Reflection: “Sin: The Early History of an Idea” by Paula Fredriksen

Without a doubt, Paula Fredriksen’s Sin: The Early History of an Idea is a classic, must-read book on, well, the history of sin. Her masterful study insightfully and thoroughly explores how concepts of sin shifted in the first four centuries CE: Jesus’s focus on Jews and the ten commandments as how to avoid sin, repent, and join in the kingdom to come; Paul focusing on pagans as part of a universal redemptive plan including “celestial powers, the lower cosmic gods of pagan pantheons” (138), and their eventual submission to the god of Israel (including the cosmic force called Sin); Valentinus’s claiming that ignorance and not knowing God’s will causes sin via the inability to receive revelation; Justin Martyr’s claiming that intellectual “misapprehension of the divine” leads to sin; Origen’s somewhat sympathetic approach to sin as being caused by beings, who were contingent on God, wavering (i.e., unreason leads to sin); and Augustine’s well-known original sin as linked to Adam. While scholars have undoubtedly spilled many pixels and much ink on Fredriksen’s work and the history of sin with regard to the texts she examines, I want to focus instead on her broader methodology and framework. That is, how does Fredriksen approach sin in the first four centuries CE, and how does that approach impact her discussion?

First, Fredriksen’s concept-cluster approach to sin is instructive for approaching any ancient concepts in religious studies. In the epilogue, Fredriksen notes that “ancient ideas about sin provide a point of orientation from which we can move out examine other concept clusters that defined early forms of Christianity” (135). Although she does not explicitly identify a cluster-based approach, she suggests as much by noting “other” concept clusters, implying that sin’s concept cluster serves as a helpful orientation. So, rather than simple lexical studies on specific terms, scholarship should focus more on conceptual categories and mapping those concepts. Admittedly, writing about concept clusters well can be difficult without a broader theoretical framework. While certain critical theorists may prove helpful in this regard, scholars ought to lean more into cognitive studies to map these concept clusters. To be clear, I am not suggesting scholars lean into cognitive studies when it is convenient; rather, religion scholars ought to be well-read in that field, knowledgeable about the specialty more broadly. Moreover, leaning into such a field does not necessitate abandoning theorists. Rather, as Lisa Zunshine articulates so well in Why We Read Fiction, critical and literary theory can and should inform cognitive studies and vice versa. Thus, Fredriksen’s approach is instructive but should be paired with more rigorous analytical models and theoretical frameworks.

Second, while I appreciate Fredriksen’s concept-cluster approach, she does not clearly articulate what terms and ideas function as indices for early Christian and Jewish concept clusters of sin. For example, she cites Josephus’s discussion of the Ten Commandments (Antiquities of the Jews 18.116–119) to reconstruct Jesus’s ideas on sin. In citing Josephus, she focuses primarily on the language of “justice,” “piety,” and “immersion” (i.e., tshuvah, or repentance) in relation to the Ten Commandments. From here and in conjunction with Jesus’s mention of the Ten Commandments (e.g., Mark 10:19), she concludes: “We can infer from all this that Jesus defined living rightly as living according to the Torah, as summed up in and by the Ten Commandments; that he defined sin as breaking God’s commandments” (16). But this claim is problematic on multiple fronts: Josephus’s language; Jesus’s language; and the absence of sin within these passages.

  1. In the passage that Fredriksen cites, she excludes what is arguably central to identifying Jesus’s concept cluster of sin, and this exclusion complicates her subsequent assertion that “he defined sin as breaking God’s commandments.” The problem? Antiquities of the Jews 18.117 explicitly identifies baptism and tshuvah (repentance) as not for the forgiveness of sins: “for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him [i.e., God], if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body” (LINK). Put another way, the Ten Commandments, namely, Josephus’s piety toward God and justice toward others (Antiquities of the Jews 18.117), are indeed linked to immersion/baptism but are importantly decoupled from the remission of sins. As such, this text is a weak foundation for claiming that Jesus’s central idea of sin was that sin meant breaking God’s commandments, especially the Ten Commandments. For while John the Baptist explicitly links baptism and confession of sins, Josephus does not link baptism with sins but rather with purification. And while Josephus links purification with the Ten Commandments, John the Baptist does not explicitly do so (Mk 4:1–6). Therefore, the disjunction between John the Baptist in Matthew 3 and John the Baptist in Josephus problematizes using the texts in conjunction to reconstruct Jesus’s concept cluster of sin because Josephus and Mark’s John (whom she uses to substantiate claims about Jesus’s perspective on sin) seem to use slightly different concept clusters for sin.

