Oct 31, 2007

Update: Gathercole interview on the 'New Perspective'

Over at 9Marks there's an audio interview of Simon Gathercole and his thoughts on the 'New Perspective'. Worth listening to.

Oct 23, 2007

David Instone-Brewer and John Piper debate on divorce and remarriage

There's an interesting debate going on between John Piper and David Instone-Brewer over the interpretation of biblical passages on divorce that's being covered by Christianity Today and some blogs. Here's some detail. It's somewhat pedantic reading, but worth the effort because the meaning of the texts matters greatly.

Instone-Brewer's original article in CT to which Piper responded to which Brewer responded.

Oct 21, 2007

The Next Twenty Years for Anglican Christians - Peter Jensen

Abp. Peter Jensen weighed in on Oct 8 ( I know it's probably old news) stating that the time of uncertainty about the future of the Anglican Communion is now over.

Some excerpts:
  • [The Lambeth Conference] can no longer either unify Anglicanism or speak with authority.
  • The American House of Bishops response to the Primates makes it clear that "sexual rights are gospel."
  • American Episcopalians believe that homosexuality is both morally acceptable and "demanded by the gospel itself that we endorse this lifestyle as Christian"
  • "Anglican episcopacy now includes overlapping jurisdictions and personal rather than merely geographical oversight."
  • "Those who believe that the American development is wrong must also plan for the next decades, not the next few months. There is every reason to think that the Western view of sexuality will eventually permeate other parts of the world."
What now?
Thus the question before the biblically orthodox in the Communion is this: what new vision of the Anglican Communion should we embrace? Where should it be in the next twenty years? How can we ensure that the word of God rules our lives? How are we going to guard ourselves effectively against the sexual agenda of the West and begin to turn back the tide of Western liberalism? What theological education must we have? How can we now best network with each other? Who is going to care for Episcopalians in other western provinces who are going to be objecting to the official acceptance of non-biblical practices? The need for high level discussion of these issues is urgent.

More Simeon Trust workshops - 2008 calendar online

See more for details... Dallas, Chicago, Philly, Spokane and more!

Oct 13, 2007

C. F. D. Moule: An Obituary

The Rev'd Prof. C. F. D. Moule passed away on Oct 2, aged 98.

From The Telegraph

An attractive personality allied to great erudition and exceptional gifts as a teacher made him a popular Cambridge figure for more than 40 years, and his influence in the field of New Testament studies was considerable.

Born into a distinguished evangelical family — his great uncle, Handley Moule, was a scholar Bishop of Durham in the early years of the 20th century — Moule was something of a missionary in the sense that his interpretations of the New Testament always suggested the inherent plausibility of the religious story it tells. For him this involved no compromise of scholarship, but he was a man of deep faith for whom the evidence concerning the origins of Christian religion never presented an insuperable problem.
From The Independent

Charles Francis Digby Moule, priest and theologian:
born Hangchow, China 3 December 1908; ordained deacon 1933, priest 1934; Curate, St Mark's, Cambridge 1933-34; Tutor, Ridley Hall, Cambridge 1933-34, Vice-Principal 1936-44, honorary member of staff 1976-80; Curate, St Andrew's, Rugby 1934-36; Curate, St Mary the Great, Cambridge 1936-40; Fellow, Clare College, Cambridge 1944-2007, Dean 1944-51; Faculty Assistant Lecturer in Divinity, Cambridge University 1944-47, University Lecturer 1947-51, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity 1951-76; Canon Theologian (non-residentiary) of Leicester 1955-76; FBA 1966; CBE 1985; died Leigh, Dorset 30 September 2007.

Thank you, Lord, for your faithful servant and his great contributions to the study of the New Testament. May you raise up more faithful, Christ-centered scholars to continue the task.

Rob Bradshaw has some personal comments.

Ben Witherington: Sacred Texts in an Oral Culture

Another great post by Dr. Witherington. He talks about the importance of understanding the rhetorical function of biblical texts that were transmitted orally to their original audiences. Helpful read.

