Recreating the Church

In Recreating the Church, Richard Hamm offers 1968 as the pivotal year where things start going downhill for most mainline denominations. In January, the Tet offensive showed that the Viet Cong, despite assurances to the contrary, were still a potent military force in South Vietnam. In March, Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for reelection, setting off what would become a three man contest between Hubert Humphrey, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon. Martin Luther King, Junior, was assassinated in April. Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June. The Democratic National Convention, held in Chicago, was rocked by protests. Several cities experienced deadly riots. Hamm points out that today mainline denominations have “lost even the appearance of success.” We are too busy trying to survive by maintaining a dying system. We must seek not just technical change to the system (replacing one leader or structure with another), but adaptive change of the entire system itself (rethinking our method completely). I personally could not agree more.

Hamm does an excellent job of diagnosing the changes which have brought the mainline denominations to where we are today:  the ‘perfect storm’ of change in American culture, organizational obsolescence, and anxiety. But he doesn’t stop there. Using the language of Ronald Heifetz, he suggests personal and systemic models of how to lead the adaptive change necessary to move from modern to postmodern leaders and institutions, as we face a challenge unprecedented in history:  ministering to and with five distinct generations at one time.

From a big picture perspective, Hamm offers a terrific explanation for post-moderns, their faith and their role in the church. That being said, I would like to focus on one point that Hamm makes that I found particularly helpful. Specifically, I often hear an argument that goes something like this: our call in life is to be faithful and let God deal with the growth or decline. This argument is persuasive because it has a kernel of truth in it.  But Hamm points out the problem in this argument over the past fifty years.  The entire paragraph is worth quoting:

A fourth reason [that mainline leaders did not notice the shift from modern leadership to postmodern leadership], found among some mainline church leaders, was an attitude that viewed the decreases as a sign that the denominations were paying the “price of faithfulness.”  That is, some mainline church leaders and governing bodies (especially in national settings) had taken unpopular stands in regard to such issues as racism and the Vietnam War, and so some concluded that a lot of contributing members just couldn’t take the “heat” of the “truth.”  This was a self-serving, but understandable interpretation.  If we had done statistical analyses of who was still attending, however, we would have found that the losses were primarily among the young, not the old (who were the primary contributors and would have been more likely to leave than would the young when traditional values were challenged).

 

Ouch!  I hear the same argument today around issues like homosexuality and politics and religion.  Hamm’s insightful analysis of what has taken place in the past fifty years suggests that today something bigger is going on with the continued decline of mainline denominations than just “taking the heat” for progressive stances on divisive issues.

Finally, one of the most encouraging parts of the book was the final chapter: “Why Bother?” In other words, what can mainline denominations do that others cannot do? On page 116, Hamm suggests five reasons why we (meaning his denomination) are still valuable:

  1. We hold faith and reason together at a time when the world seems bent on separating the two.
  2. Our institutions of higher education engage in education rather than indoctrination.
  3. We have a worldview that analyzes reality both in terms of individuals and systems, rather than through the lens of radical individualism only.
  4. We interpret the Scriptures in a way that empowers women, people of color, and other historically marginalized people to participate more fully in the church and the wider culture.
  5. Our overseas involvements are marked by partnership with indigenous people rather than by colonialist approaches.

 

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Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Our Conflicts

Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Our Conflicts

 

It is a misconception (and a complete falsehood) that conflict is bad. This misunderstanding is likely one of the reasons that people go to such great lengths to avoid conflict. In fact, conflict is healthy and necessary for growth to take place—be that in the case of a personal relationship at home, a business relationship between colleagues or a group working together for a common goal. Conflict alone is amoral, neither “good” nor “bad”. It is how people choose to handle conflict that ultimately determines its’ morality, or lack thereof. This having been said, in light of the fact that the Christian faith is based entirely upon relationships between Christ-followers and their relationship with God, it is an imperative that Christians learn to become comfortable operating within conflict and appreciate each conflict for the opportunity it provides to grow relationships.

Jones states from the beginning that his goal is to “provide a step-by-step process for pursuing peace in all your relationships and to give you a tool you can use to help others” (p. 12); which accomplishes with great success. A reader would struggle to walk away from this book and honestly say that he/she does not now know the biblical process for resolving conflict. And it’s not just a few theoretical steps that are divorced from grace and the gospel.  For the first few chapters Jones focuses our eyes and hearts were they really need to be; namely, on God Himself.  In doing this he also reminds us that “pursuing peace” and “having God-pleasing relationships is not a dispensable luxury” (19).  It is the Christian life. Jones’ process for resolving conflict is three steps.  Step One: Please God.  Step Two: Repent.  Step Three: Love the Person.  Loving the Person includes having an attitude of grace, forgiving, confronting, and serving.  The book is structured around expounding each of the steps in this process. 

Through the first two chapters I was tempted to just skim through the book. But something happened in chapter three.  Chapter 3 was like a play that makes “Sports Center” and makes you simply marvel.  Afterwards you aren’t thinking, “oh I could do that”.  Your thinking, “wow, if I want to be a good shortstop I better study this dude”. This was my reaction after having finished chapter 3.  I realized the beauty and the simplicity of conflict.  It’s really something that is a “duh”.  All we can really control in our conflicts is pleasing God.  And that is what is to be our central aim.  If I focus on pleasing God it may not solve the conflict but it will make me a faithful disciple and that’s the biggest goal anyways.  It puts your focus in the correct place. 

Robert D. Jones does exactly what he set out to do.  He provides a clear and biblical process for pursuing peace in the midst of conflict and he provides a helpful tool that can easily be reproduced. 