    At the same time, Fredriksen rightly highlights that Josephus presumes the immersed individuals “had previously been cleansed by right conduct” (Jesus of Nazareth, 186; italics original) or, in William Whiston’s translation, “that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness” ( Put another way, Josephus’s understanding of baptism links with purification and presumes the baptized individual follows the Ten Commandments. By contrast, John baptizes individuals for the forgiveness of sin, a situation in which they confess their sins (Mk 1:4–6). Fredriksen blends these distinctive processes: “Repentance and sincere contrition before God, John and his contemporaries believed, would gain forgiveness” (Jesus of Nazareth, 186). While this generalization is not necessarily untrue, she nonetheless elides that Mark’s representation of John and Josephus’s representation of John understand and nuance the immersion process in distinctive ways: for Mark’s John, baptism is about the forgiveness of sins, although what constitutes sins is not explicit; by contrast, for Josephus’s John, baptism is about purification and presumes righteous behavior in line with the Ten Commandments, although immersion is explicitly not about remitting sin and implicitly not about confessing sin. As such, Josephus and Mark have somewhat distinct conceptual clusters around sin that ought to be discussed in more detail and recognized as unique conceptual clusters with overlap.
  2. A few pages after Fredriksen discusses how Josephus and Mark represent John in Sin, she suggests that Jesus’s mentioning the Ten Commandments in Mark 10:19 implies that he defined sin as breaking God’s commandments. Indeed, her initial step is undoubtedly correct: according to Mark 10:19, “Jesus defined living rightly as living according to the Torah, as summed up in and by the Ten Commandments” (16). However, the broader context implies that Jesus’s speech is not necessarily concerned with sin. After Jesus responds to the man’s question by affirming the value of living by the Ten Commandments, the man replies, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth” (Mk 10:19, RSV). Jesus responds, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk 10:21, RSV). In the broader context of Fredriksen’s prooftext, textual absences problematize her assertion that breaking the Ten Commandments constituted sin. First, a term for sin does not appear in Mark 10. As such, to simplify Jesus’s notion of sin to breaking the Ten Commandments is untenable without additional discussion and data. Second, the apex of Jesus’s speech in Mark 10:19 links the Ten Commandments with entering the kingdom of God, not repentance or sin. Thus, while Mark 10:19 conceptually overlaps with notions of sin, ignoring how the Ten Commandments function in the broader context of Mark 10:19 is untenable and requires additional textual support.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed Fredriksen’s book; however, her work still retains a problematic trend in scholarly discussions about sin: treating sin as a universal term encompassing social transgressions in religious contexts. While the category of sin can be a helpful heuristic category, distinguishing between a philologically based approach (i.e., indexing how sin as an ancient Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic term functions) and a philosophical approach (i.e., working with something like Ricoeur’s Symbolism of Evil, which shapes discourse about sin) is imperative. When the philology- and philosophy-based approaches mix and we blur the borders, we quickly lose the ability to self-reflect on our methodology and the results that our scholarship yields.  

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Testament of Moses

*I apologize for the delay in Pseudepigrapha Saturday. With Christmas, I was too busy. For those who actively read, please comment and let me know if you would appreciate and/or find it interesting if I expanded Pseudepigrapha Saturday to some more like Source Saturday. Source Saturday would draw from the Pseudepigrapha and other ancient literature.

The Testament of Moses:

The Testament of Moses (henceforth TMos) was composed during the Herodian period, most likely within a Palestinian locale. In short, it is a farewell address by Moses to Israel. Chapter Eleven narrates Joshua’s response, who claims that the Israel’s enemies will likely attack now when Moses is dead. Moses replies with confidence that God will allow Israel to succeed in accordance with his covenant promises. Unfortunately the only extant text is cut off in the middle of Chapter Twelve.

History, Literature, and Imagery:

In an article on TMos, part of Kenneth Atkinson’s argument is that it was composed in the Herodian period. Consequently TMos is a valuable source for understanding the cognitive environment in which people understood characters like Jesus and Moses. At the end of his article, he writes that “the Testament of Moses, once dated to the Herodian period, provides a valuable, yet largely neglected, source for understanding these NT doctrines as well as the roles of other intermediary figures during the Second Temple period” (476).

