Methodology for the Mirror-Reading of The Elohist Source - Abraham Cycle

image: Wikimedia commons (  link  ). 

image: Wikimedia commons (link). 

The Abraham Cycle is primarily concerned with resolving issues between the Israelites and the descendents of Abimelech.  If you’d like a less technical overview, please check out my podcast episode on the Abraham Cycle. If you’re not familiar with the Elohist Source and it’s cycles, be sure to check out that podcast as well.


Please note that the argumentation below is that of the opposing narrative that the Elohist was addressing and is opposed to the Elohist narrative itself.

Color Code:
Black: These statements are mirrors or echoes
Blue: These statements are an inferred cause/effect of a mirror/echo or connects two mirrors/echoes
Green: These statement have no corresponding mirrors or echoes but have supporting (e.g. alternates, denials) statements that imply them.
Orange: Words within a statement that could be variations of the opposing narrative

Italics are causal connectors (e.g. “because”)
[Brackets] are replacements for pronouns or changing tense for better flow.

For more information about mirrors, echoes, supporting categories and my methodology, please visit this post.

Aspect #1: Who was Isaac’s father?

1. Abraham did not love Isaac
2. because Abraham was not the father of Isaac
3. because Abimelech was the father of Isaac
4. because Abimelech took Sarah
5. and because Sarah was not married to Abraham
6. because Sarah was married to Abimelech
7. and because Abraham said Sarah was his sister
8. and because Sarah did not bear a son to Abraham

Aspect #2: Did Abraham have more that one son?

1. Abraham had more than one son
2. because Hagar’s son was Abraham’s
3. Therefore [Hagar's] son shall inherit along with Isaac
4. because the two young men with Abraham were his sons

Aspect #3: Did Abraham sacrifice Isaac?

1. Abraham sacrificed Isaac
2. Which we know because two young men were with Abraham when he sacrificed Isaac
3. Who were there because Isaac did not carry the wood and the knife himself

Aspect #4: How should the Israelites treat the descendants of Abimelech?   
Angle #1: Israelite view  

1. Abraham's posterity were dealing with Abimelech's posterity falsely & not treating them loyally
2. because [Abimelech did not deal] loyally with [Abraham]
3. because Abimelech had seized Abraham's well

Angle #2: Abimelech Descendant’s view       

1. Abimelech did not seize Abraham's well
2. because Abraham did not dig the well

Aspect #5: Was Abraham native to Gerar? 

1. Abraham was an alien in Gerar

Aspect #6: Did Abraham serve Elohim while in Gerar/Beersheba?

1. Abraham did not [serve] God (Elohim)


Aspect #1: Who was Isaac’s father?

  1. Elohim declares that Abraham loves Isaac.  Also, Abraham made a great feast the day that Isaac was weaned - not something Abraham would have done is he didn’t love Isaac.
  2. The reason that Abraham didn’t love Isaac was because he wasn’t his father.  The Elohist counters with with the most frequent counter-argument in this cycle: 11 instances and 5 variations. Isaac is repeatedly referred to as Abraham’s son throughout the narrative.  Also, Abraham and Isaac repeatedly refer to each other as father and son in dialogue.
  3. The only other character in the narrative that could have been proposed as the father is Abimelech, who would have had the opportunity to impregnate Sarah as noted in #4.
  4. The Elohist doesn’t deny that Sarah was with Abimelech.  However, the word “took” could be an echo but more likely it is an alternate to the opposing narrative which was claiming that Sarah was married to Abimelech without such forceful language.
  5. The Elohist repeatedly mentions that Sarah is Abraham’s wife.
  6. There may have been two separate opposing narratives regarding whether Abraham was married to Sarah.  The first saying that Abraham only married Sarah later in life, after she was married to Abimelech (and thus the father of Isaac) and the second saying that he was never married to Sarah for the reason noted in #7.
  7. This is this the second of two possible opposing narratives (the other noted in #6) and it said that Abraham couldn’t ever have been married to Sarah because she was his sister but took care of her (and Isaac) after she was widowed.
  8. Sarah is repeatedly described as bearing Isaac to Abraham.  In 2 instances, it highlights that she bore him during Abraham’s old age, thus countering the idea that Sarah bore Isaac before she was married to Abraham as noted in #6. Also countering that idea that Abraham wasn’t around when Isaac was young is the statement of Isaac’s weaning (see #1).

Why does it matter who was Isaac’s father?  The descendants of Abimelech who seemed to have migrated to Israel (see Aspects #4 and #5), wanted to be treated as blood relatives and not aliens in the land.  More speculatively, the descendants of Abimelech may have been making a power play for the kingship.  Given that the kingly line of Jeroboam was not yet well established (see the Joseph Cycle), if the descendants of Abimelech could argue that they were blood relatives of the Israelites and that they were descendant from a king, they could try to lay claim to the kingship in Israel. 

Aspect #2: Did Abraham have more that one son?

  1. Elohim declares that Isaac is Abraham’s only son.
  2. Hagar’s son is one possible candidate for being Abraham’s son.  The Elohist does not mention the name of the son.  Referring to Hagar as a “slave woman” further delegitimizes Hagar’s son as a potential heir.
  3. If Hagar’s son is Abraham’s then he should inherit along with Isaac.
  4. Although speculative, the two young men could have also been argued to be Abraham’s sons. This could also be the reason why they are anonymous, since naming them would have given their descendents an excuse to claim they were sons of Abraham.

If Abraham had other son’s then they would have a claim to part of the inheritance and would be entitled to be allotted part of the land.

Aspect #3: Did Abraham sacrifice Isaac?

