faculty_blog_header_summer

Note to the reader: This is the first in a series of blogs on reading the Bible as a biblical theological unity. I will be arguing that the most stable foundation for a biblical- theological use of the Bible is a missional hermeneutic shaped by “Christotelic” vision of God’s ways in the word and in the world. These terms and concepts will be further defined and other introduced in subsequent posts. But first an example:

In the Bible, perhaps the most concentrated expression of praise for the faithfulness of God can be found in Psalm 89. The psalm begins with these couplets:

I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.  2I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

We are soon given to understand that the psalmist, though not himself of the royal line, is thinking primarily of God’s faithfulness to David and his descendants codified in the Davidic covenantal promises (vv. 3 ff.). The chorus of praise swells for some 34 verses before reaching its climax in vv. 35-37:

35Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.  36His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun. 37It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies."

And for good measure the psalmist adds the instruction, “Selah,” urging the listener to ponder the glorious point while the musicians modulate the key for last verse.

But then something goes horribly wrong and the true purpose of the psalmist is revealed:

38But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed.  39You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.

Say what?! What happened to the unshakeable promises of the prior verses? You mean God isn’t faithful? And since the last verse of the psalm is simply the concluding benediction of the third book of the Psalter (compare the endings of the other books of the Psalter: 41:13, 76:18-20, 106:48, and all of Ps 150), the charge against God’s character goes unchallenged and unrebutted. Psalm 89 was a set up all along.

These observations go so much against the grain that the average evangelical reader must strain to see them. What should we do with this psalm? Should we: 1) Excise this psalm from the inspired canon? 2) Just read the first part and ignore the rest? 3) Argue that the psalm doesn’t teach what it says, but rather teaches that it is ok to be real with God in our disappointments? Or perhaps 4) maintain that this psalm doesn’t teach anything at all but is rather a piece of emotive literature meant to comfort emotional creatures like ourselves?  Or finally 5) insist that this psalm is only supposed to be read as inspired in close connection with the rest of the Psalter where its charge can be suitably qualified or contradicted.

While perceptive and honest, the first option is worthy of the heretic Marcion who happily assigned most of the Bible to the work of another god. The second is an example of what scholars call “atomistic reading” in which a text is chopped up into disconnected oracles, divine sound bites, which can then be used like any aphorism. The third and fourth options seem to involve some capricious and preemptive appeals to external standards of propriety in an effort to shield the psalmist from erroneous attitudes. These two options seem to miss the fact that the psalmist is not voicing a personal disappointment but is rather struggling with God’s apparent failure to keep major covenantal promises! The last option contains some real wisdom but doesn’t explain why others psalms should have more authority than this one. Moreover, a Christian might ask, should we expect the answer to the psalmist’s bitter complaint to be found in the Psalter?

Here’s a sixth option: God specifically ordained this unrebutted charge to be here along with other similar ones (see Psalm 44 and 88, e.g., not to mention the book of Job), so that he might later, in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, David’s greater son, prove the charge false. This option is the Christotelic* option.

The Christotelic option not only allows but demands an honest assessment of the message of the psalm as a function of the intention and state of mind of the human author. Yes, the psalm really does accuse God of unfaithfulness. It is only this stark fact that can properly serve the demands of a redemptive story in which God’s faithfulness is revealed ultimately and most completely in Jesus the Messiah. Jesus thus redeems this psalm for the Psalter. Is this reading strategy allowable? What do you think?

* The term is an adjective or adverb meaning “directed or tending toward God’s action in Christ (as the ultimate meaning, goal, or purpose).” Another, fuller example of a Christotelic treatment of a psalm is offered by Dr. Douglas Green, Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary: http://files.wts.edu/uploads/pdf/articles/psalm8-green.pdf.


Stephen Taylor is Associate Professor of New Testament. He is a missionary kid fascinated with the question of the relationship between culture and understanding the Bible. Steve is married to Terri, and together they have five kids. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/stephen-taylor .

  

  

Comments 

 
0 #23 Joseph Valentini 2013-01-10 02:03
First, I never heard the word, "Christotelicity " and "Christotelic" Is this a new way of saying Christology and Christ-Centric in the Psalms? I would agree with your explanation of being Christotelic directed or tending toward God’s action in Christ (as the ultimate meaning, goal, or purpose).