For New Testament studies, one valuable contribution of Atkinson’s analysis is that it places within Jesus’ life, and outside of New Testament literature, “that many Jews during the Second Temple period believed that a righteous figure must be completely pure and without sin in order to fulfill God’s eschatological plan”. In other words, it elucidates the ideas which authors of the New Testament and early Christianity may have held.


Atkinson, Kenneth. 2006. “Taxo’s Martyrdom and the Role of the Nuntius in the “testament of Moses”: Implications for Understanding the Role of Other Intermediary Figures”. Journal of Biblical Literature 125 (3). The Society of Biblical Literature: 453–76.

Priest, J. “Testament of Moses”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.

“The Origin of Heresy” by Robert M. Royalty Jr.

Robert M. Royalty Jr. The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity. Routledge Studies in Religion 18. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014, 233 pp., $48.95  (paperback).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Routledge for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Origin of Heresy by Robert M. Royalty Jr. explores the discursive rhetoric of difference in the Second Temple Judaism and early orthodox Christianity in order to draw out the heresiological patterns which became the norm in later “orthodox” Christianity. Importantly he approaches the emergence of Christianity not from the classic tenet of Christian historiography, namely “that unity and doctrinal purity preceded divisions, that truth precedes error” (10); rather, he presupposes many early Christianities in agreement with the Bauer thesis. Christian variety resulted in a project of political hegemony and unity. Along this hope for political hegemony and unity, Royalty draws out how the rhetoric of heresy, discourse which negotiates religious difference, functioned in early communities and eventually developed into Christian identity.

Part I draws out the discursive foundations and developments of heresy through rhetoric of difference from the Hebrew Bible to the most fully formed rhetoric in the Gospel from Matthew’s community. Various sources attest to differing approaches to the rhetoric of difference. Ancient Israelite literature often presents prophetic conflict. More often than not, the response is a push for ideological unity, reconciliation, and restoration, rhetoric responses to difference which early Christianity lacked. Developments in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Daniel, and the Hasmonean conflict represent, for Royalty, a shift into key rhetorical features for early Christianity: doxography of error, dualistic eschatology, excommunication based on doctrine, apocalyptic condemnation of opponents, rejection of alternative view points, and the “True Israel”.

With theses rhetorical features, he examines how rhetoric of difference for John the Baptizer and Jesus functioned politically, illustrating that heresy “was an intrinsic part of the origins of what eventually came to be Christianity” (63). Problematic, though, is his clean distinction between political and religious. Royalty even mentions the discussion of whether or not John’s message was political or religious. Such statement occur consistently throughout the work, assuming a clean division between political and religious. His methodology, though, does not thoroughly explore that distinction by which he analyzes the rhetoric of difference. Brent Nongbri in Before Religion (Yale University Press, 2015) provides a valuable statement on how politics and religion were one in antiquity, in contrast to modern conceptions of religion: “episodes that modern authors have identified as ancint “religion” have turned out to involve discourses that ancient authors themselves seem to have understood primarily in ethnic or civic terms” (63). That said, to label Jesus and John’s rhetoric as “political”, and even later texts by the same token, he does a disservice the cognitive world of the text, a world in which clear distinction between religion and politics was not evident.

Following discussion of Jesus and John, he proceeds to Paul and his rhetoric of difference. Through this analysis, Royalty draws out four significant ways in which Paul contributed to Christian heresiology: homonoai, a Roman political ideology for unity; apocalyptic dualism that negated opponents; value of apostolic tradition and “correct” interpretation; and demonization of opponents. These became fundamentals to Christian heresiology and later discursive moves expand the foundations to appeals to Roman imperialism.

Having explored historical Jesus, Chapter Five examines the Gospels as narratives of exlcusion, drawing also on the Gospel of Thomsas, Q, and the Didaches to trace the rhetoric of conflict. He notes four major rhetorical features: ideology of apocalyptic judgement, dualistic worldview, polemics against opponents with doxography of their beliefs, and contested issues about the identity of Israel. These four elements along with the Gopsel of Thomas demonstrate the wide ideological spectrum in early Christianity.

