Review: The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, Part 2

Last week I posted the first part of my review of the massive volume, The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, edited by D.A. Carson. This week we’ll cover what I consider some significant weaknesses along with some brief concluding remarks.

And now the negatives

There are several essays that are particularly weak, either because they seem to beg the question or their arguments don’t hold up well under the weight of the evidence. I was a bit surprised given the intellectual gravitas represented by the authors in this volume, that several of them were of such mediocre quality.  This part of the review will highlight four of them: Carson’s Introduction, Dempster’s essay on The Old Testament Canon, Waltke’s essay on Myth, History and the Bible, and Birkett’s essay on Science and Scripture.

We will begin with Steven G. Dempster’s chapter, “The Old Testament Canon, Josephus, and Cognitive Environment,” in which he seeks to demonstrate that a canon of books was well known and closed at the time of Josephus and that it had been so for quite some time. He calls the position of those who think the Jewish canon was not set until the second century CE and that the Christian canon until even later, minimalism. This in itself is an interesting choice of words, since that term is usually used (pejoratively) of those who think the biblical books largely lack historical usefulness by those who think otherwise (so-called maximalists). His contention is that the lack of (written) evidence for a well defined canon of books in the first and second centuries actually points to the idea that the issue wasn’t a concern because it was already settled. While this may look suspiciously like an argument from silence, he cites Josephus in Against Apion (8:37-43), to point out that Josephus explicitly asserted that there were 22 books in the Jewish canon, five of Moses, 13 books from Moses to Artaxerxes, and four books containing hymns and precepts for living (10224-10242).

Dempster draws the conclusion that this list is canonical, that it limits the scope of canonical works to a particular time (no later than the Persian period) and that the canon was clearly enumerated and already divided into three sections (10248). He argues against several scholars who advocate that Josephus’ choice of books was “reflecting the gradual emergence of a small circle of Pharisees” (10295) because if that were the case, Josephus would forfeit his credibility. This of course, seems to ignore that for Josephus’ broader project, credibility was about making the Jews look good, especially to the elites in the Roman empire. He does so here by pointing to both the antiquity of the Jewish books and their much more manageable number. Dempster goes on to note that in 4 Ezra, a work contemporaneous with Josephus’, it states that there are also 22 books. He then helpfully gives several citations of early works, from the Babylonian Talmud, with 24, to Bishop Melito, who mentions 25. To defend the books that Melito enumerates, Dempster considers the omission of the book of Esther accidental. This, of course, is hardly likely, given that Esther was not found at Qumran either, making it clear that this book was on the periphery of canon, at best.

This highlights the broader problem with Dempster’s assertion of a fixed canon by the time of Josephus. Even from his own evidence, it appears that the lists of sacred books he references are at best a centered set, not a bounded set. By this I mean that there were books that were considered at the core of the scriptures by virtually all Jewish groups. This would obviously include the Pentateuch, which was even acknowledged by the Samaritans (in their own redaction, of course) and likely included almost all of the books we number among the prophets as well. But the rest of the books, which later became known as the Writings, were much less definitive (Sidnie White Crawford. Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times, 113). So which particular books belonged to the overall list of sacred books was not so well enumerated because they were not so well defined. And if, by definition, a canon is a closed set (Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible, p57; Metzger, Canon of the New Testament, p7), then as much as Dempster may believe that Josephus had a canon that was representative of the broader contemporary Jewish community, the evidence does not appear to support this. The mere fact that the number of books was in flux shows that a canon was, at best, specific to particular communities. For example, we see that at Qumran, 1 Enoch and Jubilees appear to have been considered scriptural and there is a possibility of others (White Crawford, 146).

