Logos Live: Jarvis Williams

Logos Live Image - Dr. Jarvis Williams & Mark Ward - February 2023 - 1200x630

What you’ll see in this Logos Live episode

Mark Ward interviews Bible scholar, professor, and author Dr. Jarvis J. Williams about biblical theology. Join us to hear about his life and work.

Jarvis J. Williams is an Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s published numerous academic monographs and scholarly articles and essays on Paul’s soteriology (broadly defined) in Romans and Galatians in its Second Temple Jewish context. Williams’s research focuses on soteriology in Second Temple Judaism, the Second Temple context of Paul’s soteriology, and Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. He’s a member of the Society of Biblical Literature.

To catch all of our Logos Lives, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or subscribe on YouTube.

Books by Jarvis Williams and Others

Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God

Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God

Regular price: $24.99

Add to cart
The Spirit, Ethics, and Eternal Life: Paul’s Vision for the Christian Life in Galatians

The Spirit, Ethics, and Eternal Life: Paul’s Vision for the Christian Life in Galatians

Regular price: $15.99

Add to cart
Galatians (New Covenant Commentary Series | NCCS)

Galatians (New Covenant Commentary Series | NCCS)

Regular price: $17.99

Add to cart
Christ Redeemed ‘Us’ from the Curse of the Law: A Jewish Martyrological Reading of Galatians 3:13 (Library of New Testament Studies | LNTS)

Christ Redeemed ‘Us’ from the Curse of the Law: A Jewish Martyrological Reading of Galatians 3:13 (Library of New Testament Studies | LNTS)

Regular price: $18.99

Add to cart
New Covenant Commentary Series | NCCS (17 vols.)

New Covenant Commentary Series | NCCS (17 vols.)

Regular price: $234.99

Add to cart
Wipf & Stock 2020-2021 Collection (9 vols.)

Wipf & Stock 2020-2021 Collection (9 vols.)

Regular price: $128.99

Add to cart
Baker 2021 Collection (56 vols.)

Baker 2021 Collection (56 vols.)

Regular price: $1,409.99

Add to cart

Interview transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.

Mark Ward (00:19):
Welcome to Logos Live. I’m Mark Ward, senior editor for digital content at the Word by Word blog here at Logos. My guest today is Dr. Jarvis Williams. Dr. Williams has taught at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 2013. He has published numerous books, including Christ Redeemed ‘Us’ from the Curse of the Law: A Jewish Martyrological Reading of Galatians 3:13, that’s in the Library of New Testament Studies monograph series. He’s done commentary on Galatians that I was just looking at yesterday in the New Covenant Commentary series. And he’s written Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God. He’s written a commentary on Romans. He’s written a brand-new book whose digital form we’re actually awaiting right now at the Logos offices called The Spirit, Ethics, and Eternal Life: Paul’s Vision for the Christian Life in Galatians. It’s a wonderful privilege to have Dr. Williams on the Logos Live show today, but his bio goes on much longer, and I’m gonna read some of it, even if it makes him a little bit awkward. His research interests are Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Pauline Soteriology, broadly defined. It says on his faculty page Pauline Theology and Soteriology in Second Temple Judaism. Dr. Williams is currently supervising PhD students who are working on some aspects of Pauline Theology and Galatians in its Second Temple Jewish context. So, Dr. Williams, I’d like to ask you a few questions for our Logos Live audience. We do focus on the Bible, and it sure seems so to you, especially the letters of Paul. And this month we have a theme on the Logos blog, Word by Word, that is biblical theology. So your most recent book with biblical theology in its title will be our focus, that’s Redemptive Kingdom Diversity. But first I just wanted to jump in by asking you someone who’s practicing in this field of biblical theology, how do you define it? How do you define biblical theology?

Jarvis Williams (02:19):
Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, thanks for having me with you. It’s a joy to be here today. You know, biblical theology is a phrase that different scholars have different definitions for, as a New Testament scholar. I wanna admit from the outset before I give you my definition, that my specialization, as you’ve just pointed out, is New Testament studies. But I’m interested as a New Testament scholar in biblical theology. And when I think about biblical theology, I think my definition is basically that we’re seeking to study the Bible on the, on the Bible’s own terms using the categories of the Bible. And we’re wanting to interpret the biblical text in its own historical context. And then we wanna think about the theology of those particular texts, that we draw from the Bible so that we, as best as we can, we want to let the theological reflections that we have developed from the Bible by using the language of the Bible. And we do that by looking at the Bible canonically. So in the case of the book that you referenced that I wrote, I’m not simply looking at Genesis or Exodus or Romans. I’m, I’m starting with Genesis and then trying to trace a particular, biblical theological theme throughout the entire canon. And then I’m drawing some that—

Mark Ward (03:31):
People of God—

Jarvis Williams (03:33):
The people of God. That’s right. And I’m, then, I’m drawing some, some practical applications from those, biblical reflections and theological reflections that come outta those actual, actual text. So that’s the way I would try to, to define biblical theology. But there are other definitions out there, offered by folks who are much more learned on the field, in the field than I am.

