Category Archives: Biblical Studies

Matthew McAffee’s “Creation and the Role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8”: A Review

Kevin L. Hester

Dr. Matthew McAffee, Provost at Welch College, presented one of the most compelling papers at the 2018 Theological Symposium sponsored by the Commission for Theological Integrity. His paper, entitled “Creation and the Role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8: What Can We Learn?” was one of two heavily exegetical papers presented as part of the program. In it, McAffee draws parallels between the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8 with the Genesis account of creation. While he recognizes that the primary purpose of the exhortation to wisdom found in Proverbs 8 is not to provide didactic material on the nature and scope of creation, McAffee asserts that there are a number of implications that can be drawn from the text that have important ramifications for the process of creation, the textual criticism of the Old Testament, and the relationship of the Genesis creation account to other Near Eastern creation stories.

McAffee outlines the role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 and connects it with the two other speeches from Wisdom in Proverbs including 1:20-36 and 9:1-6. The Proverbs 8 discussion is unique because of its reference to the creation of Wisdom before the foundation of the world. While he recognizes that the purpose of the passage is not to present a holistic theory of creation, he argues that the text’s apologetic argument for wisdom rests upon a particular understanding of creation.

McAffee provides robust lexical analysis on several Hebrew terms used in reference to creation. These are analyzed in their Biblical and Near Eastern contexts to clearly show that the author of the wisdom literature expresses an ex nihilo view of creation. He then demonstrates a number of lexical parallels between Proverbs 8 and the Genesis narrative which indicate the author’s resonance with the Genesis narrative.

McAffee’s interpretation of Proverbs 8 and his investigation of its parallels with the Genesis account of creation produce a revisionist conclusion that rejects, on the one hand, the critical consensus of any documentary hypothesis that views the wisdom literature as predating the composition of the Genesis narrative. On the other hand, his work also provides a compelling argument for distinguishing the Genesis account of creation from Babylonian and other Near Eastern creation stories. Thus, McAffee’s work here leads to three important implications.

First, the traditional canonical order of Genesis preceding the wisdom literature better explains the parallel between Proverbs 8 and the Genesis account. Otherwise, following the critical tradition’s dating of Proverbs prior to Genesis produces a significant anachronism wherein, “the presumed older text (Prov. 8) preserves a purportedly late Hellenistic view of creation, while the assumed younger text (Gen. 1) preserves a much earlier Babylonian one.” (p. 145)

Second, the purpose Wisdom’s pre-existent role in Proverbs 8 shows a vision of ex nihilo creation over against other near eastern creation accounts that image creation as the ordering of chaos or construction from pre-existent matter thus distinguishing the Biblical accounts. The text’s usage of the Genesis account, once established, demonstrates that the author of the wisdom literature is reading the Genesis account of creation as ex nihilo documenting a consistent view of creation that is distinctive and prior to other expressions of cosmogony.

If both the Genesis account and the vision of creation in the wisdom literature are consistent with one another and distinctive from other Near Eastern models, then this conclusion upends the commonly held belief that ex nihilo creation was a later, Greek idea incorporated into Judaism. Rather, God’s creation of all things from nothing seems to represent a longstanding Jewish belief.

Third, once the parallel between the creation accounts of Genesis and Proverbs 8 are established and the consistent view is demonstrated to be distinctive from later Greek expressions, the only remaining potential source for the Genesis narrative of creation is the Babylonian Atra Hasis account. This has been the traditional, critical approach. However, the distinctive approach to creation in the accounts from the Babylonian tradition and especially the ex nihilo reading of the Genesis account by the author of the wisdom literature raises real questions about this critical assumption. Such a position seems hardly tenable. Instead, it is more likely that the Atra Hasis and other near eastern creation models are either dependent upon the Genesis account or entirely separate from it.

Thomas Marberry’s “The Lucan Concept of Perseverance”: A Review

Kevin L. Hester

Dr. Thomas L. Marberry, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Randall University, presented his paper entitled “The Lucan Concept of Perseverance” at the 2018 Theological Symposium held at Randall University in Moore, Oklahoma. The Theological Symposium is sponsored by the Commission for Theological Integrity of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.

Free Will Baptists are not strangers to theological discussions related to the perseverance of the saints and the possibility of apostasy. Theological and exegetical discussions of the topic abound, yet most of the exegetical arguments have been confined to Hebrews, II Peter, and the gospel of John. In 2013, Dr. Robert Picirilli published his book, Discipleship: The Expression of Saving Faith (Randall House), in which he outlined the importance of perseverance in faith as a necessary characteristic of a disciple. While not dependent upon this work, Marberry’s paper, focusing upon the gospel of Luke, extends some of Picirilli’s important conclusions related to the concept of discipleship in the synoptic gospels.

