30 September 2003

lawyer jokes

I saw versions of these on Mark Shea's blog (with apologies to my attorney friends):

This lawyer ended up in hell, with a frog sitting on his head. The Devil asked, "Where did you get that?"

The frog replied, "I dunno. It started off as a wart on my ass."


The Devil was dragging a lawyer off to hell. On the way down he sees his former and recently deceased law partner Larry kissing a beautiful woman. "Hey!" he shouts at the devil. "What's goin' on here? You're dragging me down to the fires and there my friend Larry gets to kiss this beautiful woman. That's not fair!"

The devil pauses and leans over to the lawyer and says, "It is not for you to question this woman's punishment!"

covenant conditions: part two

With regard to [a] the obvious objection would be that the Bible continually presents all kinds of obligations, responses, and so forth: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" or "The one who does not believe is condemned already."

And, of course, I readily recognize these aspects of the biblical witness. But my question is whether they are best spoken of in terms of "conditions"? What does that even mean?

It seems to me that one has conditions in a contract, not a family.

I expect my daughter Claire to love me, listen to me, spend time with me, and obey me, but it is peculiar to call those "conditions" for my relationship with her. They are the relationship.

But, perhaps the model of marriage might be offered as an alternative that is more clearly "conditional," more so than parents and children, at least. Yet, what are the "conditions" in marriage and vows?

Does the husband say, "If you respect me, I'll love you back. If you look to my leadership, then I'll take care of you. If not, you've violated the conditions...I'm getting another wife"?

That is conditionality, isn't it? A "condition" by definition is a requirement or stipulation upon which some kind of fulfillment of an agreement is made to depend. That's what the word means.

Still, one might object that if a marriage partner is unfaithful, then the marriage may well fall apart or become the occasion for dissolving the marriage covenant. Thus, marriage is a conditional relationship.

And yet, it seems to me, that even here the so-called "conditions" don't constitute the marriage relationship, at least not qua "conditions." They just serve as (for lack of a better term) "boundary markers" for when the relationship has disintegrated.

It seems a little odd to me to say, "I am married to you on the condition that you remain faithful, don't abandon us, etc." when marriage just is remaining faithful, etc. One might say that marriage is the "condition in which" a man and woman live together in mutual faithful commitment, etc. But that's using the term "condition" in a different way, to refer to "circumstances, a state of affairs" not "a stipulation upon which the fulfillment of an agreement is contingent."

Thus, the vows are not "conditions" in any ordinary sense of the term (drawn primarily from contractual, legal, and economic models, from the Latin "condicio" = the terms of an agreement). Rather, vows are expressions of purposed intent before witnesses, where the witnesses act not merely as extrinsic guarantors of contractual compliance, but as personal-relational support, representing the wider community and the face of God. Vows don't include "if...then" stipulations, even if consequences follow from the abandonment of vowed intent.

But suppose this purported marital conditionality were turned around and the husband only said--"Look, I love and want you and will be faithful to you. All I ask is that you be faithful to me in return..."--there are still problems, because that kind of loving faithfulness cannot be demanded and required in that sort of way, especially if there is not always-already a relationship and exchange in place and, when there is, the response is already provided for.

Thus, if a husband says, "It's my heartfelt desire and wish to love and cherish you, because I took you to be my wife, and if you stray, I'll win you back"--that's not a conditional situation. And that kind of love, at least when it is God's love, produces a response in the beloved. That's part of love's gift. And humanity's response to God is provided in Jesus in whom we are offered back to God already.

Aquinas talks about how, in the Bible, repentance is expected for forgiveness from God but not within human relationships and he asks why that is. Aren't we supposed to image our heavenly Father? But he forgives in a context of faith and repentance, but we are to show forgiveness to all, unconditionally. Why the difference?

Aquinas answers that in the case of God, God's forgiving disposition is one that generates the response in the person receiving that forgiveness, not merely forgetting sin, but restoring the sinner. But that same is not true within human relationships, since we, in our fallenness, cannot necessarily generate a positive response to our offered gift.