  1. There are those that believe the Elohist source implies that Abraham sacrificed Isaac.  However, that would be antithetical to the overall message that the Elohist was trying to make.  The Elohist is trying to prove that Isaac is Abraham’s son because of his descendents.  If the Elohist implied that Abraham had killed Isaac, it would defeat the purpose of promoting his descendants.
  2. The Elohist is sure to point out that Abraham and Isaac went to the site of the sacrifice alone. Yes, the two young men went most of the way with them but they didn’t see what transpired with Isaac.  The Elohist cannot say that Isaac returned with Abraham, because the two young men were witnesses that he did not return.  So the Elohist is caught between a rock and a hard place by omitting anything about Abraham sacrificing Isaac and not being able to show him not returning with Abraham.  Isaac’s fate is left ambiguous either by design or by it being edited out of the narrative at a later date.  In #3, it seems to indicate an older Isaac that could have theoretically traveled to a different destination after the sacrifice incident and could explain why Isaac did not return with Abraham.
  3. Isaac carrying the wood and the knife himself would bolster the idea in #2 that there were no witnesses to what transpired since the two young men would not be needed to carry the items.  This could also indicate that Isaac was older since he was able to carry the items.

If Abraham did sacrifice Isaac, then the Israelites are descendants of someone else. This line of argumentation would be of interest to aliens who had migrated to Israel and wanted to be seen as blood relatives with a common ancestor.

Aspect #4: How should the Israelites treat the descendants of Abimelech?  

Angle #1: Israelite view

  1. If the descendants of Abimelech were aliens in the land (for whatever reason, usually war or famine), they would have been vulnerable to being treated unfairly, including having wells that they dug seized by the Israelites.
  2. The Elohist does not argue that Abraham’s well had not been seized but rather it was Abimelech's servants and that he had no knowledge of it.
  3. The Israelites could have been using the narrative that Abimelech seized Abraham’s well as justification for treating Abimelech’s descendants poorly and seizing their wells.

Angle #2: Abimelech Descendant’s view

  1. On the other side of the argument, Abimelech’s descendants may have been saying that Abimelech didn’t seize Abraham’s well because it wasn’t Abraham’s and he wasn’t the one that dug it.
  2. The Elohist responds to #1 by making it clear that Abraham was indeed the one who dug the well.

The Elohist is trying to manage two sides of an argument here.  He is trying to keep the peace between the Israelites and Abimelech’s descendants. He appeases both sides by saying that Abimelech’s descendants should be treated fairly and by saying that Abraham dug the well.

Aspect #5: Was Abraham native to Gerar?

  1. This could address a couple of issues: First, it could be imploring the Israelites to treat aliens (the descendants of Abimelech) well because Abraham was an alien and Abimelech treated him well (related to Aspect #4). Second, this could be countering the idea that Abraham was native to Gerar and thus related to those who had migrated from there.

The Elohist once again is trying to manage both sides by arguing for the Israelites to treat the descendants of Abimelech well, but at the same time, severing any blood ties or common ancestry with them.

Aspect #6: Did Abraham serve Elohim while in Gerar/Beersheba?

  1. Abraham feared and prayed to Elohim according to the Elohist.  Those mirrors along with some denials make it clear that Abraham was faithful to Elohim while in an alien land.  The sacrifice of Isaac also demonstrates this faithfulness by showing that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to Elohim and his only son at that.

If the descendants of Abimelech had migrated to Israel, they likely brought their god(s) with them and would naturally entice the Israelites to worship them, encouraging them to do so with stories of how Abraham worshiped them when he was in their land.

Biblical References

The spreadsheet embedded below is a list of verses used to compose the argumentation above.  You can also view the spreadsheet here.  For further information about how these statements were categorized, please visit this post.

The Mira Scriptura Mirror-Reading Methodology

Should it be mirror-read?

The first question that often arises is whether a book of the Bible should be mirror-read.  The answer is always yes.  However, it is the process of mirror-reading that will indicate whether mirror-reading a book of the Bible will be of any use.  If, during the process, the mirror-reading doesn’t fulfill the criteria listed below, then mirror-reading is of no use in regards to that book of the Bible. I should note however, that I have not yet encountered a book of the Bible where mirror-reading was of no use.


I’ve reviewed the mirror-reading methodologies of John Barclay and Nijay Gupta previously.  Of their criteria, I found 3 to be of primary importance: Frequency, Variety and Historical Plausibility.  The rest of their criteria I find to be either too subjective or of secondary importance.

I’ve also developed two criteria of my own. Although they could be viewed as having similarities to criteria laid out by Barclay and Gupta, they are unique enough to stand on their own.

Types of Statements

This could be compared to Barclay’s “Types of Utterances”, however, I see “statements” as having a broader reach since I apply mirror-reading to narratives and other genres, not just polemics (although technically, I view every book of the Bible as a polemic to some extent). In addition, my “types” are different than Barclays with different definitions.

Mirror-reading does not demand that every statement be mirrored (there are other categories, see below), but rather, it assumes two premises: 1. The author is responding to an argument and/or actions. 2. We don’t know what those argument and/or actions are. In order to recreate the argument and/or actions, statements may need to be mirrored, echoed, or any of their supporting types.

The list below is subject to change as I am open to discovering additional types.

Mirror: A statement that is the opposite of a Biblical statement.


Biblical Statement: “She is a married woman”

Mirrored Statement: “She is not a married woman”

Echo: A point of common reference such as an Old Testament quote or a point of agreement, usually qualified with an alternative.

Alternative: An alternative explanation that qualifies an echo.


Echo: “She is my sister”

Alternative: “I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.”

