Rob Bell vs. Andrew Wilson on homosexuality and the bible. Pretty impressive argumentation from Andrew, both in terms of clarity and charity. Bell, however, employs a hermeneutic driven by personal preference and cultural expediency.
Most people in churches nowadays have never read through the Bible even once; the older Christian habit of reading it from start to finish as a devotional discipline has virtually vanished. So in describing the Bible we start from scratch, assuming no prior knowledge.
The Bible consists of 66 separate pieces of writing, composed over something like a millennium and a half. The last 27 of them were written in a single generation: they comprise four narratives about Jesus called Gospels, an account of Christianity’s earliest days called the Acts of the Apostles, 21 pastoral letters from teachers with authority, and a final admonition to churches from the Lord Jesus himself, given partly by dictation and partly by vision. All these books speak of human life being supernaturally renovated through, in, with, under, from and for the once crucified, now glorified Son of God, who fills each writer’s horizon, receives his worship, and determines his mind-set at every point.
Through the books runs the claim that this Jesus fulfils promises, patterns and premonitions of blessings to come that are embodied in the 39 pre-Christian books. These are of three main types: history books, telling how God called and sought to educate the Jewish people, Abraham’s family, to worship, serve and enjoy him, and to be ready to welcome Jesus Christ when he appeared; prophetic books, recording oracular sermons from God conveyed by human messengers expressing threats, hopes and calls to faithfulness; and wisdom books which in response to God’s revelation show how to praise, pray, live, love, and cope with whatever may happen.
Christians name these two collections the Old and New Testament respectively. Testament means covenant commitment, and the Christian idea, learned from Paul, from the writer to the Hebrews, and from Jesus himself, is that God’s covenant commitment to his own people has had two editions. The first edition extended from Abraham to Christ; it was marked throughout by temporary features and many limitations, like a non-permanent shanty built of wood on massive concrete foundations. The second edition extends from Christ’s first coming to his return, and is the grand full-scale edifice for which the foundations were originally laid.
The writer to the Hebrews, following Jeremiah’s prophecy, calls this second superstructure the new covenant, and explains that through Christ, who is truly its heart, it provides a better priesthood, sacrifice, place of worship, range of promises and hope for the future than were known under its predecessor. Christians see Christ as the true centre of reference in both Testaments, the Old always looking and pointing forward to him and the New proclaiming his past coming, his present life and ministry in and from heaven, and his future destiny at his return, and they hold that this is the key to true biblical interpretation.
Christians have maintained this since Christianity began.
–J. I. Packer, Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know (Crossway, 2013), 21-22
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
“Against those forms of Judaism that saw the law-covenant not only as lex [law] but as a hermeneutical device for interpreting the Old Testament, Paul insists that the Bible’s story line takes precedence and provides the proper hermeneutical key.”
D. A. Carson, “Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament,” JETS 40 (1997): 585.
There are two ways to read the Bible. We can read it as law or as promise.
If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do. Even the promises will be conditioned by law. But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do. Even the law will be conditioned by promise.
In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one. “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18).
So, if we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or grace, demand or provision, threat or promise — if we want to know how to read the Bible in an apostolic rather than a rabbinic way — we can follow the plot-line of the Bible itself and see which comes first. And in fact, promise comes first, in God’s word to Abram in Genesis 12. Then the law is “added” — significant word, in Galatians 3:19 — the law is added as a sidebar later, in Exodus 20. The hermeneutical category “promise” establishes the larger, wraparound framework for everything else added in along the way.
The deepest message of the Bible is the promises of God to undeserving law-breakers through his grace in Christ. This is not an arbitrary overlay forced onto the biblical text. The Bible presents itself to us this way. The laws and commands and examples and warnings are all there, fulfilled in Christ and revered by us. But they do not provide the hermeneutic with which we make sense of the whole. We can and should understand them as qualified by God’s gracious promise, for all who will bank their hopes on him.
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
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).
Historically, Protestant theologians have highlighted four defining attributes of Scripture:necessity, sufficiency, clarity, and authority. Each of these attributes is meant to protect the truth about the Bible and safeguard against common errors.
The doctrine of Scripture’s necessity reminds us that we need God’s word to tell us how to live and how to be saved (1 Cor. 2:6-13). General revelation is not adequate. Personal experience and human reason cannot show us the gospel. We need God’s gracious self-disclosure if we are to worship rightly, believe in Christ, and live for ever in heaven.
The doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency reminds us that God’s word tells us all we need to know for life and godliness in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:14-17). We don’t need new revelations. We don’t need dreams or vision. We don’t need a council of prophets or a quorum of apostles to present to us new information about Jesus Christ and the gospel. Scripture doesn’t tell us everything we might want to know. But it tells us everything we truly need to know.
