The Bible

Truth grounded in revelation

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D.A. Carson:

The revelation has come to us in the natural world, in great events of miraculous power attested by witnesses, in the personal work of the Spirit of God, in the enormously rich variety of writings that make up the Bible, and supremely in the person of Jesus Christ. These are not mutually exclusive channels. For instance, most of what we know propositionally about Jesus is found in the Bible, including those parts that preserve the testimony of witnesses – so here we have Jesus himself, witnesses who have left words about him, and the Bible that preserves them and conveys them.

First, the content can be indeed, has been- put into propositions, creeds, catechisms, statements of faith. It has substance. Of course there is an interpretive element in all our confessions, for finite beings cannot know anything without interpreting it. Only omniscience can escape the limitations of perspectivalism – of looking at things form a limited perspective. But that does not mean that all perspectives are equally valid, or that there is no truth in any particular interpretation.

As Christians band together to study the Bible, they come to convictions about what the Bible is saying – and that leads, rightly, to shared creeds that are modifiable only by more light from the Bible itself. Our confession of such truth cannot participate in the perfection of omniscience, but it is nonetheless valid and appropriate to the limitations of our finitude and our fallenness. Better yet, it is made possible by a gracious god who condescends to disclose himself in human words, and by the Spirit who convicts rebels of sin and illumines darkened minds.

The Intolerance of Tolerance, pg. 111-112

(HT: Marco Gonzalez)

Primer on Reading the Bible

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By John J. Hughes:

The Bible is not an ordinary book, and we will never taste its choicest fruits if we approach it in an ordinary manner. Here are seven short pieces of counsel, from a lifelong Bible-reader, to help you make the most of your own study of the Scriptures.

1. Exalt God’s Word

God exalts his word and name above all things (Psalm 138:2). His words are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times (Psalm 12:6). They are perfect (Psalm 19:7). Because the words of the Bible are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), they are living, active, able to penetrate our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) and to give life (John 6:63, 68). Therefore, Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible is not just true; it is truth itself — God’s divinely revealed standard of truth.

2. Live by God’s Words

Jesus said we are to live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Obeying God’s word is the hallmark of a disciple and the test of true love. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). But “he who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:24). Love shows itself in obedience, which God rewards with increased fellowship with him.

3. Honor the Bible’s Two Natures

Jesus has two natures — divine and human, without sin. So also the Bible has two authors — God and man, without error. The Bible is the words of God in the words of men (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16). What the Bible says, God says.

4. Recognize the Bible’s Purposes

God gave the Bible to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15), to equip us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). Paul prayed that our love for Jesus “may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,” so we can discern God’s will and lead lives that please him and result in his worship (Philippians 1:9–11). Loving Jesus increases our understanding of God’s word and will, deepens our worship of him, and fosters richer fellowship with him.

5. Beware of Pharisaical Leaven

Bible study can fan the flames of our love for Jesus or drown it in a sea of knowledge. Studying the Bible with Jesus is life-changing. Studying the Bible without him is an exercise in intellectual pride.

Jesus’s harshest words were reserved for Bible scholars and religious leaders. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their proud, deceitful hearts: “You have never heard the Father’s voice . . . nor does his word dwell in you. . . . You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:37–40).

Similarly, Jesus chastised the Sadducees for their poor understanding of the Bible and God: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).

According to Jesus (in John 5:37–47), he is the subject of the Bible (see also Luke 24:25–27 and 2 Corinthians 1:20), and the proper goal of Bible study is not the acquisition of knowledge, but hearing God speak to us in his word, having his word dwell in us, and coming to him for eternal life — in other words, life-giving fellowship with God.

6. Seek Fellowship with God

First, approach God’s word with a humble heart. “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1), and God opposes proud people (1 Peter 5:5). God calls pride a “detestable thing” (Proverbs 16:5) — the same Hebrew word used to refer to pagan sacrifices and practices. Pride begets spiritual death, but humility brings life (Proverbs 22:4) because God “gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5), who “tremble at his word” (Isaiah 66:2), and he revives them (Isaiah 57:15).

Cry out for supernatural help. Ask God to give you a “spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17) and to open your eyes so you “may see wonderful things in his law” (Psalm 119:18). Ask to hear Jesus’s voice (John 10:4, 16, 27) and for him to open the Scriptures so your heart might burn with increased passion for the Son of God (Luke 24:32). Invite the Author of the Book to help you understand his Book. God delights in giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13)!

Second, approach God’s word with a pure heart. Only in Jesus are we able to enter God’s presence as a passionate worshiper who has “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3–4), not just by justification, but increasingly in terms of our own sanctification. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and separates us from God (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2). Without the active presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), we cannot understand God’s word (1 Corinthians 2:12–14).