One comment notes the work of Richard Bauckham, The Gospels for All Christians, that attempts to overturn some long-held presuppositions about the assumed audience or "community" of the Gospel writers. These are interesting times for Gospel interpretation.

Oct 7, 2007

Ideas on how to read the Proverbs as Christians

Why Proverbs?
I've been looking at the Proverbs with the church lately and thought that it might be worth my time to think through how we read the Proverbs as Christians. I'm not entirely convinced that Christians have a good grasp on what to do with the Proverbs, and even the Wisdom Books more generally.

My interest in the Wisdom Books began when I taught a class to 2nd year seminary students at Moffat College of Bible in Kijabe, Kenya one summer not long ago. As a burgeoning student of biblical theology, I was intensely aware of the difficulties surrounding teaching the Wisdom books to Christians. While my Kenyan students come from a culture where indigenous proverbs are still used, I wasn't so concerned about their ability to understand how to appreciate the Proverbs. Rather, I was interested to help them understand that the gospel has to shape the way that we read the Old Testament. And that especially in a context where so much prosperity preaching and "health-and-wealth" Pentecostalism abounded.

Over the years I've known Christians who have read the Proverbs in ways that are good and bad. Some people read the Proverbs like "rules for living" and almost strangely idolize them. Others think that we don't take the question of biblical wisdom seriously enough and should read them more. When was the last time you cracked open the Proverbs?

As evangelicals we talk a lot about reading the Bible, trusting what God has to say, and applying it to our lives. In all honestly, it's not always a fair thing to say because some parts of the Bible are very hard to understand. And getting training in how to study the Bible doesn't necessarily make it any easier. Rather it creates awareness of all the interpretive possibilities and where the pitfalls lie. I am convinced, however, that we can read the Bible better with thoughtfulness and effort. And good Biblical Theology must be central to that task, no matter what part of the Bible we are in. It's often my lifeline for understanding a text or passage and how it relates to the gospel. And the gospel has to inform how we read the whole Bible.

The extraordinary claim of the New Testament authors is that the person of Jesus, who was executed and raised from the dead by God, is the promised Messiah of Israel. Central to that claim is Jesus' divinity and power to transform the way that God deals with the world. You know, new wine for new wineskins. The apostles claim that in Jesus we find all sorts of fulfillment and transformation. Things like temple, priesthood, atonement, wisdom, creation and covenant all now find a new meaning in Jesus. And it's not so much a new meaning, as much as it is a fulfillment of what those things all originally meant, though now they are perceived of and appropriated by the church through Jesus. Perhaps Jesus as the Lamb of God is the most obvious and oft referenced fulfillment of an Old Testament practice in the New Testament. But there's another one that's extremely important as well.

Inauguration of New Creation
One of the other astonishing claims of the New Testament is that the eschatological promise of new creation has actually been inaugurated through Jesus' death and resurrection. As I am reading the Bible, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that where there is discontinuity with the Old Testament it's largely due to the fact that Jesus inaugurated new creation. By discontinuity I mean where things appear to be very different from the Old Testament. Take Sabbath for instance. Why the change from Saturday to Sunday? I (and others) would argue that because Sunday is the first day of the dawn of new creation, the dawning due to Jesus, the first to rise from the dead, to live everlastingly in the heavens that come to earth (new creation). As Saturday was the day honoring God's creative act, so too, Sunday now honors Jesus creative act. Consider the land promise. The land inheritance promise to the remnant gets written large on the eschatological stage by Isaiah and made not merely the land of Israel, but the whole world transformed, filled with the glory of God. It's the meek, says Jesus, who inherit that earth.

Might the concept of new creation be important for rightly reading Proverbs? I'm not entirely sure if it will be or not, but I have a theory.

