Category Archives: James Jordan

Does knowing music help understand the Bible?

James Jordan affirms and explains:

Does it help to be a musician to understand the Bible? Yes, because the Bible indicates that this is so.

First, music is the God-appointed way of worshipping Him with His own words. The psalms are to be set to music and sung, and in fact a great deal of Western art music developed out of the complex ways in which psalms were set by art musicians. More than that, however, we find in the Masoretic Hebrew text of the Old Testament a whole system of pitch marks, which indicate the chanting lines for the text as it existed when the Masoretic text was produced. A French musical scholar named Haik-Vantoura has offered a decoding of these pitches, but whether she is right or not in her suggested system, there is no doubt but that the text was originally chanted in worship. Sung worship is typical of all pre-modern worship all over the world.

Second, the Spirit is given to help us understand the Word, and the Spirit is the Glorifier. He is the Breath, the sounding forth of the Word. Whenever words are said out loud, they are said musically. Your speech goes up and down, is loud and soft, is punctuated rhymically by consonants and emphasis, assumes various tones (timbres; such as rough, kind, whiny, etc.). In short, all speech is quasi-musical. The Spirit inspires music, and He is the Music of God, who is Author, Word, Music. Thus, being musical and learning about music should add to our ability to grasp the text.

Third, we find that the priests and Levites were established as the teachers of the Word in Israel; but they were also set up as the musicians in the Temple. By linking these two things, God was saying that a teacher of the Word would be wise also to be a musician. (Levites were also guards, and some familiarity with what that means is also good for a teacher/elder in the Church.)

Thus, we see that God programmed music into the minds and hearts of those set apart to interpret the Bible, and into the minds and hearts of all those in Israel who would encounter the text more generally.

In sum, if we want to train people in understanding the Bible more fully, it is good to train them in musical understanding. Music should be part of the educational preparation of anyone engaged in Biblical study and hermeneutics.

Why isn’t this done today? Because of the influence of Western rationalism, especially through the “science ideal” of the Enlightenment. Poetry, which used to be sung, is sung no longer. Many people don’t realize that even post-Renaissance poetry should be read out loud; it should be heard, if not actually sung. (I have a lot of hope for what may eventually develop out of rap music, despite its sorry beginnings today; it moves toward a restoration of the original form of poetry.) We read silently. We no longer sing or whistle while we work. Philosophy, which is contemplative rather than active and liturgical, has influenced theology and Bible study way too much.

Thus, we don’t live in a social and ecclesiastical context that would enable us to read and understand the Bible as well as we might. Restoring music to our lives will help.

James Jordan and the Simplistic View of the Regulative Principle

In an article of appreciation for James Jordan and his theology, Anthony Cowley quotes extensively from Jordan’s studies on worship. Among them, is a strong critique of the Puritan expression of the regulative principle:

The simplistic version of the regulative principle is hard to apply. First of all, no one is able to apply it without modifying it, because we find no Biblical command for church buildings, pews, etc. Second, in its simplistic form the principle is almost always applied dispensationally, as if only the New Testament were allowed to teach us about worship. Another problem, which is obvious when one reads the literature coming out of such circles, is that the principle often leads straight to a form of legalism. Instead of finding the large, overarching principles of worshipping Scripture and noting particulars in that context (as the Reformers did), we are enjoyed to find explicit detail statements to back up every little thing.

The “Puritan” approaches the bible with preconceived ideas of what constitutes evidence and what constitutes proof. He does not get his hermeneutics from the Bible, but from modern rationalism. If the Bible indicates something “indirectly,” or by way of example, this is not as good as if the Bible comes right out and says something “directly,” in terms of what modern man thinks is “direct.” Thus for traditional puritanism and Presbyterianism, the fact that the New Testament books nowhere explicitly command the use of musical instruments in worship, proves (for them) that it is forbidden to use musical instruments in worship. This is in spite of the overwhelming Biblical evidence in both Old and New Testaments that God wants musical instruments used in His worship. The point here is that the Puritan and Presbyterian traditions bring arbitrary and rationalistic canons of proof to the Word of God, and demand that the Bible submit to these modern notions of logic and proof.

Biblical Interpretation

Jim Jordan writes in the Introduction to his Judges’ commentary:

We do not need some specific New Testament verse to “prove” that a given Old Testament story has symbolic dimension. Rather, such symbolic dimensions are presupposed in the very fact that man is the image of God. Thus, we ought not be afraid to hazard a guess at the wider prophetic meanings of Scripture narratives, as we consider how they image the ways of God (xii).

666 and Neron Caesar

Leithart wants the best of both worlds by reconciling Jim Jordan and Richard Bauckham. In my estimation, he succeeds:

666 is the numerical value of Neron Caesar, spelled in Hebrew letters.  It’s the number of a man.  As Richard Bauckham points out (Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation), 666 is also the numerical value of therion (beast), spelled in Hebrew letters.  It is the number of the beast.  Thus, Bauckham suggests, “The gematria does not merely assert that Nero is the beast: it demonstrates that he is.  Nero’s very name identifies him by its numerical value as the apocalyptic beast of Daniel’s prophecy.”

James Jordan argues that the number has “nothing” to do with Nero, and that its source should be traced back to the number of talents of gold imported to Solomon’s kingdom every year – 666, according to 1 Kings 10.  This accumulation marked the beginning of Solomon’s downfall, as he began to multiply gold, and later girls and guns.  For Jordan, the number indicates that the Jewish leaders had become Solomonic, specifically, it seems, in their greed for gold (plug in Nick Perrin’s recent Jesus the Temple here).

Bauckham’s suggestion is elegant; Jordan’s has inner-biblical intertextuality going for it.  Can we split the difference?  It seems that Jordan’s rejection of the Neronic connection is hyperbolic, since the land beast urges everyone to worship the sea beast, identified with Rome and Rome’s current ruler is Nero.  The number is a tensive symbol: It is Solomonic, indicting the temple leaders who worship the sea beast to keep the gold flowing in, and it is the number of a man, Nero, who is also the head of the beast, Rome.

Liturgical Edenic Sin

Jim Jordan writes:

To put it bluntly, Adam fell by letting a woman be the pastor of the Garden church. He allowed her to make the decision about the sacramental tree, to be the authority over the sacramental food. He allowed her, in other words, to be in charge of the Lord’s Table.

A Liturgical Helper

James Jordan writes:

Worship happens when “two or three” are gathered. A “testimony of two witnesses” is needed for this kind of worship. To be sure, we can worship privately and individually, but that is not the best and highest form of worship. For the worship in the Garden to be true and complete, Adam needs a liturgical helper.

Liturgical Distinctions between man and woman

Jim Jordan–as always–has a provocative thesis in his well-known article entitled Liturgical Man, Liturgical Woman. Jim’s thesis is that “the differences between men and women are, by creation design, fundamentally liturgical and only secondarily biological and psychological. To put it another way, my thesis is that the physical and psychological differences between men and women are grounded in their differing liturgical roles.”

James Jordan on Healing

It is important to understand that only the gospel gives men health. The labor of physicians is important, but only as a means of holding back the curse. Physicians cannot give men true health. Nor can eating “health foods ,”  fasting, exercise, colonies, or any other feature of the Old Creation. The first creation is decaying. It is only the New Creation that can bring true health, through transfiguration. It is only in Christ, and in eating His Spiritual food, that healing can take place. —The Sociology of the Church