The doctrine of Scripture’s clarity (or perspicuity) reminds us that the saving message of God’s redemption can be understood by all who care to hear it (Deut. 30:11-14). This does not mean every passage in the Bible is obvious or that we should shun proper training in all the biblical disciplines. But when it comes to the central tenets of Scripture, we can discern God’s word for ourselves, apart from official church interpretation. There is a meaning in the text and God knows how to communicate it to us.
The doctrine of Scripture’s authority remind us that God’s word stands above all earthly powers (Psalm 138:2). On every matter in which the Bible means to speak, the last word goes to Scripture, not to councils or to catechisms or to science or to human experience, but to the word of God. We all have someone or something that we turn to as the arbiter of truth claims. For Christians, in the final analysis, this authority must be, and can only be, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
These evangelical attributes are an easy and important way to remember all that Scripture is for us and to us: necessity, sufficiency, clarity, and authority. Or to put the list into four sentences:
God’s word is needed.
God’s word is enough.
God’s word is understandable
God’s word is final.
Which poses the bigger risk of idolatry–a high view of the Bible that sees Jesus submitting to the Scriptures or a low view of Scripture that sees Jesus standing apart from the Scriptures? Some Christians fear that if they have a high view of the Bible they will end up denigrating Jesus and being guilty of bibliolatry. But what if the danger of idolatry is much more likely when you try to place Jesus above the Bible?
J.I. Packer explains:
Others tell us the final authority for Christians is not Scripture, but Christ, whom we must regard as standing apart from Scripture and above it. He is its Judge; and we, as His disciples, must judge Scripture by Him, receiving only what is in harmony with His life and teaching and rejecting all that is not.
But who is this Christ, the Judge of Scripture? Not the Christ of the New Testament and of history. That Christ does not judge Scripture; he obeys it and fulfills it. Certainly, He is the final authority of the whole of it. Certainly, He is the final authority for Christians; that is precisely why Christians are bound to acknowledge the authority of Scripture. Christ teaches them to do so.
A Christ who permits His followers to set Him up as the Judge of Scripture, One by whom its authority must be confirmed before it becomes binding and by whose adverse sentence it is in places annulled, is a Christ of human imagination, made in the theologian’s own image, One whose attitude to Scripture is the opposite to that of the Christ of history. If the construction of such a Christ is not a breach of the second commandment, it is hard to see what is.
It is sometimes said that to treat the Bible as the infallible word of God is idolatry. If Christ was an idolater, and if following His teaching is idolatry, the accusation may stand; not, however, otherwise. But to worship a Christ who did not receive Scripture as God’s unerring word, nor require His followers to do so, would seem to be idolatry in the strictest sense.
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 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).
Our knowledge of God is a different story. What we know about God, definitively and redemptively, comes from the Bible. And that is, the Bible that comes from God, who himself comes from nothing.
These are the foundational pieces to understanding the doctrine of revelation, and therefore, the doctrine of Scripture. God, utterly independent and essentially revelatory, has made himself known. This is stunning. And it helps to read the Bible with it in view.
D. A. Carson writes,
To approach the Bible correctly it is important to know something of the God who stands behind it. God is both transcendent (i.e., he is “above” space and time) and personal. He is the sovereign and all-powerful Creator to whom the entire universe owes its existence, yet he is the God who graciously condescends to interact with human beings whom he has himself formed in his own image.
Because we are locked in time and space, God meets us here; he is the personal God who interacts with other persons, persons he has made to glorify him and to enjoy him forever. . . .
The point to emphasize is that a genuinely Christian understanding of the Bible presupposes the God of the Bible, a God who makes himself known in a wide diversity of ways so that human beings may know the purpose for which they were made — to know and love and worship God, and so delight in that relationship that God is glorified while they receive the matchless benefit of becoming all that God wants them to be.
“Approaching the Bible,” Collected Writings on Scripture, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 19–21.
Matt Chandler – David, Goliath & The Gospel:
(HT: Todd Pruitt)
The OT storyline appears best to be summarized as: the historical story of God who progressively reestablishes his new creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to extend that new creation rule and resulting in judgment for the unfaithful (defeat and exile), all of which issues into his glory;
the NT storyline can be summarized as: Jesus’ life of covenantal obedience, trials, judgmental death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit has launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-and-not-yet promised new creation reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to extend this new creation rule and resulting in judgment for the unfaithful, unto God’s glory.
That sentence is expanded to over 1,000 pages here.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
(HT: Justin Taylor)
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.
- Reading the Bible as Continuous Narrative (or History) . . . .
- 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
- redemption, and
If read as a collection of theological perspectives, the themes that emerge are
- Christ, and
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)
From Charles Spurgeon’s 1867 sermon “A Song at the Well-head”:
You are retired for your private devotions; you have opened the Bible, and you begin to read.
