To teach the bible well…

iStock_000002133476_Small

 

Andy Naselli:

When I teach the Bible, I focus on five disciplines:

  1. Exegesis analyzes what the authors who wrote the Bible intended to communicate. The authors of the Bible make arguments, and the best exegetes are simply good readers who accurately trace arguments.
  2. Biblical theology makes organic, salvation-historical connections, especially regarding how the Old and New Testament integrate. How do major themes like covenant and law and the people of God progress throughout Scripture? How much continuity and discontinuity is there?
  3. Historical theology surveys and evaluates how significant exegetes and theologians have understood the Bible and theology. The attitude that “all I need is just me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit” is arrogant because the Holy Spirit has illumined the minds of so many others.
  4. Systematic theology builds on the former three disciplines to draw systemic conclusions (organized on atemporal principles of logic) with reference to the whole Bible. What does the whole Bible teach about _______ (fill in the blank)?
  5. Practical theology applies the other four disciplines to help people glorify God.

It’s impossible to completely separate any one discipline from the others in such a way that the others have no affect on it. For example, you can’t do exegesis in a vacuum entirely apart from biblical or systematic theology, and systematic theology that isn’t based on accurate exegesis is bad theology. Ideally, biblical theology builds on exegesis, and systematic theology builds on biblical theology. But all five of these disciplines interrelate. And they culminate in doxology. (On this theological method, I’m following my mentor, Don Carson.)

Common Interpretive Pitfalls

B141030

 

by John MacArthur

Every paratrooper knows precisely where he is supposed to land, but no paratrooper will jump without also knowing the surrounding territory. To do otherwise can leave one disoriented and lost, which can have disastrous consequences. In the same way, to randomly parachute into Bible passages, trying to glean spiritual gems devoid of context, can lead to wasted time and stunted spiritual growth.

Regular Bible reading according to a strategic plan is the right foundation for successful Bible study. And the principles of accurate interpretation will take that Bible study to the next level of spiritual blessing and benefit.

Reading God’s Word answers the question: What does the Bible say? But interpreting it answers the question: What does the Bible mean by what it says? Proper Bible interpretation is a critical element of successful Bible study. The reader does not have license to decide what it means. He has to learn what it means.

Paul’s pastoral counsel to his protégé Timothy was clear: “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). He told Timothy to read the text, explain the text (doctrine), and apply the text (exhortation). You don’t read it and jump right into application. You read it, then explain it, and then apply it. That’s what “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) is all about. Otherwise, misinterpretation is the likely result, and misinterpretation is the mother of all kinds of mania.

The Mania of Misinterpretation

Misinterpretation causes all sorts of problems, ranging from ridiculous errors to dangerous heresies. “The Daniel Plan” is a popular Christian weight-loss plan based on the prophet Daniel’s decision to eat only vegetables and water (Daniel 1:12). But this new “Bible-based” weight-loss program completely ignores the fact that Daniel’s diet was meant to display God’s supernatural sustenance in spite of inadequate dietary intake. Worse still, the laughable punchline to the whole story is that Daniel actually gained weight by following “The Daniel Plan” (Daniel 1:15)!

Prosperity preachers teach that John’s warm greeting to “prosper and be in good health” (3 John 2) expresses God’s universal desire for Christians to always be healthy and wealthy. Such “theology” makes a mockery of the hardships, poverty, and untimely deaths suffered by the apostles and those who succeeded them (cf. Hebrews 11:35–38).

Some factions of Mormonism believe that since the patriarchs practiced polygamy, so must we. One group even decided to refuse anesthetic for women in labor since the Old Testament teaches that pain in childbirth is a part of the curse. Jehovah’s Witnesses often refuse blood transfusions due to a faulty understanding of commands to abstain from blood (Acts 15:28­–29).

Those misinterpretations cover the spectrum from the ludicrous to the hazardous to the damnable. But they all are the natural extension of a failure to understand what the Bible is really saying, and the context in which it was written. They are misinterpretations that can be easily dealt with by avoiding three major interpretive errors.

Don’t Make a Point at the Price of Proper Interpretation

In other words, don’t make the Bible say what you want it to say. Don’t follow the example of the minister who preached that women shouldn’t have hair pinned on top of their head. His text was “top knot come down” fromMatthew 24:17 (NKJV) where it says, “Let him who is on the housetop not come down.” That’s obviously notwhat that passage is teaching!

