Bearing God’s Name, Why Sinai Still Matters by Carmen Joy Imes, IVP Academic, 2019.

This was actually the last book I read in 2020, and I enjoyed perusing through it again in order to write this delayed review. You’ll note it is published by the academic division of IVP, but it is not your typical academic book. It does cover topics that would typically only be addressed in academic works, but is written in a conversational way that is accessible to your everyday Christian reader. Really, don’t be intimidated! Imes’ tone is warm and down-to-earth throughout the book.

There are “helps” for wherever you happen to fall on the Bible knowledge spectrum. For example, Imes directs you to videos from The Bible Project if you need some basic review, or the end of each chapter has a “digging deeper” section that suggests more scholarly sources. I truly think this book has value for both everyday Christians and academic types. Sometimes certain academically inclined folks don’t know how to teach or discuss certain issues with lay folks, only talking over their heads, sadly making theology or deeper biblical studies seem irrelevant to real life or only for the elite. This book shows that need not be the case!

Okay, so finally, what is this book about? Christians can be confused or end up with faulty beliefs, motivations, and actions in life when they don’t properly understand how the Old and New Testament connect with each other, especially when it comes to the law. It opens: “The first and foremost commonly made mistake with the Old Testament law is to ignore where it appears. Many Christians assume that in the Old Testament era the Israelites had to earn salvation by following the Sinai law, while Jesus did away with that notion, making salvation available for free. This is a terribly unfortunate caricature of the Old Testament, but it is easily resolved by taking a closer look at the story.” – page 11

Imes helps us see that Christians shouldn’t just ignore the Old Testament. It is helpful for living the Christian life. It is not just irrelevant history to be disregarded since Jesus arrived on the scene. As the book’s subtitle states: Sinai still matters! While the book focuses on walking us through a better understanding of the Old Testament, later chapters address the New Testament and bring clarity about how Jesus fulfilled the law.

I’ll highlight some points of interest:

♦ The Israelites were delivered or redeemed out of slavery in Egypt BEFORE the law was given to them!  “God did not say to them, ‘Do all these things and I will save you from slavery.” He saved them first, and then gave them the gift that goes with salvation, instructions on how to live as free men and women.”  – page 35

♦ Have many of us misunderstood the third commandment?? Imes calls it “the Name Command.” It would appear so! While misusing God’s name IS a serious matter and we should not use God’s name as a swear word, that is not what this commandment is ultimately about. The Israelites were to be “set apart” – to live differently than the nations around them. Their call was to bear God’s name among the nations, that is, be representatives of Yahweh. To behave badly, to fail to live in a way that honors God is … to take God’s name in vain. Skipping to later in the book, this remains important in the New Testament, and various Scriptures such as 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 state that Christians should walk worthy of their calling so that the name of Jesus is glorified. Again, this is what “the Name Command” is really getting at.

♦ I appreciated a more academic side section in the book on pages 91-92 that addressed the population figures for the Israelites. You may or may not be aware that there is debate over the accuracy of the population numbers for the Israelites given in the Old Testament. For example, there is a lack of archeological evidence for such a horde of people living in the desert for 40 years. Imes nicely summarizes 3 options for explaining this, and her option 3 resolves this for me. Briefly, the word eleph in ancient Hebrew can be translated several different ways (similarly, words in English can have variable usages) and eleph can refer to a thousand, a military unit, or a clan – and eleph meaning a military unit (or clan) seems a better translation of this word that also makes more sense of the population figures.

♦ When it comes to the law, the book of Galatians in the New Testament can be perceived as anti-law. Paul does call the law a curse! Imes addresses this, along with similar concerns, showing the continuity between Sinai and the New Testament. With Galatians, Imes begins “Our problem comes when we try to read Paul back into Exodus, as though Paul is saying that the law was bad from the beginning. Paul certainly opposed the way the Torah is being interpreted and applied in his own day, but Moses would have shared his opinion. Both insisted that circumcision of the heart was what truly mattered (Deuteronomy 10:16; Romans 2:29).”  – page 161

 I hope this review and the highlights will encourage you to obtain a copy of this book. I think you will find it helpful and enlightening. If you are interested in reading books by evangelical and orthodox (small o) scholars that happen to be women, see the link in this post: List of female Bible scholars.

A funny post update! Is it the 2nd or 3rd commandment? After posting this I realized I referred to the “not take God’s name in vain” command as the second one, while it is the third. So embarrassing! However, this is a lesson in how content can sink into your brain even when you think it does not. Remember I read the book in its entirety a few months ago. While there are 10 Commandments, they can be divided up a bit differently, and Imes indeed sees this command as the second one. Regardless, I changed it from second to third for this post, since I think most think of it as the third…

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