The Stranger At The River Jabbok
Published by Calvin Seminary
VALUE: All our teaching and formation grow from a shared understanding of God’s word as articulated in the rich treasury of reformed theology.
Sweeter than honey; more desirable than gold; a source of light and a guide for life.
With tantalizing phrases like these, some may think I’m peddling the new iPhone X. In fact, these are the words the Psalmists use to describe God’s revelation to us in the Scriptures. God’s Word is a gift to be cherished, they teach us. To meditate on it day and night – studying, sa- voring, probing, relishing – is to be like a tree planted by streams of water, soaking up the goodness and grace of God. Perhaps this is why John Calvin referred to Scrip- ture as the school of the Holy Spirit. For through Scrip- ture, all our confused inklings about God are corrected and clarified and our desires are properly directed so that we come to know and love and worship the one true God. It is no wonder that Scripture has held such a prominent place in the Christian tradition, standing as the supreme authority for matters of faith, and here at Calvin Seminary, as the foundation for all our studies.
Of course, recognizing the centrality of Scripture to the Christian life is not to say that the testimony of Scripture is always straightforward or comfortable. Sometimes what we find can be difficult to understand or even deeply troubling. What are we to make, for instance, of the conquest stories in the book of Joshua which speak of the genocide of the Canaanites at God’s behest? Or the seemingly uncritical acceptance of slavery throughout Scripture? What now is the function of the Old Testament law for those of us who are in Christ? Are only some laws still relevant while others are not? And if so, how do we know which is which? What does and doesn’t the Bible say about human sexuality and what are the implications for today? How do we reconcile Paul’s negative comments about women teaching or assuming authority over a man with his lavish approbation of key female leaders in the early Church, Junia the apostle and Priscilla who corrected Apollos and taught him about God? And how is it that money and the plight of the poor are the most discussed subjects in the Bible? What does economics have to do with faith?
The truth is, at times, studying the Bible can feel less like an encounter with the God of love and more like a wrestling match with the stranger at the river Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-31)
While the Bible is clear in its overall message, individual texts can confound us, and if interpreted badly, skew our understanding of God and the gospel message. In this sense, the stakes of biblical interpretation are high, not only for our own personal piety but also for our public witness. We interpret before a watching world that has seen the Bible used to encourage love and to arouse hate, to further peace and to authorize violence, to challenge injustice and to sanction the status quo. The question then becomes how do we interpret Scripture faithfully so that our interpretations contribute to a true knowledge of God and the advance of the gospel?
This is where seminary education can help. At Calvin Seminary, we have a rich treasury of resources to draw from to equip us in wrestling with the hard stuff of Scripture. Thus, in a posture of faith seeking to understand, attending closely to the whispers of the Spirit, we read Scripture:
- With a learning community of brothers and sisters from around the world, bringing different perspectives and insights in an environment where iron sharpens iron;
- With the historic creeds and confessions that outline the basic affirmations of the Christian faith and unite us with the Church of all ages;
- With knowledge of biblical languages that not only lend a greater understanding of particular words in Scripture but also give us a window of insight into the culture and worldview of the biblical world;
- With the resources to explore how, within the context of the ancient Near East or first-century Palestine, the biblical text would originally have been heard;
- With time to engage in close readings of biblical texts to consider questions of genre and form, literary context, and the larger witness of Scripture;
- With Augustine and Chrysostom, Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila, Calvin, Bavinck, Barth, and Bonhoeffer, among others, gleaning from the wisdom of the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before.
In other words, at Calvin Seminary, students learn that they are not alone in the work of interpretation, that the Spirit is at work opening up the Scriptures to us through the wisdom of the community of saints, both past and present, and through their diligent study of the text.
In the end, the goal is not so much to arrive at the definitive interpretation but to gain enough insight into the text that we might bear faithful testimony in our teaching and preaching, to the God whose steadfast love endures forever, whose mercies are new every morning, and whose faithfulness is great.
There is no doubt that Scripture can be challenging. But like Jacob, at Calvin Seminary we refuse to let go until we have secured a blessing and until we see in the stranger the face of God.
By Amanda W. Benckhuysen
Associate Professor of Old Testament
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