Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Life of the True Scholar: Intentional Selective Friendship

Philip Soen

Professors tend towards one of two ways, when it comes to the giving of advice to their students: either they tend to give an overabundance of counsel or they give none at all. The problem with both of these tendencies is that very often a professor has the potential to pay a significant role in the life of his/her students. Of course, an excess of advice leaves the student with a bad impression whereas defective silence leaves no impression at all. The principal question then is: how can a college professor administer council in such a way that is most beneficial to the student?

The purpose of this paper is to develop a rough theological/philosophical sketch of counseling, specifically nontherapeutic counseling, which will be administered within academic settings. I will call this type of counseling Intentional-Selective-Friendship. The goal of this type of counseling will seek to avoid the pitfalls of either excess (i.e. what is normally thought of as unsolicited advice) or defective advice (i.e. the teacher who is mute before the specific problems of his or her students). Positively, it will attempt to provide a starting point for building biblical community. In addition, it will provide philosophic framework for thinking about the types of problems one may encounter with student-teacher relationships.

This paper will be divided into two portions. The first portion will be a brief sketch of Intentional-Selective-Friendship. Within this portion I will briefly define this approach and provide a biblical basis for it. Then I will describe the appropriate contexts for this type of counseling. After which, I will provide a basic methodology. The second portion of this paper will focus the issues of the integration and implementation of this method within a reformed theological framework and an ecclesiastical context.


Its Definition and Biblical Basis

What is Intentional-Selective-Friendship? Basically, it is the art of friendship that is intentionally and thoughtfully exercised within a clearly defined context. This definition is not exhaustive but it is functional. Let me break down the basic components of this definition.

First, friendship is a nonhostile relationship between persons that has been established either by circumstance or design. This means that true friendship requires some semblance of mutual feeling and respect (i.e. nonhostile) between the persons involved. This relationship could have been brought about by mere circumstance (e.g. neighbor, coworker, student, and child) or perhaps by intentional design (e.g. best friends, spouse, etc.).

Second, friendship is an art. Aristotle was well aware of this aspect of friendship. In fact, he devoted several books to the subject within his discussion on ethics. Basically, this means that true friendship is not thoughtless but has set of governing principles, which makes it possible to practice. Within our context, friendship is thoughtfully and intentionally exercised. This means that in order to practice this type of friendship, we must seek to understand the principles that govern it, the setting for it, and the skills required for its continued growth and development.

Now, what is the biblical basis for Intentional-Selective-Friendship? I would suggest that the basis for this type of friendship is clearly taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5—7). This sermon is fundamentally about establishing community. First (and primarily), Jesus teaches that there must be true community between God and man. Second, there must also be community between man and man. It is difficult to distinguish at what point Jesus is addressing these two different types of community because for Jesus both of these types of community overlap. One's relationship with God will flow over into how one treats and establishes community with his fellow man. This sermon is principally addressed to disciples of Jesus or “his disciples” (Matt 5:1). This is important because the principles and perspective that Jesus assumes within a sermon could only be practiced by somebody who is in a right relationship with God.

Now, the pragmatic goal of Jesus’ sermon is that his disciples will intentionally and selectively establish community. How does this work? First, it must be noted that for the Christian there is no such thing as accidental circumstance (6:26), and therefore anyone within the Christian's purview is another opportunity to further establish community. In fact, Jesus will command all of his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28: 19).

If this is true, then how can a Christian be truly selective in his or her friendship? After all doesn't Jesus call us to love is in our enemies (5:43)? Yes, it is true that we are required to love our enemies; however this does not mean that trust is automatically extended to the same degree to our enemies. Jesus requires a Christian to establish trust with all men, but he does not require all Christians to dispense that trust in an undifferentiated and nonselective manner.
Jesus has three categories of relationship: family, neighbors, enemies. Family includes spouse (Matt 5:31-32), parent-child (Matt 7:9), and “brother” (ἀδελφός). Spouse and parent-child relationships apply to close and genuine kin whereas the latter “Brother” (ἀδελφός) can apply to family brothers and brothers within the community of faith. “Neighbors” (πλησίον) are nonthreatening neutral relationships: a relationship with “one who is near close by.” “Enemies” (ἐχθροὺς), of course, are threatening and hostile relationships. This hostility is expressed through violent actions (Matt 5:39) and a lack of shared communication (Matt 5:11 -- 12).

So what are we to do with these relationships? Jesus requires continual intentionality whether these relationships are threatening or peaceful. The spouse is required to remain absolutely faithful without a hint of external sexual intrusion (Matt 5:27 -- 32). The parent is someone who provides for the child, despite his or her or natural evil inclination (7:11). The brother is required to live selflessly for his brother and without persistent conflict (5:21 -- 26). The disciple is required to at least live on peaceful terms with his enemy, if at all possible (5: 38 -- 43).

In all of this, the disciple is summoned to make his “neighbors” into “brothers” and his “enemies” into “neighbors.” The disciple is in effect intentionally establishing community with all men, while selectively differentiating the types of relationships that exist among men.

Counseling with in an Academic Community

Now, I believe that Intentional-Selective-Friendship could be applied theoretically in almost any and every circumstance. However, for it to work effectively, one must give deliberation to what circumstances one will apply it. In my circumstance, I want to think about how this model could be applied within an academic setting, specifically within a smaller scale Christian liberal arts university. As a future teacher, I envision functioning with two types of friendship: peer-to-peer relationships and teacher-student relationships.

Now, by definition, both of these types of relationships are determined by incidence. In effect, both relationships are defined by mutual interest in “what is good for themselves;” that is, each party is involved for the sake of something that is useful for themselves. But the former is more strongly defined by mutual professional interest whereas the latter may only varying degrees of interest depending on the focus and aptitude of the student.

In addition, my peer-to-peer relationships will be longer and more indefinite in duration where as my student-teacher relationships will be shorter lived. In other words, it will be more of a temptation to invest more in my professional relationships then in my student relationships. In addition, it will be a great temptation to take less responsibility for what is said and done to my students than would be to my peers because the duration for student-teacher relationships is less and more sharply defined.

Regardless of these conditions I still will seek to intentionally established community with both types of these relationships, while recognizing the difference mutual interest, design, and duration. If I may apply uses terminology to the context, I will recognize that “brothers” (peer-to-peer) must continue and repeatedly established trust among themselves, while quickly resolving any conflict that may arise. In addition, I will seek to establish “brotherhood” among my future students. This means I will seek to bring them into closer community, despite the fact that the relationship by design is temporary.

Jesus’ pattern of intentional selective community, demands that within any profession we should seek to be a source of trustworthiness. In addition, it demands that we intelligently differentiate and define the types of relationships within that community. Community, of course, is not the goal of Intentional-Selective-Friendship, rather it is God's own glory. The Christian builds community in such a way that everything works towards this goal. He maintains brotherhood in order to worship in all purity and he who holds his enemies so that he can win them over into brotherhood, which will bring more glory to God. The implication for professors is that the academic setting does not exclusively define and determine the operational framework for building community within a Christian college. Ultimately, education functions within an ecclesiastical framework. It is a house built upon rock (Matt 7:25).

