The Seven Christian Disciplines (Part 2)

The goal Simon Peter wants his audience to experience is “the knowledge of Jesus Christ” (vs. 8). I mentioned previously that this is a comprehensive knowledge from building these 7 disciplines in our lives. Verse 8 also tells us the default nature of a believer is bareness without these qualities. These disciplines are exercised by faith and upon faith (vs. 5). Grace and peace will be dispensed by God as the believer deploys the disciplines in their lives (vs. 2). Also, those things necessary for life and godliness arrive with this fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ (vs. 3).

The New Covenant promised to Israel had as its most distinguishing feature that all individuals would “know” the Lord (see Jer. 31.31). This means that all under (or in) The New Covenant would “know” the Lord intimately in their hearts. The Lord would now be “in” them directing and teaching His chosen ones through a new, fuller relationship provided by Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and conquering death through the Resurrection.  The New Covenant was promised to Israel and so it was fulfilled to Israel in that Christ fulfilled the Passover and 50 days later (Pentecost) sent The Spirit fulfilling the feast of Shavuot (weeks–7 weeks and 1 day). The embryonic church was all Jewish and they were the ones with whom The New Covenant was made. They were both ethnic and spiritual Israel. The unbelievers in Israel were not included in this new entity where all would “know” The Lord.

As I mentioned, these disciplines were to be added to the faith we have received (vss. 1,5). Therefore, after believing in Christ, as an act of faith, Peter urges us to add these qualities to our lives as a foundation for fuller understanding Christ through The Spirit. These qualities will ensure that we do not quench or grieve The Spirit. Instead, these disciplines provide commodious arrangements where The Spirit may illumine our hearts about all we have in Christ.

The first of these disciplines then is virtue (some translators render arete as goodness, excellence). Generally speaking, translators have struggled to define the term as it relates to the recipients to whom Peter was writing. Originally, the term appears in ancient Greek as what characterized the Olympic contestants: physical prowess. The Greek Games eventually included poetic readings and also the term arete referred to the qualities of speaking as well. By first century usage the term is understood to connote an ‘all-around excellence.’ In vs. 3 the term is used of God in that He has called the believers either to or by this excellence (the preposition’s meaning is governed by context and so an interpretive choice needs to be made). To me it seems “to” is the better choice if the goal were seen in an idealistic sense. Christians will not be able to have complete excellence but see it as something to aspire towards. For the most part, however, either rendering of the preposition hardly makes a difference. God has inherent excellence by which He calls us or He calls us to imitation of Himself.

In connection with faith and excellence Christians are to add “knowledge” (gnosin). This “knowledge” doesn’t have to be bible knowledge necessarily since in a very real sense: ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ Many areas of study will either directly indicate God’s truth or support it indirectly. Bible knowledge is necessary regardless of what other knowledge is gained as indicated by vs. 19: “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The study of the scriptures is assumed by the writers of the N.T. since they quote so much of the previous given revelation contained in the O.T.

The next discipline is self-control which Peter connects with knowledge, and, as itself, is connected with arete. Here, I wish to point out that while the disciplines are all interconnected, they are added to our faith (vs. 5) therefore they are performed in faith. Noting their progressive nature, the disciplines seem more defined as they are listed. While excellence is added to faith, it needs some knowledge to perform cogently. Overall excellence is directed by knowledge. Knowledge though may overextend itself if not corralled by self control. Self control may give up without perseverance. Perseverance may devolve into stubbornness without true godliness refining the Christian along biblical ways. Godliness can be cold if it is merely an exercise without a horizontal dimension of brotherly kindness toward others. Brotherly affection will remain earth-bound if another quality is not present: love.

Simon Peter tells his readers that great promises toward Christians will enable them to experience the divine nature and so not be mired in things which corrupt: inordinate desire (vs. 4). These disciplines continually performed and perfected contain two promises: 1. Will never stumble into sin (vs. 10), and 2. A rich entrance (rewards) provided into the eternal kingdom (vs. 11).

 

The Social Setting of Textual Transmission

Garrick V. Allen reviews Alan Mugridge’s study of early papyri to determine if aspects of the setting can found in the production of these copies. Mugridge’s work and Allen’s review highlight for the non-specialist the various areas under examination. Transmission studies have always fascinated and confirmed the historicity of the text for me.

 

Alan Mugridge. Copying Early Christian Texts: A Study of Scribal Practice. WUNT 362. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016. xx + 558 pages. ISBN: 9783161546884.

