Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 11)

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In the last post of this series on Proverbs, we looked at the first of two parts dealing with the theological framework of Proverbs. With this post, we will examine the second part.

B. The three emphases of Proverbs and its theological framework.

1. Proverbs’ practical orientation

In conformity with other wisdom literature, Proverbs has a practical orientation (Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral, p. 192). The wisdom of Proverbs is especially addressed to the youths of Israel. As such, they needed to be encouraged about subjects such as acceptable speech and etiquette (Prov 29:20), domestic relationships (10:1), self-control (25:28), material possessions (10:22, 11:4), and the certainty of divine retribution (11:21; 16:4; 20:22; 26:26–27). The practical nature of wisdom literature is reflected by Kidner’s arrangement of the content of Proverbs around these eight subjects: God and man, wisdom, fools, sluggards, friends, words, the family, and life and death (Proverbs, pp. 31-56; for other topical arrangements, see also Ross [“Proverbs,” in vol. 5 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 897–903], Voorwinde [Wisdom for Today’s Issues: A Topical Arrangement of the Proverbs], and Woodcock [Proverbs: A Topical Study]).

2. Proverbs’ emphasis on one having a complete dependence on God

Proverbs, like other wisdom literature, emphasizes that one must have a complete dependence on God. Since God is a Sovereign who with His absolute control of everything (16:1, 4, 9) permits the godly, wise person to experience suffering and difficulty as a part of His discipline (3:11–12). This teaching in Proverbial theology should force the believer to recognize with a humble and believing spirit his limitations and God’s complete control of life (21:1). This is demonstrated from three theological observations.

a. Proverbs and the Mosaic Covenant

Proverbs sets forth that wisdom is predicated on the Mosaic Covenant. This is demonstrated by the fact that the instruction in places such as Proverbs 3:1-12 and 4:4-5 are predicated upon a father’s teachings being consistent with the Torah (cf. Prov 3:3 with Deut 6:6-8). We should also notice how genuine obedience results in blessing (cf. Deut 6:24 with Prov 3:9-10) and disobedience disgrace and judgment (Prov 10:16, 21; 19:3, 9). Since God is the One bringing the results according to His time schedule (cf. Prov 3:1-10 with vv. 11-12), one must live his life in an environment of faithful obedience to the covenant.

b. Proverbs’ personifying wisdom and God

The book of Proverbs has a tendency to personify wisdom as an attribute and extension of God. This is “seen in one sense as a ‘craftsman’ standing alongside of and aiding the God of creation (Prov 8:29-30), as a female teacher inviting students to learn from her at the gates of the city (Prov 1:20-21; 8:1-36) and as a hostess inviting people to her banquet (9:1-12). Wisdom is contrasted with the adulteress (2:16-19; 7:6-27) and with a foolish hostess (9:13-18)” (Osborne, Hermeneutical, p. 193). Since this type of wisdom comes from God, we must look to Him for this.

c. Proverbs and the fear of God

Proverbs has a strong emphasis on fearing God. Though the fear of God is not found exclusively in Proverbs, or even wisdom literature (Deut 6:24), it does receive an emphasis in Proverbs (1:7; 3:7; 8:13; 16:6; 31:30). The Hebrew term for fear may be used in contexts that are of a legal nature, religious, or moral (Smith, “Is There a Place for Job’s Wisdom in Old Testament Theology?” p. 6). The focus of wisdom is in the moral realm. The fear of God denotes a relationship with God resulting in a morally pleasing lifestyle. In Proverbs 2:4-5 fearing God is correlated with knowing God. A result of this is that one hates evil in 8:13. Other practical results include qualities such as confidence (14:24), humility (3:7), and contentment (15:16). The Old Testament concept of the fear of God may be defined as an unconditional, reverential submission to the Sovereign LORD (ibid.).

3. Proverbs and creation theology

As wisdom literature, Proverbs has an emphasis on creation theology. This is seen in Proverbs 8 where God in His wisdom created the world (Prov 3:19-20; see also Job 38:4–7; Ps 104:24). The many references to God’s creative activities in Proverbs 8 set a dominant theme in the book, viz., God’s orderly design is the substance that holds life together. In Proverbs 30, the many comparisons between animals and man suggest that God control both. Proverbs’ creation theology also suggests that there is a connection between divine remuneration and retribution. Furthermore, God’s creative work as used in wisdom material is foundational for enjoying life. Man’s food, drink, work, youth, wife, and other privileges in this life are part of God’s creative design for man in this life (Prov 5:18; 10:1, 28; 12:4, 20; 29:2-3; in other wisdom literature, see Eccl 2:24-25; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:8-9; 12:1; Cant 1:4; 3:11). “The righteous, though part of the finite, creaturely world, can experience joy as part of God’s design in creation” (Zuck, “A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 219).