Framework and Method: Functional Holism and Intentional Selective Friendship

Since we have provided a functional definition of Intentional-Selective-Friendship, substantiated this model with minimal yet adequate biblical evidence, and given some thought to the specific challenges that one may encounter within an academic setting; we may now safely sketch out a biblical psychology with regard to an anthropological model and relational method.
I am under the conviction that all men can be understood within a Pauline/Petrine framework. I believe both of these biblical writers understood man as a functional yet differentiated whole. That is, these men understood the person to consist in rational, emotional, and physiological unity whereby these “functions are fully integrated.” This does not mean that Paul is an ontological monist. Ontologically Paul understood that there was a difference between the physiological, the psychological, and even the higher supernatural elements of the person (e.g. immortality, incorporeal existence, etc.).

There are three basic aspects of this anthropology, which should be kept in mind. First, we must keep in mind what a person was created to be (i.e. in terms of his or her original unity, diversity, and epistemic experiential dimensions). Second, we should keep in mind what has happened to the person since creation (i.e. his bondage to sin in terms of his passive condition, active contribution, and evil infliction). Third, we should keep in mind what God is doing for that person to redeem and restore him back into his original functional state.

Practically speaking within an academic context this means helping my students understand the functional relationship between their emotional, intellectual, and physiological dimensions. My goal should be to demonstrate and exemplify a fully integrated life of true scholarship. This will be done both in the classroom and within interpersonal settings. In order to clarify this, I will need to (at a later date) attempt to further understand Paul's theology of the divide itself in Ro 7:14—25.


Reformed Psychology or Reforming Psychology?

So is it possible to integrate various psychological theories into this schema of Intentional-Selective-Friendship? To put it quite bluntly: yes! Karl Barth once stated in a rare interview that was conducted in English, “the Christian need not fear science, sociology, or psychology, there is only one fear that matters... the fear of God!” I think this statement goes a long way in summarizing the integration of psychology and reformed theology. Basically, as long as any given method of psychology does not contradict the place and supremacy of God's glory, then the only problems that remain are purely pragmatic, which can only be solved in real-world settings.

Intentional-Selective-Friendship As Church Mission?

Throughout this entire essay I have been making the case for Intentional Selective Friendship, which I argued has its biblical basis in Matt 5-7 with a supplemental Aristotelian framework in Nichomachean Ethics. The implicit argument is that this is certainly a pragmatic and functional goal of every believer and consequently the church. However, what is the place of professional counseling within the church? Without going into too much detail, I would suggest that there is certainly a place for professional counseling within the church simply on the basis that there is such a great need for counseling and a lack of genuinely good counselors.

Without going too deeply into the subject, I would suggest that the presence of professional counseling is highly indicative of the fact that many believers have failed to adequately think about the subject of friendship and consequently failed to develop the skills necessary for good and healthy friendships; that is, friendships that go beyond mere incidence (i.e. utility or pleasure) and transform into ideal and perfect relationships. As a consequence of this failure many people are not even aware that friendships could be improved and deepened by a conscientious and intentional effort to develop people literacy or speaking and listening skills.

This failure is not the sole responsibility of the church. Mortimer J. Adler states that schools have also failed to incorporate speaking and listening training within its curriculum. I would extend the criticism to include the responsibility of pastoral clergy. Preaching is a larger-than-life and simplification and demonstration of speaking and listening. It demonstrates before the body of Christ: 1) how the preacher engages the biblical text and 2) how the preacher engages the audience. In my experience, preachers tend towards one extreme or the other.

I would suggest that the church could better learn to develop the skills through a batter pulpit education. By this I mean that the preacher should learn to develop speaking and listening skills through a more active engagement with the text at the language level. Preachers should understand that active engagement with “digital” texts is transferable ability. To actively engage in text at a digital level requires an attention to detail, deleted information, generalized information, as well as selected information. Correspondingly, active engagement of a person could assist the pastor in understanding the questions that his congregation is interested in as well as the areas of theological ignorance as well as hostility.


This essay has advocated a non-therapeutic approach to counseling, which I have called Intentional-Selective-Friendship. Our goal here was to begin to develop an approach to counseling that negatively sought to avoid the common pitfalls of mere unsolicited advice and positively to intentionally and actively established biblically based friendships that can be sorted through an understood within Aristotelian framework. The goal of this counseling is to embody the life of true scholarship in such a way that adequately administers advice tailored to the needs of specific students. The task is to recognize the different types of relationships, while at the same time seeking to deepen those relationships by transforming and inviting relationships to go from incidence to intentional selective biblical community. The goal of this community is the glory and worship of God. Although there was particular attention paid to the application of this approach in academic settings, it can virtually be applied to any real life setting.


Adler, Mortimer J. How to Speak How to Listen. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1983.

Gordon, David T. Why Johnny Can't Preach: the Media Have Shaped the Messengers. New Jersey: R & R Publishers, 2009.

Hawthorne, Gerald F. and Ralph P. Martin. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 1993.

Lewis, Byron and Frank Pucelik. Magic of NLP Demystified: A Pragmatic Guide to Communication & change. Portland: Metamorphous Press, 1990.

Theilman, Frank. Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

watching the Bible as the TV show: towards an understanding of biblical narrative

In my estimation, many churchgoers (or any reader for that matter) read biblical narrative incorrectly. There may be any number of reasons for an incorrect approach, however I would suggest that the major approach that people take towards the biblical narrative can be likened to the way those people watch TV or movies. If you will listen to the way most people talk about biblical narrative they will say things like, “what stood out the most,” or perhaps “what struck me.” The problem with these statements is that people are merely describing their experience with the text and not the text itself.

If you will notice, these phrases seem to implicitly describe the experience of a viewer in relation to some type of visual experience. This means that most people are approaching the text of Scripture as if it were an object to be interpreted visually. Practically speaking, most people are coming to narrative texts with the question: how does this narrative look visually. This line of interpretation assumes that the medium of communication is conveyed through images. However, I would suggest that the most important medium of communication for biblical narrative is not image-based but language based. More specifically, the most important interpretive key for biblical narrative tends to be found in the mouth of a speaker and not in any sequence of images.

So (the practical question is) how can one possibly begin to read biblical narrative correctly? I would suggest several things? First, one needs to understand the type of genre that the given text falls under. The reader must understand the distinction between form and genre. You see, narrative is simply a form of way to communicate a biblical truth; however the genre is how that particular narrative functions in relation to the community. For instance, the books of Exodus, Kings, and Ruth are all written in the form of narratives, however they are all placed within different genre categories. Exodus falls under the larger category of law or teaching. Kings is prophetic history or history that is being explained or interpreted from the prophetic framework. Kings aims at answering the question: why did the kingdom divided and why is we in exile? The book of Ruth however is practical or instructional in some sense. It is telling the story of the person of Ruth in such a way that is withholding of Ruth as a virtuous character. An example of interpretation found in the mouth of a character in the book of Ruth is found in the mouth Boaz who says, “The LORD repay you for what you have done,” (Rut 2:12 ESV). There are many available resources, which can enable the reader to get hold of the specific genre of any given book.