The point would be that God's establishing of the covenant is unilateral in that it includes the bilateral response within it, because of who God is in relation to us. But this is a matter of restored relationship with our Creator--not a matter of "conditions" per se.

Moreover, a condition is something you do in order to meet a requirment. As such, it regards itself reflexively, looking to itself as the fulfillment of a condition.

But faith is nothing like that. It's extrospective, looking to God and his faithfulness in Christ, unlike our father Adam who demonstrated his suspicion and faithlesseness. This dynamic is all the more profound because it comes on the other side of even Christ's own faith in God unto death in the faithfulness of the cross. We know, in Christ, that the God to whom we look is a God who raises the dead from hell, so even Adamic suspicions are swept away in resurrection life.

Even in terms of faith working itself out in love, love is first of all a surrender of self to another, an ecstasis, which trusts that there is a possibility of reciprocity, a receiving back. Thus, even the working of faith in love, only functions insofar as it passes through and proceeds from faith's own extrospective working in light of resurrection.

In this context, talk of "conditionality" seems wrongheaded to me.

covenant conditions: part one

True confessions: I really don't like the language of "covenant conditionality" or how most discussions are framed regarding whether biblical covenants are "conditional" or "unconditional."

I grant, of course, that such language has had a place in many expositions of Reformed covenantal theology.

The Westminster Larger Catechism, for instance, states: "The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provides and offers to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him…" (Q&A 32). The Catechism uses this same language of "condition" with regard to the pre-lapsarian covenant of life with Adam, which was maintained on the "condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience" (Q&A 20).

Norm Shepherd in his The Call of Grace develops this theme of covenant conditionality, pointing out ways in which even the apparently "unconditional" covenant with Abraham involved the condition of a faith that works itself out in loving obedience (13-20). Shepherd then goes on to use this model of promise and demand to frame his discussion of all biblical covenants.

Even in my own "Brief Catechesis on Covenant and Baptism" I allude to "the conditions of the covenant" (Question 4), though that language came from the questioner and my answer attempted to significantly modify the sense in which that could be meant.

And yet, having said that, many of these approaches to covenant conditions seem too legal, too economic, too contractual to me, and sometimes assuming a particularly narrow understanding of those things.

Besides, we're dealing with a situation in which all the "conditions" have already been met in Christ and are graciously shared with us. Granted, we have to "personally appropriate" what Christ has done for us and thus are caught up into his life. But that too is a gift and such radical giftedness must be allowed thoroughly to qualify any discussion of conditions.

"Conditions" is often heard, of course, as "meritorious achievement" and I know people like Shepherd who speak of conditionality reject that paradigm completely.

Yet, it seems to me that the discussion largely gets stuck on the notion of conditionality since a condition can hardly be understood except as in some way "contributing" to the exchange.

I can't help but think that what we have here is a version of what van Til called the "full bucket problem." From one perspective, there is nothing we can give to God since everything is already his. And thus fulfilling "covenant conditions" doesn't really contribute anything to salvation which is a total gift. And yet, as creation really does add something to God's already all-sufficient glory, so also our response to the covenant really does play a role in salvation.

Thus, perhaps, the whole discussion of the covenant needs to be reoriented.

First, however, perhaps it is necessary to deal with some [a] possible objections and [b] to give an overview of the unfolding of the covenants in redemptive-history. And I'll do this in another post.

29 September 2003


Return of the King trailer.

25 September 2003


As part of an attempt to pare down and simplify life a bit (and thereby reduce the amount of things that distract me), I've cut down my blogroll extensively. I apologize if you got cut.

I've kept links only (or for the most part) to those blogs where I have either met the author, online-chatted with him or her more than once, or had significant email contact. If you think you fit into these categories and yet do not appear on my list, let me know.

