Why Rahab? (James 2:25-26)

At the conclusion of his discussion of the relationship between faith and works, James uses Abraham as an example of a person who obeyed God and was declared righteous. He alludes to Genesis 22 and quotes Genesis 15:16 and concludes that a person is considered righteous because of what they do, not on the basis of faith alone (James 2:24). Usually scholars focus on the glaring clash between this verse and Paul’s argument in Romans 4 that Abraham was justified by believing in God (Gen 15) before he was given the rite of circumcision (Gen 17). For Paul, one is justified “by grace through faith not of works.”

I have written on this aspect of James before, but in preparing for a lecture on the ethics of James I wondered why James uses Rahab as an example in 2:25. Scholars often pass over this verse as if it was an appendix to the argument and not of any real importance. But Rahab is mentioned twice in the Jewish-Christian literature, Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25-26. 1 Clement 12 refers Rahab as well, observing that her “faith and hospitality” saved her. Clement is not interested in Rahab as a Gentile convert. Rather, Clement connects the “scarlet thread” to the blood of Jesus so that “not only faith but prophecy is found in this woman.”  In all three cases Rahab is a paradigm of faith because she acted on behalf of the spies.

In Joshua 2 Rahab is presented as an example of a “righteous Canaanite.”  This is remarkable since she is introduced as a זֹנָה, a prostitute and she betrays her own city to the enemy by lying to the authorities. After she has protected the spies, she says she has heard of God’s victory in Egypt and understood that Israel’s God is “the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Josh 2:11). Since she has protected Joshua’s two spies and is therefore exempt from the destruction of all the people of Jericho (Josh 6:17).

Rahab Scarlet CordWhen scholars examine Paul’s argument in Galatians 3 or Romans 4, they often ask why Paul used Abraham as an example of justification by faith. Sometimes they suggest Abraham was used by Paul’s opponents to argue Gentiles (like Abraham) should submit to circumcision as did Abraham. After all, Abraham was also a Gentile who expressed his faith in some concrete action (offering Isaac as a sacrifice). The use of Abraham in James 2:20-24 supports this, since Paul seems to be in conflict with “men from James” in Galatians.

My question in James 2:25 is similar: why does James use Rahab as an example of someone who was “considered righteous”? He uses the same aorist passive of δικαιόω as James 2:21 and Romans 4:2, both referring to Abraham being declared righteous. Perhaps Rahab fits the pattern of a Gentile who has heard the word of God (the Exodus and Israel’s victories in the wilderness), has expressed faith in the God who did these things, and confirmed her faith by some concrete action.

For James, Rahab may be a better example for his point since she demonstrated her faith by hiding the spies before she expressed her faith in the God of Israel. Out of all of the residents of Jericho, only Rahab and her family were saved from destruction and only because she expressed her faith through an action.  As the climax of the faith vs. works discussion, James says faith without works is dead (v. 26), just like the people of Jericho! The warning to the reader is that even for the Gentiles, some real expression of faith is necessary in order to faith to be “saving faith.”

This discussion is always difficult because we have a tendency to read our theological presuppositions into the text (I know I do!). But if we only had James to construct Christian theology, how different from Pauline Theology would our view of salvation be? Or, are Paul and James really not that far apart after all?

To the Twelve Tribes in the Dispersion – James 1:1

James 1:1 indicates that he is writing to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” Assuming that this line is to be read literally, we need to understand what a Jewish writer would have meant when he said “twelve tribes” and Diaspora. Simply put, a Jew “living in the Diaspora” was a Jew living outside of “the land.” But things are a bit more complicated than that.

The Judaism of the first century developed the way it did because of the exile. The exile could begin as early as 722 B.C. when Samaria fell to Assyria, but the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. is the usually beginning point for most scholars. The fall of Jerusalem was the event that shaped Jewish religion as we know it in the Second Temple Period because it stripped the Jews of all things which constituted ethnicity. They no longer had land, their language began to shift from Hebrew to Aramaic, and there was a significant threat from intermarriage. The Jews, as a people, were at risk of losing their ethnicity.

