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Is King David A New Adam?

Is King David A New Adam?

In his recent commentary on 2 Samuel, Robert Barron suggests that David is a new Adam.
In his recent commentary on 2 Samuel, Robert Barron suggests that David is a new Adam.

David is indeed a cagey and capable new Adam, both tending and defending the new Eden,” so Robert Barron contends in his recent commentary on 2 Samuel (2 Samuel, Brazos Theological Commentary, p. 24). According to Barron, David is a new Adam, Israel is the Garden of Eden, and David’s enemies (e.g., the Amalekites, and even Absalom) represent the serpent. This typological approach is an interesting perspective from which to view 2 Samuel. It definitely causes one to think outside of the box.  While this might seem like an eccentric approach at first, scholars have noted for years the connections between Genesis and 1&2 Samuel. In fact, Barron’s approach is indebted to G.K. Beale who makes similar comparisons (A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New). Although Barron’s overall approach has an element of typology in it, it would be unfair to characterize the entire commentary this way. In this post I will explore the connections he makes between King David’s kingdom and Genesis and in a future post I will review and evaluate his commentary on 2 Samuel.

How Does David Function as a New Adam in 1&2 Samuel?

According to Genesis 1:28, Adam was created to rule over creation.
According to Genesis 1:28, Adam was created to rule over creation.

Barron notes that the dominant theme of 2 Samuel is the “contrast between the kingly path taken by Saul and that taken by David” (p. 3). This contrast introduces such questions as: “Does Israel require a king? What makes a king good or bad? How does the kingship of Yahweh relate to human kingship?” (p. 3). To answer these questions, Barron asserts that it is necessary “to return to the very beginning of the Bible, to the accounts of creation and the garden of Eden” (p. 3). Therefore, Barron’s typological approach is borne out of the necessity of understanding the fundamental problems encountered in the initial episodes of Genesis. He notes, as do many commentators on Genesis, the original couple was created to rule over creation. They were given “dominion” (Gen. 1:28). Thus Adam was the first king. Through “tilling” the soil and “keeping” the garden, Adam functioned as a good king. His rule, like that of the God whose image he was created in (Gen. 1:27), was to be benevolent, not oppressive (pp. 4-5).

Saul's rejection of God's word equates him with the old Adam rather than the new Adam.
Saul’s rejection of God’s word equates him with the old Adam rather than the new Adam.

Unfortunately, the rule of the first king and queen ended in failure, a “consequence of bad leadership” (p. 5). The reason for expulsion from the garden is a result of rejecting God’s word and seeking to “rule without reference to God” (p. 5). At this point, the typological parallels with 2 Samuel become significant. As Barron notes, the theme of 2 Samuel (and we could also include 1 Samuel) is the difference between Saul’s and David’s kingship. Like rebellious Adam, Saul’s offense is a rejection of the word of God (1 Sam. 15:23). Saul is noted throughout 1 Samuel for making his own decisions without reference to God. This insight is very important in understanding the message of 1&2 Samuel correctly. Scholars such as Gunn and Jobling seek to excuse Saul on the basis of misinterpreting God’s/Samuel’s commands. In the view of these scholars, God (and Samuel) becomes a malevolent presence intent on dooming Saul no matter what he does. However, the parallels with Adam, which Barron draws upon, act as a biblical aid in clearing up this scholarly misinterpretation of the story.

PianoIn a helpful analogy, Barron compares God and his law to someone seeking to learn piano or golf. The instructor lays down certain rules, if followed, these rules lead to a person finding the freedom to become an excellent piano player or golfer. “The lawgiving instructor is therefore not the enemy of the student’s freedom but rather the condition for its possibility” (p. 14). Similarly, Saul’s rejection of God’s commandments is what makes him a failure as king, just as Adam’s rule in the garden failed because of his disobedience. In contrast, as a new Adam, David is the man after God’s heart. One illustration of this is his treatment of Saul. Barron notes that, “David’s stubborn unwillingness to do violence to Saul is another sign of his kingly worthiness, for it indicates that his actions were predicated not primarily on self-interest but rather on an attentive listening to the voice of God” (p. 15).

jacobs-prophetic-blessing-4-638Barron also seeks to demonstrate a connection between Adam and David by tracing this connection through biblical history. Following the history of sin in Genesis 1-11, God makes a new start with Abram. Barron states, “Abram will be a new Adam, cultivating a new Eden and expanding the boundaries of that ordered garden to include all the peoples of the world” (p. 6). The promise to Abram of numerous descendants recalls the original command to Adam to “be fruitful and multiply.” “The royal promise is extended to Abram’s grandson” (i.e. Jacob, p. 7). Through Jacob, the nation of Israel is birthed whom Barron sees as a “‘corporate Adam’ endowed with the privileges and bearing the responsibilities of the first tender of the garden” (p. 7). It is through Jacob’s deathbed blessing that, “the kingly task will be passed on to and through Judah and his tribe” (p. 7).  Barron continues tracing the theme of kingship by noting, “Throughout these opening books of the Bible, Yahweh has not yet found the king in whom his own divine purposes can become utterly incarnate. Hence Israel’s identity remains compromised and its mission unfulfilled.  It is against this rich and complex background that the emergence of Saul and David in the first book of Samuel has to be interpreted” (p. 7). Therefore, “from Adam on, Israel is marked by both good and bad kingship. God (and Samuel) stand opposed to those forms of kingship that mimic the style and substance of the kings of the surrounding nations, but they ardently desire a form of kingship in accord with God’s designs” (p. 8).