On a personal level, this text has challenged me greatly in the manner in which I think of people who have offended me. While it’s certainly not easy to re-program one’s mind to focus on sin against God instead of sins against people, but Jones has certainly challenged me towards this endeavor. He has also helped to reshape the way certain events in my past are organized in my head. He has caused me to think through my own attitudes and behaviors; and because of this my thought life is more peaceful. There is less fear, because I’m learning (again) that life is not about me. Instead of concerning myself with the actions and reactions of others, the greatest thing I need to be worried about is this huge plank that is piercing my own eyeball.

 

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Personal Statement of Faith

Personal Statement of Faith

 

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

This statement from Mother Teresa, stirs within me a great emotional response and resonates on level that I struggle to communicate or even fully understand. As a recovering Pharisee I understand her words with great clarity. Even in my greatest attempts at a religious life, I often lived in a state of spiritual poverty. It was not until I hit rock bottom that I was ready to respond. My rock bottom took place when I was in the greatest need of love, encouragement and compassion from my spiritual community. Instead, I was met with the same judgment that I had displayed to so many others. It was at that season in my life that I began to fill my hunger with the bread that only God can provide; and at the same time provide clarity and a greater understanding of what church is and how my ministry would serve God’s family.

Now, instead of seeing church as something I did a few times each week in order complete my religious duty, I live with freedom by experiencing God’s love through the redeemed community of Christ. Jesus’ plea to His Disciples best expresses my understanding and thoughts: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).  

The story of my journey, and any statement of faith on my part, is one that ultimately centers on and around the passionate love and grace of a forgiving God who relentlessly pursued me . . . in spite of me. When Paul calls for the Ephesians to know or experience the love can’t be known (3:19), I strangely understand exactly what he is talking about. Today, I embrace what I know is there without knowing exactly how it works or how it could be possible – the extravagant love of God and his reconciliation and redemption through my Lord, Jesus Christ.

I am often brought to tears of sorrow in those rare moments that I am able catch a glimpse of my failures and the hurt that must have inflicted on my Father. Thankfully, that emotion is often overwhelmed by a deep sense of humility and appreciation that I can’t describe, as I think back to all the moments that God was gently speaking a message of grace into my life. I am just so grateful that He never gave up on me.

As a servant of God and of His Word, each day I strive to bring this same message of grace and hope to those who are hurt and wounded by the work of Satan. Having been humbled by the realization of my sinfulness, I appreciate that people need a soft place to fall and loving arms to grab them, help them up and turn them towards Christ. As much as anything else, this is the role and responsibility of the Church today. Living as a community belonging to Christ brings with it awesome blessings and very real responsibilities. Foremost among these responsibilities is to live out Jesus’ mission in our families, schools, work places and communities. Helping the Church to catch this vision, and then motivating and equipping them to pursue it, is one of the primary roles of a teacher and equipper. It is a role and responsibility that I am passionate about pursuing.

 

MISSIONAL SMALL GROUPS: BECOMING A COMMUNITY THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD

 

MISSIONAL SMALL GROUPS: BECOMING A COMMUNITY THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD

 

An Interaction Paper

Presented to Professor Eddie Randolph

Harding University Graduate School of Religion

Memphis, Tennessee

 

As a Requirement in

Course 5902

Ministry and Community through Small Groups

 

By

Jeremy Schopper

October 15, 2012

 

This book was at once precise and clear as mud. I think the author’s thesis or summary statement is found on p.11 when he writes that “we need to re-envision a way to empower normal groups led by normal group leaders that are full of normal followers of Christ to listen to God and live in such a way that they impact the world around them.” From what I can tell, this also appears to be a general descriptive statement for the “missional” movement.

Returning to my initial statement . . . the second section entitled “Practicing” was considerably more helpful and practical. The problem was getting to this material. I believe I understand the author’s intentions when he (over)used the word rhythm. I think he was referring to a mindset or way of thinking. Though I am not completely sold on it, I appreciate his desire to promote the “missional” approach to church and evangelism. At a minimum there is a great deal of value that us traditional “attractionalists” ought to take note of. However, it seems that he spent four chapters and approximately fifty pages repeating the same message that he could have communicated in about ten pages. Before you peg me as strictly pragmatic, I greatly value theory, deeper thought and reflective writing; I just didn’t find much in this text.

One other specific challenge I found with the text was the practical application and implementation of all that Boren is proposing. For example, he is calling for Christians to maintain small groups that exist in the context of neighborhoods and conduct their missional-based ministries within the lives of the people of the neighborhood. The trouble is determining how that plays out exactly. Given the physical nature of most congregations, it seems unlikely that the small group participants would all be from the same neighborhood. So the question is, which neighborhood does the group focus on? That is just one specific question that appears to go unanswered.

As a brief digression, I found it interesting that Boren often made comments that eluded to an understanding and agreement with Hellerman’s “When the Church was a Family.” It’s almost as if he had read the book before writing his own. For example, on page twenty-two, he refers to the idea that Westerners have “learned to live according to the drumbeat of rugged individualism.”

All these negative comments having been shared, there is great value in this text. There is one general theme that I appreciate most. After having read this text, I have so much more to think about, pray over and consider. The reality is that I do think that the “missional” approach to ministry to most reflective of, and patterned after Jesus’ own ministry. What I have not yet determined is whether that should be formative for the church at all times and in all cultures. Jesus’ approach of taking his message and ministry to the people was necessary for the time. It seems clear that an “attractional” approach would not have worked—the incumbents were too entrenched. That being said, Paul’s ministry was not entirely “missional” in nature. In fact, I would say that it was a mixture of both. This book has forced me to think through these issues and help lead our church do to the same.