Ancient Synagogue in Dura-Europos, Syria

How did the Jews survive the exile? All other peoples of the ancient world integrated and disappeared from history. How many people claim to be Moabites these days? The primary factor is Jewish Religious tradition centered on the Torah. These traditions kept them from assimilating into a host culture. The story of Daniel is only one example of Jews working within a culture yet remaining distinct from it. Centers of Jewish cultures developed in Alexandria and Elephantine in Egypt and in Babylon. These places continued to develop well into the current era. It is likely that Babylon and Alexandria were superior centers of Judaism to Jerusalem for much of the Second Temple period.

Those who chose to live outside of the land rather than return to Jerusalem always face problems in living in accordance with their traditional customs. The main three which are typically identified: monotheism, Sabbath, circumcision, and dietary laws. It is not a surprise to find these as the main points of controversy in the New Testament. While Paul does not shift on monotheism, he does not require gentiles to conform to the other three boundary markers and it is at least possible he may have been open to Jews not practicing food laws or worshiping on a day other than Sabbath.

The important thing to remember when discuss the Diaspora is that it was not as much geographical as cultural. Paul might encounter strongly traditional Jews in Ephesus or Rome, and relatively “liberal” Jews in Jerusalem. In fact, I suggest that the Jews who ran the Temple in the first century were far less traditional than the Jews who worshiped in the Greek-speaking synagogues in and around Jerusalem. The fact that the first violent persecution of the followers of Jesus came out of the Greek-speaking synagogue (Acts 7) is an indication that at least those Diaspora Jews were “conservative” with respect to the Temple.

So back to James. I think that he is certainly writing to Jews who are Christians, but they are people who may very well represent the more conservative form of Judaism before accepting Jesus as Lord. If this is true, it may explain James’ insistence on good works, for example, as a sign of true faith.

If this is the case, how should the “Jewishness” of the letter change the way we read James?

Is it Really Impossible? – Hebrews 6

Hebrews 6:4-6 says that it is impossible for those who have “once been enlightened” to be restored to repentance if they should fall away. The key to understanding this verse is the word “fall away.” The verb παραπίπτω refers to someone who has not followed through on a commitment. It only appears here in the New Testament and is rare in the LXX, occurring 5 times in Ezekiel where it refers to the apostasy of Judah that led to the exile. This verb is cognate to παράπτωμα, the noun Paul uses to describe Adam’s sin in Romans 5:15. There writer does not have in mind some small offense against God, but rather a conscious defection from the truth.

Like the verbs used to describe salvation, this verb points to a decisive moment when an individual, having experienced “such a great salvation as this” stopped “being enlightened.”  The person in view has moved from the light back into the darkness, intentionally. Louw and Nida 34.26 gloss the verb as “to abandon a former relationship or association, or to dissociate (a type of reversal of beginning to associate).”  The word appears to focus on the initial disassociation, a reversal of the process of joining a group.

Reject ChristFor example: there have been several congressmen who have “switched parties” in the last few years.  Arlen Specter for example switched parties in 1965, from the Democratic party to the Republican party, and in then in 2009 switched back. In fact, since 1890 there have been 21 senators who switched parties (according to the US Senate website). What do you suppose the chances of someone that switched parties and backed the opponent’s candidacy being accepted unconditionally back into the old party?  Likely it is impossible that someone who has once been an enlightened member of “our party” and has gone over to the “enemy” should return to their original party.  Whatever the motive, their life as a Democrat or Republican is over; they will never completely win the trust of their party back.

The actions of the person in view in Hebrews 6 are more than simply quitting a church or shifting to another (more liberal) denomination. In fact, in the context of the first century Roman world, it is more than ceasing to believe in God or the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a conscious decision to turn ones back on God at a time of persecution. They are “switching sides” in order to avoid persecution as Christians.  Given the context of Rome in the first century, the possibility of persecution makes this sort of reversal much easier to understand.  This is not someone that is upset at God for their own miserable life, but a person that is standing before a man that can take his life and recanting, even perhaps causing the death of other believers by his reversal.

