There have been some comments recently about the Interpretive Maximalism of James B. Jordan. This has been an ongoing discussion for nearly 30 years.
An article by Pastor Uri Brito from 2015 posted on Facebook brought the topic to my attention again: “James B. Jordan and Interpretive Maximalism.” Since I’ve known Jim since the mid-1970s and have benefitted from his works over the years, I thought I would weigh in on the subject. Since the posting of Pastor Brito’s article, Jim’s wife, Brenda, has died after a long and courageous battle with cancer and Jim has had a stroke.
For Jim’s comments on Interpretive Maximalism, check out his article “What Is Interpretive Maximalism”? Begin with it if you are not familiar with the subject and then read the following.
One of the most frustrating things about Bible commentaries is that many of them concentrate on minutia while often missing the biblical theological message of the text and its relationship with the rest of Scripture. The grammar, setting, audience, and other interpretive principles are important and necessary. The Bible was written to a particular audience at a particular period of time. Knowing these things is extremely important. Sometimes, however, the forest is missed because so many trees get in the way.
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The first readers of the Law, Prophets, and Writings and the New Testament gospels, Acts, and letters did not have commentaries or access to Ancient Near Eastern Studies at their disposal. What they did have was a growing corpus of what we know today as Scripture. They were expected to glean from Scripture what God wanted them to know. They didn’t always get it, but Jesus expected that they should and would:
• Then Jesus said to them, “O foolish ones, how slow are your hearts to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then to enter His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was written in all the Scriptures about Himself (Luke 24:25–27).
• Jesus said to them, “These are the words I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (24:44–45).
• Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops (1 Cor. 9:9–10).
• Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor. 10:11).
Jesus gave His disciples a lesson in biblical theology on how all the Bible points to Him, not only a few verses here and there. As a result, the Bible — the whole Bible — needs to be read this way. This means to understand the whole Bible we need to be intimately acquainted with the whole Bible and its details and its thematic connections, for example, from the head crushing of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), Jael’s tent peg through the head of Sisera (Judges 4:21), the unidentified woman who crushed the head of Abimelech (9:53), David’s death blow to the head of Goliath (1 Sam. 17), Jesus’ head crushing at Golgotha — place of a skull — (Mark 15:22), and the promise that God would soon crush Satan under the feet of the early Christians (Rom. 16:20). This is no easy task. But by doing so, we will see the many connections of themes found in every part of Scripture always asking the question, Why did the Holy Spirit mention this or that?
Often when I got stuck on a text, I would call Jim and ask his thoughts on the passage. He would always point me to other places in Scripture where the same theme is dealt with. For example, after reading many commentaries on 2 Thessalonians 2 dealing with the man of lawlessness, I called Jim. He told me the answer is found by comparing what Paul wrote with similar language and themes found elsewhere. After taking this biblical theological approach, it was amazing what I was able to deduce from the Bible alone. Over time, I found other writers who had done something similar, for example Johann Christian Schoettgen’s Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2.[i]
It was the approach that J. Marcellus Kik took in his book Matthew 24. A similar thing happened with my study of Ezekiel 38 and 39 and Zechariah 12 and their connection with the book of Esther in my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance. I’m doing the same thing with Zechariah 14, although not as well as Jim could do.
When our Sunday school class was teaching on Judges, I gave a copy of Jim’s commentary Judges: God’s War Against Humanism to one of the men teaching the class. He later told me it was the best commentary he had ever read on Judges.
Do I always agree with Jim? I do not. But even he would say that’s OK. I don’t agree with every person I read and study, even those who have influenced me over the years, but when it comes to the most difficult passages, Jim is the first person I would call.
Here’s a test for those critical of Jim’s work. Read every commentary on Exodus 23:19 and then read Jim Jordan’s take on the passage. Here are some of the typical interpretations of the prohibition of boiling a kid in his mother’s milk:
- Because it was an idolatrous practice.
2. Because it was a magical (occult) practice to try to make the land more productive.
3. Because it was cruel to destroy a baby goat in the very milk which sustained it.
4. Because it shows contempt for the parent-child relationship.
5. Because it would symbolically profane the Feast of Ingathering.
On the principle that “it was written for our sake” (1 Cor. 9:10) like the entire Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:11), Jim explains this law in his book, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21–23 (190–192):
It is sometimes thought that boiling a kid in milk was a magic ritual used by the Canaanites, and that this is why it was forbidden. The text, however, does not forbid boiling a kid in milk, but in its own mother’s milk. The reason is that life and death must not be mixed. That milk which had been a source of life to the kid may not be used in its death. Any other milk might be used, but not its mother’s.
This law is thrice stated in the Torah (Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Dt. 14:21). It is obviously quite important, yet its significance eludes us. There are many laws which prohibit the mixing of life and death, yet we wish to know the precise nuance of each….
We notice that the kid is a young goat, a child. The word only occurs 16 times in the Old Testament. In Genesis 27:9, 16, Rebekah put the skins of a kid upon Jacob when she sent him to masquerade as Esau before Isaac. Here the mother helps her child (though Jacob was in his 70s at the time). In Genesis 38:17, 20, 23, Judah pledged to send a kid to Tamar as payment for her services as a prostitute. In the providence of God, this was symbolic, because Judah had in fact failed to provide Tamar the kid to which she was entitled: Judah’s son Shelah. Judah gave his seal and cord, and his staff, as pledges that the kid would be sent, but Tamar departed, and never received the kid. When she was found pregnant, she produced the seal and cord and the staff, as evidence that Judah was the father. The children that she bore became her kids, given her by Judah in exchange for the return of his cord and seal and his staffs. Finally, when Samson visited his wife, he took her a kid, signifying his intentions (Jud. 15:1).
These passages seem to indicate a symbolic connection between the kid and a human child, the son of a mother. (Indeed, Job 10:10 compares the process of embryonic development to the coagulation of milk.) The kid is still nursing, still taking in its mother’s milk in some sense, Jacob and Rebekah being an example of this. The mother is the protectress of the child, of the seed. This is the whole point of the theology of Judges 4 and 5, the war of the two mothers, Deborah and the mother of Sisera. Indeed, the passage calls attention to milk. The milk of the righteous woman was a tool used to crush the head of the serpent’s seed (Jud. 4:19ff; 5:24–27). How awful if the mother uses her own milk to destroy her own seed!
Accordingly, one of the most horrible things imaginable is for a mother to boil and eat her own child. This is precisely what happened during the siege of Jerusalem, as Jeremiah describes it in Lamentations 4:10, “The hands of compassionate women boiled their own children; they became food for them because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.” The same thing happened during the siege of Samaria, as recorded in 2 Kings 6:28ff. In both passages, the mother is said to boil her child.
We are now in a better position to understand this law, and its placement in passages having to do with offerings to God. The bride offers children to her husband. She bears them, rears them on her milk, and presents them to her lord as her gift to him. Similarly, Israel is to present the fruits of her hands, including her children, to her Divine Husband. She is not to consume her children, her offerings, or her tithes, but present them to God. The command not to boil the kid in its own mother’s milk is a negative command; the positive injunction it implies is that we are to present our children and the works of our hands to God.
Jerusalem is the mother of the seed (Ps. 87:5; Gal. 4:26ff.). When Jerusalem crucified Jesus Christ, her Seed, she was boiling her kid in her own milk. In Revelation 17, the apostate Jerusalem has been devouring her faithful children: “And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” Her punishment, under the Law of Equivalence, is to be devoured by the gentile kings who supported her (v. 17). (Source)
We might quibble over some elements of Jim’s Interpretive Maximalism, but which is the more satisfying interpretation? Jim’s approach to hermeneutics is Bible-centered. He builds his case with the building blocks of Scripture. This approach requires great knowledge of the Bible. It takes great knowledge of the Bible to critique Interpretive Maximalism. It’s wrong-headed to dismiss it because of some disagreements with Jim’s interpretations. But this is true of nearly every Bible commentator. Consider how many Bible expositors are so wrong on the topic of eschatology. Again, not a full study of the topic only some thoughts.
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[i]The full title reads, Johann Christian Schoettgen’s Hebraic and Talmudic Background on the Entire New Testament [Horae Ebraicae et Talmudicae in universum Novum Testamentum] Supplemented by The Background of John Lightfoot on the Historical Books with the Epistles and the Apocalypse Similarly Illustrated. Also Included are Select Discussions on Sacred Theology, and Indices of Scripture References, Significant Words and Important Topics (1733): http://goo.gl/auAwzV