Articles by Ralph Smith

  • What did Jonah Know?

    When a certain Samaritan village refused Jesus’ attempt to visit, James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven upon it. The allusion to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is evident, but, as the story shows, James’ and John’s thinking was entirely warped. Jesus rebuked them: “You do not know […]

  • Transfiguration and Jesus’ Baptism

    The allusions to Mt. Sinai in the transfiguration story point to Jesus as a new Moses and even more as Yahweh, the God who met Moses and Elijah on the mountain. The fact that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah spoke of Jesus’ “exodus” suggests that the mountain of transfiguration was intended to point forward as well. […]

  • Jesus on Sinai

    Among the many allusions in the transfiguration story, one allusion, or rather, one group of allusions, is especially prominent — allusions to Mt. Sinai. The first and least obvious of the allusions to Mt. Sinai is the expression “high mountain” in Matthew and Mark and “the mountain” in Luke. Ancient commentators do not approach these […]

  • Jesus’ Transfiguration: The Context

    The revelation of Jesus’ glory at the transfiguration is one of the most important stories in the synoptic Gospels. At Jesus’ baptism — the inauguration of New Covenant baptism with the Holy Spirit and the paradigm for Christian baptism — God the Father spoke from heaven: “You are My Son, the beloved. With you I […]

  • The Complexity of Biblical Allusion

    There is no question about the fact that the book of Deuteronomy is full of literary allusion. But there is a serious problem, even a paradox, of understanding how that allusion works. To begin with, if we assume that Deuteronomy was written by Moses — with some editorial emendations added later — we have to […]

  • Christian Mission and Cultural Transformation

    “Contextualization” is now, and has been for a long time, the buzzword for the day.1 Missionary effort in non-Western countries is all about “contextualization” — making our communication of the Gospel, if not the Gospel itself, fit into the culture to whom we from the West speak.2 There is, of course, an element of truth in […]

  • Baptism and Contextualization: Part II

    Click HERE for Part I of this series. What does baptism have to do with culture? As I said in the previous essay, the short answer is “everything!” To begin with, baptism is baptism into Jesus’ death (Romans 6:3). Paul explains this as the crucifixion of the “old man” (“old self”) in a chapter that […]

  • Baptism and Contextualization, 1

    I can imagine someone reading the title of this essay and saying to himself, “I have two questions. First, what in the world is “contextualization”?” Second, even before hearing the answer to the first question, he may wonder, “what does baptism have to do with such an awkward and vague notion?” Let me begin by […]

  • Like A Dove II

    In the previous article in this series, I drew attention to the threefold meaning of the Spirit of God descending as a dove on Jesus at His baptism. On a related note, I also argued that 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Titus 3:3-7 were parallel passages that addressed the same issues in very similar language. One […]

  • Like a Dove

    Peter Leithart’s book, The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism, argues that baptism is parallel to and the fulfillment of the old covenant rite of priestly ordination. But this is not something explicitly stated in the New Testament. Why, then, should we believe it? Leithart shows in detail that new covenant baptism does […]

  • Biblical Allusion and the Meaning of Othello, Part II

    Iago as Tempter The answer to our first question — whether or not Othello is really great tragedy — has already pointed the way to the answer for the second question — Was Othello a noble Moor or a fool? The two questions, of course, are necessarily related. The fall of a fool would hardly […]

  • Biblical Allusion and the Meaning of Othello

    Understanding Shakespeare’s Biblical references is vital for the interpretation of many, if not all, of Shakespeare’s plays. For Othello, it is especially important, not only because the interpretation of the play is contested among various approaches — feminist, homosexual, post-colonial, Marxist, Freudian, new historical, and others — but also and more importantly because, as I […]

  • Gerazim and Ebal

    Place names become fraught with meaning by association with people and events. The name “Wittenberg” calls to mind Luther and the Reformation for Protestants and Catholics alike. Geneva has a wider range of associations, but the Reformation Wall, with its four main statues of William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox, guarantees that […]

  • Hear, O Israel!