In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel exhorts the king and people to obey God.
In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel exhorts the king and people to obey God.

Tracing the theme of kingship from Creation to David, not only substantiates Barron’s approach, it also helps to explain what many scholars see as a contradictory view of kingship in 1 Samuel. In 1 Samuel 8-12, scholars frequently note the interplay between positive and negative statements about the kingship. Some are at a loss to explain these seemingly contradictory views, while others see it as the result of a clumsy editor. Barron’s approach demonstrates that kingship has always been a part of God’s plan and purpose. However, it is not simply kingship per se that God seeks to bestow–that is, kingship as defined by the world–but rather a king that would honor and obey God. This is the point of Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 12: “If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (vv. 14-15).

While the old Adam (Saul) does not deal a decisive blow to the Amalekites, the new Adam (David) deals with all of Israel's enemies.
While the old Adam (Saul) does not deal a decisive blow to the Amalekites, the new Adam (David) deals with all of Israel’s enemies.

Barron also sees his approach as a helpful way of characterizing Israel’s (David’s) enemies. For example, he is hard pressed to understand God’s command to utterly destroy the Amalekites. “Why in the world would God decree that this beleaguered little people should be ruthlessly and relentlessly attacked?” His answer is to see Origen’s allegorical approach as helpful in this case. “Origen argues that, throughout the Bible, Israel stands for the ways and purposes of God, and the enemies of Israel stand for those powers that are opposed to God” (p. 9). He continues, “These various peoples are symbolically akin both to the tohu wabohu [formlessness and void] (Gen. 1:2) from which God brought the ordered world and to the serpent that Adam rather unsuccessfully managed in the garden. Though it is not entirely clear why this should be the case, the biblical authors seem to isolate Amalek as particularly expressive of this ‘nothing’ that militates against Israel” (p. 10). Although I’m not so sure that “beleaguered” is a correct designation for the Amalekites, nonetheless, I believe he (and Origen!) are correct in seeing these enemy peoples as a manifestation of the “seed of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15). As a result of Saul’s disobedience, Barron asks the following provocative questions: “Might Saul’s unwillingness to slaughter the herds of the Amalekites and to put to death their king symbolically represent the sort of confusion in regard to intrinsically evil acts that undermines God’s purposes? And therefore might one come to sympathize with Samuel’s conviction that Saul has, by this act, effectively forfeited his kingship?” (p. 10). In other words, a king who doesn’t protect his people against their enemies, is no king at all. And just as certainly, a king who does not wage war with God’s enemies, cannot be God’s  (or a godly) king.

Conclusion: King David is a New Adam

While there were times in my reading of Barron’s commentary on 2 Samuel, that I thought he was perhaps carrying the analogy of David as the new Adam too far, I must admit that I always found his interpretations challenging me to think of this narrative in new ways. The above examples I have given are not an exhaustive catalogue by any means of the comparisons made between David and Adam, but they are enough to demonstrate that such an approach is indeed fruitful. I also believe it proves helpful in getting at the significant theme(s) of 1&2 Samuel which modern scholarly efforts sometimes cloud. Like all typological/allegorical approaches, each interpretation must be questioned and validated. But, as I have written elsewhere (Typology: A Key to Interpreting the Bible), typology is an important method that allows Scripture to interpret Scripture. Barron’s commentary is an excellent contribution on Samuel studies and in my next post I will review it as a whole.

NIV Application Commentary: 1&2 Samuel

NIV Application Commentary: 1&2 Samuel

The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK
The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK

The NIV Application Commentary series is aimed at providing the best scholarly insights into the text, while also providing contemporary application. To accomplish its purpose, The NIV Application Commentary series divides comment on the text into three parts: 1) Original Meaning (“All the elements of traditional exegesis–in concise form–are discussed here,” p. 9); 2) Bridging Contexts (distinguishing the timeless message(s) of the Bible from the time-bound text); and 3) Contemporary Significance (do I need to explain this one?) Arnold’s 1&2 Commentary begins, like others, with a brief 20-page introduction. The introduction includes topics such as how to read the historical books, authorship, an overview of the contents of 1&2 Samuel, theological themes, etc.

Central Themes of 1&2 Samuel According to the NIV Application Commentary

Arnold understands the overall theme of 1&2 Samuel to center around two questions:

1) “What is the acceptable nature of the Israelite monarchy?”

2)”Who can serve suitably as king?”

The first question is primarily addressed in 1 Samuel 1-15, while the second question occupies the material in 1 Samuel 16 — 2 Samuel 24 (p. 32). I found the second question concerning who is suitable as king to be a very insightful way of understanding the contrast between the kingships of Saul and David.

In the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, Bill Arnold notes the key place that repentance plays in the overall storyline.
In the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, Bill Arnold notes the key place that repentance plays in the overall storyline creating what I call a “repentance sandwich.”.