Before studying the Bible, ask God to reveal any sin in your life (Psalm 139:23–24). Confess your sin. Ask God to cleanse your heart (Psalm 51:10). Then thank God for forgiving and cleansing you through Jesus’s blood (Hebrews 9:14; 10:19–22; 1 John 1:9).

Third, approach God’s word with a seeking heart. Only if you earnestly seek God, believing he will speak to you in his word, will you hear what he has to say and experience his presence, for without faith it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). Seek God above all. Learn to pray David’s prayer: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

7. Seek to Love What God Loves — And Hate What God Hates

The main purpose of Bible study is knowing God personally and deeply in a life-transforming way (Philippians 3:10) so that the character of Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19) as God conforms us to the image of (Romans 8:29) and transforms us into the likeness of (2 Corinthians 3:18) his Son, Jesus.

Godly Bible study will lead to an increased love for what pleases God (John 8:29; 2 Corinthians 5:9) and a corresponding hatred for the things God hates (Hebrews 1:9). It will lead us to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33) and to do all that we do for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). It will lead us to have passion for Jesus and compassion for people (Matthew 22:37–40; 1 Timothy 1:5; Revelation 2:4). Jesus prayed that the Father’s love for him would be in us and that he would be in us (John 17:26). He prayed that we would experience the Father’s love for us, have deep fellowship with him, and then love him as his Father does (Romans 5:5; 1 John 4:19). Such love is upward-facing toward God and outward-facing toward others. To say that we love God while failing to show love to others signifies a failure to love God truly (1 John 4:20).

God-pleasing Bible study will deepen our experience of God’s love, resulting in greater love for him, deeper fellowship with him, and greater compassion for people.

The Fuel For Missions

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Without the Bible, world evangelization would not only impossible but actually inconceivable. It is the Bible that lays upon us the responsibility to evangelize the world, gives us a gospel to proclaim, tells us how to proclaim it and promises us that it is God’s power for salvation to every believer.

It is, moreover, an observable fact of history, both past and contemporary, that the degree of the Church’s commitment to world evangelization is commensurate with the degree of its conviction about the authority of the Bible. Whenever Christians lose their confidence in the Bible, they also lose their zeal for evangelism. Conversely, whenever they are convinced about the Bible, then they are determined about evangelism.

- John Stott in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, p.21

(HT: Zach Nielsen)

 

What is the Bible?

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Here’s a great summary from the introductory matter of a Gideon bible:

The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.

It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here Paradise is restored, Heaven opened and the gates of Hell disclosed.
Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end.

It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and be remembered forever.

It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

Take God at His Word: Kevin DeYoung on the Character of Scripture

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Matt Smethurst:

Your Bible is evidence that the Maker of the universe is a God who initiates, who reveals, who talks. There are, after all, only two options when it comes to knowledge of one’s Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess.

And he has spoken. The Lord of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to disclose himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it. But what does Scripture say about itself? In his new book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway) [20 quotes], Kevin DeYoung cuts through the fog of contemporary confusion to offer a readable and constructive defense of the clarity, authority, sufficiency, and beauty of God’s written Word.

I spoke with DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, about bibliolatry, threats on the horizon, and more:

You claim that “what we believe and feel about the Word of God should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus.” Aren’t you guilty of bibliolatry here?

Bibliolatry is one of those words that gets thrown around as an insult without anyone carefully explaining what they mean. Sometimes people will say, “Well, we worship the ‘Word Christ’ not the ‘word the Bible.’” Which is true in a sense. We don’t prostrate ourselves before the artifact of ink on a page or the glow of a handheld device. So of course we don’t worship paper and pixels. But we must not separate the revelation of God in the Scriptures from the revelation of God in Jesus. We would not know everything there is to know about the latter without the former, and even Jesus directs our attention to the Scriptures. If the Bible is God’s speech, his voice, the opening of his most hallowed lips, then whatever we feel about the Word of God should mirror what we feel about God in the flesh.

What Scripture-related error is most “live” among evangelicals today? For what issue on the horizon will we need to be most equipped?

I see several. Let me briefly mention two. At the level of praxis, many evangelicals do not believe in Scripture’s perspicuity. Once they see that some Christians view an issue differently, they pack it in and give up ever knowing what the Bible says. We’ve seen this recently on the issue of homosexuality with certain voices calling for a moratorium on debating the issue because there are obviously two good positions out there and who are we to try to settle things. But, of course, PhDs disagree on almost everything in almost every field of human investigation. Evangelicals can be too quick to say “that’s just your interpretation” instead of actually making an argument from the Bible for their position.

Second, evangelicals are constantly being faced with the temptation to make special revelation subservient to general revelation. Rightly understood, the two do not contradict each other. As the truism goes, all truth is God’s truth. But the Protestant confessions have always understood that special revelation is clearer than general revelation. Peer-reviewed science journals do not trump what God says in the Bible. Now, if we’ve misread the Bible, let’s see our mistake and own up to it. But until we are convinced from Scripture, we should not trade the unchanging truth of Scripture for the changing winds of contemporary academia.