I think in your initial interpretation you never spoke about the context of the Psalter, who was by name, Ethan the Ezrahite and his background what he was going through to call him to recollect God's Faithfulness in His Covenant Promises for the revealing of The Messiah. After reading this Psalm in its entirety, I see him reaffirming His Hope in God's Covenant Faithfulness to His Promise in bringing forth the Messiah; His hope in the Shadow of Christ whom God would indeed, fulfil the Psalter's hope In God's covenant Faithfulness. I do not see the need to emphasize Christ as rescuing the Psalm. However, on the other hand, I see the Psalm as a shadow pointing to its longing and fulfilment in Christ, of which its intended purpose was drawn. In conclusion, without God's Covenant promise that was revealed in Genesis 3 to Adam and Eve after the fall, if there was no Promise to bring forth the Messiah then there would be no Psalter! Jesus indeed, fulfils all of the Psalters longing and questions even in the Shadow and struggles of the Psalter that would call Him to question God's faithfulness during his current struggle to the backdrop of God's Promise. And in the context of Psalm 89:30;38 it reveals that God's anointed one at the time was not the one, and God's anger did burn on the Anointed one, so as to question His promise. Yet, at the Cross it would seem the same that Jesus had to drink of the cup of God's Divine Wrath, that was not thought of that the Messiah had to go through, why would Peter deny Jesus 3x's since His view of the Messiah was smashed at that time when Jesus went to the cross. Jesus does not rescue the Psalms with their seeming questions of calling God's faithfulness into question, but He is the substance of the shadow of the Psalms that answers all questions of our agony and struggles when reality seems to contradict God's promises.
Quote
 
 
0 #22 Joseph Valentini 2013-01-07 20:40
First, I never heard the word, "Christotelicity " and "Christotelic" Is this a new way of saying Christology and Christ-Centric in the Psalms? I would agree with your explaination of being Christotelic directed or tending toward God’s action in Christ (as the ultimate meaning, goal, or purpose).

I think in your initial interpretation you never spoke about the context of the Psalter, who was by name,Ethan the Ezrahite and his background what he was going through to call him to recollect God's Faithfulness in His Covenant Promises for the revealing of The Messiah. After reading this Psalm in its entirety, I see him reaffirming His Hope in God's Covenant Faithfulness to His Promise in bringing forth the Messiah; His hope in the Shadow of Christ whom God would indeed, fulfill the Psalter's hope In God's covenant Faithfulness. I do not see the need to emphasize Christ as rescueing the Psalm. However, on the other hand, I see the Psalm as a shadow pointing to its longing and fulfillment in Christ, of which its intended purpose was drawn. In conclusion, without God's Coevenant promise that was revealed in Genesis 3 to Adam and Eve after the fall, if there was no Promise to bring forth the Messiah then there would be no Psalter! Jesus indeed, fulfills all of the Psalters longing and questions even in the Shadow and struggles of the Psalter that would call Him to question God's faithfulness during his current struggle to the backdrop of God's Promise. And in the context of Psalm 89:30;38 it reveals that God's anointed one at the time was not the one, and God's anger did burn on the Anointed one, so as to question His promise. Yet, at the Cross it would seem the same that Jesus had to drink of the cup of God's Divine Wrath, that was not thought of that the Messiah had to go through, why would Peter deny Jesus 3x's since His view of the Messiah was smashed at that time when Jesus went to the cross. Jesus does not rescue the Psalms with their seeming questions of calling God's faithfulmess into question, but He is the substance of the shadow of the Psalms that answers all questions of our agony and sturggles when reality seems to contradict God's promises.
Quote
 
 
0 #21 John Thomson 2011-12-08 09:59
PS

Three comments due to the word limit imposed in comment box.
Quote
 
 
0 #20 John Thomson 2011-12-08 09:57
Christ of course is the true Seed (in both covenants). He is the one who both expounds and exemplifies faith and is also the object of faith; all who have faith in the faithful Messiah are Abraham's sons and heirs according to promise (Jew or gentile).

