Thursday, June 14, 2012

Moses At The Bush

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Bible records for us a fascinating dialog between Jesus and the Sadducees, specifically regarding the resurrection. Please read these accounts in Matthew 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27, and Luke 20:27-39

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. They had what they thought was a rock solid argument in favor of their position, proving in their minds that the notion of a resurrection couldn't possibly be consistent with Scripture. But they had misapplied Scripture as Jesus would show. Their argument went like this:
  1. The law of Moses mandated levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10) to preserve a man's name. 
  2. Suppose there were seven brothers who died without children after being married to the same woman. (This was not an unreasonable or impossible scenario. Uncommon, but not unreasonable.)
  3. Which of the seven brothers would have her as wife in the resurrection?  If the resurrection is true, in their reasoning, it is inconsistent with the law of Moses.They thought there was no answer to this question.
Jesus' answer to this question is simply amazing. First, He deals with their hypothetical question, showing that it is an invalid question to begin with. There are no marriages in the resurrection (Matt. 22:30), so the question of whose wife she will be in the resurrection is nonsense! Second, He very sharply rebukes their disbelief in the resurrection. He tells them that they should have known from reading the passage about Moses at the burning bush that there is a resurrection (Mark 12:26-27).

That last part of this story is what I want to look at closely. In the past I have argued that Jesus based His entire argument on the tense of one verb in one verse when He quoted Exodus 3:6 and said, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."  Did Jesus actually base His entire argument on the tense of that one word?  I would like to suggest that there was much more going on in this application of this burning bush passage than the tense of one verb. I don't believe Jesus was teaching us to build arguments about critical Bible principles based on small details in the text.

If that's not what Jesus was teaching, then what was He teaching? We do learn a hermeneutic lesson from this story. It's just not the hermeneutic lesson that I've been teaching. Jesus' argument for the resurrection did NOT rest solely on the tense of one verb in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 3:6. First, Jesus called their attention to Moses at the burning bush, calling to their minds the entire story. That story includes a poignant description of God's name, power, and nature (Ex. 3:14-15). It is the first revelation of God's name (Ex. 6:3) and nature to any man. The tense in this passage is part of the very nature of God, not a small linguistic detail. God is. Period. Second, Jesus expected them to understand that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died by the time this incident happened. He expected them to have some knowledge of the history taught in the books of Moses. Also, Jesus expected them to understand that God is the God of the living. That's interesting because "the God of the living" isn't something being addressed in the immediate context. "The God of the living" is a large theme throughout the Bible (Gen. 9:16; Psalm 56:13; Isaiah 8:19; etc.). There is so much more going on here than just the tense of one word in one verse. Yes, the tense of that word is important, but there is so much more in the context to indicate the tense than just that one word in one verse.

To argue that Jesus main argument rests on the tense of one word in one verse, as I have done repeatedly in the past, is borderline absurd. It's more unreasonable when I consider that in Luke's account (Luke 20:37), He doesn't even quote the verb! Then, when I consider that the verb is present tense in the story, but it's being used to prove a future event (the resurrection), it's clear that the tense of one verb is not the most important thing going on.

So, here are a couple of closing observations on this passage.

  1. Jesus expected the Sadducees to have deduced from the story about Moses at the burning bush that the resurrection of the dead is a fact. They had not read this story correctly. They had not handled the Scripture accurately (2 Tim. 2:15).
  2. Their rejection of the resurrection of the dead was an insult to the power of God, and that power was on display in the story He called to their attention.
So, when we look at the facts, Jesus did NOT base His entire argument on the tense of one word. Far from it. He based His argument on the historical context, the nature and power of God, and the overall teaching of Scripture. That's our hermeneutic lesson from this story. Consider the context, the nature and power of God, and the overall themes of Scripture when interpreting a passage. Jesus did not say, "Exodus 3:6 settles once and for all the question of the resurrection." Don't build a theology using single verses.

I pray that I will learn to properly interpret the Scripture, more like Him.

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