The Date Deuteronomy

The last decade has been one of great turmoil in the field of documentary studies. Many of the most cherished ideas of the classic documentary theory have been put in serious question by mainline critical scholars. According to the classic theory popularized by Wellhausen in 1878 there are four main sources in the Pentateuch: J from the tenth century BC, E from the ninth, D(euteronomy) from the seventh and P from the late sixth century. But in recent years the very existence of an independent E document has been questioned,[1] and it has been forcefully argued that P, supposedly the latest source, is really an earlier source perhaps contemporary with J and certainly before D(euteronomy).[2] Pleading for a new look at the whole question of pentateuchal critical theory, Rendtorff, Professor of Old Testament at the University of Heidelberg, observed: ‘We possess hardly any reliable criteria for dating pentateuchal literature. Every dating of the pentateuchal “sources” rests on purely hypothetical assumptions which only have any standing through the consensus of scholars.'[3]

But in the whirlpool of conflicting modern theories one point in the critical consensus has escaped serious challenge: namely, the date of Deuteronomy. It is well-nigh universally assumed by mainstream scholarship that Deuteronomy was written in the late seventh century and should be associated with Josiah’s reform c. 622 BC. This assumption is obvious in the two of the most significant recent works on Deuteronomy published in English: M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (1972) and R. Polzin, Moses and the Deuteronomist (1980), and in A. D. H. Mayes’ New Century Bible commentary on Deuteronomy (1979). One will read these works in vain for a clear statement of why these scholars believe Deuteronomy was written in the seventh century: this dating is simply such a central element in critical tradition that it is not regarded as necessary to state the reasons for it, let alone defend them.

On the other hand conservatives have persistently tried to argue for a much earlier date for Deuteronomy, indeed often for a Mosaic origin of the book. Yet their arguments, even when cogently presented, have fallen on deaf ears: critical scholars may list conservative works in their bibliographies, but they rarely take the trouble to interact with them.

It is the purpose of this article to explore the basic arguments for and against a seventh-century date of Deuteronomy. To try to discover what are the reasons for the critical consensus on the one side and conservative opposition on the other. To ask whether there are any firm grounds for holding one position rather than another, or whether this is just another area where Rendtorff’s dictum, ‘every dating of pentateuchal sources rests on purely hypothetical assumptions’, holds good.

 

Conservative presuppositions

Let us begin by outlining the basic assumptions that underlie conservative arguments for the antiquity of Deuteronomy. The first and obvious point is that Deuteronomy claims to be the last words of Moses. Deuteronomy consists of three sermons (chs. 1-4, 5-28, 29-30) and two poems (32, 33) ascribed to him. Not only is Moses said to have uttered most of Deuteronomy, he is also said to have written down ‘this law’. ‘Moses wrote this law, and gave it to the priests’ (3 1:9; cf 31:24). Admittedly it is not exactly clear what ‘this law’ consisted of, but the most obvious candidate is the oral exposition of the law given by Moses in Deuteronomy.

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It is important to notice that the presentation of the law in Deuteronomy is different in character from that found in the earlier books of the Pentateuch. Most of the laws in Exodus to Numbers are represented as having been revealed to Moses: they are usually introduced by the remark ‘the LORD said to Moses’, but it is rare for it to be said that Moses wrote them down (Ex. 24:4; 34:28). It is never said of the great mass of laws mediated by Moses in Leviticus and Numbers that he wrote them down. But the law of Deuteronomy is presented differently: here Moses paraphrases the law in his own words: ‘[he] undertook to explain this law’ (Dt. 1:5). He puts the legislation into his own words, he describes Israel’s history from his personal perspective as leader, and he is expressly said to have written down ‘this law’. In other words the claim to be of Mosaic, as opposed to just of divine, origin is much clearer in the book of Deuteronomy than in the preceding books.

In interpreting these exegetical facts about the book conservatives have generally been guided by another assumption. This is that ‘all Scripture is inspired of God’ (2 Tim. 3:16), or in the words of the Nicene creed that the Holy Spirit ‘spoke through the prophets’ and that it is hard to imagine the Spirit of truth to have inspired a pseudo-Moses to write Deuteronomy by pretending in a very thorough fashion to be Moses. The author professes to have been with Israel in the wilderness, to have received the law on Mount Sinai, to have interceded for Israel after they made the golden calf, to have led the conquest of Transjordan, and so on. The integrity at least of these statements seems to be thrown in question if Deuteronomy is in no sense a Mosaic work, but simply the creation of someone unknown living many centuries afterwards.

Given these pieces of evidence and their assumptions about the nature of inspiration, conservatives have tenaciously defended at least a Mosaic core to the book of Deuteronomy. This I believe is a perfectly legitimate way for theologians to proceed. ‘I believe in order to understand’, said Anselm, And in the realm of critical biblical study this approach to theology often takes the form of defending Scripture against the doubts of unbelievers. It is difficult very often to offer positive proof of biblical statements, so apologetics must needs take the form of a defensive operation in an attempt to show the doubts are ill-founded. For more than a century mainline biblical scholarship has judged conservative arguments in support of the Mosaicity of the Pentateuch to be unconvincing. And this is part of the reason why a seventh-century date has become a dogma in liberal critical scholarship, a tradition passed on from generation to generation without really reflecting on alternative possibilities.