Marberry demonstrates that the concept of perseverance is lexically important in Acts and therefore conceptually in view in the gospel of Luke. Luke presents a number of calls to discipleship by Jesus and warnings against falling away during “trials and temptations.” Unlike Calvinist interpreters who prefer to see such warnings as either hypothetical or instrumental; or, who see such language as reflective of temporary followers who had insufficient, faulty, or false faith, Marberry concludes that Luke never makes such concessions. Instead, Luke’s understanding of faith is that “even true believers can depart from the faith and that perseverance is necessary for all who name the name of Christ.” (p. 63)[1]

Through a review of a number of Arminian and Free Will Baptist statements of faith, Marberry shows that this tradition has consistently insisted upon perseverance in faith as a necessary component of discipleship. Marberry then reviews several places in Luke’s gospel that seem to lead to the same conclusion. He discusses the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21), the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8), and the Parable of the Unfaithful Steward (Luke 12). Marberry provides important lexical analysis of key terms and compendious references to commentaries on these texts from differing theological positions. His conclusion is that Luke makes no distinction in his usage of the word faith and that attempts to read these warnings and descriptions as hypothetical or the result of false faith are driven by theological assertions unsupported by the Biblical text. Instead, Luke’s warnings indicate a real possibility for the believer’s falling away.

Marberry then briefly discusses the narrative accounts of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. He posits that both examples contribute to Luke’s understanding of perseverance. Judas turned away from his faith whereas peter repented and returned. Marberry asserts that the parallel indicates that both Judas and Peter were “true and faithful disciples of Jesus.” (p. 74) Peter, even in his failure, becomes an example of perseverance; whereas, Judas serves as a trope for apostasy.

While Marberry recognizes that “faith exists in degrees” (p. 74), the warnings of Luke’s gospel against falling away teach two important lessons. First, true believers who have true faith, can and do turn away from the truth they once received.  Second, while God’s will is “that believers endure the testings, trials, and tribulations” of this life, only those who persevere to the end shall be saved.” (p. 75)

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[1] All page numbers are derived from Symposium Digest of Papers.

A Theory about Theory?

W. Jackson Watts

Recently I was preparing a sermon from Ephesians 3:1-13 as part of a series on Ephesians at my church. During my study I consulted several commentaries, including the NIV Application Commentary on Ephesians, authored by Klyne Snodgrass, now professor emeritus at North Park Theological Seminary.

Each volume in this commentary set is divided into three sections for each passage: (1) Original Meaning, in which the text is exegeted; (2) Bridging Contexts, in which the key themes and issues that arise from that exegesis are discussed; and (3) Contemporary Significance, in which some application is provided. Hence, the sub-theme of the entire set: “From biblical text…to contemporary life.”

I do sometimes scratch my head a bit with where the authors go with application of passages. For example, on this passage, Snodgrass says:

“In urging that we value the treasure of revelation, I am not urging focus on a particular theory of revelation. Theories are fine, as long as we do not forget that the revelation is unsearchable and inexhaustible and that our theories are always inadequate. People do  not have to use the same words—such as ‘inerrancy’—to value the treasure. To set up a particular expression as a necessary description canonizes the wrong material and only detracts from the revelation. What people need to know is that the gospel is truth  from God (1:13). While some theories are inadequate, several others are legitimate and useful. But our theories must not become substitutes for the revelation itself. We study the revelation, not our theories.”[1]

Criticisms of inerrancy abound, and it seems Snodgrass is at least implicating himself in that body of criticism. However, I’m interested in the larger criticism about theories of revelation which he offers.

What Does He Mean by “Theories of Revelation”?

First, Snodgrass is especially anxious about theories of revelation. Most Bible students learn about some such theories in the course of study. These concern how the Bible came to exist in its present form, which belongs more properly to studies of canon. Then there are ideas about the nature of biblical inspiration, which deal with the nature of the text and how it may or may not convey truth to the reader.

Right off hand, I cannot think of any evangelical theory of revelation that claims our understanding of revelation is not unsearchable, or inexhaustible. This includes our ability to apprehend all biblical texts to the point of 100% certainty and clarity, or our ability to be able to retrace with minute precision every revelatory moment in history. So Snodgrass’ claim about the adequacy of our theories makes me ask, “Does adequacy require comprehensiveness?” In my experience, the adequacy or sufficiency of a model or theory about the Bible does not require inexhaustibility to be faithful or legitimate.

I also wonder if theory, for him, includes any account or idea itself about revelation. As a former professor of biblical literature, I have a hard time imagining that in Snodgrass’ 40+ years of teaching he never utilized models, categories, or perhaps theories about textual composition. If the biblical text is somehow connected to what he means about revelation, then I wonder how he carefully avoided “inadequate theories” of revelation. It would be helpful for readers to know which ones he considered “legitimate and useful,” and what criteria one might employ to make that determination.

