Kevin Reed - Biblical Interpretation (Hermeneutics) - Still Waters Revival Books - Puritan Hard Drive


Of Exegesis and Eccentricity

A book review by Kevin Reed

The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 by James Jordan. Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984. Hardcover, 310 pages.

When the publisher announced this book to the world (last September), we were told, "This book and the Judges book will mark Jordan as the premier biblical theologian of our generation." Further, it was claimed that Jordan's books "will restructure the way that Bible-believing scholars do theology." Pardon us, dear readers, if we refrain from such exalted exclamations. Our examination has led us to different conclusions. James B. Jordan has written a highly unusual book. The work covers a portion of scripture which has been greatly neglected by 20th-century writers; so the book will probably gain additional circulation due to this fact alone. Nevertheless, the book suffers from uneven quality. Some places are marked by sound exegesis, while other sections abound in fanciful speculations. Let us examine several aspects of the work.

The book contains several helpful features. It summons men to hear the law of God. Says Jordan, "God is the Creator of all men, not only of Christians, and therefore His law is binding on all men, not only on Christians" (p. 28).

Christians must confront the fact that God requires them to impose His law for the state upon all men, whether men like it or not. The universe is not a democracy, but a Kingdom. If Christians do not impose God's laws upon non-Christians, then non-Christians will impose man's laws upon Christians. Communism aptly illustrates what the latter situation is like, and as the influence of the Gospel wanes in America, there is more and more an attempt to destroy Christianity and Christian laws. Christian schools are under fire increasingly. Sabbath laws are virtually gone. Crime is rampant and unchecked by the penalties required by Biblical law.

Behold the wondrous works of man! What a boon to live in a "religiously neutral" society, where rapists, murderers, abortionists, and thieves are free to do as they please, and the innocent and Godly, the widow and the orphan, are hounded and persecuted! (p. 29).

This initial call to the law of God forms the basis for Jordan's subsequent commentary. Building upon the case laws of Exodus 21-23, Jordan offers numerous applications to contemporary society. An example of this process is found on pp. 113-15, in reference to Exodus 21:22-25. The passage is found in the context of a section dealing with assault. The woman and child (of vs. 22) are considered bystanders who are injured during an incident where others are brawling. Jordan recites the details of the case, and discusses several nuances of the biblical text. Of course, this passage is frequently used by pro-life speakers to prove that the unborn child is a person, protected by the law of God. By application, the passage demonstrates that abortion is murder. At this point, however, most pro-lifers stop, and refrain from drawing the corollary applications pertaining to the punishment of murderers.

Jordan is more biblical, as he forthrightly declares:

The Biblical penalty for abortion is mandatory death. The "physician" responsible for performing abortion is a murderer and should be put to death. Since at least two people are always involved in it, abortion is conspiracy to commit murder, and the "mother," the "physician," the anesthetist, the nurses, and the father or boy friend or husband who pay for it, all are involved in the conspiracy to commit murder. Until the anti-abortion movement in America is willing to return to God's law and advocate the death penalty for abortion, God will not bless the movement. God does not bless those who despise His law, just because pictures of salted infants make them sick (p. 115).

Mr. Jordan is also capable of providing sound applications on smaller matters. He covers the subject of borrowing on pp. 142-44. The discussion is based upon Exodus 22:14, "If a man borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good." Jordan comments:

Let us assume that you borrowed your neighbor's punchbowl and broke it. How should you make compensation? First, don't tell her in advance that you broke the punchbowl, unless you have to. That only gives her an opportunity to say she doesn't need a replacement. People say things like, "Oh well, forget it. It's not important," but in fact they don't forget. Second, don't just give her the money. She is likely to refuse to take it. Also, why should she have to go to the trouble of purchasing a new bowl, when you are the one who broke it? Third, don't buy a more expensive punchbowl. It may not match her set.... Fourth, don't neglect the opportunity to witness for Christ. You are not doing this because it seems nice and neighborly. You are doing it because Christ your Lord tells you to. Let her know that.