Part II examines the internal and external political functions of the notion of heresy in Orthodox tradition. First, through traditions in Colossians, the Pastoral Epistles, Revelate, the Johannnine, Ignatius, Polycarp, the Gospel of Mary and the Gopsel of Judas, Royalty explores how early Christianity policed Orthodoxy through political rhetoric of difference. Each of these documents testify “to ideological differences within early Christian communities. These different approaches to difference, however, identity orthodox heresiology as a unique strategy” (146). This ideology is explicitly imperialistic discourse, utilized as orthodox Christianity sought hegemony in the church and people.

As a result of the delay of the parousia, an apologia to Rome, and the ideology of church unity effacing difference, Chapter eight notes the discursive development of heresiology into a form of Christian imperialism, especially notable through Luke-Act’s silence about the diversity of early Christianities. All in all, Royalty’s work demonstrates how early Christianity utilized the rhetoric of heresy as a strategy to dealing with difference and internal and external boundaries. So, rather than approaching early Christianity through the typical lens of orthodoxy, Royalty’s reading offers a new and unique approach to the New Testament, namely one that evaluates “the discursive origins of Christianity and orthodoxy in the political context of competing Christianities in the first and second century” (176).

As a whole there is no doubt that Royalty approaches early Christianity from a unique angle. His analysis is beneficial in that it better illustrates the breadth of early Christianity and later Christianities discursive origins through the rhetoric of difference. Yet the work seems to be too narrow in its use of Second Temple Period literature and the Hebrew Bible. His rhetoric of difference in Israel (Chapter Two) is limited to Jeremiah, a test case in 1 Kings, and Deuteronomy. Discourse about Second Temple Period literature is limited to 4 Ezra, Daniel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Maccabees. In order to truly establish the origins of orthodox Christian heresiological traditions, it is necessary to explore more of the breadth of literary resources available, from both the Pseudepigrapha and Hebrew Bible.

Another contention I hold has to do with my critique about the distinction between political and religious. In his discussion about Pharisees and scribes in the Gospel of Matthew, Royalty never touches on the political relationship between the temple leadership and Roman rule. Because the Temple was the center of Jewish worship, it was key to maintaining peace and unity through the Judean province. Royalty only focuses on the religious disagreements between the Pharisees and Jesus. By ignoring the political nature of the Temple leadership and its relationship to Roman leadership, the text, namely the Gospel of Matthew, is misrepresented as being solely about religious disagreement.

In conclusion, while Royalty’s approach and work is valuable to studies of early Christianity, it is more of a launchpad for further studies than a work that will establish important precedents in the study of early Christianity. I do recommend it for studies on heresy and early Christianity, but only with the qualifier that its arguments need to be clarified and expanded.

September 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival

Welcome to the September Biblical Studies Carnival! To be honest, with the recent tensions between Missy and the Doctor, it seems that such a blog post is trivial. An eternal, bloody, yet friendly, conflict between the last two Time Lords, or a joyful carnival? Regardless, this carnival is in a parallel universe so as to prevent too much wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.

EDIT: Though in all seriousness, please send your thoughts/prayers/whatever to the Roseburg community. My wife grew up near Roseburg and her family lives near there, meaning this shooting is particularly close to home. Her family is okay but we are waiting to hear about the causalities. And please don’t politicize the shooting. Care about the families, but don’t go off about how we need more guns or need to get rid of guns. At the moment, that does not matter. Focus on the fact that people were shot, injured, and killed. A very small community was shaken to the core and people are hurt, not just physically but emotionally. On that note, I restate what I noted originally, albeit in a different context: “it seems that such a blog post is trivial.” (10/1/2015, 1PM PST)

I’ve enjoyed the opportunity sift through the many posts pertinent to Biblical Studies. Aside from the specific links I’ve run across, I worked my way through many blogs from James McGrath’s Blogroll and the Complete List of Biblioblogs. Like any other carnival, I categorized the posts.

An image from Twilight Zone's episode

An image from Twilight Zone’s episode “Perchance to Dream”.

Also, I wish the best to Daniel Gullotta who has temporarily closed his blog as he begins an MA program at Yale University.


Professor Emerson Powery (Mercy College) discusses “The Origins of Whiteness” in slave narratives and the “Curse of Ham”.

Paul Davidson remarks on the problem of Psalm 22:16 and comments on the Canaanites, Amorites, and Hittites in history and the Bible.

James Pate raises questions about the theological dimensions of the Testament of Abraham.

