Tag Archives: Tremper Longman

Review: The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom

What is wisdom? Is it knowledge well applied? Is it ethical? Theological? Proverbs mentions the Lord, but is it more like a “Confuscious says” kind of idea which anyone can use, even pagans? In his book, Tremper Longman (the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) believes that the heart of wisdom is “the fear of the Lord.” Throughout his book, Longman, who has written numerous books and commentaries on wisdom literature, engages in “canonical interpretation” (181). No biblical book is an island, but each is to be interpreted among the rest in the canon. Thus Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job must agree. Even if there are major differences, there is no discord among them. Even more, “the Lord” in Proverbs is the covenantal God of Israel—Yahweh. To fear him is to know him and follow him within a covenantal relationship.

Section one looks at Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job (abbreviated as PEJ from now on), which, though wisdom literature, have their differences. Yet we must read them together to know God’s teaching about wisdom.

Proverbs—“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” with fear meaning to acknowledge God in all of his greatness and majesty. Our very “existence depends on him” (12). This fear does not make us run, but “makes us pay attention and listen” (13) and it leads to obedience. Wisdom is both ethical and theological. Because of who God is, we stand and listen and obey. Woman Wisdom represents God, and Woman Folly represents the false gods (for the gods live on the highest hills, cf. Prov 9.3, 14). So, in the second part of Proverbs (10-31), even when God is not mentioned the proverbs remain theological. For example, to be wise is to obey and honor one’s parents (10.1) for it means you are properly worshiping and honoring God (Exod 20.12).

There are two speakers (and two messages) in Ecclesiastes. The first is Qohelet (taken to be “a literary construct… to get the reader to think about the meaning of life”), the second is a father speaking to his son, with his perspective being the correct one (36). For Qohelet, God has set eternity in our hearts, yet we do not understand “when the right time occurs” (33). We do not know what God is doing from beginning to end. Yet Proverbs teaches that the wise man does know the proper time to apply certain proverbs. Rather, the father (at the end of the book) gives his son an “above the sun” look at life. Human wisdom comes up empty in the end, but fearing God leads to life.

Job—most of this chapter is a summary of key points throughout Job. Job’s three friends repeat a retributive theological argument ad nauseum. The argument never changes nor develops, the volume just gets turned up. Longman says that Job is not about theodicy, or how to persevere through suffering, it is a debate over wisdom, “and Job’s suffering is the occasion for the debate” (47). In fact, Job agrees to the friends’ retribution theology. Job’s take: he is blameless, but since he is suffering, God must be unjust. He admits that wisdom is hidden from all, even the sea and death don’t know where it is. Wisdom is found in God alone (28.28), and after Job meets God, the reader sees that submission is one’s proper response to God within a relationship with him.

Part two looks at wisdom sayings (ch 4) in Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Song of Songs, in the prophetic literature. Deuteronomy and the Psalms bring together (God’s) law and (God’s) wisdom, and the prophets show that having the law doesn’t equal having wisdom. Rather, fearing and knowing God and following his law bring wisdom. The Song of Songs, though not “wisdom” literature per se, connects with Proverbs in an ethical and practical way—love and be faithful to your own spouse.

Longman tries to cover a lot of ground in thirteen pages in chapter four, which, while leaving me wanting more, it also left me feeling quite empty. When talking about the prophets he spends a lot of time quoting examples but only gives brief statements about true wisdom and how they emphasized knowing God rightly. Those brief statements were often swallowed up by the many biblical quotations; it seemed to be a rehearsal of much of the text (though not completely).

In chapter six Longman views both Joseph’s wise actions in light of PEJ and Daniel’s wisdom in light of Proverbs. They were figures of wisdom. Part two ends with chapter 7, a look at Adam and Solomon who both had wisdom but who instead both chose folly. The king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 thought himself to be wise but was compared to prideful Adam. For both Adam and the king of Tyre, submission to God in all matters is wisdom lived out.

Part three observes the source of wisdom (ch 7). Is it revelation? Ultimately, wisdom comes from God. Proverbs testifies to the ten commandments, and even though Proverbs utilizes some Egyptian proverbs, ultimately the Egyptians were fools because they did not fear Yahweh. “All truth is God’s truth,” and to follow God and his instructions is wise.

