Thursday, November 27, 2008

The nature of biblical propositions

In a prayer time recently I meditated upon a verse in Psalm 66 (using the helpful method of repeating the text aloud stressing one word in the sentence only, then repeating the sentence and stressing the next word until the sentence is complete), namely:

'All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name' (Ps 66:4)

What struck me about the sentence is the nature of its claim on reality. Ask yourself: Does the whole earth worship God? Does it all 'sing praises' to Yahweh? What about idolatry, sin, corruption, the destructive eruptions of chaos, etc.?

Perhaps one should read 'all the earth' as 'all the (promised) land', though M.E. Tate speaks here, in his Word Biblical Commentary on Psalms 51-100, of praise 'by all who live on the earth' (p. 149). Either way, though especially if Tate is right in his assumption, what an astonishing claim! Are we to really believe that 'all in the earth', whether the whole world or even just the whole land, worships God, sings praises to God?

My suggestion: this sentence of praise is best taken, in terms of its propositional claim on reality, as an eschatological statement. It points to a hoped for reality. But as I pondered this, it struck me that this is true of so much biblical material to a great or lesser extent. While there is nothing in the context of the Psalm itself to read such an eschatological accent into it, does not its truth claim push it into a future? Indeed, there may be nothing in the context of other biblical proposition, but many of them, especially positive statements about God, all claim a stake in a reality that is yet to come, one that is in the hidden future and coming of God.

I think if we could grasp this more profoundly, perhaps we would be unleashed to develop our doctrinal thinking with more boldness, freshness and truthfulness, in a way that is more accustomed to walking on the water, less disturbed by the waves and wind of a world still yearning for its eschatological reality to materialise. And recognising this, maybe we would also judge our own theological statements (whether Calvinistic, Arminian, Reformed, Open Theistic or whatever) with more humility, as always penultimate to God's glorious advent.


At 11/27/2008 1:41 AM, Anonymous iYRe said...

Perhaps what is in mind is "intended state", both pre-fall and eschatological?

But then, the earth is cursed, not broken, unlike humanity.

The Psalms also say the heavens reveal the glory of God. Is this eschatalogical? I dont think so. I think the very design of creation reveals the glory of God, so its not impossible to think that this is what is in mind also. Its praise and worship is in its revealing of the glory of God (since rocks cant actually sing...)

At 11/27/2008 4:07 AM, Anonymous N T Wrong said...

You might be a little individual-centred in your interpretation. The 'Israelites', like many other ancients, liked to pretend that the whole world would be in awe of them and their god. The "whole earth" should be read with the other parallel references: "enemies", "goyim" (nations), "'ammim" (peoples), and the references to their rescue from Egypt. The phrase "all the earth" quite demonstrably refers to all the other nations on earth. It's Israel on a rant of self-puffed-uppery.

And if anything the "earth" is being opposed to the land of Israel - so the translation 'all the (promised) land' is entirely inappropriate to the context.

There's nothing particularly eschatological here, except for the fact that the psalm-writer is fantasizing.

At 11/27/2008 1:41 PM, Anonymous Joey Dodosn said...

Is it not a personification?

At 11/27/2008 7:15 PM, Anonymous simon said...

Wonderful post, Chris - especially the last paragraph.

You've put your finger on something really important, i think, whether you're a scholar or a minister or a simple follower of Jesus.

At 11/27/2008 11:57 PM, Anonymous volker said...

Hi Chris,
interesting thought. Does that apply to a statement by Paul in Rom. 8:9 too - "you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit"? And if that is eschatological future too, what about biblical statements about Christians being "indwellt" by the Spirit (e.g. Rom. 8:9 again)?
Thanks for your thoughts.

At 11/29/2008 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post,-
"While there is nothing in the psalm itself to read such an eschatalogical accent into it"
Try a different version. The several versions of the bible that I looked at for this verse all say, "all the earth SHALL worship ...etc". Therefore your suggestion must be right. Indeed every knee shall bow, every tongue confess etc.
However we mustn't fall into the trap of putting all difficult verses into the distant future. This is what those who claim that miracles and healings ended with the death of the apostles have done. ie. any reference to the church healing now must be pushed forward to the indefinite future. This absolves them from asking the question why they see so little of the works of God these days.

At 11/29/2008 8:45 PM, Anonymous Grandmère Mimi said...

Is it possible that the words from Ps. 66 speak to the paradox that the Kingdom of God is right now, but not yet? It's eschatological, of course, in that the Kingdom is not yet perfected, but it remains the goal which we seek. God calls Christians to the task of establishing the Kingdom here and now, with the help of God's grace, with full knowledge that the promise of the perfected Kingdom will not be fully realized in this life.

I won't apologize for my lack of knowledge in theology, because a person whom I respect said I should never do that, because all religious people have a theology. Besides, you have me listed in your theology blogroll Chris.

At 12/19/2008 10:07 AM, Anonymous Phil Sumpter said...

The editing of the Psalter is eschatological in general, so taking the canoncial context of the Psalm into account ought to lead to an eschatological reading. At least I would have thought so.

At 12/19/2008 5:32 PM, Anonymous Bob MacDonald said...

Chris - I did do a second draft of this psalm over my short holiday - here. For what its worth, there are 4 invitations to everyone - be joyful, come and see, bless, come and hear. I am reading it with the interpretation of Israel as an icon of Christ. The movement from plural to singular leaves open the interpretation that is anticipating the incarnation of an individual who will sum up the fullness of the anointing in his suffering.

At 12/22/2008 7:20 PM, Anonymous Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I wonder if the phrase actually means more than that. There is an equivalent Qur'anic statement -- probably repeated a dozen times like most of the statements there
-- that is taken to refer to 'the entire world' animate and inanimate, worshipping God. Could the Biblical statement be equivalent?


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