William Ross a summary of his soon-to-be published article, entitled “Text-Critical Question Begging in Nahum 1,2-8: Re-evaluating the Evidence and Arguments”, in Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft (ZAW).

Adam C. McCollum remarks on 4 Ezra in Old Gregorian.

PsalterMark uses literary criticism of T.S. Elliot to demonstrate an approach to the Psalms.

Carpe Scriptura continues a series of reading in 1-2 Chronicles.

Michael Satlow challenges Judaism to consider the question of how Jewish is the Wisdom of Ben Sira.

Research Fellow at the School of Mission and Theology, in Stavanger, Norway, Tina Dykesteen Nilsen, will be defending her thesis on Deuteronomy 32.

Bob MacDonald presents the music of Joel 1 and Joel 2.


Phil Long explores Paul’s roles as the persecutor, a suffering servant of Jesus, an apostle, non-philosopher, and a Pharisee.

James Pate reflects on Mark 10:46-52 and the social position of the blind in 1st century Judaism.

Micahel J. Kok shares a handout about New Testament Textual Criticism for his undergraduate class.

David B. Gowler looks at the reception history of the parables in the Gospels.

Mark Goodacre writes about the end of a wonderful era: “The End of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Forgery Debate.”

A brief list of upcoming articles on Hebrew.

James Snapp comments on Codex Sinaiticus and the ending of Mark.

Bill Mounce considers the question raised by δέ in Matthew 28:16.

Simon J. Joseph argues Jesus’ historical theology must be considered.


Daniel McClellan offers his thoughts on Mark Smith’s article entitled “The Three Bodies of God“.

William Brown reviews Michael Satlow’s How the Bible Became Holy.

James Pate reviews Understanding Prophecy by Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle.

Kevin Brown reviews The Text of Galatians and Its History by Stephen C. Carlson.

Matthew Malcom gives a snippet of his review from RBL on Paul J. Brown’s Bodily Resurrection and Ethics in 1 Cor 15.

Richard Fellows reviews Ryan Schellenberg’s The First Pauline Chronoligist? Paul’s Itinerary in the Letters and in Acts, with a response from Schellenberg and Fellows’ reply to Schellenberg’s rebuttal.

Phil Long reviews A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament by Philip Comfort.

Lindsay Kennedy reviews Studies in the Pauline Epistles by Matthew Harmon and Jay Smith.

Abram K-J discusses the value of the Outside the Bible in Outside the Bible (JPS): 3,000+ Pages in Accordance.


The Irish Biblical Studies journal ceases publication and is hoping to make available all articles.

Eric Vanden Eykel recaps the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium.

In response to a paper at the British New Testament Conference, Larry Hurtado comments on linguistic and textual complexity in first-century Christianity.

Tony Burke provides reflection on the 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium.

Call for Papers: Digital Editions: Academia, Society, Cultural Heritage.

St. Andrews “Son of God” Conference, June 6-8, 2016, calls for papers.

There is now a new and free society titled “The North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature“, or NASSCAL for short.

Robert Myles highlights various papers from the colloquium on Radicalism, Violence and Religious Texts.

An interview with the editor of Currents in Biblical Research (CBR)


Jacob Prahlow provides a select bibliography from his series on “The Marcion Problem”.

Joshua Ziefle comments on the value and history and tradition.

Stephen Bedard answers whether or not Dionysus was born of a virgin.

Ronald Huggins provides a brief history in “Indra as a Virgin Born, Crucified Savior? You’re Kidding Right?”

Jim West congratulates David Clines on being awarded the Burkitt Medal.


The next two Carnivals will be hosted by:

October 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival (Post date: November 1, 2015)
Phil Long,

November 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival (Post date: December 1, 2015)
Jim West, @drjewest

We need volunteers to host the Biblical Studies Carnival for 2016. Producing the Biblical Studies Carnival each month is a service bibliobloggers offer to their readers. I hope you will offer yourself to host the next Biblical Studies Carnival. Contact Phil Long at and let him know that you want to host the Biblical Study Carnival.

FINAL NOTE: Please feel free to follow my blog. I like followers so that I know my words and thoughts are being directed to a human being and are not lost on the internet. 🙂 Cheers!