The Opening of Proverbs and it's Old Testament Context
The Old Testament begins with the Torah which includes the election of Abraham and his progeny, the establishment of God's covenant with Israel, and all the "commandments, statutes and rules" given by Moses in Deuteronomy, all set within a grand narrative that begins in Eden and ends with Israel camped across the Jordan ready to take the promised land. It's a narrative encompassing a grand movement of people from one sacred place (Eden) to another (Canaan). It's an act of grace. Though Adam and Eve were driven from the presence of the Lord, Israel is being given the gift of the land. Moses provides reasons: (1) it's a place to enjoy the presence of God (Ex 25:8, 29:45-46; Duet 12), (2) it's a place to enjoy blessing from the Lord (Deut 8:7-10, 11:13 ff.; Deut 28:1-14) and (3) it's a place to show the Lord's wisdom in the sight of the nations (Ex 34:10 ff.; Duet 4:5-8, 14).

The Prophets and Wisdom books that follow must be read as two kinds of developments of, or reflections of, Torah. On the one hand, the Prophets show how Israel slowly slips into idolatry and why that's such a problem by making references back to the Torah, especially Deuteronomy. It's appears that the major prophets do this by bringing covenant lawsuits against Israel. The Wisdom books make their contribution as well. The Wisdom teachers use a cooler, calmer and more reflective approach to the questions about how one should live in the world that God has created, and perhaps more specifically, the land that God has given them.

The Wisdom books are replete with the Deuteronomic themes of land, covenant, blessing, cursing, righteousness, equity and justice. Consider these verses from the beginning of Proverbs:

Proverbs 2:21-22
For the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it,
but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.

Proverbs 3:3-4
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.
(Cf. to Ex 34:6-7, Deut 6:4-9, 10:16)

Proverbs 3:9-10
Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
(Cf. o Ex 23:16, 34:22; Lev 23:9 ff.; Deut 8:17-18)

Proverbs 3:33
The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.
(Cf. Deut 28)

Proverbs 6:12-15
A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech...
therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.

Proverbs 7 (Warning against adultery)
vv. 25-27 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths,
for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
(Cf. Deut 5:18; 27:15 ff.)
These are only a few of course. They relate directly back to covenantal structure of Israel's life established by the Torah.
Deuteronomy 7:12ff
"And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock..."

Deuteronomy 28:1ff
"And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God..."

Deuteronomy 28:15ff
"But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you...The LORD will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you away."
Under the Old Covenant God elected Israel to be his people among whom he would make his dwelling, to whom he would give blessing or cursing, and through whom he would make his wisdom known to the nations. It's natural, therefore, that reflection should arise among the wise concerning how Israel should love the Lord and obey him faithfully. That should be our first clue about how to read the Proverbs.

Reading the Proverbs as Christians
Can Christians seek God and gain wealth? If a Christian sins, and even lives prodigally for a time, is she beyond forgiveness or broken beyond healing? Can Christians make use of Prov 2:22-32 like an Israelite could? What of the sayings intended for kings and royal people (cf. Prov 20:2, 26, 28; 21:1; 23:1 ff.)? I would caution against answering in the affirmative without some interpretive clarity.

I would say, however, that we can read the Proverbs to discover the source of wisdom. The general thrust concerning the teaching of wisdom given in the Proverbs, and perhaps the Wisdom Books more generally, lies in the oft repeated phrase, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom." Wisdom, says the Proverbs, is a supernatural gift from God to those who seek it.

Proverbs 1:22-23
"How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you."
Moreover, the source of such Wisdom is God himself and is full of benefits.

Proverbs 2:1-15
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you,
delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech,
who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness,
who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil,
men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.
My View
Jesus must be the source of our wisdom, as the NT clearly directs us to understand. In other words, if we are to gain wisdom promised by Proverbs we must start with trusting Jesus and walking the way of the Cross. But equally importantly, we must understand how to apply the wise sayings in Proverbs somewhat differently than they would have been applied by the first readers , specifically
(1) because our place of life is different,
(2) the stipulations of the covenant are different and,
(3) Jesus has inaugurated new creation.

In other words, I don't think we preach Jesus from the opening of Proverbs and then go back to the rest of the Proverbs and allegorize them to our situation. Nor do we try to apply them in a very literalistic sense. Many of the sayings found in Proverbs would simply make no sense for us. And thus, I would argue, that they can serve only to instruct us as to what was wise for their original audience and give us clarity about Old Testament theology. If we are to use them effectively, we have to interpret them and apply them through the lens of Christ.

