Heiser’s Laws for Bible Study

Posted By on July 16, 2011

I was doodling today, and this came out. Really.

Last night when I should have been grading some papers I was in the mood to do some work on my next four-week teaching session at church. You’ll know how unusual that was when I tell you it’s going to be on prophecy (stop chuckling). I’m going to do four weeks on “Why are you where you are when it comes to your end times beliefs?”  I’ll be trying to get people to think about their presumptions. (Yes, I will post my power points here). I woke up this morning thinking about the first week, wondering how to communicate some of the skills people really need to move beyond assuming Bible *reading* is Bible *study* (I have learned, kicking and screaming mind you, that this is where most people are at – and it hurts). Bible reading is light years from Bible study, though there is obvious overlap. I sat down and wrote out the list below. No doubt it well get tweaked some time since it’s less than thirty minutes old.

Heiser’s Laws for Bible Study

  • There is no substitute for close attention to the biblical text.
  • You should be observing the biblical text in the original languages. If you cannot, never trust one translation in a passage. Use several and then learn skills for understanding why they disagree.1
  • Patterns in the text are more important than word studies.
  • The New Testament’s use of the Old Testament is the key to understanding how prophecy works.2
  • The Bible must be interpreted in context, and that context isn’t your own or that of your theological tradition; it is the context that produced it (ancient Near East / Mediterranean).
    • Put another way, if you’re letting your theological tradition filter the Bible to you, you aren’t doing Bible study or exegesis.
  • The Bible is a divine human book; treat it as such.
    • Put another way, God chose people to write the biblical text, and people write using grammar, in styles understood by their peers, and with deliberate intent — and so the Bible did not just drop from heaven. Study it as though some person actually wrote it, not like the result of a paranormal event.
  • If it’s weird, it’s important (i.e., it’s there for a reason; it is not random).
  • Don’t hire someone to stock the grocery shelves who can’t read the labels.  Or: don’t put your meds in the daily pill tray unless you can read the instructions.
    • Put another way: Systematic theology isn’t helpful (and can be misleading) if its parts are not derived from exegesis of the original text. Biblical theology is done from the ground up, not the top down (and so, see # 2 in this list).
  • If, after you’ve done the grunt work of context-driven exegesis, what the biblical text says disturbs you, let it.
  • Build a network of exegetical insights you can keep drawing upon; the connections are the result of a supernatural Mind guiding the very human writers. The only way to think that Mind’s thoughts are to find the network, one node at a time.

—————–

  1. These skills would be things like learning grammatical terms and concepts, along with translation philosophy and the basics of textual criticism.
  2. Here’s where Greek and Hebrew matter, but there are tools (like Carson and Beale’s OT in the NT commentary) that help. If you aren’t paying attention to this – and how the NT sees OT prophecy fulfilled in various ways – not just “literally” – you should politely excuse yourself from teaching anything about Bible prophecy and start studying this.

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Comments

54 Responses to “Heiser’s Laws for Bible Study”

  1. You seem to be a reasonable scholar. You said:

    “The New Testament’s use of the Old Testament is the key to understanding how prophecy works.”

    I have the massive book by Carson and Beale that you footnoted, and I read relevant parts of it. In every significant case they acknowledge the original context said one thing but that it came to be understood in the intertestamental times differently which was the basis for the NT understandings.

    Now I put it to you: If the NT said one thing and Luther and Calvin could be shown to understand the text differently what would you say about that? That is, if the Reformers were wrong about the text should anyone go on what they said or the original?

    That is the problem with how the NT uses the OT. It is out of context and as such cannot be considered prophetic or as evidence God predicted anything.

    Think otherwise?

    Just read Carson and Beale’s book closely, very closely.

    • MSH says:

      Well, let’s have some specific examples where Carson and Beale say the NT interpretation is utterly foreign to the OT “meaning” (better, context, since “meaning” is pretty much always multivalent – sorry for the academese – “layered” or “not isolated to one possibility). For comment readers, think of it this way: Is anything we write or that we say never subject to multiple meanings / interpretations? Ask your wife. So, John, please offer me some specifics and we’ll go from there.

      • academese? Please don’t assume I am not conversant in this.

        Psalm 2, according to Christians, expresses the hope for the Messiah, the anointed one, who was none other than Jesus whom the kings and rulers “conspired against,” according to the Apostles Peter and John (Acts 4:23-31, see also Acts 13:32; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5; Revelation 2:27; 19:15). However, this Psalm has some verbal similarities to King Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah 37:16-20, where Hezekiah prays for deliverance from Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, as he approaches to attack Jerusalem. New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall admits that “in its original context the psalm…is generally understood as an address to the king to reassure him in the face of enemy attack.”

        . I. Howard Marshall, “Acts” in G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, eds. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), p. 552.

        • MSH says:

          Please don’t assume I was assuming anything, though I don’t know your background.