23 September 2003


After two conferences in the space of a week and a half, I'm behind on lots of work and projects. Once I catch up, I'll blog more regularly.

In the meantime, go read Peter Leithart's blog instead.

17 September 2003

radical orthodoxy & the reformed tradition

Over the past weekend, I attended this conference at Calvin College.

One of the plenary addresses was by John Milbank and was entitled, "Alternative Protestantism." Here are my notes:

Milbank's plenary address concerned Calvin and Calvinism.

While Radical Orthodoxy (RO) is ecumenical, Milbank said that its diagnoses and recommendations are broadly catholic, rooted in the creeds and councils, and the three-fold ministry.

Nonetheless, RO can be incarnated in Reformed theory and practice, particularly since RO critiques all existing (western) Christian traditions, placing them within a genealogical account of the modern. After all, unless we think our tradition is perfect, we all have room for growth.

Milbank notes that as an Anglican he owes a lot to Calvin since, other than the Fathers and earlier medievals (like Aquinas), the Anglican divines were heavily endebted to Calvin. Even the 17th high church Anglicans (Herbert, Donne, Hooker, Andrewes, and Laud) were all essentially Calvinists.

He added that the genealogical critique of modernity is not directed against Protestantism or Reformed theology as its target. The target, instead, are those shifts in late medieval theology introduced by figures such as Scotus and Ockham. Since Reformed theology is also, in part, a critique of those same views, RO can stand with it.

As an aside, Milbank noted that analytic philosophy of religion, and even its Reformed proponents, have however sometimes looked to the late medievals as exemplary (he mentioned Marilyn McCord Adams by name here). In doing so they have too easily embraced univocity (over against analogy), rights discourse (over against associational and common good discourse), and divine command theory (over against Christian eudaemonism).

But this turn to the late mediveal is problematic, both philosophically and theologically, Milbank maintains. For instance, the doctrne of justification in late medieval theology tended to do away with "participation" in God in Christ as a central category, introducing a Pelagian element, and developing a covenant theology that is extrinsicist.

By contrast, the Reformed critiqued these late medieval developments and, Calvinism especially with its roots in humanism, were more open to cultural critique. Thus Luther and Calvin both attempted to move back to biblical and patristic concerns, Calvin especially so with his emphasis upon justification and sanctification being received together in Christ. This same dynamic is carried forwards by someone like Ames in The Marrow of Theology (a work that also delpoys a Proclean theurgic neoplatonism, by the way, as was typical of many Puritans; cf. Harvard's original curriculum: Calvin, Ramus, and Plato, though Ramus is deeply problematic).

While Milbank sees Luther as tending to remain more entrenched within nominalism, Calvinism was relatively more free of that tendency. Thus Lutheranism tends to slip into a kind of monophysitism in its theology, supposing the Creator and creator to be related to one another externally and extrinsically, so that the hypostatic union must involve some kind of fusing of natures. Moreover, in Lutheran theology, the nominalist tendency leads to a doctrine of imputation which downgrades real sanctification.

Calvin instead strongly emphasized union with Christ via Christ's humanity (even if there is a Nestorian tendency present here) and the communication of divine life through the God-man by the Spirit. Thus participation is already deeply rooted within Reformed thought, as Milbank reads it.

This is clear also from Calvin's eucharistic theology in which there is a real spiritual sharing in Christ's humanity and divinity, though without confusion or mingling, nonetheless the finite being situated within the infinite. French Huegenot thought, likewise, was strongly participationist. Most Anglicans, French Reformed, and many Puritans read Calvin in a participationist manner, though Calvin, of course, was not himself really a metaphysician.

Milbank, however, sees Calvin as explicitly rejecting many of the dichotomies of late medieval metaphysics. Thus, for Calvin, human agency and divine action are not thought to be in any competition. Calvin's emphasis on divine majesty and simplicity is like that of Aquinas. Calvin sees unfallen human nature as subject to grace. For Calvin, covenant is not in tension with participation, but assumes it.