Mark Ward (03:53):
Yeah, I checked the back of all my Bibles and in the dictionary, there’s no definition of biblical theology. It’s not in the Bible. You’re allowed to define it in a way that’s useful, and you have done that, and what you’re doing is standard. However, you know, there are many books like in the new studies in biblical theology series, which will trace themes as you have done. And I was just reading through your book, Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God. And as I read through it, I found myself enjoying reading yet again through the story of Scripture. You went chronologically through, you were rehearsing narrative points that are precious to me, excuse me. But not only was your book not my first time reading through the stories of Scripture, it was maybe my 20th time or 30th reading through someone’s summary of them. And I wanted to ask, why do we do this? Like, why do we tell ourselves these stories over and over?

Jarvis Williams (04:44):
Hmm. Yeah, that’s a good question. I think as Christians, that we believe that the Bible is our sufficient word for eternal life and godliness. And, and the Bible needs to be read and reread and rehearsed over and over and over again, for multiple reasons. One reason is because we forget, we forget the stories of the Bible so easily, but as Christians, we also want to make sure that we are thinking about the world in which we live. We’re thinking about the way we go about our Christian practice by means of, of trying to lean into the biblical storyline and apply that to our particular, specific context. And, and I think one, one way that we constantly remind ourselves afresh of what God has said to his people and what God wants us as Christians to, to be and to do in the world, is that we rehearse and reread and, and reapply and, and, and think and pray over and over and over again, those scriptural attacks that are so familiar to us because those are indeed the, the, the words of God. And God gives us everything we need for eternal life and godliness to live the Christian life. And so we need that word on a regular basis.

Mark Ward (05:54):
I’ve been thinking about that, reflecting on it recently as my own children are in Sunday school. And just yesterday after church I asked, you know, what did you go over? And, one of my children, I won’t say which one has kind of been through these stories before, and, offered a little bit of a world, world weary cynicism. Like, why do we have to go over this stuff? Yes. I thought about your book, like, I’m still doing it. I still go over these stories myself and find them valuable. You’re shaped by them. So, while I was reading through your biblical theology of the people of God theme and Scripture, I did note something interesting to me that I just wanted to ask you about. You told the story of Miriam and Aaron complaining about Moses’s Cushite wife. And I’ve previously read authors such as John Piper, who I appreciate very much, who take somewhat different interpretations of that story than you did.

Mark Ward (06:49):
Not radically different in his case, but they offer various ideas I’ve seen about exactly what the sin of Miriam and Aaron was. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna read to you what you said. You said the issue in the text seems to have absolutely nothing to do with skin color for Moses likely had dark skin, rather the problem that Miriam and Aaron have with Moses’s wife, and that is that she is a cushite not in Israelite. I’m very open, I’m kind of asking you two questions here. I’m very open to you explaining a little further about why you took that interpretation, what you see in the narrative, but I also wanted to ask the more general question. I’m often interested in hermeneutics, why do otherwise faithful, careful interpreters, you know, such as John Piper coming from a similar tradition to you. Why do they end up disagreeing over the meaning of a story like this?

Jarvis Williams (07:39):
That’s a good question. I think the first question is—it is much easier from my perspective—the reason I took the interpretation that I took is because in Numbers 12, one, the, the text explicitly states that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married. He had married a Cushite woman. So you have twice the text emphasizing he married a Cushite woman. And so I think if you read further throughout the narrative, the issue with those two words sort of guiding my reading of the text, the issue seems to be she’s a Cushite, not an Israelite, as opposed to being a matter related to, to a skin color sort of issue, because Israel is a people, they were marked off by Torah. They’ve been delivered out of Egypt.

God gave them a law to mark them off and to identify them as his people and the internet to a covenant with them. And it seems to me the question, ‘has God only spoken with Moses?’, seems to emerge from this problem that maybe they seem to have, that he is married to this Cushite as opposed to Anite. So that’s one reason why I think I’m reading the text that way as to why other interpreters would have a different reading that might emphasize this, the skin color component. I think that interpretation is one where we’re trying as best as we can as Christians, we’re trying to apply the text to our particular, social context. And I think that that’s a good thing. We want to do that. And I wonder if, sometimes we bring our questions to the text, like, how do these texts apply to our contemporary questions?

And, and then at times maybe we could, begin to ask questions that the text is not necessarily explicitly answering. so I don’t see skin color being an issue anywhere really in the biblical text. but that is the issue that we really deal with in the American experience as it relates to, to the, to the, to the racial sort of problem. I think, could be that we want the Bible to apply to our particular social context and, and maybe that good desire can lead us to maybe ask some questions the text is not answering, and then to apply it in ways that the text is not speaking into. And so what I’m trying to do, and I could be wrong, you know, I, I’m, I’m open for pushback. I mean, my interpretation is an interpretation, but what I’m trying to do is let the language of the text as best as I can to kind of guide how I apply the text.

And I think other interpreters are doing the same thing. I just think that sometimes the application can, can be, a good application even if the text is not directly speaking into it. But I want, I want the text to kind of drive me to that, to the place of my contemporary experience, with the language the text is actually stating, and she was a Cushite woman, she was a Cushite woman has mentioned twice, and the text doesn’t seem to emphasize, like this idea of the problem with the color of her skin. But I could be wrong. I’m open to being persuaded otherwise.