In another section of the book, Jordan gives us a fascinating discussion on slavery. He defends slavery as a scriptural institution designed "to train irresponsible men into productive covenant members" (p. 77). In biblical slavery, express provisions are made so that a slave may save money and earn his way to freedom. The section on slavery also illustrates some of Jordan's bizarre techniques of interpretation. Frequently, he launches into wild allegorical speculations. In many cases, he has first provided us with a sound exposition of the primary focus of the text. Yet, he then supplements the initial exposition with a highly symbolic (and highly questionable) extrapolation based upon the same text. Although these extrapolations do not always present objectionable opinions, the method is what concerns us here.

To illustrate this tendency, we could go to almost any part of the book. The following samples are chosen because they are memorable; but there are a multitude of other examples which would serve the same purpose. In the discussion on slavery, Jordan treats Exodus 21:5-6. He states: "Since the slave is joining his master's household permanently, it is at the doorpost of the master's dwelling that his ear is bored (compare Dt. 15:17). This means that the slave's ear is open to receive the word of the master and to obey him. This is the circumcision of the ear spoken of in Jeremiah 6:10 and Acts 7:51" (p. 78). Readers are then given a discursive treatment on "The Circumcision of the Ear." Lest we remain uninformed, we are frankly told that circumcision itself is "a sign of death and resurrection, for it implies castration."

A man who has been castrated cannot have children, for his organ of generation is permanently dead. Circumcision symbolically castrates a man, but leaves his reproductive ability still alive. Thus, circumcision is a sign of new life through death, a sign of rebirth. Abram's first son, Ishmael, was conceived before Abram was circumcised, and this [thus] was a son of the Spirit (Gen. 17). Interestingly, those who refuse circumcision are to be "cut off" (Gen. 17:14), and while literal castration is not in view, cutting off a person from the covenant was the same as cutting him off from the Seed-Savior who was to come into the world for salvation. Thus, the very word for circumcise can also be used for "cut off" (Ps. 90:6; 118:10-12). Particularly graphic is Psalm 58:7, which uses the word "circumcise" to refer to arrows which have the heads cut off the ends ­ the parallel to castration is obvious (pp. 78-79).

Later we are told:

Once Abraham is circumcised, he is able to circumcise Sarah, so to speak, for the woman also has a strip of flesh that hinders procreation. Women are not physically "circumcised" in the Bible, for this would destroy the symbolism of the tokens of virginity (Dt. 22:13-21). The circumcision of the male child serves as a substitute for the woman, by pointing to the circumcision of the promised seed, Jesus Christ, the "bridegroom" whose blood provides the tokens of virginity that an unfaithful wife (Israel, the Church) needs as legal evidence of her ethical purity (pp. 80-81).

We suggest that Mr. Jordan "cut off" his typewriter, so to speak, before composing any more exegesis of this kind ­ especially since we have been warned that his books might "restructure the way that Bible- believing scholars do theology." (We were trying to imagine a commentary on the book of Revelation written in this manner, and we suddenly remembered there were already at least a dozen of them.)

In chapter 8, Jordan explains Exodus 22:16-17: "When a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he must certainly give the mohar for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, money must he pay to the mohar for virgins."

Jordan makes some solid applications of the passage. He even discusses how this law would apply to elopement, where the father's consent was not obtained. Under biblical law, the father might annul the "marriage."

Of course, it might be very difficult for the father to get his way in the American courts, and the wisest thing to do would usually be to bow to circumstances. The Church, however, must honor the father's decision, regardless of the decision of the state. In this case, the Church would not recognize the marriage as legitimate, and would have to excommunicate the couple for fornication, until the approval of the father is forthcoming (p. 151).

After these remarks, Mr. Jordan again gives an allegorical rendering of the text. Satan's assault upon Eve is compared to seduction (2 Cor. 11:2-3). "In terms of this law, it is clear that the Father will not permit the Bride to marry Satan, and thus that payment of mohar money by Satan is required. Accordingly, the Bible everywhere teaches that the wealth laid up by the wicked will be given over to the righteous, partly as compensation for oppression. Indeed, in the exodus itself, the women of Israel were told to demand payment from the Egyptians (Ex. 3:22). This should be seen as a demand for mohar" (pp. 151-52).