Zwinglian influnce, however, leads away from Calvin's theology. It leads to a focus on our faith and, in some Reformed scholasticism, a downplaying of sacramental instrumentality.

Also, certain variations of federal theology are deeply problematic and, in the end, really betray their own covenantalism and Calvin's doctrine of grace and of Christ. They tend to treat the Old Covenant and New Covenant as equally and univocally salvific, as just different arbitrary arrangements, thus decentering Christ. But the OT is a matter of anticipation and prolepsis.

Later Puritan and Dutch theologians also depart from Calvin on matters such as the Sabbath, episcopacy, and so on.

Calvin, however, already possessed some of these problematic tendencies. For instance, on Milbank's reading, Calvin appears to see the Old Covenant as salvific in its own right, rather than in terms of its proleptic and analogical anticipation of the New Covenant. Thus what was provided for Israel is univocally applicable to the church as a New Israel or, alternatively, remains Israel's special perogative. Either way, there are racist implications, whether anti-Semitic or, here in the US especially, pro-Zionist.

Calvin's conception of justification strongly as imputation is problematic within a univocalistic ontology, Milbank suggests. Apart from univocalism, however, imputation is also impartation, since what God declares is actually accomplished. Thus we can speak of an infused habitus of iustitia taking the form of charity.

Calvin's christology tends towards and Antiochene interactionism between the two natures which remain relatively independent. According to Milbank, this is because Calvin refuses a full deification of Christ's humanity as enhypostatized. This is a failure to grasp that the hypostatic union proceeds from the divine side (cf. Maximus the Confessor). There is only one divine "esse" in Christ. There is a human nature, but not a human being, because Christ's human is only divinely.

Milbank went on to gesture at the "extra calvinisticum," Calvin's doctrine of the eucharist, and Calvin's tendency to put divine electing love prior to Christological incorporation, as all also too ontic and non-participatory.

Rather than setting up opposition of an either/or nature (if Christ is in heaven, then he is not present in the eucharistic elements), we must maintain a both/and. Because Christ is present in the eucharist, therefore he all the more remains in heaven. Because all the fullness of God dwells bodily in Christ, therefore the divine all the more exceeds Christ's humanity.

Thus Calvin's sacramental theology, while not entirely wrong, is inadequate. Christ's body, we must say, is "omnipresent" but not locally, but substantially. In order to say this, however, Milbank says that Calvin needs a more robust participationist and analogically metaphysics.

Calvinism is good in its practical orientation. But in the American context, when severed from a participationist metaphysics, this devolves into a kind of pragmatism that is dangerous, contributing to America's messianic pretensions.

But Calvinism is a great tradition and has wonderful resources within it in order to promote a revitalized "reformed catholicism" and "alternative protestantism."

In the Q&A, Jamie Smith began by saying that if Milbank were right about Calvinism -- that it is a theology in search of a metaphysics -- then Radical Orthodoxy is a metaphysics in search of the Bible!

My notes on the discussion are a bit scant. But Milbank talked about the relationship between christology and pneumatology and suggested that in some sense that if Christ is the incarnation of the Second Person, then the church must be seen as the incarnation of the Spirit. Of course, "incarnation" is not being used in the same exact sense and the Spirit's incarnation in the church will not be complete until the eschaton.

More was said, but my notes give out at this point.

'zdq' in isaiah: the new testament

My remarks here shall be brief and preliminary. It is fairly clear, I think, that Pauline talk of the “righteousness of God” and God’s “justification/vindication” of his people are central to his epistles and reflect the kinds of language we have seen in Isaiah, particularly Second Isaiah. The question is precisely how Paul is appropriating this language and applying it to what God has accomplished in Christ.