Another fatal path is to be like the preacher who says, I’ve already got a sermon; I just have to find a verse for it. He starts with a preconceived idea and then gathers some verses to support it—a case of the tail wagging the dog. True biblical sermons don’t drive the biblical text, they are driven by the biblical text. I know if I try to manufacture a sermon, I wind up forcing Scripture to fit my ideas. But when I try to comprehend a passage, the message flows out of that understanding.

Using God’s Word to illustrate a personal idea actually undermines biblical authority. Start with the text, find its true meaning, and then get out of the way and let Scripture speak for itself.

Avoid Superficial Interpretation

Second, as you study the Bible, be careful not to buy into the modern mantras of “to me, this verse means …” or, “What does this verse mean to you?” Instead, learn what it actually says.

Unfortunately, a lot of Bible studies are nothing but a pooling of ignorance—a lot of people sitting around and sharing what they don’t know about a verse. I am all for Bible studies, but somebody has to study to find out what the text really means so they can lead the others into understanding, and then they can discuss the application. Paul instructed Timothy to put in the hard labor of rightly handling God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).

Don’t Spiritualize

Third, don’t spiritualize the straightforward meaning of a Bible verse. The first sermon I ever preached was a horrible sermon. My text was “An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone” (Matthew 28:2). My sermon was “Rolling Away Stones in Your Life.” I talked about the stone of doubt, the stone of fear, and the stone of anger. That is not what that verse is talking about; it’s talking about a real stone. I made it into a terrific allegory at the expense of its plain meaning. On another occasion I heard a sermon on “they cast four anchors…and wished for the day” (Acts 27:29 KJV); the anchor of hope, the anchor of faith, and so on. Those Acts 27 anchors were not anchors of anything but metal.

I call that “Little Bo Peep” preaching, because you don’t need the Bible for those kinds of sermons. Someone can get up and say, “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep”—all over the world people are lost. “And can’t tell where to find them. Leave them alone and they’ll come home”—so they will come home after all. Then you tell a tear-jerking story about some sinners who came home “wagging their tails behind them.” It’s so easy to do, and a lot of people do that with the Old Testament. Don’t spiritualize the Bible; study it to gain the right meaning.

Context Is Key

Avoiding those three errors—conforming the text to your own predetermined agenda, superficial interpretation, and inventing spiritual metaphors out of passages that speak plainly—will create a far safer environment from which to study Scripture. But avoiding error is only one half of the interpretive equation. There are also principles of true interpretation that must be embraced.

Most interpretive challenges can be resolved through studying the passage within its wider context. “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33) and He does not have a problem explaining Himself. The problem is usually with us—whether it be a personal objection to what Scripture says, a cultural gap between us and the text’s original setting, a refusal to obey, or a lack of broader biblical knowledge. Whatever the case, skills in Bible interpretation can be acquired and applied. And I’ll explain how in the days ahead.

Will Christians be secretly raptured?

left-behind-movie

 

Jeramie Rinne:

This past weekend the eschatological thriller Left Behind opened in theaters. It joins a flood of Christian movies this year including Exodus, Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, andNoah. Okay, let’s not count Noah.

Yet Left Behind stands out among this surge of Christian films, not just because it stars Nicholas Cage, and not just because it’s based on the wildly successful Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Perhaps more than the other films, Left Behind captures believers’ imagination because it portrays a future, world-changing event: the secret rapture, that moment Jesus suddenly snatches up all Christians to himself years prior to his visible second coming.

As producer and writer Paul LaLonde put it, “It’s a Bible-based movie, it’s a biblical story, it’s a true story—it just hasn’t happened yet.” As a result, it can cause us to wonder, What will it be like when all the Christians suddenly disappear? How close are we to the rapture? Will I be taken or left behind? 

 

But there’s another question we should ask, one that may surprise you: “Is the rapture taught in the Bible?” It may come as a shock to learn that many Bible-believing Christians today doubt the rapture, and that most Christians throughout history had never even heard of it.

Brief History of the Secret Rapture

The doctrine of the secret rapture emerged during the early 19th century through the teachings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). Darby was one of the early leaders of the Plymouth Brethren movement, and his teachings became known as “dispensationalism.”