Arnold notes three main theological themes in 1&2 Samuel. The first concerns the  above question of who is suitable to be Israel’s king, or the messianic theme. Arnold states, “The concept of an ideal anointed one arises gradually and is sustained in the narrative” (p. 36). Another theme which grows out of the two main questions concerns the use and abuse of power. Arnold sees the messianic and power themes bound together by a third theme dealing with the nature of repentance. He insightfully points out that, “The books of Samuel . . . contribute graphic illustration to the Bible’s teaching on the precise nature of confession and repentance through the three portraits of Samuel, Saul, and David” (p. 38). The key passages are 1 Sam. 7:2-6; 1 Sam. 15; and 2 Sam. 12.

Through Samuel, the first story illustrates “the nature of true confession and repentance.” In the second account, Saul, “acknowledges wrongdoing instead of repudiating it; [He] regrets his actions because they leave him vulnerable, not because they were self-destructive and offensive to God” (p. 39, author’s emphasis). The third narrative concerning repentance involves David’s straightforward confession which illustrates true repentance, the kind of repentance that Samuel had urged upon Israel so many years before. The book also concludes with a fourth story of repentance (2 Sam. 24). On this occasion, David does not even need a prophet to convict him of wrongdoing, but confesses on his own, demonstrating growth in his relationship with God. Thus, these three characters form a “repentance sandwich” (my expression). The outer layers (Samuel and David) show what true repentance is, while the inner layer (Saul) demonstrates what it is not.

Agreements and Disagreements with the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

agree-or-disagree-1-638One way to evaluate a commentary is to examine how it treats important topics or controversial passages. I have a mental checklist that I go through when reading a commentary on Samuel. Some of the items on my checklist are important, others are a matter of curiosity (how is the commentator going to deal with this?). Below I have listed a few of the items on my mental checklist. This is not an exhaustive list, nor will I have space in this post to reflect on how Arnold deals with each of these. However, after sharing the list, I will examine Arnold’s interactions with some of the items on my list.

  1. How does the commentator approach the authorship of 1&2 Samuel? (How one perceives “Deuteronomistic authorship” often colors one’s interpretation of the text).
  2. Does the commentator consider Samuel to be a positive or negative influence on the narrative?
  3. Is Saul responsible for his sin, or is he a victim of a capricious God who decided from the outset that Saul would be condemned?
  4. Which reading does the author prefer concerning Goliath’s height? (this is just a matter of curiosity, but see my article Goliath’s Height).
  5. How does the author treat the problem of Saul not knowing who David’s father is in 1 Samuel 17:55-58? (Another matter of curiosity over a notoriously difficult passage).
  6. Is the commentator’s view of David wholly positive until his sin with Bathsheba, or does he see the narrative as reflecting faults earlier in David’s life?
  7. Does the commentator use a “hermeneutic of suspicion?” Which means, does he see the biblical author trying to defend a cunning David who manipulates circumstances regarding the deaths of Saul’s family members, or does he accept the author’s statements that David is innocent?
  8. Does the commentator view David and Jonathan’s relationship as homosexual?
  9. How does the commentator resolve the problem in 2 Sam. 21:19 which states that Elhanan killed Goliath?
  10. What is the commentator’s evaluation of certain characters whose actions are, at times, ambiguous? (e.g., Abner, Joab, Mephibosheth, or Ziba).

Concerning whether Saul is a victim or a free moral agent (#3 above), I believe Arnold is correct in stating, “[Saul] fails to accept the structure of authority established for him by Yahweh and his prophet Samuel at the time of his appointment (1 Sam. 13:14). . . .Thus, Saul’s guilt derives from his determination to usurp power rightly belonging only to Yahweh and his servant Samuel” (pp. 200-201). This is an important point in understanding the kind of person Yahweh is looking for as Israel’s king, and it is a point missed by those who accuse God of being either arbitrary in his forgiveness (Brueggemann), or showing his “dark side” (Gunn).

Contrary to Arnold's interpretation in the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, I believe David's request for a sword demonstrates a lack of faith.
Contrary to Arnold’s interpretation in the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, I believe David’s request for a sword demonstrates a lack of faith.

One point of disagreement I have with Arnold is his interpretation of certain stories of David’s flight from Saul (#6 above). For example, when David is fleeing from Saul, he goes to the high priest Ahimelech where he receives bread and Goliath’s sword (1 Sam. 21). Arnold’s take is that the sword reminds David of the victories of his youth while his contact with the priests show him turning to the faith of his childhood (p. 310). I believe that David is much more like Abraham. Both men show faith in God, but they have their ups and downs as they experience doubt and fear and occasionally step out in the flesh. I think that David’s lie to Ahimelech, along with his request for a sword (which contradicts his statement of faith in 1 Sam. 17:47), demonstrate a lack of faith on this occasion.