Our Place of Life
We live our lives between the first and second comings of Jesus. This has enormous consequences. We are essentially an international pilgrim people waiting for our Lord to return, while enjoying his presence among us by the Spirit as the fulfillment of the temple. We are no longer attached to any particular sacred place or land in this world, like Israel was, where blessing is delivered. Rather,
we rightly belong to heaven, the world to come, the Kingdom of God, or the new creation. We're a people who have been prepared before hand for eternal life. And that's good news because God is expanding his reach, so to speak.

Moreover, it appears to me that the kinds of blessings given to Israel were largely blessings that could be delivered in tangible ways. Take for example the list of blessings from Deuteronomy above. They include food, family life, livestock, security in the land from enemies and those sorts of things (though not exclusively). Our covenant is not without tangible blessings, but our supernatural blessings are much more pronounced, it seems to me. Paul, in Ephesians will boldly state that God in Christ "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph 1:3). God promised in Isaiah 40-66 that he would forgive sins in a new way (the Cross), pour out his Spirit in a new way (Pentecost), deliver a people to a restored world (new creation), and involve his people in the ministry of the Servant, thereby making them servants as well (Body of Christ).

Think of what Hebrews teaches. That Jesus has died and risen and acts as intercessor on our behalf before God, we have an intimacy with God that the saints of the Old Testament (with the exception of Moses?) couldn't have enjoyed. Jesus dwells in our midst, and in our hearts, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The church is pictured as a place of lampstands (a temple) where Jesus dwells (Rev 2:1). I could go on. But these blessings far outshine the blessings of the Old Covenant. Though Israel dwelt in the Land and had access to God, he was hidden and even dangerous to approach in the Temple.

The New Covenant
The stipulations of the Covenants are different as well. This is important. First, concerning the Old Covenant it is important to understand that blessing and cursing were tied into the fabric of the way that God would respond to his people's behavior. Obedience or disobedience did not determine if God would enter into or remain in Covenant with his people. No. He entered into Covenant with them because he chose them and had purposes for them. But depending upon their obedience or disobedience to the Torah (the commandments, statutes and rules given by Moses) they would receive blessings or curses. This is clear in Deuteronomy and made even more clear in the Prophets who show that God is going to punish Israel for her disobedience, but who will ultimately remain steadfastly faithful and restore Israel again, even despite their terrible idolatry and cruelty.

The New Covenant shares a lot in common with the Old Covenant, but I'm interested in looking at the discontinuity. In the case of blessings and curses things couldn't be more different. For one thing, Paul specifically states that Jesus has taken the curse of the Law on himself when he was nailed to a tree (Gal 3:13). There are no curses due Christians for sin under the New Covenant. But what of the blessings? There's a change here too, I believe. There are enormous blessings found in the New Covenant, perhaps the greatest of which is knowing God, having intimacy with him, and dwelling with him forever. That seems to be what the Apostles are emphasizing. And they go a step further. They emphasize that those blessings are not fully realized in until we dwell in the world to come, the new creation. There we will have bodies like Jesus, and see God face to face (1 Cor 15:12 ff; Rev 22:4).

Consider the way Peter puts it.
1 Peter 1:3-5
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
And he writes this to suffering Christians! I think Peter is trying to emphasize a perspective (wisdom) that recognizes that our Christian lives between the two comings of Jesus in a world that is not yet fully transformed requires that we look longingly, hopefully and expectantly to better things in the world to come. How often in our lives do we want God to remove suffering? And wouldn't we equate that with a blessing? And yet, Peter says that our God gifts us with a grace by calling us to suffer! (1 Pet 2:20-21).

The New Creation

I've said a lot about this above already. But it bears repeating. The land promises made to Israel find their eschatological fulfillment in the world to come. Hence, I would argue that it's necessary to interpret the statements of blessing and cursing, or promises like wealth and long life, or promises like death and destruction against the backdrop of the final judgment and the blessings of the new world that's coming with Jesus return.