With my next couple of posts, I will cover the sixth principle for interpreting the book of Proverbs.

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What’s Wrong with Progressive Creationism?

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What does progressive creationism or the day-age view teach and why has interest in it grown over the past few years? In addition, how does this hypothesis compare with Scripture and science? Earlier today, Answers in Genesis placed online chapter 12 from The New Answers Book 2. In the chapter “What’s Wrong with Progressive Creationism,” Ken Ham and Terry Mortenson answer these introductory questions. To read this informative chapter, go here. In addition, let me encourage you to buy the whole book in which this chapter is found. Go to AIG’s store

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Death & Decay in Genesis 3

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When you study God’s perfect creation in Genesis 1, it is hard to harmonize it with the world that we live in today. However, Genesis 3 provides an explanation for our tension. So, after having looked at the creation of Adam and Eve, last Monday evening we examined Genesis 3, as well as a few other relevant biblical texts, to see how and when death and decay entered in the created order. The point of this examination is to demonstrate that disease, suffering, and death did not become a part of God’s good universe until God’s vice-regent, Adam ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Here are the three parts around which our discussion was organized:

I. Temptation leads to the fall by magnifying disobedience, 1–7.

II. God responds to the fall by announcing judgment, vv. 8–24.

III. The fall has a fourfold significance for Biblical Creationism.

With the first part of the lesson, we focused on Genesis 3:1-7. This text shows that the satanically-possessed serpent deceived Eve who became the first human sinner when she ate from the fruit in v. 6. However, we should carefully note that God’s curse on humanity and the created order did not occur when Eve ate but when Adam ate from the fruit, v. 6 (see 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and Romans 5:12-21). In addition, we demonstrated from Genesis 3:8-24 and other pertinent biblical texts that God’s announcement of judgment focused on Adam & Eve, their posterity, Satan & the serpent, the animal & plant kingdoms, and finally the whole creation.

Finally, we saw how the fall has a fourfold significance for biblical creationism. (1) The fall teaches that disease, suffering and death were not part of the created world over which Adam ruled before he ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (2) Because the created order was cursed at the fall (Rom 8:19–22), this means that Adam’s rule as God’s vice-regent would no longer be peaceful, but would be marked by hostility. (3) Since the fall is the time when disease and death started in the world, this rules out any form of evolution, its supposed Christian offshoot known as theistic evolution or its more current form known as progressive creationism, day-age view, the gap theory and framework interpretation. If any of these hypotheses are correct, Adam and Eve, prior to the fall, ruled over a graveyard of fossils and not the Garden of Eden. (4) As a righteous judge, God had to hold Adam accountable to the standards he had established. Therefore, God had to impose the curse on his creation. However, in the midst of judgment, God announced in microscopic form, Genesis 3:15, his provisions to bring blessing to His fallen world.

With our next lesson, we will look at the nature of the Noah’s flood.

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Creation of Adam and Eve

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Because of academic and domestic commitments, I have been delinquent in blogging about my Biblical Creation class. Nevertheless, I will return to our recent lesson that focused on the creation of Adam and Eve. With this post, I will summarize our discussion.

Our lesson had six parts:

I. God’s direct creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7

II. God’s direct creation of Eve in Genesis 2:18, 21–25

III. God’s creation of Adam and Eve in His image in Genesis 1:26–27

IV. God’s mandate to His image-bearers in Genesis 1:26, 28

V. The antiquity of God’s image-bearers

VI. God’s design in creating His image-bearers

To begin with, in Genesis 2:7 God formed man’s body “from the dust of the ground” followed by his breathing into his nostrils “the breath of life.” In Genesis 1:20-21, God also animates the animals with “the breath of life.” What makes God’s animating principle in man distinct from animals is that man is created as imago dei, a divine image bearer. Second,, we saw that a little later on day six, God took one of Adam’s ribs and formed his wife (Gen 2:21-22). Besides the creation of Eve in the image of God, we saw a number of truths that affirm God ordained the biblical roles for husband and wife before the fall. Further, Genesis 2:24–25 also teaches us much about marriage.