Which Revelation?

It would also be useful to know what Professor Snodgrass really means by revelation. The institution he taught at is a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which affirms the centrality of the Word of God. Their website does not explain, however, what this means. What counts as the Word? The written, canonical text? The message the text gives rise to? Surely some explanations or accounts (or theories?) might prove useful in helping us make sense of this.

The revelation that Paul speaks about in these passages seems to be the Damascus Road experience, through which the risen Christ called him to salvation and to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Yet when evangelicals typically speak of revelation they either mean general revelation available to all human beings (via creation, conscience), or special revelation (namely, the person of Christ and canonical Scripture). Categories or distinctions then become essential for helping us move from the revelation Paul speaks of, to the larger question of how we steward God’s revelation, namely, the Gospel of Christ for Jew and Gentile alike.

Does our attempt to distinguish, categorize, and perhaps even theorize about the relationship between these forms of revelation inherently diminish our stewardship of it? Or does it actually bring more clarity into how we ought to be handling the revelation? I opt for the latter.

A Question of Discipleship?

One aim of Snodgrass that I do appreciate has to do with discipleship. In the preceding paragraph he points to the fact that when we truly value the revelation of God we focus on the Gospel, which has implications not only for conversion, but discipleship.

In the context of Ephesians 3:1-13, the passage he is commenting upon, Paul is under house arrest for fulfilling his ministry to the Gentiles. His passion for the “mystery of Christ” compelled him to share, even emboldening him in the face of adversity. Snodgrass argues, “The value we place on something determines the hardship we are willing to endure for it. We will expend enormous energy and resources to care for a person or a prized possession we value a great deal. Paul valued the gospel enough to go to prison for it.”[2]

The larger point is well taken. We can intellectualize and become overly theoretical about biblical truth or principles to the point that we devalue actual lived obedience. But again, the question is whether theories or accounts of revelation inherently do this.

Perhaps Dr. Snodgrass could have served the reader better had he said something like this: “We must never substitute our theorizing for the glory of God itself. Our theories are only good insomuch that they find Scriptural support, for insomuch that they find Scriptural support they are able to bring the minds and hearts (that God’s Spirit indwells) into contact with God’s own mind and heart.”

In the end, Snodgrass seems to have a theory about theory. I’m just not persuaded that this theory, embedded ever-so-slightly in a biblical commentary, will help us to avoid the speculations that don’t promote “the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1 Tim. 1:4). We need a more careful account about how theological models, categories, and theories can best point us to the Lord.

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[1] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 170.

[2] Snodgrass, NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians, 171.

Free Will Baptists and the Evangelical Theological Society: Part 2

W. Jackson Watts

In my previous post I discussed the value and significance of Free Will Baptists being involved with the Evangelical Theological Society. In this post I will focus more specifically on the 2018 Meeting and what it, and future meetings, may offer for our people.

The 2018 Program

This year’s program will be held in the beautiful city of Denver on November 13-15. The current cost to attend for non-members is only $85, a reasonable fee given the vast amount of content on the program. The Exhibit Hall is perhaps worth the price of the conference alone. It has displays from a number of parachurch ministries, some of which provide free resources to attendees. More significantly, book vendors from dozens of companies, publishing houses, and other ministries are present selling discounted books (as in, cheaper than Amazon). So whether you want to purchase a commentary set, apologetic resources, or books for your local church’s men’s group, there is something for everyone. More information on attending the meeting can be found here. [i]

I’m excited about this year’s plenary speakers, which include Michael Haykin, Michael Horton, and Craig Keener, all great scholars in their own right. Also, Dr. David Dockery will be giving the Presidential Address. Some will know Dockery and Haykin’s names as they have both been guest speakers at Welch College in recent years.

So which Free Will Baptists will be presenting? Below are the presenters, their paper titles, and the sections they will be presenting in.

Baptist Studies

Matthew Pinson – “The Holy Spirit in Seventeenth-Century General Baptist Theology.”

(Pinson also serves on the steering committee for the Baptist Studies study group)

Church History

Jesse Owens – “Matthew Caffyn, Thomas Monck, and English General Baptism Creedalism.”

Old Testament Backgrounds / Ancient Near East

Matthew McAffee – “Lexicography and the Comparative Method: Some Methodological Considerations.”

(McAffee will also be moderating this session, and serves on the steering committee of the Old Testament Backgrounds/Ancient Near East section)

Septuagint Studies

Zach Vickery – “The Translation Technique of LXX-Ruth.”