Dempster’s defense of a Canonical Epoch is pretty traditional, following Josephus’ testimony, which has the closing of the canonical epoch with Artaxerxes. Here, Dempster attempts to separate a form of prophecy that was common, such as with the high priest, John Hyrcanus mentioned in 1 Maccabees, from a form of prophecy that led to scriptural writings. Dempster also cites 1 Maccabees as evidence that prophecy had ceased from Ezra-Nehemiah onward, although in truth, at least two of his citation (4:45-46 and 14:41) could be interpreted to imply that there was an expectation that prophets would come in the foreseeable future. This is not to say that the mainstream consensus wasn’t that prophecy was disappearing from Israel, at least as advocated by those in positions of power. That does indeed appear to be the case.  But it’s possible that treating prophecy as coming to an end in the Persian period legitimized the Hasmonean endeavor, at least in part, by positioning themselves as the saviors of Israel’s heritage (Carr, 158-59). Other data from Qumran, as we saw above, shows that later works were considered scriptural for that community and that they functioned with a belief in active prophecy, as did the early Christian movement. (At this point, I’d like to see research regarding the role of prophecy among marginalized groups in the second temple period, but that’s a different issue.)

One of the reasons that prophecy ending with Ezra-Nehemiah is important for Dempster’s argument is that Daniel is widely considered among modern scholars to stem from the Maccabean period. To his credit, he acknowledges this and that scholars see an uncanny similarity in the prophecies portrayed in Daniel to the events leading up to just prior to the death of Antioches IV Epiphanes. But his response is to simply wave it off.

The only difficulty with this interpretation is that one must conclude that, unlike all the other pseudonymous works that claimed an ancient, canonical pedigree, the book of Daniel “fooled” everyone and made it into the canon! (10647-10649).

That isn’t actually an answer. It ignores that some groups did indeed treat particular pseudonymous books as Scripture (including, at least a bit later, Christians!) and that many of the books may have had their last major revision during the Maccabean period as part of the process of centralizing books (technically, scrolls) containing important traditions for Jewish self-understanding. 2 Maccabees states that during this period, Judas Maccabaeus “collected all the books that had been lost on account of the war” (2 Macc 2:14). However, this is almost assuredly not just the collection of ancient works considering that the multiple books of the Maccabees were also written during this time, but likewise, the formation and/or redaction of many. So to state that Daniel would’ve had to have “fooled” everybody else cannot be sustained in light of the evidence.

Throughout the chapter, it seems surprising how much weight Dempster gives to Josephus and other late evidence over against what was found in Qumran. “If this textual pluriformity at Qumran provides a window into the wider Jewish world, it seems to suggest that Josephus’s view of the canonical text is totally out of touch with reality” (10794-10795). But while “this may be something of a hard intellectual pill to swallow” (10801-10802), the evidence does indeed appear to support that Josephus provides only a single data point, albeit one that eventually grew to become the majority.  Even as far as Josephus is concerned, it is likely that the actual texts he was using were at times at variance with the Masoretic Text we now have, what Dempster sees as a sort of majority text. For instance, Ulrich argues that Josephus uses a text for 1-2 Samuel that most closely resembles 4QSama (Q), a text that does not agree with the Masoretic Text (MT). There are “at least four readings in which the biblical scroll use by J [Josephus] agrees with Q against MT, but no reading emerge in which J agrees with MT against Q” (Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible, p186). So it would appear that “Josephus’s claim that nothing had been added or subtracted from the biblical texts was not hyperbole” (10845-10846) is unsustainable, even as witnessed by Josephus use of variant text forms himself. (Assuming the manuscripts of Josephus we have were not revised at some point as well. Cf. Karen H. Jobes, Invitation to the Septuagint, pps 283-84 n33).

We have gone on much too long already in reviewing this particular essay, but that’s largely because it requires some of the most detailed reasoning to understand its faults. If nothing else, it highlights that the same evidence can be interpreted multiple ways. On the positive side, this is one of the few essays in the book that acknowledges some of the textual difficulties, especially of the Hebrew Scriptures. But I wish that significant scholarly research had been better engaged and not simply brushed aside with the wave of a rhetorical hand.