Review by Garrick V. Allen, Dublin City University.

In this valuable resource, Alan Mugridge examines the codicological features of 548 early papyri originating from before the fourth century CE in an effort to be understand the social setting of their production. He is particularly interested to ascertain whether the copyists of the early Greek papyri transmitting early Christian works were ‘Christians’ (not necessarily professional scribes), or if communities hired professional copyists outside their immediate social context. The entirety of this detailed volume is devoted to the argument that “the copyists of the majority of Christian texts were trained scribes, probably working in a variety of settings, and that there is no firm evidence that the copyists were generally Christian” (p. 2). This argument has drastic implications for how we understand the textual transmission and variation of early Christian documents.

In his first chapter (“The Papyri and their Handwriting”) Mugridge lays the foundation for this study by defining “Christian Papyri” (pp. 2–5). He also identifies a small control group of non-Christian papyri (pp. 5–6). He examines the date, languages, the writing material used in the example documents (papyrus, parchment, wood), the presence of non-Christian material among Christian documents, and the provenance of the material (heavily weighted toward Egypt). Mugridge also clears the ground by providing a taxonomy of writing activity in this period, which proves essential to his evaluation of the “professionalism” of particular manuscripts (pp. 11–22).

The second chapter (pp. 26–50) examines the features of the papyri identified in its title: “context, material, form and size.” Mugridge examines the correlation between the quality of a manuscript’s palaeographic profile and its other features. He notes that most literary or sacred works tend to have a higher quality producer and that of other types of works. Additionally, multilingual features of a papyrus indicate a learned producer, and Mugridge notes examples of Coptic glosses, Latin translations, and the presence of other languages among the Greek exemplars (e.g. Syriac, Demotic, Hebrew onomastica). However, he argues that the form of a manuscript (codex, roll, sheet, or wood) does not necessarily correlate to the quality of writing. He concludes by comparing the palaeographic profiles of his corpus against the size of the exemplars, noting that the professionalism of the copy does not necessarily have any relationship to its size. The producers of Christian papyri fit into the overall trend of the corpus, with some exceptions (p. 49).

Next, the layout of the corpus is compared to the skill of the palaeography in an effort to divine a relationship between the two (pp. 51–70). Mugridge concludes that the wide margins, narrow columns, and wide inter-columnar spaces generally correspond to well-trained hand (esp. in rolls), but that these features are not absolutely correlated to scribal expertise. The most prescient feature is the consistency of margin sizes, which closely corresponds to the quality of the hand.

The next chapter (pp. 71–91) examines the presence of reading aids in his corpus to explore the relationship between the level of professionalism in palaeography and the presence of these aids. Mugridge explores a number of paratexts, including pagination, titles and headings, section markers, sense units, stichometry, punctuation, and a series lectional notations. He concludes that there is no difference in the deployment of these paratexts in skilled or unskilled copies, and “Christian” and “non-Christian” copies.

The final substantial analytical chapter – “Writing the Text” – explores a variety of scribal habits and copying mechanics preserved in the corpus (pp. 92–143). Again, the analysis of these features is correlated to the quality of an exemplar’s palaeography to explore the relationship between “skilled” scribes and the mechanics of a manuscript’s production. Especially in his discussion of nomina sacra (pp. 121–37), Mugridge is keen to argue that the personal convictions of a scribe are not necessarily borne out by the content or features of their copy. We need not think that the copyist of a manuscript with nomina sacra was a Christian.

The last chapter of the book (pp. 144–54) is a summary of Mugridge’s conclusions, in which he argues that the level of professionalism in Christian papyri through the fourth century was relatively high and that the format and size of manuscript bearing Christian works are commensurate to the broader textual culture. From this, he concludes that “most copyists were not simply occasional writers who turned their hand to copy manuscripts of personal value to themselves or to friends” (p. 148). Early Christian works were produced like all other works in the Roman world at the time – primarily by trained professionals (p. 149). Here, Mugridge comes to his underlying contention: because it is not possible to identify the scribes of Christian works as Christian themselves, one cannot ascribe perceived theological changes in texts to scribes. Also, the use of professional scribes ensures the accuracy of copying, indicating that the early Christian papyri offer a special insight into the text of the works they contain. The analysis portion of this work is supported further by twelve tables of data, ranging from the content of the papyri to various marginal measurements to the presence of nomina sacra, that serve as the foundation for Mugridge’s conclusions (pp.  445–517).