What’s wrong with disliking some of what the Bible teaches so long as we obey it?

It’s better to obey the Bible when you don’t like it than to disobey and not like it. The goal of mature Christian discipleship, however, is more than a begrudging acceptance of God’s will and God’s ways. We should learn to delight in what God says in his Word, because it is the reflection of his character. To dislike what the Bible teaches is to call into question in our hearts who God is and what he’s like.

What do you mean when you claim God’s speech is ongoing but his revelation is not?

God continues to speak. We don’t have to pray for the Word of God to come alive. It is already living and active. But God is not revealing new information about the Son of God or how we are saved. I don’t have space here to unpack the argument, but the book of Hebrews makes the case that redemption and revelation both have their finality in Christ. The two aspects of Christ’s work cannot be separated. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made and no new revelatory work needed for faithfulness as a Christian.

Why do you believe Scripture’s sufficiency (as opposed to its authority or clarity or necessity) might be the attribute “most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians”?

It’s wonderful that evangelicals want an intimate relationship with God, but this good impulse often leads us to make wild claims that can’t be substantiated by Scripture and, in fact, undermine the finished work of Christ. I’m thinking of people who make their sense of “calling” more important than the Word of God or the wisdom of the church. I’m thinking of denominational groups I’ve been a part of that claim to get their 10-year vision from God himself (which, of course, makes opposition to that vision tantamount to blasphemy). I’m talking about runaway bestsellers—from devout, good Christians I imagine—that anchor biblical truths in life-after-death experiences or suggest that Jesus is writing special letters every day just for us. Is the Bible alone sufficient for salvation, for life, and for godliness as a Christian? Evangelicals say “yes,” but then often live out “no.”

Red Letter Nonsense

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Kevin DeYoung:

An excerpt from Taking God at His Word on the implications of 2 Timothy 3:16 for the authority and unity of the whole Bible:

Just as crucially, if all Scripture is breathed out by God, then there is a unity to be found across the pages of the Bible. Without minimizing the differences of genre and human au­thorship, we should nevertheless approach the Bible expect­ing theological distinctives and apparent discrepancies to be fully reconcilable.

The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize instructions in the gospel more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.

God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripturated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incar­nate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ. Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God. Rebellion against the Scriptures is rebel­lion against God. The Bible can no more fail, falter, or err, than God himself can fail, falter, or err.

John Calvin – The Undoubted Power and Majesty of God’s Word

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John Calvin:

Let this point therefore stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork! This we do, not as persons accustomed to seize upon some unknown thing, which, under closer scrutiny, displeases them, but fully conscious that we hold the unassailable truth! Nor do we do this as those miserable men who habitually bind over their minds to the thralldom of superstition; but we feel that the undoubted power of his divine majesty lives and breathes there. By this power we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and willingly, to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by mere human willing or knowing!

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volumes 1 & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) Vol. 1.7.5. p. 80.

(HT: The Old Guys)

What is Your Most Prized Possession?

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Erik Raymond:

What is your most prized possession? To find out we would only have to look at what you give your time, attention, and resources to.

For the Christian, what should be the most prized possession? Everyone including the First Grade Sunday School Class just rightly answered, “Bible.” Very good; but, why?

The reason why is because the Bible is rock of revelation that our faith is built upon.

How do you know God? You know him from his word.

There is a sense in which God’s character is revealed in creation (Ps. 19) and even to a degree within us as image bearers (Rom. 1). However, our view of this revelation is strained and the revelation itself is inferior. It is strained by virtue of our sin and the revelation is inferior to the Scriptures. The knowledge of God is chiefly given through the revelation of God by means of the word written and incarnate (Heb. 1:1-3John 14:92 Tim. 3:16-17). If anyone knows God they know him through his word.

How do you hear from God? You hear from him from his word.

Christianity, contrasted to other world religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc), is an outside in religion. We do not reason up to God or look within for our understanding of God. Instead God reveals from himself to us from the outside. B.B. Warfield developed this point with precision and depth in his book The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible

How do you see God? You see him through his word. 

We know that we cannot see God. He is Spirit (Jn. 4:241:18. But the Bible also talks about “beholding” God (2 Cor. 3:18). We see God through the eyes of faith. Well, what does faith latch on to? What does faith see? Faith is not a blind word groping about the corridors of philosophy hoping for a warm room to sit in. Faith is the settled disposition of the soul that rests upon the reality, trustworthiness, and beauty of God. (cf. Heb. 11.111.6).

How do we see God? Well, it is Jesus, the Son of God, who rightly reflects and images God. It is Jesus who is the revelation of God. It is Jesus who is the perfect, final, sufficient, and supreme revelation of God (Heb. 1:1-3). He reveals the goodness, love, wrath, holiness, grace, power, and mercy of God. How do we see Jesus? We see him by faith as we read the Bible.