Second, readers need to stop thinking in terms of verse division. Verse division is helpful for referencing different parts of the Bible; however it does not adequately divide the text into individual interpretive units. Instead of focusing on verse division, readers should begin to look for individual lines of text. In most cases, (especially if the reader is unable to read Greek or Hebrew) is probably most helpful to focus on individual sentences. The reader should then ask: how is this individual sentence or line functioning within the given story? Is this line relaying a sequence of events or is it perhaps giving a piece of background information? Asking these kind of questions is helpful because as a rule stories tend to begin and end with background information or narrative comment. Determining individual lines can help determine the beginning and end of stories as well as the more significant lines which help interpret the story for the reader.

Third, readers need to start asking the question: what is the form or structure of the story? Very often, stories can contain a great deal of content but the content of the story is not necessarily the main point of the story. The main point of the story is usually found in the form or structure of narrative. For instance, Genesis 1 is one of several versions of a creation account found in Scripture; however the form of the story draws attention to a very specific point. Genesis 1 primarily teaches that God is both creator and king of the universe, who sits enthroned in heavenly rest whereas Psalm 24, although it contains the same theological ideas of God as creator and king it is doing so in relation to the one who seeks to worship him as such. The structure of a narrative can be discerned once a reader has determined the function of individual line.

Finally, in most cases, pay careful attention to how the story is interpreted by characters of the story itself. Christians have been saying for ages that Scripture interpret Scripture. This is true because this is how Scripture itself is designed. I can't emphasize this point enough. If the reader is careful to listen to what the characters say about the meaning of the story itself, then generally speaking (even readers who are not competent in the original languages) are able to arrive at a fairly accurate interpretation of the narrative.

In conclusion, many contemporary readers tend to incorrectly read biblical narrative because they have failed to understand the nature of the media of Scripture, which does not convey its primary meeting through a sequence of images or actions rather through the words of the speakers themselves. If it is true of modern media that a picture is worth a thousand words, then for Scripture a word is worth a million words!

P.S--For an interesting analysis on how this reading deficiency affects the quality of the average preacher see: T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: the Media Have Shaped the Messengers, New Jersey: R & R Publishing, 2009.

P.P.S--Duane Garrett and Jason DeRouchie state that of the most important was thematically prominent information in a text is often not the mainline clause (any clause within the text that moves the story forward in terms of progression of the event). Off-line clauses (not exclusively but usually clauses found in amounts of speakers or narrators of the story) can be thought of as the Cline, or continuum, with some having high prominence and others low prominence, A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew, Nashville: B & H publishers, 2009, 291.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why the catechism all of a sudden?

Just in case you're wondering what has spurred on my sudden shift in topics from canonical criticism to the Westminster catechism is due to a sudden shift in priorities. Up until a couple of days ago, I was still on summer study mode. However, I am now registered for most of my classes that I need to take this semester. There is but one class that I have not registered for, which is a preaching class that requires that I have a working knowledge of the catechism starting from question 1 through 54. Needless to say, Childs has had to take a backseat to the Westminster divines for the moment.

I've actually wanted to have the opportunity to memorize the catechism for quite some time, but never actually had the necessary motivation to do so. Presently, it is a matter of life and death for me to enter into this preaching class. I'm doing pretty good so far and making good progress. My wife just tested me tonight and she found that I was able to spout off the first 20 answers with a relative accuracy "of about 98%" in her estimation. I was also able to roughly regurgitate the next five answers. I've got about 15 more days to go to make it all the way to my proficiency goal! Well, I am going to grind the coffee for tomorrow morning and then go to bed.

so you want to become a catechism teacher?

In my last entry, I attempted to answer the question: why should the catechism continued to be used as theological education? I advocated for its continued use because it is an extremely valuable piece of curriculum, which instills a basic theological framework for understanding biblical teaching and practice. In this entry, I would like to provide some basic guidelines and how to learn the catechism for yourself so that you can be in a position to use it as a teaching tool for others.

The Problem of Learning the Catechism

Before one can ever teach the catechism, one must first have it memorized but more fundamentally one must understand what is to be learned in the catechism. Memorization, without a doubt, is a difficult task in itself. (Believe me I am still in the process of memorizing the catechism myself). Indeed, there are many obstacles that stand in the wake of memorizing the catechism: word choice, syntax, the sheer number of questions, as well as a subtle variation in the wording of each question that can make several questions appear virtually indistinguishable. However, the difficulty in memorization can be greatly lessened if one understands the catechism before he begins to memorize it. The fundamental problem of learning the catechism is how one understands the catechism itself.

The Aspects Required to Understand the Catechism

So what does one need to understand? If one desires to have a basic understanding of the catechism, then one needs to understand: the subject, the genre, the form, and the structure. If one has a great basic grasp on these four aspects of the catechism, and the task of memorization is greatly lessened. In fact the act of memorization becomes quite enjoyable, and even rewarding. I will further all every of this at the end.

The Subject of the Catechism

The subject of the catechism is quite simple. The catechism basically teaches the student to things: (1) about God and (2) about how we are to respond to him. The catechism itself announces this topic in question 3, which asks: what descriptors principally teach? Answer: the Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

What is man to believe concerning God? First, that God is the only true and living God who created all things from nothing. Second, that God in Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer of God's people.

What duty does God require a man? He requires absolute perfection. In fact, he requires absolute perfection without any room for error. Specifically, he requires perfection in the areas of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. This means that he requires men to know is holy Word, make supplication to him, and practice every righteous act which is spelled out in the law. This entire relationship between God and man is referred to as the "covenant of life."

Now, obviously, the catechism has much more to teach about these subjects, and even has some qualifications regarding the subjects, however this is basically what the catechism teaches about the nature of God (creator, sovereign, and Redeemer) and about the various duties required of man (external ordinances, ethics, and sacraments).

Genre Classification the Catechism

Genre classification has to do with how any given text relates to reality. Specifically, what is the function of the text in relation to its audience. How is the text supposed to affect the mind of its readers? Overall, the catechism aims at providing religious instruction. Specifically, it aims at providing theological instruction from the reformed perspective as it is grounded in the Christian Bible (old and New Testaments).

However, there are two different types of knowledge that it seeks to convey: theoretical and practical knowledge. Theoretical knowledge teams at providing a picture of the world as it is (where the word "world" stands as a universal set or arena for a more specific subject). In this regard, the catechism teams at teaching the student about who God is. The catechism further elaborates that God is the creator and Redeemer of all creation. Practical knowledge aims at providing knowledge about the world as it should be. In this regard, the catechism aims at teaching the student how he should respond to God.

In summation, the student will be required to learn something about God as he is (theoretically) and how he should respond to God (practically). This means the test of a student competency should reveal what he's able to sing about God as creator and Redeemer and have his people to respond to God in his actual life.

