Home » 2020 » April

Monthly Archives: April 2020

Polyfunctional Old Testament Biblical Texts: An Analogy to Molecular Biochemistry of DNA—Part 5

Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton / Public domain

 

Part 5: Jonathan and His Arrow Boy

Johnathan and his arrow boy: If Johnathan would do this for his dearly beloved David, why wouldn’t God do it for his Son?

 

Recap to This Point:

Link to First Article in This Series       Continued from Part 4

What Is Polyfunctional Old Testament Text? (see First Article)

A polyfunctional Old Testament text is any passage that functions in more than one context. Context includes audience, time frame, and referents. To be polyfunctional, a text need have multiples of only one of those items. For example, there may be two distinct audiences for a text in the same time frame, or there may be two referents for the same text in a given point in time. Similar to scientists’ new understanding of polyfunctional nucleotides within a given DNA strand, a polyfunctional biblical text must broaden our biblical understanding away from strict single purpose, single audience, single meaning kinds of interpretation. The same God who created the language of polyfunctional DNA is the same God who wrote Old Testament Scripture. God is the living Word. He designed Scripture with his own audiences, time frames, and referents in mind. Jesus the Son of God, one of the triune God, had to correct even his disciples for their lack of biblical understanding (see especially Luke 24). This author wants to be one of their number.

The Old Testament and Polyfunctional Texts

I. Introduction (Part 1)

II. Authorship of Scripture (Part 2)

III. Who Are God’s Audiences? (Part 3): Some Pertinent Questions

IV. Might Jesus Have Been an Audience? (Did God Write the Old Testament for His Incarnated Son?) (Part 4)

New Material Begins Here:

V. Johnathan and his arrow boy: If Johnathan would do this for his dearly beloved David, why wouldn’t God do it for his Son?

1Samuel 20 is a love story about two brothers. These are soul brothers, not brothers united by parentage. Saul was king, and Jonathan was his son, rightful heir to his father’s throne.  But God had chosen David, a shepherd boy and warrior, to be Israel’s future king. Jonathan loved God, and he loved his friend David. But not more than David loved Jonathan. Jonathan was willing to sacrifice his own future for David, his life friend, whom he loved more than his own soul, and David placed all his trust in Jonathan his friend.

A. But why does Scripture include the rather detailed narrative of Jonathan’s arrow boy?

1Samuel 20:10-40 (1) contains the sequence relating to Johnathan’s arrow boy with specific reference made to him in 1Samuel 20:10, 19-22, and 35-41. In this narrative, the arrow boy is an unwitting tool Jonathan uses to give David a secret message. The arrow boy knows nothing of his being used in such fashion. Yet, the whole scene acted out, including the predetermined words, are a coded message between Jonathan and David. It’s written in an “If this, then that; but if this other, then that other,” format, much like lines of computer code. It’s a very interesting story hidden in plain sight in what appears to be mundane prose of only minor significance. Who is the arrow boy? He’s just an unwary messenger whose own conscious perception would remain flat and unperturbed. And yet the larger story conveys deepest emotions of great significance.

In other words, if the reader of 1 Samuel 20 were to ask the arrow boy what transpired on that particular day, his reply would have missed entirely the heart of the story. The real story was purposefully kept far above the comprehension of the arrow boy/messenger by the two originators of the story, Jonathan as writer and David as intended audience, who collaborated in advance together.

But again, why has Scripture preserved the full details of the entire sequence of events recorded in the 1 Samuel 20 passage? Surely the purpose of this narrative passed away millennia ago? The protagonists and minor actors would have died within 100 years of its happening. What is the main point of the passage? Isn’t it the friendship and loyalty between David and Jonathan? Why do we still read today the exact words of Jonathan to his arrow boy? What significance could that part of the narrative possibly have beyond the original three person context?

B. A Review of the Facts

1. Christ-believers of all ages and places, evangelical Christians included, believe that God is the ultimate source and author of all Scripture.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Timothy 3:16) 

2. Therefore, God designed and intended the passage about the arrow boy to be part of Scripture.

3. Jonathan’s words or a close variation were spoken twice, “Look the arrows are beyond you,” (vs 22) and “Is not the arrow beyond you?” (vs 37).

a) The first time they were spoken as an historical event, David was the original audience of one.

b) The second time they were spoken as an historical event, David and the arrow boy were two original audiences.

c) But, Scripture tells us that these two original audiences were completely separate, even though they shared roughly the same place, the exact same time, and the identical speaker. David, as the original primary audience for whom the words were intended, knew about the arrow boy, while the arrow boy, original audience two, “knew nothing. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter.” (vs 37)

d) We conclude that in addition to two audiences, the passage reveals two entirely different meanings for the identical set of words, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” For the arrow boy the words simply meant that he should keep running further in order to find the arrow. For David, the identical words at the identical time and place, spoken by the identical speaker, meant that King Saul intended to kill David and that David should run and hide.