You cannot see God or see the glory of Christ apart from the Bible. There are no other avenues to behold (synonym for see) apart from the Scriptures. In the midst of John Owen’s treatise on The Glory of Christ, he writes about this topic saying,

This is the glory of the Scriptures, that it is the great, yea, the only, outward means of representing unto us the glory of Christ; and he is the sun in the firmament of it, which only hath light in itself, and communicates it unto all other things besides.(John Owen, Works, Volume 1, p. 316)

What is your most prized possession? It is your Bible. You need it to know God, to hear from him, and to see him. May God graciously forbid us from fasting from the Bible because we are really fasting from God.

The Sermon is a Worship Song of Its Own

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Jared Wilson:

In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.
In that day, “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!” 
– Isaiah 27:1-2

The art of preaching the gospel falls not only within the category of Instruction but also Exultation. Worship in a “worship service” does not stop when the music is over; it continues in the sermon. The sermon is a music of its own. No matter the text, no matter the topic, the tune is the joyous anthem of God’s slaying the dragon, a redemption song.

The Bible is about God; beginning to end, it is the ballad of God’s exploits in vanquishing evil and restoring shalom through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Preaching rehearses this song. Each Sunday: Once more, with feeling!

Jesus is restoring all things. “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!”

 

What Is Biblical Theology?

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James M. Hamilton:

What is biblical theology?

I use the phrase biblical theology to refer to the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. So what is an “interpretive perspective”? It’s the framework of assumptions and presuppositions, associations and identifications, truths, and symbols that are taken for granted as an author or speaker describes the world and the events that take place in it.

What do the biblical authors use this perspective to interpret?

First, the biblical authors have interpreted earlier Scripture, or in the case of the first author on record (Moses), accounts of God’s words and deeds that were passed down to him.

Second, they interpreted world history from creation to consummation.

And third, they interpreted the events and statements they describe—Moses didn’t recount everything Balaam said and did in the instances presented in Numbers 22-24. Moses selected what he wanted, arranged it with care, and presented the true story. The presentation of Balaam’s oracles Moses gives us in the book of Numbers is already an interpretation of them, and because I believe Moses was inspired by the Holy Spirit, I hold that his interpretation makes his account of the Balaam oracles more true, not less. The way Moses selected, arranged, and presented (i.e., interpreted) enables his audience to fit what Balaam said and did into the true story of the world Moses tells in the Pentateuch.

To summarize, by the phrase biblical theology I mean to refer to the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.

The last phrases of the previous sentence mention different kinds of literature. The Bible is a book, and the men who wrote the 66 books that make up the Bible were authors. That means we have to think about literature as we think about interpreting the Bible.

Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Interpretation

We should remember, too, that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. The study of biblical theology is like a quest to become someone who can pull down strongholds with weapons mighty to God. For the quest to succeed we must learn to destroy arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:3-5).

Our aim is to trace out the contours of the network of assumptions reflected in the writings of the biblical authors. If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about the big story of the world, the symbols they used to summarize and interpret that story, and the role the church plays in it, we will glimpse the world as they saw it. To glimpse the world as they saw it is to see the real world.

I hasten to add that the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors. That inspiration gave them a level of certainty about their interpretive conclusions that we cannot have about ours, because the Holy Spirit does not inspire us and guarantee our inerrancy. If he did, our books would be added to the canon of Scripture, which is not happening. Still, we’re called to follow the apostles as they followed Christ (cf. 1 Cor 11:1), and part of doing that means learning to interpret Scripture, redemptive history, and the events that happen to us the way the biblical authors did, even if absolute certainty eludes us.

Reading Scripture Like Jesus

The Bible teaches Christians how the Bible should be read. Studying biblical theology is the best way to learn from the Bible how to read the Bible as a Christian should. By the same token, studying the Bible is the best way to learn biblical theology.

How should a follower of Jesus read the Bible? The way Jesus did. Jesus of Nazareth did not write any of the books in the Bible, but he taught the writers of the New Testament how to interpret earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they were narrating and addressing. On the human level, Jesus learned the interpretive perspective he taught to his disciples from Moses and the Prophets.

So I’m arguing that the biblical authors operated from a shared interpretive perspective. They inhabited the same thought-world, breathed its air, and shared its assumptions. The world they lived in isn’t Darwin’s. In their world we might find things for which we have no analogy and of which we have no experience. There is no analogy for the God of the Bible. He stands alone. We will only experience him if he reveals himself. In the Bible he has done just that. How do we come to know him? From his revelation of himself, from learning to read the Bible from the Bible itself. To learn to read the Bible is to learn to understand this world from the perspective of the biblical authors, which is to learn a divinely inspired perspective.