Thus, in Christ, all the promises of God become 'yes and amen' - they are certain, confirmed, and consummated.

In these 'grant' or promissory covenants the unconditional trumps the conditional; mercy triumphs over judgement.
Quote
 
 
0 #19 John Thomson 2011-12-08 09:57
In fact I think Roms 9-11 is the NT commentary on unconditional/conditional. Paul, like the writer of Ps 89, is facing the question of God's covenant faithfulness in the face of Israel's apostasy; does he keep his promise? His answer is 'not all Israel is of Israel' (and not all David's sons are of David). The true seed in both covenants is spiritual; it is 'of faith'. And if it is of faith then it is of grace, and so unconditional (Roms 4). God will not fail in his promise for his gifts and callings are irrevocable.
Quote
 
 
0 #18 John Thomson 2011-12-08 09:55
Stephen

Many thanks for the interaction. In the final analysis we are one but in getting there we still differ. I would want to insist that the Davidic Covenant is essentially unconditional. Indeed, it seems to it is the incontovertibli ty of the covenant that creates the dilemma of faith in Ps 89. Can God renege on his promise?

I see it very similar to the Abrahamic (indeed a refinement or subset of it). Both covenants made unconditional promises but these promises were only for those of faith (whether people or kings). The promises would be kept, but those without faith would not share in it; in the words of Roms 11 they would be 'cut off'.
Quote
 
 
+1 #17 DeJuan 2011-12-08 01:27
Quotes Stephen: "The God revealed in the Bible is not one who CANNOT suffer or bear cost but rather one who chooses to."

Reference to the Passion, I presume. A suffering and execution of one day in human form, to exonerate all of human sin. Contrast this to the suffering of entire lifetimes for mere humans, or an eternity of supernatural suffering and torment for humans who fail to accept the gift of salvation.

Now if God was suffering eternally, then "at great cost" would make sense. But I don't find that interpretation in Christian theology.

Stephen, my apologies if I am coming across in my comments as merely contrary. Having pondered this and similar dilemmas for much of my life, I don't believe the question is answerable.
Quote
 
 
0 #16 DeJuan 2011-12-08 01:26
Quotes Stephen: "God made promises that would required more than his infinite resources; they would require him"

I wasn't using "resource" to refer to God's stock portfolio, or his political friends. As the source of all things, God IS his resources: omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence .
Quote
 
 
+1 #15 Stephen Taylor 2011-12-07 14:20
Quoting DeJuan:
Since God (the father in the analogy) has infinite resources, how could anything be of great cost to Him?

Recognizing that our God-talk is analogical, God made promises that would required more than his infinite resources; they would require him.

The God revealed in the Bible is not one who CANNOT suffer or bear cost but rather one who chooses to.

It is right to appreciate the intellectual contibutions of Socrates and Plato; but in theolgy proper, Laocoön, the Trojan prophet, was right: "beware of Greeks bearing gifts."
Quote
 
 
0 #14 Stephen Taylor 2011-12-07 14:02
John, the answer you gave is gloriously true (!) but only partially so. What happens to 1 Kgs 2:1-4,6:11-13, not to mention 9:1-10 and all the parallels in 1 & 2 Chonicles? Could it be that God was just as ultimately committed to the conditions as he was to the promises? Was God really free to dispense with the conditions and to give somone like Solomon or Rehoboam the tribute of the nations? Would he then be a faithful God? God forbid! The resolution is not found in dismissing the conditions but in meeting them in a future son of David (and I take DeJuan language of "accepting Jesus" to be refering to this--God's acceptance of Jesus as the beloved (Royal) son, in whom [he] was well pleased"). A Christotelic reading--which initially demanded that we be exegetically honest with the psalm--allows us to see Jesus the Messiah as the guarantor of God's faithfulness both to his promises and to conditions. In essence the Davidic covenant was deeply conditional, but in Christ unconditional.
Quote
 
 
0 #13 DeJuan 2011-12-06 22:00
Taking 1Kgs into account, clearly conditional. In the analogy, predicated upon the skill and maturity of the kids; in reality, predicated upon the acceptance of Jesus.