Pastoral Epistles

Jeff Cockrell – “The Good Deposit in 2 Timothy: Its Content and Trust”

There is truly something at ETS for everyone. Now as a pastor I am the first to realize that one can only attend some many conferences, retreats, and/or seminars each year. We all have to make choices. Some of those are aligned with our personal interests, some with our vocational goals or needs, and some with the expectations of our churches. While these are all different, they often (and probably should) overlap. I find ETS to be an event that is beneficial on all three fronts, so I try to attend the annual meeting at least every other year. Usually flights can be booked to these cities for reasonable prices, hotel rooms can be shared with other Free Will Baptist brethren, and the actual conference fee isn’t too expensive, especially the earlier you book.

Imagine going to a conference every year where there is something there for you whether you are preparing to preach through Hebrews, or getting ready to start a church-based missions program. Maybe you’re a business person who simply teaches Sunday School—there are usually sessions on economics and Christianity. Imagine there is some debate developing in your church around questions of gender, sexuality, and male-female roles in the church or home. There is something at ETS for you. Just about anything in the areas of theology, church history, biblical studies, ethics, and more can be found on the ETS program.

Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of such a broad program is that one has the opportunity to not just attend paper presentations that appeal to areas we are already interested in, but areas where we have little interest or knowledge. I think it’s helpful to pick a few paper topics (as best as you can discern them from the title in the program) that you think are probably relevant and important, but ones you know little about. Between listening to the paper and interacting with presenters as time allows, one can further their education and equipping for ministry on the spot.

I’m thankful that Free Will Baptist brethren in the past like Dr. Robert Picirilli, Bro. Leroy Forlines, Bro. Ralph Hampton, and Dr. Garnett Reid got involved with ETS and put it on the radar of younger pastor-scholars who now have a chance to grow and serve, hopefully more effectively in the years ahead.

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[i] Each year the Evangelical Philosophical Society also has its meeting concurrently with ETS. And for the few who may be interested, the Academy of American Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature sometimes holds its annual meetings in the same city, usually right before or after ETS.

Free Will Baptists and the Evangelical Theological Society

W. Jackson Watts

In past posts on this blog I have highlighted the increased involvement of Free Will Baptists with the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). According to their website, ETS is a professional academic society of biblical and theological scholars, pastors, and students. As part of the society’s work in fostering Christian scholarship, they hold regular meetings (both regionally and a national one), and they also produce a quarterly journal known as JETS.

ETS dates back to 1949, and so they have been in existence long enough to exert a fair amount of influence on the shape of evangelical scholarship, both in America and abroad. In many ways ETS is very conservative due to its massive numbers of members who are Southern Baptist and Presbyterian (PCA), for example. On the other hand, the organization has a fairly “big-tent” approach to evangelical identity. I happen to be a full member in the society, and each year the statement I must sign to continue with my membership is limited to two affirmations. First, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” Second, “God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”

Beyond these affirmations, there is quite a breadth of views represented among the society’s members. However, as the organization is an academic society and not a church or denomination, this is to be expected.

I think that the Free Will Baptist presence in ETS is notable for several reasons. First, for papers to be accepted onto the program they usually have to clear some hurdles in the review process that typically ensures they are of a certain quality. Like anything else, the range of papers presented across a program with hundreds of papers includes some which are more or less convincing, more or less cogent, more or less academic. Still, simply to be on the program is a positive sign as we assess the state of Free Will Baptist scholarship.

Second, the annual ETS meeting usually gives some indication of trends in the broader Protestant and evangelical world. To be a participant in the meeting gives one access to the discussions that are shaping not just the academy, but also the church. Being plugged into these discussions, and trying to influence them in one direction or another, is a way to promote and preserve theological integrity. As one of the Theological Commission’s stated purposes is “to alert our people of theological trends that could threaten our theological integrity as a denomination,” being a participant in ETS helps us be keenly aware of those trends, at least as they arise from academic circles.

Third, participating in ETS allows our scholars, whether they be younger graduate students, pastors, or professors, to meet and network with people doing meaningful, Christian scholarship in other parts of the country and the world. We all know that we learn best in the context of community. Similarly, such relationships are vital for the cultivation of our own ability to think, write, and minister well.

One fact that should encourage many of our readers is how often a person will attend the presentation of one of our Free Will Baptist presenters, and during the Q&A time or after the session we learn of people interested in Classical (or Reformed) Arminianism. Or we encounter people from other denominations who affirm our view of apostasy, and are looking for dialogue partners in better articulating that theology. I can think of a number of occasions when I have either witnessed or personally experienced this. Such interactions not only give credibility to Free Will Baptist identity and theology, but they remind us of the progress we are making. They also remind us of the work we have ahead of us in raising up the next generation of leaders who will preach, teach, publish, and persuade.

Part two of this post will appear next week.