Mark Ward (10:56):
That’s a very gracious answer. And I find that sometimes the question of what background do we bring to the text? You know, our, western cultural lenses get, can I say weaponized? So that, we’re told by a more post-modern brand of interpreter that you actually can’t see what that text is really saying. You can only see what your community says. I’ve strongly sensed that’s not the way you were treating that story. Not now, and certainly not in your book. and, I sometimes have come to the Bible with a little fear. Like, I want to make sure that I am not, you know, reading into the text something that isn’t there. I don’t think that fear is entirely bad, but for me, what that means practically is that I want to read multiple, you know, perspectives from accredited and faithful, careful interpreters who believe this is God’s word, so that I can check to see is there an area where I’m importing something. And so seeing your interpretation of that story was helpful alongside seeing many others. That’s why I have Logos, I can very easily, you know, pull up multiple interpretations. I’m curious as a sort of a follow up, you know, practically speaking, how would you, would you shade that any differently? Is that about what, what you would say in response to practically, how do we respond to the multiplicity of interpretations out there?

Jarvis Williams (12:25):
Hmm. Yeah. I, I think one of the things I wanna do as a biblical interpreter is I recognize that there are people who’ve been studying Scripture a long time, and who know Scripture a lot better than I know it. And I want to listen to what those other readings are saying, and I wanna take those readings and compare those readings with what the text actually says. And, and if, and then I want, I want my blind spots to be exposed when I read a text. And, and at the end of the day though, no matter what the interpretation is, what, what author you’re reading, we have to go back to the biblical text and ask ourselves, is this what the text is saying? And then we have to make an interpretive judgment based on the actual data of the text. And, then we apply that text responsibly as best as we can by the power of the spirit in our particular context, in a way that is faithful to what the author is intending us to understand in the text. And, and we all, we all fall short. I believe we all sin and fall short of the glory of God and our biblical interpretation. we’re all trying to do the best that we can, with the gifts and skills God has given to us. But I wanna hear what other people say about these texts and then make a judgment about what the text is actually saying and, and change my mind if the evidence right shows me that I’m wrong.

Mark Ward (13:44):
Right? I mean, the evidence you brought out is making me rethink the interpretation that I’ve accepted for so long. Not again that I think that it’s radically different, but you’re bringing out these narrative elements, this repetition of this one idea. I found that really helpful. I also quoted to you from your book, you said, “God’s chosen people in Christ are not the alternative. People chosen to execute a failed plan that his first people, Israel, were incapable of executing. Instead, God’s choice of and plan for Abraham and Israel anticipated and were part of his plan to crush the seed of the serpent by means of the seed of the woman.” Of course, you’re citing Genesis 3:15, God accomplishes, you said, his redemptive plan by fulfilling his promises of redemption to Jews and Gentiles through Jesus Christ. Could you unpack that a bit? What, what is it about the story of the Jewish people that makes it tempting for some Bible interpreters to see church as entirely taking over the role of Israel and God’s plan?

Jarvis Williams (14:48):
Yeah. The way I read the biblical story is I see God, of course, he creates a beautiful and perfect world in Genesis, chapters one and two, and creates human beings in his image. And then, you know, sin enters the world in chapter three and, and when, or the curse because of sin enters in chapter three and when, and when, God brings about judgment upon the serpent, the man, the woman, and the ground. He also gives us a promise of hope in Genesis 3:15. And the way I paraphrase that I, along with the way many other biblical scholars have paraphrased, is that God promises to crush the seat of the serpent by means of the seat of the woman. And to me, that seems like the key hermeneutical guide for how we read the rest of the Old Testament story, as well as entering into the New Testament story.

And so as the story progresses from Genesis 3:15, we see this seed language popping up in other places as well. I just wanna highlight a couple of those places we see it popping up again in Abraham in chapter 12, where God and, and elsewhere, where God promises to give Abraham lands and universal blessing. We see it also popping up in the case of David in Second Samuel 7:12–14, where God promises to give David a seed, a descendant who would reign over his kingdom and over his throne, and his kingdom would never end. And so God seems to be about the business and the Old Testament story of taking us on a journey, and giving us types and pictures and, and symbols along the way where he’s gonna bring about this great rescue plan in history.

And he’s gonna use real people to be agents through whom this promise is realized. And so I think with Abraham especially, is where we get, we begin to see this, this promise taking more, flesh on it, if you will, where, where we see Abraham is given offspring, but ultimately those aren’t the offspring that God is promising. And then we see the same thing with David. And then in the New Testament we see that Jesus is called the seat of Abraham, the seat of David Galatians 3:16, he’s the seat of Abraham. And so in how I’m reading the biblical storyline, it seems as though everything that God promises in the Old Testament story, the New Testament tells us that it finds its fulfillment in the realization of Jesus Christ. So all of those real promises to ethic Israel, very real promises, Gentiles are included within those promises by faith in Jesus.