"-at great costs to the father-" I'm not sure how you are using this here. Since God (the father in the analogy) has infinite resources, how could anything be of great cost to Him?
Quote
 
 
0 #12 John Thomson 2011-12-06 13:04
It was unconditional. And kept in Christ.
Quote
 
 
0 #11 Stephen Taylor 2011-12-06 12:51
Just picking up on DeJuan's theodicy analogy about the father's promise to buy a bike for his child: A comparison of Ps 89's articulation of the Davidic covenant (vv. 1-37) with the articulations in 1 Kgs 2:1-4,6:11-13 suggests the following nuance (sticking with the same, limited metaphor): the father promises to give bikes to his kids when they show the skill and maturity to ride then safely. Once that maturity and skill is secured--at great costs to the father--, he buys them the very best motorcyles instead. It is within the implied condition that the theodicy question takes root.

The psalmist, of course, predicates his charge on 2 Sam 7:8-17 instead. So were the Davidic promises conditional or unconditional? The tension is palpable within the Jewish Bible. Resolution?
Quote
 
 
0 #10 Stephen Taylor 2011-12-05 23:51
DeJuan,

Sorry--my last installment on your previous post crossed paths with your new post. Thanks again for responding.

Your observation is profound. The redemptive story does raise the theodicy question at various points. Paul's letter to the Romans is largely a theodicy. But, if you will allow me, I would like to nuance your point tomorrow, after I get some sleep!
Quote
 
 
0 #9 Stephen Taylor 2011-12-05 23:39
The enduring determination to trust in Yahweh evinced by the redactors of the Psalter is a wonderful testimony to the faith and determination of godly Jews, but it is hardly an answer to the pointed charges of Ps 89. It invites the response: “You mean you are taking Yahweh as your refuge, even though Yahweh has publicly and demonstrably broken a solemn promise?” In other words, ignoring Psalm 89 is not an answer to it. To be sure, the non-Christian reader might well posit that the author of the psalm misunderstood God’s words to David or that the redeemer of this psalm need not be Jesus from Nazareth. But if the psalmist understood God correctly, then the redeemer of this psalm most certainly has to be some royal figure from the line of David. The Christian reader, provided that she reads Christotelicly, can both takes seriously the theological gauntlet thrown down by the Biblical poet and rejoice that God, in the person of the Messiah, snatched it up.
Quote
 
 
0 #8 DeJuan 2011-12-05 23:33
Stephen: Good article, good follow up points, and thank you for the responses. Actually, there is a tradition in Jewish theology of questioning God over the keeping of his promises, as a method of growing closer in trust and faith. But agreed; my last post doesn't address your direct point: the sixth option. It seems to me to be likened to a father that promises his child a bike for her birthday and, for whatever reason, fails to deliver and breaks that promise. To make up for it, the father gives his daughter a bigger and better bike next year. In this case, the "redemptive story" is about the redemption of the father, not the daughter. I like it; it makes perfect sense. The problem is, of course, that it flies in the face of Christian dogma that says God never breaks his promises, and therefore never needs to be redeemed. Another branch on the inferno of theodicy, it seems to me.
Quote
 
 
0 #7 Stephen Taylor 2011-12-05 23:02
But, as I said, this would be a quibble and quite beside the point I was trying to make. No one doubts that many Jews continued to trust Yahweh after Ps 89 was written and incorporated into the Psalter; the question is “Why?” The psalm undeniably levels a charge against God’s faithfulness, a charge that can only be rebutted if God does what he says He would do concerning David’s line.
[Continue to next comment]
Quote
 
 
0 #6 Stephen Taylor 2011-12-05 22:48
DeJuan,
Thanks for your perceptive comments and for drawing our attention to the controverted but very important issue of the collection and editing of the Psalter. (I urge all readers to follow the link you’ve provided to Howard’s fine introductory piece.) One might quibble with the details of Wilson’s solution: Psalm 144 is a royal Davidic psalm in the last book of the Psalter and its presence there constitutes the basis for alternative construals of the overarching theology of the Psalter. David C. Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter (1997), for example, maintains that the structure of the Psalter bears witness to an incipient Davidic/Messianic theology comparable to that motivating the Chronicler.