 

Liberal presuppositions

Why then is the case for Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy ignored by mainline scholars? Not because they deny the exegetical facts just set out: they would freely admit that Deuteronomy professes to come from Moses. It is rather because they do not take a conservative view of inspiration and believe, because everybody else seems to say so, that there is an overwhelming case for Deuteronomy’s seventh-century composition.

Some scholars simply do not believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible: certainly Wellhausen fell into this camp, so it was easy for him to accept that Deuteronomy was fictitious. However the majority of biblical critics do believe that the Bible is in some sense the word of God: in the case of Deuteronomy we have an example of the inspired imagination of a later writer addressing the problem of his own generation. In order to persuade his hearers he clothed his message in the dress of Israel’s greatest lawgiver and prophet. This practice of pseudonymous writing was both widespread and respectable in ancient Israel, it is maintained. Therefore it is not difficult to envisage the Spirit of God using such devices to gain acceptance of this vital message.

Now though this view of inspiration cannot be ruled out as an impossibility, if it is indeed true that pseudonymity was an accepted convention in biblical times, there is little clear evidence within Scripture for it being so accepted. There are certainly plenty of works outside the biblical canon which are pseudonymous, and it might well be surmised that one reason they never received canonical status was their patent pseudonymity.

The postulate that pseudonymity was respectable in biblical times and that the Spirit might therefore have inspired some great unknown to pretend to be Moses or Isaiah or whoever, is not based on a large number of provenly pseudonymous works within the canon, rather it rests on the assumption that Deuteronomy and other books such as Daniel are clearly not from the time they pretend to portray. Because the canonizing authorities were prepared to accept books like Deuteronomy though they knew them to be fictitious, that shows they did not disapprove of such productions. In other words the liberal belief that pseudonymous authorship was respectable arises from the dating assigned to these books, not from evidence outside these works. It therefore becomes the more important to examine the nature of the arguments for the date of Deuteronomy. For not only is the history of Israel’s religion seriously altered by these theories but also our whole view of inspiration. But to discover the reasons scholars hold a seventh-century date of Deuteronomy is more difficult than might be anticipated, for it is one of the most deeply rooted assumptions of critical scholarship.

 

The assumption of a seventh-century date

Reading many works on Deuteronomy one is frequently struck by the way a seventh-century date is presupposed rather than argued for. For example G. von Rad in his Studies in Deuteronomy (1948) and his commentary (1964) invokes the holy war ideology of the book in support of its late date. Deuteronomy pictures the conquest of Canaan as a holy war in which all Israel is mobilized and led by God in a great campaign to destroy all foreigners and their forms of worship. This, says von Rad, bespeaks a period when the nation could not afford a professional army because royal funds were low. What more likely time than the seventh century BC when Judah was impoverished by Assyrian imposts and Josiah was fighting to regain long-lost territory? Deuteronomy was a suitable book to stir up enthusiasm for such a cause.

But on further reflection this is a somewhat flimsy argument. There is little, if any, evidence in the book of Kings of a

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radical reorganization of the army in Josiah’s time. The undoubted holy war ideology of Deuteronomy could be held to reflect a much earlier period in Israelite history, e.g. the time of the judges, for Deborah and Samuel certainly believed in the holy war principle according to Judges 4-5 and 1 Samuel 15. It would therefore be possible to turn von Rad’s observations on their head and say that they demonstrate the antiquity of the book. I think we really know too little about the history of these ideas and institutions to use them to date the literature of the Old Testament. But the fact that von Rad put forward these observations so confidently as confirmation of Deuteronomy’s late date illustrates again how strongly he has been influenced by the consensus of scholarship.

Similarly Weinfeld’s detailed work proceeds on the assumption of a seventh-century date and so he cites parallels between Assyrian treaty curses and those in Deuteronomy as confirmation of the latter’s late date.[4] The fact that such curses are well attested in Mesopotamian legal literature long before the seventh century receives scant attention,[5] nor the fact that in over-all structure the book of Deuteronomy is much closer to a second-millennium treaty or collection of laws than to first-millennium texts.[6] Like von Rad Weinfeld assumes a seventh-century dating of Deuteronomy and interprets the new data in the light of that assumption.

Again one should admit the legitimacy of this procedure. It is what we all do most of the time. We are constantly fitting new pieces of information into our existing preconceptions and world view. One person may listen to the news and have his basic pessimism about human nature confirmed, another may hear the same broadcast and have his optimism reinforced. One sees oppression, the other sees the compassion that moves men to help the oppressed.

But from time to time it is necessary to ask ultimate questions, and this is constantly being done in theology courses. Students are constantly being made to ask whether their assumptions about God, the world, and salvation are correct. Conservative students are frequently told that their assumptions about the inspiration and reliability of Scripture are certainly not correct. All sorts of critical theories are put forward and evaluated, yet though many aspects of pentateuchal criticism are currently under review, strangely the date of Deuteronomy is rarely debated. Yet according to Wellhausen, ‘Deuteronomy is the starting point, not in the sense that without it it would be impossible to accomplish anything but only because, when its position has been historically ascertained, we cannot decline to go on, but must demand that the position of the Priestly Code should also be fixed by reference to history.'[7] Put more simply: fix the date of Deuteronomy and then date the rest of the Pentateuch by comparison with it. J and E must be written before it and P after it. Today some deny that P was composed after Deuteronomy, but everyone would agree that the dating of Deuteronomy most profoundly affects our understanding of the history of Old Testament religion and literature. The influence of Deuteronomy’s ideas and language is so pervasive in the Old Testament that it makes a tremendous difference to our evaluation of the development of Israelite theology[8] whether we ascribe the book to the Mosaic or Josianic eras.

