Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ezekiel's Daniel

The book of Ezekiel mentions the name Daniel three times. I was recently asked if I could clarify the chronology to explain how those to whom Ezekiel was prophesying would know about Daniel since Daniel is younger than Ezekiel. I commend the brother for paying such close attention to his biblical timelines! In this article, I will attempt to briefly examine the major issues around Ezekiel’s reference and explain why I think this is a reference to the prophet Daniel.

The question has long been debated by critical scholars. The traditional view is that Ezekiel’s Daniel is the same person as the prophet Daniel who was his younger contemporary. Critical scholars, however, often raise several arguments against the traditional view.[1] First, they doubt the younger Daniel could have gained a sufficient reputation to be named by the older prophet, especially along with Job and Noah.

They also point out that the spelling of the name in Ezekiel דנאל (dn'l or Danel) is different from the spelling used elsewhere to refer to the prophet Daniel דניאל (dny'l or Daniel). Historically, those who rejected the traditional view often argued that the reference was to a mythic figure of the same name.[2] In the 1930’s, however, scholars began translating ancient Canaanite texts and the argument that Danel was a mythic figure became strengthened because one of the ancient tales from Ugarit, known as the Tale of Aqhat features a wise man named Danel. This discovery of an ancient Canaanite “hero” using the same name led to a general consensus among critical scholars that this was the probable background for Ezekiel’s reference.

First, let us take a look at the actual references. The first two occur in the 14th chapter of Ezekiel, both within the context of the coming judgment of God:

“…even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 14:14 ESV)

“…even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.” (Ezekiel 14:20 ESV)

In both of these cases, Daniel is pointed out for his righteousness alongside Noah and Job. The point is that even the intercession of these righteous men would not be enough to restrain God’s judgment. In this context Daniel is an example of the highest standard of righteousness.
The next reference to Daniel comes in chapter 28 within the context of God’s oracle of coming judgment against the King of Tyre:

“…you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you;” (Ezekiel 28:3 ESV)

The reference here is God mockingly judging the king for his pride and arrogance with Daniel as an example of a very wise man.

The first question we will address is the spelling difference. Spelling variations are common in the Old Testament and are not by themselves significant. In this case, the un-pointed Hebrew names are exactly the same and even most critical scholars accept that the names may have both been pronounced Daniel. The spelling variation is therefore interesting, but inconclusive. What makes this argument interesting is the reference to the Canaanite figure of the same name, to which we will return shortly.

Second, we must answer is how likely is it that Ezekiel and his audience would have known about Daniel as an example of righteousness and wisdom? This is further complicated by the third reference because in order for those who received Ezekiel’s prophesy to understand the reference, the fame of Daniel had to have spread beyond the Jewish community. Would Daniel be famous enough to be mentioned in the same category as Job and Noah, and to be considered an example of wisdom at such a young age to both Jews and non-Jews? While admittedly remarkable, it is not impossible.

Daniel would have likely been no older than his early 30’s when Ezekiel was called but was already in Babylon for over a decade. Daniel was taken captive in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim’s reign (Dan. 1:1-6). Jehoiakim reigned for 11 years, then his son, Jehoiachin replaced him and reigned for 3 months before being exiled (2 Kings 24:8[3]). Ezekiel begins his prophetic ministry in the 5th year of Jehoiachin’s exile. Therefore, Daniel would have been in Babylon for 12 or 13 years when Ezekiel was called. It is possible that another 10 to 20 years may have passed before this specific prophesy was given.

Therefore, although Daniel is younger than Ezekiel it is reasonable that his reputation may have spread by the time Ezekiel is active. The first two chapters of the book of Daniel indicate that Daniel became an important advisor in the court of Nebuchadnezzar very soon after arriving in Babylon and may very well have been famous after only being there a couple of years. The early events of his life, if well known, would have made him famous for precisely the attributes mentioned by Ezekiel, namely his piety and his wisdom, specifically the wisdom to see secret or hidden things (Dan. 2:27-28).

