Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Meaning of the Pentateuch - Quotes

Some quotes I liked from the first few chapters of The Meaning of the Pentateuch (Sailhamer, John. The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition, and Interpretation. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009.)

I have much to say in this book about the canonical shape of the OT, arguing throughout that its purpose was to provide the books of the OT with the best possible context for viewing them messianically. (17)

How does one go about finding the meaning of a text such as the Pentateuch? The answer that I offer is that one should approach the meaning of such a text in terms of its “big idea.” There are questions we must ask. What is this book all about? Where is the author going? What is he trying to say? Every part of the Pentateuch has its place within the context of its big idea. The meaning of the whole helps us see the importance of each of its parts. This is how texts such as the Pentateuch work. They are not randomly gathered bits of written facts. They give us whole pictures, and the meaning of the whole affects our understanding of the meaning of the parts. (20)

How do we know if our big idea fits the text? Here is a basic principle: the best big idea is that which explains the most and the most important features of the text. (20-1)

The Pentateuch looks beyond the law of God to his grace. The purpose of the Pentateuch is to teach its readers about faith and hope in the new covenant (Deut. 30:6). (26)

We have already seen that the Pentateuch begins at Genesis 1:1, and hence it begins not with law or promise or even with nature as a given; it begins with creation (ex nihilo) and thereby establishes a great theological moment at its beginning. All God's acts recorded in the Pentateuch are grounded in the “real world” (biblical realism). Also, the Pentateuch begins with the free act of God in creation. The Pentateuch also moves quickly to tell us that this free act was also for our “good” (e.g., Gen 1:4). Creation thus is cast as an act of grace, unmerited favor. From the point of view of the structure of the Pentateuch, the giving of the law, the promises of Abraham, and nature itself are grounded in God's gracious gift of creaturehood. The Pentateuch ultimately is about creation and grace (creation/grace). (32)

When viewed in light of its final composition, the overall literary strategy of the Pentateuch suggests that God's original plan for Israel at Sinai did not incude the vast collections of law found in the Pentateuch. Rather, the Pentateuch suggests that the Mosaic law was added to the Sinai covenant because of Israel's many transgressions in the wilderness (cf. Mt 19:8). (42)

Above all, the message of the Pentateuch is centered on God's grace. Israel continually fell short of obedience to his will. God did not cast them off. God gave them more law to guard them and to keep their lives pure and undefiled. The giving of the law to Israel is thus shown to be an act of God's grace. In the end, the Pentateuch makes it clear that something must be done about the human heart. (47-8)

Simply put, if the words of the Bible are inspired, their meaning is of central importance. This puts the emphasis in the right place: on the meaning of the words as a part of the language of the Bible. To ask why the author wrote the Pentateuch is a valid historical question, but that question should not be construed as an answer to the question of the meaning of the Pentateuch. One finds the meaning and message of the Pentateuch not in asking why it was written or how, but in asking what was written in the book itself. The author of the Pentateuch surely had specific reasons or motives for writing the Pentateuch, but those reasons should not be identified with the meaning of the Pentateuch. The meaning of the Pentateuch as intended by its author lies in its “verbal meaning,” be that literal, figurative, realistic or spiritual sense. (73-4)

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