 

Arguments for a seventh-century date

So what are the real arguments for a seventh-century date that first led to the establishment of this critical consensus? To discover them one needs to return to the literature of the nineteenth century, especially the works of de Wette and Wellhausen[9] in Germany and Driver[10] in Britain. It comes as something of a surprise considering how much has been built on the seventh-century dating to find what a narrow basis it rests on.

There are essentially two key arguments: the language of Deuteronomy and its demand for the centralization of worship. The style of Deuteronomy, a rhetorical or preaching style with various characteristic words or phrases, markedly resembles other works which must date from the late seventh or early sixth centuries BC. The most obvious parallels are found in the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel and in 2 Kings. An elaboration of this theory is Noth’s[11] theory of a Deuteronomic history. This holds that Deuteronomy is not so much the last book of the Pentateuch, but the first volume in a history comprising Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. It is, I think, undeniable that the language and style of Deuteronomy have close affinities with some books undoubtedly written about 600 BC. Whether this is sufficient grounds for holding that Deuteronomy must also have been written then, we shall return to later.

The second and historically more important reason for holding that Deuteronomy is a seventh-century work is its attitude to the central sanctuary. Until the time of King Josiah people worshipped, whether legally or not is unclear, at the temple in Jerusalem and at high places, village shrines scattered up and down the land. But then Josiah, perhaps following the earlier attempt of Hezekiah, abolished all the local high places and insisted that sacrifice be offered only in the Jerusalem temple. An English equivalent would be the destruction of all the English parish churches and the limitation of worship to Westminster Abbey. Josiah’s innovations are described in 2 Kings 23.

Now de Wette, Wellhausen and their successors associate this Josianic reformation with the book of Deuteronomy. This orders Israel to destroy all the Canaanite shrines when they enter the land. They must instead ‘seek the place which the LORD your God will choose… to put his name and make his habitation there’ (Dt. 12:5). This is where Israel must offer sacrifice and celebrate the national pilgrimage festivals of passover, pentecost and tabernacles (ch. 16). Evidently then ‘the place which the LORD will choose’ is Deuteronomy’s term for the national central sanctuary. However Deuteronomy never names the chosen place or gives any indication that it should be identified with Jerusalem.

This, it is argued, is quite understandable: the author of Deuteronomy realized that it would be anachronistic to have Moses specify Jerusalem as the central shrine when it was not captured by Israel till the time of David. He preferred to use the discreet code name ‘the place which the LORD will choose’, which was perfectly clear to the men of Josiah’s time and did not make it so obvious that Moses was not the real author of Deuteronomy. The book’s insistence on limiting all worship to the one place shows that it was written either as the programme for, or in justification of, Josiah’s reforms. In further support of this hypothesis it is pointed out that in the

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course of the reform a book of the law was found in the temple. This again is customarily identified with some version of Deuteronomy, and it is implied that the book, recently written, had been deliberately planted in the temple to encourage or justify the reforms that had been undertaken.

 

Reopening the question

Language and centralization are thus the two key arguments for the late date of Deuteronomy. The other reasons often adduced for dating the book to the seventh century, e.g. holy war, treaty curses, relationship with the book of Proverbs, are equivocal: they are just as compatible with an earlier date. With the present openness in so many areas of pentateuchal criticism, it seems opportune to look again at this most central area of study. If we have not already irrevocably prejudged the issue of Deuteronomy’s date of composition, what would we conclude on the basis of our present knowledge? Clearly in a brief article these issues cannot be dealt with with the thoroughness they deserve: it is written in the hope that it will help those trying to think through these issues from scratch and perhaps provoke some to further work in these areas.

Six areas need to be thoroughly re-examined in any reconsideration of the date of Deuteronomy: its language, its relationship to ancient oriental legal texts, its view of the central sanctuary, its religious ideology, its marriage laws, and its use in Jerusalem. Few of these areas have been thoroughly discussed in recent literature, at least in so far as their implications for the date of Deuteronomy are concerned, so my observations must necessarily be provisional rather than definitive, an agenda for further research rather than the last word on these issues.

 

Language

Does the language of Deuteronomy with its obvious affinities with Jeremiah and 2 Kings demand a seventh-century date? It must be admitted that such a date of composition could explain Deuteronomy’s style, but it seems that this is rather too simple an explanation for a number of reasons.

First, it is characteristic of religious language to be conservative and to retain Older forms of expression long after popular speech has changed. For 350 years the language of the Authorized Version and the prayer book has dominated religious usage in England: it is only in the last few years that it has been felt to be inappropriate to address God as ‘thou’, for example, and the traditional form of the Lord’s Prayer is still the form most people use. It could be that a similar tendency is at work in the Old Testament: the prophets and religious leaders were consciously or unconsciously using a ‘biblical’ style of speech, because they were speaking on religious subjects and seeking to appeal to their hearers’ respect for old tradition.

Second, it is characteristic of the literary languages of the ancient Near East to adopt the spoken dialect of a particular period and for this to remain unchanged for centuries, even though the spoken language alters. Old Babylonian was the form of Akkadian spoken in Babylon in the old Babylonian period 1900-1600 BC. In it the great classical texts such as the laws of Hammurapi or the epic of Atrahasis were composed. Subsequently, though the spoken language changed, later scribes tried to imitate the old Babylonian as best they could (so-called standard Babylonian), so that a type of old Babylonian remained the standard written language of Mesopotamia for a millennium after the spoken language had changed.