C. Meaning as Function

Even though David and Jonathan’s arrow boy shared the identical event, they each received two entirely different messages from the exact same set of words spoken by an identical speaker. While the words contained a literal meaning that never varied–it was the same literal meaning for both David and the arrow boy–more importantly, the words contained a function. And here is where the “meaning” of the identical words differ: the function of the words–a command to do something–was different for David than for the arrow boy. 1) For the arrow boy, the function of the words was a command to keep running in the same direction to retrieve the arrows. 2) For David, the function of the words was a command to begin running away from King Saul, who intended to kill him. The biblical text is polyfunctional.

D. Comparison with Polyfunctional Nucleotides

In 1 Samuel 20:10-40 Scripture provides a clear-cut, up-front, simple example of polyfunctional text, similar to the kind that occurs in a polyfunctional nucleotide in the biological world. In other words, Scripture gives us an example of an encoded message intended to convey two different meanings in two different, but simultaneous, messaging systems. It’s similar to a single letter of a cross-word puzzle, or a single digit in a Sudoku puzzle. It’s the intentional double entendre. The identical encoded communication segment, in this case a human speech segment, functions in two different communication systems: one for David, and one for the arrow boy.

Polyfunctional nucleotides perform functions within the cell. Located in the DNA, they give chemical commands to other parts of the cell. These commands order the intended cellular audience to perform actions, such as building a particular protein. That a single nucleotide can be included in two entirely different messaging systems is amazing–this fact amazes scientists (2).

The words that Jonathan spoke to the arrow boy were polyfunctional. They performed two functions; they gave two commands. One command to perform an action–find the arrow–was purposefully intended for the boy. The other command–run and hide, because the king wants to kill you–was purposefully intended for David. The identical words functioned within two communication networks to effect an intended result–an action.

While biological polyfunctional nucleotides may amaze scientists, this particular biblical polyfunctional text–Jonathan and his arrow boy– may not appear so amazing. It is, after all, a mundane part of the highly passionate drama between Jonathan and his soul brother David. And yet, God chose to preserve all these mundane details for millennia in his Word, the Bible. Why?

E. The passage about Jonathan’s Arrow Boy Reveals God’s Intention to Write Polyfunctional Text

Yes, this author believes that God wrote polyfunctional text. The example of Jonathan, David, and the arrow boy are preserved in Scripture to demonstrate this fact. The word “believes” was used in the opening sentence of this paragraph, because such a statement cannot be proven to the satisfaction of academia. Jesus taught his Emmaus Road disciples to read Old Testament Scripture through the eyes of faith in himself, the crucified and risen Lord. Not meaning to disparage, but how is it that generations and generations of rabbis and their biblical students failed to see the suffering Christ, Messiah, in the words of their Scripture? All Jesus’s disciples had similarly failed, until he opened their eyes after the resurrection.

Academia is constrained to prove. That’s why nothing, to repeat–nothing–anywhere in Scripture is agreed upon by all biblical commentators. For every passage, readers can find two academicians at odds with each other. When it comes to proofs, academia will always argue, because every “proof” has an “anti-proof.”

But God chose faith to be the operating principle for his Word.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

F. Jesus and Polyfunctional Scripture: An Important Question

Even though he was a carpenter’s son, Jesus knew that Scripture was written about himself.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (John 5:39)

Here is the question: Why wouldn’t God the loving Father (“This is my beloved Son…”) write a manual to help his divine Son who emptied himself and took on the likeness of sinful flesh? Jesus constrained his own divinity when he became human. If we believe Scripture, then we believe John 5:39 quoted just above. We must conclude that the Old Testament does indeed bear witness about Christ.

Based upon biblical evidence and the immensely capable abilities of God, it is reasonable to conclude that in the eons before the Bible was written, that is, before creation, when the eternal Godhead chose the Son to be the eternal sacrifice, that same Godhead planned and consulted with themself, similar to Jonathan and David, to write a Scripture that would help, lead, and guide the Son throughout the severe trial of his appearance in the weakness of human flesh. In other words, God shot an arrow–the Old Testament–to send a strong message of love and truth to his beloved Son to help him during the time of his incarnation.

During the period of Christ’s incarnation and especially during his passion, Jesus may have been the only living human being on earth who understood the entire meaning of the Old Testament. Paul writes,

7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1Corinthians 2:7-8)

Are we to conclude that the Word of God was void, because none of the rulers of this age understood it? Certainly not! The one person for whom the Bible was especially written, Jesus Christ the Son, understood Scripture fully and made the best use of its words to accomplish the mission for which God sent him. Isaiah writes,

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

Why did Jesus quote Scripture to Satan during his temptation in the desert? Was it a case of his merely being able to pull out cleverly applicable Scriptures while under the severest pressures of hunger, thirst, and temptation? Or, were those particular verses placed there ahead of time for a reason? As Jesus hung on the cross, being slowly suffocated to death, was his human mind able to function in clarity even then and cleverly remember verses from the Psalter that seemed to him appropriate and applicable for that moment? Or, were the psalms of David purposefully placed there by his Father to train Jesus during the years of childhood and preparation, to thoroughly drench him in the certainty of the role and script that he would fulfill? This author believes the latter. How about you?

Next Time: A Practical Application for Christians

Link to Part 6: Polyfunctional Text and Today’s Reader

 

Link to Part 1: Introduction

__________

1 1 Samuel 20:10-40

10 Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if your father answers you roughly?”