I certainly cannot take the space to argue here for a particular interpretation of the Pauline corpus, but the following perspective seems on the right track. Paul sees Israel before Christ as still bearing the curse of exile and, insofar as Israel bears the fate of humanity, the human race remains under this curse as well. What happened with Jesus of Nazareth, Paul suggests, is that as the Messiah, he summed up Israel in his own mission and the entire world as well.

The eschatological hope of Israel for vindication by Yahweh has found its fulfillment in Christ. He not only bore the curse of exile upon the cross, but he came out the other side raised up by God, restored and vindicated, experiencing in the middle of history what Israel expected to have at the end. And all those who are in Christ share now, by anticipation, in that verdict and will experience it fully in the eschaton when all is restored. Thus, the righteousness of God is manifest in Christ in that the promises of the covenant are finally and decisively fulfilled in him.

More certainly needs to be said, but, I think, this captures some of what Paul is trying to say when he uses the language of Isaiah.

15 September 2003

'zdq' in isaiah: 2nd isaiah

In Second Isaiah, as much as in the first portion of the prophecy, the assumed background is that of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel and his promises to them. Indeed, in Second Isaiah these themes are brought to the fore through a more sustained emphasis upon Yahweh’s own faithfulness to his covenant as his “righteousness” and upon the final “vindication” he will bring to his people as an expression of that covenant promise.

Naturally, the terminology of zdq continues to be used in Second Isaiah in ways parallel to the first part, for instance:
  • Yahweh’s vindication leads to “righteousness” (z’daqah) springing up in the land (45:8)

  • had the people been faithful they would have experience peace (shalom) and “righteousness” (z’daqah; 48:18)

  • those who know “righteousness” (zedeq) listen, taking Torah to heart (51:7)

  • Yahweh’s servant is “righteous” (zadiq) in his faithfulness to God (53:11)

  • the people are called to maintain “righteous” verdicts (z’daqah) in their courts (56:1)

  • those who are faithful to Yahweh are “righteous” (zadiq) though they perish (57:1)

  • in the midst of false piety Israel acts as if they pursued “righteous” verdicts (zedeq) with regard to the poor (58:2)

  • the people of Israel does not sue in “righteousness” (zedeq) but lie in court and thus confess their failure to “vindicate” (z’daqah) the innocent (59:4, 14).
While these uses of zdq are quite similar to those we surveyed earlier, it is also the case, I think, that there is a greater emphasis, on the whole, upon the forensic sense of zdq, an emphasis that seems typical of Second Isaiah as a whole.

The primary focus of Second Isaiah, however, is upon Yahweh and his actions with regard to Israel. Israel is called to put confidence in God for he will deliver them with the right hand of his “righteousness” (zedeq; 41:10), in this context, I think, pointing to Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness to deliver Israel, though perhaps also pointing to that deliverance as “vindication.”

More clear, perhaps, is the confession that it was the creator Yahweh who made Israel his covenant people, a light to the nations, calling them in his “righteousness” (zedeq) by rescuing them (presumably from Egypt; 42:6). The background here is God’s promise to the patriarchs as that finds fulfillment in the exodus and so the righteousness of Yahweh here carried the strong connotation of “covenant faithfulness.”

In Isaiah 45 there are several instances of this sense of zdq. Yahweh, the sole creator, does not speak falsely, but speaks in “righteousness” (zedeq) and truth, fulfilling what he has promised by raising up Cyrus to deliver Israel (45:19). Thus, Yahweh alone is God, the one who fulfills his promises and thereby is a “righteous” one (zadiq) and a savior (45:21). When Yahweh swore his covenant, his mouth went forth in “righteousness” (z’daqah) with a word that will not return without being fulfilled (45:23).

In Second Isaiah, however, it is primarily Israel’s vindication that is the result of Yahweh’s faithfulness to his promises. This vindication is, first of all, the decision of the divine judge finding in favor of Israel and thus carries a fully forensic importance (the law court scene is particularly evident in, e.g., 43:9; 50:8). But this decision is manifest in history as the defeat of Israel’s adversaries and the restoration Israel, first of all from exile, but also with sights set on a final eschatological restoration. When this restoration occurs, the land will return to an Edenic state in which God’s verdict is seen by all nations and true justice, in faithfulness to Torah, is established.