          Please give me a better example. The psalms are notoriously difficult to date (read: no one knows how to date just about any of them), and so any argument based on a chronological presumption about a psalm and its relationship to another text is pie ion the sky.

          And which part of Psalm 2?

          At any rate, if I guess (and this may be completely off target since I need you to be more precise) — Hezekiah is viewed by most OT scholars as the “David after David” (some even think he is the referent of Isa 7:14, though I don’t share that view), and Isa 9:6 is his context. As a result, Hezekiah (like David) would be viewed as a sort of archetypal messiah figure, so if a NT author thought that way (and who would know precisely anyway) then using that Psalm for Jesus with Hezekiah in mind would make perfect sense to that writer.

          But this may not be on your intended wavelength, so I will wait to hear.

          • I have three master’s degrees and Ph.D work, having studied under William Lane Craig with three published books in my name. I have spoken for the Society of Biblical Literature and a Mid-West Evangelical Philosophical Society meeting. Hector Avalos blogs with me on the #1ranked SBL’s Biblioblogger list.

            The dating of Psalms is not the issue. The issues is that the NT treats many of them as if they were prophetic.They are most emphatically not prophesying.

            I know about Hezekiah, Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6.

            I also have read fairly extensively into the apocalyptic genre and wrote a chapter arguing Jesus was just another failed apocalyptic prophet in a book where Dale Allison wrote a blurb recommending it.

            Zerubbabel was first named the Messiah by Zechariah and Haggai. But they were shown wrong.

            At any rate, if Hezekiah is to be viewed as a sort of archetypal messiah figure then the NT authors who quote from this Psalm are wrong, which is my point.

            I may not know where you’re coming from but I did hear about you some time back:

            http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/01/there-are-two-yahwehs-in-ot-three.html

            Cheers

            • MSH says:

              This reply shows that you are really assuming certain trajectories that are wrong-headed. I’ll try to explain.

              Brief version: The Jews of the first century had a mental mosaic of what messiah would be like and do — not a list of verses for him to “fulfill.” There are actually very few overt prophecies in the OT that need or anticipate a messianic fulfillment. Rather than asking “does this guy fulfill all these passages / prophecies?” they were asking “does he look like he fits the picture?” Consequently, to evaluate THEIR expectations on a list of verses WE (modern scholars, Bible-believing Christians, etc.) have delineated just isn’t going about the exercise the way they would have — and so it is unfair and the results will invariably be skewered.

              Longer version:

              Asking if the NT authors were “correct” in their use of the OT has two points of incoherence. I therefore see your criticism and simplistic proof-texting of many Christians in this regard in the same light.

              1. NT authors weren’t thinking about 1:1 correspondences with so-called messianic prophecy. There are actually very few prophecies (or even passages) in the OT that even use the word “messiah.” And NONE of them are of the variety of “the messiah will say or do XYZ when he gets here.” As a result, it’s sophistry to criticize the NT authors on that basis. They’d look at you like you didn’t know what they (or you) were doing. They just weren’t doing what you assume they were trying to do. You criticize them for failing at something they weren’t attempting to do. How is that methodologically sound?

              Lest readers misunderstand, I am not saying you are along in this mistaken trajectory. It’s news to Christians and pastors, too. I’ll repeat my statement above: There are actually very few prophecies (or even passages) in the OT that even use the word “messiah.” And NONE of them are of the variety of “the messiah will say or do XYZ when he gets here.” Don’t believe me? Below is a link to a PDF that shows the search results for all the occurrences of Hebrew mashiach (“anointed one”; “messiah”) in the OT. Read through them. There’s nothing there that says “when messiah comes he will do / say XYZ.” The proof is in the pudding. And so your criticism is quite misguided (but effective against people who don’t know better).

              http://www.michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/lemmamashiachmessiahinOT.pdf

              So, in view of all this, how did Jews have a messianic expectation with so few references to an eschatological messiah? As I noted above in the brief version, while they didn’t have a list of verses, they had a mosaic of expectations as to what their messiah would be like and what they presumed he was supposed to do. Some of these are fairly specific – e.g., they expected messiah to be from the line of David, of the tribe of Judah, born in Bethlehem – but not because any verse that has the word messiah in its says these things. It was primarily because of the (in order) the covenant with David (2 Sam 7, Psalm 89), the use of royal motifs and terms in relation to Judah (Gen 49:10; Micah 5:2). These OT passages form parts of a picture (a mosaic); they are not in and of themselves terribly specific. Even Micah 5:2 could have spoken of any ruler of Israel — there is nothing in the text that says it ONLY applies to an eschatological messiah. But you, John, would over-read passages like that and press them as though they are more specific than they are (and you’d be in Christian company – many Christians I presume would be disturbed at what I just said – Micah 5:2 need not apply to “the” messiah — but I’m just letting that text be as non-specific as it is).

