Validating a Principle of Interpretation in Job

In a forthcoming book (Lord-willing) on How to Study the Book of Job, I walk the reader through a series of keys to help them interpret and process through the speeches of Job’s friends, which occur in alternating cycles from chapter 3 until chapter 27. One of these keys I simply called, “take the good and leave the bad.” The idea behind this is that we have been so programmed to interpret all that Job’s friends say as inherently bad, representing incorrect theology and uncharitable dealings with their suffering friend. Conversely, this forces us to assume that everything Job has to say is inherently correct. Neither position is accurate and will inevitably lead to an incorrect interpretation of the speeches and perhaps even the sweeping narrative of the book. Therefore, we must hold in our hand a consistent grid by which we read all of the speeches, except those from God (chap. 39-41), namely take the good and leave the bad.

I recently stumbled upon one example of how the Scriptures utilize this principle in it’s use of Job in the New Testament. Writing in the first letter to the Corinthians (which is actually his second letter, 1 Cor. 5:9) the Apostle Paul cites Job 5:13 in 1 Cor. 3:19b,

For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

First, we must draw our attention to the little phrase, “for it is written.” This is a common tool used by the inspired writers of the New Testament which provides a note of continuity between their message and what is commonly called the Old Testament, more properly the TANAK, that which had already been written, circulated, and well-known in their day. In saying, “it is written,” it also gives authority to the book of Job as the Word of God. Additionally, it validates the apostolic writers own message in that they are upholding the authority of the written word and proving that they are simply building on the foundation of what God has already revealed. Essentially it is the equivalent of ‘Thus saith the Lord.’

In the case of the Apostle’s letter, more specifically in this opening discussion on wisdom, he utilizes this phrase, “for it is written” six times; 1 Cor. 1:19, 31, 2:9, 16, 3:19, 20. This sets the foundation for the Apostle’s argument against boasting in human wisdom over and against the authority of Scripture. These latter two link back to the opening quotations in chapter 1.

Our next point of observation is to note the use of Job 5:13 in 1 Cor. 3:19b. However, depending on the bible version we are using, we see that the quotation is not word-for-word. Normally differences between the words used in the New Testament vs. the original citation in the Old Testament is primarily due to the New Testament author’s use of the LXX, or Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the original TANAK being written almost entirely in Hebrew). In this case, Paul is not quoting directly from the LXX, nor is he quoting directly from the Hebrew, though it is closer in its approximation. As Ciampa and Rosner point out in their Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, “The differences may be explained as Paul offering his own Hebraizing revision of the present LXX or his own translation of the Hebrew, or that he is quoting a wholly independent translation of the Hebrew text of Job.”

With this background before us, we turn now to the the actual quotation from Job 5:13, which comes in the first speech of Eliphaz, the unofficial representative of Job’s miserable comforters. With Job, we should recall that each of his three friends offer counsel, to which Job offers a direct reply. These back-and-forths occur in three cycles, the last of which is broken off and interrupted by another speech by Job. In this first speech, Eliphaz rebukes Job in chapter 4, sets forth his own understanding of retribution, i.e. that Job’s affliction is a direct result of sin, and then in 5:8-16, he “reinforces the idea of God’s superiority over human wisdom and strength” (Ciampa and Rosner).

Turning to our principle of interpretation for the speeches in the Book of Job, we must agree with the truth of the statement, that God is wiser than man and that, just as the Apostle has used this verse, it is true that God catches the wise in their own craftiness. This would be part of the “good” to hold on to in Eliphaz’s speech. The problem is not with the doctrinal accuracy of the statement, but is instead with the application of the truth. This is where the majority of the error lies with Job’s friends, namely that they may in fact have correct knowledge, but cannot rightly apply it in the least bit.

Not only has this principle of “take the good and leave the bad” been proven true by the Apostle’s use of Eliphaz’s speech, but may it also be an exhortation for us when we offer counsel to our friends. It is not enough to be able to cross the proverbial T’s and dot the proverbial I’s of doctrinal precision. That sets us up to be nothing more than miserable counselors. We need also the wisdom of God, that which the Apostle is describing in his Corinthian letter, in order to rightly apply those truths and bring God wrought comfort to those who are afflicted.

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