In Isaiah 45, which we considered in part above, Yahweh’s righteousness is seen in his vindication of Israel. Yahweh is said to have raised up Cyrus in order that the covenant be renewed, triumph sprout up, and “vindication” (zedeq) be rained down (45:8). The result is that within Israel, “righteousness” (z’daqah), as a way of life, will again spring up (45:8). Yahweh has roused Cyrus so that the city will be rebuilt and the exiles return, expressing God’s “righteous verdict” (zedeq) in Israel’s favor. The people respond by confessing that only in Yahweh is there “righteousness” (z’daqah) and strength, for when the people come to him their adversaries are put to shame (45:24; is this vindication or Yahweh’s faithfulness?). Therefore in Yahweh the seed of Israel will have “vindication” (zadaq) and glory (45:25).

In the following chapter Yahweh’s “righteousness” (z’daqah; his plan for Israel’s salvation and vindication) is far from them in exile, but it will be soon brought close (46:12-13).

In Isaiah 51, the Torah that goes out from Yahweh as a light is said to bring “vindication” (zedeq) and salvation, defeating Israel’s enemies and delivering the people (51:6). This salvation and “vindication” (z’daqah) is enduring and final, standing forever and unbroken (51:6). Those who accuse and insult will wither away when Yahweh’s vindicating verdict (z’daqah) is pronounced, his eternal salvation of Israel (51:8).

In the later chapters these themes are carried further. Though Israel doesn’t pursue righteous verdicts and thus can only hypocritically ask for Yahweh to vindicate them, Yahweh will nonetheless come in light, healing, and vindication, guarding Israel, should they begin to show compassion for the poor (58:1-8). In a song of repentance, the injustice of Israel’s own courts is lamented since it drives Yahweh’s vindication far from them (59:1-9). Nonetheless, Yahweh hears their repentance, sees the lack of righteous verdict, and decides to bring vindication by his own arm, dressing himself in military (and high priestly?) garb: vestments of vindication, salvation, vengeance, and wrath (59:14ff.).

In the final chapters of Isaiah, Israel is said to have peace as a governor and vindication/righteousness as an official, alluding perhaps to the fruits of divine deliverance (60:17). Those who receive vindication are said to be “righteous” (zadiq), God’s own handiwork (60:21) and they will be called “oaks of righteousness” (zedeq) that Yahweh himself has planted (61:3). Since the agent here is Yahweh, it seems that the point is not the personal piety or acts of the people, but their “right-standing” before Yahweh as the people whom he has vindicated. Thus the very garments of vindication that Yahweh himself wore in saving Israel and pouring out his wrath are now wrapped around Israel as garments of salvation, a robe of vindication, like a bride (61:10). Thus Israel’s vindication by Yahweh will be seen by all the nations, until kings recognize her glory as Yahweh’s bride (61:11; 62:1-2).

It is with the glorious image of Israel, vindicated by Yahweh who is faithful to his covenant with her, that I conclude my survey of Second Isaiah. As should be clear, the themes of Second Isaiah move well beyond those of First Isaiah, filling them out in light of the exile and Israel’s eschatological hope.

11 September 2003

'zdq' in isaiah: 1st isaiah

None of the themes taken up zdq in the first part of Isaiah are entirely absent from Second Isaiah, but there is development. In First Isaiah there are several axes along which the terminology must be considered: human righteousness, the righteousness of Yahweh, and divine vindication of Israel.

It seems to me that for Isaiah, all of these concepts function within a covenant framework, presupposing the relationship between Yahweh and Israel in which Yahweh has promised to be Israel’s God, has given Israel Torah as a way of life, continually calls Israel to covenant faithfulness, and has promised that as Israel’s God, he will be faithful to his covenant, even if Israel must undergo judgment. The terminology of zdq, while it certainly carries strong forensic or judicial connotations in various contexts, does so only in this broader context of Yahweh’s gracious covenant and the way of life that Torah shapes.