              2. This “mosaic” approach to OT messianism means that the “rules of interpretive engagement” in the first century often don’t conform to modern constructs like the “grammatical historical method” (born as it was of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Why? Because we’re smart and they were dumb? That’s basically your argument. But the truth is much more simple and less egotistical. It’s because the first century Jew was thinking analogically, not as though “Text A produces Interpretation A” (i.e., as though we must tell that the former gave birth to the latter). The ancients were thinking in terms of patterns, motifs and other “hooks” that would reveal connections (a mosaic or network, not a single, linear 1:1 thought correspondence). In other words, a first century Jew looking at his Old Testament and, hearing your (our – modern “believers”) interpretive strategy and would either say “you’re dense” or “your method sucks” (in Aramaic or Hebrew, of course).

              Now, how do I know I’m right in saying the above? Two short examples. First, there is Zerubbabel. He didn’t “fulfill” any direct messianic statement, but to Jews of his day, the second temple period, he looked like a candidate worthy of consideration. Why? Because he fit certain expectations that had nothing to do with proof-texting specific messianic statements (of which there are few). Zerubbabel was in the line of David and he was the political leader of the Jews returning from exile (their sin was “pardoned”) … to restore the nation of Israel (the “kingdom”). He was governor of Judah, so he could have fit Micah 5:2. Notice — back to the text here — that verse actually doesn’t say that the ruler from Judah had to be *born* in Bethlehem; rather, he had to “come forth” from that town. What does that mean? You could probably justify a lot of associations with Bethlehem to feel like a candidate fit the picture. My point here is that Zerubbabel was not disqualified from looking like a messianic candidate because he was born in Babylon, not Bethlehem, since Micah 5:2 never mentions birth as a requirement (but to be sure, a birth there would create a firm association). But I don’t imagine you or the sources you cite ever noticed that. And it’s not because you aren’t smart (you obviously are); it’s because you have accepted a caricatured expectation of messianism, brought with you in your flight from Christianity.

              Anyway, what I’m trying to get to is this. To judge the NT authors by standards foreign to them is wrong-headed. To understand how the NT use of the OT is coherent you have to see the nodes of the conceptual network / the pieces of the mosaic. You have to understand how THEY were thinking (not how you wish they were thinking, or how you could have thought better, in your mind at least). The NT mosaic for messiah is composed of motifs, technical terms, concepts, symbols, etc. that derive from ancient Near Eastern concepts of royalty, kingship, priesthood, shepherding, warfare, hierarchy, etc. — as opposed to listing proof-texts. If it was as easy as proof-texting, the disciples could have just looked things up. Instead, they relied on 20/20 hindsight. As time went by, what Jesus did and said *reminded* them of aspects of the mosaic, the network.

              The above is why your challenge was and is pointless. It is misguided because you’ve spent too much time shooting at a caricature, thinking you’re hitting something and scoring. You’re not. (But I’m sure you’ve buried lots of lay people and preachers whose view of all this is just as simplistic as your own).

              • Thanks so much for taking the time to respond.

                There is a great deal that you wrote I agree with you about, most of it actually, seen best in Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s “The One Who is to Come (Eerdmans, 2007). I just want you to connect the dots. These so-called prophetic texts cannot be considered as evidence of Jesus for us today. This is my point. There is no evidence coming from OT prophecy about Jesus. None. That is why the overwhelming numbers of Jews in Jesus’ day did not believe the early Christian kerygma.

                Take the burning bush example. Jesus used it to show that it had “significance” concerning the resurrection of the dead (Mark 12:26-27). But in context the “meaning” of the text is that God was merely identifying himself to Moses.

                Do you approve of that kind of exegesis in your classes?

                If so, then wouldn’t you be forced to say anything goes?

                Cheers.

                • BTW, I’m sure you know that messianic expectations did not arise until after the exile.

                  • MSH says:

                    This actually isn’t true in that it depends on certain presumptions. The J writer of Genesis would look at the Shiloh statement / prediction in Gen 49:10 and certainly see a future king. Now, if the J source idea is legitimate, that is no older than the 9th century. As such, it post-dates the division of the monarchy — which in turn means that the original intent (and who knows exactly) may have been the restoration of the Davidic monarchy and thus the (perceived) kingdom of God on earth. Those are messianic ideas, though that one text represents only a few items in the resume, so to speak. So it depends on how one defines “eschatology” (i.e., how far out do you need) and “messiah” (the further out the eschatological trajectory, the more like a 2nd temple / NT flavor becomes the point).

                    This question / item again illustrates for me that your questions presuppose a few things you ought to rethink: (1) definitions of these terms; (2) that critical scholarship is somehow opposed to traditional positions. On the second item (traditionalists, stop reading now!), that is *sometimes* the case, but I find more often than not that critical approaches are very helpful for thinking the thoughts of the writers after them in a way that more closely approximates reality (I don’t mean that to be insulting toward traditional views but I’m not sure how else to say it). It irritates me that so many who would claim the evangelical label have basically devoted no time at all to investigating how critical approaches helps stimulate the imagination as to what God may have been up to — yes, I am a theist and a Christian — and how the humanness of the text is a wonderful window into re-thinking theological ideas like “providence.”