Moses learned and developed the ability to see the world this way from the accounts of God’s words and deeds that he received, from his contemplation of what God had done in his own life, and from the inspiration of the Spirit of God. The biblical authors who followed Moses in the Old Testament, whether historians, prophets, psalmists, or sages, learned the interpretive perspective that Moses modeled for them and had it confirmed by other Scripture available to them. Jesus then learned to read the Bible, history, and life from Moses and the prophets, and he taught this perspective to his followers (Luke 24). What we find in the New Testament, then, is Christ-taught, Spirit-inspired biblical interpretation.

Interpreting the Bible Like Its Authors

The biblical authors model a perspective for interpreting the Bible, history, and current events. Should we adopt that perspective today? Absolutely. Why? I’m convinced that the biblical authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit, that God guided them to the truth by his Spirit, and that therefore they got it right. The fact that the Spirit is not ensuring the inerrancy of our conclusions does not mean we should adopt an un- or a-biblical perspective when reading the Bible, thinking about redemptive history, or trying to understand our own lives.

If biblical theology is a way to get into another world, the world inhabited by the biblical authors, I hope you cross the bridge into their thought-world and never come back. My hope is that you will breathe the air of the Bible’s world, recognize it as the real Narnia, and never want to leave.

If this happens, you will have come to inhabit the Bible’s story. My prayer is that its symbols and patterns will shape the way you view the world, and that your understanding of the church’s place in story and symbol will make you know the riches of God’s inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18), the great power “he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (1:19), and the glory he displays in the church and in Christ Jesus forever (3:21).

In brief: I hope that you will adopt the perspective of the biblical authors, and that you will read the world from the Bible’s perspective rather than reading the Bible from the world’s.

Four Accounts, One Saviour

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Petar Nenadov:

If you have ever tried to read about the story of Jesus’ birth from one of the Gospels in the New Testament, you will have already discovered two things. First, no one Gospel tells you everything about the birth of Jesus. And second, some Gospels do not tell youanything about the birth of Jesus.

What do we make of this reality?

One takeaway should be that the significance of Jesus’ birth is best understood in the totality of his life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Whether you have just begun to consider Jesus or already consider yourself a believer in him, let me encourage you to read through the four Gospels this Advent season to gain a fuller appreciation for the significance of his birth.

Here’s a brief description of each Gospel’s unique contribution to our overall understanding of Jesus, followed by a calendar for reading through them this December.

Matthew: The story of Christmas is rooted in history.

Matthew’s account begins with a genealogy, demonstrating the birth of Jesus is not an isolated event but one rooted in history. In other words, the birth of Jesus is not the beginning of the story. To properly understand Jesus’ birth, one must understand the history from which he came.

If we were to consider the birth of Jesus as an isolated event, we could conclude that Jesus is powerful. Surely the virgin birth would require divine power. When we learn from Matthew that the virgin birth was rooted in history and anticipated in prophecy, we learn that Jesus is not only powerful, but also faithful to promises made in history.

Mark: The story of Christmas requires our repentance.

When you turn to Mark you notice that he begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, not the birth of Jesus. John’s ministry was a plea for Israel to repent. In Mark 1:14-15, we are told that John was arrested and Jesus began to preach the same message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repent is the key word for Mark. John preached it, Jesus preached it, and Mark wants all of us to remember it. Why?

We cannot properly celebrate the birth of our Savior until we acknowledge the reality of our sin. Until we are willing to repent, all the details that surround Jesus’ birth and life are rendered inconsequential. Otherwise who cares if it was three wise men or wise men bearing three gifts? Or whether he was God incarnate or an angel in human form? Mark tells us news he believes can change our lives. So are we willing to be changed? Are we willing to acknowledge that we are not as we should be? According to Mark, we cannot properly celebrate the birth of our Savior until we acknowledge our need to be saved.

Luke: The story of Christmas invites our worship.

As you turn to Luke, you notice that he gives us the most details of any of the Gospel writers surrounding the birth of Jesus. When people announce that they will read the Christmas story, they are more often than not reading from the second chapter of Luke. It’s striking about Luke’s attention to detail how often he focuses on the worship that surrounded the birth of Jesus.

For example, in Luke 1:46, Luke could have simply said that Mary worshiped God. Instead he records for us details of how she expressed her worship in what we now commonly call the Magnificat. You will notice this detail again in verses 67-79 when Zechariah worshiped God. Then Luke tells us of the heavenly host praising God in 2:13-14 and the shepherds praising God in 2:20. When Jesus is presented in the temple, Luke tells us of Simeon’s worship. Before, during, and after the birth of Jesus there is worship!

Much like the Psalms of the Old Testament, the details of these expressions of worship are not given to simply inform us of past events, but to invite us to join in their expression. When all the facts are considered, as Luke claims to have compiled them, one discovers that the Christmas story is not only true but also glorious.