The following textual considerations may be offered in support of this perspective. I’ll begin with the song of Judah in Isaiah 26, as window upon other texts. Here Israel can be said to be a “righteous nation” (goy-zadiq; 26:2), a nation that “keeps faith,” that is, remains faithful to the covenant, trusting Yahweh for safety (26:2-4). This trust is warranted by Yahweh’s own actions with regard to the “righteous” who are, in this instance, the poor and needy who have been trampled, presumably often in the courts of justice, and now are favored by Yahweh (26:5-7). Yahweh’s “just judgments” (mishpatim; 8:9) are desired by the downtrodden since through these judgments the people of the land will learn “righteousness” (zedeq), lest the scoundrel continue in ignorance of it, continue injustice, and ignore the majesty of Yahweh.

Here the implication is that “righteousness” is, first of all, a matter of vindication for those who have been denied justice and thus now are “righteous” in that they have a “right-standing” before Yahweh’s court of justice. Furthermore, this vindication is a manifestation of Yahweh’s own righteousness, not merely his just judgment, but the covenant faithfulness that is expressed in it (cf. the “zeal for your people” 26:11). This, then, is the model for human “righteousness,” faithfulness to the covenant and Torah expressed in human justice, particularly in the legal cause of the poor.

In all of this the covenantal and the forensic are not separated, but presuppose one another. Moreover, Yahweh’s vindication (of the poor and needy) of Israel against adversaries is not merely a legal declaration, but a declaration that is manifest in the fruits of Yahweh’s faithfulness to his covenant: a level path and smooth way for the righteous and, later in the chapter, well-being (shalom; 26:12), and new life pictured, interestingly, in terms of childbirth and resurrection from death (26:17-19).

These brief reflections, then, can serve as a perspective upon various other texts of First Isaiah.

Personal “righteousness” or a “righteousness” that dwells in Zion, often has the connotation of just judgment on the part of human rulers (1:21, 26; 3:10; 5:7; 5:23; 9:7; etc). It is contrasted against murder, inequity, oppression, false accusation, and injustice (e.g., 1:21) and set in parallel with (just) judgment, impartiality, the cause of the poor and lowly, and establishing peace (e.g., 3:9-10). When such “righteousness” is carried out, the one who carries it out can be said to be “righteous” (zadiq; 3:10) while those he vindicates (or ought to vindicate) can be said to be “those in the right” (zadiq[im]; 5:23; 29:21). Thus the context is heavily forensic.

But the wider context is clearly that of covenant faithfulness to Torah on the part of rulers in their judgments. This is clear not only from allusions to Torah, for example, in the demand for impartiality or refusing bribes, but also from how “righteousness” is set in parallel with faithfulness to Yahweh (e.g., 11:5; 16:15). Again, the presupposition is that, ultimately, Yahweh himself is the just judge who judges in righteousness and is faithful to his covenant with Israel. Human justice is to reflect that divine model, especially among his covenant people, Israel.

As we shall see, the theme of Yahweh’s own “righteousness” does not receive the same degree of attention in First Isaiah that it does in Second Isaiah. Additionally, where Yahweh’s “righteous verdict” is spoken of, the emphasis is less on the vindication of his people and more upon judgment against Israel (e.g., 5:16; 10:22; 28:17). Nonetheless, the figure of the coming Davidic king, the shoot from Jesse, is a way in which Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness is expressed, his fulfilling of his promises to Israel and to David.

Through this king, whom Yahweh will establish, “righteousness” will be restored in Zion. His throne will be one of justice and “righteousness” (z’daqah; 9:7), judging with “righteousness” (zedeq) with regard to the poor and lowly, so that he may be said to be girded with “righteousness” and faithfulness (11:4-5; 16:5). This is later connected with the outpouring of Yahweh’s Spirit so that justice and “righteousness” (z’daqah) will dwell in the law, and calm, confidence, and peace will pursue (32:1, 16-17).