I found Waltke’s essay, “Myth, History and the Bible,” particularly unpersuasive in large part because its reasoning seems to beg the questions. He defines myth as fundamentally ahistorical, which I would agree with in general, although this needs fleshing out, as well as “a story informed by pantheism and magic” (17015), which seems to predetermine where he wants his argument to go. Methodologically, Waltke is attempting to classify texts along the same lines a biologist would classify organisms; kingdom, phylum, genus, etc… with the goal that myth be defined more narrowly.  It’s an interesting approach and he looks at several ancient Mesopotamian myths to tease out the difference between them and the Bible.  But his definition of myth as innately tied to pantheism exposes a predefined bias for the Bible being of a completely different category than other ancient writings. His definition of myth can be contradicted by several examples of modern day myths that do not fall in this category, whether the myth of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree or, possibly a bit more controversially, the myth of redemptive violence so popular in our culture. In both cases, there is nothing pantheistic or magical about them! Even if we grant ancient myth is necessarily referring to the supernatural and ahistorical, it’s hard to understand why Genesis 1-11 would not qualify, given typical ancient mythical markers of heroes from days gone by, extraordinarily long lives and even an unusual beast, in the form of a talking serpent.  However, for some reason he classifies the Bible as poetic history because he believes it is anchored in history but the tale of Gilgamesh as myth because he does not. Of course, given that the Sumerian King List includes Gilgamesh, it appears that the Akkadian epic would likely have been considered in the genus, to use Waltke’s categories, historio-poesis. And this is the overall weakness of this essay. It continually privileges the biblical text. Nowhere is this clearer than in the conclusion, where he states, “the Mesopotamian myths bastardize the historical reality, which the Bible preserves in pure form” (17782-17783). It is fine to make this assertion from a confessional point of view, but it does not hold much weight in a volume meant to employ scholarly approaches to the Bible. In part, this is disappointing because it overshadows some very interesting work where Walke helpfully addresses how ancient Israelite writers borrowed Canaanite imagery but not necessarily the associated theology, concepts also mentioned by others, such as in Robert Alter’s, The Five Books of Moses (cf. p425 n16), but very clearly articulated here.

We will now move on to look at Kirsten Birkett’s chapter, “Science and Scripture.” I had high hopes for this essay, as the interplay between what we know (epistemology) and science in how we understand scripture is an important subject. She first argues that in the case of Galileo, the problem was that the church was too pro-science, not that it was anti science. This is an interesting perspective and to a degree I find her argument persuasive, although the subheading seems to overstate her case. Her contention is that the church had bought into the science of its day, a form of geocentrism derived from Aristotelian physics. At least since Thomas Aquinas tied the beliefs of the church to an Aristotelian framework, “to question Aristotle was to question theology” (29189). She uses this fascinating tale to present her central argument, that “Christians should never allow Christianity to be tied to a secular system of thought” (29258). She then goes on to discuss different ways the age of the earth has been understood through Church history. Interestingly, she cautions not just against a scientific reading of Genesis, but also against the rise of creationism, saying “interpretation in reaction can be just as problematical as interpretation in accordance with science” (29409-29410). Finally, she goes on to discuss models for how science can interact with Scripture, focusing primarily on Denis Alexander, John Polkinghorne, and to a lesser extent, Arthur Peacock, finding all three have “not let Scripture guide his science, but science guide his reading of Scripture” since they “simply go against Scripture” (299913-29915). This is because all three, to one degree or another, let science influence or determine how scripture should be understood and what the God in those Scriptures can and cannot do. Using the grid of science these three assert God cannot do things that are logically or scientifically self-contradictory. Yet for Birkett, this restricts God because “God is clearly described in the Bible as sovereign, and predetermining; he not only knows what happens in the future, but he makes it happen” (29915-29916). For Birkett the problem is that they interpret scripture using systems from outside scripture. “External philosophies, even ones as successful in explanatory power as modern science, do not have the final say” (29934-29935). Of course, what boarders on ironic here is that her reading of scripture seems to be through a distinctly Reformed lens, with it’s focus on “God’s sovereignty and divine freedom” (29937).  Doubtless, she would claim that this is derived from scripture itself but that’s also how Aquinas understood his work.