Those arguing for a non-biblical Daniel sometimes point out that neither Noah nor Job are Jewish and argue the inclusion of a famously wise Canaanite would better fit with the other examples. They also submit that a Canaanite reference makes more sense in an oracle to Tyre than does a Jewish prophet. These arguments, however, are not very strong. Although Daniel is Jewish, he is an example of faithfulness lived out in a pagan context and thus complements the others because all three are examples of righteous men who did not live in the Promised Land. It is also not clear that Ezekiel intends any particular significance to the selection of his examples beyond their usefulness as examples of righteousness.

The most persuasive argument to my mind, however, is the overall context of the Ezekiel references. While the Tale of Aqhat depicts the Canaanite Danel as wise, he is not presented as an outstanding example of righteousness. Noah and Job are not Jewish but both worship Yahweh. The Canaanite hero Danel is a polytheist and an idol worshiper. H. H. P. Dressler makes the point clear that it simply makes no sense for Ezekiel to appeal to an idolater who worships false Gods as an example to encourage his people to forsake idolatry. Rather, Daniel is a perfect example of godly wisdom in contrast to the idolatry and false wisdom of Ezekiel’s audience.

Ezekiel’s references to Daniel are not without some difficulty but they involve no logical inconsistency. The most natural reading and the best interpretation, in my opinion, is that by the time Ezekiel is writing the prophet Daniel is already well known for his righteousness and wisdom. When we consider the things the Lord did through him, it is not all that surprising that his reputation would have spread quickly. I suspect the strongest underlying motive of many critical scholars in rejecting the prophet Daniel as the reference is because if Ezekiel’s is talking about Daniel he helps establish the early date of the book of Daniel. That would involve recognizing the supernatural element in Daniel’s prophecies, something that most critical scholars are not eager to accept.

[1] The actual critical arguments (and the responses to them) are rather sophisticated. My goal here is to give the general idea. For those who are interested in a more thorough review of the issue I recommend the Bible.org article by Dan Wallace as a good place to start: https://bible.org/article/who-ezekiels-daniel

[2] Part of the reason why many were reluctant to accept this as a reference to biblical Daniel is because they insisted the book of Daniel was actually written much later.

[3] 2 Kings recounts that Jehoiachin is 18 years old at the time he becomes king but 2 Chronicles records him as being 8 but both confirm that he reigned around 3 months. The discrepancy is possibly a copyist error, the 18 year figure seems more likely given the events in the text although some have argued that both are correct based on possible regency years, etc.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Review: David P. Murray- Christians Get Depressed Too


We all know that as believers we are to have the joy of the Lord but as a result of the cookie cutter categories of Christian pop culture, many believers have a difficult time coming to terms with those who are apparently believers and yet struggle with depression and anxiety. There are even many believers who think that a “true” Christian cannot get depressed and that any mental or emotional issues are either the result of sin or demonic oppression. Beyond the popular misconceptions are various disagreements among Christian counselors regarding the issues and how to respond to them.

Thankfully, David P. Murray offers this brief, practical, and caring book on the subject.
Dr. Murray is the pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church, is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, has written various other books and is the author of the head heart hand blog (http://headhearthand.org/blog/).

Dr. Murray points out that the common misconceptions about depression and mental illness within the Church are not only unhelpful but can actually be hurtful by increasing the burden of pain and guilt on those who are already suffering. Murray argues from biblical examples that depression is actually something that can and does happen to believers. He insists that we need to overcome the overly simplistic idea that every emotional and mental issue is the result of sin and faithlessness. He argues that the church has a responsibility to help those who suffer and that Christians, particularly pastors and caregivers, should study depression so they understand what it is, what causes it, and how to best help those who suffer from it.

He avoids getting dragged into the theological and psychological controversies surrounding the subject but his balanced treatment gives the listener confidence that he is familiar with them, understands them, and is presenting what he finds to be most practical and helpful. His purpose was to write a book that those who are suffering and those who care for them can use. Readers and listeners who want a more technical or theological treatment will need to go elsewhere. He does, however, include a number of biblical references and a helpful appendix of other works that would be of interest to those who want to study more.

The practical nature of the book can be seen in how Murray organizes the material. He condenses the topic into 6 sections that are organized the following way:

-The Crisis – Why should we study the topic?
-The Complexity – What is the appropriate attitude to approach the topic?
-The Condition – What is it and what does it look like?
-The Causes – Why does it happen?
-The Cures – What can be done?
-The Caregivers – How we can help those in need.

