What Books Do You Recommend Most Highly?

Everyone who loves books, selects certain books as their favorites. Through 54 years of Christian faith and over 50 years of ministry and study, I have come to appreciate a large number of authors and titles. A full listing remains outside the purpose of this post. Here I will highlight key books on a variety of topics. This list will fluctuate and grow over time as I expand the list in the weeks and months ahead. The arrangement will be by topic and the topics arranged alphabetically. 

Each thumbnail is linked to Amazon or some other web site from which the volume can be obtained. Sometimes the link is in the heading, when the image could not be linked directly–or an image was not available.

See also What Books Do You Recommend Most Highly?–Part 2 and, Books I’ve Endorsed and

I’ve consolidated all my recommended resources on the Recommendations page.

Creation–Peripheral Doctrine?

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Is the doctrine of creation a peripheral or secondary (or even tertiary) biblical doctrine? Some scholars opine that instantaneous, miraculous, divine creation as a doctrine should be exchanged for natural evolution. Others would soften the exchange and substitute theistic evolution–that at least keeps God in the picture, even if it removes the instantaneous and miraculous.

Let’s just try to look at the biblical testimony as objectively as possible, regardless of the position to which we might adhere. How does Scripture treat the topic of creation? Consider the following points:

  • The Bible opens with creation–Genesis 1-2. That indicates significance of a high order.
  • The Ten Commandments cite 6-day creation in support of the 4th commandment–Exodus 20:11.
  • Many Old Testament texts refer to creation–e.g., Deuteronomy 4:32; Nehemiah 9:6; Job 9:8; 38:4; Psalms 8, 33, and 104; Isaiah 42:5; 45:12, 18; Jonah 1:9; Malachi 2:10–just to list a very few.
  • The Gospel of John opens with creation–John 1:1-3. That demonstrates the importance of creation to the person of Christ.
  • Many New Testament texts refer to creation–e.g., Mark 10:6; Acts 14:15; Romans 1:20, 25; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Colossians 1:13-16; 1 Timothy 2:13-14; Revelation 4:11–again, just to list a very few.

Thus it would appear that the doctrine of creation is central to both Old Testament and New Testament faith. The Scripture identifies God as the Creator and believers in both testaments adopt that as a foundational theological principle. This divine identification proves that Jesus Himself is God, because He can create–note His creation of wine out of water in John 2:1-11. Jesus changed water into a complex mixture of natural molecules including acids, proteins, sugars, minerals, etc. Wine is the product of plants–mature, ripened grapes, to be precise. Jesus did what only God can do–instantaneously and miraculously create mature life forms. In the case of wine the process of creation involved the product of mature grapes that did not exist–just like God instantly created mature plants, animals, and even man without the normal biological process of insemination or pollination, conception, gestation or germination, birth or sprouting, and maturation from parent plants, animals, or humans.

The doctrine of creation stands as the significant proof of Jesus Christ’s deity as well as God’s Godhood. The doctrine is primary, significant, and indispensable. In other words, what we believe about creation or about what the Bible says regarding creation, really does matter.

 

Psalm Inscriptions: Inspired?

 


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Good detectives build a solid case for indictment by gathering all necessary evidence from a variety of sources. Paying careful attention to details can resolve some of the most difficult problems. In the realm of biblical studies, the identification, nature, and use of inscriptions with psalms tends to be passed off as a waste of time, because many scholars just assume that they were added much later than the actual psalm compositions. However, there is much evidence to the contrary. Let’s examine the available evidence.

Biblical Evidence

In the Psalter 116 of its 150 psalms possess inscriptions (or titles, headings). What many Bible readers fail to realize, however, is the fact that psalm inscriptions occur outside the Psalter.

  • Psalm 18:Inscription compared with 2 Samuel 22:1. Note these phrases from Psalm 18: “For the choir director” and “A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD” (NASU). First, the musical inscription is first in Psalm 18 and the authorial inscription follows. Neither is found in 2 Samuel 22:1 (which does identify David as author, however). The same psalm, with minor differences in wording in some verses follows these headings. The psalm in 2 Samuel is part of the appendix to the books of Samuel in which evidence is supplied from royal archives regarding the life and work of King David. Psalm 18 was the form of the psalm used in the liturgy of the Tabernacle and the Temple (cp. 1 Chron 16 for David’s involvement in the formation of liturgy for Israel).
  • Habakkuk 3:1, 19. The psalm penned by Habakkuk commences with “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth [unknown meaning; perhaps ‘dirge’]” (v. 1) and concludes with “For the choir director, on my stringed instruments [neginot]” (v. 19). The first verse parallels the second phrase identified above in the heading of Psalm 18, while the end of the 19th verse of Habakkuk 3 parallels the first phrase in the heading of Psalm 18. However, the musical inscription comes at the end of the composition, not the beginning.
  • Isaiah 38:9, 20. Hezekiah’s psalm commences with an authorial and historical heading (superscription): “A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery” (v. 9). The composition’s final verse reads: “The LORD will surely save me; so we will play my songs on stringed instruments [neginot] all the days of our life at the house of the LORD” (v. 20). Verse 20 could be Hezekiah’s purposeful expansion of the normal musical subscription to such a composition–he incorporated it into the song itself.
  • Ezekiel 19:14. “This is a lamentation, and has become a lamentation.” The subscription in this case confirms the introductory instruction in verse 1, “‘As for you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel.” It appears to be kind of a historical footnote to the composition, but a subscription nonetheless.