Holiness in Leviticus 5:1-4

As I frequently mention, it is unfortunate that people often overlook literature regarding cult practices because it does disservice to the text by ignoring the context. Hence it is essential to recognize the text’s context and proceed by translating the concepts into the 21st century. In agreement with Yizhaq Feder, “perhaps the nonverbal symbolism of the sin-offering, though relatively crude and unarticulate, was the seed from which all of these more elaborate theological discourses would emerge” (Feder, 260). In essence Feder suggests that the ancient sacrificial system of ancient Israel was the beginning of the major theological issues of the 1st and 2nd millennium, such as Jewish and Christian concepts of debt to a deity. Thus, in order to fully understand the major theological issues of this era, it is important to understand the seed of the theological discourse. One of such places is the first four verses of Leviticus 5’s discussion of guilt offerings.

Within Leviticus 5:1-4, the editor presents four basic things requiring a guilt offerings in a chiasm.

A1. Not bearing witness in court (5:1)
B1. Touching animal uncleanliness (5:2)
B2. Touching human uncleanliness (5:3)
A2. Making an oath thoughtlessly (5:4)

A1 is connected to A2 because both discuss the issue of public witness. B1 is connected to B2 because both discuss the issue of cleanliness. Rather than skimming over the miniature chiasm, one must seek out why the editor utilized a chiasm at this moment within the text. In order to do so, one must take seriously ancient Israel’s outlook and not dismiss the issue of cleanliness. The purpose is not to provide an explanation for laws about cleanliness; rather, it is simply to demonstrate why cleanliness was so important.

Throughout Leviticus cleanliness relates to animals (Lev 5:2), food (Lev 11), and humans (Lev 5:3, 13:11, Lev 15). Each law of cleanliness is directed related to ones ability to participate within Temple worship. Hence cleanliness also determines ones ability to approach the holy place of God. Because sin, tied to uncleanliness, was considered to be a sort of debt within the ancient world (Feder, 260), inability to participate in Temple or Tabernacle worship literally cut off people from God and His  representative, whether Moses or the anointed priests (cf. Lev 7:21). Consequently as the individual was cut off from the representative of Israel and God, he was also cut off from the people of Israel. Thus cleanliness was essential to maintaining proper standing within the community of God.

Returning to the chiasm of Leviticus 5:1-4, it is then clear why cleanliness is the center of the guilt offering. Through poetic form Leviticus 5:1-4 highlights the importance of maintaining connection to God. Unlike the common way of writing in the 21st century, which places the climax nearer to the end, Hebrew poetic devices, such as chiasms, often place the important statement in the center. Thus, for the author of Leviticus, the most important thing is maintaining a close proximity to the holiness of God.

The outer-brackets of Leviticus 5:1-4 (A1 and A2) relate to the public sphere of behavior and purity.  Leviticus 5:1 focuses on the legal system on the guilt of one who fails to testify even as a witness, while verse 4 attributes guilt to thoughtless oaths to other people or God. While A1 focuses on public courts and A2 focuses on personal interactions, both relate to ones interactions with man. Ones interactions with man are ultimately centered upon mans vertical connection to God. Thus there are two aspects to the editors chiasm: “… Purity expressed in what is sacred and responsibility in taking an oath… This twofold nature of biblical religion is reflected in the Ten Commandments, which begin with one’s personal relationship with God and then move to one’s relationship to others” (Rooker 2000, 118). However, these two aspects, personal relationship with God and relationship to others, are more intertwined than Robert puts forth. Relationship with God can only take place within a community in which one relates to others, hence the editors willingness to unite the issue of oaths and testimony to cleanliness for proximity to God’s holiness through an ancient poetic device.

In conclusion, Leviticus 5:1-4 expresses the absolute importance of people and God. Apart from maintaining purity, which has been interpreted differently throughout the centuries (cf. Kazen 2010), one is unable to truly be part of the people of God. In effect he is cut off from the people of God. At the same time, one must maintain honesty and integrity with his words and witness because it directly affects the public sphere and relations with others. Even within this day and age, the same thing should be sought after within churches and synagogues: purity with God must be maintained simultaneously with purity towards others. Only in doing so is one truly able to adhere to the commandments of God.


Feder, Yitzhaq. Blood Expiation in Hittite and Biblical Ritual: Origins, Context, and Meaning. N.p.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011.

Kazen, Thomas. Coniectanea Biblica. New Testament Series. Rev. ed. Vol. 38, Jesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity? Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2010.