                    I’m getting windy now.

                • MSH says:

                  This exodus argument is a whole lot simpler than you suppose. Jesus (or, the gospel writer) has two simple beliefs (that incidentally cannot be proved or disproved): God exists and he spoke to Moses, telling Moses he was the God of his fathers — but using a present tense idea (“I AM” – not “I was” the god of your fathers). On that basis, the writer concludes God is the God of the living, not the dead. So, sure, I approve of the idea, since the verbiage implies exactly what the gospel writer draws from it (but again, the foundational notions are representative of the whole atheism vs. theism debate – two polar positions that are both unfalsifiable via empirical means).

                  To this point these haven’t been hard questions but they’ve been pretty good ones.

                  • Looks like I have a very small column to comment further, so let me just highly recommend James Barr’s book Beyond Fundamentalism, chapters 2, 3, & 11. Or, you can just read my books and see what you think. Cheers.

                  • MSH says:

                    Not sure what you mean by “very small column” (are you having a formatting problem on the blog – it wouldn’t be the first time a reader has had a problem; I’m no techie). I’ve heard of Barr’s book and I think I’d like it, since I’m not a fundamentalist. I’ve read a lot of his other stuff, but not that one. I hope you aren’t unconsciously implying that there are only two choices: your position and fundamentalism. But maybe you are. I’m not sure. Other atheists I have known are very much fundamentalists — they are simply unwilling to frame a topic or discussion in any other way than the way it’s framed in their head. Having come out of fundamentalism, I’m very familiar with the thought patterns.

      • ! I defy someone to come up with one statement in the Old Testament that is specifically fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that can legitimately be understood as a prophecy and singularly points to Jesus as the Messiah using today’s historical-grammatical hermeneutical method. It cannot be done.

        • MSH says:

          this made me chuckle – how you front-loaded the question to have any answer falsified by your own standard. Nice. That isn’t scholarship. It didn’t take you long to sound arrogant. I’m trying to be nice and engage in a discussion (I can tell by your email address you’re an atheist or something), but it took you two comments to act superior. You may beat up on the lay people, but I see through such things quickly. I didn’t waste my time going to grad schools that just told me how to affirm what they wanted me to believe. I deliberately chose programs that would be hard and antagonistic toward “Bible belief.” You should be able to tell from the comments and posts on the blog that I don’t care about defending anyone’s tradition. Good (critical) scholarship has changed my mind on a number of things, but I recognize the substitution of arrogance for data pretty quickly. Forget trying to set me up. I don’t allow anything but data to frame a question, and your question was a vacuum tube in that regard.

          In short, I’m not impressed.

          Now my dilemma is, do I continue the conversation hoping to interact with good questions, or do I just cut you off so readers can see the comments up to this point and you’ll just look like an arrogant egotist? Decisions, decisions.

          For other readers, here is what I mean about “front-loading”.

          Speaking to Mr. Loftus … Let’s see if I understand what you’re asking for in this “challenge”. Taking it step-by-step…

          The Old Testament = the Jewish scriptures. Got that.

          The NT = A lot of first century Jews looked at the life and claims of Jesus and saw him as aligning with the messianic content of THEIR Scriptures. THEY interpreted THEIR Scriptures in such a way that this alignment was clear to them (and incidentally, critical scholars – not fundamentalist preachers – have done a lot of work establishing that the NT authors used known, time-worn interpretive methods; they weren’t idiosyncratic).

          BUT, you apparently wouldn’t use THEIR methods that THEY felt comfortable using with THEIR texts.

          AND, you aren’t a Jew (of any century).

          YET you feel free to sit in judgment on their hermeneutic because it isn’t your hermeneutic.

          is that about right?

          In the academic world, that’s called bias (or some sort of hermeneutical xenophobia).

          Put another way by analogy, this strikes me as demanding that modern followers of Confucious prove to you that the first generation of Confucious’ followers got Confucious right, all the while knowing that you think both the ancient and modern followers of Confucious aren’t interpreting Confucious the way you would. And since that is your standard for interpreting any responses, you never have to worry about ever having to say they’re correct.

          Front-loading, pure and simple. And not even clever about it.

          • Let me say it this way then, the Jews in the days of Jesus used midrash, pesher and so on to interpret their scripture. But the overwhelming numbers of them did not see Jesus as the Messiah. If prophecy is supposed to be some sort of evidence for the truth of Christianity then where is it? They didn’t see it and neither do I.

            In today’s world we wouldn’t accept typology as evidence of Jesus because this is all in the eye of the beholder. We use a different method which seeks to understand the meaning of a sentence instead of its significance. The meaning of the OT sentence in their original contexts would never allow us to think of the meaning of the OT sentences as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah.