John: The story of Christmas restores our relationship.

John does not begin with the birth of Jesus, the ministry of John the Baptist, nor does he begin with the history of Israel. John writes, “In the beginning.” The beginning of what? The beginning of everything! According to John, Jesus was with God and was God from before time began. These verses are key the church’s understanding of the Trinity.

As it relates to the Christmas story, we affirm that Jesus was sent from God. The Creator is the Redeemer; the Judge is the Savior. John’s account is similar to Mark’s in that he makes the story immediately personal. Jesus is the unique Son of God who came into the world, so that you and I could become children of God as well (John 1:12-13).

One Conclusion

Four different Gospel accounts and one conclusion—Jesus is sufficient. Intellectually, according to Matthew, the Christmas story is rooted in history. Morally, according to Mark, the Christmas story requires our repentance. Emotionally, according to Luke, the Christmas story invites our worship. And relationally, according to John, the Christmas story restores our relationship with God.

A Deeper Look at What the Bible Says About the Bible

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By Matt Smethurst:

The Bible makes many claims about itself within its text. What does it say?

Click here to download a hard copy of this article.

There are only two options when it comes to knowledge of a divine creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess. Christians believe that, thankfully, he has spoken. The God of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to reveal himself to us—to befriend us—through a book.1Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it, against it, and in favor of it. But what does the Bible say about itself?

The Bible Is Inspired

When people claim the Bible is “inspired,” what do they really mean? Are they just saying it’s inspiring? Well, not quite. Sure, the Bible may inspire some of its readers, but the concept of “inspired” as used here has to do with the relationship between God and the Bible’s authors.

Now, the Bible’s human authors weren’t inspired in the way we typically use the word today. It’s not as if the Apostle Paul saw a gorgeous sunset, felt moved by its beauty, and then wrote Galatians. Nor does it mean he would enter some catatonic state, recite a bunch of words to a friend, then pick up the parchment and say, “Let’s see what God wrote!”

First and foremost, inspiration has to do with the fact that the Bible’s ultimate author is God. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul writes: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”2 Notice how it says the entirety of the Bible is “God-breathed”—exhaled from God. No wonder, then, that the Bible is commonly referred to as God’s Word.3

But if God was the author, then what were Moses and David and Paul and John and all those others doing? Weren’t they writing Scripture, too? Indeed. You see, the Bible was written by God and humans—or, more precisely, by God through humans.4 The Apostle Peter explained it this way: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”5 In other words, God made sure the human authors wrote exactly what he wanted them to write—no more, no less.

However, these authors weren’t passive robots. God didn’t erase their personalities or take over their minds. They wrote as thinking, feeling human beings. God simply worked sovereignly through their unique personalities and educations and backgrounds and experiences6 to enable—to inspire—them to write divine truth.7“Each word in the Bible is the word of a conscious human author and at the same time the exact word that God intends for the revelation of himself.”8

The Creator of the universe has spoken—in human history, in human language, through human beings. That’s what inspiration is all about. In answer to the question of who wrote the Bible—humans or God—the Bible itself answers simply: “Yes.”

The Bible Is True

OK, so Scripture is completely inspired, but is it completely true?

The Bible says that God’s Word is true because God’s character is true; God is not a liar.9 Therefore, the God of truth cannot speak words that are false. To doubt the truthfulness of God’s Word is to doubt the truthfulness of God himself.10

Some people think that while the Bible’s “spiritual” concepts are true enough, much of the other content (such as historical and geographical details) probably isn’t. But Scripture doesn’t make “any restriction on the kinds of subjects to which it speaks truthfully.”11 Besides, if the Bible isn’t fully reliable at every point, how could we be certain that it’s fully reliable at any point?

When we look at Scripture itself, we see that it is filled with claims to pervasive truthfulness.12 Every word it contains is described as flawless,13 eternal,14unbreakable,15 boundless in perfection,16 and completely reliable.17 As Jesus concisely stated, “[God’s] word is truth.”18

In fact, Scripture’s truthfulness is so comprehensively assumed that entire arguments can hinge on appeals to a single word,19 the number of a noun,20 even the tense of a verb.21 When properly interpreted, the Bible will never mislead you. What it says, God says.22

The Bible Is Authoritative

God owns the universe he spoke into existence. He rules as king over his creation—and that creation includes you and me. His loving authority, intended for our good, is exercised through his Word. In fact, God has so identified himself with Scripture that to disbelieve or disobey it is to disbelieve or disobey him.

