Friday, January 19, 2018

Book Review: Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus. How a Jewish Perspective Can Transform Your Understanding. Lois Tverberg. 2018. Baker Books. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Years ago, I signed up for a summer Hebrew course in Israel. That way, I’d be able to absorb the sights and sounds of the land as I studied. The class was held at a retreat center a few miles outside Jerusalem, and everywhere you looked you could see evidence of the ancient Israelites.

Do you do your Bible study microwave-style? Do you "gulp down a prepackaged, presweetened devotion with a few slurps of coffee before heading off to work"? Or are you into artisanal Bible study? Are you willing to to slow down, change focus, and be there?

By "being there" Tverberg means two things really: a) being there with the original audience, taking the time to place the text of what we're reading into its original, natural context and b) being there with Jesus, having him as our guide and teacher.

She writes, "The Scriptures are meant for us to read but they were not written to our modern world. God spoke so that the ancient world would understand, as they looked at life through different lenses.  If we want to empathize with how they thought and approached life, we need to know more about their culture."

The book is divided into three sections: "Repacking Our Mental Bags: Tools for the Journey," "How the Bible Thinks: Big Picture Ideas That You Need to Understand," and "Reading about the Messiah: Seeing Him Through Hebrew Eyes."

She asserts that Westerners have a more difficult time reading and understanding the Bible. In part, because we're so WEIRD. "We are Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (in voting countries)."

The book focuses on the clash between modern and ancient, western and eastern. The chapters focus on getting us ready to read the Bible with "fresh," "new" eyes. Tverberg gives readers a few practical tips on how to do so. For example, in chapter four, "Painting in Hebrew" she suggests doing key word studies of Hebrew words. Or if that seems a bit too extreme for you, read from multiple Bible translations.
"Take, for instance, the word walk, which in biblical Hebrew is halakh (ha-LAKH) and widely used as a metaphor to describe one’s moral lifestyle, as in Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (NASB). In Greek this is normally not the case. The word for walk is peripateo, and it simply means “to stroll around” or “travel on foot.” Yet the New Testament often uses it with a Hebraic sense instead. Jesus was asked why his disciples did not “walk” according to the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:5) and Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “walk” in order to please God (1 Thess. 4:1). A Greek reader would have scratched his head at why Paul wanted his listeners to “stroll around to please God.” It’s only when we recognize Paul’s Jewish, Hebraic accent that his intent becomes clear."
The Hebrew words for “forget,” shakach and nashah, are also broad in scope. Often they mean to ignore, neglect, forsake, or disregard a person or covenant. For instance, So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. (Deut. 4:23 NASB) The idea here is that the Israelites would intentionally ignore their covenant, not necessarily forget that they made it. When the Israelites lapse into idolatry, we also hear God threatening to forget them: Therefore behold, I will surely forget you and cast you away from My presence, along with the city which I gave you and your fathers. (Jer. 23:39 NASB) Once again the emphasis is on action rather than mental activity. God is saying that he would spurn his people, not lose their memory from his mind. When God “forgets” something, he does not necessarily lack information. This helps us understand why, in the psalms, we hear people asking God why he is forgetting them: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? (Ps. 13:1 NASB) Here the psalmist is saying, “Why do you ignore my prayers and not intervene in my crisis?” God doesn’t forget, but sometimes it seems as if he does. Interestingly, forget is almost never used in combination with sin. But often the Bible does say that God will “not remember” our sins. The idea of “remembering sins” takes the idea of acting according to memory and puts it into a negative framework. It suggests that God is going to give the person what he or she deserves for the sin. He will punish sin, not just keep it on his mind.  To “remember their iniquity” is the same as to “punish their sin.” It is automatically negative, implying that God will intervene to bring justice. So, to not remember sins is to decide not to punish them.
 Many chapters focus on thinking, conceptions of thought, use of and meaning of language. She illustrates how Hebrews thought, how Hebrew thought is very, very different from Greek thought, how the New Testament though written in Greek still uses Hebrew Thought as its base, and why understanding these cultural differences helps explain the Bible.
"Often I find that reading Jesus’ words in light of New Testament history challenges my preconceptions and refines my understanding of our calling as his disciples."
Theology is a wonderful tool for helping us understand the God who revealed himself in the Bible. But having your doctrinal ducks in a row is not what accomplishes salvation. If it were, wouldn’t Satan be fully qualified? 
Much of the reason we’ve found Jesus’ words so hard to grasp is because we are so unfamiliar with the Scriptures he loved—the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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