Darby’s dispensationalism distinguished sharply between Israel and the church. The former was earthly, he believed, and the latter heavenly. God had two distinct peoples and separate plans for each. Thus Darby understood Old Testament prophecies as applying only to Israel, the earthly people of God. Rather than “spiritualizing” such prophecies, he expected a literal fulfillment of God’s promises to literal Israel. So when, according to dispensational thought, would God fulfill his prophecies to Israel? During the millennium (Rev. 20:1–8) after Jesus’ second coming.

So in order for God to resume these plans for Israel, Darby believed, God would first need to remove the church from the world. Hence arose the need for the secret rapture. Darby had in effect proposed something new: a two-stage return of Jesus. Jesus would first come to “rapture” the church, and then return again in visible glory.1

Darby’s views spread rapidly, especially in the United States. The dispensational system, including the secret rapture, was disseminated through prophecy conferences and received support from evangelists like D. L. Moody and Billy Sunday. By far the most important boost for Darby’s teaching, however, came from the Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield’s work became the English standard for fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians in the early 20th century, and in the process exposed thousands of readers to the secret rapture through his dispensational-informed study notes.

The secret rapture doctrine continued to gain steam in the latter half of the 20th century, and the advent of modern Israel in 1948 seemed a clear sign that God was restarting his plans for Israel. The rapture must be close! Books like Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth and movies like A Thief in the Night further popularized dispensational teaching. And then there are the Left Behindnovels, which have sold millions of copies and captured the imagination of a new generation.

The rise and spread of the secret rapture teaching is a remarkable story. In just a century and a half, a previously unknown doctrine has become a central eschatological hope for millions.

Is the Rapture in Scripture?

Ultimately we must assess doctrine not on the narrative of church history, but on the text of Scripture. That fact that the secret rapture, and dispensationalism, are the new kids on the eschatological block doesn’t necessarily mean they are false. Previous generations could have misinterpreted their Bibles. As Protestants we hold Scripture, not church tradition, to be authoritative.

But the secret rapture faces biblical challenges as well. There are no biblical texts that explicitly teach it or anything like a two-stage coming of Jesus. Passages that supposedly describe the secret rapture could just as easily be read as referring to the glorious second coming, and in fact have been read that way throughout the church’s history.

For example, the New Testament repeatedly warns that Jesus will return unexpectedly “like a thief” (e.g., Matt. 24:42–44; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Many read this as describing the any-moment return of Jesus at the secret rapture. However, in each of these passages the context seems to indicate the coming in question is Christ’s public, triumphant return in glory on the Day of the Lord (e.g., Matt. 24:30–31; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Pet. 3:10-13).

And then there’s Jesus’ warning that at his coming “two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken, the other left” (Matt. 24:40–41). Doesn’t this describe the rapture? Two people are in the car: one is taken, the other left. Hence the bumper sticker: “In case of rapture this car will be unmanned.”

But again, the “coming” of Jesus to take people (24:39) has already been identified as his coming in glory in the immediate context (24:30–31) without any clear textual indication that another coming is in view. Further, the Old Testament analogy of Noah and the flood suggests that those “taken” are actually the ones swept away in judgment (24:39)!

While it’s possible these texts or others describe a secret rapture separate from Jesus’ return, it’s not clear or, perhaps, even probable. Again, part of what drives the doctrine of the secret rapture is the function it serves in classic dispensationalism to separate God’s current workings in Israel and in the church.

Should Christians Watch Left Behind?

Full disclosure: I have not seen the new Left Behind film, and probably won’t. I’m mainly avoiding it because the reviews are so poor, and I’m too busy for potentially bad art. But more generally, what should Christians do with movies or books or teachings built on the secret rapture theory?

Watch and read and listen to what you want, but be aware.

Be aware of the historical background and biblical challenges surrounding the secret rapture doctrine. Don’t just assume it’s true because of the emotional effect of its portrayal in a movie or book. Just as we don’t ultimately build our beliefs on church tradition, so we shouldn’t build our beliefs on popular films or novels.

And be aware that the secret rapture is one of those “secondary doctrinal issues” over which Christians can disagree. It grieves me to think of churches or Christians dividing over it. If you’re a secret rapture skeptic (as I am, if you couldn’t tell), will you be upset if you’re wrong and you get raptured? “Hey Jesus, why did you rapture me? Didn’t you read my TGC article?”

If on the other hand you have rapture fever, will you stop faithfully following Jesus if things deteriorate, persecution and suffering come, and you must endure it?