One of the things I appreciate about the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is that Arnold listens to the voice of the narrator and takes his message seriously. In other words, Arnold does not get caught up in a “hermeneutic of suspicion” (#7 above). When David mourns over Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1), or puts to death the men who murder Ish-bosheth (2 Sam. 4), or shows kindness to Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9), the narrator seeks to show that this is all in agreement with David’s stance toward not lifting a hand against the Lord’s anointed and honoring his covenant promises to the house of Saul. Arnold sees clearly that 1&2 Samuel is earnestly seeking to demonstrate David’s character and integrity. For example he states, “The narrator has been clear from the outset: This anointed one, unlike Saul, is driven only by the promises of Yahweh and takes action under Yahweh’s leadership” (p. 422). Furthermore, Arnold states, “David is celebrated in these texts as the ideal king, who willingly submits to God’s timing and direction and consistently repudiates the way of power politics and force” (pp. 445-446). A hermeneutic of suspicion destroys this key teaching of 1&2 Samuel, therefore, I believe that Arnold has done us a service by helping us to hear the text more clearly.

Evaluation of The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

There are many other areas of both agreement and disagreement I could cite, but the disagreements are minor and overall I have found Arnold’s commentary on 1&2 Samuel to be very informative and a delightful read. The NIV Application Commentary Series is designed for the teacher, pastor, and serious student. Someone new to the books of Samuel or to the study of the Old Testament might find themselves in deep water at times, but it’s well worth the effort. Thanks to Arnold, I discovered many new insights and perspectives on 1&2 Samuel and would highly recommend this commentary to anyone interested in an in-depth study of these books.

The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is available at Amazon (see links above) and Zondervan

The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK

Hardcover: 688 pages
Publisher: Zondervan; First Edition edition (February 1, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310210860
ISBN-13: 978-0310210863

Giants or Canaanites? The Conquest

Giants or Canaanites? The Conquest

Was Joshua's primary goal to conquer the Canaanites or the giants in Canaan?
Was Joshua’s primary goal to destroy the Canaanites or the bloodline of the giants in Canaan?

Who was the conquest of Canaan aimed at? Most would respond that the Bible teaches that it was designed to destroy the Canaanites. The word “Canaanite,” can be used as a generic term for the inhabitants of Canaan (e.g., Gen. 10:19; 12:6), or it can refer to one group among others in Canaan (see e.g., the various lists of the inhabitants of Canaan in Gen. 15:19-21; Deut. 7:1-2). In his recent book, The Unseen Realm, Dr. Michael Heiser argues that the main enemy of Canaan was not the various Canaanite peoples themselves, but the descendants of the Nephilim (KJV–“giants”) who are variously called the Rephaim, the Anakim, and a few other names as well (see e.g., Deut. 2:11, 20). Heiser insists that it is not the Canaanites, per se, that the conquest is targeting, but rather, “In the view of the biblical writers, Israel is at war with enemies spawned by rival divine beings” (Unseen Realm, p. 203). In other words, the Conquest of Canaan was more than a physical battle between Israel and the Canaanites, it was a spiritual battle between Yahweh and the gods of Canaan (including those peoples descended from the bloodline of the Nephilim). At first glance, some may scoff that this is just some sensationalist approach to the problem of the Conquest designed to sell books. However, Heiser is no amateur seeking to make a quick buck. Instead, he is a well-known and respected scholar of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Semitic languages. He is also a scholar in residence for Logos/Faithlife and I have previously reviewed his mobile ed course on Biblical Interpretation (see here, here, and here) which is a very helpful introduction on the hermeneutics of Scripture. Furthermore, Heiser himself states that his proposed interpretation of the Conquest is not “. . . an excuse for a reading of the text that is cartoonish or bizarre” (p. 211). The rest of this article will examine Dr. Heiser’s views on the motive behind the Conquest of Canaan, noting their strengths and weaknesses.

Ḥērem and the Giants of Canaan: Heiser’s View

giants
When the Israelite spies return from Canaan they give a bad report to the people saying, “There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Num. 13:33–NKJV)

Ḥērem or, kherem (the spelling Heiser employs), is the Hebrew word translated as “utterly destroy” in English translations (see e.g., Deut. 7:2). Heiser defines it this way: “The idea of kherem is broader than warfare. Fundamental to the concept is a sanctioning of some person or thing because it is forbidden either due to an accursed status or due to Yahweh’s exclusive ownership and use” (p. 203). In other words, the concept of ḥērem has cultic connotations. By that I mean something that is taken out of the natural realm and devoted or set apart to Yahweh. This sets the Conquest of Canaan in an atmosphere of spiritual warfare. Some scholars, including Heiser, refer to it as “Holy War.” The key passage for Heiser regarding the Conquest’s focus on the descendants of the giants (Nephilim) is Numbers 13:32-33. According to his understanding of this passage, “. . . it is much more coherent to read the statement as indicating that the Israelite spies saw unusually tall people groups everywhere they went in the land” (p. 204). Heiser does not believe that there were vast numbers of giant clan members, but that they were scattered throughout the Canaanite population. He contends that, “. . . kharam in the conquest accounts is used only of assaults in cities or locales that overlap with giant clan population clusters” (p. 205). He notes that the one exception to this is Deuteronomy 7:1-2 (I will return to this passage later). Other passages which seem to lend strong support for Heiser’s view include Deuteronomy 9:1-2 and Joshua 11:21-22, which are interpreted by some to indicate that the Anakim existed in large numbers throughout Canaan. Heiser is more cautious stating that these passages, do not “. . . require the conclusion that Anakim are to be equated with the entire population of Canaan. Rather, it could just as well mean that wherever (author’s emphasis using italics) Anakim were encountered within Canaan they were eliminated” (p. 205, n. 8).