While this anticipation of the Davidic Messiah presupposes Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from divine judgment, the language of Yahweh’s “vindication” of Israel is not specifically used in First Isaiah. The result of the rule of the king faithful to Yahweh and his Torah, however, is parallel to the final outcome of Yahweh’s vindication of Israel as that is portrayed in Second Isaiah (as we shall see below). And while in both cases the eschatological outcome is ultimately secured through the agency of Yahweh himself, in First Isaiah the role of the Davidic king is far more central to the administration of that final vision than it is in Second Isaiah.

Let us turn then to the developments expressed in Second Isaiah, directed towards Israel as she finds herself in the midst of exile and looks expectantly for Yahweh’s vindication.

10 September 2003

'zdq' in isaiah: intro

(the following bits of essay don't really make any particularly original contribution, but they do collect together some of my thoughts on the topic, at least as i was thinking it thru a couple of years ago)

The notions of “righteousness,” “the righteousness of God,” and “justification” have a significant place in Christian theology, in part due to the attention given them by Paul, especially in Galatians and Romans. But this terminology was not newly minted by New Testament writers, having its roots, instead, deeply within the Hebrew Scriptures and Isaiah in particular.

The book of Isaiah uses words formed from the “zdq” root eighty times in its 66 chapters, with meanings ranging from “personal covenant faithfulness” to “divine vindication.” Of these eighty instances, two-thirds occur in the second (and shorter) portion of the book, in what is often distinguished as “Second Isaiah” (chapters 40-66). By far, the most common forms of zdq in Isaiah are “zedeq” and “z’daqah,” each of which occur at least twice as much in Second Isaiah as in the first part of the book. (see note below)

These brief observations suggest some shift in focus between the two parts of Isaiah, a shift marked temporally and thematically as the prophecies move from a pre-exilic attention largely upon imminent judgment towards an exilic eschatology of repentance and vindication.

In the following remarks, then, I will give some analysis of the semantic range of zdq, particularly the shifts between First and Second Isaiah. After this analysis I will briefly suggest some ways in which this terminology may undergird Pauline theology. After these remarks, there is a listing of all the occurrences of “zdq” in Isaiah along with some initial interpretive annotations.

(note: for those of you who worry about these sorts of things, i should perhaps add that my use of the terminology of "first" and "second" isaiah is, for my purposes, purely a literary division in terms of theological emphasis and context; you needn't read into it any particular theory of authorship or date of composition or the like)

09 September 2003

kewl find

One of our neighbors found a solid wood one of these in their basement and put it out in the trash:

Of course, we trash-picked it and cleaned up for Claire and her playmates. It's called a "step rocking boat" and I can remember playing on one in a musty basement Sunday School room somewhere as a kid.

It appears that the solid wood ones retail nowadays for around $200. I love other people's trash!

(you can purchase your own from community playthings, if you'd like)

08 September 2003

too busy to blog

It's not that I don't have things to say, but with the beginning of the school year, several partially completed (and often long overdue) projects, and some up-coming conferences, blogging isn't exactly a top priority at the moment.

Still, I think I'll try to cut and paste some bits of things I've written or works in progress. Perhaps I'll begin with a rough survey of the use of "zdq" in Isaiah.

03 September 2003

bloggus scholasticus

Hey look! It's a list of professors who blog. How kewl is that?

(hey, anyone know what declension "blog" would be in latin?)

rich list

Ever wonder where you rank globally in terms of income? Then check this out.


Well, it looks like the disseminary will soon be underway, thanks to the labors of AKMA and Trevor, both of Seabury-Western.

There will be two initial projects: one on the ethics of interepreting the Bible and one on "radical orthodoxy."

Very cool.