            Cheers

            • MSH says:

              can you give me the numbers, John? Where are the statistics of who believed and who didn’t? How do we know? Who counted? See my other reply. I follow your trajectory, but I think it’s commonly wrong-headed.

              • How many Jews? This is hard to specify since numbers are generally exaggerated. The most plausible estimate of the first century Jewish population comes from a census of the Roman Empire during the reign of Claudius (48 CE) which numbered nearly 7 million Jews. If we add in the Jews outside the Roman Empire in places like Babylon, the total first century Jewish population could have been 8 million. In Palestine it’s estimated there may have been as many as 2.5 million Jews. Even if we accept the numbers of people converted as reported in Acts 4:4 at 5,000, that’s a mere drop in the bucket. It still means well over 99% of all the Jews in Palestine rejected their evidence. Since the Jews shared a similar religious faith and they lived in the same era and didn’t believe, why should we?

                See “Population” Encyclopedia Judaica. Vol. 13, and Magen Broshi. “Estimating the Population of Ancient Jerusalem.” Biblical Archaeological Review. (Vol.4, No. 2, June 1978). Josephus estimates that at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD there were over one million Jewish fatalities (The Jewish War, Book VI, 9,3), whereas in northern Galilee, if we add up his figures, there were somewhere around three million Jews (The Jewish War, Book III, 3,2). Alexandria, according to Philo, had a Jewish population of over 1,000,000 (Contra Flacum 43).

                • MSH says:

                  Oh, for real. This is a red herring (determining head counts for positions). You’ve concocted one of those impossible-for-anyone-to-do things and then used that as some critical point the other side needs to rebut. I have to think your overall body of work is more thoughtful than this (no doubt it is). Arguments that require the opposition to be omniscient are just ludicrous.

  2. Jesse in Oregon says:

    Michael,

    I like your rules. They are not my own (not because they are not good), because I am not that disciplined. Sometimes the Bible for me is just enough spiritual bread to keep me from starving as I assault another day.

    In bullet point five you mention how we should not be “letting our theological tradition filter the Bible.” While I agree with you, I do not think this is what people do. Most of my theological arguments occur with what you might call “Christian cultists” – either the Jehovah’s witnesses who frequent my house or the more recently some friends who call themselves “Oneness” (United Pentecostal).

    *UPC: If I offend, my apologies but at least I call you friends. *

    Perhaps there was a time where a theological filter colored their perception of a scripture, for instance their rejection of the Trinity. But now there is an ideology which has advanced itself logically along their theological fault lines. They no longer filter theologically but ideologically, and the ideology colors their Bible reading and perception. Why? This gives the elite within the church an element of control over the laity. Now they have institutionalized “purity standards” and manners of dress; they forbid television and the reading of certain media. When you control information do you not control thought? Opposite this is how in the liberal church the rejection of the concept that the Bible is inspired by G-d has done more violence to human freedom than all the dogmas of orthodoxy.

    The useful and frightening aspect of this is; I have been able to see how easily I have done the very same thing with my thinking, but maybe not to the same degree. Bonhoeffer is correct is his assertion that it is not the words of Jesus that puts men off of the message of Christianity but the “superstructure of human, institutional and doctrinal elements in our preaching.”

    Jesse

    • MSH says:

      agreed; no one can ever always succeed in being unfiltered (and I don’t want to suggest that filters are/were never helpful). What I’m opposing is the practice of having someone else do your thinking for you in most or all theological instances (and I agree with you here as well in regard to the “most people” comment).

  3. Bran says:

    A question.

    Given Romans 1: 20…

    For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

    Do you think this can be taken to conclude that scientific observation of the natural world can aid in understanding the bible at least in some instances?

    An example: There are some passages that describe God stretching out the heavens. That just so happens to parallel modern cosmology concerning the expansion of the universe.

    or another example: God commands the waters and the earth to bring forth life. With evidence for evolution, could Romans one tell us that, through observation of creation, we can conclude that Genesis 1 is not talking about literal 24 hour “days” and that God created the process of evolution in his instructions to the waters and earth?

    I understand that people of the time would not think like this, but we do today.

  4. Areadymind says:

    Could you expound on bullet point #3, and maybe give an example of “patterns in the text.”

    • MSH says:

      THREADS that run through the text – motifs that keep popping up, or CLUSTERS of words that often appear together.

      For instance, garden and mountain imagery used of deity; same for wind and fire. More specifics: study all that stuff in the OT and how it is associated with the divine presence – and what that entails – and then go to Acts 2). Even better, consider the table of nations (in its pre-scientific context) and then go to Acts 2. The names aren’t all the same, but what is conveyed is in sync in important ways (I won’t say more on the comments). You’ll never get to this stuff via word studies.

  5. blop2008 says:

    To me, it looks promising the way God will handle this through you. I can smell it. Good thing to prepare way in advance, to ensure you will master what you will say and how you will say it; so that it comes out fluent.