Although the Biblical author would agree that Abraham said that Sarah was his sister, he would not agree that it is true and gives an alternative to explain why Abraham said that.

Denial: Something that wouldn't have happened or been said if a mirrored statement were true.


Mirrored Statement: “Abraham did not love Isaac”

Denial: “and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.”

If Abraham didn’t love Isaac then he wouldn’t have thrown a great feast.

Affirmation: Something that happened or was said because an echoed statement is true. Usually qualified with an alternative.

This is mostly theoretical of right now as I don't have any good examples.

Ghost: When a supporting statement (e.g. Alternative, Denial or Affirmation) doesn't have a corresponding mirror or echo, it's implied and called a ghost. Considered not as certain as a direct mirror or echo.


Ghost Statement: Abimelech had seized Abraham's well

Alternative: well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized,

The Biblical narrative shows that it was Abimelech’s servants that seized the well and that Abimelech knew nothing about it.

Mirrored Action: An action that is the opposite of an action prescribed in the Biblical narrative.


Biblical Description: “now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have resided as an alien. And Abraham said, “I swear it.””

Mirrored Action: “Abraham's posterity were dealing with Abimelech's posterity falsely and not treating them loyally.”

Parallel: A parallel situation that is referenced in order to counter a mirrored statement or action.


now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have resided as an alien. And Abraham said, “I swear it.”

The logic here being, the Israelites should treat aliens (Abimelech’s descendants) well because Abraham was once an alien (in the land of Abimelech)

Causal Connections

Although this criteria could be compared to Gupta’s “coherence” criteria, the emphasis here is on causality specifically.

A mirrored or echoed statement could be a cause or effect and if a mirrored/echoed statement forms a cause or effect relationship with another mirrored/echoed statement, then they validate each other. Causal inference to find the cause.  Logical deduction to find the effects.

If a mirrored/echoed statement is the cause of multiple effects expressed in statements, then the probability of that mirrored/echoed statement being true increases.

If a mirrored/echoed statement is the effect of multiple causes expressed in statements, then the probability that the mirrored/echoed statement being true increases.

In order to causally connect two mirrored/echoed statements, a mirrored/echoed may be inferred but with less certainty.  A mirrored/echoed statement may be inferred at the beginning or end of a causal chain with even less certainty.  The further away from a mirrored/echoed statement that an inference is made, the less certain it is.

The larger the causal chain, the greater probability that the mirrored/echoed statements within it are true.


You can view this methodology applied to the Abraham Cycle.


The Immigration Policy of the Northern Kingdom of Israel

One of the things that stood out to me while mirror-reading the Elohist Source, is the prominent issue that the author was dealing with in regards to immigrants in the land.  Whether war, famine or some other cause, we don't' get much indication as to the reasons why aliens had immigrated to the Northern Kingdom, but we can see how the Elohist lays out expectations for them in the narrative.

When mirror-reading the Abraham Cycle, it seems that the Israelites were dealing with the descendants of Abimelech, as well as the descendants of Hargar's son living as aliens in the land of Israel.  The Elohist approaches the issue from two sides.  First, exclusion from the biggest entitlement program at the time, Abraham's inheritance.  Only the descendants of Isaac were entitled to the inheritance, which meant Abimelech's and Hagar's son's descendants were excluded.

However, this exclusion is tempered by a call to treat aliens fairly.  The Elohist does this by recounting Abraham's time as an alien in Gerar and showing how he was treated fairly by Abimelech, eventually culminating in a treaty that required the Israelites to treat the descendants of Abimelech fairly.

While, mirror-reading the Moses Cycle, the situation is different.  The Kenites are not the same type of aliens that were in the Abraham Cycle.  They were considered more of a minority than aliens.  However, the Elohist approaches the issue from two sides again.

First, the Elohist makes is clear that Elohim is the God of the Hebrews, not the God of the Kenites, as in, He did not originate with them.  On the flip side, the Elohist pushes inclusion.  The Kenites were free to worship Elohim if they wanted to. This is most clearly seen in the narrative when the elders of Israel, Aaron and Moses sit with Jethro (a Kenite) in the presence of Elohim.

Phase 1 Complete!

For the past couple of months, I've been posting consistently five days a week.   My goal was to create body of content that would help introduce people to mirror-reading. Now that phase 1 is complete, I'll likely be posting less often in order to focus more in depth on methodologies and techniques for mirror-reading, developing a podcast, and developing some mirror-reading software. 

Thank you to all who have been following along, and I hope you will continue to support Mira Scriptura!



What's The "Biggest" Word In The Bible According To This Word Cloud?

Below is a word cloud of the most frequent words in the Bible.

These word clouds are a simple way of helping one get more familiar with the common words throughout a particular book and can provide a big picture view.  That in turn can help one when trying to mirror-read. Word frequency my indicate how prominent a false teaching was. Be sure to read my post on keywords and themes for mirror-reading.  Below is a word cloud for Ephesians.

You can see the word clouds for each book of the Bible at

Mirror-Reading Universal Terms

I rarely highlight individual words for mirror-reading, but there are some that I think would be beneficial to talk about about.  Be sure to see my video about conjunctions here, but today I’m writing about universal terms such as “all” or those in the negative sense such as “none”.  

When mirror-reading, if we come across a universal terms, it may imply certain things.  If a Biblical writer uses the word “all”, then the false teachers may have been saying “not all, some or none” and vise versa.  Some examples:

Romans 8:28
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Were false teachers saying that only some things work together?  Nothing works together?  Check out my video on Romans 8:28 here.

Ephesians 6:24
Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Were false teachers saying that only some who loved the Lord Jesus have grace?