And those promises are extended to or fulfilled for Jews, by means of Jesus. and that God’s redemptive plan that he’s, that he outlines force in the testament comes to its fulfillment realization in Jesus. And, to the point that Paul can even say that, we’re one new man in Christ, Ephesians two, and, and that the promise given to Abraham is realized by means of the justification of the Gentiles. And Galatians 3, and God preached the gospel of Abraham beforehand saying that the families of the Earth would be blessed, and that, and that’s realizing, and Jews and Gentiles being justified. And so I think, one way that we can see what God is doing through Abraham (in Abraham for the world) is by again, trying to take seriously that storyline and understanding that God’s revelation is unfolding. And then it comes to its realization, a culmination in Jesus. And, I think that can help us to, to not see these two covenants as two separate, unrelated, realities, but rather God unfolding a plan in one and bringing that plan to full fulfillment and realization in the other. That’s, that’s how I would answer the question.

Mark Ward (18:38):
That’s excellent. I find that you’re fitting well within the overall, you know, evangelical biblical theology movement, which is the theme at the Logos Bible software blog Word by Word this month. And one of the reasons it’s the theme is that it fits so well with the kind of emphasis that we have at Logos. We want to bring people to the Bible. And what does biblical theology do, except do exactly what you just did so expertly, and that is bring people up, I like to say, into the hot air balloon where you can actually see the whole forest. And I know that as a child growing up in church, there was never a time when I didn’t believe all this stuff, but there was a long time, 20 plus years, when I didn’t go up that high.

I wasn’t in the hot air balloon, I was stuck in the midst of those trees. I could not see the big picture, and therefore I was misinterpreting some of those trees. I wasn’t really understanding the small picture. I find that to be incredibly helpful and enriching. You wrote also, as I read through, I was just grabbing stuff actually in Logos and pulling it out to not to ask you about it. I’m gonna quote you again. You said, with regard to the New Testament, I argue this is you, that God predestined and chose to redeem by faith, some Jews and gentiles from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. That’s of course, reflecting revelation language to be part of a new multi-ethnic community transformed by and redefined in Christ without ethnic boundaries of division. I have ministered as an outreach pastor in places where I felt in, in the South, that there were ethnic boundaries of division that were so profound. It was very difficult to cross them. Why is it so difficult for Christians of different cultures? And I’ve seen this far beyond the US, why is it so difficult for people of different cultures, ethnicities to worship together?

Jarvis Williams (20:33):
Hmm. That’s a good question. Well, I think, I think the fundamental reason is of course, we’re, we’re all sinful. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. And sin is both an individual transgression as well, a cosmic power. I mean, sin is described in Romans 6 as this ruler, that rules and dominates people. And in Christ Jesus, of course, we’re liberated from that tyranny. But I think fundamentally sin and then sin takes on a life of its own, and it uses individuals to create social realities and structures and concepts that are for the purpose of alienating people from one another. And then I think also we have our own, individual stories and experiences and we have, in individual heritages where we feel more comfortable perhaps with certain groups of people as opposed to others.

But this is also true, I think, at the sociological level, there are people who feel much more comfortable when they are in their social status. I mean, often when we think of the racial divide, for example, the United States, I think we failed to think as much about the status divide within that, because there are people who might be from different ethnicities who feel quite fine, worshiping with people who share their social status, right? But it’s when you begin to bring people who are from different social statuses into that equation, that can make it difficult. So I think, you know, a whole set of reasons just, you know, sin, but also, cultural boundaries that we create so that we can feel more, I think, comfortable or safe.

And, and one of the things I think the gospel does push us toward, it doesn’t, I wanna be clear about this: I think I haven’t been clear enough in some of my work, but I’m not one who argues that every church should be multiethnic or can be multiethnic. But I am one who argues that the gospel seeks to unify all things and all people in Christ, so that I share kinship with people in Christ Jesus who are, who are not from my, ethnic group. That’s different from the kind of kinship I share with those who are, and those folks who are Christians, regardless of what their ethnicity is, their skin color is, they’re my brothers and sisters in Jesus. And there’s a kind of love that I have for brothers and sisters in Christ that needs to, that should transcend the kind of love I would have for people who are necessarily, who are in my same economic group or, ethnic group.

Right? and, and so I think, the gospel helps us to realize that. And then the gospel also creates these diverse communities in local church contexts, when those contexts allow for such, ethnic diversity. But back to your original question. I think the way in which sin works and, and histories that are reality mean that you can feel that you mentioned the South, I mean, you can just feel the historical realities that are still very much there in certain parts of the American South. And that’s hard to overcome, or shall I say, it’s hard to work through. Not impossible, but difficult, you know, and there are people who are deeply wounded still by right, the sins of the past that impact the present today. And it makes it a challenge. But, with God’s grace and with and with common sense and common grace and love, the power of the gospel and love and hard work and patience and tears and prayers, you know, the Lord can do what we might think is impossible in a very real, tangible way.

Mark Ward (24:30):
Yeah. I, as I went through your book, I felt like the love of the Christian community was your main answer. Like, practically, what do we do? I just saw that theme, you know, maybe that was jumping out at me for my own reasons, but I actually wrote my own dissertation in large part on love. But that has to be what bridges the gap. And I saw that, I just have to tell this story now that you said that I was the outreach pastor over a congregation that was a more healthy mixture of the different ethnicities in that area than was common in that city in the south. And there was an older African American woman who came every single Sunday and had her Bible and answered questions. And it was a very small service. We really got to know one another.