Form of the Catechism

The catechism is put in a question-and-answer format. Now, the question-and-answer format is not to be read as a real-world script. My wife remarked the other day as we were going through the catechism that it seems very unlikely that anyone would ever ask her these questions on the street. In this regard, the catechism reads much like the writings of Plato. It's somewhat depicts a rather dry dramatic dialogue between student and teacher, where the student somehow is able to answer all of the teachers questioned with complete consistency and clarity. However, the purpose of the form is not necessarily to be likened to a script to be performed, rather it is to be likened to a guidebook with more general principles. It is true that the catechism does enable the student to provide a ready answer for his faith, however the question-and-answer format demonstrates the relationship between thought and theological formulation. In other words, the question shows the student what specific theological problem is being addressed so that he is able to understand the answer that he is memorizing. This enables the student to make use of the answer in a wide variety of thought and real-world circumstances. In other words, but one person in the real world may bombard with the questions as they are formulated within the catechism, however you may encounter the theological problem, which the question addresses in a wide variety of real world and thought world circumstances.

In addition, the form of the question is by its very nature and unsubstantiated claim. That is, nearly every answer contained in the catechism is a thesis claim that unapologetically fails to provide scriptural evidence for itself. This is intentionally built into the catechism. The catechism is an interpretive tool, which encourages the student to investigate its basic claims within the Scriptures themselves. The catechism by design encourages the student to enter into a dialogue with its own claims. The catechism itself is not the final word, rather the scripture is. It is the responsibility of the student to test the claims of the catechism in relation to the claims of Scripture.

In summation, the student should recognize that the question-and-answer format does not represent a real world drama, rather it is a representation of the relationship between theological problem and theological answer. This will enable the student to recognize the versatility of any given theological answer within the catechism to be used in a wide variety of circumstances (both real-world and thought world). Second, the form of the catechism is unsubstantiated by intentional design. Each answer is only a theological claim, which is in need of further scriptural evidence. If the student correctly understands this design of the catechism, he will demonstrate its understanding by his desire to test the claims of the catechism against the claims of Scripture to see if the two properly correspond.

The structure of the catechism

The catechism can be roughly outlined as such:

I. Introduction (Q. 1--3)

Theoretical knowledge -- teaching about God as he is

II. what man is to believe concerning God (4 -- 38)

a. Creator (4 --19)

b. Redeemer (20 -- 38)

Practical knowledge -- teaching about how we respond to God

III. duties that requires a man (39 -- 107)

a. Ethical Practice -- 10 Commandments (39 -- 87)

b. external ordinances and sacraments (88 -- 107)

i. Scripture reading (89 -- 90)

ii. baptism and Lord's supper (91 -- 97)

iii. prayer-Lord's prayer (98 -- 107)


So how does one begin to teach the catechism? One must both memorize the catechism and understand. The process of memorization can be extremely difficult for a wide variety of reasons, however if one has a basic understanding of the catechism in terms of its subject (doctrinal content), genre (how it is to affect the mind of the student), form (why it is written in a question-and-answer format and why the catechism by design fails to substantiate claims), as well as its basic structure; then one will be in a position to memorize it with greater ease.

Learning the subject of the catechism enables one to know what to expect to encounter as he/she moves through the catechism questioned by question.

Knowing the genres of the catechism enables one to know how to assimilate the kinds of knowledge one encounters within the catechism. The student can keep this question in his mind: if the catechism teaching me something about God or if it's teaching me how to respond to God?

Having a grasp on the why of the question-and-answer format enables the student to appreciate the relationship between the theological problem in the theological answer (whether that problem be practical for theoretical).

Knowing the fact that its claim in catechism is unsubstantiated should encourage the student to investigate the catechism and to enter into a dialogue with its relationship to Scripture. The catechism itself does not provide the final word, the student is the one who needs to make a judgment about the validity of each claim. Finally, knowing how the catechism is divided enables the student to know where to find the various doctrines taught within the catechism. It also allows the students to know how to access the catechism for further reference.

In the end, no understanding can completely overcome this difficulty in time that it will take for any student to learn how to master the catechism. However, every student should know that what he's learning is worthy to be learned for the glory of God. Ultimately, the student will learn to glorify God with his mind and actions. Not only their moral actions, but also their skills as a reader, Speaker, and listener because let's face it the catechism can be a tough read and a rough ride to recite but these actions increase the overall competency of the student that stretch will be on the areas of churchly knowledge and skill.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

what does the Talmud have to say about Presbyterianism?

There is a statement within the Talmud that says, “It is not enough to simply repeat the tradition, but the student must also understand it as well.” This being said, what then is the value of learning something like the Westminster shorter catechism? Aside from it being a requirement for students here at Reformed Theological Seminary, I would suggest that the shorter catechism is a ready-made discipleship curriculum, which provides a basic framework for understanding God and how people are to respond to him. This is true because the catechism provides the student with a basic summary of the twofold knowledge of God (i.e. God the Creator, God the Redeemer), which is taught in the Scriptures. In addition, it requires the students to memorize in full the 10 Commandments and the Lord's prayer, while providing a basic explanation of each portion of Scripture.

Now, I realize that there are many objections to the continued use of catechism, however, I would suggest that many of these objections either are outright agreements to the theological content of the catechism or simply fail to appreciate the value of catechism as a form of education that initiates one's understanding of Christianity not terminates. I think many people tend to object to catechism because they believe that it stagnates and future theological understanding or apprehension, however this is certainly not the case for two reasons.

First, the Catechism does not claim for itself absolute authority. The authority of the catechism is derived from Scripture. The catechism functions as a bullet point framework for understanding the teachings of Scripture. , it does not pretend to provide final answers for every interpretive problem found within the Scriptures themselves. At times, the catechism is room for discussion and ambiguity, which allows freedom to discuss theological matters outside of the catechism itself (e.g. question 9 states that God created all things "in the space of six days" what does that mean? Does the catechism authoritatively claim a literal six day creationism?) This means any student of the catechism does not rely on the catechism to answer every one of his questions because (1) the catechism itself teaches that the Scripture itself is the only rule to direct any Christian how to enjoy and glorify God, (2) the catechism itself does not attempt provide clarity on every one of its answers.

It also does not claim to be exhaustive. That is, it does not intend to be a full encyclopedia of theological knowledge. There are many theological areas which remain outside of the scope of the catechism. This means that the student will leave his time with the catechism with many more questions than when he first began. The catechism initiates the student into the subject matter of the Bible, which in turn further generates more questions about the Scriptures, which in turn encourages any "graduate" of the catechism to more closely engage the Scriptures themselves. This then becomes the testing grounds for what the student has learned from catechism. This means that the student can then test the accuracy of the catechism against his reading of Scripture.