11 And Jonathan said to David, “Come, let us go out into the field.” So they both went out into the field.

12 And Jonathan said to David, “The LORD, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you?

13 But should it please my father to do you harm, the LORD do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. May the LORD be with you, as he has been with my father.

14 If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the LORD, that I may not die;

15 and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.”

16 And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD take vengeance on David’s enemies.”

17 And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.

18 Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty.

19 On the third day go down quickly to the place where you hid yourself when the matter was in hand, and remain beside the stone heap.

20 And I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I shot at a mark.

21 And behold, I will send the boy, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them,’ then you are to come, for, as the LORD lives, it is safe for you and there is no danger.

22 But if I say to the youth, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go, for the LORD has sent you away.

23 And as for the matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, the LORD is between you and me forever.”

24 So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food.

25 The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty.

26 Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him. He is not clean; surely he is not clean.”

27 But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”

28 Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem.

29 He said, ‘Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.”

30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?

31 For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.”

32 Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?”

33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death.

34 And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him.

35 In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him a little boy.

36 And he said to his boy, “Run and find the arrows that I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.

37 And when the boy came to the place of the arrow that Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the boy and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?”

38 And Jonathan called after the boy, “Hurry! Be quick! Do not stay!” So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master.

39 But the boy knew nothing. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter.

40 And Jonathan gave his weapons to his boy and said to him, “Go and carry them to the city.”

41 And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. (1Sa 20:10-41 ESV)

2 “The first evidence of overlapping protein-coding sequences in viruses caused quite a stir, but since then it has become recognized as typical.” And, “The ENCODE project has confirmed that this phenomenon is ubiquitous in higher genomes, wherein a given DNA sequence routinely encodes multiple overlapping messages, meaning that a single nucleotide can contribute to two or more genetic codes. Most recently, Itzkovitz et al. analyzed protein coding regions of 700 species, and showed that virtually all forms of life have extensive overlapping information in their genomes.” George Montañez, Robert J. Marks II, Jorge Fernandez and John C. Sanford. Multiple Overlapping Genetic Codes Profoundly Reduce the Probability of Beneficial Mutation. Available at https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/10.1142/9789814508728_0006. Accessed April 22, 2020.

Polyfunctional Old Testament Biblical Texts: An Analogy to Molecular Biochemistry of DNA—Part 4

 

Part 4: Might Jesus Have Been an Audience?

 

Recap to This Point:

Link to First Article in This Series       Continued from Part 3

What Is Polyfunctional Old Testament Text? (see First Article)

A polyfunctional Old Testament text is any passage that functions in more than one context. Context includes audience, time frame, and referents. To be polyfunctional, a text need have multiples of only one of those items. For example, there may be two distinct audiences for a text in the same or different time frame, or there may be two referents for the same text. Similar to scientists’ new understanding of how cells use polyfunctional nucleotides within DNA strands, a polyfunctional biblical text must broaden our biblical understanding away from strict single purpose, single audience, single meaning kinds of interpretation. The same God who created the language of polyfunctional DNA is the same God who wrote Old Testament Scripture. God is the living Word. He designed Scripture with his own audiences, time frames, and referents in mind. Jesus the Son of God, one of the triune God, had to correct even his disciples for their lack of biblical understanding (see especially Luke 24). This author wants to be one of their number.

The Old Testament and Polyfunctional Texts

I. Introduction (Part 1)

II. Authorship of Scripture (see Part 2 at this link)

III. Who Are God’s Audiences? (Part 3): Some Pertinent Questions

New Material Begins Here:

IV. Might Jesus Have Been an Audience? (Did God Write the Old Testament for His Incarnated Son?)

A. Scripture (Old Testament) was of primary importance to Jesus and his ministry. 

    • Jesus often quoted Scripture (Scripture implies the Old Testament). Three examples follow:

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'” (Matthew 21:42 ESV)

For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” (Luke 22:37 ESV)

“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.'” (John 13:18 ESV)

    • Jesus saw himself as fulfilling Scripture

Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? (Mark 12:24f ESV)

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (John 5:39 ESV)

    • Jesus found Old Testament Scriptures fulfilled in himself.

But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:54 ESV, Jesus speaking about his suffering to come)

“Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” (Mark 14:49 ESV)

And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21 ESV)

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12 ESV, Jesus praying to his Father)

    • Some of Jesus’s parables retold Scripture in story form.

(Matthew 21:28-45Matthew 21:28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ … :45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. (ESV)

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! (Isaiah 5:7 ESV)

B. Even as a child, Jesus was intimately acquainted with the words of Scripture.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. (Luke 2:46 ESV)

C. From where did Jesus get his knowledge of the Old Testament?

This is a tough question, since neither the gospels nor the remainder of the New Testament tell the reader directly.

    • One approach is to leave Scripture and search through the cultural customs of the time. All results would be speculative, since Scripture does not tell us where Jesus got his knowledge.
    • Another approach would be to surmise that God gave Jesus knowledge directly, through the Spirit, during his long hours of prayer. This, too, is speculation.