Finally, be aware of your hope. As you groan at life in this broken and sin-soaked world, place your hope in Jesus’ coming, not in a certain theory of how he will come. Of course those who believe in the secret rapture believe Jesus is coming back. But when I talk to such folks I sometimes get the sense they’re really comforted by knowing that they’ll be beamed up before the world goes completely haywire.

Remember, the glorious hope of the church has always been in Christ’s triumphant return. Regardless of how you draw your end-times chart, may Jesus himself occupy the center of it.

Editors’ note: This article is partially adapted from Jeramie Rinne’s new book, How Will the World End?: And Other Questions About the Last Things and the Second Coming of Christ (Good Book).


1 Dispensationalism is an incredibly complex system of interpretation, and this brief summary does not begin to do it justice. Nor have I addressed the ways dispensationalism has grown and changed over the years. A short, helpful, and irenic summary and critique of dispensationalism can be found in Vern Poythress’s Understanding Dispensationalists.

G.K. Beale on interpreting OT Prophecy

maxresdefault

 

Justin Taylor:

G.K. Beale, writing in The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Apollos/IVP, 2004), argues that “We should want to follow an interpretive method that aims to unravel the original intention of biblical authors, realizing that that intention may be multi-layered, without any layers contradicting the others. Such original intentions may have meaning more correspondent to physical reality (hence so-called ‘literal interpretation’) while others may refer to ‘literal’ spiritual realities…” This means that “the progress of revelation certainly reveals expanded meanings of earlier biblical texts. Later biblical writers further interpret earlier biblical writings in ways that amplify earlier texts. These subsequent interpretations may formulate meanings that earlier authors may not have had in mind but which do not contravene their original, essential, organic meaning. This is to say that original meanings have ‘thick’ content and that original authors likely were not exhaustively aware of the full extent of that content. In this regard, fulfilment often ‘fleshes out’ prophecy with details of which even the prophet may not have been fully cognizant” (p. 289).

To illustrate this, Beale asks us to imagine a father in the year 1900 promising his young son a horse and buggy when he grows up and marries:

During the early years of expectation, the son reflects on the particular size of the buggy, its contours and style, its beautiful leather seat and the size and breed of horse that would draw the buggy.

Perhaps the father had knowledge from early experimentation elsewhere that the invention of the automobile was on the horizon, but coined the promise to his son in terms that his son would understand.

Years later, when the son marries, the father gives the couple an automobile, which has since been invented and mass-produced.

Is the son disappointed in receiving a car instead of a horse and buggy?

Is this not a ‘literal’ fulfillment of the promise?

In fact, the essence of the father’s word has remained the same: a convenient mode of transportation.

What has changed is the precise form of transportation promised. The progress of technology has escalated the fulfillment of the pledge in a way that could not have been conceived of when the son was young. Nevertheless, in the light of the later development of technology, the promise is viewed as ‘literally’ and faithfully carried out in a greater way than earlier apprehended.”  (352-53)

Only in the New is the Old revealed

old-Bibles

William Everett Bell:

The final test for the meaning of an Old Testament passage is not necessarily its literal meaning, but the meaning given to it by the inspired New Testament writers, whether that meaning be literal or typical. . . . The dispensationalist practice of deciding the meaning of a concept at its first embryonic appearance in the Old Testament, together with the refusal to expand, restrict or otherwise modify the concept in the light of additional and fuller subsequent revelation, must be rejected as an unacceptable hermeneutical method, because it must frequently distort New Testament revelation in order not to disturb a premature “literal” Old Testament interpretation, and thus it simply does not account satisfactorily for the totality of the Biblical data.

In: Menn, Jonathan (2013-09-04). Biblical Eschatology (Kindle Locations 3306-3310). Resource Publications – An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Calvin on Typology

????????

John Calvin:

“For this is eternal life, to know the one and only true God, and Him who He sent, Jesus Christ, whom he constituted the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation. This One is Isaac the well-beloved Son of the Father, who was offered in sacrifice, and yet did not succumb to the power of death. This is the vigilant Shepherd Jacob, taking such great care of the sheep He has charge over. This is the good and pitiable Brother Joseph, who in His glory was not ashamed to recognize His brothers, however contemptible and abject as they were. This is the great Priest and Bishop Melchizedek, having made eternal sacrifice once for all. This is the sovereign Lawgiver Moses, writing His law on the tables of our hearts by His Spirit. This is the faithful Captain and Guide Joshua to conduct us to the promised land. This is the noble and victorious King David, subduing under His hand every rebellious power. This is the magnificent and triumphant King Solomon, governing His kingdom in peace and prosperity. This is the strong and mighty Samson, who, by His death, overwhelmed all His enemies.”

