Almost “Alone in the Void”

Adam Frank, a professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Rochester, has done us a favor. His op-ed in the New York Times forces us to face the music about our future prospects of mastering interstellar travel. His conclusion is that There will be nowhere else to go for a very long time. As a man who grew up with an astronomy book in one hand, a science fiction book in the other and a telescope of my own making in the garage, I find that a very hard pill to swallow!

Yet, as a physics major with a graduate degree in engineering, I understand the scientific principles that lead to Frank’s pessimistic assessment. He speaks of our love for Star Trek and Star Wars, but he says, The truth is we propel ourselves into space using much the same physics as the Chinese played with when they discovered what we came to call gunpowder more than 1,400 years ago.

Frank calls on us to think about it:

No salvation from population pressure on the shores of alien worlds. No relief from the threats of biosphere degradation in the promise of new biospheres. No escape from our own destructive tendencies by spreading out among the stars like seedpods in the wind. For as many epochs in the future as there are epochs of human history in the past, we may simply have to make do, get by with what we have and, in the end, learn to get along.

In light of our shared history, what would you estimate to be the chances of our learning to get along? Not so good!

Ah, but we are not alone, in spite of Dr. Frank’s realistic estimates. God created our cosmos and ever lives as its master. He pierces the vast, lonely void in the person of Jesus Christ to offer us salvation from ourselves, our sin, and our cosmic isolation. He offers us a purpose, a destiny, and, yes, he even offers us the only viable opportunity we will ever have to see what he has made.

I suggest you put down the astronomy book and the science fiction book and pick up the Holy Bible, which contains God’s offer of a relationship that will span the ages and the awesome distances that chill our human hopes. Trust in Jesus Christ, who alone can fill your spiritual void and show you the wonders of all he has made.

Copyright  2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Romans 4:9-10, Study carefully to get it right!

One of the big questions philosophers juggle is what are the sources of that which we know? Knowledge comes from a number of sources, but for a Christian, the revelation recorded in the Bible has primacy over all other written sources. An observant Jew would regard the Old Testament with the same esteem we have for the whole Bible.

Even a sitting Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (Antonin Scalia) has commented on the value of such biblical sources by citing the Jewish Babylonian Talmud, which instructs with respect to the Scripture: Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein.. . . . Divinely inspired text may contain the answers to all earthly questions . . .[1]

Presumably, if God has spoken at book length to reveal himself, then he has been careful to say what he means. Since God has used such care, we must sift what he has said with diligence to get it right. Paul said, Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

(ESV) Romans 4:9-10

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.

In keeping with accurate interpretation of the Old Testament, Paul challenges his Jewish opponents to go back to Genesis and determine whether Abraham was declared righteous before or after he was circumcised (4:10). By doing so they will find the answer to the question posed in 4:9, which asks: Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? If righteousness is available to the uncircumcised (i.e. Gentiles), then being a Jew is not required! Even a Roman Catholic like Justice Scalia would be eligible.

In the second half of 4:9, Paul takes us right back to Genesis 15:6 and repeats his thesis that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness (4:9b). In Genesis 17:1, we find that Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised. Going back to Genesis 16:16, we find that Abraham was 86 at the time Ishmael was born. The Jewish interpreters assumed that the events of Genesis 15:6 took place 16 years prior to the birth of Ishmael. By the reckoning of the rabbis, Abraham was declared righteous 29 years prior to being circumcised.[2]

From his biblical analysis, Paul concluded that Abraham was uncircumcised when his faith led God to declare him righteous. Not only did Abraham attain righteousness by faith, but he was not yet qualified to be a Jew at the time!

Facts undercut prejudices

Jesus used similar methods to those of Paul: A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ (Luke 10:2526). To answer the most serious question life offers, Jesus sent the scribe back to the teaching of the Old Testament. Afterward Jesus evaluated what the scribe said and directed him toward life.

1. If you were paid by $5/word for reading the Bible, how much would you make for what you read last week? What does your answer tell you?

2. When you read something in the Bible that you do not understand, what sources of information do you have to clarify it (e.g. study Bible, Christian websites, friends, a pastor or other)? What incentives could you create to motivate yourself and your children, if any, to read the Bible and find good answers for their questions?

Many times the Gospel writers quote Jesus saying Have you not read . . . during his teaching ministry (Matt. 12:3; 12:5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31; Mark 12:26; Luke 6:3). A lot of questions have answers, if you look in Gods Word!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Caperton v Massey Coal, 556 U.S. ___ (2009), Scalia, J., dissenting.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 235.