In essence, it appears that Birkett is advocating that we read the Bible from some detached position, unaffected by what we learn from outside the Bible, something that I don’t know how to do and seriously doubt is even possible, given our own situatedness. What makes this essay ultimately unsatisfying is that it never gives any examples of what it would look like to do this. For a rather trivial example, science tells us that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed. Should we believe the Bible when Jesus says that the mustard seed is the smallest seed on earth (Mark 4:31)? Obviously, Genesis 1 is far more important, but why should we allow science to change how we think of Mark 4:31 and not Genesis? This is the question left unanswered in the essay and why this essay is ultimately unsatisfying.

We will conclude this review, rather paradoxically, with D. A. Carson’s extended Introduction, which serves as both a literature review as well as an introduction to the present work, with his own concerns sprinkled in. One would hope that in the introduction to a volume that seeks to provide a solid intellectual foundation for both the authority of Scripture and ultimately, its inerrancy, that the introduction would reflect sound academics and a thorough understanding of the essays within it. Unfortunately, it does neither. Carson steers into ad hominem attacks at times, referring to Stephen L Young’s essay as being “snide” (474) as well as Kenton L Sparks and Peter E. Enns as “both slightly angry and slightly self-righteous” (565-566). He criticizes J. R. Daniel Kirk for saying “that an inerrantist must hold to a young earth” (913), yet ignoring that the CSBI, as we have seen, virtually requires it (a document he himself has signed, mind you).  He also displays the virtually de rigueur conservative Protestant misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, stating that inerrancy is less of a problem for Catholics because for them “the ultimate teaching authority is not Scripture” (897). The irony, as we have seen, is that the essay that he sites within this very volume clearly states otherwise.

In his discussion of Carlos Bovell’s work, Carson conflates, as do many of the authors in the book, high views of Scripture with inerrancy. For example, he states that we find high views of scripture across “many philosophical and theological contexts” (1078) followed by criticizing Bovell for condemning “inerrancy for its (ostensible) dependence on Cartesian foundationalism” (1084-1085), thereby tying a high view of Scripture and its authority inextricably to inerrancy. Yet, as Rea’s essay points out, this is not necessarily the case. And finally, he brings up the classic bugaboo that “We need to adopt a certain cautious skepticism … regarding some of the claims of science” (1133-1134), although to his credit, he does say that this shouldn’t “sanction arrogant dismissal” (1145-1146) of it. It’s unfortunate because he sets up a type of Christian certainty against the provisional nature of science. However, this overlooks two things: First, as the essay by Vanhoozer notes, Christian Doctrine is also provisional and second, by the very nature of science, it is self correcting. Given the understanding of Scripture advocated in this essay, could the same be said about Christianity?


I found this book to be surprisingly helpful in several ways, albeit, perhaps not in the way the editor may have intended. Principally, it demonstrates, however unwittingly, that academics are starting to move beyond the definition of inerrancy asserted in the CSBI and at the same time, lays some of the theological and philosophical groundwork on how this might be done, while still maintaining what it considers the essential doctrine of inerrancy. It was helpful to include a section on world religions, given our highly connected and at times, politically charged world. I felt Glaser’s essay in this section did an excellent job of introducing the reader to some of the similarities and broad differences in how Muslims understand the Qur’an compared to how Christians understand the Bible. (I do not feel qualified to speak to the other essays in that section.) Unfortunately, as large works like this are wont to experience, the quality of the essays varies dramatically overall. Most disappointing, though, is what is missing: a rigorous look at the nature of Scripture given the biblical, archeological, linguistic and textual evidence available to us today. Instead, a predetermined answer is assumed rather than critically explored and developed.

What about you? What’s at stake in how science and Scripture might interact? Do you think that the Bible deserves a privileged position in terms of treating it as history as compared to myth? 

The Bible: A Unified Voice or Multiple Voices?

The last several weeks we looked at the issue of what an original is, in light of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy’s heavy dependence on an original. And while the statement never defines what it means by an original, it is clear from the manuscript evidence that it cannot bear the weight imposed on it by the CSBI. This week, we will change tacks and look at the belief that the Bible never contradicts itself and therefore speaks with a unified voice, even while being progressive in its relation. Article V says,

We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.