True, the Bible isn’t the only authority in our lives. There are other rightful authorities, such as parents,23 pastors,24 and members of the government.25 None, however, is above God’s Word. The Bible is the highest authority. This means the correctness of every belief, value, opinion, statement, and sermon is decisively settled by the question: What does the Bible say?26

Regarding Christ’s own view of the Bible, it’s been observed that “[Jesus] appeals to Scripture, to each part of Scripture, and to each element of Scripture as to an unimpeachable authority.”27

Kings don’t give advice; they give orders. Obedience to the Word of God, therefore, is not optional. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves,” the Apostle James writes. “Do what it says.”28

As J. I. Packer observes, “True Christians are people who acknowledge and live under the word of God. They submit without reserve to [it], believing the teaching, trusting the promises, following the commands. Their eyes are upon the God of the Bible as their Father and the Christ of the Bible as their Savior.”29 A Christian, in other words, is one who hears the voice of Jesus in Scripture and gladly follows him.30

J. C. Ryle remarked, “Happy is the man who possesses Bible! Happier still is he who reads it! Happiest of all is he who not only reads it but obeys it.”31 As countercultural and counterintuitive as it may feel, Christians believe submission to God’s Word is where true life and freedom are found.

The Bible Is Clear

The Bible is an ancient document. It can feel foreign, and some parts are certainly confusing.32 However, as the psalmist states, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”33 God even commands parents to teach the Bible to their children.34

I’ve heard it said that Scripture is shallow enough for a child to wade, but deep enough for an elephant to swim. I think that’s profoundly right. The Bible is “written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.”35

Sometimes Scripture is difficult to understand because it’s talking about complicated things. At these times, extended, prayerful study may be necessary. Often, however, it’s hard to grasp because we simply don’t like what it says. As Mark Twain famously quipped, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible I can’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I do understand.” Often it’s not that the Bible is unclear but that we’re unreceptive.

The Bible Is Sufficient

Scripture contains all the words from God that we need in order to know him truly, trust him fully, obey him perfectly, and enjoy him abundantly. Peter says God has given us “everything we need for a godly life” through the knowledge available in the Scriptures.36 Likewise, Paul says, the Bible is so complete that through it we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work”—“thoroughly” and “every,” not “partly” and “most.”37  It doesn’t get more comprehensive than that.

While the Bible may not tell us everything we want to know, it does tell us everything we need to know. Its truth isn’t exhaustive but it’s enough.38 It contains all we need to know in order to be saved39 and to obey God in faith40—no wonder such severe warnings accompany adding to or removing any of its words.41

“The case can be made that every corruption of biblical Christianity begins by compromising the principle of sufficiency,” one author observed. “Every deviation from Christianity established by Christ and the apostles begins by adding to the Bible or by taking away from it. Every deviation is the Bible plus or minus something.”42

The Bible Is Powerful

Since the Bible’s ultimate author is God, it is a book of unparalleled power. Its words are strong enough to melt hearts43 and change lives.44 The book of Hebrews states, “The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”45

Saying the Bible is powerful is another way of saying it’s effective. The Holy Spirituses it to accomplish his plans.46 The book is an instrument of action in God’s all-powerful hand. “Do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God,” Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli once remarked. “One can perhaps dam it up for awhile, but it is impossible to stop it.”47

It is crucial to realize that God intends his Word not simply to engage our minds, but to change our hearts. As one person put it, “The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life.”48

The Bible Is Christ-Centered

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not simply a collection of ethical principles, moral platitudes, or abstract life lessons. It is a thrilling story.

Ultimately, that story is not about you and me. It’s about Jesus. In Luke 24, the resurrected Savior appears to two followers on the road to Emmaus. Luke recounts what happened:

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”49

Later, after appearing to his eleven disciples, Jesus says to them: “‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”50

It wasn’t just after his resurrection that Jesus spoke this way, however. During his earthly ministry he explained to the “Bible experts” of the day his central place in the great story: “‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. . . . If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.’”51

It’s been rightly noted that the Old Testament is “Jesus Christ concealed” and the New Testament is “Jesus Christ revealed.” From beginning to end—Genesis to Revelation—the plotline of Scripture anticipates, spotlights, and finds its ultimate resolution in God’s redeeming Son.52 And perhaps the most stunning thing about this story is that the central character loves us back.

The Bible Is Precious

The Bible is the most valuable treasure in the universe. It’s our food,53 our life,54 our comfort,55 our strength,56 our guidance,57 our desire,58 our hope,59 our love,60 our joy,61 and our treasure.62

Did you know that even the books of Leviticus and Chronicles and Obadiah were written to encourage you? That’s what the Bible says, anyway: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”63 Everything. What a sweeping word! Paul is going so far as to claim the entirety of the Old Testament was written for you—to instruct you, to encourage you, to help you endure, and to flood your heart with hope.64

And while we must avoid “bibliolatry”—treasuring Scripture more than its Author—it’s striking to note how inseparably connected God’s Word is with God himself.65Indeed, to abandon it is to abandon him.66 Until Jesus returns and our faith becomes sight, we must live in the “age of the ear.”67 “For now,” Augustine said, “treat the Scripture of God as the face of God. Melt in its presence.”68 As one great preacher remarked, “To me the Bible is not God, but it is God’s voice, and I do not hear it without awe.”69

The Bible is a bottomless treasure chest of beauty and wonder. It claims to be inspired, true, authoritative, clear, sufficient, powerful, Christ-centered, and precious. May God help us to treat it as such.