This article, however, is not about exploring how Jesus got his knowledge; it’s about the important point that Jesus possessed a vast knowledge of Old Testament Scripture.

D. Most importantly, Jesus understood that the Old Testament was written about himself.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (John 5:39 ESV)

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47 ESV)

E. For those who  believe that Jesus is God’s own incarnated Son, then that must be our conclusion as well.

Next Time: Old Testament support that God specifically wrote Scripture with his future incarnated Son as his intended audience.

Link to Part 5: Jonathan and His Arrow Boy

 

 

Link to Part 1: Introduction

Polyfunctional Old Testament Biblical Texts: An Analogy to Molecular Biochemistry of DNA—Part 3

Part 3: Who Are God’s Audiences?

 

Recap to This Point:

Link to First Article in This Series       Continued from Part 2        

What Is Polyfunctional Old Testament Text? (see First Article)

A polyfunctional Old Testament text is any passage that functions in more than one context. Context includes audience, time frame, and referents. To be polyfunctional, a text need have multiples of only one of those items. For example, there may be two distinct audiences for a text in the same or different time frame, or there may be two referents for the same text. Similar to scientists’ new understanding of how cells use polyfunctional nucleotides within DNA strands, a polyfunctional biblical text must broaden our biblical understanding away from strict single purpose, single audience, single meaning kinds of interpretation. The same God who created the language of polyfunctional DNA is the same God who wrote Old Testament Scripture. God is the living Word. He designed Scripture with his own audiences, time frames, and referents in mind. Jesus the Son of God, one of the triune God, had to correct even his disciples for their lack of biblical understanding (see especially Luke 24). This author wants to be one of their number.

The Old Testament and Polyfunctional Texts

I. Introduction (Part 1)

II. Authorship of Scripture (see Part 2 at this link)

New Material Begins Here:

III. Who Are God’s Audiences? (Who are his intended readers?): Some Pertinent Questions

God alone is the ultimate author of Scripture. That is a given; that is the starting point. Beginning with God as author, we can ask questions about his audience.

  • Does God write for one audience or more than one?
  • Is God’s original audience his main audience? By “original audience” is meant the audience who initially received, whether orally or in writing,  the content of Old Testament Scripture.
  • Is the human author to be considered an audience?
  • Does it matter to the full functioning of the text if the human author did or did not understand in full detail all the various functions his text might at any time perform?

For example, does it matter that the human authors did not know in detail of whom and of what time they were prophesying when they predicted a future salvation and grace to be revealed? (See 1Peter 1:10-12 and “Example 4” of prior post, link to Part 2 above.)

As another example, does it matter to the full functioning of any particular Davidic psalm whether or not David knew he was being the mouthpiece of another? (Peter tells us that in the case of Psalm 16:8-11, David was a prophet who did foresee that he was speaking about his descendant in the flesh, namely Christ, Acts 2:30-31).

  • Who are some possible audiences?

We can think of the audiences of prophecies given before the exile which were read, interpreted, and acted upon after the exile. The exile prophecies are clear examples of text written for an original audience and a God-intended later audience. For example, Daniel speaks while in exile of prophecies proclaimed to a different audience before the exile, Daniel 9:2– “In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years (1).” A reasonable conclusion is that God intended to write to two different audiences at two different times and places. The identical prophecies would function differently for each audience. For the original audience, the prophecies functioned as warnings, a call to national repentance, and signals of a future hope. History shows that many in this original audience did not believe that Jeremiah spoke the Word of God. Or, believing, they simply chose to rebel. For the later audience, Daniel, the prophecies functioned as truth and a call to prayer. Within that prayer, Daniel repented for the whole nation (Daniel 9). God began to fulfill the prophecies spoken to both audiences shortly after Daniel’s prayer, when Cyrus issued his famous decree for the exiles to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the house of God (Ezra 1:1-3).

As another example, later in the text of Daniel, Daniel himself prophesies and introduces yet another audience for a different time and a different place.

Daniel 12:8 I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” 9 He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. (2)

Clearly, since Daniel openly states, “I did not understand,” the identical text functions for him as the original audience differently than it will function for the future audience who will read it in the context of its fulfillment. Daniel’s contemporaneous listeners are yet a third audience for the identical set of words, and their perceptions are not recorded.

To summarize the above, some examples of multiple audiences would include:

1) the human authors of Old Testament Scripture, often prophets or historians

2) the original audiences to whom the human authors spoke or wrote

3) a later biblical author commenting upon prior biblical passages (these commentaries are common in both testaments)

4) New Testament audiences

5) the eschatological, or end times, audiences.

ARGUMENT: God wrote the Bible as polyfunctional text intended to serve different functions for different audiences in different times and places. We gave examples of specific audiences from the books of Acts, Psalms, and Daniel. Some audiences were original, some, such as Daniel, were intermediate, and some are still future, e.g., the eschatological audiences who will live when history arrives at its final end. Nor do we want to overlook the fact that believers and nonbelievers comprise distinctly different audiences for whom biblical texts convey different meanings and functions.