John Calvin’s essay “Christ Is the End of the Law” is included in Thy Word Is Still Truth, ed. Peter Lillback and Richard B. Gaffin

(HT: Jim Hamilton)

The Danger of Forgetting How to Read the Bible

Open-Bible-Flickr-Ryk-Neethling

Dan Doriani:

In the past month, I learned that two more Christian leaders whom I know have either tarnished or destroyed their ministries. Neither was a friend, in the full sense, yet I’ve been friendly with both men and respected their talents and the fruit of their labors.

Once again, I wonder: How could a man who studied and knew Scripture and taught it faithfully to others, brazenly violate its most basic principle of love and self-control? Even as I ask the question, I know I’m liable to self-destructive sin too. Everyone needs Paul’s admonition: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Self-aware leaders know that we can violate principles we thought we knew.

But how can we repent quickly and keep from hardening ourselves to God’s voice as he calls us back to himself?

Leaders stumble for many reasons, and while I could argue that a zealous seminarian has little in common with a vain or depressed middle-aged leader, there is at least one common thread: My peers and my students can both stop reading the Bible as we should.

Technical and Devotional

A new Christian’s Scripture reading tends to be naïve and devotional. New disciples devour Scripture, underlining word after word in their new Bibles. We often feel that God is speaking directly to us in every word.

After a few years, a budding leader’s reading becomes sophisticated and devotional. We still feel that God speaks to us in the text, but as we learn basic principles of interpretation, we increasingly give our attention to Scripture’s literary, cultural, and historical contexts. We own and use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. We know the translation strategies of competing Bible versions and begin to use that knowledge to get at the original text.

Most future church leaders go to seminary, where we become technical readers. We read Greek and Hebrew and consult scholarly sources. We respect the distance between our world and that of Scripture. Zeal to describe biblical history and theology grows. As we pursue what the word originally meant, we are tempted to neglect what it means today, to us.

When students become interns at a local church they remember that study should edify the church. We continue to read technically, but now we share our findings with others. We become technical-functional readers. Our reading may still be detached, personally speaking, but we store and organize our discoveries so we can offer them to others. While this phase may help us rediscover the proper use of Scripture, we may still be professional readers. We can present God’s truth to others, while blocking his word to us.

Student and pastors need, therefore, to become technical, devotional readers. Here every exegetical skill remains, yet we also read like children, letting the word speak to our hearts again. We can find what Paul Ricoeur called a “second naiveté.” We are both technically astute and spiritually receptive. Our study lets us to explain and apply God’s Word to the church and to ourselves. Then we hear God’s Word, so it does its work in us once again, so we purify our hearts, cleanse our hands, and walk in the ways of the Lord.

Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colours: Reading an Old Story in a New Way

From Justin Taylor:

Vodie Baucham Jr.’s new book is Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors: Reading an Old Story in a New Way (Crossway, 2013).

Here are a couple of commendations from biblical theologians:

“Here is a popular-level reading of the life of Joseph as it is found in Genesis—an approach that reads the narrative both within the framework of Genesis and within the framework of the entire Bible. It avoids mere moralism, but does not overlook the morals implicit in the story; it avoids finding Jesus hiding behind every verse in some earnest but skewed and uncontrolled appeal to typology, yet it shows how the narrative prepares the way for Jesus. In many ways these chapters foster quiet, patient, faithful Bible reading, while driving readers toward the gospel.”
—D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“Voddie Baucham has thrown a spanner in the works of those writers and preachers who see little more in the biblical narratives than unrelated moral and spiritual lessons that are ingeniously applied directly to us. By identifying vital theological dimensions that unite the whole Joseph story within Genesis, he steers us towards the christological significance of this much loved, and much misapplied, account of the sons of Jacob.”
—Graeme Goldsworthy, Former Lecturer in Old Testament, Biblical Theology, and Hermeneutics, Moore Theological College

For more information, including an excerpt go here.

Should We Interpret a Bible Verse Literally or Figuratively?

Biblepages2

:

It depends on context. A person’s soul is in peril if he thinks Jesus was using poetic exaggeration when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). On the other hand, a Bible reader might maim himself unnecessarily if he fails to recognize the hyperbole in Jesus’ statement that we should cut off our hands and gouge out our eyes to avoid sin (Matthew 5:29-30). Like all people who have ever spoken or written, biblical authors use different styles of communication at different times.