Galatians 3:11
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Were false teachers saying that some are justified before God by the law?

Mirror-Reading With Themes, Phrases And Keywords

Knowing the keywords and phrases of a book of the Bible can help when trying to mirror-read it.

Theological vs Responsive Themes

Recognizing themes is important when mirror-reading the Bible. Many people know the value of themes but most frame the theme in terms of theology instead of the situational context.  In other words, they organize their themes in categories of theological doctrines.  Typical themes for the book of Romans might be sin, salvation and sanctification. However, this is the wrong approach, and themes should instead be framed in terms of what the Biblical author was responding to.  

Themes should be organized in categories of the false teachings they were responding to.  One of the main themes in the New Testament is correcting the false teaching that certain people (e.g. gentiles, women, children, slaves) were excluded in some fashion from the Kingdom of God.  One of the main themes in the Old Testament is the correcting of the false teaching that the Israelites needed other gods besides Yahweh. You can watch my video on those themes here.  

There are sub-themes that address either separate false teachings or false teachings that build off of the main themes.  @@It is critical that you don’t approach the Bible as a theology book but as a response to the situation of the original reader@@.

Phrases and Keywords - The Building Blocks of Themes

Themes will usually use a set of phrases and keywords, so that, when you read a certain phrase or keyword, you will know to which theme it belongs and which false teaching it is responding to.  For example, in Ephesians, one of the themes deals with inheritance because there was a false teaching about inheritance.  Phrases and keywords for that theme not only include the word “inheritance” but also, “Obtain a Lot”, “Length and Width”, “Measure”, “Heir”, “Redemption of the land”, “Seal”, “pledge”, “Possession”, and “predetermined”.

Another theme deals with a false teaching about the Temple.  Phrases and keywords for the theme not only include the word “Temple” but also “foundation”, “building”, “access”, “dwell” and “wall”.

Bible Translations for Finding Themes

Graphic credit:  Dan Dowd

Graphic credit: Dan Dowd

When trying to identify themes, it’s important to use the right Bible translation.  If you're not working with the original languages then you’ll need a word-for-word translation like the KJV or the ESV.  You want a translation that is fairly consistent in the way that it translates the original languages. Paraphrase translations such as The Message will translate words different ways, and you will not be able to recognize the phrases and keywords that are the building blocks for themes.

Mirror-Reading With An Embedded Mirror

In some cases, the false teaching that the Biblical author is responding to is in the text itself.  For example, there are a few instances in Romans where some conclude that Paul is using a rhetorical device to talk as if he's one of the false teachers, which he then responds to in order to correct that view:

  • Romans 1:18-32 e.g. "and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another"
  • Romans 7 e.g. "For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
  • Romans 3 e.g. as dialogue "Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?  Much in every way."

It is beyond the scope of this post to determine whether that is actually the case or not, but if it is the case in each of the above instances, I would consider them to be "embedded mirrors".  In other words, Paul is stating the false teachings that he then responds to.

There may also be a similar device in Ecclesiastes.  The "Teacher" may be giving the false teaching, who is then briefly corrected by the narrator at the end of the book.  I don't think this is the case however, as I explain in my mirror-reading of Ecclesiastes here.

An example in narrative form is the Book of Job.  Job, Elihu, Job's three friends and God deliver to the reader dialogues between the false teachings and the true teachings.

Sinful Nature Or Theological Teaching?

When Paul writes about behavioral issues in the Church, is it because of their sinful nature or because their theology was wrong?

Behavioral vs Doctrinal and how they support each other when mirror-reading

Many New Testament epistles have a section where doctrinal issues addressed, and then later in the epistle, behavioral issues are addressed.  We can use this to validate mirror-reading.  In other words, if we mirror-read and discover the false teaching that Paul was responding to, we can then extrapolate that out to what types of behavior that false teaching would produce.  If we find that behavior as one of the behaviors that Paul discusses in the latter part of the epistle, then we can take that as validation of our mirror-reading of the false teaching.

This could have theological implications.  For example, when Paul, in Ephesians says "Children, obey your parents", are we to take it that Paul has nothing better to address than to remind the Church of a common ethic?   Or was there perhaps a false teaching that gave those children (who could be adult children) a reason to disobey their parents?  This could have an impact on what we use to support the idea of a "sinful nature".  If you're curious of my theological views of "the flesh", check out this episode of the RE2 Podcast.

How To Mirror-Read Different Genres In The Bible

Mirror-reading is primarily discussed in regards to the epistles of the Bible, but mirror-reading can be applied to other genres in the Bible as well.

Mirror Read The Bible


This is the genre most people feel comfortable mirror-reading (if they feel comfortable mirror-reading at all!). For example, if Paul says "Don't do this", then the false teachers may have been saying "Do this". 

However, not everything that Paul (or other NT writers) say should be taken in such polarized fashion.  It is helpful to categorize what Paul says as opposite/different, same or unique.  The example above would qualify as opposite/different.  "Same" would be instances where Paul quotes the false teachers or when he mentions a point of agreement but then qualifies that agreement.  "Unique" would be words that Paul wrote that have no similarity to what the false teachers were saying.  However, it's important to remember that regardless of which category it is, all of the categories can be used to correct what the false teachers were saying.  Watch my video about these categories.

Check out this page and click on an epistle to see how I mirror-read it.


I prefer to think of the Wisdom literature as "Teachings".  They are similar to epistles in that if the "teaching says this" then the "false teaching says this".  I've only mirror-read Ecclesiastes thus far, so I'm curious if the other wisdom literature is the same.  You can check out my mirror-reading of Ecclesiastes here.