And she never uttered a word about racial or ethnic diversity. It never came up until years into knowing her. I visited her in the hospital and she’d had some kind of blood sugar problem, and she wasn’t quite like totally with it, you know, she was on some drugs. And the very first thing that she said to me was about race and ethnicity. And that’s what it’s, what struck me was what Jesus said out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. And it’s just like you just said somewhere on a deeper level that was in her, that had had an abiding impact on her. And I wanted to ask you a further question. Because I have a personal investment, because of those precious souls to whom I preach the gospel and God’s Word in a delightful way for years, it was one of my favorite opportunities in church ministry over the years. I was paying really close attention as you wrote, and I wanted you to explain something that might, I think initially appear to be a contradiction. I’m sure it’s not, and this is a softball question you can explain. But I read that you said that God was pulling together a multi-ethnic community. I read that quote just a couple minutes ago, but you said it’s a multi-ethnic community without ethnic boundaries. And I wanted to ask, how is that not a contradiction? Again, I’m not saying that it is, I’m asking you to—

Jarvis Williams (26:44):
Yeah, that’s a very good, keen observation. I think what I’m, what I’m trying to say, perhaps boundary was the, was not the best word I’m trying to say. That God is bringing together in Christ Jesus, some from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation without ethnic restrictions is probably, maybe a better word. And what I mean is that in Christ Jesus, God transforms us. He transforms our ethnic identities, but he does not erase them, obliterate them, or eradicate them. So I am still an African-American in Christ, and I still have parts of my identity that are still very much connected to my African-American identity that I had before I was a Christian. But in Christ Jesus, I’m a different kind of African-American. I’m transformed by the power of the Spirit. And, and I come together in Christ Jesus with people from different tongues, tribes, and nations and we, together in our ethnic diversity, we, become part of this one new humanity that is filled with many different tongues and tribes and people as and nations. And our ethnic diversity in Christ are no longer marks of division—is what I’m trying to communicate.

They’re, they’re no longer marks of separation. So that without boundaries, I mean that because you’re my brother in Christ, and we are in Christ together, there is nothing that restricts you from having table fellowship in Christ with me. Or there ought not to be. And there ought not to be anything in that that restricts me from having table fellowship with you in Christ. And by table fellowship, I just simply mean, having sweet fellowship as believers and loving one another and these sorts of things, because God has done a supernatural work in us that transcends any ethnic reality that divides us. Now again, doesn’t mean that—that doesn’t mean if you just, you know, take the gospel, peel every, all, all those problems are sort of wiped away. That’s not the point, right?

Because we still live in a real world with historical realities, which still has the presence and power of sin. And at the individual level and also at the structural level in certain parts of our world, there are still, there’s still deep pain and hurt that exists because of how sin and racism and ethnic division has worked globally. But my point is that in Jesus Christ, God has done something supernatural to make us part of his people. Amen. By Jesus’ blood and resurrection. And so now I should be able to look at you and treat you through the eyes of the gospel that requires me then to love in a way that both speaks truth and also forgives. And same thing you to me. And we experience those realities while maintaining clear, visual, ethnic distinctions. Those things aren’t eradicated or erased, but we’re transformed. So that what would have once divided us outside of Christ, should no longer be the dividing line between us because Jesus has done something supernatural. And we need to love each other in light of that reality and see each other as beautifully created in God’s image, in the face of our ethnic distinctions. That’s what I’m trying to get at. Now, perhaps boundary was the wrong word.

Mark Ward (30:23):
And it makes me reflect again on my experience of how I was in a ministry every Friday night. We would have some young boys like, you know, fifth grade up through, well, it ended up being into their twenties as the years passed from the neighborhoods around us. It wasn’t all one ethnic group, it was mostly African American young men. And, you know, I don’t have a whole lot of cultural similarities. You know, there are a lot of musicians, for example, that they would listen to that I had effectively zero knowledge of. And I would sometimes wonder how some of these boys who, as they got to 16 and 17, were cool.

You know, they have much cooler things to do than hang out with nerdy me and my buddies at this Friday night ministry. And what hit me was it’s love—love is crossing the cultural gap that stands between us. And that, again, was true not just of that ethnicity, but there were boys who were from a different social status. It’s kind of awkward to talk about still, but I saw love do that. And what really strikes me is I’m just filled with hope as I hear you talk, because when I would look out as a pastor living in that area at all of the problems and the huge cultural gaps and the distrust in between different groups, and it’s not just Black—it’s more than that. And at times you would despair. And I feel like our culture right now isn’t giving us hopeful messages.

It’s as if our ethnic identities go all the way down and there’s nothing deeper. Whereas the Christian faith provides us the image of God and the fallenness of all of us as amazing unifying factors. So as I read your book, I think it faced up to some of the difficulties, major difficulties that we face as fallen in finite creatures, but I was also filled with hope. And that leads me to another question about your book, and then I think, well, I’ll move on to just a couple other questions about your work beyond it. You wrote by primary concern, and this would be in your book—this is toward the beginning of your book—is to provide a biblical and theological survey of the people of God from Genesis to Revelation. And you did that, you did that so well. I really enjoyed it. Hmm.