    In the last 40 odd years of studying the Bible, I have read more essays and commentaries on Deuteronomy 6:4 than I can recall. I have also more than twice changed my view on what should be the correct translation of Israel’s central confession. What is so complicated? After the call to give attention — […]

  • Dating Matthew, 2

    In the first essay in this series, I presented a case for dating Matthew before AD 70, contrary to the present scholarly consensus. In this essay, I intend to present cultural, personal, ecclesiological, and theological arguments for a very early date for Matthew. 1 The cultural argument concerns literacy in the days of Jesus. There was […]

  • Dating Matthew, 1

    When might the Gospel according to Matthew have been written? Of course, any answer can only be speculation, but that does not mean we are reduced to groundless opinion. In this series of articles I point the way to an approach different from the general consensus among scholars today which posits a late first century […]

  • Synopticity, II

    In my first essay on “synopticity” I offered a rather rough definition of the phenomenon and important, though not exhaustive examples. In this essay, I want to introduce broader aspects of the phenomenon of “synopticity.” The first example that I have in mind is conventional stories, stories of different historical events that follow the same […]

  • Synopticity, I

    To the best of my knowledge “synopticity” is not a word used in theology or Biblical studies, but it seems an appropriate word to describe the kind of phenomena associated with the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These three Gospels tell essentially the same story with significant — sometimes puzzling — variations. It is […]

  • The Original Murder

    My title, “The Original Murder” will be understood by many readers, if not almost all, to refer to Cain’s murder of Abel, but I have in mind the very first murder, the one which Jesus pointed to when He said that Satan was a murderer “from the beginning.” “You are of your father the devil, […]

  • Approaching the Torah

    Before anything else, a word about “Torah” may be in order. I have been persuaded that “law” is a bad translation of “Torah,” even though it is evident that what is called “Torah” does have commandments, statutes, and ordinances in abundance. Why not “law?” “Law” as a translation for “Torah” is overly narrow in its […]

  • Adam, Saul, Macbeth

    Harold Bloom’s essay on Macbeth includes the kind of penetrating insights that make Bloom the great Shakespearean scholar that he is, but it also includes his typical and intense anti-Christian bias. “If Lear was pre-Christian, then Macbeth is weirdly post-Christian. There are, as we have seen, Christian intimations that haunt the pagans of Lear, though […]

  • Every Noise Appalls

    The first two essays in this series drew attention to the structure of the first part of Macbeth and to the way Shakespeare incorporates the Garden of Eden into his story. Macbeth, we saw, is a temptation story in which, compared to the Biblical story, the temptation itself is drawn out and extended. The Garden […]

  • From Garden to Gate of Hell

    In my previous essay on Macbeth, I pointed out that Shakespeare rewrote Scottish history to construct a play which points to Adam’s Fall — a man and a woman tempted by devils to steal the throne and become like gods. It is hard to imagine anyone in Shakespeare’s day missing the allusion, but in our […]

  • Macbeth and the Fall of Adam

    For anyone in Shakespeare’s audience who knew the real story of Macbeth, his play must have been surprising. Shakespeare changed so many important details of the historical Macbeth’s life that had Raphael Holinshed, the main author of the most popular history of the British Isles in Shakespeare’s day — Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and […]

  • Macbeth and Nihilism

    When it comes to the interpretation of Shakespeare, Harold Bloom is my favorite enemy. His writing is brilliant, his knowledge of things Shakespearean encyclopedic, and the insights he offers may puzzle, startle, or amaze, but they always educate. How then can he be an enemy? Because his anti-Christian bias is omnipresent and blatant. It is […]

  • The Bard and the Book

    I concluded the first essay on this topic by saying that I would introduce three books about Shakespeare and the Bible, but I decided to introduce four instead. The three books become four are: Naseeb Shaheen, Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays (London: Associated University Presses, 1999); Hannibal Hamlin, The Bible in Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University […]

  • Was Shakespeare A Christian?

    How would one go about answering the question posed by my title? That depends on what the question means. Obviously, different definitions of the question would require different approaches to an answer. Right off hand, I can think of at least three possible — though not necessarily mutually exclusive — meanings to the question. First […]

  • Victory Food

    In the nature of the case, “the” Christian meditation on Deuteronomy 14:1-21 cannot be written. Meditation offers too many possibilities, opens too many doors. There is not one and only one correct set of associations for a Christian to consider when thinking of Deuteronomy 14:1-21. We could, for example, consider how Israel kept or did […]

  • You are what you eat

    Deuteronomy 14 is full of allusions to events of Israel’s history and other portions of Scripture. What would an Israelite learn by mediation on these allusions? The answer, I believe, is at least fourfold. Faith, Worship, War For the ancient Israelite first hearing Moses’ sermon, or perhaps hearing it read again for the 30th time, […]