The death of Jesus is set before us as a pattern: he is not asking us to do anything he did not. The writer of Hebrews is clear that Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world.  For a person to participate in the blessings of God and recant under the pain of death is to not live up to the calling of Christ.

If this is the case, the writer is offering a strong encouragement to “suffer well” when persecution comes. This is immediately applicable in many parts of the world today, but perhaps not in the West – how should western readers of Hebrews use this text?

Hebrews 6 and Eternal Security

Hebrews 6:4-12 is one of the difficult in the Bible because it deals with a very sensitive problem: If someone recants their faith and completely turns their back on God, can they still be “saved”?  It does not take very long to find a website attributing the doctrine of Eternal Security (Perseverance of the Saints) to be a doctrine hatched in the pit of Hell, or another website declaring that Eternal Security is the central theme of God’s gospel of Grace.

CalvinPart of the emotionalism of this issue is that everybody knows someone who attended church, was involved in the ministry of the church, gave of their money and time, and may have even publicly claimed to be a believer.  But now, for whatever reason, they have walked as far from God as they can get, denying that they were even saved.  Some pastors have been caught in sin and now have left the ministry, perhaps even denying God What about them?  Were they “saved”? Are they now “saved” even if they are in a state of denial?

Presuppositions about theology often drive interpretations about this passage. Once we start talking about heavy doctrines like election, predestination, and preservation of the saints people tend to get antsy. To make a very long theological story short, Arminians tend to believe that a person can lose their salvation if they do not “persevere until the end” while the Calvinists tend to believe that a person who is truly saved will always be saved, regardless of any post-conversion behavior.  There is a lot behind those two historic positions, in fact, they are logical conclusions drawn from some presuppositions in their respective views of salvation.

ArminianA real problem for reading this text is that our personal experience clouds our thinking.  We all know someone that seemed saved, but they now appear to have walked away from their faith.  Alternatively, we all know at least one prodigal son who has returned to the father and repented of their time during which they appear to have rejected the faith.  These stories are rather emotional since these are real people whom we love.

While both sides of this “once saved always saved” discussion must deal with this passage, that is not exactly what the author of Hebrews has in mind.  He does not address church discipline or post-reformation theology.  In fact, he is neither Calvinist nor Arminian, nor is he a holiness preacher or a post-Enlightenment liberal. To a large extent our post-Reformation questions might obscure what the writer of Hebrews was trying to communicate to his original readers.

The writer of Hebrews is a Jewish Christian addressing other Jewish Christians who are about to endure a time of terrible persecution.  Does the writer of Hebrews consider it possible that his readers could deny their faith publicly, declare that they are faithful Jews, and still consider themselves Christians in secret?

Is it possible to check our Reformation Theology at the door before reading Hebrews? Or is that something we should even attempt?

Free Books for Logos Bible Software – Journal of Theological Interpretation

JTILogos is has something a little different for their Free Book of the Month promotion. Partnering with Eisenbrauns, Logos is offering the first two issue of the Journal of Theological Interpretation for free. The Journal began publication in 2007 and is edited by Joel B. Green. It contains a wide variety of articles Theological interpretation of Scripture has been a growing movement in scholarship in recent years. This hermenutical method intentionally includes “the theological and ecclesial location of biblical interpretation, the significance of canon and creed for biblical hermeneutics, the historical reception of biblical texts, and other more pointedly theological interests. How might we engage interpretively with the Christian Scriptures so as to hear and attend to God’s voice? The Journal of Theological Interpretation aims to serve these agendas.” The articles in the first volume include:

Volume 1.1 (2007)

  • Joel B. Green, The (Re)Turn to Theology
  • Richard B. Hays, Reading The Bible With Eyes Of Faith: The Practice Of Theological Exegesis
  • Murray Rae, Texts In Context: Scripture In The Divine Economy
  • Michael A. Rynkiewich, Mission, Hermeneutics, And The Local Church
  • Christine Helmer, Trust And The Spirit: The Canon’S Anticipated Unity
  • R. W. L. Moberly, Christ In All The Scriptures? The Challenge Of Reading The Old Testament As Christian Scripture
  • D. Brent Laytham, Interpretation On The Way To Emmaus: Jesus Performs His Story
  • Michael J. Gorman, A “Seamless Garment” Approach To Biblical Interpretation?