In chapter eight, God in his wisdom created an ordered cosmos, and the more we discover the more wisdom we gain in living this life as his dependent creatures. Yet this ordered world is also a fallen one, and even the wisest of persons can, and might end up, in desperation due to the pervasiveness of evil. “The world is warped; we are warped,” and the ordered world, and especially its disordered citizens, does not always follow its order like we expect it to (142). Yet there is hope amid the frustration. Jesus, who experienced the world’s frustration, has brought redemption through his death and resurrection, and a new creation is coming our way where all vanity/frustration will be cleared away.

The rest of part three sets wisdom literature within its cultural ANE context (ch 9), and examines the relationship between wisdom, law, and covenant (ch 10). God’s law expresses how his covenant people should live.

In part four, Longman mines Proverbs for a retributive theology (ch 11). Job clearly teaches against it, but so many verses in Proverbs state that if one does/not do x, he will/not gain y (185). Doesn’t this sound like prosperity teaching? Yet Job was blameless but received suffering, and Qohelet sees injustice in the midst of righteousness. Proverbs are not promises, and Job and Ecclesiastes are “offering a corrective to a misreading of Proverbs” (186).

In chapter twelve, Longman then searches to see if there was a group/class of sages or a school of wisdom in Israel, and asks how a woman is to read the book of Proverbs which seems directed mostly to males (ch 13, see my post).

Part five looks at wisdom in the apocryphal books and Dead Sea Scrolls (ch 14) and in the NT writings (ch 15). Jesus is compared to Woman Wisdom, specifically that found in Proverbs 8. In Proverbs 8 (and all of 1–9 where she is mentioned) Woman Wisdom is a poetic personification, but one that is not a prophecy to be fulfilled (by Jesus or anyone else). Jesus embodies God’s wisdom, but he does not fulfill all of the details of Proverbs 8.

The book ends with two appendices—(A1) wisdom in the twenty-first century; (A2) is wisdom literature a genre? Appendix 1 brings some good application and perspective to living in today’s world. Longman believes that the Christian counselor is the best example of an OT sage. He or she must know Scripture well and be able to apply it, must have a good relationship with God, and ought to be able to, with practice, insightfully figure people out as they counsel them and then apply God’s real-world wisdom to their lives—practical, ethical, and theological wisdom.

Recommended?

As he notes in his book, the idea of wisdom has been given short shrift for a long time. It’s something that been likened to something stodgy old people have who have learned from their mistakes but they don’t want to admit they had fun doing it. Or some see it as having mass quantities of knowledge, like living in the ivory tower and waxing eloquently with every word. Instead, as Longman believes, it is EQ: emotional (and social) intelligence. It is knowing how to live in this world among its people, knowing how to serve them well, and how to survive this life without being ruined (at least by our own foolishness). Pastors, teachers, and students would be well served by Longman’s treatments.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon or Baker Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: The Lost World of the Flood

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (Matthew 4.8)

…And distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house. (2 Sam 6.19)

And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. (Gen 7.19)

Was the Flood a local flood or a global flood? Does the Bible every use hyperbole? If so, can we still consider it inerrant? Does the physical earth show proof of a global flood? If it doesn’t, does the Bible remain trustworthy? Can it be possible that a local flood is hyperbolically represented as covering the whole earth to represent God cleansing the whole earth and starting over? That’s what Tremper Longman and John Walton argue for in The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate.

The authors argue that rather than using Mesopotamian flood sources, the Israelites sat within a “cultural river” of beliefs on the flood. The authors believe a flood really did happen, as can be seen in the writings of many cultures (e.g., the Epic of Gilgamesh). However, they don’t believe in a worldwide flood, and we can’t know which flood lays behind the Noah story.

Yet doesn’t Genesis 7–8 state that the whole world was covered by water (7.21; 8.9). Enter part one (method): “perspectives in interpretation.” The Bible is an “ancient document,” which means very old. This is obvious, but it is easy to forget that people thousands of years ago thought differently than us moderns. When it comes to storytelling and history, since nobody wants to hear every detail, certain aspects must be carried along while others are left behind. Genesis uses rhetorical devices to interpret history for us. God shaped and fashioned an ordered creation; man corrupted it and brought disorder.

But the way this is told is put into a story, one that, according to the authors, uses hyperbole. This will be the most contentious part of this section, since the thought of the Bible using exaggeration seems out of the bounds of a literal interpretation. However, Longman and Walton seek to place the Bible in its historical context, and exaggeration was common among other ancient writings (just as it is today: “But, Mom, everyone is going to the concert. I will be the only one stuck at home all night long!”).