As we consider the ins and outs of prophetic speech in the Old Testament, to this author at least, it seems far simpler to think in terms of polyfunctional text intended by God to effect different outcomes for different audiences of different times and places (the function of a text, rather than the meaning of a text), than to try to solve unanswerable puzzles phrased in terms such as, “single meaning,” “multiple meanings,” “single meaning and single referent,” “single meaning and multiple referents,” sensus plenior,” “typology,” “allegory,” “pesher,” “midrash,” and so forth.

To comprehend that Old Testament text performs functions on more than one contextual pathway, the Christian reader must simply perceive her own pathway, the pathway intended specifically for her by God. Any given reader of Scripture is herself a context and audience of one, different than the “original audience” in a “historical-grammatical” setting. Who but God has authority to claim that a meaning perceived by someone is invalid, because insufficient attention was given to a projected “original audience” and a projected “historical-grammatical” setting? If such were the case, then even Jesus’s own interpretation that Moses wrote about him would be subject to doubt (John 5:39).

All this is not to suggest that a consideration of original audiences in their own historical-grammatical Old testament contexts cannot produce valuable understandings. However, these may be largely irrelevant to the context God provides as his Spirit joins readers in their reading of Scripture. Nor need they be the Spirit’s own starting point–or, he may choose to ignore the original context completely. It is my Christian belief that the Holy Spirit is capable of interpreting Scripture properly within the heart of each and every believer according to his (God’s) own purposeful design and intention. For each and every believer God created in the very words of Scripture a function that varies according to the specific conditions and needs of that believer’s heart at various times in her life. One and the same Scripture may perform different functions within a reader at different times in the reader’s life. This would be an example of polyfunctional text. God as writer is big enough to accomplish this.

To state the proposition differently, devotional readings can be true and valuable within the context of a believer’s own heart, whether or not they agree with academic interpretations. This is not to say that the way a text functions in one believer’s heart will provide a profitable function in another believer’s heart. The proposition is that God wrote polyfunctional text. The biological world provides an analogy in polyfunctional components of DNA.  Within a strand of DNA, a polyfunctional nucleotide can participate in a network that conveys a command to a particular cellular component, and the very same nucleotide can participate in a second (or third or fourth or fifth) non-related network that conveys a different command to a different part of the same cell. Polyfunctional Scripture functions similarly.

There are safeguards against extreme error. Just as a single nucleotide exists and functions within an entire strand of DNA, each individual believer exists and functions within the universal body of Christ, which is the church. Within the cell, a mutation to a nucleotide may benefit one of its communication pathways, yet prove to be deleterious to others and to the whole. All believers together, as a unified whole, provide the corrective for individual errors of interpretation, that is, a veering off from God’s intended textual purposes in Christ.

CONCLUSION: To state my thought simply, “Christian, read your Bible in faith, trusting in God, and he will do the rest. He designed his holy Word to function this way. You don’t need a scholar to interpret his word for you.” (see 1 John 2:27)

Next Time: Part 4–Might Jesus Have Been an Audience?

__________

1 Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

2. Ibid.

 

Link to Part 1: Introduction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Polyfunctional Old Testament Biblical Texts: An Analogy to Molecular Biochemistry of DNA—Part 2

 

What Is Polyfunctional Old Testament Text? (see Introduction)

A polyfunctional Old Testament text is any passage that functions in more than one context. Context includes audience, time frame, and referents. To be polyfunctional, a text need have multiples of only one of those items. For example, there may be two distinct audiences for a text in the same time frame, or there may be two referents for the same text in a given point in time. Similar to scientists’ new understanding of polyfunctional nucleotides within a given DNA strand, a polyfunctional biblical text must broaden our biblical understanding away from strict single purpose, single audience, single meaning kinds of interpretation. The same God who created the language of polyfunctional DNA nucleotides is the same God who wrote Old Testament Scripture. God is the living Word. He designed Scripture with his own audiences, time frames, and referents in mind. Jesus the Son of God, one of the triune God, had to correct even his disciples for their lack of biblical understanding (see especially Luke 24). This author wants to be one of their number.

The Old Testament and Polyfunctional Texts

I. Introduction (Part 1)

II. Authorship of Scripture

A. God is the primary author of Scripture.

(Unless otherwise noted, all biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV.)

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God… 

“Thus says the Lord”… 417 times in the Old Testament

“Write…” God telling a prophet to write–85 times in the Old Testament

Isaiah 34:16 Seek and read from the book of the LORD:

Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,

B. God as the ultimate author of Scripture has the authority and the power to write polyfunctional text.

1. Jesus Christ is the living Word of God. He is the ultimate communicator.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.(NIV)

2. God himself with and through the living Word is creator and author of everything.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power… 

Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” 

Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

3. Therefore, God as creator of everything and as the living Word has authority and power to write polyfunctional Old Testament texts. 

He has the capacity (brilliance, power, creativity, sovereignty, and intelligence) to do so:

      • As creator
      • As maintainer
      • As the Alpha and Omega
      • As the author of Scripture
      • As the living Word

C. What about the human authors?

Clearly, God used intermediaries to write the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, these were people like Moses, David, Ezra, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and many other prophets. The New Testament human authors included Jesus’s disciples (Matthew, John, 1-3 John, Peter, and Revelation), Paul the apostle, Luke the historian, and at least one who remains anonymous (Hebrews).