To tackle such a complex topic so briefly and practically is a very difficult thing to do. Dr. Murray has done an outstanding job and has produced a balanced, yet conservative and biblical, treatment of the topic that is both informative and helpful. As a friend of several believers who struggle with depression and the father of an autistic child, I appreciated the wisdom and balance with which Dr. Murray addressed the issue. It is a testament to both his writing ability and pastoral care that he is able to avoid the tendency to reductionist oversimplification in such a short work. He provides a good example of the informed humility that he is encouraging others to pursue.

The work is concise, well written, and easy to follow. The production was well done and Dr. Murray’s reading was well paced and articulate (in that remarkably dramatic way that only a Scottish accent can accomplish). For anyone who is struggling with depression or knows someone who is, this is a great place to start. Other more comprehensive works are available but this is the best short introduction to the topic I can recall.

* I received a free copy of this book from christianaudio.com as part of their Review Program. Reviews are not required to be positive and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Agape Love?

There has been a lot of talk this past week about love. In light of the Supreme Court decision, many in the broader culture are celebrating what they see as a triumph for love in the establishment of marriage rights for homosexual couples. They are also using various arguments based upon what they understand as principals derived from love to urge those who are not celebrating the decision to change their minds. Meanwhile, many Christians are trying to ensure they are not seen as unloving, while doing their best to express support for a biblical understanding on the issues. In various conversations, I have heard believers try to distinguish their understanding of love with what the culture is talking about by using the term “agape love”.

Agape love, we are told, is the highest form of love. It is said to be a self-sacrificial love and devotion. It is understood to transcend physical desires and is the highest expression of pure love. It is the kind of love God demonstrates though the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As such, “agape love” is understood as a technical term for a kind of love that is uniquely identified with perfect and divine love.

This understanding of agape love as a type of “super love” is not new. It has been around in Christian circles for a very long time. The special status of agape in part comes from the fact that the Greek language has many words that can be translated by the single English word love. Depending upon the context, each of these may carry a slightly more specific connotation than the general term love and agape can have the meaning of selfless and pure love.

Greek contains a word that is often related to sexual desire (ερος / eros) and another often associated with what we would call friendly affection (στοργἠ / storge). The Greek terms for love we find frequently in the Bible are phileo (φιλἐω) and agape (ἀγἀπη). It is often argued that phileo is a warm affection similar to what brothers might experience. It is said to involve a tender care and fondness. This is not an affection we would have for an enemy. We are told, however, that agape love is much higher and noble. It is supposedly the sacrificial kind of love that we are called to exhibit even to those who persecute us, etc.

Many preachers have milked these distinctions to emphasize the differences between mere feelings of affection and the transcendent love that God has for us, and we are to have toward others. The problem with this, as DA Carson points out in his book Exegetical Fallacies, is that the word agape is not actually a technical term for a higher form of love. We recognize that most words have a range of meaning (called a semantic range) and agape is no different. It is sometimes used for the kind of love many Christians associate with it, but not always. Even in the Bible, the word is used in various ways.

For example, in 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul uses the word agape to describe the love that Demas had for the world which led to him abandoning Paul. The word has sufficient semantic range that when the Septuagint translators were working to produce a Greek copy of the Hebrew Bible, they used the word agape to describe the incestuous lust Amnon had for his sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13:4). In the same way, the word phileo is used at times to describe the type of love that many often associate with agape. For example, it is the word used to describe the love the Father has for the Son in John 5:20.

I think we are right to emphasize the pure, holy, selfless love of God as the standard to which all love should be measured. I am also sympathetic with believers looking to define concepts of love and affection in a biblical way. We should just be careful about making technical distinctions based upon biblical language that the writers themselves did not intend. As always, we need to pay attention to context in order to understand how a particular author is using his or her terms. All of the Bible, however, points us to the love of God in Christ. In Him we see all the fullness of love personified, agape and otherwise.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Structure of Jude

One of the more difficult things for beginners to grasp when using the inductive method is the ability to identify structure in the text. It is important not to get discouraged by this. It gets easier with practice. It is also important not to worry about making every detail “fit” into a structure. If you do that, you will likely begin to see things that may not be there. Although the structure can have a significant impact on our interpretation, if a given structure is really there, other indicators will support the resulting interpretation. For example, we do not need to know that Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem to recognize it has a unified theme and was intended to be memorized or meditated upon.