Historical Narratives

For the purposes of mirror-reading, it's not really necessary to believe that the events in the historical narratives actually took place.  The important thing to understand is that the events in the story take place in a historical setting.  

The books of the Bible are not just recorded history but a response to a situation.  They may be about past events, but they addressed events that were current with the original readers.

I've listed two ways to mirror-read historical narratives below:

1. Corrective of Past

Narratives can be used to correct historical accounts or repair the reputations of historical characters.  I've listed a few examples below:

1&2 Samuel

The author of 1st and 2nd Samuel tries to repair the reputation of David and to clarify events of the past in order to diffuse hostilities between the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin.  Read here.


The author explains events of the past to show why there was a famine and addresses fears that God was no longer with them.  Read here.


Yes, not a book of the Bible (usually) but still a good example.  The author tries to repair the reputation of Enoch.  Read here.

2. Analogy

Narratives can also be analogous to the situation of the original readers. I prefer to refer to them as corrective parallels. Some might says that's just a parable, but the term parable often implies a work of fiction, and we don't really need to make that determination in order to mirror-read. It is often said that reading Paul's letters is like hearing half of a phone conversation.  Parallel narratives are like hearing half of an analogy. e.g. "The Story of Jonah is like..."  Parallels are not allegories in that they draw on similarities but not symbolism.


Not all of Matthew is analogous but some of what Jesus says is.  Specifically, when he mentions "Every kingdom divided against itself", it's analogous to the situation in the Church at that time.  Watch the video here.


Prophecy uses future events to address current (to the original readers) issues.


Nahum foretells the destruction of Nineveh to encourage Jews to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Read here.


Habakkuk foretells the invasion of the Babylonians to show that God is in control.  However, there is a secondary meaning to Habakkuk in that it may be using some parts of the prophecy as a parallel.  Read here.


Header Image PHOTO CREDIT: Robert cropped from original

The False Teachers Weren't Stupid

Hindsight is 20/20, and we don't realize how reasonable the Biblical arguments were that the false teachers made were at that time.

Old Testament Scriptures and New Testament Prophecies.

The false teachers used the Old Testament Scriptures to support their false teachings.  There are plenty of OT verses that talk about how Israel was God's chosen, and how they were the light of the world. If that was God's plan, then who can change it?  I write about the "cornerstone" written about in Isaiah, how the false teachers used it and how Paul responds to it in Titus.  I also write about the use of Scripture in Isaiah that the false teachers used to pronounce God's wrath on the Gentiles.  Paul responds to it in 1 Thessalonians.

This should make us think differently when Paul quotes Old Testament passages.  Is he simply quoting them to support his case, or is he quoting them in order to correct the interpretation of them by the false teachers.  Check out the video below where I discuss further.

The false teachers also used prophecies spoken by true prophets in the Church at that time.  I write about how Paul corrects their interpretations of those prophecies in Ephesians.

If you think the false teachers were just bumbling idiots then you don't understand what their false teachings were, which may have an impact on how you understand the correct teachings of the Bible.  Mirror-Reading can help with that.  The false teachers were trying to integrate Christ into their existing religious paradigms and their false teachings were the result of their attempts. 

Header Image PHOTO CREDIT: Quinn Dombrowski cropped from original

Doug Wilson: Tolerant Or Intolerant?

Doug Wilson

An elephant that brings his own china shop with him, Doug Wilson seems to create controversy effortlessly.

This is part of a series which I'm calling "Interesting Voices".  You can see the whole series here.  They run the spectrum from conservative to progressive, little known to well known.  They may or may not already be familiar with mirror-reading. I may or may not agree with them theologically, but regardless, I think they are interesting voices speaking to the Christian community today.  The purpose of the series is to both raise awareness of mirror-reading and to introduce you to these voices.

Yes, I know the typical china shop metaphor calls for a bull, but when I think of a bull, I think of one that's angry, snorting and exerting force while bucking and kicking and whose sole purpose is destruction.  I think that is not in-line with Doug Wilson's calm demeanor.  I picture him instead as an elephant walking through the china shop nonchalantly, knocking over things simply as a byproduct of the path that he's on.  However, he can be provocative at times (as you'll see below).  I sometimes wonder if Doug said something in a forest and no one was there to hear, would they still be offended?

Doug pastors at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. He's written several books, and he writes online at a blog with one of the cleverest titles ever: Blog and Mablog. I first discovered Doug by watching a documentary called "Collision".  It documents a series of debates between Doug and the late Christopher Hitchens.  Here is the trailer:

Doug is a presuppositionalist, which I'm not a fan of, but atheists don't seem to encounter it much, so it is fun to watch them grapple with it for the first time.  Hitchens, however, seemed to enjoy the new challenge that it presented, since it is different from what he had typically encountered.  After Hitchens died, Doug released this gracious but pointed video:

Doug ran into some controversy when he and some others spoke on Federal Vision at a conference.  It wasn't intended, or expected for that matter, to stir up any hostilities, but the aftermath of the conference resulted in a few denominations branding Federal Vision as a heresy.  Here is Doug discussing what Federal Vision is:

He also has been pegged as a racist by some because of some of the things he's written. Doug would dispute that claim, and he and Thabiti Anyabwile engage in a discussion regarding his book "Black and Tan" that clarify some of his views.

Doug has also been vocal on his stance regarding homosexuality.  His lecture at University of Indiana caused quite a stir.  The students were less than charitable:

I was impressed with his patience with the crowd. You can watch the entire lecture and Q&A here:

Although he's thought of as intolerant by many, he appears to be a tolerator of the intolerant while still holding to his beliefs.  However, Doug, at times, does stoke the fire as the inflammatory picture below shows:

He certainly won't make any fast friends in the LGBQT community with pics like that.  Not that he's trying to.