There was evidently a similar development in Egypt. There were five Egyptian dialects and the second, Middle Egyptian, was adopted as the official written language. Kitchen writes, ‘Middle Egyptian was perhaps the vernacular of dynasties 9-11 (2200-2000 BC) and was used universally for written records during the Middle Kingdom and Early New Kingdom periods (to c. 1300 BC) and continued in use in official texts in a slightly modified form as late as Graeco-Roman days).[12] In other words Middle Egyptian was the spoken language between 2200 and 2000 BC, the universal written language until 1300 and widely used until about 100 BC.

If in Babylon and Egypt the spoken language of one period survived for 1,000 years as the national written language, might not the same be true in Israel? The sparsity of Hebrew inscriptions from Old Testament times unfortunately makes this hypothesis impossible to demonstrate, but it is certainly no less likely than the theory that anything reminiscent of deuteronomic style must have been written within fifty years of 600 BC. If one could affirm a Mosaic date for Deuteronomy, the fact that Jeremiah and 2 Kings continue to use deuteronomistic language would suggest that the history of Hebrew does indeed resemble that of Akkadian and Egyptian.

There is, of course, evidence within the Old Testament that deuteronomic style survived long after the seventh century. Ezra’s prayer (Ne. 9:6-37) is a good example of deuteronomic style, as is Daniel’s (9:4-19). Ezra’s prayer dates from about 430 BC; Daniel’s from about 520 on a conservative view (about 170 BC on a liberal view, which would be four centuries after Jeremiah). Now if it be admitted that deuteronomic style may have persisted a few centuries after 600 BC, may it not be that it was invented some while before 600 BC?

In fact there is some long-neglected evidence which / suggests that not simply deuteronomic style, but some form of the book of Deuteronomy itself was known in the eighth century. It is well known that the earliest writing prophets, Hosea and Amos, show many traces of deuteronomic style and apparent allusions to Deuteronomy. Modern commentators generally ascribe these deuteronomisms to the ubiquitous deuteronomist, an editor who rewrote everything in deuteronomic style. Commentators like Wolff peel away the most obvious deuteronomisms and argue that what is left is the authentic voice of Amos and Hosea. However, these commentators do not do a thorough enough job. If every trace of Deuteronomy were eliminated from these early prophets, there would be hardly anything left. This has been recognized in the recent massive Hosea commentary by Andersen and Freedman. They recognize that the deuteronomic elements of the book are integral to Hosea’s message. They state: ‘Hosea’s discourses are threaded with Deuteronomic ideas in a way that shows they were already authoritative in Israel.'[13] And in the course of their commentary they show how at many points Hosea uses deuteronomic ideas. However they do not exhaust the scope of this study. Had they consulted E. W. Hengstenberg’s Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch (183 1-39 ET 1847), they would

[p.19]

have found many more examples of where Hosea and Amos apparently quote or allude to Deuteronomy and indeed other books of the Pentateuch.[14]

Recently, too, the doyen of Hebrew philology, C. Rabin,[15]has also pressed the case for Deuteronomy being composed before Hosea and Amos. On the grounds of discourse analysis Rabin argues that Deuteronomy has the form of a prophetic sermon, yet prophetic sermons from Amos onwards adopt a clearly poetic style. Deuteronomy’s style is like that of earlier prophets such as Samuel and Elijah. Thus a late date for the book must be excluded. Rabin’s article, though written with great authority, is tantalizingly brief and leaves many questions unanswered. It does though suggest new methods of approaching an old problem.

The same too could be said of Rendsburg’s(16) article in which he argues that the Hebrew of the Pentateuch is distinctively archaic in certain respects, e.g. its failure to distinguish the masculine and feminine in some words. ‘The Pentateuch as a whole would by necessity be dated earlier than the composition of Joshua, Judges, etc.'[16] Weippert’s study of Jeremiah’s sermons is also important in showing that his prose style cannot be simply identified with that of Deuteronomy or the deuteronomists.[17]

On balance then it seems likely that the deuteronomic language was not a phenomenon restricted to the late seventh/early sixth centuries BC, but that it persisted much longer. It could indeed have been the preferred style of explicitly religious texts for a long while in Israel. Certainly the evidence of the prophets Amos and Hosea is most easily explained on the basis of at least some form of Deuteronomy antedating their preaching and being known to them.

 

Ancient legal texts parallelling Deuteronomy

Another indication of Deuteronomy’s relative antiquity is provided by Near Eastern legal texts. In the 1960s a number of scholars pointed[18] to the parallels between Deuteronomy and ancient oriental treaties, most notably those from the Hittite archives (sixteenth-thirteenth centuries BC) and Assyrian texts (eighth-seventh centuries). It was quickly observed that Deuteronomy markedly resembles a treaty text, especially the earlier Hittite treaty. This can be most easily seen in a table.

 

Early (Hittite)
treaty
Deuteronomy Late (Assyrian)
treaty
Preamble Preamble 1:1-4 Preamble
Historical introduction History 1:5 – 3:29 God list
Stipulations Stipulations chs: 4-26 Stipulations
Document clause
God list
Document clause ch. 27  
Curses/blessings Blessings/curses ch. 28 Curses (Blessings)

 

The most obvious difference between the second-millennium Hittite treaty and the first-millennium Assyrian treaty is the presence of a historical section and document clause in the former and their absence in the latter. In both these respects Deuteronomy resembles the earlier Hittite treaty rather than the later one, so quite naturally conservatives like Kline and Kitchen argued that this proved the Mosaic date of Deuteronomy, c. 1280 BC being the most widely accepted date of the Exodus.