Following the conclusion, Mugridge includes a “Catalogue of Papyri” (pp. 155–413), which is by far the most valuable aspect of the volume. For each papyrus in his corpus, he provides the date, provenance, publication information, contents, location, various catalogue numbers, a brief bibliography, locations of plates, a terse description, and comment on the hand. This vast aggregation of data should prove beneficial for future papyrological studies on early Christian artefacts. The book also necessarily includes a concordance that compares Mugridge’s numeration system to the systems of the Leuven Database of Ancient Books, Rahlfs, Turner, van Haelst, the Repertorium, and Gregory-Aland (pp. 518–36).

All in all, this thick volume represents an arduous and prodigious effort on the part of the author. Its organization, scope, and methodological tenacity are characteristics to which studies of this type should aspire. I am convinced by Mugridge’s argument that early Christian manuscripts are not of a lesser quality or different nature to exemplars that transmit non-Christian works. Careful craftsmanship and an appreciation for the norms of production are the markers of the majority of these early exemplars. It would, in fact, be strange to imagine that early Christianity possessed a textual culture devoid of any influence from contemporary practices of artefact production.

However, I am less convinced by Mugridge’s conclusion that, because these manuscripts show signs of professionalism, they were likely produced by non-Christian professionals responsible also for the production of pagan literature and documentary material. In all probability, some early Christian manuscripts were produced by those outside the community, but the evidence remains ambiguous. The material evidence that Mugridge musters fails to conclusively point in either direction. The rarity of stichometric notations would seem to indicate that very few of the remnant manuscripts, as far as we can tell, were produced for a profit. Also, while he asserts that by the fourth century many scribes were Christians, he assumes that professional scribes in an earlier period were not. He insinuates that professional copies mean that they were produced by non-Christians for profit. In fact, the underlying argument of the book seems to be that, because early Christian literature was copied by non-Christian professionals, then the reliability of the text of these exemplars is very high for two reasons: (1) professionals generally copied more accurately that non-experts, and (2) non-Christians would have no reason to alter the wording of a text for theological reasons. If this is Mugridge’s underlying argument (a sort of anti-Ehrman polemic), a textual analysis of this corpus would seem more appropriate than a material one, since the best way to observe the religious conviction of a copyist is to judge the textual changes made to a copy, especially when those changes are exegetically motivated or show a level of awareness of remote parallels. Although, even then, it is difficult to distinguish between the work of the scribe, his or her copy, and an antecedent exegete or exegetical tradition.

Garrick V. Allen
Dublin City University
garrick.allen [at] dcu.ie

The Seven Christian Disciplines: 2 Peter 1. 5-15 (Part One)

In 1973 I enrolled in a bible college to study the scriptures. I was warned that this college like the many others in the Fundamentalist Orbit had strict rules on all kinds of activities such as keeping one’s dorm room clean. If the bed was not made or the room unkempt then demerits would soon be issued by the hall monitors who would check them before chapel and it would not take many infractions before expulsion from the college occurred. The exhortation from The Apostle Peter however is starkly different from the Fundamentalists both in its goal and nature. If this institution would have focused upon biblical motivations and goals then Christian training would have been better accomplished in the lives of their students. As a point of record I never received any demerits while at the college but others were actually expelled because of demerits. I, in misguided zeal, myself became a stickler of all things ethical and moral in the lives of other Christians for a period of time. I was following Christian leaders after all and these leaders had, at best, a fuzzy understanding of the Christian life as explained in the scriptures.

These qualities or disciplines that Simon Peter lists are regarded as crucially important to the early Christians in that he wants to repeatedly remind his readers of their deployment in in their lives (vss. 12-13). These followers of Christ already knew the disciplines, but Peter thought they were so important as to continually remind his audience of them and to even record them for posterity before his own prophesied death (vss. 14-15). These qualities then form very important instruction for The Church of Jesus since they were given by an Apostle of Christ, and as such have received completed instruction (John 16.12-13) and are placed first in the Universal Church (1 Cor. 12.28).