We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.

In addition, Article XIV declares:

We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.

We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.

These articles, combined, insist that scripture is unified in what it says (down to the very words, as we noted in previous posts), even while progressively revealing God more and more clearly. This has spawned a virtual cottage-industry of apologetics attempting to harmonize any apparent discordant voices. One example from the Hebrew Scriptures is the different motivators for David’s census in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21. In these two narratives, the cause of David taking a census are disparate, with the Lord being said to have incited (סות) David in Samual, but with Satan (NRSV), or a heavenly adversary (CEB) (שָׂטָן – the lack of the definite article makes the CEB translation preferable to the NRSV in this case), being the one who incites David in Chronicles. While there are better arguments, the typical  way to harmonize these verses is based loosely on the book of Job, where God basically sends Satan to torment his faithful servant. Likewise, the argument goes, God incited David, but he did so through Satan, whom he sent. Of course, the big problem with this is that no text actually says this. So in essence, what becomes canonical is something that has never actually existed.

For this post, though, we will leave that particular issue aside. Instead we will look at whether the canonical books might provide multiple disparate internal voices that do in fact provide conflicting perspectives. Specifically, we will examine three representative samples: A quick look at how Paul understands Abraham’s faith in Romans 4 compared with that of James (2:23-24); Ezra 9-10 in light of the book of Ruth; and the Yehu rebellion (2 Kings 9-10) contrasted with a brief mention of it in Hosea 1:4. What I hope to show is that the canonical books of the Bible don’t always speak with one voice but that this is actually a strength of the scriptures we have, allowing for a canonical dialogue between multiple voices and providing an inherent internal self critique.

Abraham believed God (Romans 4 and James 2:23-24)

With the reformation emphasis on justification by faith, Romans 4 was a key for unlocking the chains of works righteousness that Luther felt bound the Church. Our purpose here is not to, as NT Wright has said, debate 16th century questions giving 19th century answers. Here I simply want to contrast how James and Paul interpret Genesis 15:6 to substantiate their point.

4;2 Because if Abraham was made righteous because of his actions, he would have had a reason to brag, but not in front of God. What does the scripture say? Abraham had faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Workers’ salaries aren’t credited to them on the basis of an employer’s grace but rather on the basis of what they deserve. But faith is credited as righteousness to those who don’t work, because they have faith in God who makes the ungodly righteous. (CEB)

Paul is making the argument that it is Abraham’s faith that justifies him, or makes him righteous, depending on how you understand the word δικαιόω, not works. Now while I personally side with the idea that Paul here is talking about identity markers of belonging as opposed to how a person is forensically justified before a holy God, either way, what is clear is that Paul is using the passage in Genesis 15:6 to say that works are not how it’s done, but rather, faith alone.

James on the other hand, seems to be directly opposing what Paul is saying, or at least, what Paul was being understood to be saying. And he does so based on the same passage, Genesis 15:6, that Paul uses.

2:21 What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. 23 So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. 24 So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. (CEB)

James here clearly interprets Genesis 15:6 as necessitating works, or “faithful actions,” as the CEB translates it. It is these “faithful actions,” that makes one righteous.  Protestants especially have spent significant energy attempting to show how these two passages don’t actually contradict each other, although Luther himself once referred to this letter as an “epistle of straw,” words he seems to have later reconsidered. Let us not lose the main point of the argument, though. The reason protestants, and Evangelicals in particular, have spent so much time trying to harmonize these two passages is rooted in a theology of the Bible, one that requires the Bible to speak with one voice, because ultimately, the “very words” come directly from God, meaning that it ultimately has a single author. But in this case, we seem to have James providing at the very least, a balance to Paul, if not an outright contradiction.

Ezra 9-10 and the Book of Ruth

In Ezra 9-10 we find the story of how Ezra realized that the men of Israel had married foreign women, and that the women were the reason that Israel had fallen away in sin. Our issue here isn’t with the blatant misogyny represented by this passage (it’s all the women’s fault!) but with its demands for ethnic purity.