[Continue to the next comment]
Quote
 
 
0 #5 DeJuan 2011-12-05 01:56
According to Gerald H. Wilson's 1981 Yale dissertation, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (1985), the answer is found further in Book IV (Psalms 90-106): "As such this grouping stands as the "answer" to the problem posed in Psalm 89 as to the apparent failure of the Davidic covenant with which Books One-Three are primarily concerned. Briefly summarized, the answer given is: (1) YHWH is king; (2) He has been our "refuge" in the past, long before the monarchy existed (i.e., in the Mosaic period); (3) He will continue to be our refuge now that the monarchy is gone; (4) Blessed are they that trust in him!" (http://people.bethel.edu/~dhoward/articles/FOTSPsalms2.htm). So I see how the Redeemer could be Christ. What I don't see is that the text demands that the Redeemer is Christ, as any Jew would logically conclude that the Redeemer is Yahweh alone.
Quote
 
 
0 #4 Stephen Taylor 2011-11-30 11:29
Quoting Catherine Zrncic:
Now I want to go read more scripture, pondering this perspective :-)

Catheerine, you might want to start with Psalm 44--and note how the Apostle Paul will later use one of its verses in Romans 8!
Quote
 
 
0 #3 Stephen Taylor 2011-11-30 11:28
John, thanks for your excellent observation. I think we are in agreement. The post certainly encompasses your point: ultimately, Jesus is the only true and rightful singer of the Psalms. "In Him" we can sing them too. But a Christotelic approach tries hold off that final move to Jesus and reckon with the fact that God chose to speak these songs through human beings caught in various contexts. The greatness of God's act in Jesus can best be appreciated through an honest consideration of what that human author voiced in the midst of his disappointment. Obviously, the Spirit of the Messiah was indeed active not only in the words but also in the circumstances of that human author.

Thanks!
Quote
 
 
0 #2 John Thomson 2011-11-30 09:43
A good post. I would go further. I think the spirit of Jesus pervades the Psalm. The believing but dismayed suffering people of God in the Psalms is concentrated in Christ's sense of abandonment on the cross. An abandonment that will of course result in final vindication - of Christ and God.
Quote
 
 
0 #1 Catherine Kimmel 2011-11-23 12:22
Thanks for the thought-provoking post! I think I've heard mostly variations on how the psalms teach us to be real/honest with God and that they should be understood as part of the bigger context/story - the psalmists complained but ended up praising/trusting God anyway. Now I want to go read more scripture, pondering this perspective :-)
Quote
 

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

Blog Mission

The purpose of this blog will be to expand the influence of our faculty, maintain contact with our graduates, and invite other friends to think with us about important biblical and theological ideas.

Biblical's Faculty

Biblical’s Faculty:

We are committed to ongoing engagement with culture and the world for the sake of our witness to the Gospel, and to continual learning from Christians in other cultural settings.

Latest Blog Entries

Written on 29 September 2014 - by R. Todd Mangum
Written on 26 September 2014 - by David Lamb
Written on 24 September 2014 - by Dr. Diane Langberg
Written on 22 September 2014 - by R. Todd Mangum
Written on 19 September 2014 - by R. Todd Mangum
Written on 22 August 2014 - by Philip Monroe
Written on 01 August 2014 - by Susan Disston
Written on 18 July 2014 - by Charles Zimmerman
Written on 11 July 2014 - by Bryan Maier
Written on 09 July 2014 - by R. Todd Mangum

Previous Blog Entries

Follow Biblical

Follow us on the following sites and receive notifications on upcoming events and blog entries:

Follow Biblical on facebookFollow Biblical on Twitterg+_64_black

Contact Admissions

800.235.4021 x146

215.368.5000 x146

215.368.4913 (fax)

 

admissions@biblical.edu

Stay Connected with Biblical

Follow us on the following sites:

Follow Biblical on facebookFollow Biblical on TwitterFollow Biblical on YouTubeg+_64_black
Or simply call us at...
800.235.4021 x146 or 215.368.5000 x146

Support Biblical by Giving

800.235.4021 x162

215.368.5000 x162

215.368.7002 (fax)

 

development@biblical.edu

Home

Site Login