However, those brought up in the tradition of a seventh-century date for Deuteronomy were unpersuaded. They pointed out that not all Hittite treaties had document clauses, and that possibly one Assyrian treaty had an historical prologue.[19] On these grounds they held that one could not really postulate a marked change in the pattern of treaties between the second and first millennium, so the argument from treaty parallels proves little about the date of Deuteronomy.[20]

In his book Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, Weinfeld underlined very thoroughly Deuteronomy’s affinities with the treaties. He also observed that early second-millennium legal collections closely resembled the form of Deuteronomy,[21] so that it seems likely that there was a standard pattern used for a variety of legal documents. Again one can best display the evidence diagrammatically.

 

Early (Hittite)
treay
Law collection
eg. Laws of Hammurapi
c. 1750 BC
Deuteronomy
Preamble    
History History History 1-3
Stipulations Laws Laws 4-26
Document clause
God list
Document clause Document clause 27
Curses/blessings Blessings/curses Blessings/curses 28

 

If there is a close resemblance between Deuteronomy and Hittite treaties there is an even closer one between Deuteronomy and early second-millennium collections of law. Note the absence of a god list in both, and the order of blessings and curses. In both Deuteronomy and oriental legal collections blessings precede curses, whereas in treaties the order is reversed.

It is again striking how the arrangement of material in Deuteronomy resembles early collections of law rather than the later Middle Assyrian laws or neo-Babylonian laws, both admittedly incomplete. However this would again appear to point to the antiquity of Deuteronomy rather than its lateness.

Weinfeld however, assuming a seventh-century date for Deuteronomy, minimizes the force of these observations. The continuity of Near Eastern legal traditions means that very little should be built on the apparent changes of form: these changes may simply reflect the accidents of discovery. We have several collections of law from the early period, few from the late. Had we more information we could be more dogmatic. Furthermore the close parallels between some of the curses of Deuteronomy and some found in Esarhaddon’s vassal treaties show that the authors of Deuteronomy were well aware of neo-Assyrian (i.e. seventh-century) treaty-drafting techniques. This confirms the usual dating of Deuteronomy.

But it must be said that this again suggests the data is being manipulated to fit in with an assumption of a seventh-century dating. If the continuity of Near Eastern legal tradition allows one to dismiss the resemblance between the laws of Hammurapi (1750 BC) and Deuteronomy as insignificant, it surely forbids one to make too much of the correspondences between some seventh-century treaty curses and Deuteronomy. Could these not reflect an old and long tradition too, as D. J. Wiseman maintained?[22] Weinfeld certainly has not proved that the deuteronomic curses could

[p.20]

have been derived only from a seventh-century Assyrian text. And even if that were demonstrated, it would merely show that Deuteronomy’s curses had been expanded then, not necessarily that the whole book was composed then. On balance then it seems to me that the parallels between Deuteronomy and early treaties and legal collections suggest an early date for the book, though, as so often in biblical studies, this falls short of definite proof.

The parallels with treaties and law codes is important for another reason though: they show that chapter 27 is an integral part of the book. It corresponds to the document clause of the treaties and legal collections, because it insists that the laws be inscribed on stones at a sanctuary (vv. 3-8). That this chapter really belongs to the book and at this point in it is confirmed also by the many typically deuteronomic phrases within it, and its place in the book’s over-all structure. Lohfink[23] pointed out that material in chapters 12-28 inverts the order of material introducing the section in 11:26-32:

 

A 11:26-28 Blessing and curse
B 29-31 Mounts Ebal and Gerizim
C 32 ‘Statutes and ordinances’
C’ 12:1 – 26:19 ‘Statutes and ordinances’
B’ 27:1-26 Mounts Ebal and Gerizim
A’ 28:1-68 Blessing and curse

This mirror-image pattern ABCC’B’A’ is typical of Hebrew literary techniques and indicates that chapter 27 is an indispensable element within the book. This is important to bear in mind as we consider the place of the central sanctuary in Deuteronomy. (to be continued)

 

References

[1] E.g. J. van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven: Yale UP, 1975); C. Westermann, Genesis (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1974-82); G. W. Coats, Genesis with an Introduction to Narrative Literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983); Y. T. Radday et al, ‘Genesis, Wellhausen and the Computer’, Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 94 (1982), pp. 467-481).

[2] E.g. A. Hurvitz, A Linguistic Study of the Relationship between the Priestly Source and the Book of Ezekiel (Paris: Gabalda, 1982); Z. Zevit, ‘Converging Lines of Evidence Bearing on the Date of P’, Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 94 (1982), pp. 481-511. For a summary of the main arguments see also G. J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 8-13, and also Numbers (Leicester: IVP, 1981), pp. 21-24.

[3] R. Rendtorff, Dos überlieferungsgeschichtliche Problem des Pentateuch (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1977), p. 169. Surveys of Deuteronomy criticism: S. Loersch, Das Deuteronomium und seine Deutungen (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1967); H. D. Preuss, Deuteronomium (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1982).

[4] M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), pp. 116-146; cf his earlier article, ‘Traces of Assyrian Treaty Formulae in Deuteronomy’, Biblica 46 (1965), pp. 417-427; R. Frankena, ‘The Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon and the Dating of Deuteronomy’, Oudtestamentische Studien 14 (1965), pp. 122-154.

[5] For an exception, cf D. R. Hillers, Treaty Curses and the OT Prophets (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1964): ‘One cannot explain both the resemblances and differences by naively supposing that an Israelite writer got this curse from an Assyrian treaty’ (p. 42); ‘One could make out a better case for saying that the Bible preserves an older form of the curse’ (p. 42 n. 21).