The bottom line is I believe many people object to the continued use of catechism because they assume that the goal of such learning is simply rote memorization of 107 questions. There are several assumptions behind this objection, which simply failed to understand the function and limits of the catechism. I have argued that the catechism does not claim absolute authority within the church community, rather functions as a framework for understanding the teachings of Scripture (i.e. knowledge of God (questions 1 -- 38) and how we respond to him (39 -- 107). I have contended that the goal of this framework initiates an understanding of the Scripture, which generates questions about the Scriptures itself and encourages further engagement with the Scriptures. This is true because the form of each answer on the catechism is simply a summary or thesis statement concerning doctrine, which does not substantiate itself within the catechism, rather it encourages the student to provide evidence for the claims that it makes. If it is true that even a student of tradition should not simply repeat the tradition itself without first understanding it, then it is equally true that the one whom rejects the tradition must also understand the tradition before he rejects it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


The other day, my wife Emily noticed that I was reading a book entitled "Introduction to the Old Testament As Scripture." She laughed at the title, especially after I tried to explain that the book was quite revolutionary in the field of Old Testament studies.

My wife's reaction to this book was one of incredulity and offence. For her, the title was incredulous because the idea of studying the Bible as Scripture seems to be part and parcel with how one approaches the Bible and yet for some reason it had not dawned on scholars to do so (apparently) until the 1970s with the pioneering work of Brevard Childs. The question that I could see encoded in her furloughed eyebrow was: why had he can scholars so long to learn how to read the Bible in a way as has been completely obvious to any regular practicing Christian or Jew? For her, the title of book was also offensive because it seemed to imply that scholars were trying to lay claim to something that they didn't really discover. To claim to try to understand Old Testament as Scripture seems to imply that scholars are going to be in to try to incorporate faith within their methodological approach. I don't think my wife would put it this way, but her emotional response to this book is grounded in a kind of unresolved hypocrisy within the very title. To talk about the Old Testament as Scripture is to separate the notion of the body of writings from their place of authority within the community of faith. The very title poses the question: what is the relationship between the Old Testament and Scripture? For her (and for me for that matter!) the body of writings is inseparably bound to its authority. What makes this title initially offensive is that the writer is presuming to make use of a notion that properly belongs to insiders but he will do so from a dispassionate/outsider perspective. In other words, the question Childs is asking is: what would the Old Testament look like if we (scholars) study did as if it were Scripture (i.e. a body of authoritative writings that forms and in forms the community of faith)? For the person of faith, this is an impossible task. One cannot study the Bible as if one believed it to be true and authoritative. Either one accepts it as true and authoritative or one does not.

Now, my wife did not realize that her emotional response to this volume is precisely the response that Childs wants from his readers. He maintains that scholars from both sides of the fence have missed the mark. Conservative scholars (i.e. those who approach the Bible as Scripture) have failed to acknowledge the many advances in our understanding of The Old Testament brought about by Historical Critical Research (i.e. those who approach the Bible exclusively as a historical religious document). He argues that both camps have failed to acquire and make use of a proper understanding of canon, which is historically grounded in an understanding of the shape of the text, which is not necessarily found in a reconstructed/conjectural understanding of the process of canonization but in the final form of the canon itself. This means that conservative scholars have tended to interpret the Scriptures with a concept of canon, which has been formulated philosophically and theologically without the aid of a historical understanding of canon. Critical scholars, on the other hand, have disregarded any concept of canon as the legitimate framework for interpreting Scripture. So Childs, although Childs is at some level intending an emotive response to his book, he is more explicitly criticizing the relative failure of both conservative and critical scholars in order that he may propose a new (not sense of invention but in the sense of discovery) hermeneutical approach to interpreting the Old Testament.

There is much that could be said about Childs canonical approach, but let me briefly summarize. He states that the goal of the canonical approach is to take seriously the significance of the canon as a crucial element in understanding the Hebrew Bible and yet at the same time understanding it in its true historical and theological dimensions. This means that he will attempt to explore the meaning of the shape or structure of the biblical texts, while at the same time make use of the tools of historical critical Research to supplement his understanding. He is not attempting to ignore historical credit research, rather he is proposing a shift in emphasis that focuses on providing a description of the final form of the biblical text. The shape of the text refers to the "interpretive structure which the biblical text has received from them to form and used it as sacred Scripture." Basically, my wife's response was basically correct. Childs does intend to study the Bible As If he were a believer. The difference between Childs and my wife at this point is that Childs is saying that he intends to study scripture as if he were a Christian or Jewish believer about 2000 years ago or so.

I would like to think that my wife refuses to read Childs because of her strong emotional response to the perplexing title of his book, however it probably has more to do with the Scholastic nature of the book itself. To be absolutely fair to my wife, she is actually a strong advocate of the canonical approach to Scripture. About a year ago, she had the privilege of taking a course here at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson with Miles Van Pelt. The course that she took was entitled "Joshua to Kings." The very title of the course suggested a canonical approach because it suggests that the scope of the survey class was to cover the former prophets. During the course, Dr. Van Pelt, stressed the importance of the original Hebrew order of the canon for understanding Scripture. After that class, my wife became so convinced of that importance that she told me she wanted to have an English Bible with the original canonical order. So, just as soon as I could, I purchased a "Complete Jewish Bible,"had it leather bound," and gave it to her as an anniversary present. So although I may never be able to get my wife to read Brevard Childs, I can at least be assured by the fact She understands the value of canonical criticism and to some extent even makes use of it when she picks up her "Hebrew" Bible (as she likes to refer to it).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

steadying Aramaic with Hardy

now that the regular semester is done, I am completely free to do what I want, which in my case is an independent study on Biblical Aramaic and a self-imposed crash course on the book of Ruth. Normally trying to do either of these things independently is extremely hard to do. I have opted for not trying to do so. Instead, I am getting together with a buddy of mine whose name is Hardy Warren.

Hardy is one of the best student scholars I know. he is an older gentleman who is in his 60s. he is single and has never been married, and from what I can tell never cares to be married. he served as a nation and for a number of years in South America. he has said that while he was a missionary he had several opportunities to preach. after a number of preaching opportunities, people around him would remark that he had a gift for preaching. After the death of his mother several years ago, he decided that he wanted to go to seminary. presently he is working on a master's of arts in biblical studies. Although he is among the rare breed of MA students who is suicidal enough to plunge deep in the heart of the biblical languages. (I say "suicidal" because the biblical languages are only required for MDiv students). his vision beyond seminary is to help further equip the many pastors spread throughout Mississippi who are unable to afford further biblical training. Hardy would claim to be neither more confident or qualified than any other pastor for student out there and yet his powerful skill and humble attitude demonstrated otherwise. he has a careful eye for working through Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. He has a humble attitude when it comes to listening to his teachers (many of whom are young enough to be his son's or even grandsons). in my experience this is a rare exception. I find that many older students tend to be all too confident in their skill sets and way too assertive in their attitude. I find that older to students tend to bring their experience to bear on nearly any subject in a seminary classroom setting. however, this just does not seem to be the case for Hardy Warren.

I consider it an honor and privilege to study with a man who commands the respect of a grandfather and yet sees himself know different than a fellow student.

Friday, April 30, 2010


From general canonical standpoint the Song of Songs is a shocking book, however from a literary standpoint within the book the phrase “love is as strong as death” כִּי־עַזָּ֤ה כַמָּ֙וֶת֙ אַהֲבָ֔ה (Sol 8:6 WTT) is shocking in and of itself. There are several reasons for this shock. First, the word “love” (bha) occurs 11x in the song and this is the first and only time it is ever compared to “death” (twm). In fact, this is the only time in the Hebrew Bible[1] where love compared to death! However, is this the full extent of the shocking dimension about this phrase? Some scholars have suggested that this phrase carries with it a veiled reference to the Ugaritic myth about Anat and Baal.[2] Is this true?