So what I am arguing for is a re-appraisal of how we apply many of the individual Proverbs as Christians, and especially those that need more careful interpretation because they reflect the covenantal context of the OT. To be clear, those proverbs that deal with such things as blessing or cursing, or life in the land, or wealth and poverty, can't be appropriated by Christians without applying them through the lens of Christ and his transformative work.

To learn wisdom from Proverbs we must look to Christ and read them with the Christ event clearly in mind.

Thanks for reading.

Sep 15, 2007

New Theme

Decided to give it a shot.

Sep 8, 2007

What's the Best Way to Read the Old Testament?

Or to ask the question a different way, what's the right 'direction' to read the Old Testament? I love reading the Old Testament and get stuck in it from time to time. A great deal of my personal Bible reading lately has been in Exodus-Deuteronomy. I'm beginning to move into Joshua. One of the questions I have while I read Joshua is how it relates to the New Testament.

Like many parts of the Old Testament, Joshua is hard to read and get a lot out of because it is largely a historical narrative of Israel's conquest of the promised land. Some critical scholars think that Joshua is worthless for Christians because of the concept of Holy War it details. As an evangelical, I can't share that opinion. Moreover, I'm critical of the reasons. So I went looking for some info. I found a good article at the always trustworthy Biblical Theology Briefings website.

They've posted a good essay on Biblical Theology by Gordon McConville. I love his commentary on Deuteronomy in the Apollos/Pillar series by IVP. The link will take you to a PDF of a lecture he gave at the Finlayson Memorial Lecture in 2001, entitled, "Biblical Theology: Canon and Plain Sense."

Some excerpts...

What is Biblical Theology? At the simplest level, it is letting the Bible speak today... the issue at stake is how the Bible might be used in church and the world... Indeed, Biblical Theology is in essence an activity of the church. The spirit of it's recovery as a concept is precisely the conviction that the Bible belongs to the church, as its inheritance, and that the church may not be deprived of it by hegemonic academicism that effectively frustrates its use. The church's interpretation of the Bible, for itself and for the world, is not only its right, but its obligation. In this sense Biblical Theology has important parallels with that other primary activity of biblical interpretation, preaching. (Emphasis mine).

One of the more interesting questions he analyzes, and what is central to Biblical Theology, is how the Old Testament relates to the Christ and if the Old Testament, therefore, can be read in a "plain sense" way. This is a very important question. McConville puts it like this:

"Does the Old Testament, in its communicative intentions, help us understand the full range of the meaning of the Christ-event? Or are parts of the Old Testament's witness ruled out on the basis of a Christology derived from a method that gives priority to New Testament texts?"

To put it another way, does the OT stand on it's own in its "plain sense" or does it have to be read differently now that Christ has come? He takes as a test case the idea of Holy War in Joshua, a theme that underlies one of the imprecatory Psalms that says "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" (Ps 137:9).

The idea of a 'plain sense', in my view, faces a more immediate test where the Testaments appear to disagree. Pslam 137, and behind it, Joshua and the Holy War strand of the Old Testament, is such a case. Here is a test, sharper than most, of the capacity of Biblical Theology to sustain the witness of the Old Testament in its theological synthesizing.

He dismisses Brevard Childs' and James Barr's interpretive techniques that essentially state that the event is single and unreapeatlbe (Childs) or "the Bible is simply wrong on this" (Barr). McConville, as an evangelical, cannot agree with Barr on the basis of the Bible's authority and offers a much stronger theological method than Childs.

McConville interprets Joshua and Holy War within the context of the Old Testament which provides a good basis for understanding Holy War in the New Testament. In essence he displays his method of Biblical Theology - one I wholeheartedly agree with - and one that I think we should emulate.

"If the Book of Joshua is to participate in a canonical theology then it must be possible to say what its role is... We can ask whether this part of the two-testament canon teaches something in particular that the other parts do not, and how it does so in relation to Scripture's witness to Christ."
[We'll never get anywhere with the hard parts of the Bible unless we are willing to do some hard and clear thinking!]