9:1 When these tasks were finished, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites haven’t kept themselves separate from the peoples of the neighboring lands with their detestable practices; namely, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. They’ve taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and the holy descendants have become mixed with the neighboring peoples. Moreover, the officials and leaders have led the way in this unfaithfulness. …

10:10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful by marrying foreign women and adding to Israel’s guilt. 11 But now, make a confession to the Lord God of your ancestors and do his will. Separate yourselves from the neighboring peoples and from the foreign wives.” 12 The whole assembly shouted in reply, “Yes. We must do as you have said. (CEB)

The root of the problem is that the people of Israel have taken foreign wives and this is amplified by their leaders doing the same thing. They have become “mixed” with those who are not holy descendants.  This demand for ethnic purity does not come out of the blue. Deuteronomy 7:3 explicitly warns against intermarrying (חתן) with the inhabitants of the land they are entering. And although the Moabites are not mentioned in this particular passage, the implication is that the prohibition against marrying foreign wives is universal because intermarriage will turn the people away from the Lord. Indeed, this is exactly where Ezra lays the blame for Israel’s apostasy.

Yet, what are we to make of the positive portrayals of foreign wives in other places? Joseph marries Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera (Gen 41:45) and Moses marries Zipporah from Midian (Exod 2:21-22) and a woman from Cush (Num 12:1) (“Intermarriage, Gender and Nation in the Hebrew Bible,” Esther Fuchs, in The Passionate Torah” ed. Danya Rutterberg, 73-78). But maybe the most interesting story about intermarriage is the story of Ruth.

In the book of Ruth, Naomi marries Elimelech, who lives outside of Bethlehem, and they have two sons before settling in Moab. While there, her two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Unfortunately, Elimelech dies and subsequently, so do both their sons, leaving Naomi in a very difficult position, unable to support herself. Telling her daughters to return to their own land and seek husbands there, she begins to return to Judah, where she hopes to live off the traditional charity reflected in the Torah. Orpah follows her mother-in-law’s wishes and returns, but Ruth refuses and returns to Judah with her mother-in-law. Ruth eventually captures the heart of Naomi’s well-to-do relative, Boaz, and marries him according to the customary social support for widows known as levirite marriage (Deut 25:5-10). All of this sounds like an ancient romance with a happy ending. But it doesn’t end there. The final verses provide a remarkable plot twist. It turns out that Ruth the Moabite is actually the grandmother of David! Therefore the archetypical ruler David himself was not of pure blood.

I cannot help but see this story, especially the ending, as a deliberate contrast to the edict of Ezra, whether consciously or not. In Ezra, we have a voice clearly saying that the ethnic bloodlines must remain pure. Yet with Ruth, we have a voice saying that David, the hero of Israelite history, the one who united all the tribes, was actually not of pure decent, with a Moabite grandmother. Therefore, the book of Ruth provides a critique of the ideology espoused in Ezra.

Before summing up, we will look at one more example of disparate voices found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Jehu Rebellion (2 Kings 9-10 and Hosea 1:4)

In 2 Kings 9-10, we find the story of Jehu and his rise to power. Jehu is anointed by one of the sons of the prophets in Elijah’s prophetic order and told to “strike down the house of your master Ahab, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord” (9:7). And Jehu does just that, killing Joram in Jezreel with a bow shot as he fled and commanding the death of Ahaziah as well. After this, he confronts Jezebel, has her thrown from a window and subsequently trampled under foot and eaten by dogs, fulfilling Elijah’s earlier prophecy (1 Kings 21:23). From there, Jehu presides over what can only be called a massacre, slaughtering the remainder of Ahab’s family (10:1-17) and later, the followers of Baal (10:18-28). The massacre of Ahab’s family was “according to the word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah” (10:17) and he is given credit for wiping out Baal worship in Israel.