Midrash in Matthews Gospel

Midrash is not a term familiar to most Christians, though Jewish people who have trusted in Jesus as their Messiah might recognize the term. My latest book, The Path to the Cross, uses midrash to explain Matthew 1-2. The purpose of this post is to define midrash so that you will understand what is said about it in the upcoming series on The Path to the Cross.

Midrash is an ancient exegetical technique where exegetical relates to the critical interpretation of a text and it was used by the ancient rabbis. Midrash is based on certain assumptions about the biblical text. According to Charles T. Davis, the ancient Jewish interpreters believed: The ultimate goal of midrash is to search out [from Hebrew darash inquire about, examine, seek] the fullness of what was spoken by the Divine Voice.[1] Davis adds: Since Scripture is the Word of God, no word is superfluous. Every repetition, every apparent mistake, every peculiar feature of arrangement or order has meaning. I make extensive use of this last idea in explaining the presence of five womens names (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary) in Matthews genealogy of Jesus (The Path to the Cross, chapters 1-3).

Because they believed every word expressed by the Divine Voice had purpose and meaning, the ancient rabbis would earnestly seek connections between various texts of the Old Testament. They did this by comparing texts that seemed to share common themes or similar patterns of events. By their assumptions, such similarity would have meaning intended by God.

James Kugel explains some of the principles of early Jewish biblical interpretation by using the following ideas[2]:

  • The biblical text is basically cryptic. It has subtle nuances.
  • The biblical story contains a lesson for today.
  • The Bible is not only internally consistent, but it also allows for confirmation of the interpreters beliefs and practices.
  • Questions about the Scriptures may be resolved via a scrupulous examination of the precise wording of the biblical text sometimes using a verse, a phrase, or even a single word.

Of course, the bulk of Matthews Gospel is narrative, and his genealogy of Jesus gets it started. Two Jewish experts on midrash say, In the narrative portions of the Bible, on the other hand, there was always a curiosity about what was left out of the story.[3] This encouraged informed speculation about the missing facts. They further explain: There is more to the Bible than initially meets the eye. In each sentence, word, and letter, there was either a direct message from God or an opportunity for the Rabbi to elucidate what God wanted from the Jewish people. Therefore, the text couldnt just be read; it had to be studied. It could not be perused; it had to be deciphered.[4] In my opinion, Matthew was encouraging such decipherment by inserting the names of the five women.

Further insight into Matthews methods may be gained by considering the methods used by ancient synagogue teachers. Katz and Schwartz describe this teaching by saying that the speaker would display his skill by using a distant verse of Scripture and employing a germ of an idea to connect that verse with the Bible passage scheduled for congregational reading on that day. The audience would be held in suspense to see how the speaker intended to connect the two by some form of midrashic comparison.[5] The germ of an idea Matthew uses to suggest this distant connection is the five womans names that he inserts into the genealogy of Jesus. In The Path to the Cross (chapters 1-3), I explain how the distant connections illuminate and supplement the birth narrative of Jesus in Matthews Gospel.

As useful as midrash was in illuminating the meaning of the Old Testament writings, a danger always presented itself. Charles Davis describes this danger by saying, The great weakness of this method is that it always threatens to replace the [biblical] text with an outpouring of personal reflection.[6] Careful use of midrash can lead to profound discoveries in the biblical text, but careless use of midrash is simply the fanciful product of a human mind. At best, midrash is the skillful comparison of Scripture with Scripture; at worst it is invention.

In what may seem like a shift of topics — but is not! — midrash is roughly like the technique employed by some translators involved in publishing English Bibles that are based on the method called dynamic equivalence. The NIV 2011, for example, is very good, but it has a potential flaw. The Committee on Bible Translation says, The NIV tries to bring its readers as close as possible to the experience of the original audience[.][7] Clearly, the key word is experience. The big problem is that we have no way of knowing exactly how the original audience experienced the Word; we have to guess. On a good day, that will make certain parts of NIV 2011 like the positive form of midrash illuminating and helpful. In less favorable situations, NIV 2011 may be more like the speculative form of midrash. How much guessing is too much?

Copyright 2011 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

 


[1] Charles T. Davis, Midrash, based on Rabbi Burton Virotskys Reading the Bible. 10 September 2011 < http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/03-Torah-Halacha/section-25.html>.

[2] James L. Kugel, Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, Eds. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., 2010) 131137.

[3] Michael Katz and Gershon Schwartz, Searching for Meaning in Midrash (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2002) 9.

[4] Katz and Schwartz, Searching for Meaning, 11.

[5] Katz and Schwartz, Searching for Meaning, 22.

[6] Davis, Midrash. 10 September 2011 < http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/03-Torah-Halacha/section-25.html>.

[7] Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation, page 1.