Of course, everything the Bible affirms is true, regardless of its literary genre. Still, every time we open our Bibles, we must determine what style of communication is being used and read accordingly. As a primer, here are a few of the literary styles used in Scripture and some rules for interpreting them taken from Robert Stein’s helpful book, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible.

– Historical narrative recounts events and is meant to be understood literally – not as fable. In this vein, Article XIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics insists that literary techniques not be used to evade historical accounts.[i] For instance, some scholars have tried to fictionalize the story of Jonah and the Fish, but Christ treats Jonah as a real person in Matthew 12:40-42, and so should we. More than 40 percent of the Old Testament and nearly 60 percent of the New is historical narrative, including much of the material in the Gospels and Acts.

– Songs and poetry are geared toward evoking emotion rather than speaking with scientific accuracy. With biblical poetry, the reader must determine the author’s message without misconstruing symbolism as narrative description. For example, the song in Exodus 15 poetically describes Pharaoh’s army as being “thrown into the [Red] sea” (15:1) even though it actually followed the Israelites through the parted waters before God sent them crashing back down.

– Proverbs are pithy sayings that express general truths or rules of thumb; they don’t convey ironclad guarantees. A classic example is Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” While parental training generally sets the course for a child’s life, there are exceptions. (See BibleMesh blog article, “Is Proverbs 22:6 a guarantee?”)

– Parables are fictional stories that illustrate spiritual points. Generally, a parable teaches one basic point and is not intended as an extended comparison in which every detail has spiritual significance. About a third of Jesus’ teachings are in parables, including the story of the sower and soils in Luke 8 and the lost sheep in Luke 15.

– Idioms are expressions with meanings not derived from the normal meanings of the words in them. In modern English, our idioms include “raining cats and dogs” and “kick the bucket.” In the Bible you will find idioms like “their hearts melted” to describe a loss of courage and “the apple of His eye” to describe being precious in God’s sight.

The list could go on, but you get the idea. Unless we know what style of communication a biblical author is using and how to interpret it, we may wonder if archaeologists have ever found the tombs of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.


[i] Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, with commentary by Norm Geisler http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago2.html

The congregation as a living commentary

“Biblical interpretation involves performance. Think of a pianist who interprets a Beethoven sonata. We speak of Alfred Brendel’s interpretation as opposed to Glenn Gould’s. Can we really “perform” texts? Can we put prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, narrative into practice? Can we perform doctrine? psalm?

Certainly! We do so all the time: the fundamental form of interpretation is the way we live our lives each day. Our behaviour is the true index to what we believe about biblical authority. The Bible lays claim to our whole being. Some of God’s words require our intellectual assent, others our pious submission, others our moral obedience, and others our cultural faithfulness.

Christian life and thought alike, then, are interpretations of Scripture. Our doctrine is our theoretical interpretation of the Christian story; our life is our practical interpretation. In the postmodern world, the best way to defend biblical authority may be to create a kind of community life in which the Bible functions as authoritative (and liberating).

No contemporary theory of the authority of the Bible can assume that a person will be convinced of the Bible’s authority apart from participation in the community of faith. To repeat: the fundamental form of Christian biblical interpretation is the corporate life of the Christian church. The church embodies the Word of God—this, at least, is its task, its privilege, and responsibility. In Lesslie Newbigin’s words: the church must be a “hermeneutic of the Gospel.” Think of the congregation as a living commentary. Biblical literacy—“following” the Word—should lead to Christian discipleship, to practising the letter in our lives.”

Kevin J. Vanhoozer

“Exploring the World; Following the Word: The Credibility of Evangelical Theology in an Incredulous Age” [Trinity Journal 16/1 (1995), 20–21]

(HT: Tony Reinke)

How to Read the Bible

Tim Keller:

There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matt.27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.

In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on.

Therefore, to say that the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is, ‘Salvation is of the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9).

What Does It Mean To Be Biblically Balanced?

By Tullian Tchividjian:

I increasingly hear people talking about the need to be “Biblically balanced” and I think I’m starting to understand what they mean.

As I talk to people who speak about the need for our theology and preaching to be “balanced”, they mean that we need to spend the same amount of time talking about everything the Bible talks about.