In the interests of not overextending our discussion here, I have chosen a statement by Heiser that summarizes his position. He states, “The point of this brief reconstruction is not that Israelites took only the lives of the remnant of the giant clans. Others were certainly slain. The point is that the rationale for kherem annihilation was the specific elimination of the descendants of the Nephilim” (pp. 210-211).

Ḥēreming” the Giants: Strengths and Weaknesses

417i-jxItJL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_I would like to begin this section by acknowledging my indebtedness to Dr. Heiser. His book, The Unseen Realm, has truly opened my eyes to many of the things in Scripture regarding the spiritual realm that I did not take seriously enough, or did not understand. Furthermore, I was almost completely ignorant of the connection between the Conquest of Canaan and the Giant clans, and Heiser’s treatment of this topic has greatly enhanced my understanding. Having made these acknowledgments, I am not fully convinced of his thesis for reasons I will outline below.

There are a few passages where Heiser must make assumptions in order for his interpretation to work. These include:

  1. Deuteronomy 7:1-2 which uses the word ḥērem in relation to the Canaanites and other people groups of Canaan without any reference to the giant clans. Heiser notes this exception and offers an explanation, which is possible, but I need more convincing (see p. 205 for his explanation).
  2. Jericho and Ai were put under ḥērem according to Joshua 6:18, 21; 8:26), but there is no word of giant clans. In a footnote on these passages Heiser states, “Since these locations were put under kherem (when others were not), we have to conclude that some Anakim were known to live in these cities based on the wording of Num. 13:28-29 (p. 206, n. 10). This explanation is definitely a leap in logic. It is possible, but by no means demonstrable that we have to conclude Anakim were in these cities.

My other concern is that Heiser does not address the curse of Noah on Canaan in Genesis 9:25. In my understanding, this curse provides the foundation for the why the land of Canaan will eventually be given to Abraham’s descendants and why the Canaanite peoples are to be destroyed. There is no hint of the Nephilim or their descendants in this passage. Therefore, although it is clear from later passages that the giant clans fall under the ḥērem, the curse on Canaan explains why the Canaanite peoples are to be destroyed. Unfortunately Dr. Heiser does not mention this passage in his book, nor can I find any reference to it on his website (drmsh.com). This seems to be a serious hole in his argument and I would love to hear his interpretation of this passage and how he sees it fitting into his overall understanding of the Conquest.

In conclusion, The Unseen Realm, is a very thought-provoking and eye-opening read. Although I am not fully convinced of every argument made, I have greatly benefitted from Dr. Heiser’s insights and highly recommend this book to those who want a deeper understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the spiritual realm. For those who would like to hear some introductory lectures on this topic by Dr. Heiser, I have included some youtube links below.

Divine Council Intro

The Divine Council Worldview

Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Michael S. Heiser discuss The Unseen Realm

The “I” in Romans 7:14-25

The “I” in Romans 7:14-25

One of the most challenging question in Romans is, "Who is the 'I' in Romans 7?"
One of the most challenging question in Romans is, “Who is the ‘I’ in Romans 7?”

No part of Romans, . . . has been the object of so much scrutiny and the source of so much confusion as what Paul writes in [Romans] 7:14-25” (Richard Longenecker, NIGTC, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 652). With these words, Richard N. Longenecker in his new (and much anticipated) commentary on Romans dives into this difficult passage of Scripture. Since Longenecker’s commentary is “hot off the press,” I will examine his approach to these verses and use it, as well as contributions from others, as my basis for discussing Romans 7:14-25.

Two Approaches to Romans 7:14-25

Richard N. Longenecker's commentary on Romans is available at Amazon USA / UK
Richard N. Longenecker’s commentary on Romans is available at Amazon USA / UK

Longenecker notes that there are two approaches to Romans 7:14-25. The first, which he labels, Traditional Understandings, proposes that the “I” is  autobiographical, thus Paul is referring to himself. Some believe that Paul is speaking about his life under the law before he came to Christ, while others contend that Paul is speaking of the struggle experienced by the Christian whose dual nature consisting of The Spirit and the flesh battle against each other. Longenecker identifies a number of scholars subscribing to each group. The group arguing for Paul’s personal experience under the law includes “Origen and most of the Greek Fathers,” John Wesley, and more modern scholars such as C.H. Dodd and Doug Moo. Those who argue for Paul speaking about his own struggles as a Christian include “Augustine and the Latin Fathers,” as well as the Reformers Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin, and modern scholars such as Cranfield, Dunn, Murray, Morris, and Barrett. What struck me about this list, and the reason I mention it here, is that the earliest interpreters understood Paul to be talking about his life under the law, not his struggle as a Christian. Longenecker does say, “most of the Greek Fathers,” took the view that Paul was speaking of his struggle under the law. The word “most” leaves some doubt, but does this mean that the view that Paul was talking about his struggle as a Christian, only originated with Augustine? Although one’s position on this subject must ultimately be decided by the text, the fact that earlier interpreter’s apparently did not understand Paul’s remarks in Romans 7 as referring to the Christian should at least provide a caution to later interpreters who take this view.