Conceptually, how should these exercises or disciplines be viewed in regard to other instructions in the bible? Firstly, in the family of God, His revelation is given to us to study and continually ponder and reflect upon for our benefit (see Dt. 6.4-9). In analyzing The Book of Proverbs it is easy to recognize the work as instruction for godly living to someone operating in the context of a redeemed community yet exposed to dangers and temptations. Solomon’s Book (divinely inspired) deals with relating horizontally among others whereas The Mosaic Law dealt primarily about the vertical relationship between a person and God (yes, of course societal and other benefits accrued from The Mosaic Law as well). The Book of Proverbs helps believers during their time on earth to navigate their way successfully. The proverbs instructs on how to build character or discipline oneself to interact with others while on sinful earth. Neither Solomon’s Proverbs or Peter’s list of disciplines promise any direct reward for keeping them. Rather they (the disciplines) function as preparatory for other blessings. This then, is quite different than working for sanctification which is almost what the Fundamentalists were doing. Sanctification is a grace by The Spirit where the believer becomes more reflective of Christ. Christ is seen in the believer by the Spirit’s presence. The degree of the Spirit’s operation in the believer, as I understand it, is directly rewarded at the judgement. The Book of Proverbs and the list of disciplines in Peter instead provide ‘a ground’ or a basis of continually living successfully on earth (2Pe.1.10: “you will never stumble”).

I propose that these qualities in 2 Peter resemble the instructions given in the O.T. book of Proverbs. In Pr. 1.2 a summary statement appears at the beginning of Solomon’s work indicating purpose: “to know wisdom and instruction” this idea of knowing (lada’at) speaks of realizing, perceiving, personal internalization according to Bruce Waltke’s study of The Book of Proverbs. This “experiencing of wisdom” that Solomon calls his listeners to in 1.2 is, in essence, what Peter says the disciplines he lists accomplishes by the term epignosko (knowledge) of Jesus Christ in 2Pet. 1.8. This is a fuller knowledge than in 1.5 since that term “knowledge” (gnosin) is distinguished as preparatory and in part toward the knowledge (epignosko) of Jesus Christ. All the elements Peter lists completes this knowledge so it seems in context that epignosko  indicates a fuller orbed  realization or an experiencing of the spiritual wisdom that is in Christ. In Col. 2.3, Paul agrees with this sentiment saying: that in Jesus are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Of course in the eternal state the redeemed will have no need for the wisdom contained in Proverbs or 2 Peter. These disciplines enable a blessed life during the evil days of this world. As redeemed Christians we are still responsible for our own fall in Adam so no room exists for complaints about our troubles now.

In part 2 I will discuss the disciplines while this post introduced their nature and how they fit in an over all conception of biblical instruction.

 

T. S. Elliot on Unconscious Influence

James Anderson points out Elliot’s observation on what often affects us unwittingly. Both the Old and New Testaments of the bible tells us to watch our words and deeds. The only real way to do this is to consciously decide to observe the command. It is another matter entirely that when we try to do right that we fail. This is because we attempted righteousness from ourselves. This is not possible without aid from God and is for a different post (I should say that this is where God often shows a person that forgiveness and reconciliation are found in Jesus whether prospective in The Old or retrospective in The New).

http://www.proginosko.com/2017/05/t-s-eliot-on-reading-for-amusement/

Some insight from Eliot’s essay “Religion and Literature” (1935):

Now what we get, as we gradually grow up and read more and more, and read a greater diversity of authors, is a variety of views of life. But what people commonly assume, I suspect, is that we gain this experience of other men’s views of life only by “improving reading.” This, it is supposed, is a reward we get by applying ourselves to Shakespeare, and Dante, and Goethe, and Emerson, and Carlyle, and dozens of other respectable writers. The rest of our reading for amusement is merely killing time. But I incline to come to the alarming conclusion that it is just the literature that we read for “amusement,” or “purely for pleasure” that may have the greatest and least suspected influence upon us. It is the literature which we read with the least effort that can have the easiest and most insidious influence upon us. Hence it is that the influence of popular novelists, and of popular plays of contemporary life, requires to be scrutinized most closely. And it is chiefly contemporary literature that the majority of people ever read in this attitude of “purely for pleasure,” of pure passivity.

The relation to my subject of what I have been saying should now be a little more apparent. Though we may read literature merely for pleasure, of “entertainment” or of “aesthetic enjoyment,” this reading never affects simply a sort of special sense: it affects our moral and religious existence. And I say that while individual modern writers of eminence can be improving, contemporary literature as a whole tends to be degrading. And that even the effect of the better writers, in an age like ours, may be degrading to some readers; for we must remember that what a writer does to people is not necessarily what he intends to do. It may be only what people are capable of having done to them. People exercise an unconscious selection in being influenced. A writer like D. H. Lawrence may be in his effect either beneficial or pernicious. I am not sure that I have not had some pernicious influence myself.

One can only imagine what Eliot would have concluded about the influence of movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos on our “moral and religious existence.”