These pieces of biblical evidence all occur outside the Psalter (although 2 Sam 22 is repeated in Ps 18). Therefore, for the sake of consistency, those who choose not to read or include the psalm inscriptions in the Psalter, should not be reading or including the psalm inscriptions outside the Psalter. Why is the Church so inconsistent on this matter in the modern era–both in the pulpit, in commentaries, and in Bible translations? Skepticism. Hermeneutics of doubt. Denial of the integrity, authenticity, and inerrancy of the biblical text.

The New Testament offers its own pieces of evidence in regard to the integrity and authenticity of the psalm headings:

  • Luke 20:42 and Psalm 110:Inscription. Jesus Himself spoke the following words: “For David himself says in the book of Psalms . . .” The Lord used the emphatic Greek personal pronoun (autos, “himself”) to certify that the claim of Psalm 110’s inscription is accurate and refers to David’s authorship. The statement of Davidic authorship occurs only in the psalm’s inscription, not in the body of the psalm. Peter later makes the same observation from the same psalm (Acts 2:34-35). By the way, many seek to deny the authorial force of the psalm inscriptions’ “of David.” But, when we consider all of the evidence, “of David” (or “of Solomon,” or “of Moses,” etc.) should be translated “by David.” The same authorial Hebrew lamed preposition occurs in Isaiah 38:9 (“A writing of [by] Hezekiah”), Habakkuk 3:1 (“A prayer of [by] Habakkuk”), and Psalm 90:Inscription (“A Prayer of [by] Moses, the man of God”).
  • Acts 13:35-36 and Psalm 16:Inscription, 10. At Antioch of Pisidia the apostle Paul, arguing for the Messiahship of Jesus, refers his hearers to the testimony of the Old Testament. One of the texts that he cites consists of Psalm 16:10 (Acts 13:35. Paul explains how the writer/speaker of Psalm 16:10 could not be speaking of himself, but of the Messiah. Paul identifies the psalmist as David. That detail occurs only in the psalm inscription. On the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem the apostle Peter had cited the same text, made the same argument, and identified the same psalmist (Acts 2:29-32).

Thus, the accuracy, integrity, and inspiration of the psalm inscriptions should not be denied. How many witnesses does it require to establish such a fact? Aren’t the testimonies of Isaiah, Habakkuk, Jesus, Peter, and Paul sufficient? If not, what does that say about the integrity of any of these men? Above all, what does it mean with regard to the deity, truth speaking, and testimony of Jesus Himself? The implications of refusing to translate, to read, or to accept the inspiration of the psalm inscriptions go beyond just questioning the integrity of the psalm inscriptions outside the Psalter. The implications even touch upon the character of Jesus Himself.

Ancient Near Eastern Evidence

Psalm inscriptions occur outside the Hebrew Bible as well as within it. The practice of psalm inscriptions appears in a variety of ancient near eastern materials. This fact has not escaped the attention of scholars dealing with the extrabiblical evidence. Consider the observations Kenton L. Sparks makes concerning Mesopotamian hymns, prayers, and laments:

Our modern attempts to classify the Mesopotamian genres . . . are eased by the ancient tendency to place generic labels in the superscripts or subscripts of the text. The labels sometimes corresponded to musical instrumentation used with the piece, such as the BALAG (harp song), TIGI (bass drum song), and ERŠEMMA (tambourine laments), while others related to the format or purpose of the text, such as BALBALE (antiphonal recitation?), ERŠAHUNGA (lament for appeasing the heart), and ŠUILLA (incantation prayers offered with uplifted hands). Modern scholars are not always sure what to make of these terms, which is not surprising given that the ancients sometimes used the labels rather loosely and imprecisely.[1]

Confirming such ancient near eastern evidence, Yitschak Sefati points to Sumerian love poems from ca. 2100-1800 BC–near the time of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob):

As in most of Sumerian poetic works, the following poems are ascribed to their appropriate categories by the ancient poets themselves with a special subscript at the end of the composition, resembling the superscript of the biblical psalter.[2]

Slide from PowerPoint on "Psalm Titles" prepared by William D. Barrick, Th.D.

Slide from PowerPoint on “Psalm Titles” prepared by William D. Barrick, Th.D.