Third, when we looked at the first couple being created in the image of God, I argued that this means that humans are a representation and likeness of God in that they are personal, spiritual and moral beings. While people shares these qualities as finite, created beings, God has these qualities as the infinite Creator. Genesis 5:3 illustrates what it means to be created in someone else’s image and likeness. “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.” We should observe that “image” and “likeness” are used interchangeably in this verse. We should further note that Seth is not identical to Adam, but he is like Adam. As such, Seth is like and a representative of Adam but he is not Adam. In an analogous way, man is like and represents God, but he is most emphatically not God. In short, God is the infinite Creator and we are the finite creation. Fourth, God gave the dominion mandate to his image bearer’s. In Genesis 1:26, 28 there is a strong connection between one being in the image of God and one having dominion over the creatures of the earth. We highlighted six aspects of the dominion mandate: fill the earth (Gen 1:28), subdue the earth, rule over the animal kingdom, cultivate the garden (Gen 2:15), maintain a vegetarian diet (Gen 1:29-30; cf Gen 9:3), and abstain from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17).

Fifth, we looked at the antiquity of God’s image bearers. Before the nineteenth century, biblical genealogies, especially Genesis 5 and 11, were used as prima facie evidence to establish an age for the earth as well as the creation of man being only a few thousand years ago. There are three views we examined: (1) a strict chronological interpretation of Genesis 5 & 11 found in the Masoretic Texts, (2) a strict chronological interpretation of Genesis genealogies as supported from the Septuagint, and (3) gaps in the Genesis genealogies allowing for creation to be anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 years ago. As a result of reading Whitcomb and Morris’ The Genesis Flood, in the early 1970s, I had embraced this later view for many years. However, since writing my chapter in Coming to Grips with Genesis as well as interaction with others when I went white water rafting down the Colorado River in 2008, I have rejected this understanding. Though there is supposed evidence that supports arguing for gaps in the Genesis genealogies (for example, see William H. Green, “Primeval Chronology,” in Classical Evangelical Essays, ed. Walter C. Kaiser [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972]), the Genesis genealogies, in distinction from other biblical genealogies, contain an age when a specified son is born to a patriarch along with his age at death. As such, the two genealogies seemingly have chronological significance.

Though good men follow Usher’s chronologies for valid reasons (for example, see the arguments of Travis Freeman, “Do the Genesis 5 & 11 Genealogies Contain Gaps?” in Coming to Grips with Genesis), I currently am persuaded that the Septuagint’s approach to Genesis 11 is more accurate (the source that has influenced me most is Benjamin Shaw’s “The Genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 and their Significance for Chronology” [Ph.D. dissertation, Bob Jones University, 2004]). The following two charts reflect this approach to the Genesis genealogies (the two charts are taken from Shaw, pp. 218-19).

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I will make a couple of observations based upon the above charts. First, creation took place at 4954 B.C., in contrast to the Masoretic Texts’ date of 4004 B.C. Second, the flood took place in 3284 B.C., in distinction from the MT’s 2349 B.C. There are two reasons that support my understanding. Initially, what drives me to my conclusion is not so much the Septuagint but Luke 3:35-36 which places a Cainan in between Arphaxad and Selah, whereas Cainan is omitted from the MT. In addition, a flood in 3284 fits with historical records of the ancient Near East. These records lucidly reflect that the monumental civilizations of the ANE were scattered and rebuilt around 3200 B.C. almost 900 years before the flood if you are following the MT. In the final analysis, I am persuaded that the view of the LXX provides the most persuasive evidence in explaining the biblical material as well as generally providing a reasonable explanation that harmonized with the ancient Near Eastern material.

Finally, God created man for His own glory and not because He needed him. Because God is infinitely independent, He does not need His creation and He does not need His creatures. God did not create because He was lonely. God created in order to bring glory to Himself. According to Isaiah 43:7, God speaks to his people whom He has created for His own “glory.”

With this evening’s lecture, we will look at death and decay in Genesis 3 and, the Lord willing, we will begin looking at the Genesis flood.

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Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 10)

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In part nine of this series on interpreting Proverbs, we finished looking at the fourth guideline that focused on looking for literary clues. In the next two posts, we will look at the book’s theological framework to assist with interpreting individual passages.

V. Proverbs’ Theological Framework

To understand individual passages in Proverbs, we must understand the book’s explicit theological framework. We can see its theological structure by examining its purpose and theme and its characteristic motifs. With this post we will look at Proverbs’ purpose and theme.

A. Individual proverbs or units and the book’s purpose and theme

Unlike many books in the Bible, Proverbs explicitly announces its purpose and theme in the opening part of the book, 1:2–7.

1. Proverbs’ purpose

The purpose of Proverbs is expressed in 1:2–6. There is a twofold emphasis in this statement of purpose.

One emphasis in Proverbs is to develop moral wisdom, vv. 2a, 3–4. Solomon’s purpose in proverbs includes helping one “to know wisdom and instruction.” The word translated as “wisdom” is a term that focuses on developing “skill.” In Proverbs this term emphasizes biblically-informed skill in living. In light of vv. 3–4, this skill relates to living a life that is morally pleasing to God. The term translated as “instruction” emphasizes “discipline” or “training.” Its emphasis in this context is on a training to develop one’s moral nature.