There is another documentary that stars Doug, and it highlights some of the controversy surrounding his lecture at IU.  Here is the trailer:

He is also a cessasionist but always engages charismatics in a gracious way.  Here he is with Mark Driscoll talking about spiritual gifts:

He also debated Adrian Warnock shortly after Macarthur's Strange Fire conference.  At times, I felt he and Adrian were simply debating semantics, and Doug might be closer to being a charismatic than he thinks.

Doug was also interviewed on Rethinking Hell and gives one of the best defenses of the traditional view that I've heard:

Doug is also a preterist, and you may find the following video interesting, where he, Piper, Hamilton and Storms discuss eschatology:

I'm sorry if I didn't mention your favorite offensive thing that Doug has said.  I'm sure there will be more before I can hit the "save and publish" button for this post.

Doug Wilson and Mirror-Reading

I listened to this sermon of his on Ephesians 1. There was virtually no mirror-reading.  He does give some historical background to Ephesus, but when it came to reconstructing the situation and the false teachings that Paul was responding to, there was nothing.  He instead approaches Ephesians primarily as a theology book instead of as a letter.

However, I also listened to his sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 and was pleased to find some mirror-reading going on.  He even talks about how 1 Corinthians is like hearing half of a phone conversation.  If only he would say that of every book in the Bible.  He describes the divisions that were taking place in the Church of Corinth at the time: Legal business disputes, social group status, food issues, idolatry accommodations, sexual relationship issues, spiritual gifts and the Lord's supper.  He also touches on the Jew/Gentile dispute, and talks about how the Gentiles said that they had baptism and the Lord's supper.  Doug shows how Paul responded by pointing to 1 Corinthians 10:1-4:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Questions For Doug Wilson

I’ve listed a couple of open questions to Doug below. I welcome a response from Doug, whether as a guest post, a response on his own blog or simply in the comments below.

1. What are your thoughts on mirror-reading?
2. Did you want to respond to anything that I've written above?

Questions For My Readers

What do you think of Doug? Do you agree with his views? Who else do you think is an "interesting voice"?


My Response To Matt Whitman's Response

Matt Whitman from the Ten Minute Bible Hour was kind enough to write a response to the post that I wrote about him.  All of the "Interesting Voices" that I've written about thus far have responded positively except for one, who hasn't responded at all <cough>Tim Mackie</cough>. Austin Fischer left a nice comment, but Matt is the only one who has taken the time to write a pretty substantial response and post it on his blog. And he did it in he midst of what seems to be a pretty busy schedule.  As someone who's blog is still pretty new and still trying to find my voice, I really value feedback like Matt's.  So thanks, amigo!

I think Matt and I share a lot of common ground, so I'm just going to respond to a couple of snippets. Be sure to read Matt's entire response over at The Ten Minute Bible Hour.  From his post:

At the end of his post Michael asked what I thought about mirror reading, and I guess I’d say it’s intuitive and I dig it especially where there’s reasonable evidence to support conclusions about the invisible side of the conversation. That said, there lots of great tools for unpacking a biblical text, and I think an over-dependence on mirror reading could lead to some hard-to-defend conclusions that are little more than fun speculation.

I think mirror-reading is intuitive for everyone but only to a certain extent.  I also agree that mirror-reading is just one tool in the Biblical interpretation toolbox.  I consider mirror-reading to be a subcategory of the historical-grammatical method (as I point out here). Also, I consider mirror-reading's "situational context" to be a subcategory of historical context.

As far as an over-dependence on mirror-reading is concerned, I feel that's like saying an over-dependence on Biblical interpretation could lead to bad theology. It's not the method but how well the method is executed.  There has certainly been many bad mirror-readings, but I see it as crappy mirror-reading instead of an over-dependence on it.

John Barclay's article has tempered my zealousness for mirror-reading somewhat, but his methodology is a move in the right direction. I think we can improve upon and expand such methodology to utilize mirror-reading for greater insights and greater detail but without the speculation.  Phase 1 of this blog has focused primarily on raising greater awareness of mirror-reading.  In Phase 2, I'll focus more on formal mirror-reading, developing techniques and methodologies that will hopefully generate mirror-readings that have greater detail and accuracy but can also be substantiated on every point. So, although I understand peoples desire to be cautious when it comes to mirror-reading, I'll be pushing them to not be afraid.

Again, from Matt's post:

But Michael’s critique demonstrates my concern with leaning to heavily on mirror reading. He’s right that the Bible wasn’t written to be just a good story, but it wasn’t all written exclusively as a reaction either. Each genre has its own motivations, and trying to force mirror reading to the front of the interpretive line with all of them won’t always work best.  

It's my position that we must at least attempt to mirror-read every book of the Bible.  Yes, the Pauline letters will yield greater mirror-reading results than perhaps other genres, but mirror-reading is still valuable when approaching all genres and books of the Bible. I've been able to mirror-read every book of the Bible that I've attempted so far. (although, honestly, I have my doubts about Proverbs, but I'll still try if I ever get around to it).

I believe that mirror-reading should be at the front of the line, at least initially.  I say that because the possibility is always there of not being able to understand the "what" without the "why".  If it launches one into speculation, then yes, discard immediately (although, I don't mind speculation as long as it's indicated as such).

Thanks again to Matt for engaging in the mirror-reading discussion with me!