And then you said you wanted to offer some basic and practical applications to Christians on how to live as citizens of the kingdom of God. And again, that’s a footnote here. That’s another reality that goes deeper right. Than our ethnicities, that is, or higher, I should say, that’s a higher citizenship than the one that I have in the United States of America. You said you wanted to offer some practical applications on how to live as citizens of the kingdom of God, as the people of God in this present evil age. I wanted to know, what are the leading practical applications that you, yourself have found useful and important from your own study in the time since you wrote that book? And I’m gonna follow up with a little comment here. You know, I got to your practical applications chapter and you know, I know New Testament scholars and I’ve read quite a bit of their work and I’m, you know, part of that world and have been for a long time. Very frequently the practical applications chapter feels tacked on and it’s pretty short , but you went on at some length, you’ve really thought through these things, and I was just impressed and pleased by the length of the practical application section, in, in your book again, what have you found useful and important as a practical application from your unsteady?

Jarvis Williams (34:06):
Yeah. Thank you so much, Dr. Ward. I was very kind of you to say that I think, if I could summarize what, what I think has been most helpful is just the importance of loving God and loving neighbor. And it seems to me what we’re really, what we’re talking about, what I’m trying to say in the book and the practical applications is just to the importance of the Bible’s message, as I’ve tried to sort of understanding and unpack it is pushing us as a people who are redeemed by Jesus’s blood and who come from different tongues and tribes and people as the nations is pushing us to love God and the love neighbor. And that requires us to, to have compassion, to have patience. It causes us to practice forgiveness, humility. And that’s, those things are hard.

The Bible’s pushing us to walk in the Spirit and by no means we feel the loss and the flesh to have love and joy and peace, and peace and patience and kindness and compassion and self-control. And so, I fall short of these things on a regular basis, on a daily basis. But one of the things I’m, I’m trying to work out in my home with my family, in my community, in my church, I’m also one of the pastors at my local church where we have a vision that is a redemptive kingdom diversity vision that we’re trying to love God, love neighbor steward our ministries in ways that point people to Jesus, in ways that help them to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, but also to help them learn how to love well and to live redemptively in the various vocational practices that they have and their relationships with their neighbors in a way that brings people together and offers hope in Christ in the midst of so much despair. So I think I would just say, you know, loving God and loving neighbor and making that more specific to the particular need that God has placed around me, where I can exercise that kind of love without, allowing the, the boundary markers of race and ethnicity to keep me from showing that love. The gospel pushes me toward people in patience and love. And I’m, I’m trying to live that out in a fallen world with God’s help and with my church and my family.

Mark Ward (36:33):
Praise the Lord. Yeah. Out of abundance of the heart, your mouth speaks and love comes right to your lips. I think that’s very much consistent with what you wrote. We did get a question from a viewer that’s live, just asking you about the title of your book, actually, Redemptive Kingdom Diversity. And somebody, Robert Underwood on Facebook asked, “What is a biblical theology of diversity?”

Jarvis Williams (37:06):
Yeah. Well, that’s a big question and I think it’s a great question. I don’t wanna dismiss it. I would encourage you to read my book because I try to do that in the book. I try to articulate what I mean by diversity. My view of diversity is very narrow. And I didn’t mean narrow in a positive way. It is grounded in God’s saving action in Christ. It’s grounded in the crucifixion, the penal substitutionary death of Jesus and his physical bodily resurrection from the dead. And it’s grounded in God’s mission to save some by the blood of Christ from every tongue, tribe, people and nation. And so when I talk about diversity, it’s in my book, it’s linked with God’s plan to redeem a people. So I could say more about that, but I would encourage you to read the book.

Yeah. And would see how I’m working it out, how I’m working it out throughout the biblical narrative, and then applying the biblical material to the, in the, in the 37-page conclusion that I have.

Mark Ward (38:08):
Yeah. And the question actually restates the title a little bit. You didn’t, you didn’t have the words biblical theology of diversity. You put it a little differently. so I, yes, I wonder— Go ahead. Go ahead.

Jarvis Williams (38:25):
No, no. Okay. Yeah, that’s helpful. So, yeah, I’m not, I’m not concerned about a biblical theology of diversity. Right, right. I’m concerned with redemptive kingdom diversity, a biblical theology of the people of God. Exactly. So I think in my subtitle, I’m kind of leading the witness a bit to tell you what I mean by redemptive. Kingdom diversity is focused on who are the people of God, what do they, what do they look like? What are the attributes that they possess, from Genesis to Revelation? And, and so I think the question is a great question, but I’m answering, I think a different question.

Mark Ward (39:05):
And that’s why your work fits, right, well within the tradition of, you know, contemporary evangelical new studies and biblical theology type books, there were many beyond that. Crossway has a series of biblical theology books too. You did exactly what you’re supposed to do in that genre, and that is just draw out the teaching of the Bible on a particular theme. And one thing I found striking, and then we’ll actually turn to some more of your writing, is that, you know, we have all these books on biblical theology, on biblical theological themes. And sometimes I’m thinking that’s a bit of a stretch. Like, you know, the Bible doesn’t actually say a whole lot about that thing, so are you drawing too much out of it? But as I read your book, I thought, boy, the Bible says a ton about the people of God.