One of the more common structures students are likely to encounter is Chiasm. Chiasmus is a literary structure where ideas are mirrored or paralleled in such a way that they are either reversed or reflect back on themselves. The word comes from the Greek letter Chi which looks like our English X which itself exhibits a similar mirroring effect.

One of the most famous chiasms in English is Kennedy’s famous statement, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” You will notice that the ideas within the statement reverse and the second half reflects back on the first half. When these kinds of structures are extended over larger sections of a text they are often called inverted parallelism. When it is a longer section of text involved, often the parallels will build to and from an emphasized central point.[1]

I am working through an introduction to inductive study with a group using the book of Jude. Recently, the question came up as to if Jude has this kind of structure. Since there were several in the group who missed the discussion, I thought it might be helpful to post something on the subject.
I think Jude has what I might call a “loose” chiastic structure. I would not push the significance of it too far or insist that we can discern exactly Jude’s intention in using it but I think elements of it are clearly there. Notice the following repetition of elements in the book [followed by the verse number]:

 A.  Address to the Beloved [3]
       B.  Ungodly people have come in (long ago designated…) [4]
             C. “I want to remind you…” [5]
                 D. The Lord & judgment [5]
                      E. He has “kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness” [6]
                          F. These people blaspheme [8]
                              G. Michael did not blaspheme against the devil but appealed to                                                God’s Word [9]
                           F. These people blaspheme [10]
                       E. “The gloom of utter darkness has been reserved” for them [13]
                 D. The Lord & judgment [14]
             C. “You must remember” [17]
        B. It was predicted ungodly people would come in [17-18]
A.  Address to the beloved [20]

Why would the illustration of Michael and the devil be central to the parallel? The men who have crept in are not submitting to the Word or the Church, they are criticizing the church, and they are twisting the grace of God to serve their own ends. They are rejecting God’s authority. They ultimately put themselves in a place of judgement over God and His people.

Their rejection of authority and their blasphemies are contrasted to Michael’s submission to God’s authority. Despite his high position, Michael does not even speak against the devil as boldly as these men speak. Even the archangel does not presume to exercise his own judgment or authority as do these men. The centrality of Christ and  His authority are therefore emphasized by Michael's example of pronouncing God's Word rather than speaking from His own authority. This is precisely what these men fail to do and why they will be judged.

[1] Chiasmus and inverted parallelism can be helpful to the interpreter but they can also be tricky. There are some people who see it everywhere and then try to cram every text into a chiastic structure. As I mentioned, we don’t want to impose structures upon the text that are not there. Scholars often argue for enormous, complex, and subtle, structures in various texts that even if present, probably would not have been apparent to those to whom they were writing.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

How Much did Nicodemus Bring?

I use the NASB as the base text for most of the Bible studies I teach. A few days ago, however, one of the students who read from the ESV asked about a translation issue in a passage about the handling of the body of Jesus.

The NASB translates John 19:39 in the following way:

“Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.” (NASB)

The ESV, however, translates John 19:39 as follows:

“Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.” (ESV)

The NASB, KJV, NKJV, NRVS, YLT, and BBE all translate the verse 100 pounds. The ESV, NIV, NET, NLT, HCSB, and others translate the verse 75 pounds.

Why are the translations different? Did Nicodemus bring around 75 pounds or around 100 pounds?

There are various reasons why translators sometimes use different words for the same verses. Sometimes the translators are using a different manuscript tradition. Sometimes there are variant readings in the ancient manuscripts themselves. Other times, the words may be difficult to translate into English so different choices are made to help the reader understand the meaning of the original. In this case, however, the manuscripts agree and variant readings are not an issue. Likewise, the words themselves are not difficult to translate.

The reason for the difference has to do with the way the translation philosophy is applied to the verse. Some translations attempt to replicate the words and form of the original languages as closely as possible while still allowing it to be readable in English. Scholars often call this approach “formal equivalence” because wherever possible the translator is trying to reproduce the form of the original. Others, however, are more concerned about expressing the meaning of the original than the exact words or form. Scholars often call this this the “dynamic equivalence” method because the concern is more about translating meaning than words.