Now, do not be satisfied with merely reading through a chapter. Some people thoughtlessly read through two or three chapters—stupid people for doing such a thing!
It is always better to read a little and digest it, than it is to read much and then think you have done a good thing by merely reading the letter of the word.
For you might as well read the alphabet backwards and forwards, as read a chapter of Scripture, unless you meditate upon it, and seek to comprehend its meaning.
Merely to read words is nothing: the letter kills.
The business of the believer with his Bible open is to pray, “Lord, give me the meaning and spirit of your word, while it lies open before me; apply your word with power to my soul, threatening or promise, doctrine or precept, whatever it may be; lead me into the soul and marrow of your word.”
Also, it is not the form of prayer, but the spirit of prayer that shall truly benefit your souls.
That prayer has not benefited you, which is not the prayer of the soul.
You have need to say, “Lord, give me the spirit of prayer; now help me to feel my need deeply, to perceive your promises clearly, and to exercise faith upon them.”
In your private devotions, strive after vital godliness, real soul-work, the life-giving operation of the Spirit of God in your hearts.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
(HT: Rick Ianniello)
“In the biblical drama, all of our expectations, assumptions, and cherished ideas are thrown into question. God the judge bears the sentence that his own justice demands. The offended party becomes the redeemer, even as he is subjected to further acts of the most heinous violence from those he redeems. The outcasts become royal heirs, the outsiders become insiders and the insiders outsiders, those who thought they were righteous are in fact condemned and those who were beyond any hope of moral recovery are declared righteous. A strange story, indeed.”
— Michael Horton
The Gospel-Driven Life
(Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Books, 2009), p. 64
(HT: Of First Importance)
(HT: Timmy Brister)
My thanks to Matt Waymeyer for this:
The promise of the coming Messiah begin in embryonic form in Genesis 3:15 where God promised to remedy the entrance of sin into the world through a future descendant of the woman. Throughout the remainder of the Old Testament, this initial promise is developed and expanded so that the overall picture of the coming Messiah is filled in and revealed more and more clearly. In this way, Genesis 3:15 can be viewed as the initial strokes of paint on the canvas of biblical prophecy. Then, with each new prophecy, more detail and color is added to the canvas and the picture becomes fuller and clearer:
- He will come through the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15).
- He will come through the line of Shem (Gen 9:25-27).
- He will come through the line of Abraham (Gen 12:3).
- He will come through the line of Judah (Gen 49:8-12).
- He will come through the line of Jesse (Is 11:1a).
- He will come through the line of David (2 Sam 7:10-13; Ps 132:11b).
- He will come from the town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
- He will come as a child and a son (Is 9:6a).
- He will be born of a virgin (Is 7:14).
- He will be called “Immanuel” (Is 7:14).
- He will be called “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer 23:6; 33:16; cf. Mal 4:2).
- He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6c).
- He will come in humility (Zech 9:9).
- He will serve as a prophet in Israel (Deut 18:15, 18; cf. John 6:14).
- He will bring good news to the afflicted (Is 61:1-3).
- He will crush the head of the Serpent (Gen 3:15).
- He will wash away the guilt of sinners (Is 4:1-4).
- He will serve as a channel of divine blessing to the world (Gen 12:1-3).
- He will be rejected by man, pierced by the Jews, and crushed by God the Father (Is 53:1-12; Zech 11:4-14; 12:10; 13:7; cf. Ps 22; cf. Dan 9:26a).
- He will die as a substitutionary sacrifice for guilty sinners to provide forgiveness and salvation (Is 53:1-12; Zech 3:9).
- He will be resurrected from the dead (Ps 16:10; cf. Acts 2:31).
- He will come again in judgment upon the nations (Is 63:1-6).
- He will bring destruction to the enemies of Israel (Num 24:15-19).
- He will reign in perfect peace, justice, and righteousness as King over the entire earth (Gen 49:10; Num 24:17-19; Ps 2:6-12; 110:1-7; Is 9:6b-7; 11:1-16; 42:1-4; Jer 23:5; 33:14-2; Zech 9:10).
- He will build the Temple of the Lord and rule on His throne as Priest (Zech 6:12-15).
- He will unify and restore the nation of Israel (Ezek 36:16-38; 37:15-28).
- He will feed and protect Israel as her divine Shepherd (Ezek 34:23-31; 37:15-28).
- He will bring salvation to Israel and reign over her as King (Is 49:5-6a; Micah 5:2; Jer 23:5-6; 30:21; 33:16; Ezek 37:15-28).
- He will be appointed as a covenant to the people and a light to the nations of the earth (Is 42:5-6; 49:6; cf. Is 55:4; cf. Mal 3:1).
- He will be given glory and everlasting dominion over all the nations of the earth, and His kingdom will be established forever (Dan 7:13-14; 2 Sam 7:10-13; Ps 132:11b).