    • MSH says:

      Just now, thanks to your link. What do I think? Honestly, not much. Yahwism operated on a continuum. Stark and others must presume that this continuum didn’t include anything that would approximate a species-unique view of Yahweh. Good luck – maybe time travel would help. So, since we have evidence that some people *didn’t* view Yahweh as species unique that means no one did? How the heck would we know. This is just fundamentalism (no gray areas). I’m arguing that there were all sorts of positions, and that one of those is reflected by biblical writers. And that they could and did presume Yahweh was unique. What’s the big deal (I suspect I know, but I’ll leave that to readers).

      • Benjamin Smith says:

        I think the ‘continuum’ does away with most of his arguments. He also seems not to have grasped your point about ‘elohim’ as a realm of existence, so the existence of angels later doesn’t prove much. What did you think of his points against your seeing El epithets in vs.6-7, though? And do you think his point about the collaters of Deut not caring about discrepancies between Deut 4 and 32 is valid?

        Sorry: side-tracking, I know! I enjoyed your thoughts on Bible study and agree completely. If people followed this we wouldn’t have five-point Calvinism on our hands.

  6. Patrick says:

    I love this pattern of studying the Scriptures. It not only provides us more light, it provides control over invalid interpretations.

    Martin Hengel said , “IF all you know is the NT, you do not know the NT”. I think that is accurate.

    My pastor believes context/motif/OT allusion with the passage is way more significant than strict exegesis from the Greek/Hebrew to English.

    BTW, there has become a plethora of extra canonical light that may be shed on our understandings, too.

    The Jewish Targum studies are excellent in many cases, the Qumran community writings, ancient near eastern discoveries including the Jews,etc.

    The book of Enoch might be way more significant than we realized. It is not just quoted in Jude 14, there are many references from it all over the NT.

  7. Benjamin Smith says:

    I’d add that his point that Yahweh has to be one of the sons of God allotted a nation doesn’t add up: the nations are given the Sons of God as their inheritance, Yahweh takes his from the wilderness, not a place which was allotted previously, indicating that he isn’t one of the SoG.

    • MSH says:

      I know – this presumes that an Israelite would not (could not? anti-semitism?) conceive of Yahweh as a global deity-king until very late – and yet that idea is found in places like Psalm 29, which all critics I’ve ever read call one of the earliest texts in the Hebrew Bible.

      My point is that I’ve seen all these arguments before and I’m not impressed with their logic.

  8. [...] a further note, Heiser was asked on his blog (in the bottom of the comment area of the post here) if he had seen the critique of his exegesis of Deut 32 and Ps 82. You will see his response there [...]

    • MSH says:

      Hi David – yes, some others here have noted this piece. I may get to read it next week and see if it’s worth any time. From what I can gather it’s basically the same old arguments.

  9. Richard Brown says:

    Man, you’ve done it again. sheeesh.

    I’ll take your ‘rules’ at face value, ’cause I already did, at least most of them.
    The only critique I’ll offer for now is just this: Just because the Deity worked through flawed human vessels to deliver some awfully important messaging does not prevent the Spirit of God from breathing dunamis into the recipient [believer/saved/convert/newborn] through the medium of the Word. I choose that word “medium” deliberately. Thought, the ‘ghost in the machine’, and the intersection of Mind/Soul/Spirit are complex components. And Literacy is analog, not digital imho, spanning an incredibly wide range. [BTW, is it true that we can trace the supposed 'evolution' of literacy to roughly the same timezone as Adam?]

    Taking the text we have seriously and studiously does more than inform and bother me [in the sense that Mark Twain noted :) ], there is a real life power there and personally I wonder if there is any other way to “get” that peculiar value

    A Burning Question germane to this post: Can people who have had higher Critical Thinking skills deliberately pre-empted or beat out of them [mostly via public schooling in the last four or six decades in the Western world] somehow gain/regain such thinking and literacy skill?
    I see christians literally everywhere who display not one whit of such. This leads to aberrant practic and some outrageous ecclesial decisions/edicts. Sometimes I just can’t keep my mouth shut and end up with some ‘intense fellowship’.

    The above for good reasons triggered my memory of the late and great IMHO baptist theologian [and I think language scholar, Mike] Dr. Dale Moody who IIRC got booted out of Baptist Seminary professorship more than once. He warned stridently about presumptive theological or “belief” constructs like “eternal security”. His multi-part lessons on John’s “Revelation” were… indeed. He had your grasp of how Old Testament prophetic imagery informs the writers/scribes of the NT, and he had an ‘end to end’ [bible] view of salvation. I wish I had a copy of his “Parousia of Christ” which I read a library copy of years ago but cannot find now…

    Mike I have one pragmatic question to ask in this regard: Do you have a reco of a one volume commentary [or other] on the Old Testament which seeks to put each book and its script in the proper Historical/Political/Ethno/Geographical setting? The prophets are especially difficult for me due to lack of a handy reference of such. I am gradually building a set of Anchor Bible volumes but surely there is a condensed guide somewhere…

    • MSH says:

      Boy, the third paragraph hits me where it counts. I see this a lot, too. I think people who have this sort of intellectual malaise really need a personal catalyst (something jarring) to care — something that collapses their comfort zone. I used to think that the malaise was mostly *our* fault (scholars) who just didn’t care about giving people material. I still think that’s a problem, but I’m being dragged kicking and screaming toward the conclusion that most Christians just don’t think well, and don’t care to. But I still believe they can (they have the intellectual capacity — i.e., they aren’t dumb; they are just ignorant). But they need an awakening so they care to use the faculties they have (and then hopefully the scholars will give a hoot or the awakened person will know how to access good information).