Did the Old Testament authors fully understand what and to whom they were writing? New Testament Scripture tells us they did not.

Example 1

Luke 20:28 They asked him, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no children, that man must marry the widow and father children for his brother. (NET)

Comment on the above verse: Did Moses specifically know when he wrote those words for the Israelite community of his day that he was also writing for a group of Sadducees (no such group existed in Moses’s timeframe) who would be reading his words many centuries later? Did he know that these Sadducees would be quoting his words as their own Scripture (Moses wrote for us) in order to argue with the incarnated Son of God?

Example 2

The New Testament also records a prophecy spoken by someone whose intention explicitly differed from God’s.

John 11:49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

Analysis: The gospel writer John identifies Caiaphas as the high priest who spoke the prophecy John quotes in verse 50. John then reveals God’s intended blessing for the people and nation through Christ’s death (verses 50-51). He also explicitly states (vs 51) that God used Caiaphas in his role as high priest to prophesy; Caiaphas did not do so of his own accord, or “out of his own intention,” (2). Verse 53 reveals Caiaphas’s attitude toward Jesus–he wanted to “put him to death,” i.e., to kill him. Caiaphas appears again in John 18:13-28, where he indeed does participate in the religious judgment against Jesus that led to his crucifixion.

The reader can minimally conclude from John 11:49-53 that Caiaphas the human prophet’s authorial intention differed completely from God’s authorial intention, as recorded by John in his inspired gospel. Caiaphas’s attitude revealed animosity against Jesus, the Christ. God’s attitude toward his Christ revealed that he intended him as a blessing to many. John’s text in this passage is polyfunctional. To Caiaphas, the prophet-speaker, the meaning of his text was (paraphrased), “Let’s get rid of this man causing us so much trouble. It will be better for ourselves and the nation.” To God, the source of the prophecy, the meaning was (paraphrased), It’s a blessing for many that Christ will die a substitutionary death for my people everywhere (1).

Example 3

1 Corinthians 9:9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.

Comment: Did Moses explicitly know that he was writing for people who would be living after the birth of God incarnate and who would put their faith in him? Did God know? Did he reveal his intention for this passage to the inspired writer Paul? Paul is not saying that he is using the passage in an extended application. No, but he states, “It was written for our sake.” In other words, God’s intended meaning for Paul and the Christians to whom he was writing was present in the passage from the beginning.

Example 4

1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Comment: This passage indicates that Old Testament prophets who prophesied about a salvation and grace knew that they were not prophesying for their own time and place, but more than that, they did not know. Peter clearly and directly states that they knew they did not know the full meaning of their own prophecies. Are we then to conclude that what they spoke in their own context of time and place would have been unintelligible to those who heard them speak? Most likely not. I suggest that these prophecies would have been polyfunctional, able to serve two very different contexts.

Example 5

Jesus’s comments to the two disciples whom he joined in their walk to the town of Emmaus shortly after his resurrection reveal a great deal about the Old Testament audience, who for centuries and centuries lived with Scripture before the Advent of Christ. Jesus spoke briefly and to the point–they missed its major significance.

Luke 24:13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.

Luke 24:25 So he said to them, “You foolish people– how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (NET)

Luke 24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures. (NET)

When Jesus “interpreted to them the things written about himself,” was he changing the text’s original meaning or creating allegories or making extensive applications? No, the text of Luke states clearly that he “interpreted to them the things written about himself.” The things written about him had been there in the original words all along. Jesus did not distort or change Scripture. Rather, he opened the disciples’ understanding to see a different pathway of communication in the identical words. The text itself was polyfunctional. If it were a crossword puzzle, we would just say that the disciples needed to read the text message not in a horizontal but a vertical direction (See the Introduction to this series).

So, to answer the question at the beginning of this section, “What about the human authors?” the above examples show that the human authors did not know all the functions of the text they were writing.

Conclusion

For centuries past, up to and including the present, believing Christians and biblical scholars have wondered about the New Testament’s use of Old Testament quotations. “Where did they get that?” is a common response (2). I propose the answer lies not with the original human authors of the Old Testament, nor the original audiences in Old Testament days, nor the New Testament human authors, nor the New Testament audiences. The answer to the puzzle of New Testament exegesis of the Old lies with the divine author himself–God–and with the texts themselves that he inspired and caused to be written. God intentionally wrote polyfunctional text. As an infinitely talented author (an understatement), God has complete control over all aspects of his Scripture: its content, its fulfillment, all history, the actual words of the text, the human authors, and the various human audiences. For his own reasons he chose to write text through Old Testament authors that would 1) be meaningful enough for the audiences of their day to take great care in their preservation and transmission, and 2) not be fully understood by them.