Volume 1.2 (2007)

  • Angus Paddison, P. T. Forsyth, Scripture, And The Crisis Of The Gospel
  • Michael J. Gorman, “Although/Because He Was In The Form Of God”: The Theological Significance Of Paul’S Master Story (Phil 2:6–11)
  • Andy Johnson, The “New Creation,” The Crucified And Risen Christ, And The Temple: A Pauline Audience For Mark
  • Joseph L. Mangina, Apocalypticizing Dogmatics: Karl Barth’s Reading Of The Book Of Revelation
  • Charles J. Scalise, The Hermeneutical Circle Of Christian Community: Biblical, Theological, And Practical Dimensions Of The Unity Of Scripture
  • Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Review Article: Reading With The Subject: A Conversation With Angus Paddison
  • Steven J. Koskie, Review Article: Seeking Comment: The Commentary And The Bible As Christian Scripture

As you can see, there are some valuable articles in these first two issues of JTI. You can also enter a contest to win all twelve issues of the Journal of Theological Interpretation (six years, 2007-2012). The Journal is one of the many resources included in Logos Cloud and the premium level. Here is my review Logos Cloud in case you missed it.

In addition to the Free Book of the Month, for only $1.99. you may purchase Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology by John H. Walton. In the first half of the book Walton does a comparative studies ancient Near Eastern cosmologies and then uses that as a lens to read Genesis 1:1–2:4, concluding the the creation story uses a “functional cosmology” which evokes temple ideology.

Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.

Hahn Our FatherIn addition to the Logos Free book, two other free books are on offer. Noet is the division of Faithlife focusing on classics; this month they are offering Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides and his The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics  for only 99 cents. Verbum is offering Scott Hahn’s Understanding “Our Father”: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer for free and his Scripture Matters: Essays on Reading the Bible from the Heart of the Church for 99 cents. Both books by Hahn are worth reading, I am glad to see them as a part of this promotion!

Verbum is part of the Faithlife family of companies, focusing on Catholic resources. Both Noet and Verbum use your same Faithlife account, so these books are available to anyone with a Faithlife / Logos username and password.

Biblical Studies Carnival – January 2016

Carnival ThangTim Bulkeley posted the heavily footnoted Biblical Studies Carnival at SansBlogue. He used some new and interesting categories to cover the best and brightest biblical and theological studies blog posts in the first month of 2016. Tim has a nice round-up of reactions to the SBL decision to move Review of Biblical Literature behind a pay-wall (or, make it for members only). Head over to SansBlogue and click all the links, leave a comment thanking Tim for his hard work.

In other biblio-blogging news, Jim West’s Alt-Carnival is more of a travel-blog this month. In case you missed it, Jim was teaching in Hong Kong in January, so he is sharing some of his photos of his time there.  Next month he promises a “Carnival of Errors,” the worst of the blogs, “the most egregiously inaccurate, the most dilettantish.”

As always, Brian Small has a great collection of Hebrews Highlights for the month. There were quite a few posts on Hebrews in January (including many I posted here Reading Acts).  If you use FlipBoard to read blogs, consider following my Biblical Studies magazine.

The next few carnivals will be:

I have included a link to the site hosting as well as a twitter account so you can nominate posts during the month by sending them directly to the host. If you do not have a twitter account, contact the host via their blog.

As always I am looking for volunteers for the rest of the year (after June). Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of BibliBlogs. Please email me  (plong42 at gmail.com) or direct message on Twitter (@plong42). You can also leave a comment here with your contact info and I will get back to you.