This portrayal in Kings is nothing but positive in that regard. Although he didn’t quite follow YHWH whole heartedly, it was “only the sins of Jeraboam” that he didn’t turn from. In the narrative, Jehu is fulfilling the command of Elijah, the most powerful prophet in the Deuteronomistic History. Indeed, YHWH says that Jehu “did well to do what was right in my eyes, all that was in my heart you did to the house Ahab” (10:30, my translation).

And yet, oddly enough, there is a strong hint of opposition to Jehu. In Hosea, the Lord commands Hosea to name his first son, “Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will destroy the kingdom of the house of Israel” (1:4 CEB). It seems clear that for Hosea, the bloody massacre that took place in Jezreel is being condemned and will eventually result in the fall of the house of Israel.

Andersen and Freedman appear to disagree that Hosea is condemning the massacre perpetrated by Jehu. They rightly argue that it wasn’t Jehu’s sin, per se, that condemned Jeroboam four generations later, since God doesn’t punish future generations. Instead, they argue, “Hosea is saying that what God did to Ahab and his brood by means of Jehu is exactly what he will now do to Jeroboam and his family, and for the same reasons” (Hosea, 181, emphasis in the original). They go on to say

Jeroboam is blamed, not for resembling Jehu, but in part for the opposite. He was a traitor to the good done by his great-grandfather, he did not maintain Jehu’s “zeal for Yahweh,” zeal shown in his merciless extermination of the Baal cult and all its devotees (ibid).

Their argument in support of this is that Hosea is ostensibly following Elijah (1 Kings 18:18) in the condemnation of Jeroboam, apparently in verse 4:10, although they don’t say specifically. However, the only similar language is that of leaving, or rejecting (עזב), a word that shows up over 200 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, including over 20 times in Isaiah, with over half of those in First Isaiah. So the linguistic connection is tenuous at best. But even if the connection were there, it is unclear how Jeroboam is being blamed for not showing Jehu’s zeal. So, while I hesitate to go against such esteemed scholars as Andersen and Freedman, I do not see any solid evidence to support their position. As best as I can tell, the reason to conclude that Jeroboam, and Israel as a whole, are not being condemned for continuing in the massive bloodshed perpetrated by Jehu is a desire to bring Hosea into alignment with the prophecies of Elijah.


I think it is clear that the canonical books of the Bible do not always speak with one voice. The books were written by people who lived in different times, who had different ideals and different agendas and at times, may even have been altered by scribes so as to support perspectives different from what was originally intended. But if the Bible contains multiple voices, then those voices can be used to provide a form of internal self critique with an on-going dialogue between them. We see this in each of the three examples above, with James providing a critique of Paul, with the book of Ruth providing a critique of Ezra and with Hosea providing a critique of Elijah and the Deuteronomistic History. Now I am not saying this critique was necessarily deliberate on the part of the authors of the books, just that the canon has developed in such a way that it is self critiquing. By ignoring this phenomena and attempting to harmonize those discordant voices, we limit Scripture.

However, there is no reason this need to be thought of as diminishing the Bible’s authority for the modern day believer, although it does make the task of understanding and applying the truths of Scripture much more difficult. No longer can we simply look for a verse to support an assertion.  Instead we must look to the community of voices in the Bible and let their dialogue play out in our contemporary setting in light of God’s ultimate revelation, Jesus Christ.

The thrust of this series so far has been to show the weaknesses of the CSBI trying make the Bible something the phenomena of Scripture itself doesn’t support. In the next few weeks, we will begin to look at constructive ways in which we might understand what the Bible is.

Do you find the idea of scripture being self-critiquing helpful or threatening?  What are some of the ramifications if this is the case? How might this affect our own questions about God?

A fast from God?

One of the things about the Year without God project is that it really wasn’t a year without God. The center was completely about God. God was the subject of the entire thing. Yes, it was about trying to find out whether this God could still be real for the author. But that’s the thing about so many of these Ex-Christian blogs and books: they still focus on God.  

My question is, what would it be like to have no discussions about God? To not read about God? To not read the Bible? Or pray? Or listen to a sermon? Or write a blog post? To spend a day, a week, a month without doing anything that involves God? What would it be like to essentially fast from God?