[6] Cf M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), pp. 27-44; K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and OT (London: IVP, 1966), pp. 90-102.

[7] J. Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel (1878 ET Cleveland: Meridian, 1961), p. 13.

[8] Cf my forthcoming article ‘Development within the OT Law’.

[9] In many respects Welihausen’s ideas in his Prolegomena were not new, especially with regard to the dating of Deuteronomy and the unreliability of Chronicles. W. M. L. de Wette, Beiträgezur Einleitung in dos Alte Testament I-II (Halle: 1806-7) first proposed many of the key arguments. Wellhausen simply ignored the very thorough replies given by conservative scholars to de Wette’s views. However there is still much of great value in such early conservative works as: E. W. Hengstenberg, Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch (183 1-39 ET Edinburgh, 1847), and C. F. Keil, Apologetischer Versuch über die Bücher der Chronik und über die Integrität des Buches Ezra (Berlin: Oehmigke, 1833).

[10] S.R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the OT (Edinburgh: Clark, 1891); A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Deuteronomy (Edinburgh: Clark, 1895).

[11] M. Noth, The Deuteronomic History (1957 ET Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981).

[12] K. A. Kitchen, New BibleDictionary (London: IVP, 1962), p. 339.

[13] F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Hosea (Garden City: Doubleday, 1980), p. 75.

[14] E. W. Hengstenberg, Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch I (Edinburgh: 1847), pp. 107 ff.; cf E. W. Pusey, The Minor Prophets with a Commentary (London: Smith, 1883), p. 6, and D. K. Stuart, ‘The OT Prophets’ Self-Understanding of Their Prophecy’, Themelios 6 (1980), pp. 9-14. On Hosea Stuart writes: ‘There is no passage in the book that does not have the Mosaic Scripture as its basis’ (p. 11).

[15] C. Rabin, ‘Discourse Analysis and the Dating of Deuteronomy’, in J. A. Emerton and S. C. Reif, Interpreting the Hebrew Bible: Essays in honour of E. I. J. Rosenthal (Cambridge: UP, 1982), pp. 171-177.

[16] G A. Rendsburg, ‘A New Look at Pentateuchal HW’, Biblica 63 (1982), pp. 351-369, quotation p. 366.

[17] Weippert, Die Prosareden des Jeremiabuches (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1973).

[18] M G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: K. Baltzer, Das Bundesformular (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1960); D. J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1963); K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and OT.

[19] A F. Campbell, ‘An Historical Prologue in a Seventh-Century Treaty’, Biblica 50 (1969), pp. 534-535.

[20] The argument is addressed most fully by D. J. McCarthy in Treaty and Covenant, pp. 80-140.

[21] M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, pp. 146-151. I had earlier and more briefly made the same observation in my article ‘Trends in Pentateuchal Criticism’, The Churchman 84 (1970), p. 219.

[22] D J. Wiseman, ‘The Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon’, Iraq 20 (1958), pp. 26-27.

[23] N Lohfink, Das Hauptgebot (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1963), p. 234.

 

Life Together

What a terrific book! On the back cover Richard Foster says that “most books can be skimmed quickly; some deserve careful reading; a precious few should be devoured and digested.” I concur. I am looking forward to reading the book for a second time; and I have already begun planning where I can fit this material into my preaching schedule for next year.

Instead of filling these pages doting on Bonhoeffer’s wisdom, insight and depth, I will take a moment to question one of his assumptions and applications of the Christian community. I had some trouble digesting chapter two, “The Day with Others.” I had two concerns that kept coming to mind as I read. First, if I were convinced it was appropriate to do so, how would his suggestions be practically applied in today’s western culture? Perhaps that’s the point . . . it can’t be, because our culture is too individualistic and has corrupted Biblical community?

The second concern is more fundamental in nature and difficult to resolve. Another quote from the back cover of the book: “it reads like one of Paul’s letters.” I would say that this chapter in particular fits this category. Bonhoeffer highlights his vision for what a day in the life of community looks like. In this case, that the chapter reads like a letter from Paul is not necessarily a good thing. Though he may be full of the Spirit, he is likely not inspired by Him to write authoritative literature for any Christian fellowship or community; which is what it seems like he presumes to do. For example, I found his instruction (p. 63) for the prayer at the end of the devotion (to be lead by the head of the family) to be somewhat difficult, if not troubling. He appears to be basing his ideal of a Christian community on the earlier monastic lifestyles. I must confess that I have not yet resolved my thinking on this. I appreciate that given the situation and culture he lived in (while writing this book) was different and difficult to say the least. Perhaps this group of Christians needed devout and strong leadership? Perhaps, with that in mind, it was God’s will that Bonhoeffer presume to make such strong claims?

This all having been said, I will repeat my initial comment; what a terrific book! As I skimmed back through the book I noticed that I did the most highlighting and note taking in chapters one, four and five. Well, so much for that thought on highlighting select chapters, those actually comprise three-fifths of the entire book.

I was particularly impressed with a comment found on page twenty-seven where Bonhoeffer states that “he enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.” This quote is quite convicting and serves as a great reminder that as I help in leading one of the Lord’s congregations, I lead at His pleasure, for His glory and it is in fact His church and not my own. We must guard against creating a vision of what we hope for community to be and instead exist solely within the reality of what Jesus has created.

Finally, as I mentioned previously, I am already looking forward to preaching some of the material from this text. I found chapter four to be of particular value. The seven “ministries” that Bonhoeffer shares are full of terrific insight and will work well as a sermon series with small group curriculum.