In A Rereading of Romans, Stanley Stowers argues convincingly that Paul used the common literary device known as "Speech in Character," in Romans 7.
In A Rereading of Romans, Stanley Stowers argues convincingly that Paul uses the common literary device known as “Speech in Character,” in Romans 7.

Although Longenecker favors the autobiographical use of “I” in Romans 7:7-13, he does not follow the “traditional understandings” noted above when it comes to Romans 7:14-25. Thus he explains a second way to view Paul’s use of “I” in Romans 7:14-25 known as a “Stilform of Speech and Writing” (italics original, p. 653). This can also be referred to as “Speech in Character” (see Stanley Stowers, A Rereading of Romans, pp. 16-21). In this case, the “I” is not autobiographical, but is a device that allows the hearer or reader to experience/identify with someone’s situation (according to Stowers, the person can be real or imaginary, p. 17). In such cases, the writer is seeking to communicate “a general truth” (Longenecker, p. 655). Longenecker points out that this device was a common way of communicating in Paul’s day. He references Jewish sources (including Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls), as well as Greco-Roman sources (including Euripides, Ovid, and Quintilian) to illustrate this frequent usage of “I”. Most convincing, is the fact that Paul uses “I” this way in other letters, and it is clear in these contexts that his reference is not autobiographical. One example, found in Romans itself, is 3:7: “If the truth of God is enhanced unto his glory by my falsehood, why am I also still condemned?” It is clear in the context that Paul is not referring to himself, but to a hypothetical individual who is raising this objection. Other passages include 1 Corinthians 6:15; 13:1-3; and Galatians 2:18. Therefore, regarding Romans 7:14-25, Longenecker argues convincingly (in my opinion) that Paul’s usage of “I” is not autobiographical, but rather a literary device common in the ancient world used to express a general truth.

The Identity of the “I” in Romans 7:14-25

In this introductory book on Romans Doug Moo makes some good points about why Paul is not describing the Christian in Romans 7:14-25.
In this introductory book on Romans Doug Moo makes some good points about why Paul is not describing the Christian in Romans 7:14-25.

Whether one believes that Paul is using “I” autobiographically, or as “Speech in Character,” we are still left with the question of identifying who he means. Is Paul describing the Christian, the Jew under the law, or all people in this passage? Doug Moo’s comments are appropriate here: “Debate over Romans 7 is so lively precisely because each view has some points in the text in its favor. There is no slam dunk in the interpretive game here. So the best interpretation will be the one that produces the best overall fit with all the evidence” (Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, p. 109).

One of the most popular identifications of the person in Romans 7:14-25 is that he/she is a Christian. Note in my opening paragraph above how many theologians over the centuries have advocated this view. This view is frequently subscribed to by many Christians who quote it as evidence that they still struggle with the flesh. Although it is true that Christians must “reckon themselves as dead” (Rom. 6:11), I do not think that Paul is referencing the inner struggle of a Christian. In fact, in my opinion, whoever the person is that Paul is describing, the one thing that is for certain is that it is not a Christian. I am in agreement with Moo when he observes that the description of the person in Romans 7:14 “unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin,” is “an impossible state for any believer.” Furthermore, Moo notes that being “ ‘a prisoner of the law of sin’ (7:23), . . . contradicts the situation of all Christians, who have been ‘set . . . free from the law of sin and death’ (8:2)” (Moo, p. 109). There are, in fact, a number of contrasts between the Christian and the person described in Romans 7:14-25. The chart below notes the contrasts that Paul makes in chapters 6-8. One side of the chart shows the characteristics of the person Paul calls “I,” while the other side shows characteristics of the believer.

Lecture 12, 13 & 14 Romans 6&7.001
Going from left to right, note the contrast between the “I” and believers.

Another excellent chart along these same lines can be found in Craig Keener’s commentary on Romans. Keener states, “. . . the contrasts with the larger context are simply too great to fit the Christian life as he describes it, even had Paul thought himself an unusually weak Christian” (Craig S. Keener, NCCS, Romans, p. 92). Quoting Moo again, he states, “. . . I admit that verses 15-20, taken on their own, could describe the struggle with sin that even the best Christians continue to have. But what we must recognize is that the struggle depicted in these verses issue in defeat: imprisonment by the law of sin. This is not the outcome of the Christian’s struggle with sin” (p. 111).

Returning to Longenecker’s view, he too does not see the individual in Romans 7:14-25 as a Christian, especially in lieu of what Paul says in Romans 8. For Longenecker this person is a picture of “. . . all people who attempt to live their lives by their own natural abilities and acquired resources, apart from God” (p. 673). Longenecker’s references to Greco-Roman writings that refer to the problem of self-mastery makes a strong case for his argument that Paul’s “Speech in Character” fits “all people.” Some, like Moo, however, argue that the person Paul is referring to is “an unregenerate Jew under the law” (p. 110). I am yet undecided whether the person Paul describes is Jewish or refers to all. The context of the law in Romans 7 causes me to lean toward Moo’s interpretation of the unregenerate Jew, but  I am also inclined toward Longenecker’s view because the overall context (going back to Romans 5:12-21) has to do with all who are in Adam. Furthermore, as Longenecker points out, the struggle to want to do right but to do the wrong is a universal human struggle, it is not simply the problem of the Jew under the law. And so the jury remains out on this point as far as I am concerned. I would welcome any insights from those who read this article. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Conclusion: Who the “I” is Not