Rooker, Mark F. Leviticus. Vol. 3A. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman &Holman Publishers, 2000.

Posted by William Brown


Belief in God and His Servant

Too often I’ve heard it expressed to me that our faith is to be in God alone. And because the New Testament consistently references people faith in Jesus, Jesus must divine. While this post isn’t intended to act as a polemical argument against Jesus’ divinity, it may be perceived as so. Either way, my point in this post is to draw out a possibility of “faith” and its implications for interpreting New Testament literature in light of the Hebrew Bible.

In exploring the “believing” of Abraham in Genesis 15:6, I realized that the same Hebrew root and Greek root in the LXX are used in Exodus 14:31: “When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses” (NASB Ex 14:31, italics added for emphasis). As far as I’m aware, no person would go as far to claim that Moses was a divine being. Moses was a human who humbly served God.

Yet because people are to have faith in Jesus, it is often argued that faith placed in Jesus to God designated him as divinity. By the same argument, faith in God and His servant Moses designates Moses divinity. Perhaps my thinking is off. After all, this is a brief post intended to provoke critical thought and encourage people to engage is dialogue regarding what, who, and why they believe. What are your thoughts?

Re-Understanding the Leviticus Sacrificial System

Popular Christian tradition often defines and interprets ancient Israel’s cultic rituals and offerings in Leviticus through the narrow lens with which the New Testament discusses the issue of the sacrificial system. Passages like Matt 5:17-19, Rom 7:6, and Heb 10:1 leave an impression that the Levitical offering system was solely intended to prepare for Jesus and him alone. While this is undeniable in a sense, it is important to note the theological thrusts of these texts. Matthew, Romans, and Hebrews each work to demonstrate how Jesus fits into the grand scope of the Torah, not to provide a comprehensive discussion about the sacrificial system of Leviticus. Thus, in order to properly understand a book such as Leviticus, especially for a Christian, people must begin by recognizing that the New Testament is not definitive for Leviticus. If anything, Leviticus defines the New Testament and the New Testament operates within those parameters. Although it adjusts various understandings and interpretations (cf. Thomas Kazen 2002), it does not ever comprehensively discuss how the entirety of the system was abolished by Jesus.

In light of this brief discussion, what is required of biblical readers? Two basic ideas sum up how readers should approach Leviticus:

1) Recognize the layers of tradition within the offering system. Leviticus was not written over one year and left as the original copy 3,000 years later. Rather, it has been redacted through various editors who lived in their own time with distinct influences than others may not have had (cf. Yitzhaq Feder 2011). What readers read now is the results of centuries of redaction. As a final comment, that is not to imply that Leviticus in unreliable. On the contrary, it is reliable, except one must recognize the variation within it.

2) Leviticus should be read with recognition that the cultic ritual was central to lives in the ancient world. To ignore or place a glaze over Leviticus is to ignore the centrality of ancient Israel’s culture and life.

Although these are only two of many essential hermeneutic approaches to Leviticus, they are a good starting place. By observing these two ideas, it may actually be possible to read Leviticus. This begins with expanding beyond the narrow view of the New Testament’s understandings of sacrifice and atonement and moving towards a more comprehensive understanding of Leviticus that takes into account the textual redaction and centrality of sacrifice to the ancient world.

“Jesus and Purity Halakhah” by Thomas Kazen

Thomas Kazen’s Jesus and Purity Halakhah explores the historical Jesus and how he related to the purity halakhah of his day. He thoroughly considers multiple approaches to the issues and utilizes a wide variety of primary sources. Divided into four parts, Jesus and Purity Halakhah begins with a demonstration of the necessity of his study and explanation of his historical approach. His brief, but detailed, summary of the history of the quest for the historical Jesus, especially as it relates to purity, provides a solid framework by which his arguments are shaped. By the end of part I, it is evident that his goal is to present a “conscious reconstruction of how Jesus related to concepts of impurity” (41), not necessarily how Markan or Lukan tradition understood Jesus.

Part II identifies Jesus’ adversaries, a basic introduction to that conflict, and the legal texts which assist in the study. After demonstrating his framework through a Sabbath case study, he repeats his approach through a case study of Mark 7 and Jesus’ hand-washing. Such case studies permit him to present the basic nature of the Second Temple Period: purity was a serious issue and debate within the period. Following, he identifies the major elements of defilement through contact: skin disease, bodily discharges, and the corpse. His discussion of each of these elements strengthen his argument with their thorough nature. Based on these categories, Kazen concludes that Jesus was indifferent to impurity halakhah of his day.

