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Saturday, September 15, 2007 

Incredulity at Fretheim on Jeremiah 23

I'm reading Fretheim's commentary on Jeremiah (ed. Nash, R.S. S&H Bible Commentary Series. [Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002]) for a sermon I have to preach next week. Overall, it has been a fantastic commentary, and I would highly recommend it. It is very thorough-going as a commentary, and as regards grammar and technical aspects, it plays quite nicely. Readers looking for a top line scholastic work should probably read Brueggemann's Jeremiah: Exile & Homecoming, but this interacts with his at important points and drives Jeremiah's rhetorical force better than Brueggemann's.

I couldn't believe what I read in his commentary, back to back.

After the analysis and commentary sections of an extended pericope, Fretheim utilizes a "Connections" section, where he deals with various aspects of thought, history, or supporting arguments. I'm not sure if this is unique to Fretheim or is standard for the series. Regardless, after concluding the exegesis of Jeremiah 22:1 - 23:8, Fretheim deals with three sections. The first is on ethics, but the second two deal with God's foreknowledge and divine-human agency, respectively.

Dealing with the conditional that YHWH proposes in Jeremiah 22:1 - 5, Fretheim notes that, "For each of these options to have integrity, God cannot know for sure what will in fact happen, at least at the time this oracle is delivered. If God knows for certain that the negative future will occur, then for God to offer the positive future would be a deception" (p. 329). In order for God to deal honestly, he contends, God must not be able to know what is yet to occur. He concludes, "Yet God, too, moves into a future that is to some extent unknown."

The next section deals with divine agency. In Jeremiah 23:2, the "shepherds" are blamed for driving the people/remnant into exile, while the following verse attributes this to God. Is this a problem for our borderline-open-theist Fretheim? Not at all. Bucking the scholarly consent (he dismisses Holladay's celebrated Fortress Press commentary and insight), Fretheim notes that "readers are not being asked to choose among these statements, as if only one of them could be correct" and that "agency is here conceived in a complex sense..." (330). While acknowledging that the evil shepherds, the Babylonians, and the people are all responsible agents for their various actions, it is actually that "God uses them to mediate His judgment." There you have it: a complex, nuanced, exegetical description of compatibilism.

I couldn't believe what I had just read. I wish you could see how close these two sections are to each other on paper. If ever I was a fan of redaction criticism, it would have to be now redacting between the older Calvinist Fretheim and the newer open theist Fretheim. I'm not sure how the two halves of his brain function so closely together: blatant Open Theism and compatibilist Augustinianism put side by side!

Of course, the best part is that Jeremiah's own texts go on to corroborate the prophecies of ch. 22 that Fretheim is certain show that YHWH's future is open. Apparently that doesn't phase his earlier (or later!) exegesis.

[theology] | [jeremiah]

I remember getting quite a bit out of Fretheim, though not the commentary you cited. I was not aware of his OVT tendencies? You hint at some type of "conversion," do you know when or why he chose to adopt some of those views? Do you know if this had any effect on his take on biblical theology?

Perhaps Carney would be able to add something to those questions as well.

We really enjoyed reading your thoughts, thanks for sharing. A couple questions we were throwing around: Why do we maintain that in order for both options in Jeremiah 22:1 to have integrity they must both be viable outcomes without God foreknowing the outcome. Why can't both options be viable options, even if God foreknows what will take place. The fact that God foreknows doesn't have to effect whether or not they are true options without deception. Was there anything grammatical or syntactical that Fretheim brough to light?
Thanks again! Michael and Rachel

@M & R -

Hey you guys! We just got your thank you notes. We loved your wedding and are praying for you both.

I agree with you - "The fact that God foreknows doesn't have to effect whether or not they are true options without deception." I think Fretheim is wrong on this point. See what I say to Ben as well. As to anything in the text, nope; Fretheim penned this section where he sort of "free reign" comments on various aspects of the text he notices.

@Ben -

I agree with you, Fretheim has been brilliant. I don't know that he has OVT tendencies as such; to my mind, it seems like he is so determined to follow where the exegesis leads him he's willing to follow it in two completely different directions. I admire his commitment to the text; I wonder at his inner consistency. I don't know to what extant (if any) this has on his biblical theology, but I've profited from it.

Again, I'm tempted to say that I don't think he is OVT, just that in this case his exegesis led him to articulate something very much like it.

Hey friends,

I would have to read the commentary to really make the call, but several things strike me.

1. Brian I think you are right that he is probably primarily concerned with exegeting exactly where he feels the text takes him leaving aside philosophical consistency. Sometimes I find that that encouraging other times I don't.

2. I'm sure both sides could find a way, semantically, to work in Fretheim's comments into their larger vision of providence and foreknowledge...the language is accommodating and God at times uses libertarianly free agents unilaterally.

p.s. Ben I read your comments below and that is why I don't mess with you. You are a freaking' walking history text. I don't even know who the scisianssslds are? Tell Anna I say hello.

Thank you, that was just an awesome post!!!

That is great to hear, thank you for reading!

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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