A Hurrian cult song tablet from Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) dating to ca. 1400 BC (near the time of the biblical Moses) includes a subscription that reads, “This is a song of the Fall-of-the-Middle, a hymn of the gods, from Urhiya, copied by Ammurapi.”[3] In other words, the ancient near eastern practice of ancient poets including superscriptions and subscriptions for their poems predates the inscriptions on hymns, psalms, prayers, and laments in the Hebrew Bible. It makes no sense at all for biblical scholars to question the authenticity and ancientness of the biblical psalm inscriptions. The Hebrew poets followed many of the same literary conventions as their neighboring cultures.

How ancient are the biblical psalm inscriptions? The meanings of some of the psalm inscriptions’  technical terms were no longer understood at the time of the translation of the Greek Septuagint (ca. 250 BC). For example, the inscription on Psalm 4 in the Hebrew reads, “For the superintendent of music on stringed instruments; a psalm by David.” The Septuagint translators understood it as reading, “Unto the end, in psalms, a song by David.” “For the superintendent of music” (or, “For the chief musician”) was repeatedly misidentified by the Septuagint translators and they also seem to have been guessing about the meaning of neginot (see above under Biblical Evidence) by translating it with the Greek en psalmois. Another example occurs in the inscription to Psalm 46 in which the Hebrew term alamot (most likely “women” or “sopranos”) became “hidden things” (tôn kruphiôn). Such evidence confirms the antiquity of the psalm inscriptions–the meaning of their technical terminology has already been lost by the Hebrew-speaking community by at least 250 BC or before.

Implications

In accord with Thirtle’s theory of psalm titles,[4] musical material should be viewed as subscriptions for the preceding psalm, while the literary and historical materials are superscriptions for the following psalm. An excellent example of this division is to be found in the poem in Habakkuk 3. Such an approach also solves some of the nutty problems involving seeming contradictions in the psalm inscriptions. Just one sample will suffice for our purpose in this brief study: Psalms 87 and 88.

Current Psalm 87 Inscription

A psalm by the sons of Korah.

A song.

Current Psalm 88 Inscription

A song.

A psalm by the sons of Korah.

For the choir director;

according to Mahalath Leannoth.

maskil by Heman the Ezrahite.

Screenshot 2016-06-24 09.43.45Note that the first two lines (red and blue) of Psalm 87 are repeated in inverse order as the first two lines of Psalm 88. This inverted inclusio emphatically marks off Psalm 87 as the composition of the sons of Korah–the authorial information. Then the typical musical subscription (green) commences with “For the choir director” (see Hab 3:19) and continues with musical instruction (perhaps for the tune?) “according to Mahalath Leannoth.” All of these lines belong to Psalm 87 for its superscription and its subscription. The final line (purple), “A maskil by Heman the Ezrahite,” belongs to Psalm 88 as its literary and authorial superscription. That immediately resolves the apparent conflict in the currently published translations that attributes authorship to the sons of Korah and to Heman the Ezrahite. In addition, Psalm 88 is one of the gloomiest psalms in the Psalter, making a potential mismatch for the tune Mahalath Leannoth that might refer to dancing–a reference more fitting for Psalm 87:7 speaking of singing, flutes (or dancing), and “springs of joy.” Thus, the following pattern provides a more accurate representation:

Correct Psalm 87 Superscription

A psalm by the sons of Korah. A song.

Correct Psalm 87 Subscription

A song. A psalm by the sons of Korah.

For the choir director; according to Mahalath Leannoth.

Correct Psalm 88 Superscription

maskil by Heman the Ezrahite.

Conclusion

Bible editors, Bible translators, and commentators[5] alike have perpetuated wrongly divided psalm inscriptions. When properly understood (using Hab 3 for our pattern), the musical subscriptions can be properly identified and moved to the end of the preceding psalm while the literary and historical superscriptions can be kept with the subsequent psalm.  The psalm inscriptions are ancient, authoritative, and accurate. The evidence supports their inspiration. We must preserve them, correctly apportion them to their respective psalms, read them privately and publicly, and expound them as we do when they occur in the Old Testament outside the Psalter.

 


Footnotes

[1]Kenton L. Sparks, Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 85. Sparks indicates that some of those superscripts and subscripts correspond to musical instrumentation and others to the format or purpose of the text.

[2]Yitschak Sefati, “Love Poems,” in The Context of Scripture, 3 vols., ed. by William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003), 1:540-43.

[3]For a full description and explanation of this fascinating tablet, see Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, Richard L. Crocker, and Robert R. Brown, Sounds from Silence: Recent Discoveries in Ancient Near Eastern Music (Berkeley, CA: Bit Enki Publications, 1976).