Next Time: Part Three–The Audiences 

__________

1 My thinking on this passage has been aided by reading Raju D. Kanjummen, who writes an excellent academic article discussing this and other biblical examples of non-confluence (non-identity, or non-overlap) of divine and human authorial intentions. See Kanjummen, Raju D., “The Single Intent of Scripture: Critical Examination of a Theological Construct,” in Grace Theological Journal 7.1 (1986): 81-110. The phrase “out of his own intention” is quoted from page 90. Kunjummen also writes that his argument concerning the non-confluence of human and divine authorial intentions, “… opens the possibility that God may through a later author explain more of what he had in mind in an earlier statement in a manner similar to how he clarified through John his intention through Caiaphas’s prophecy,” (90).

2 See, for example, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Darrell L. Bock, and Peter Enns in a back and forth academic discussion on the ins and outs of this topic, located in the book: Kenneth Berding and Jonathan Lunde, eds. Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Counterpoints. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. This book is also available in PDF format online at https://peiterleonardpesik.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/three-views-on-the-new-testament-use-of-the-old-testament-counterpoints-bible-and-theology-w.pdf, accessed April 7, 2020.

Link to Part 1: Introduction   

 

 

Polyfunctional Old Testament Biblical Texts: An Analogy to Molecular Biochemistry of DNA—Introduction

 

I love Sudoku! Some might think it odd, but working on a Sudoku number puzzle helps my brain relax enough to gently fall off to sleep, either at night or for a nap. I think that is because Sudoku is a wordless puzzle. It focuses the brain, quiets distractions, and all without mental images, narratives, or words. That’s pretty cool. For those who are unfamiliar with Sudoku, it’s a square made of a 3×3 grid of smaller squares, each of which are divided into a 3×3 grid of still smaller squares. In other words, nine squares form a larger square, and these larger squares are arranged in a 3×3 grid. There are 81 small squares all together.

Sudoku is played by filling each of the 9 grids with the digits 1 through 9. Each of these digits must be used exactly once. The trick is to fill each grid in such a way that any and all rows in either horizontal or vertical direction must contain each of the 9 digits used exactly once. In the case of a Sudoku puzzle, there can only be one solution per puzzle. The puzzle publisher provides the digits for a certain number of the smallest squares at the beginning of each game. The more numbers provided, the easier the puzzle, and vice versa.

The biological world of living things resembles a Sudoku puzzle in the following way. Living cells contain molecules which are arranged into larger units, which are then arranged into larger units, which are arranged into yet larger units. Everything from the simplest, smallest unit to the entire network of functioning parts must work together in cooperative unity in order for the biological entity, whether plant, animal, bacteria, or virus, to exist.

But the biological world greatly differs from a Sudoku puzzle. Ultimately, except for challenging the minds of some people and putting others to sleep, a Sudoku puzzle has no meaning. It makes no statements. It gives no information, and no language is involved. A living, biological organism is quite different. In the last few decades, scientists have made exciting discoveries about the organization of living entities at the cellular and molecular level.

Scientists have discovered nucleotides. A nucleotide is a micro-unit of biological chemistry in which the chemicals are linguistic letters. These letters both store and communicate information. Nucleotides get joined together in orderly arrangements to perform functions within a living cell, such as supplying instructions for other parts of the cell to build proteins.

Nucleotide packets join together in a string to form DNA strands. Individual units of a single strand of DNA are called DNA sequences. In recent decades scientists discovered that DNA sequences are polyfunctional. That means that a single DNA sequence, comprised of nucleotide packets, participates in more than one chemical network of information and function. A simple analogy is an individual letter at an intersection of two words in a crossword puzzle. That single letter participates in both a vertical and horizontal direction whose resultant products are completely distinct one from another (two different words). Another example is a single Sudoku digit, which must participate in three addition equations simultaneously: its own square, a vertical line, and a horizontal line.

When the same sequence of nucleotides codes for regions of more than one functional polypeptide, this sequence contains overlapping genes. (1)

Most DNA sequences are polyfunctional… This means that DNA sequences have meaning on several different levels (polyfunctional) … For example, imagine a sentence which has a very specific message in its normal form but with an equally coherent message when read backwards. Now let’s suppose that it also has a third message when reading every other letter, and a fourth message when a simple encryption program is used to translate it. Such a message would be polyfunctional…(2)

In the last decade, we have discovered still another aspect of the multidimensional genome. We now know that DNA sequences are typically “polyfunctional” [38]. Trifanov previously had described at least 12 genetic codes that any given nucleotide can contribute to [39,40], and showed that a given base-pair can contribute to multiple overlapping codes simultaneously. The first evidence of overlapping protein-coding sequences in viruses caused quite a stir, but since then it has become recognized as typical. According to Kapronov et al., “it is not unusual that a single base-pair can be part of an intricate network of multiple isoforms of overlapping sense and antisense transcripts, the majority of which are unannotated” [41]. The ENCODE project [42] has confirmed that this phenomenon is ubiquitous in higher genomes, wherein a given DNA sequence routinely encodes multiple overlapping messages, meaning that a single nucleotide can contribute to two or more genetic codes. Most recently, Itzkovitz et al. analyzed protein coding regions of 700 species, and showed that virtually all forms of life have extensive overlapping information in their genomes [43]. So not only are there many “knobs” in Fisher’s microscope analogy, each one can affect multiple traits simultaneously and interactively. (3)