      If you can’t tell, I’m trying to encourage myself here.

      Last paragraph – if a “reco” is a recommendation, there is no silver bullet here. it depends on the issue / topic / passage. I always recommend that people get into the academic journal literature (the two main ones are JSTOR and ATLA – Google them). Some public libraries have subscriptions, and basically all college libraries do. If you can access these databases, you will be able to find specific articles on topics, and most of them can be saved as PDF. Beyond that, I’d need to know specifics.

      • DT says:

        Wow, Richard, your comment contains the gist of what I was going to get at before deleting and deciding against submitting (it seemed like I was just complaining about Christians). You did so very well without sounding like a whiner.

        Addressing the issue, I feel both of you will agree with me that it is not a “Christian problem,” but instead a “Christian” problem. Most people in every country of the world are not sound thinkers. The “why” of this probably varies, but it does come down to education that teaches what to think instead of how to think. The issue I think we feel strongly about is that one should not be behind a pulpit or in another place of authority without having first attained the humility, knowledge, and critical thinking skills necessary to properly present scripture — it is certainly a “Christian” problem when Christ or any of the myriad of threads touching Him is misrepresented.

        As to how one attains these skills, I can’t speak with authority. As flawed as my own skills may be, I gained what I have through the humility of finding how gullible I really was when it came to scripture. The tripwire was, for me, epistemology. From there, a study of logic and rhetoric built a framework by which I could begin critically examining my relationship with God and, consequently, the scriptures. I hope there is a simpler way, but I fear that the Damascus road moment may be necessary for all but the fortunate minority who are children raised by parents already possessing the above traits.

        They are qualities that one is not born with (at least, in the same sense as sight and hearing). They cannot be accidentally stumbled into. It would seem the necessary steps include: 1) Recognition of critical skills and one’s lack of them 2) Desire to attain them 3) Intense study of the above-mentioned subjects

        The most frustrating aspect of the lack of these skills in Christianity is that, for those like me who know where we fall short in other areas (say, knowledge of scripture like you have, Mike), it is almost impossible to submit to an authority who lacks those skills simply because they’re behind the pulpit and are good men. And I have a hard time imagining that we *should* submit to them.

        A recent example is that the pastor of the church I was attending taught an entire series on It’s All God’s Fault — the idea being that God is the cause of everything. I suppose it was an attempt to solve The Problem of Pain, but I (and please, correct me if I’m wrong here) see the attempt to pin accidents, evil, pain, and failure on God as incredibly unscriptural and dangerously close to the Gnostic demiurge.

        However flawed (or not) that premise is, the problem came after. Several close friends asked what I thought. I told them that I disagreed, and was essentially blasted into oblivion by the following argument: How dare you disagree?..he’s a pastor who attended seminary and studied more Bible than you, so how could you possibly know better than him? My answer (that pastors can be guilty of shoddy thinking, too) wasn’t enough.

        I suppose the difficult thing was finding out how little what I bring to the table mattered to people I care about — and while this probably qualifies as whining, I have to admit that my hand is burned and that I’ve avoided sticking it back into the fire since. I hope you’ll forgive me for this incredibly long-winded post. I didn’t intend to go here. What are we supposed to do in those situations, though?

        Remove ourselves and seek another place to commune? Suffer in silence?

        Continue speaking to our friends and attempting to correct issues? (keeping in mind that critics are seldom loved — being right often is no solace, and loved ones tend to develop an “oh boy, here we go again,” mindset)

        Attempt to speak in solitude with the pastor to correct him? (also have tried that in the past — it accomplished only bad things).

        What I have settled on is compiling a list of authorities with critical thinking skills (you’re on the list, Mike), and pointing the loved ones there. It doesn’t help the congregation, but it has made at least one difference so far.

  10. Patrick says:

    In recent studies in John my pastor is doing (assisted by various scholarly research work) it is becoming clearer that even more than the context, OT allusions and motif need to be kept in mind.

    Example, when Jesus stood in the temple on the last day of the feast of booths, what He said then may be more accurately interpreted based on the fact it is the feast of booths and Jesus is basically repeating what Yahweh said in Exodus when the feast was introduced in the wilderness as well as other wilderness motif details.

    Maybe that is still motif, but, it is a narrowing down possibly mis interpretations.