People Believe What They Want To Believe About The Bible

I've recently encountered a number of tweets that deal with a similar idea.  I don't know what motivated each tweet, but the fact that they have a common theme is interesting.  Here are the tweets:

From Trevin's post:

How do you make a moral decision?

How do you determine if something is right or wrong?

Many of us think of morality as something we discover after rational and reflective consideration. You hear both sides of an argument, you consider reasons that may justify your action, and then you pronounce judgment.

But Jonathan Haidt says we’re getting it backwards. In reality, you judge first, and only then do you justify.

Have you ever had someone explain a Bible verse, and you know intuitively that their explanation was wrong, even though you couldn't articulate why?  It's because it's messing with one of your paradigms.  We can't always articulate our paradigms, but we know them subconsciously.  Your intuition may be right but only if your paradigm is right.  None of us has all of the answers to everything, but we all have some sort of structure made of paradigms.  It's like a picture made of mosaic tile.  The pieces that fit, we add, if they don't, we discard accordingly.  Some pieces we feel forced to fit into it, and so we jam it in wherever we can with mental gymnastics, but if that doesn't work, we're forced to change one of our paradigms. 

I recently posted on whether we recreate Biblical characters in our own image.  One of the reasons that I like mirror-reading is that it takes the focus off of my own paradigms and, in an indirect way, attempts to reconstruct the paradigms of author, the false teachers and the original readers.  One may not embrace or even realize the theological implications from the insights gained from mirror-reading, but I know some of my own paradigms have shifted because of mirror-reading, and I can't help but think that it makes me a little more objective when studying the Scriptures.

Header Image PHOTO CREDIT: [like caramel!] cropped from original

Jeffrey Kranz: Slicing And Dicing Biblical Data

Jeffrey Kranz

Looking for infographs, overviews and fun facts of the Bible?  Jeffrey Kranz offers some fantastic resources!

This is part of a series which I'm calling "Interesting Voices".  You can see the whole series here.  They run the spectrum from conservative to progressive, little known to well known.  They may or may not already be familiar with mirror-reading. I may or may not agree with them theologically, but regardless, I think they are interesting voices speaking to the Christian community today.  The purpose of the series is to both raise awareness of mirror-reading and to introduce you to these voices.

Jeffrey runs a website called The Overview Bible Project.  He and his wife, Laura, put together some pretty great stuff.  By his own admission, not much of it is new information, but he does a great job of taking information in the Bible and reorganizing it so that it's easier to understand or gives additional insight.  For someone who's favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes, his website is fun, upbeat and educational.

Logos Bible Software

Jeffrey used to work at Logos Bible Software and still seems to have ties.  Here's an article on Logos 5 and how he uses it.  It's a bit dated now but still good.

He's also interviewed in the video below about James being the bossiest book in the Bible (Jeffrey, keep the beard, it works for you! Logos, that is some choppy video editing!)


Jeffrey puts together some nice infographics.  Here's one on Romans:

You can view all of them here.  One suggestion for Jeffrey would be to have all of them listed on one page, so I don't have to keep hitting "Older Posts".

Content Genius

Jeffrey is also an online content genius and runs a website called Gradlime where you can learn all sorts of things about how to be successful on the internets.  I've enjoyed everything I've read on there so far, although, sometimes, he makes me feel like my website is never good enough...and that my posts aren't long enough.  Oh well, I'm getting better everyday!

Jeffrey Kranz And Mirror-Reading

The thing that really drew me to The Overview Bible Project was, well, the overviews of the books of the Bible.  Jeffrey goes through each book of the Bible and summarizes them in an easy to understand way. Be sure to check them out here.

1 Corinthians

Jeffrey does engage in mirror-reading (well, everybody does).  In his overview of 1 Corinthians, he does a pretty good job of setting up what the situation was in Corinth.  For example:

 The Corinthians were fighting each other, with one faction claiming Paul as their leader while others claimed the eloquent Apollos, the original apostle Peter (Cephas), or the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (1 Co 1:12). Paul reprimands them for their immaturity (1 Co 3:3), and points to God as the one who deserves glory, not His servants (1 Co 3:5–7).


However, in his overview of Ephesians, there isn't really much of a set up of the situation in Ephesus.  Instead, he uses theological categories to summarize the book:

  • Grace. We’re saved by God’s grace—His favor which we could not deserve (Eph 2:8–9). Paul encourages the church to deal graciously with one another in turn (Eph 4:25–32).
  • Peace. We naturally deserved God’s wrath (Eph 2:3), but He has adopted us through Jesus (Eph 1:5). Furthermore, he has united the Jews and non-Jews in His Son, establishing peace between all parties (Eph 2:14). Now, the church is to preserve peace and unity with one another (Eph 4:3).
  • Love. God showed His love through Jesus (Eph 2:4), and Paul commends the Ephesians for the way they love one another (Eph 1:15). He prays that they be rooted in love (Eph 3:17) and encourages them to continue walking in love (Eph 5:2).

This treats Paul's letter as a theology book instead of a letter that responded to a certain situation.  I'd rather see a list of false teachings that Paul was writing to correct.  Yes, theology can be derived from what Paul wrote, but I think we loose something if we don't understand the situation in Ephesus first.

Questions For Jeffrey Kranz

I’ve listed a couple of open questions to Jeffrey below. I welcome a response from Jeffrey, whether as a guest post, a response on his own blog or simply in the comments below.

1. What are your thoughts on mirror-reading?
2. Did you want to respond to anything that I've written above?

Questions For My Readers

What do you think of Jeffery? Do you find his overviews helpful? Who else do you think is an "interesting voice"?


Do We Recreate Biblical Characters In Our Own Image?