Though which details are actually exaggerated will be debated, exaggeration emphasizes the authors point. The teenager above may have different reasons for wanting to go to the concert (fitting in, having something to talk about at school, favorite band, not wanting to be bored at home while playing cards with Aunt Tina), but Mom knows exaggeration is being used. Readers 1,000 years from now might not know this is exaggeration unless they have read other writings from our time. For the authors, the exaggeration lies primarily in the (over)size of the ark and the extent of the (global) flood. 

In part two (background) the authors looks at the flood stories in other ANE texts to understand the similarities and differences between them and the Genesis text. Part three (text) provides five chapters/propositions on what the flood story (Gen 7-9) and the surrounding texts (6; 10-11) tell us about God and man and that no matter how many times man undermines his ordered presence, God will set his ordered presence among his people (cf. Rev 21-22). Examples are seen through the events of the sons of God intermingling with women, the flood, and the tower of Babel.

Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” represents a real starry night, but it would be madness for us to try to figure out which part of the night sky Van Gogh was looking at for inspiration. In part four (world), the authors write that while the flood story is based on a real event, it was local flood that is not supported by the world’s geology (a chapter written by geologist Stephen Moshier). The fact that there are other flood stories does not prove that there was a worldwide flood, but rather that many lived within the cultural river of knowing there was a great flood. (See Michael Heiser’s post on how to argue biblically for a local flood).

What if there really was only a local flood? The authors argue in the final chapter that science can purify religion and religion can purify science. What they mean is that the Bible was not written to teach us about science but about God and how we can come to know him through Jesus Christ. Galileo taught us that the earth revolves around the sun, and science should not conflict with the Bible. As with Galileo, the authors argue we should go back to the Bible to see if we understood it correctly. On the other side, science is not “the sole arbiter of truth” (175). Not all scientists think it is, but both Dawkins and Hawking spoke incorrectly about religion, embarrassingly so.

I appreciated the authors’ short discussion on the clarity of Scripture. The Bible is clear as to the way of salvation, but that does not mean that all Christian can understand all parts of Scripture just by simply reading the Bible. Even our translations disagree on how to translate certain verses of the Bible. This should not put us into a tizzy. We must mine the Scriptures for wisdom and knowledge to know the God who created and saved us.

The Spoiled Milk

In the preface the authors say that they aren’t trying to offer the “single ‘correct’ interpretation” of the flood. There is much more that could be said than what they say in their book. They aim to relay to the reader what the Bible is speaking. Their goal is not to “convert” nor even to “persuade” their readers to their view. Rather, they want to bring this information to the reader to show them another perspective, or perhaps more information about a perspective they already hold.

However, three times in their book the authors are reveal their hands and play the card of condescension. They say that those who try to rationalize the size of the ark make “rather stretched (to be kind) explanations” and “only the most gullible can possibly believe all of the exceptional conditions that are needed to understand the description of the flood story as anything but hyperbolic” (39, emphasis mine). They later argue “that the New Testament authors (and Jesus himself) were sophisticated enough to understand that [the Genesis story refers to a hyperbolically worldwide flood] (even if some modern readers are not)” (99). If the authors are only presenting their side, then why the dig? (See also page 26 where the authors mention intelligent people who believe in the literal seven days even when there were no celestial bodies, but how they may be “too intelligent (or clever)).”

This does only happen a few times, but the authors may “hope that at least [they] have shown how [their] particular interpretation is the result of faithful interpretation,” those small digs will only serve to distance those “readers who cannot accept our [Longman and Walton’s] findings” (viii).

Recommended?

Is this book dangerous or unorthodox? No. The authors make a good attempt to reconcile the Bible with science, but I don’t think they will convince many unless those readers are already heading in that direction. If this is the first book you read in the “Lost World” series, 180 pages won’t be long enough to convince you of the authors’ view of biblical inspiration and authority. One ought to read Walton’s The Lost World of Scripture for a more complete work. If you’re interested to read a book on the local flood by two well informed scholars, or if you’ve been following the “Lost World” series, then you should start here. If you hold to a global flood and aren’t bothered by a few digs, this book is a good discussion tool and will still help you to see the theological point of the flood and of Genesis 1-11.

Lagniappe

Buy it on Amazon or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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