Subtle and Deceptive Terminology

Leonardo De Chirico is a pastor in Rome, Italy. His PhD is from Kings College London. Here he examines the use of term by Roman Catholics which now carries new meanings.

Words to those in Thessaloniki by Paul in the First Century seem appropriate:  Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil. (The Message)

http://vaticanfiles.org/2017/05/137-sanctuaries-as-places-of-evangelization-are-they-really/

Evangelization seems to be a popular word. Being traditionally part of the vocabulary used by evangelicals (often referred to as “evangelism”), it has become increasingly used by Roman Catholics too. It was Paul VI with his 1975 exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi who introduced it in Catholic language. It was Benedict XVI who launched in 2010 a new Vatican department to support efforts towards the “new evangelization”. It is Pope Francis who regularly speaks about and practices forms of evangelization, making it a central task of the Church, as attested in his 2013 exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.

The word “evangelization” is therefore used across the spectrum of the Christian world. The question is: What is the meaning of it? How is it defined? What does it refer to? In his last motu proprio (i.e. a document signed by the Pope on his own initiative) on April 1st, 2017, Pope Francis opens a window on what he has in mind when he speaks about evangelization. The document is entitled Sanctuarium in Ecclesia (The Sanctuary in the Church) and transfers the competences on the sanctuaries to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the Vatican department inaugurated by Benedict XVI. The basic idea is that sanctuaries and shrines are thought of as being primary places where evangelization takes place and must be encouraged.

Focus on Sanctuaries

What is a sanctuary? Fatima, Guadalupe, Aparecida, Lourdes … these are places where major sanctuaries attract millions of pilgrims and visitors every year. These are shrines dedicated to Mary or to a particular saint, at which special devotions are practiced and promoted in the form of rosaries, prayers, pilgrimages, contemplation of sacred images, etc. They are home to popular forms of spirituality that endure in spite of the steady decline of religious practice associated with the local parish.

Francis explains that sanctuaries are places “where popular piety has felt firsthand the mysterious presence of the Mother of God, the saints and the blessed”. In approaching and entering them, many people “deeply experience the closeness of God, the tenderness of the Virgin Mary and the company of the Saints: an experience of true spirituality that cannot be devalued”. God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints are all considered to be part of the same spiritual experience. Moreover, “many Shrines have been perceived as part of the lives of individuals, families and communities to the extent that they have shaped the identity of entire generations, even affecting the history of some nations”.

Therefore, given their inspirational and symbolic importance, “walking towards the Sanctuary and participating in the spirituality expressed by these places is already an act of evangelization that deserves to be valued for its intense pastoral value”. It follows that “the Shrines, in the variety of their forms, express an irreplaceable opportunity for evangelization in our time” and “a genuine place of evangelization”.

What Evangelization Are We Talking About?

We come back to the question previously asked. The word evangelization is used here; the practice of it is apparently endorsed. Evangelicals, for whom the word strikes deep spiritual chords, may celebrate the emphasis that the Roman Catholic Church is putting on evangelization. Yet a careful and honest reading of the document shows that the kind of “evangelization” the Pope is advocating for here is something utterly distant from the biblical meaning of the word.

According to the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, perhaps the most representative evangelical document of the 20th century, evangelism is “the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God” (n. 4). Notice the different elements of this neat and clear definition: “proclamation”, “historical and biblical Christ”, “persuasion”, “personal reconciliation to God”. None of these elements can be found in what happens in and around the shrines according to the Pope. There is no proclamation of the biblical gospel, but rather contemplation of sacred images and the practice of other forms of Catholic piety. There is little focus on the biblical Saviour and Lord, but rather devotion to Mary and the saints. There is no persuasion to abandon one’s own idols to turn to the living God, but rather encouragement to cultivate deeply entrenched forms of spurious spirituality. There is little or no talk of the necessity of being reconciled to God, but rather the reinforcement of the idea that pilgrims and nations already “belong” to God.

What evangelization are we talking about? The word is the same, but the meaning is far different. In its understanding and practice of evangelization, the Roman Catholic Church legitimately brings in the whole of its theological system, which is based on a combination of the Bible and traditions, Christ and the saints, faith and folk piety, and so on. Its evangelization promotes and commends this kind of blurred and erroneous gospel. Before celebrating the fact that the Catholic Church has become seriously engaged in evangelization, one needs to understand what kind of evangelization Rome stands for.