Now, we do not dispute that 2 Cor. 11:2-3 speaks of the corruption of Eve; nor do we object to the wealth of the wicked passing to the righteous. But we are not persuaded that these matters are in view in Exodus 22:16-17; and we are disturbed by Mr. Jordan's method of handling the text of scripture, irrespective of the individual conclusions which he draws. Since our method of interpretation will determine our conclusions, we must be especially careful in this regard. Basically, the question of the merit of the book as a whole rests on a consideration of Mr. Jordan's hermeneutics.

Apart from the allegorical cast of the work, there are other shortcomings which must be noted. Chapter 9, on "Justice," digresses into a disciplinary dispute which occurred in the Tyler congregation where Mr. Jordan has a prominent role. Without going into the details of the case, we have one important question. Since this book is ostensibly a Bible commentary (or exposition), is it really the best forum in which to air disputes of this nature? A long footnote, on pp. 173-74, amounts to an exercise of self-justification by the author, about matters with which most readers need not be concerned.

In passing, we also mention an alarming statement found in the chapter on "Sabbaths and Festivals." Mr. Jordan casually remarks:

The festival calendar of the Old Testament is no more and no less binding on the Church today than is the sabbath day. Just as the Lord's Day has come in the place of the sabbath day, so the Church has devised voluntary festivals in place of those of the Old Covenant. Just as the Old Covenant feasts followed the rhythmic pace of the natural year giving typological meaning to it, so the Christian calendar also moves from the dark winter of the Nativity, through the rising of the sun, and the Resurrection of the world in the spring" (p. 185).

In this paragraph, Mr. Jordan exhibits his erroneous notions of worship which have often plagued his newsletters. Without discussing his questionable views on the weekly sabbath, we wish to dispute with his remarks on festivals.

The Old Testament festivals were God-given institutions designed to foreshadow Christ. Is this not an assault upon divine prerogatives, when Mr. Jordan asserts that the church has the right to institute man-made observances in place of the Old Testament festivals? Mr. Jordan's view of church power here is quite Romish, in that it grants the church a concurrent authority with scripture to devise new modes of worship. Indeed, the law of God expressly forbids adding to the worship of God in this manner (Deut. 12:32).

Further, those Old Testament types and shadows were designed for the church in its childhood. Now that Christ has come, the church has reached a state of maturity in which we no longer need such "weak and beggarly elements" (Gal. 4:9). We are not without a visible word, however, since we have the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. The sacraments complement the other ordinary elements of worship: the reading and preaching of the Word, prayer, and the singing of psalms. These present ordinances are sufficient; and the church has always suffered when men have sought to supplement divine worship by means of human innovation.

In conclusion, we do not believe this book lives up to its billing. Its eccentricities outweigh its exegesis. The reader must wade through pages of speculations in order to extract a few practical observations. Some may think it is worth the effort; others, including this reviewer, will not.

Copyright © 1984, 1985 by Kevin Reed

Presbyterian Heritage Publications
P.O. Box 1809922
Dallas, Texas 75218

Would John Calvin Excommunicate John Frame? by Dr. Reg Barrow
(In this short letter Reg Barrow replies to an inquirer [on Knox Ring] asking for comments concerning John Frame's claim [in his book on worship] that the traditional Puritan view of the regulative principle is a "minimalist" view of worship. Also noted in the this post was James Jordan's assertion that the classic view of the regulative principle is sectarian. Barrow, in the short space allotted on KR, begins to demonstrate how both Frame and Jordan have apostatized and would have been rejected by the Presbyterian and Reformed wing of the Reformation.)


A Warning Against the False and Dangerous Views of James Jordan Concerning Worship: A Book Review of Kevin Reed's Canterbury Tales by Dr. Reg Barrow


Biblical Interpretation (Hermeneutics) - Still Waters Revival Books - Puritan Hard Drive - Kevin Reed