This study will suggest that “death” is not to be understood with reference to the ANE background, rather it should be understood in terms of its larger canonical expression. Specifically, “death” be understood as a consequence of living apart from the covenant. Death in this sense is understood as something akin to “the way to death” (tw#m*-yk@r=d^)[3] as we see in parallel literary forms within the Canon. This means that the “strength of death” (SOS 8:6c) is the power of an alternative way of life outside of covenant life. Death in this sense is separation from one's true covenant partner,[4] a vulnerability to the power of evil,[5] as well as exile from the land.[6] Reasons for this interpretation will become clear in the course of this paper.

The purpose of the following paper is to explore the meaning of the phrase “love is as strong as death” in relation to its possible Ancient near East[7] background. In order to test this accurately, we must first examine the proposed ANE background in terms of its historical placement, genre function, and content. This will enable us to establish commonalities as well as “points of opposition.”[8] Then we must conduct a word study on the Hebrew noun “death.”

The word study will keep in mind the following criteria. First, what can this word possibly mean within the HB. Second, how can this word be used to express X? In other words, how is this word used in relation to metaphorical expression? How can this word be collated with other terms? Is it possible to use this term as personification? With regard to personification, we must ask whether the personification is simply the literary embodiment of an abstract idea or whether it's a possible reference to ANE mythological background. In addition, we must look for the contextual indications that alert the reader to the fact that personification is indeed at work within the text. This will enable us to develop clear criteria for when personification does occur in every clear instance, and then we will be able to more precisely evaluate the text in question.


The proposed ANE background for SOS 8:6c occurs in the Ugaritic text Baal and Mot. There is some disagreement about the mythological function of the text. Some scholars maintain that the narrative is an attempt to explain the seasonal patterns of summer and spring.[9] Meaning, the story depicts Mot, the god of death, as somebody who temporarily defeats Baal, the god of fertility. During this time of temporary defeat, Mot puts the sun god under orders to beat down on the earth. In this way, the myth could be talking about the seasonal disruption of summer. However, other scholars maintain that this is a story about a special instance of prolonged seasonal disruption (i.e. possibly a seven-year drought), which could be a historical reference to the drought that Moses describes in Gen 46:25.[10]

The purpose of our study, the focus has been drawn to the smaller conflict within the story between Anat and Mot, specifically CTA 6. In the broad context of this narrative Baal has been summoned to “come down throat of divine Mot.”[11] Baal avoids submitting himself to this summons by producing a male heir in his likeness and offering him as a substitute in his place. The text states, “he [Baal] love a heifer in the pastures… he did lie with her seven and 70 times, she allowed him to mount her 8 and 80 times; and she conceived and gave birth to a boy.”[12] It is with this heir that Baal convinces Mot that he is indeed dead. This plan is so successful that he has also deceived the rest of the gods of this fact.

Our specific context begins with Ahat, Baal’s sister mourning over this apparent fact. As she is moyrning she poses this question, “What will become of the people of Dagon’s son? What of his multitudes?”[13] In other words, now that Baal is dead there is a vacancy of power, a disruption of fertility upon the earth. After this problem is brought to the attention of El, there is some debate and deliberation about who will take his place. After Anat very quickly realizes that this divine deliberation is going nowhere quick, she decides to take up search for Baal. She soon realizes that she is unable to find him. So she decides to confront Mot himself. Anat demands, “do you, Mot, give up my brother?”[14] Eventually, Anat gets so angry with Mot she seizes “divine Mot, with a sword she split him”[15] We learn eventually that Baal is indeed still alive. in the last portion of the story we see Baal and Mot locked in combat together. The text states, “Mot was strong. Baal was strong. They fought like greyhounds; Mot fell down, Baal fell down on top of him.” At this point, Shaphesh, the sun god, intercedes in order to bring an end to the unending struggle. He says, “Hear, I beseech you, O divine Mot. How can you fight with mightiest Baal?”[16] The text ends with Mot affirming the place and supremacy of Baal within the scope of the pantheon.
Before we make an assessment about the relevance of this story for understanding SOS 8:6c, we must do a careful word study. This will enable us to make a comparison and contrast between these two distinctive bodies of literature.


The noun “death” (twm) occurs 160x in the HB. In terms of distribution, Jon has the greatest concentration of occurrences (3x) whereas Prov as the second greatest concentration (19x). The Psalms has the largest number of occurrences in terms of sheer quantity (22x). Exodus contains the least amount in terms of distribution (1x), even though the books of Est, Songs, Lam, and Hab also only contain a single occurrence.

The word has five different definitions. First, it can mean simply, “death, dying.”[17] This simply has to do with the termination of life. Second, it can mean. “Epidemic, especially the plague.” This has to do with deadly conditions within a specific environment. Third, it can be “personified as the god of death.” Fourth, it can mean, “the realm of the dead.” This has to do with the underworld or the grave. Fifth, death can be a place for a destination. This has to do with the consequences of breaking the covenant.

Death as the Termination of Life

The most basic definition of “death” (twm) is “death, dying.” This signifies the termination of life. An example of this use can be heard in the mouth of Hagar who says after wandering in the wilderness, “let me not look on the death of the child,” (Gen 21:16). Later on, we see the expression “the death of Abraham” (Gen 25:11, 26:18) signaling the termination of the life of Abraham. Still later on, we see the same use in the mouth of the Isaac who says, “Bring venison and make morsels for me so that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord and before my death,” (Gen 27:10, translation my own). This same word can be used of animals that have also ceased to live. Moses states, whoever touches them [animals] when they are dead shall be unclean until evening, (Ex 10:17). There are also a number of other examples of this use.[18]

Death as epidemic

Death can be used to designate a plague of that is affecting a particular people group or geographic plane. Pharaoh states, “now therefore forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the Lord your God only to remove this death from me,” (Ex 10:17, ESV).[19]

Death as ceremonial uncleanliness

If someone is to come in contact with a corpse, then this will render them into a state of ceremonial uncleanliness. This is true of both certain types of animals as well as humans. Moses states, “These are unclean to you among all that swarm. Whoever touches them when they are dead shall be unclean until evening,” (Lev 11:31, ESV).[20]

Death as Penalty of Law

Death can be the consequence of a crime committed under the law. Moses states, “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he's put to death,” (Dt 21:22, ESV). Jeremiah mentions a similar idea to this, which he calls it “the sentence of death, (26:11, 16).