Nucleotide sequences carry genetic information of many different kinds, not just instructions for protein synthesis (triplet code). Several codes of nucleotide sequences are discussed including: (1) the translation framing code, responsible for correct triplet counting by the ribosome during protein synthesis; (2) the chromatin code, which provides instructions on appropriate placement of nucleosomes along the DNA molecules and their spatial arrangement; (3) a putative loop code for single-stranded RNA-protein interactions. The codes are degenerate and corresponding messages are not only interspersed but actually overlap, so that some nucleotides belong to several messages simultaneously. (4)

Sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles, and polyfunctional DNA sequences provide examples of how the same piece of information can possess multiple meanings in the real world. We can think of countless further examples in human languages, where context provides signals that change meanings of an identical information unit. For example, a change in emotive expression (anger, sarcasm, nostalgia, etc.) can change a word’s meaning tremendously. We can also think of figures of speech, such as puns, metaphors, similes, and so forth. Much sexual humor is based upon multiple meanings of words and phrases. Would it be a stretch to say that most human speech is context-dependent?

Even physical objects can convey polyfunctional information. For example, take an empty can of tomato soup. Left lying on a kitchen counter, it might indicate that the cook is still busy. Found in an enormous pile of similar objects the same can might mean that a recycling plant or garbage dump is near. On a long stretch of beach or in an alleyway outside a restaurant, the very same can could indicate improperly discarded trash. Placed in an art gallery with a title and someone’s name nearby, one and the same empty can of tomato soup might convey a profound artistic statement.

The more we consider polyfunctional information units, the more we discover that our world is permeated with them.

Next Time: Polyfunctional Text: Authorship   

_______________

1 David C. Krakauer, Stability and Evolution of Overlapping Genes, Evolution: International Journal of Organic Evolution, first published May 9, 2007. Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.0014-3820.2000.tb00075.x, accessed April 22, 2020.

2 John Sanford, Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome, p. 131–3, FMS Publications, Third Edition 2008.

3 George Montañez, Robert J. Marks II, Jorge Fernandez and John C. Sanford, “Multiple Overlapping Genetic Codes Profoundly Reduce the Probability of Beneficial Mutation” in Biological Information: New Perspectives, edited by George Montañez, Robert J. Marks II, Jorge Fernandez and John C. Sanford, published by World Scientific Company: Hackensack, New Jersey, 2011, p 141.

4 E.N. Trifonov, The Multiple Codes of Nucleotide Sequences, Bulletin of Mathimatical Biology 51, 417–432 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02460081.

 

God Is Love

God Is Light

When seeking solutions, something to remember.

Trust in the Lord

 

Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart

Trusting in the Lord is like a “bridge over troubled water.” (1) Notice: a bridge is only a bridge if it is already built when the waters become troubled. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never too late to trust in the Lord. But when the trials and difficulties begin–the storms and troubled water in our lives– honestly, it’s hard in those moments to trust in the Lord if that’s not already our ingrained habit. Why is that?

Speaking from my own experience–

  • Trials blind me
  • They scare me
  • They confuse me
  • And my heart and mind–my thoughts, my understanding of what’s going on, especially the WHY of it all–become a jumbled, chaotic mess of confusion and fear
  • My response of either “run” or “fight” can easily take over and control my actions
  • Worst of all, I might even turn and accuse the Lord, as though he did it to me. (Let me confess, I do this very, very rarely, but I’ve known others who do this to the point of abandoning their faith in God.)

How then do we build the bridge ahead of time, before the storms and trials begin? It’s easy! We just follow the advice (exhortations, admonitions, encouragements) of pretty much all of our Bible study teachers and pastors. Here’s how to get your bridge built, or in another analogy, to lay that firm foundation.

  • Make sure my faith is real–
    • Do I truly believe in Jesus? Do I have back and forth conversations with him?
    • Do I have a history in my life of interventions by the Lord that I can trace and point to?
  • Read my Bible often
  • Pray whenever I think of it, and if I never think of it, then pray at a fixed time every day
  • Ask the Lord frequently, “Lord, give me a check-up. Show me where I stand with you.”
  • Fellowship with other believers, engaging in worship, conversation, and activities with them

Listen, when storms and trials come, and they often come so suddenly–like a flood that sweeps over our heads–faith in our faith will not sustain us. It’s faith in the Lord that sustains us. Our “feelings” toward the Lord won’t sustain us–not when we’re experiencing pure panic. What sustains us is the bridge we’ve already built and used frequently, the bridge that lifts us above the troubled water and carries us to the Rock. Jesus called it a house built upon a Rock (Matthew 7:24-25).

Make sure you work on building your bridge, your foundation, every single day. Don’t be like the grasshopper who looks at the sunshine and says to herself, “It’s never going to rain.” “In the world you WILL have tribulation,” (John 16:33). That is Jesus’s guarantee to us. But he also says, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” The bridge you build now will take you over the troubled waters to the safety of the Lord. How’s your bridge doing today?

__________

Bridge Over Troubled Water is the name of a popular song written by Simon and Garfunkel.

 

 

 

It Is Good to Praise the Lord

O Taste and See

%d bloggers like this: