Monday, February 17, 2020

FAQ about 'Bearing God's Name' (IVP)

For the past four months, since before Bearing God's Name was even released, I've spent a good deal of energy traveling to speak about the book and interviewing for blogs and podcasts. Now that many hundreds of copies of Bearing God's Name are in circulation, thoughtful readers from around the world have written to tell me how much the book has meant to them. (I love hearing from readers!) Some of them have also asked me questions. Maybe you've wondered these things, too:

1. Which Bible translation are you reading that says "You shall not bear the name of Yahweh your God in vain"? I've checked all over the place and I can't find that one.
I'm using my own translation from the Hebrew "original" (we don't have the very first Hebrew texts, but I'm translating from the standard Hebrew text used today, which is the product of very careful scholarly reconstruction). English translators have apparently been befuddled by Exodus 20:7 in Hebrew and concluded that it is figurative or shorthand for something related to speech. But there are no speech-related verbs or other clues in the verse that would make it about speaking God's name. And nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible is the verb "bear" used to mean speech without explicit clues in the immediate context. Instead, the verse appears in close proximity to a passage where the high priest is physically bearing or carrying names (Exodus 28:29). 
2. If all believers wear an invisible tattoo of God's name, what does that mean for actual tattoos? Are they okay for Christians or not?
In the Torah, tattoos and other permanent body markings are prohibited (Lev 19:28 and Deut 14:1-2). In that ancient context, markings like this apparently showed allegiance to the dead or to other deities. In my view, Yahweh was asking his people not to send mixed messages about their allegiance. While tattoos today do not usually carry the same connotations as in ancient times, I think the same principle can be applied. If you're considering a tattoo, ask yourself whether it competes with your claim to belong fully to God. Does it send mixed messages? 
3. Is bearing God's name similar to being made in the image of God? Is Genesis 1 really talking about the same concept?
There are similarities between these concepts, but they are not the same thing. Every human being is the image of God, but only members of the covenant community bear God's name. I talk about this briefly in Bearing God's Name, but I'm hoping to write a prequel that explores more fully what it means to be God's image.
4. How do you know that 1 Peter was written to a Gentile audience? If you're wrong about that, does the whole thing fall apart?
Not everyone agrees that Peter was writing primarily to Gentiles, but all scholars agree that he was writing to followers of Jesus. Peter clearly saw Jesus-followers as covenant members, no matter their ethnicity. Acts 10, 11, and 15 bear clear witness to Peter's theology -- he no longer sees a distinction between Jews and Gentiles. The early church leaders made a clear call that Gentiles who follow Jesus "bear God's name" (see Acts 15:14). So my argument does not rely solely on the audience of 1 Peter. There are other persuasive ways to make the case.
5. In this book do you talk about all the names of God?
No. Strictly speaking, God only has one name -- Yahweh. The rest are titles that describe aspects of his character or role. The focus of my book is on how God claims people as his own by placing his unique, personal name on them.
6. What did you mean on page 66 when you said that God repented? Are you saying God sinned?
No, God did not sin. To repent is to change your mind about something. In Exodus 32:14, the same word that is elsewhere translated "repent" is used to describe what God did in response to Moses' intercession. God had decided to destroy the rebellious Israelites, but Moses persuaded him not to on the basis of God's own character. What a mystery! 
7. How long did it take you to write this book?
I began writing in May of 2018 and finished in early September of 2018, so basically 4 months. That's fast, but I had 8 years' worth of research already completed (for my doctoral dissertation and several other research projects during seminary and grad school), so it was simply a matter of saying what I already knew.
8. Is there a study guide to go with Bearing God's Name so that a small group can read it together?
Yes! The study questions are listed in the back of the book, along with suggested Scripture passages to read and Bible Project videos to illuminate each chapter.
9. Are you going to make a video curriculum to go with the book?
Yes! I'm filming a video curriculum at the end of February 2020 to go with the book. Watch this space for information about where to find it!
10. Are you available to come speak to my church or small group?
I love speaking to church groups. Contact me about speaking for your congregation, small group, church retreat, or other special events. Because I'm a full-time professor, I have constraints on when I can travel, but I'd love to explore whether we can work something out.
If you have other questions, feel free to post them in the comments below!