Death as a Vacancy in Leadership

The death of a person can be a sign of a vacancy in leadership. The text will say something like, “After the death of x,” which simply means there is a need for a new leader.[21] Moses himself understands the importance of a present living leader. He says to Israel, “for I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord, how much more after my death!” (Dt 31:27, ESV).[22]

Death as Covenant Punishment

Death is a covenant punishment. This means it is the consequences for breaking the covenant. Moses states, “see, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil,” (Dt 30:15, ESV). Again he states, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I said before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life that you and your offspring may live,” (Dt 30:19, ESV). This way of speaking about death becomes a prominent theme in the wisdom literature.[23]

Death as the Place of the Dead

Death is the place where the dead reside. This can be in terms of the physical location of inhumation or perhaps the metaphysical round of deceased persons. Concerning the former David states, “for in death there is no remembrance of you; and sheol who will give you praise?” (Ps 6:5, ESV concerning the latter Job states, “have the gates of death and revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of the darkness?” (Jb 38:17).[24]

Death as the Language of Expression

Death can be used to express a wide variety of conditions. These conditions can be expressed in the form of oath, metaphor, simile, collocation, or personification.

Metaphors for Death

There are several metaphors for death. Most of these metaphors for expressions occur within the wisdom literature and the poetic sections of the Bible. There is “The snares of death,”[25] which basically means a threatening for menacing obstacle. There is a reference to “The dust of death,” in Ps 22:15, which is a reference to the grave. There is, of course, “The gates of death,”[26] which is a reference to the entrance of the underworld as in the metaphysical abode for the death. Of course, there is a single reference to “Chambers of death,” (Pr 7:27), which is the place or destination of apostasy or living outside of the covenant. This is also referred to as “The way to death.”[27] There is also a single reference to “Sleep of death,” (Ps 13:30) which signifies the event of death itself. There is also several ways to refer to the impending threat of death: “The Chords of death,” (Ps 18:4), “The bitterness of death,” (1 Sam 15:32), “The waves of death,” 2 Sam 22:5. Finally, one can also speak of a “Deathly panic,” (1 Sam 5:11).

Similes for Death

There are a few occasions where death is likened to someplace or quality Inn in person. The author of lamentations talked says that “the House is like death,” (1:20). Habakkuk compares greed to death in the manner that it never has enough, (2:5). The author of Ecclesiastes says that death is better than being born, (7:1). He also says an adulterous woman is "More bitter than death" (Eccl 7:26). Jonah tells God that “death is better than life,” (Jo 4:3, 8).

Collocations with Death

There are also collocations or words that occur in relation to the word death. In addition to all the word pairs that have hardly been pointed out in the discussion concerning metaphor and simile, there are several collocations worth pointing out. There is “strangling and death,” (Jb 7:15). There is also a fairly common “life and death.”[28] There is also reference to “Arrows and death,” (Pr 26:18). Finally, there is a single collocation of love and death (SOS 8:6).

The Personification of Death

Death can be personified as the god of death. Job says, “Abaddon and death say. ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears,’” (28:22, ESV). It is important to note here that death is pictured as someone who can say something. The prophet Isaiah states that God will “Swallow death forever,” (25:8). Here that his personified as an enemy which can be conquered by God himself. He also accuses the people of making “a covenant with death” (28:15, 18). Here that his personified as a covenant partner. Later on, he states that “death does not praise you [Yahweh],” (38: this 18). Here it is personified as somebody who refuses to praise God. Jeremiah states, “death has come into our windows; it has entered our palaces,” (9:21). Notice here death is the subject of the verbal action. Later on, he states that “men meet death by pestilence,” (18:21). Here then are able to encounter death as if it were a personal being. Finally, the prophet Hosea cries out, “shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? Oh Death, where are your plagues? Oh Sheol, where is your sting?” (13:14, ESV). Here death is directly addressed as if he were a real person.

Now that we have conducted a word study on death, we are able to make note of several important factors. First, the word death has the wide range of meaning. It can mean the termination of life. It can mean epidemic. It can also signify a vacancy in leadership. Death has the power to render somebody ceremonially unclean. Death can be a punishment for crime. Death can be the result of breaking a covenant. We also saw that death can be used express many different facets of human emotion by means of metaphor, simile, collocation, and personification. With regard to collocation, we saw that it was usually paired with paired with the word for life and only once with the word for love. With regard to personification, we saw that there was usually a specific contextual indicator that alerted the reader to the fact that personification was being used. The main mechanism for personification was the fact that death was the subject of the firm of action for perhaps the recipient of personal action. So we can conclude on the basis of our word study that it is possible that death may be personified in SOS 8:6c, but we will need further contextual evidence to verify this interpretation. We now turn to the immediate context of SOS 8:6c.


There are several questions that need to be addressed: 1) what genre is at work here; 2) what is the specific literary type or form; 3) how does SOS 8:6c function within the literary form and within 8:6 in particular; 4) how doesn't contribute to a biblical understanding of love?

First, it must be noted that 8:6c is placed within the broad context of 8:4-- 14. The vote in its entirety is found within the body of the writings, which is wisdom literature or life within the land. The immediate context is 8:4 – 14. This can be classified as Didactic poetic lecture. In this regard, the form is similar to what can be found in Proverbs 1 -- 9, which is a series of poetic lectures exhorting “my son” to learn and think as one who possesses the skill of “leadership” תַּחְבֻּל֥וֹת (Pro 1:5 WTT). The book of Proverbs terminated with a poetic depiction of who a potential leader in Israel should marry; namely “a wife of valor” אשֶׁת־חַ֭יִל (Pro 31:10 WTT). It is worth mentioning that this woman is described as somebody who “opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue,” (31:26, NASB). Now, here within 8:4 -- 14, we see “a life of valor” for filling this very function. She is opening her mouth in wisdom concerning things that she has learned.

Second, it must be noted that 8:6c occurs within the immediate context of an imperative. The peasant princess exhorts her beloved to “place me” שִׂימֵ֙נִי (Sol 8:6 WTT)[29] as if she were “a seal” כחוֹתָ֜ם (Sol 8:6 WTT).

But now how does 8:6c relate to this imperative? In other words, how does yk! function within this context? It can function 10 ways: 1) causal; 2) temporal; 3) conditional; 4) adversative; 5) concessive; 6) assertive; 7) result; 8) nominalizing; 9) within a question; 10) recitative. We can rule out numbers 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10 on the basis of specific syntactic features that are not at work here. However, that still leaves 2, 5, and 6 for our consideration. If we were to translate it as causal, then we could render the verse as “because love is as strong as death.” If we would translate it as assertive, then “indeed love is as strong as death.” If we were to translate it as concessive, then we would translate it “as in spite of love [being] as strong as death.” Although all three of these possibilities seem plausible, I tend to prefer the causal understanding of the conjunction because the peasant princess is trying to teach us something about love through a persuasive argument. Yes, although it is true that in some sense she is trying “to assert the certainty of what follows,”[30] I believe it makes more sense to say that she is giving the ground of reasoning for her imperative.

So what does it mean to say “love is as strong as death”? First, it must be noted that the word “love” occurs 11x SOS. First, it occurs with reference to her beloved as proclaiming his love as a “banner” (lgd). Second, the peasant princess talks about being “sick with love” כִּי־חוֹלַ֥ת אַהֲבָ֖ה (Sol 2:5 WTT). This is a reference to wanting to be in covenant of union with her beloved.[31] Third, several times throughout this Song and peasant princess exhorts the daughters of Jerusalem to not arouse or awaken “love” (bha) until it is time.[32] Fourth, Solomon’s portable Shag pad is described as being “inlaid with love,” (3:10). Fifth, Solomon himself calls the peasant princess “love” (7:6).