[4]James William Thirtle, The Titles of the Psalms: Their Nature and Meaning Explained (London: Henry Frowde, 1904). See, also, John Richard Sampey, “Psalms, Book of,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 5 vols., edited by James Orr, 4:2487-94 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), available here online. More recently, see Bruce K. Waltke, “Superscripts, Postscripts, or Both,” Journal of Biblical Literature 110, no. 4 (1991): 583-96. Unfortunately, many evangelical scholars have ignored Waltke’s article as well as Thirtle’s seminal volume In Hebrew Whiteboard all psalms will be divided in accord with the principles demonstrated by this study.

[5]One commentator published his volume with the psalm inscriptions properly arranged in their correct locations as superscriptions and subscriptions: W. Graham Scroggie, The Psalms (reprint, Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1973).

How Do I Know If I Am Saved?

I know that I am saved, because . . .

  1. I am not like Cain (1 John 3:11-15).
    • I do not hate others.
  2. I am like Jesus (1 John 3:16-18).
    • I love others sacrificially.
    • I love others selflessly.
  3. My heart says so (1 John 3:19-22).
    • An obedient heart.
    • A God-controlled heart.
  4. The Holy Spirit says so (1 John 3:23-24).
    • See also, Romans 8:16.

The Rain and the Rainbow: When Did They Begin?

Any search for mention of “rain” in the Old Testament finds it mentioned only in Genesis 2:5 prior to the rain that brings the Flood in 7:4. Therefore, many scholars assume that God did not use rain until that time–which would also explain why no rainbow was seen until after the Flood (9:13–16), since it is a natural occurrence when sunlight passes through water drops in the atmosphere.

However, as you have noted, the Scriptures do not specifically state that it did not rain before the Flood. Genesis 2:5 seems to be more easily read as saying that God had not yet caused it to rain when He provided the “mist” or “spring” to water the earth. That was before plants and before Adam. But like the plants (Day 3) and Adam (Day 6), the rain could have started sometime during the six days of creation.

The lack of explicit statement in Scripture can also be compared with geological evidence of raindrop patterns in water-deposited, fine-grained, volcanic ash and sandstone beds in the Precambrian layers, which are pre-Flood. Evidence of water deposited sediments in pre-Flood strata also indicates the possibility of rainfall prior to the Flood.

As for the rainbow, the text does not demand that it first occurs after the Flood. It could equally be understood as that which God had already set in the sky and that now He invests with a new function—to signify His promise not to destroy the earth again by a Flood.

Salvation in the Old Testament

In the week prior to Resurrection Sunday, the minds and hearts of all born-again believers turn to the marvelous redemptive work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in His sacrificial death. It offers a great opportunity to consider the means of salvation throughout time–beginning in the Old Testament. A friend from long ago sent some very pertinent questions my way, so I have decided to share my response with the readers of my web site.

  1. Where does the OT talk about giving the nations an opportunity to repent?
    • Long before Israel existed—the time of the early patriarchs—Job 28:28 speaks of men fearing the Lord and “turning from evil” (= repenting of evil).
    • Job 42:6 reveals Job’s repentance—not a repentance of salvation, but a repentance of a believer who had sinned.
    • Deuteronomy 30:10 provides instruction regarding Israel’s potential for true repentance—the majority were unbelievers and needed salvation. This passage in Deuteronomy 30 provides a preview of the New Covenant.
    • According to Psalm 7:16-13, the peoples (not Israel) who are identified as Israel’s enemies will be called to account by God, who will judge them. However, there is opportunity to repent and they will be judged only if they do not repent.
    • Psalm 22:27 talks of all the earth’s nations turning to the Lord and worshiping Him.
    • Jesus Himself says that Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah (Matt 12:41; Luke 11:32; see Jonah 3:8-10)—His commentary on the OT gives us the most accurate commentary available.
    • In Luke 24:46-47 Jesus declares that the nations have the opportunity to repent on the basis of His death and resurrection from the time those redemptive events occur (cp. Acts 11:18; 17:30; 26:20). Interestingly, this appears in a context of Jesus spelling out what the OT says about Him from Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44-45).
  2. Is faith in the OT based upon what a person understands about God? Pre-Mosaic or Mosaic, could they truly understand the Jesus of the NT or have enough knowledge of the Messiah? How were people saved from pre-Flood to prophetic times?

My conclusion overall, on the basis of OT and NT alike: salvation has always been by faith alone in the Messiah (whether looking forward to Him, as in Gen 3:15, or back to the completion of His work) as the sole object of faith—believing that the Messiah would suffer, die as a vicarious sacrifice, and rise again from the dead according to the Scriptures, to provide salvation from sin for Gentiles and Jews alike. Both Acts 26:22-23 and 1 Peter 1:9-12 demonstrate this detailed knowledge proclaimed by Moses and all of the OT prophets. No one, from Adam until now, or from now on until Christ’s full program of redemption is completed, has ever, is ever, or will ever be saved any other way by any other gospel.