  • Holy Things for Holy People

    The allusion to the Exodus story is contained in the first words of Deuteronomy 14:1 — “ye are the sons of Yahweh your God” — as well as in 14:2 in the use of the technical term translated “treasured possession,” “His own possession,” “peculiar people,” “precious people,” and so forth. The two allusions together bring […]

  • Forbidden Foods

    I have argued that Deuteronomy 14:1-21 is an independent literary unit that applies the Third Word to the lives of Israelites from the time of Moses and Joshua. In this short pericope, Moses suggests broad and deep meaning by means of literary allusion to the stories of the creation and the exodus from Egypt. He […]

  • Allusive Torah

    In the first part of this essay, I argued that the story of the covenant is what unifies and grounds the laws in the book of Deuteronomy. In the third section of this essay, as part of my argument that Deuteronomy 14:1-21 forms a distinct pericope, I claimed that these verses contain a number of […]

  • Jesus, David, Adam: A Reading of John 18:1-11

    John 18:1-11 appears on the surface to be a straightforward, if somewhat unusual, narrative of Jesus’ arrest by officers of the chief priests and Pharisees accompanied by an apparently large group of Roman soldiers, all of them led by the betrayer, Judas. But there is much more here than what appears on the surface. Paying […]

  • Sons to Yahweh your God!

    This is the third in a series of studies of the Third Word, and especially of Deuteronomy 14. In 1979 Stephen Kaufman penned a groundbreaking essay on Deuteronomy, arguing that it was a meticulously structured and carefully composed book. In his view, chapters 12 to 26 in particular follow the order of the Ten Words, […]

  • The Third Word

    This is the second in a series of studies on the Third Word, and especially on the food laws of Deuteronomy 14. In the second part of this series, I argue that Moses’ reworking of the Ten Words in Deuteronomy 5 includes adding nuance to the Third Word. This prepares the way for his sermonic […]

  • Deuteronomy as Narrative-Law

    This series of essays will address the food laws in Deuteronomy 14:1-21. To some, this may seem like a work of supererogation. After all, why should a Christian be interested in outdated “laws” from the book of Deuteronomy? I hope to show that meditation on this portion of Scripture is profoundly edifying, both for its […]

  • Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses

    This is the last in a series of studies on Deuteronomy 22:30-23:8. In this series, I have offered an interpretation of Deuteronomy 22:30-23:8 which suggests that a simple surface reading of the text does not do justice to Moses’ or God’s intention, that the larger historical and legal context in which these laws were given […]

  • Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses

    This is the eighth in a series of studies on Deuteronomy 22:30-23:8. And Jesus went out thence, and withdrew into the parts of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanitish woman came out from those borders, and cried, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with […]

  • Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses

    This is the seventh in a series of studies on Deuteronomy 22:30-23:8. Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother; thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a sojourner in his land. The children of the third generation that are born unto them shall enter into the assembly of Yahweh […]

  • Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses

    This is the sixth in a series of studies on Deuteronomy 22:30-23:8. An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh; even to the tenth generation shall none belonging to them enter into the assembly of Yahweh forever: because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, […]

  • Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses

    This is the fifth in a series of studies of Deuteronomy 22:3-23:8. “A bastard (mazmer) shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh; even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of Yahweh” (Deuteronomy 23:2).[i] The translation “bastard” here for mazmer, common in older translations and implied even in new […]

  • Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses

    The fourth in a series of studies on Deuteronomy 22:30-23:8. One wounded by crushing, or cut in the member shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 23:1.[i] The translation of this verse varies in different English versions. The basic idea is clear enough, however: a eunuch is not to be admitted into the […]

  • Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses

    The third in a series of studies on Deuteronomy 22-23. This continues the second essay, which examines Deuteronomy 22:30: “A man shall not take his father’s wife, and shall not uncover his father’s wing” (Hebrew:  kanaf).   The Sin of Ham Another story would almost certainly occur to an ancient reader of the text, especially […]

  • Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses

    The second in a series of studies in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 22:30: A man shall not take his father’s wife, and shall not uncover his father’s wing (Hebrew: kanaf). There are a number of unusual features in this law that mark it out from the previous context, indicating that it is introductory to the following paragraph about […]

  • Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses

    Part 1 of a multi-part series of studies on Deuteronomy 22:30-23:8. Eric Auerbach, in his classic work on Western literature, devotes his first chapter to contrasting Homer with the Bible. Of Homer, he writes of the “need of Homeric style to leave nothing which it mentions half in darkness and unexternalized.”[i] This is more fully […]