So what does love me and our present context? I don't think it makes any sense to say that love where death is a reference to the ANE mythological context because there are none of the contextual indicators that we clearly saw in other portions of the HB. Love or death are not acting as subjects which can perform verbal actions nor are they being addressed as they were personal being used to be encountered. However, what does this statement specifically mean within our context? Is love being talked about in an abstract sense or in a personal concrete sense? I prefer to say that love is being talked about in abstract with immediate and present application. To exclude one from the other is to tear away at the unity of the coherency and universal application of truth in general. In addition, I would suggest that what is meant by this comparison is that she is saying that love is a choice between life and death. You see, the wisdom teacher in Proverbs lays out a choice for his students. They can either choose “fear of the Lord” (1:7, 29) or “dread of evil” (1:33). These two decisions are embodied as two different women: Lady wisdom (1:20) and the strange woman (2:16). If the students choose the former, then the results will be dwelling in safety (1:33) and life within the land (2:22). Now in this song the woman is forced with a choice between Solomon and her true love. Solomon is offering her safety and security supposedly whereas for true love offers her true safety and true security. It is interesting to note that while she is within harem, she continues to suffer from being “sick with love,” which is an indication that harem life for the most part it's not going to satisfy her deepest longing to live in genuine covenant union with her true love. Ultimately, living in a harem will result in a lack of genuine safety and exile from the promised land. It is on this basis that I would suggest that “death” should be understood here in terms of “the way to death”[33] or “the chamber of death” (7:27) as we saw in the book of Proverbs.[34]


We begin study with the question: what is so shocking about love and death? The main purpose of this study was to investigate the so-called possibility of the ANE background for SOS 8:6c. A careful comparative analysis of the Ugaritic mythological parallel in relation to the possible range of meaning of the word “death” showed us that, although it was possible to establish parallels even within the HB, this certainly was not the case in SOS 8:6c. Rather, it should be read in light of its literary formal function as a didactic poetic lecture, which is exhorting the reader to understand the nature of love as a choice between death and life. This is significant in light of precedent research that has tended to evaluate this phrase almost exclusively in relation to its so-called ANE background. This basically plays out as either an affirmation for denial of the relevance. What most scholars failed to do is fail to draw out its significance. If I am incorrect in my assessment regarding the ANE, then what would be significance of this reference? How can a story that concerns itself with the problem of fertility in the land have any meaningful significance on song about covenant love? Could we say that the Bible is challenging the ANE understanding about seasonal pattern? What would be the effect upon Hebrew audience? However, if my assessment is correct, then we are in a position to talk about love without regard to so-called Cannanite background material. We can free up the text to speech in its own distinctive terms. In addition, is my hope that I have provided in the rough outline a clear criterion to evaluate the presence or absence of genuine mythological reference.

[1] From here on out HB.

[2] Othmar Keel, The Song of Songs: A Continental Commentary, trans. Frederick J. Gaiser, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 274; Tremper Longman III, Song of Songs, (Grand Rapids: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 210; Duane Garrett, Song of Songs, WBC, (Nashville ); note that not all scholars agree that they should be read as a reference to ANE mythology see Richard S. Hess, Song of Songs, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 239; note that Robert Gordis in his commentary, The Song of Songs and Lamentations, (New York: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1974), 99, does not even acknowledge interleaved difficulty here.

[3] Pr 14:12; 16:25

[4] SOS 2:5, 7; 3:5; 5:8; 8:4, 6.

[5] SOS 2:4.

[6] The concept of exile should be understood in contrast with life in the land, which involves not only geographic location but public involvement with commerce and legal decisions; see Proverbs 1: 20 -- 21.

[7] From here on out ANE.

[8] Arvid S. Kapelrud, The Ras Shamra Discoveries and the Old Testament, trans., G. W. Anderson, (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), 30.

[9] J. C. L. Gibson, Cannanite Myths and Legends, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1978), 18.

[10] J. C. L. Gibson, Cannanite Myths and Legends, 18.

[11] J. C. L. Gibson, Cannanite Myths and Legends, 68.

[12] J. C. L. Gibson, Cannanite Myths and Legends, 72.

[13] J. C. L. Gibson, Cannanite Myths and Legends, 74.

[14] J. C. L. Gibson, Cannanite Myths and Legends, 76.

[15] J. C. L. Gibson, Cannanite Myths and Legends, 77.

[16] J. C. L. Gibson, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 80.

[17] HELOT, Bibleworks 8.

[18] Gen 27:2; 50:16; Lev 11:32; 16:1; Num 16:29; 23:10; 35:25, 28, 32; Deut 31:27, 29; Jud 13:7; Ruth 1:17; 2:11; 1 Sam 20:3, 31; 2 Sam 6:23; 1 Chr 22:5; Est 2:7; Ps 33:19; 49:17; 53:13 68:20; 73:4; 70:50; 89:48; 116:15; Pro 11:7; Eccl 3:19; 7:1; Jer 18:21, 23; 52:11, 34; Ez 18:23, 32; 31:14; 33:11;

[19] see also Jer 43:11.

[20] For a comprehensive study on the relationship between death and uncleanliness see Emanuel Feldman, Biblical and Post- Biblical Defilement and Mourning: Law as Theology, (New York: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1977).

[21] See Josh 1:1, Jdg 1:1; 2 Sam 1:1; 2 Ki 1:1; 14:17; 15:5; 1 Chr 2:24; 2 Chr 22:4; 24:17; 26:21.

[22] See also Dt 31:29.

[23] Jb 3:21; Ps 33:19; Pr 2:18; 5:5; 7:27; 8:36; 10:2; 11:4, 19; 12:28; 13:14; 14:12, 27; 16:25; 18:21; 21:6; 24:11; Jer 21:8.

[24] See also: Ps 9:13.

[25] See: 2 Sam 22:6; Ps 18:5; 116:3; Pr 13:14; 14:27; 21:6.

[26] See: Jb 38:17; Ps 9:13; 107: 18.

[27] See: Pr 14:12; 16:25.

[28] See: Dt 30:15; 2 Sam 1:23; 15:21.

[29] Qal. Imperfect, 2ms, Biconsonantal. -to place, to put. 1cs pronominal suffix.

[30] Ronald J. Williams, Williams Hebrew Syntax: Third Edition, rev. By John C. Beckman, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 158.

[31] See also: 5:8.

[32] 2:7; 3:5; 8:4.

[33] See: Pr 14:12; 16:25

[34] see also: Dt 30:15, 19; Jb 3:21; Ps 33:19; Pr 2:18; 5:5; 7:27; 8:36; 10:2; 11:4, 19; 12:28; 13:14; 14:12, 27; 16:25; 18:21; 21:6; 24:11; Jer 21:8.