 

Delighting in Scripture

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Sam Storms:

As you read what Jonathan Edwards said about Scripture, ask yourself if it reflects your own point of view:

“I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders” (Personal Narrative).

How far removed this is from the declarations of boredom that I so often hear from people who describe their reaction to reading Scripture! I think what Edwards here refers to must be what the author of Psalm 119 had in mind when he spoke repeatedly of the impact of Scripture on his soul. Consider the following brief sampling, and ask yourself if such vivid and passionate language accurately portrays your attitude toward the glory and power of God’s Word:

“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches” (v. 14).

“I will delight in your statutes” (v. 16).

“My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (v. 20).

“Your testimonies are my delight” (v. 24).

“Behold, I long for your precepts” (v. 40).

“for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (v. 47).

“The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v. 72).

“Oh how I love your law!” (v. 97).

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (v. 103).

“Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart” (v. 111).

“Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold” (v. 127).

“I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil” (v. 162).

“My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly” (v. 167).

The Gospel Transformation Bible

9781433538674_p0_v2_s260x420Coming soon - The Gospel Transformation Bible: Christ in All of Scripture, Grace for All of Life

Publishers blurb:

The apostle Paul summed up his whole ministry as existing “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). That single-minded goal is the heartbeat of the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. Produced out of the conviction that the Bible is a unified message of God’s grace culminating in Jesus, it is a significant new tool to help readers see Christ in all the Bible, and grace for all of life. The Gospel Transformation Bible features all-new book introductions and gospel-illuminating notes written by a team of over 50 outstanding pastors and scholars. This specially prepared material outlines passage-by-passage God’s redemptive purposes of grace that echo all through Scripture and culminate in Christ. The notes not only explain but also apply the text in a grace-centered way. Focusing on heart transformation rather than mere behavior modification, their points of application emphasize the Hows and Whys of practical application to daily living–in short, how the gospel transforms us from the inside out. The Gospel Transformation Bible is available in a wide variety of print and digital formats. Moreover, every print edition comes with free access to the Online Gospel Transformation Bible, hosted at ESVBible.org. The Gospel Transformation Bible will equip both new and seasoned believers with a gospel-centered reading of Scripture, enabling God’s people to see that the message of the Bible is a unified one–”to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

 

From Bryan Chapell’s introduction:

Faithful application typically answers four questions:

  1. What to do?
  2. Where to do it?
  3. Why to do it? and
  4. How to do it?

Previous application-focused study Bibles have emphasized the first two of these questions.

The Gospel Transformation Bible, while not ignoring the first two questions, seeks to be a primary resource for the latter two. Contributors’ notes indicate how the unfolding gospel truths in any given passage of Scripture motivate and enable believers to honor their Savior from the heart—in short, how grace transforms them.

Our goal is to make plain the imperatives of God’s Word, while undermining the human reflex to base God’s affection on human performance. Contributors have therefore indicated how the indicatives of the gospel (i.e., the status and privileges believers have by virtue of God’s grace alone) provide motivation and power for God’s people to honor him from the heart.

(Via Justin Taylor)

Reading The Bible Narcissistically

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Tullian Tchividjian:

We often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our godliness. We treat it like a book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles. We treat it, in other words, like it’s a heaven-sent self-help manual. But by looking at the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us, we totally miss the Point–like the two on the road to Emmaus. As Luke 24 shows, it’s possible to read the Bible, study the Bible, and memorize large portions of the Bible, while missing the whole point of the Bible. It’s entirely possible, in other words, to read the stories and miss the Story. In fact, unless we go to the Bible to see Jesus and his work for us, even our devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own narcissistic self-improvement plans, the place we go for the help we need to “conquer today’s challenges and take control of our lives.”

Contrary to popular assumptions, the Bible is not a record of the blessed good, but rather the blessed bad. That’s not a typo. The Bible is a record of the blessed bad. The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God; it’s a witness to God making it down to the worst people. Far from being a book full of moral heroes to emulate, what we discover is that the so-called heroes in the Bible are not really heroes at all. They fall and fail, they make huge mistakes, they get afraid, their selfish, deceptive, egotistical, and unreliable. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with his rescue; our sin with his salvation; our failure with his favor; our guilt with his grace; our badness with his goodness.

So, if we read the Bible asking first, “What would Jesus do?” instead of asking “What has Jesus done” we’ll miss the good news that alone can set us free.

As I’ve said before, the overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living, but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our unchristian living.

What is the Bible?

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J.I. Packer:

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)