  11. Richard Brown says:

    I notice that nothing later than the 17th is showing here and wondered if that is a bug, or accurate?

    If still pertinent, Michael, one of the items I had posted was this: is there a one-volume OT-canon reference you could reco which sets each book in its complete context: historical, archaeological, anthropological, political, geographical, etc… to aid context-understanding??

  12. Ed Roberts says:

    You mentioned that you were giving a four week lecture at Church… will that be up online?

  13. Charity says:

    Thanks so much for this Dr. Heiser. This was right on time. I almost emailed you this very question a couple weeks ago.

    I think a lot of people fall somewhere between the two extremes: those who simply don’t care a whit about exercising intellectual and textual stewardship when studying the Scriptures and those who know enough to know that they will never be ancient language and textual experts and are so afraid of engaging the Biblical texts incorrectly that they quit attempting to engage them at all.

    • MSH says:

      I would trade 100 Christians who could care less for 1 who jumped into Bible study, knowing their limitations, and throwing caution (but not thinking) to the wind. I try to convince people at church or the classroom that I really don’t mind if they disagree with me. Even if I know their position doesn’t have a prayer of being right, it’s wonderful to see people enthusiastically engaged in discovering the text. I wish I saw more of it.

  14. David Alves says:

    Good word Mike. Appreciate your direct, clear voice. Great to have you at Logos and here on your blog. Thanks.

    Also wondering if you ever got that book written on the “sons of God.” I already read Facade. Blessings.

    • MSH says:

      Hi Dave – very nice to hear from you. Believe it or not, still working on it (just over 300 pp now with two chs to go on the first draft). It’s turned into a putter project since I started blogging three years ago. I’ll announce a first draft completion here. Look me up if you are at ETS/SBL this year.

  15. [...] to look at many things with respect to biblical theology. I refer you to the third bullet point on Heiser’s laws for Bible Study: “Patterns in the text are more important than word [...]

  16. Jonnathan Molina says:

    I absolutely love these Laws of Bible Study (and promptly shared the link to my Facebook page to put my fellow Christians on notice that this is what bible study is supposed to look like). Thank you for this little nugget, Dr. Heiser. If I could, I’d hug you for putting it up!

    I gotta say I’m one of the Christians who had a rude awakening which destroyed all my comfort zones. It shook me from fundamentalism and sent me searching for answers. In hindsight, I see the hand of God quite clearly. The progression was something like this:

    Intense conversion experience
    Intense discipleship process
    Immediate immersion in various kinds of fundamentalism/evangelical doctrine (all in one place)
    Sagging spirituality sustained by insatiable curiosity
    Curiosity leads to a book that challenges everything
    Moment of darkness and confusion
    Inspirational moment (all is NOT lost!/providence)
    Search for answers (or truth)
    Unplanned random moment (what I see now as providence/God’s hand)
    Infusion of solid teaching and clear thinking (Dr. Heiser’s blog)
    Reframing the mind
    Relearning to think
    Reaffirming my faith
    Reaching out to others to think/demand better

    And that’s where I am now! Although it’s been so much more than just that, lol. God’s grace is amazing. I’ve learned he’s not afraid of our questions and that we should be humble in the way we think, learn and approach others who think differently than us. Getting real comfortable with the fact that I will never have it all figured out (which my inner man finds aggravating but is willing to accept finally! But on the plus side, so much knowledge and I’m not afraid to tackle it, even with my limited understanding!)

  17. DaN says:

    I am not 100% sure I agree with what you are saying here.
    For example, “if it’s weird, it’s important.” Is it really there for a reason? Or could it just be one of many readings that have been mis-translations or mis-interpretations.
    You know there are many many (thousands of) manuscripts which differ from one another, right? How can each of these all be full of meaning and inspiration?
    Also, you say to read the Bible in its Ancient Near Eastern context, yet when you use the filter of Christian belief to analyze the Hebrew Bible, you are not exactly doing so. There is a lot of Greek (Western) influence there, not to mention possible Persian influence, by way of Zoroastrianism duality, et cetera.
    I do appreciate your research and I try to follow your blog when I can. You may have a good explanation for my ‘issues.’

    • MSH says:

      weirdness refers to the disconnect between worldviews, not translation. Something might appear or sound very strange to us that, when viewed through their eyes, is easily understood for what it is / says. And I would dispute your notion of “many mistranslations.” Translators aren’t omniscient or omnipotent, but they also are not bumbling boobs, either. Your comment reads like someone who has not done biblical translation. You also confuse textual criticism with translation (they overlap to some degree, but not in the way your wording presumes (differences in manuscripts has little to do with a translator’s ability to translate what is there; the issue is establishing the correct text as best we can, given our own lack of omniscience).

      I don’t use the filter of Christian belief for anything. Where are your examples? If you think duality isn’t older than Persian Zoroastrianism, you’re not well informed on the Hebrew side.

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