I was reading an interview with Peter Enns over at The Pangea Blog.  They talk about his book on Ecclesiastes.  Peter says:

"The main character of the book, called Qohelet, has some pretty harsh things to say about life as an Israelite. He is not simply skeptical. He is undone. He is in faith-crisis mode, and he pulls no punches letting us know it. His big beef is with God. Qohelet is angry with him."

That says a lot about what was going on inside Qohelet.  I'm not saying Peter is wrong (although I do have a different take on Ecclesiastes).  I think we can infer that type of thing from the text.  It just seems that some people (not necessarily Peter) are cautious when it comes to mirror-reading but have no problem reconstructing the psyche of someone.  I've heard many sermons where the preacher talks about how David felt this way, Abraham thought this, or Paul was this type of person.  They'll even talk about how God felt and what He thought even when it's not explicit in the text.  So, although they are leery of reconstructing the specific events that mirror-reading can bring to light, they embrace reconstructing the persons, personalities and psychologies of Biblical authors and characters.

I also recently listened to a debate between Reza Aslan and Anthony Le Donne on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierely. Aslan attempts to reconstruct the person of Jesus, although he excludes much of the New Testament text about Jesus.  

When we do this type of thing I wonder if we are driven by creating the characters in our own image.  It seems like Peter Enns has had his own crisis of faith and so Qohelet is also similar.  Aslan has a history of desiring political change, and so Jesus is a political revolutionary.  Are Enns and Aslan drawn to those characters because that's who they truly were, or are they reading their own personalities into the characters? To be sure, they offer evidence for their views, but I can't help but think that who they are colors their view.  They are also concerned with the original readers but stick with the broad historical context instead of the more specific situational context that mirror-reading can provide.  It is, of course, impossible to be completely objective, but I find it all thought provoking.

One of the reasons that I like mirror-reading is because it takes the focus off of trying to fit one's own situation or own theology into the text and focuses on the original reader's situation.  And yet, I wonder if my own personality is coloring my own conclusions. 

Header Image PHOTO CREDIT: Hernán Piñera cropped from original

Tim Mackie: Telling The Grand Story Of The Bible With Awesome Videos

Showing how each book of the Bible is designed and how they fit into the overall Biblical narrative, Tim Mackie and his team animate the Bible.

This is part of a series which I'm calling "Interesting Voices".  You can see the whole series here.  They run the spectrum from conservative to progressive, little known to well known.  They may or may not already be familiar with mirror-reading. I may or may not agree with them theologically, but regardless, I think they are interesting voices speaking to the Christian community today.  The purpose of the series is to both raise awareness of mirror-reading and to introduce you to these voices.

Tim pastors at Door of Hope Church in Portland. He has his PhD in Semitic Languages and Biblical Studies.  He's also a professor at Western Seminary. You can check out his website here.

I first discovered Tim when I ran across his "Bible in Five" series of videos.  They consist of Tim and a transparent dry eraser board as he explains each book of the Bible.  Check out the video below as he tackles Matthew:

Tim has begun the process of upgrading those videos by teaming up with Jonathan Collins and starting "The Bible Project".  From a quality production point of view, these videos are brilliant!  The New Testament videos are of the animated white board variety (more of a parchment board than white board).  Here's one on Hebrews:

The Old Testament videos are even more animated with some sound effects thrown in.  Here is the video on Numbers:

Tim Mackie And Mirror-Reading

Tim does mirror-read in his video on 1st Corinthians.  He even catagorizes in terms of the problems and Paul's response.  My only complaint is that he doesn't touch on the reason for the problems:  What were the false teachings that caused the Corinthians to think it was okay to do the things they were doing.  You can check out the video below.

Besides 1st Corinthians, Tim doesn't do much mirror-reading.  He does set up some basic background info at the beginning of the videos for the epistles.  However, when it comes to the narrative books there is virtually no mirror-reading.  I believe narratives can be mirror-read.  I do some mirror-reading with the Pentateuch in this episode on my RE2 podcast.

Questions For Tim Mackie

I’ve listed a couple of open questions to Tim below. I welcome a response from Tim, whether as a guest post or simply in the comments below.

1. What are your thoughts on mirror-reading?
2. Did you want to respond to anything that I've written above?

Questions For My Readers

What do you think of Tim? Do you enjoy his videos? Who else do you think is an "interesting voice"?


Theological Implications Of Mirror-Reading

It's impossible to be completely neutral when it comes to theology, but I attempt, on this site, to be as theologically neutral as possible.  Mirror-reading focuses on the text and is more about exegesis than theology.  Certainly theology can be derived from mirror-reading, but I hope that by focusing on the text, I'll avoid unnecessary conflict or alienation of those who hold particular theological views.  I realize that this may be naive or even disillusion.  It may draw sub-par web traffic. Regardless, I'll do what I can to stick to mirror-reading without peddling theological views.

However, one of my frustrations is that sometimes I'll share a mirror-reading insight with someone, they'll agree with it and then will turn around and espouse a theological view that contradicts it.  I've been encouraged by others to share the theological implications of my mirror-readings, simply because they want to know, but for now, I'm go to try to avoid it.

Another reason why I don't like to draw theological lines in the sand with mirror-reading is because I can only draw a conclusion from the parts of Scripture that I feel I've mirror-read thoroughly.  I may conclude that one verse does not support a theological view, but what about the half-dozen other verses that support it?  I haven't mirror-read all of those yet, and so I'm reluctantly to take a hard stand on minor issues.  

If you really must know some of my theological views, you can check out some of my views on the RE2 podcast.

Header Image PHOTO CREDIT: mckinney75402 cropped from original