He then proceeds to explore, in Part III, three explanatory models for why Jesus was so indifferent to purity: morality, diversity, and demonic threat. For each model he clearly demonstrates how each contributes to a more holistic picture of Jesus’ character. Finally, in Part IV, he concludes and synthesizes his results into a succinct explanation of Jesus’ seemingly indifferent attitude to purity halakah, even briefly discussing practical applications for the Church.

Above all else, Kazen’s use of multiple sources was admirable. While he does utilize any and every possible source, he clearly explains how each fits into his explanatory model or discussion. In doing so, he is clear as to how certain texts, such as the Qumran scrolls, may or may not be significant. Such a clear approach permits the reader to more easily approach the text and yield new observations about the 2nd Temple Period and Jesus’ purity halakhah. Additionally, his writing style is quite story like. Although he is  not necessarily telling a story, his style often feels like a story due to the nature of it. Kazen even notes that the book builds based on previously explicated information. And he expects the reader to grasp a point explained from 100 pages earlier. Though it may, for some, be difficult, I found it to increase the readability as I knew what sort of writing to expect.

In conclusion, Kazen presents a fantastic and convincing argument for a proper view of Jesus’ historical nature and how he regarded purity halakhah. His work avoids strong bias towards theological endeavors and effectively focuses into the historical issues surrounding Jesus. Any desire for discussion, research, or general information regarding Jesus as he relates to purity halakhah of the first century must consider Jesus and Purity Halakhah to be their first secondary source.

Click here to purchase Jesus and Purity Halakhah by Thomas Kazen


Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation by Everett Ferguson

Everett Ferguson’s textbook of Church history, covering the first 14 centuries of the Church, thoroughly and clearly introduces the reader to characters, issues, and events within Church history. Although there remain questions by the end of the book, he continuously focuses on the historical-theological issues as it regards various characters and major events. For questions to remain, though, is reasonable because it is a textbook designed for university students.

One of the most beneficial aspects of the book is its effectiveness as a textbook. This previous semester, Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation was my textbook for an independent study class. Through it, I was able to familiarize myself with various theological issues and political power struggles through the evolution of the Church. Although it was a challenging read, often requiring the reader to connect ideas from one chapter to a previous explanation/basis found in another chapter, it was nonetheless beneficial and informative.

Although he successfully provides a historical framework, as is his stated goal (25), Ferguson could have done one thing to improve the reading experience: more clearly mark why certain things were significant within the historical context. Although he does do this, explanation is generally included within a flowing historical presentation. As one not well read in Church history, this made in challenging is attempting to understand what the primary points were.

In conclusion, Everett Ferguson’s Church History is a fantastic introduction to the historical community called “the Church”. His discussion and openness about the multitude of elements within Church history shape a solid historical framework by which readers may operate from in the future, in whatever direction he/she chooses.

Click here to purchase Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, vol. 1, by Everett Ferguson.

Old and New Covenant: Reconsideration

This previous semester at Northwest University, I observed a consistency among fellow students and my professors. In discussion of the New Testament and issues relating to the Sinai covenant to Jesus’ covenant, the entirety of covenant in the Hebrew Bible was often simply described as the “Old Covenant”. Such a basic and non-fluid dichotomy, one which attempts to systematize a fluid and dynamic biblical theology, fails to recognize the complexities of covenant within the Hebrew Bible. Covenant is not restricted to the Sinai covenant; rather, it includes God’s covenant to David, Abraham, and the whole of creation. While professors likely grasp the complexity of a simplified term like “Old Covenant”, do the students understand those complexities?

I would guess not. Unfortunately this sort of simplicity is often presented in classes, without discussion of what “covenant” completely encompasses and the relational aspects of the term. Perhaps this should become something more students and scholars actively consider as they develop their understandings and interpretations of the Bible, Hebrew Bible and New Testament alike. Such a movement would hopefully inspire students to more thoughtfully consider how they understand Israel, creation, and various leaders within the Hebrew Bible. Additionally, it would provide for more dynamic and in-depth Jewish-Christian dialogue by encouraging Christians to broaden their understandings of what, throughout the Bible, defines covenant.