conquerorsIn my teaching of Romans over the years, I have found chapters 5-8 to be particularly important when it comes to believers understanding what Christ has accomplished for them and who they are in Christ. The section begins with Paul saying, “Therefore, having been justified by faith. . .” (5:1) and he continues by detailing the benefits of the Christian’s justification. In my experience, this is a message that Christians in the 21st century need. We need to know that we’ve been transferred from the realm of Adam where sin and death reign, to the realm of Christ where grace, righteousness and life reign (5:12-21). We need to hear that grace is more powerful than sin, but also that people under grace are an obedient people. We need to know that Christ has won a decisive victory over sin and in our identification with him in baptism, we too have died and been raised to walk in newness of life (6:1-6). We who are redeemed and yet feel so powerless against sin, need to know that sin has lost its power over us (6:17). We especially need the good news that there is a solution to the human dilemma of wanting to do what’s right, but instead doing what’s wrong. Paul declares that Jesus has delivered us from this body of death and that he has set us free from the law of sin and death (7:25; 8:2). I still have a number of questions about Romans 7:14-25, but one thing I am convinced of is that it is a mistake for a Christian to identify with the person Paul describes there. I am not the “I” of Romans 7:14-25. In Christ, we have all been justified, therefore our lives are not one of torment like the individual Paul describes. Instead “we have peace with God,” (5:1) and an absolute assurance that “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (8:37).

For other thoughtful articles on Romans 7, see mydigitalseminary.com at this link.

The Holy Spirit in the Gospels

The Holy Spirit in the Gospels

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

Understanding the work of the Holy Spirit, as well as the biblical usage of the word “spirit,” is an important aspect of both Old and New Testament theology and teaching. Desiring to gain a better knowledge and understanding of the S/spirit, I have been working my way through 3 books on this subject. To this point my posts about the S/spirit have focused on chapters found in A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit. Having reviewed the chapters on the S/spirit in the Old Testament (click here to read any or all of these posts), I now turn to the New Testament. In this installment I will summarize and evaluate two chapters on the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. The first chapter by Keith Warrington looks at the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), while the second chapter concerns the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John. A strong case could be made for treating the Holy Spirit in Luke/Acts in one chapter, but Warrington argues that, “the authors, to one degree or another, rely on one another for the presentation of similar information” (p. 84). However, Warrington notes special features about Luke’s Gospel, which in my opinion, would have justified it being treated with Acts rather than the other Synoptics. For example, he states that while all of the references to the Spirit in Matthew and Mark are found in Luke, Luke has ten other references (p. 96). Furthermore, Warrington notes that, “…Luke, almost uniquely in the Bible, offers the description of being filled with the Holy Spirit…” (p. 93). These observations demonstrate that Luke’s focus on the role of the Holy Spirit is more significant to his work, than it is to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

The Holy Spirit in the Synoptic Gospels

This chart illustrates the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels. Chart is courtesy of wikimedia. org: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Relationship_between_synoptic_gospels.png
This chart illustrates the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels. Chart is courtesy of wikimedia. org: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Relationship_between_synoptic_gospels.png

Warrington proceeds to examine the role of the Spirit in the Synoptics in a topical way. The first section asserts, “The Spirit is divine.” Warrington addresses the uncertainty in some evangelical circles about the divinity of the Spirit and cautions that, “…there is a danger that he [the Spirit] may be viewed merely as an empowering force… (p. 85). Warrington notes important passages in Matthew (e.g., Matt. 28:19; 10:20; 12:18) which point to the divinity of the Spirit. His interpretation of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (in Matthew and Mark) being, “…the danger of an unbeliever rejecting the work of God, as initiated by the Spirit, and ascribing it to an evil source,” is a standard understanding of these passages. One of the core understandings of the Spirit in the Synoptics, according to Warrington, is that “The Spirit affirms and empowers Jesus” (pp. 88-93). For Warrington, this is the significance behind the baptism of Jesus. The dove has echoes of creation (Gen. 1:2) and Noah (return of the dove indicates a new world in Genesis 8). One interesting observation regarding empowerment is that, “…the Synoptics do not often explicitly relate the Spirit to miracles” (p. 90). Instead, the empowerment is along Old Testament lines of marking leaders and authenticating divinely appointed roles (pp. 90-91). Warrington notes that all of the Synoptics affirm that the Spirit was promised to believers (pp. 93-96). This comes through most clearly in John the Baptist’s statement that there was one coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16). Warrington notes that some believe this statement refers to a group of people who will be baptized with the Spirit, while another group will receive judgement. However, he argues that the Old Testament concept of judgement relates to refining (Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:2-3) and the cleansing of sin (Isa. 4:4). Therefore, he contends that, “The Spirit brings the eschatological judgement forward, where repentance occurs…” (p. 95). After noting the connection of the Spirit with prayer, Warrington concludes by looking at the Spirit as creative and notes qualities such as life, joy, speech, preaching, prophecy, suffering, leading people to Jesus, and exorcism (pp. 97-102). In terms of the Spirit’s connection with empowering, Warrington argues that this empowering most often is related to speech including preaching and prophecy (p. 103).

The Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John

The gospel of JohnAnyone reading the Synoptic Gospels and then the Gospel of John recognizes the differences in presentation. According to  author, Gary M. Burge, John’s development of the Spirit is clearly one of the differences between his Gospel and the Synoptics. However, he believes that John’s most significant contribution relates to how “John integrates the Spirit into his ecclesiology and eschatology” (p. 104). Thus, Burge breaks his treatment of the Spirit in John into these three main categories. First, he looks at “Jesus and the Spirit,” moving chronologically through the Gospel of John. He argues that John the Baptist’s statement about the Spirit remaining on Jesus (John 1:32-33) demonstrates a permanent anointing and “stands apart from every other anointing,” since Old Testament leaders only had the Spirit for the duration of their work in office (p. 105). Burge examines two controversial passages (John 3:34; 7:37-38) which have been interpreted as referring to believers. However, he concludes that they both refer to Jesus’ relationship with the Spirit. In John 3:34, Burge believes the correct understanding is that God has not given the Spirit to Jesus by measure, and in John 7:37-38, the streams of living water do not flow from the believer, but from Jesus (pp. 106-107). Following this understanding of John 7:37-38, Burge suggests that the water that flows from Jesus’ side at his death (John 19:34) fulfills this passage. He also examines the difficult passage regarding Jesus breathing on the disciples in order to receive the Spirit. He does not think this is a pre-Pentecost anointing, or a partial giving of the Spirit as some have argued. Rather, he believes that this verse echoes the LXX (Septuagint) of Genesis 2:7 and speaks of Jesus as the author of a new creation. As God breathed into humankind in Genesis 2, so Jesus breathes the Spirit on his disciples which results in, “…the reconstituting of humanity; the unfolding of the new age, wherein new life is being given to the world” (p. 110).

Next Burge focuses on “Eschatology and the Spirit” (pp. 111-112), which is particularly evident in Jesus’ farewell discourse in John 14-16. “The promise of the Spirit is…a central theme in Jesus’ departing comfort for his followers” (p. 111). Jesus uses a new word, not found in the Synoptics–Paraclete. This Spirit-Paraclete is never an impersonal power, but is modelled after Jesus himself, though separate from him (note in John 16:7 Jesus sends the Paraclete). The Spirit is also characterized as “the Spirit of Truth” (e.g., John 15:26). For the Paraclete / Spirit of Truth to come, Jesus must first be glorified (i.e., must die). According to Burge, the Spirit and the cross are linked throughout the Gospel. The close identification between Jesus himself and the Spirit is why he can say to his disciples, that the Spirit of Truth now dwells with them, but in the near future he will be in them (John 14:17).

Burge’s examination of “Christian Life and the Spirit” (or ecclesiology as he refers to it earlier) contains, for me, one of the most important insights regarding the Spirit. We are accustomed to seeing parakletos translated as “Comforter,” “Helper,” or “Counsellor.” However, Burge contends, “This is not a word that refers to comfort (despite its use in the KJV), nor does it describe therapeutic ‘counsellor’. Rather, it is a word that originates in the judicial, forensic world of Hellenistic Judaism and refers to a legal defender or judicial advocate (hence a judicial ‘counsellor’). Here, we have a direct link to an important Synoptic theme–the power of the Spirit would appear most clearly in duress.” Burge ends his thought-provoking treatment of the Spirit in John with the statement, “John’s teaching about the Spirit is one of the great untapped themes of the NT.” If Burge’s treatment is any indication of the richness to be found, I would have to heartily agree.

Summary and Evaluation of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels

One of the important lessons to be learned from an investigation of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels includes a recognition that the Spirit is more frequently connected with empowering for speech, than with miracles. This is not to say that the miraculous element is absent, but only to affirm that some branches of the modern church tend to major on the miraculous aspects of the Spirit, while the Gospels give prominence to the empowering aspect of speech. Both Warrington and Burge link passages in the Gospels with Genesis 1-2 (and 8) which suggest the creative and restorative power of the Spirit. Both authors present arguments for understanding certain passages about the Spirit in a way that differs from popular perception. Warrington’s treatment of baptizing with “fire” and Burge’s interpretations of John 3:34; 7:37-38, have historical precedent, but are a bit “out of the box.” All three interpretations deserve further study and reflection. Both authors are also in agreement that the Holy Spirit was not the permanent possession of Old Testament saints (pp. 97, 105), although some scholars might disagree with this view. Another commonality is that both authors demonstrate that the Gospels continue to link the Holy Spirit with eschatology, something which is also familiar from such Old Testament passages as Isaiah 32:15-18; 44:3-5 (click here to read the article on The Holy Spirit in Isaiah); and Ezek. 36:27;  and 37:14  (click here to read about the Holy Spirit in Ezekiel), to name only a few. Of the two chapters which treat the Holy Spirit in the Gospels, I found Burge’s layout to be the easiest to follow. I also found his definition of Paraclete and his treatment of Jesus breathing on his disciples to receive the Spirit among the most enlightening aspects of these two chapters.

A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit is available at SPCK Publishers and also at Amazon USA / UK