That very phrase occurs often enough. And the theme, the concept is absolutely everywhere. Let’s turn so we don’t spend all of our time on that one book to some of your other interests. I’ve just got a couple questions here. For example, you wrote a chapter for Thomas Schreiner, which was the importance of reading Second Temple Jewish Literature for New Testament studies. And I wanted to admit to you, Dr. Williams, that I have a skeptical thought that I’m inviting you to argue me out of, I have sometimes looked at studies into Second Temple Jewish literature the same way I’ve looked at studies into discourse analysis, which is more my field. I’m more into Greek linguistics, and I’ve silently thought to myself, now I’m revealing it to everybody. You know, I’m not sure these studies deliver on all of their initial promises. Like, initially you’re like, oh, wow, there’s this whole new angle where I can, you know, that I can use to make sure I understand my Bible better. And at the end of the day, sometimes I wonder, was it worth all that effort? I’m inviting you now to tell me why I’m at least wrong about the Second Temple Judaism portion.

Jarvis Williams (41:02):
Yeah. Well, thank you for admitting that to me. This is the way I would look at it. I try to give the illustration of the importance of reading early Jewish literature, in a way that’s analogous to the biblical languages. So I would never say, for example, a person needs to know Greek or Hebrew to understand the basic message of the Bible. There are people who know the Bible a lot more, a lot better than I know it, who have never studied Greek or Hebrew, and they could tell you more about the Bible than I can. And I’d say the same thing is true with Jewish literature. There are people who’ve never read anything in Judaism, but they love the Bible and they understand its message.

I think my approach to the question would be that, knowing the biblical languages can help us in our interpretation of Scripture, although, one doesn’t have to know the biblical languages to understand the Bible, but they can certainly help us in our task of doing exegesis and theology. And I would say my approach to second Temple Jewish literature is the same, is that I can understand the message of Romans without reading anything in, in ancient Judaism. But if I understand those, those texts and the cultural context, in front of, in front of, which to read Romans, that I can be helped by that knowledge and how I’m reading the biblical, text so that I’m more careful, not immune, but more careful not to make anachronistic interpretations of the text. Right. You know, this question comes up so much from students and they’re great questions. Why should one read Josephus–

Mark Ward (42:55):
Why do I have to know this stuff?

Jarvis Williams (42:56):
That’s right. And I, I think, well, you don’t have to read Josephus, but Josephus, of course has, they’re, they’re issues with Josephus that we all know historically. But Josephus can help us understand, for example, some things about the New Testament in terms of the cultural context that the New Testament assumes. Because of the culture, the audience to which the New Testament is written, they share that knowledge. And we as twenty-first-century readers, we don’t, we don’t share that cultural context. So that’s how I would approach it. But as with anything, you know, some people would have an approach that could be suggested with, if you don’t understand these texts, right? If you don’t read this literature, you can’t understand the Bible. Well, my approach is not really that it is, you can be more likely to arrive at an interpretation that is not an anachronistic if you have a basic sort of understanding of the cultural context. That’s how I would look at it.

Mark Ward (43:53):
You know, I really had no idea what you would say, and that is an excellent answer. That’s really helpful to me. You know, I have to give an elevator pitch on the value of Greek and Hebrew on a pretty regular basis in the calling that I have and what I’ve found myself saying, because it’s difficult to explain to people who haven’t studied it exactly what the value is. You don’t really get that value until you study it or, otherwise I could just hand it to you without you studying it. What I’ve said is it doesn’t usually tell me what the right interpretation is, but it will on a regular basis [tell me] enough that it makes it worth it for me to, you know, understand these languages. It cuts me off from the wrong interpretation, tells me, no, that one’s grammatically impossible. You, you can’t go that direction. I just wanted to bounce that off of you. Is it similar in your judgment with Second Temple Judaism?

Jarvis Williams (44:43):
I think, you know, when we’re looking at historical questions, this is what I try to tell my students. The Bible is the living and breathing Word of God. It is infallible, inerrant, authoritative, perfect. But the Bible’s also written in a real historical context. And so when we’re asking a question like, ‘What does this text mean?’, we’re asking an historical question. And one thing that can help us be more likely to offer an accurate historical answer is if we can situate ourselves into the historical context in which the Bible was written. And the first place we go to do that is read the Bible. But then also what are, what are, what are shared, cultural codes and scripts that the Bible has with, with contemporary authors or readers that can help us understand, is this the right way to read this word and this text, this concept in this text, right.

Or for example, maybe this is a better example—when the Gospels make reference to the Sadducees, not believing in the resurrection, and they don’t really elaborate, right, a lot about what that means, but they tell us they don’t believe in the resurrection. Where can we go historically to see that practiced on the ground? Who is there a first-century source in addition to the Bible that can help us say, see a lot of other things about the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the Herodians and the different groups that were around in the days of Jesus that can give us a larger historical picture of what Jesus was up against? And, the answer is yes. You know, Josephus helps us there. And so then we can begin to make accurate judgements, assessments, statements about these groups of people that the Bible talks about without importing sort of this stuff onto these ancient groups that we’ve inherited for whatever reason, and that these ancient groups maybe not—didn’t even believe about themselves or write about what we’re saying. If that, if that makes sense.

