He is married to Jill, and they have three sons.
Posting from Ireland, Scotland (by an Australian), Canada, and the United States, we are excited about the international character of this blog, and we hope it will serve you well. We seek to know God in Christ by the power of the Spirit as revealed in the Bible.
I want this forum to be robust in two ways: first, it is not going to be embarrassed about believing that the Bible is true and that the Bible is made up of particular words which come from God. Secondly, it is going to be a place where we discuss textual criticism based on a familiarity with the issues involved. . . .
The blog will not generally try to justify the historic evangelical perspective that says that the inspired text of the Bible is Greek for the NT and Hebrew (or Aramaic) for the OT. Justifications may emerge within this group, but it will be more profitable to those involved if we take this as our basis.
What is said there about text criticism can be applied here about biblical theology, and we hope you will find this blog profitable.