Paul Helm Discussing Judgment

The philosopher introduces a book by his Christian friend and adds his own perspective. I want to state however, other existing formulas to Gal. 3.23-5. Helm portrays the plural variously: “protection, correction or discipline, destruction.” These do not seem to align neatly. Other commentators see a singular law being the guardian of many people. Believing the latter idea, I merely quibble a minor point which in no way distracts from the whole.

http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com/2017/05/mass-destruction.html

It is a great pleasure to be asked to write some words of introduction to the latest book of my long-time friend, Melvin Tinker. He has many gifts, one of which, not the least, is as an apologist for the faith. Melvin’s contemporary  style, his wide reading, his knowledge of the Bible, and his theological grasp enliven and inform all that he has to say.

The new book may be thought of as an exercise in consistency, or better in Christian integrity. None of us have any difficulty in finding warm and comforting words from the Bible: Psalm 23, or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or the way Jesus welcomed children, or fed the hungry and healed the sick. But the Bible has a darker side. Not only Jesus’ kind words and deeds, but his anger, his driving men from the Temple with a hand-made whip, his pointed remarks about the division his teaching will cause, and his statements on Hell as well as on Heaven, for example.

In this book Melvin is dealing with this darker side. If the Christian teaching about the Bible being one book, with one overall theme or message, is true, we must not overlook its darker side. The  darker side of Jesus’ ministry, but also the deeds of the ‘God of the Old Testament’. In a day when the Bible is dissected by the critics, or divided by specialists, this in itself is a welcome emphasis.  The Bible is the one word of God, and its entirety is to be taken seriously and faced honestly. The darker side cannot simply be brushed under the carpet. Apart from anything else, this is simply to push the culture further away from the sunnier side of its teaching. For as was aptly said, ‘If you belittle the disease you belittle the physician.’ The Lord our God is one Lord. Integrity demands that we form a consistent judgment of both the shadows and the sunshine.

Preparatory to this, we need to be reminded of God’s character. Any attentive reader of the Bible can see that it is impossible to make sense of it without the idea that God has a mind of his own. He is not simply the rather ineffective help to satisfying the latest desires of men and women. In any case, these are constantly shifting, with an ever-enlarging portfolio of ‘rights’ to benefit from.  God is not a human agent, not even a human prime minister or president or business leader, but our Creator and Lord. He is not driven by his desires to please us, but is just and holy. Because of this his love, disclosed in his covenant with Abraham and in Jesus the Mediator of the Covenant, is not moody, but deep and unwavering, rooted in his own unchanging character, and involving the humiliation and death of God incarnate. God did not spare his Son but delivered him up for us all.

God has a plan. Much of the detail of this plan is hidden from us, but it is clear that it involves the choice of a people, the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of blessing of them through a gracious covenant. This arrangement both allows for the  people’s chastisement if and when their fidelity to the covenant falters, and their protection from the attacks of surrounding nations intent on snuffing them out. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, says that in the Old Testament the people of God were under age, ‘under guardians and managers’ while being surrounded by bitter enemies. Both the correction  and protection of his people required that their God undertook acts of holy discipline and destruction.

In other words, Melvin is arguing from the Bible itself, that it is necessary to contextualize the darker side of things. These are not isolated events which show us that God, is capable of losing his temper, or of being vicious and bloodthirsty. This is not how the destruction of the Canaanites is to be seen. Rather they are instances of his protective care of his people, just as the disobedience of his own people has to be visited with the destructive-corrective action of God. These are parts of one consistent picture, what Melvin refers to as the non-partisan action of God. Not an isolated case of bullying or of loss of composure, but the understanding of God as ‘the judge of all the earth’ who ‘does what is just’. Though God is high and lifted up, nonetheless he has a deep commitment of grace and love to his unprepossessing people. The nations surrounding Israel were not pure and innocent, but idolatrous and abominable. Their actions revealed their detestable character, calling for righteous  punishment.

God does not suddenly grow up, as if the caterpillar of the Old Testament becomes the butterfly of the New Testament. However, his revelation does develop from being focussed exclusively on Israel to his concern for the international church of Jesus Christ.  This is the true, the full, ‘Israel of God. ’It is in Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, that we see God’s wrath and grace best refracted.

To spell out these dark themes in some detail is characteristic of the courage and commitment to the truth that is Melvin’s outlook. Some of this makes uncomfortable reading, but then Melvin’s  aim is not  to ‘speak to us smooth words….illusions’, but to be faithful to the God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As he says, both Testaments portray ‘God in his holiness as implacably opposed to all sin which issues in judgment, and yet in his love he shows mercy which calls for repentance’.