Mark Ward (46:52):
Yeah, absolutely. Makes sense. If he’s parallel to be, as someone with an interest in Greek lexicography to the effort that lexicographers have to go into books and BDAG to discern the meaning of a given Greek term, they’ve actually, they’ve got to go back into Koine Greek literature of the time. And that is a corollary of God’s choice to reveal himself in history and to send his incarnated Son to a particular time at particular space as well in space time history. Yeah, that’s really helpful to me. I’m gonna be thinking about that. And let me just round out with a question about yet another book that you wrote because I was looking at it just yesterday, the Galatians volume for the New Covenant commentary series. Now in that you mentioned that your own doktorvater, Tom Schreiner, has written a commentary on the book as well. And of course there are many, many others. I have, I think, dozens of Galatians commentaries in Logos Bible software. Did you yourself have to face the question, why invest all the hours necessary in writing another Galatians commentary?

Jarvis Williams (48:06):
I think every person who writes commentaries is faced with the reality that there’s so many people who’ve said so much about the Bible, especially a book like Galatians where there’s so much done on that. I think one reason why commentary writing is important and in every generation and why we can, we should continue to write commentaries is because, at an academic level, the field changes, you know, different ways of understanding certain concepts and things and the text change. And so you want to write commentaries that are up to date with respect to the scholarship and the changes that are making in the field. But I think also there are—it’s important to write, continue writing commentaries just because we want to think, we want to think freshly about the biblical text and keep writing, in light of our context, commentaries that deal with the text and then apply the text into our particular social context.

My commentary, as you know, it’s only about 86,000 words. And I state in the preface, consistent with the commentary series’s vision that this is to the commentaries was written to give a clear, accessible exegesis of the text. But also there are some intentional, practical things I’m doing in the commentary as well. There are multiple sections where I’m applying the comment, the exegesis, to some specific issues in our contemporary moment. And then also it’s a commentary where, I’m not writing a comment— I’m writing a commentary of the biblical text as opposed to wearing out the reader with all of the technical right details of, of what’s going on in the scholarship. I thank God for those commentaries. I hope to write a commentary like that on another book of the Bible soon.

But this commentary is really for teachers, Bible teachers, students, who do not have a knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, and who want to live in the first century world of the text. And then think carefully about that and then apply it to their particular context. And I think we need more commentary writing because different commentaries do different things for different people. Some are written for scholars, some are written for students, some are written for students with a high level of learning, and others are written for people who just love the Bible. I don’t mean just love the Bible in a neighbor, I mean, who loves the Bible, but doesn’t have any formal theological training. Right. And so we need commentary writing to, to continue good commentary writing, accessible commentary writing, as well as technical commentary writing.

Mark Ward (50:53):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, it’s parallel maybe to why do pastors have to prepare sermons every week when, you know, we have some really excellent preachers and evangelicalism. Couldn’t we just record their sermon from last week and play it at church? There’s something about what direct and deep engagement with the Bible does to you as a teacher of God’s word. It keeps you tied to the fountain. You know, I’m thinking of the ad fontes spirit of the Renaissance and of the Reformation. And I feel that in your work, when I read through that biblical theology of the people of God, here’s somebody who lives in the Bible text. You did just mention, Dr. Williams, that you are working on another commentary—I was going to ask you anyway. Your faculty page says that you’re working on several more book projects. Are there any of those that you could describe for us?

Jarvis Williams (51:42):
Yes, I have a book that’s coming out in a few weeks. As you mentioned earlier on ethics: The Spirit and Eternal Life in Galatians, I’m very excited about that one. I’m currently writing, or I’ve finished writing a book on theological themes in Colossians and Philemon that I’ve sent off to my, to my editor and the press, and they’re doing their editorial work on that now. And I’m currently writing a book on Paul’s gospel in Romans that I’m also excited about. I have some other projects as far as commentaries go. I intend to write a commentary. I have a contract for it already, a commentary on Ephesians and looking forward to doing that and as well as some other things in the works. And I have a short commentary on Romans about it’s only 20,000 words. Very, very short, very accessible. That will hopefully be out soon.

Mark Ward (52:44):
Yeah. What a privilege, what a privilege it is to study God’s Word. And for that to be your means of making a living. You know, that’s not why we’re in this. Our delight in God’s Word is what drives us. And I can sense it in you. What a privilege we both have. And it’s been a privilege to speak to such a knowledgeable and gracious Bible teacher such as yourself, Dr. Williams. I just wanna say, may the Lord bless your teaching of Greek exegesis and the many other things that you teach at a very important seminary, which has been used by the Lord to do much for God’s kingdom. Thank you so much for coming on Logos Live.

Jarvis Williams (53:25):
Thank you so much, Mark Ward.

Mark Ward (53:27):
That wraps it up for our Logos Live interview. I hope you’ll join us another time for all the other great interviews that we have, and check out the Word by Word blog at logos.com/grow. Also pronounced logos.com/grow. Either one is fine, both will get you to the right place. Thank you so much for joining us.

Share
Written by
Jason Stone

Jason Stone is the Sr. Community Manager at Faithlife. He has a master’s in biblical exegesis from Wheaton College Graduate School and over a decade of experience with digital marketing, church communications, and ministry.

View all articles

Your email address has been added

Written by Jason Stone
Help us improve Word by Word
This is default text for notification bar