A second emphasis in Proverbs is to develop mental wisdom, vv. 2b, 6. The last clause in v. 2, “to discern the sayings of understanding,” emphasizes one learning how to compare ideas and make evaluations about subjects. This emphasis is clearly seen in v. 6, emphasizing an understanding of proverbs, parables, and riddles. This type of discernment emphasizes one’s mental acumen.

2. Proverbs’ theme

The theme of Proverbs is found in 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This reverential fear is the Old Testament counterpart of the New Testament concept of saving faith. The fear of the LORD expresses itself in reverential submission to God and whatever He commands. This type of fear is the “beginning of knowledge.” The Old Testament concept of “beginning” can refer to that which is “first” or to that which is “primary and controlling.” In Proverbs, the concept of “beginning” does not primarily mean that the fear of the Lord is the “starting point” of knowledge. Rather, the fear of the Lord is a “primary and controlling element” in developing wisdom. This same theme is restated in 9:10, toward the conclusion of the first section of material in Proverbs. As such, it sets the parameters for this unit.

My next blog entry on Proverbs will develop three emphases in Proverbs that indicates the book’s overall structure.

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Young-age Creationism’s Benefits for Science

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Though young-age creationists (YAC; aka young-earth creationists) are often dismissed as the lunatic fringe in the scientific community, this is an unhealthy position for both the scientific world as well as society as a whole (the above picture is from John Whitmore). As Brett W. Smith continues in his abstract, “the current treatment of young-age creationists in the scientific community and society at large is unfair and unwise. Scientists and philosophers of science, including old-age creationists and naturalists, should respect young-age creationists as legitimate contributors to science. Young-age creationists offer to the current origins science establishment a competing rational viewpoint that will augment fruitful scientific investigation through increased accountability for scientists, introduction of original hypotheses and general epistemic improvement.”

For the scientific community to regain respectability and make progress, Smith argues that scientists should learn an adversarial system, drawn from an ideal use of the US legal system, for making positive progress in scientific research. However, as he observes “YACs are already doing their part for adversarial science in a role that even the Intelligent Design movement cannot fill. YACs are showing, through real, responsible research that they have some valuable, original hypotheses to suggest based upon a biblical young-age model. Some YACs, such as Leonard Brand, Russell Humphreys, and Steve Austin have made scientific discoveries that were long overlooked by naturalists because the young-agers dared to suggest hypotheses which would never have occurred to one dedicated to an old-age view.” Smith has written an engaging article and everyone interested in biblical creationism should take time to read “Why young-age creationism is good for science.”

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Genesis 1:1–2 Represented in Young Earth Creationism

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This past Monday in Biblical Creationism, we wrapped up our examination of old-earth re-creationist models followed by a presentation about how Genesis 1:1–2 ties in with young earth creationism.

Initially, we finished looking at a modification of the gap theory, the precreation chaos theory. Because of the inherent syntactical problems with Genesis 1:2, while still maintaining unwavering commitment continuing to embrace the concept that Genesis 1:2 reflects a chaotic state of judgment, Merrill Unger modified the gap theory and Bruce Waltke formulated this into the “precreation chaos theory” (see his five-part series in the 1975–76 issues of Bibliotheca Sacra; you can find this entry listed in my bibliography). To read an impressive rebuttal of this view, see Mark Rooker’s 1992 Bibliotheca Sacra article “Genesis 1:1–3—Creation or Re-creation? (Part 2)” (again, this can be found in the bibliography).

In the last part of our class, we examined a young-earth creationist’s understanding of how Genesis 1:1–2 connects with the rest of Genesis 1. Verse 1 is an independent statement declaring that God created the original mass called earth out of nothing. Since Moses used the waw-conjunctive to introduce v. 2, he was explaining what the earth was like at the time of its creation in 1:1. Consequently, v. 2 is answering the question, what was the earth like at the time of its creation in v. 1? The answer of v. 2 is that it was in an abiotic form, it was “without form and empty.” It was covered by water and the Spirit of God was hovering over it. However, for there to be a literal day, God, immediately after his first creative activity, created a light source in Gen 1:3 in order to begin a day-night cycle for day one, as Genesis 1:5 indicates. Day 1 was the first normal 24-hour day of a six-day project. When God created the heavens and the earth, He chose to complete this process in six normal days (see also Exod 20:8-11 & 31:15-17).

DBTS has a spring vacation next week but when our students return we will look at the creation of Adam & Eve and how death & decay entered the created order in Genesis 3.

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