The fact is that no major translation is purely one or the other. Every translation involves a combination of both. Rather than either/or, it is often a matter of a spectrum where some translations are more likely to apply one or the other in any given situation. In this case, for example, both ESV and NASB are formally equivalent translations, yet they make different decisions regarding this particular verse.

The words in question are the Greek words λίτρας έκατον (litras hekaton). As I said earlier, both of these words are straightforward. The word λίτρας (litras) is the word from which we get our modern word “liter” we associate with liquid measures in the metric system. It is the Greek word for pound. It is the same word, for example, used in John 12:3 to describe the amount of perfume Mary used to anoint the feet of Jesus. The other word, ἑκατόν (hekaton) is the Greek word for 100. It is where we get our modern prefix hecta/hecto, as in hectare etc., which we still use in the metric system to denote a factor of 100. Therefore, the Greek text includes the word for 100 and the word for pounds to describe the quantity Nicodemus brought.

Why then do so many translations say 75 pounds? The reason is that at the time John wrote his Gospel the λίτρα (litra) or pound referred not to our English pounds but to Roman pounds. English pounds are 16 ounces, but the Roman pound is just a little over 11.5 ounces. This means that the actual amount of weight that Nicodemus brought was around 73 pounds. Since the text makes it clear that it is not giving an exact amount, the ESV and many others translate this “about 75 pounds”.

Those who apply a more formal approach, such as the NASB, recognize that the text includes a Greek word for 100 and a Greek word for pounds that have English equivalents and so they translate it formally. ESV, however, apparently thought that most modern readers would probably not realize that the text is referring to Roman pounds. As a result, they thought formal translation of the verse was not the most accurate way of conveying the meaning of the original in English, and used a dynamic approach for this verse.

Neither of these translations are a mistake. They are simply two different approaches to handling the process of translation. I usually tend to prefer formal translations particularly for inductive studies because the reader is less dependent upon the interpretive choices of the translator. As this verse demonstrates, however, formal does not always mean more accurate in the sense of communicating the meaning of the original in English. In this case, translating the exact words of the original does not give the English reader a more accurate understanding of the original. This is why, even when using a reliable translation (and both of these are), it is often helpful to consult multiple translations when we study.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Review- Steven Lawson, Foundations of Grace: A Long Line of Godly Men

690770: Foundations of Grace: A Long Line of Godly Men
By Steven J. Lawson / Reformation Trust Publishing

While discussing God’s sovereignty in salvation, students have often been asked me if I could provide to them the Bible verses on both sides of the issue. I usually receive a skeptical look when I reply that there are no Bible verses on both sides of the issue, that God does not contradict Himself, and that all of the Scripture supports the teaching of the Doctrines of Grace (I am happy, however, to work through the passages that appear contradictory). There are difficult to understand passages, but sovereign grace is so pervasive in the Bible that those looking for it will begin to see it everywhere.

In his book, Foundations of Grace, Dr. Steven J. Lawson traces elements of the Doctrines of Grace through every book of the Bible. The book begins with a foreword by Dr. John MacArthur, which is an excellent theological essay that would itself be worth the price of the book. Lawson then argues that how one understands God’s sovereign grace in salvation is foundational to their understanding of the biblical message and theology. He argues for God’s sovereign plan to save fallen humanity through a gracious act of election as a unifying theme of the Bible. Lawson then works through each section of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation examining God’s sovereign Grace and related truths. The book then concludes with a call to believers to stand firm in these truths in afterword by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

The book provides an accessible defense of the Reformed view of the unity and consistency of the Bible on these points. The treatment is not overly technical or complex and as expected, presupposes a Reformed understanding of various biblical and systematic theological positions. Since he explores similar themes in each chapter, reading the book from cover to cover becomes tedious at times. The upside of this style, however, is that the book will likely serve as a good reference resource to those who may want to examine these themes in relation to a particular book of Scripture.

Advanced readers looking for a comprehensive biblical theology, extensive exegetical detail, or a critical evaluation of theological issues attending the interpretations will not find that here. What readers can find here is a good introduction to why Reformed Christians are so passionate about God’s sovereignty and the Doctrines of Grace.  

* I received a free copy of this book from Reformation Trust Publishing as part of their book review program. Reviews are not required to be positive and the opinions I have expressed are my own.