So, for example, since the Bible talks about what God in Christ has done and also what we ought to do in light of what Christ has done, to be balanced we need to give both themes equal airtime. Since the Bible talks about Jesus and it talks about us, to be balanced we need to spend the same amount of time talking about both. The list could go on: since the Bible talks about x and y, to be balanced we need to talk about x and y the same amount.

But, this is NOT the balance of the Bible. While the Bible talks about a lot of things it does not give all of its themes equal airtime.

The overwhelmingly dominate message of the Bible is that God loves (and in Jesus) justifies sinners. There are tons of ways the Bible says this: the whore is made a bride, the dead are raised, the unrighteous are declared righteous, slaves are made sons, the blind see, the sick are healed, the unclean are made pure, the guilty are forgiven, sinners are saved, and so on. Obviously, no Christian denies that the Bible says more than this. But the work of Christ on behalf of sinners is clearly the emphasis of Scripture from beginning to end. What we do in light of what Jesus has done is important. But it’s not more important than (or even equally important as) what Jesus has done for us.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Martin Luther said, “Remove Christ from the Scriptures and there is nothing left.” The emphasis of the Bible, in other words, is on the work of the Redeemer, not on the work of the redeemed. As important as how we live is, the spotlight of Scripture is on Christ, not the Christian. “The Bible is not fundamentally about us. It’s fundamentally about Jesus.” (Tim Keller)

My point is simply this: to be “Biblically balanced” is NOT to allot equal airtime to every Biblical theme. To be Biblically balanced is to let our theology and preaching be proportioned by the Bible’s radically disproportionate focus on God’s saving love for sinners seen and accomplished in the crucified and risen Christ.

The relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament

By Tim Keller:

I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” What I hear most often is “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”

It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.

First of all, let’s be clear that it’s not only the Old Testament that has proscriptions about homosexuality. The New Testament has plenty to say about it, as well. Even Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12 that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that, (v. 12) persons should abstain from marriage and from sex.

However, let’s get back to considering the larger issue of inconsistency regarding things mentioned in the OT that are no longer practiced by the New Testament people of God. Most Christians don’t know what to say when confronted about this. Here’s a short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament:

The Old Testament devotes a good amount of space to describing the various sacrifices that were to be offered in the tabernacle (and later temple) to atone for sin so that worshippers could approach a holy God. As part of that sacrificial system there was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can’t go into God’s presence without purification.

But even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them. (cf. 1 Samuel 15:21-22; Psalm 50:12-15; 51:17; Hosea 6:6). When Christ appeared he declared all foods ‘clean’ (Mark 7:19) and he ignored the Old Testament clean laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

But the reason is made clear. When he died on the cross the veil in the temple was ripped through, showing that the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its clean laws had been done away with. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us “clean.”

The entire book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were not so much abolished as fulfilled by Christ. Whenever we pray ‘in Jesus name’, we ‘have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:19). It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we were to continue to follow the ceremonial laws.

The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament. Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live. The moral law is an outline of God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so all the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11.) If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

Further, the New Testament explains another change between the Testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament things like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people existed in the form of a nation-state and so all sins had civil penalties.

But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how a case of incest in the Corinthian church is dealt with by Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1ff. and 2 Corinthians 2:7-11.) Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mish-mash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense and is perfectly consistent with its premise. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus was the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But the one thing you can’t really say in fairness is that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to accept the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing other ones.

One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question—“Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”

Goldsworthy: ‘Macro-typology’

The macro-typology I propose is a way of showing the comprehensive nature of the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ. . . .

When we allow the Old Testament categories to expand to their full potential, antitype is shown to be broader than the mere fulfillment of certain explicit types and promises. Biblical theological study of the events, people and institutions provides us with a comprehensive view of reality and God’s part in it. On this view, typology has regard for the full scope of God’s redemptive work in that salvation means that he restores everything that was lost or marred by the Fall. According to Paul’s take on Genesis 3, this involves the entire creation (Rom. 8:18-23). It was also Paul who declared the resurrection to be the locus of fulfillment of all God’s promises (Acts 13:32-33). Paul’s cosmic Christology, especially in Colossians 1:15-20 and in Ephesians 1:10, would appear to present a view that God has drawn all things together in Christ, through whom and for whom all things were created.

–Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles (IVP, 2012), 184

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

The Law Is Abolished and the Law Continues: Why Matthew and Paul Don’t Disagree

Vern Poythress:

Some people might suppose from a superficial reading of Matthew that Matthew asserts almost pure continuity of the law, and enjoins us merely to keep the same old law in the same form as always, only now empowered with the presence of Christ. In fact, however, the coming of Christ is the coming of the kingdom of God, the climactic fulfillment of all to which the Old Testament pointed. Reality supersedes shadows. Hence radical transformation of the law is included.

Conversely, some people might suppose from a superficial reading of Paul that Paul primarily asserts only discontinuity in the law. The law is dead and gone, not to be obeyed, virtually irrelevant for Christian living (cf. Eph. 2:15Rom. 7:1-6Gal. 2:19). But Paul too sees the law as comprehensively fulfilled in Christ (Rom. 15:4-61 Cor. 10:1-13; cf. Rom. 8:413:10-14). When understood properly it is a most impressive means of communion with Christ (2 Cor. 3:15-18).

The apparent differences between Matthew and Paul arise largely from the differences between their immediate concerns and goals.

Paul asserts the abolition of the law loud and clear, lest anyone miss it and destroy the unity of Jews and Gentiles as free people in Christ.

Matthew asserts the continuation of the law loud and clear, lest anyone miss it and think that Jesus is not the true Jewish Messiah.

But at a deep level they agree.

Matthew’s assertions are qualified by the idea of fulfillment, which involves radical transformation through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Paul’s denials are qualified by his vigorous affirmations concerning the character of the law: it is God’s prophetic revelation looking forward to Christ and still now revealing him in his righteousness and mercy. The law is abolished in the sense that the fulness has come and the temporary has come to an end. The law continues in the sense that seen in the light of Christ, it still speaks his word to us.

In short, we may speak either of abolition or of continuation, as we wish, provided we understand the depths and richnesses involved in what we should affirm in a total picture.

—Vern S. Poythress, “Fulfillment of the Law in the Gospel according to Matthew,” The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1991), 281-282.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens

The Bible as ‘Redemptive Revelation.’ This is possibly the best primer on understanding Scripture available.

A talk and Q&A with Michael Williams, author of the fine new book How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture (Zondervan, 2012).

(HT: Dane Ortlund, via Justin Taylor)

Two Ways to Read the Bible

Mike Bullmore, The Gospel and Scripture: How to Read the Bible (The Gospel Coalition Booklets; Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 16–17 (formatting added):

.

The Bible is endlessly interesting because it is God’s story, and God by nature is himself endlessly interesting. . . .

There are actually many methods of reading the Bible, and because the Bible is inexhaustible, many methods can prove fruitful. However, we are not so much concerned here with what might be called “methods” as we are with what we can call “approaches.” Two main approaches to the Bible usefully unlock its treasure, which is the gospel.

.

  1. Reading the Bible as Continuous Narrative (or History) . . . .
  2. Reading the Bible as a Compendium of God-Inspired Perspectives (or Theology) . . . .

Whichever of these two ways the Bible is read, its message is the same.

If read as a continuous narrative, its storyline is

  1. creation,
  2. fall,
  3. redemption, and
  4. restoration.

If read as a collection of theological perspectives, the themes that emerge are

  1. God,
  2. sin,
  3. Christ, and
  4. faith.

The message of both readings is the triumph of God’s eternal, redemptive purpose.

These two ways of reading the Bible are not at all contradictory. On the contrary, they are both necessary to fully understand and “hear” the biblical gospel and to help us see how all the parts of the Bible hold together and point us to Jesus.

(HT: Andy Naselli)

Biblical Interpretation and Authority

From an article by J.I. Packer:

1. The inspiration of the Bible is an activity of God, who providentially rules over the utterances of men and is binding upon us.
2. There is a subjectively recognized and objectively inspired canon. In other words, not all inspired words are canonical, but all canonical words are inspired, and God causes his people to recognize them as such.
3. The Scriptures authenticate themselves to Christian believers through the convincing work of the Holy Spirit.
4. The Scriptures are sufficient for the Christian and the church in the realm of belief and behavior.
5. The Scriptures are clear and interpret themselves from within, standing above both the church and the Christian in corrective judgment and health-giving instruction.
6. The nature of Scripture is a mystery—that is, there is a human and divine involvement, where a particular book or letter is written by Paul, John, or Isaiah, yet all of Scripture are God’s words.
7. Finally, evangelicals hold that obedience by the Christian, individually, and the church, corporately, consists in the conscious submission, both

(HT: Todd Pruitt)