McConville's Method

1) Consider Joshua's position in the canon, vis-a-vis the Pentatuech and the rest of the OT
  • It continues the narrative of Numbers-Deuteronomy.
  • It marks the end of the wilderness non-posession of the land and is a prelude to posessing it.
2) Look to how the theme of Holy War and conquest are developed by latter parts of the OT.
  • Reading Psalm 2 and Isaiah help us understand that God's rule through the messiah over his enemies, and the ultimate eschatological rule of YHWH, will know no bounds (Is 60-66). "[T]he element of victory continues to be represented by the language of conquest, and the pictures of salvation are shot through with those of subjugation."
3) The NT reflections on the victory of God are expressed in terms of the life, sufferings, and death of Jesus. "The victory of God is won in the heavenly places."
  • The victory of Jesus is a victory over the world and the powers that hold sway in it. "The coming of the kingdom is described in the language of violence at least twice in Jesus sayings (Matt 10:34; 11:12)."
  • The story of the church in Acts is a story of contention in which rulers like Felix, Agrippa and Caesar loom large.
  • Rome as Babylon in Revelation is the empire that is judged by God using Holy War language reminiscent of the Old Testament. Compare Rev 17:1-18:24 with Jer 50-51.
4) Summary

"What is the proper direction of canonical reading? That is, should a Christian read forward from the Old Testament to the New? If so, does one read the Old Testament first as if without knowledge of the New, as might be implied by a commitment to 'plain sense'." So asks McConville. His answer, in short, is yes and no.

Yes, we should read the OT towards the New! And importantly, a forward movement is structured into the Old Testament, and failing to understand that can lead to a misreading of the OT. What he's saying, I think is this. Read the OT in it's plain sense, which inevitably takes you forward to the NT. Furthermore, as his method illustrates, we have to read the OT in context and follow the development of themes. Too often, I'm afraid, we simply either radically allegorize the Old Testament or ignore its witness altogether. The main problem, though, is that we usually don't listen to the whole Bible, just parts of it. And the solution to that, I think, is to keep reading the Bible. And then read it some more.

Aug 22, 2007

I Love Hermeneutics

Ben Witherington, a professor of New Testament over at Asbury Theological Seminary (Wesleyan), published a post today on his blog that talks about hermeneutics. It's a very good post that nails a couple of points firmly down that everyone needs to understand.

Here's a couple...
"1) ‘What it meant is what it means’."

The way I like to say it is, "It can't mean what it didn't meant (sic)" which is a negative way of saying what he's saying. I hear people interpret the Bible all the time in ways that have no bearing whatsoever on what the author intended it to mean (as best we can tell) or how the original target audience would have understood it. That's a big problem.
"2) ‘Context is king’. One of the great, great dangers in modern interpretation of the Bible is proof-texting. What this amounts to is the strip-mining of certain key terms and ideas, linking them together with similar or the same words in other texts and contexts, and coming up with a meaning which none of the original texts had. "

Enough said. He gives a couple of examples. You gotta read the to the end of the post to hear about his encounter with some Flat-Landers. What an experience that must have been.

For Further Reading

I refer to D.A. Carson's Exegetical Fallacies about monthly after listening to sermons, reading articles online, and talking with others just to keep things in check. Very good book for reference.

If you want a comprehensive and accessible introduction to hermeneutics, I recommend The Hermeneutical Spiral.

We can't stop there though. As Anglican evangelicals we have to engage in good biblical theology that pays attention to the overall structure and thematic trajectory of Scripture.

Books like William Dumbrell's The Search for Order or Graeme Goldsworthy's Gospel and Kingdom are crucial, in my opinion, to get a good Christ-centered understanding of how to interpret Scripture. Newer books that I haven't read yet, but that are sure to be good are, Gospel Centered Hermeneutics and God's Big Picture.

For more detailed study, Jesus and the Old Testament or the more rare, The Israel of God in Prophecy are just outstanding.

Happy reading ... and interpreting.

Aug 11, 2007

David Peterson retires from Oak Hill

I sure hope he keeps writing. Possessed by God in the NSBT (New Studies in Biblical Theology) is a favorite of mine. A great read on sanctification. See more of his works at IVP.

And if you have time, this is not to be missed, his online lectures at Oak Hill: "Creation to New Creation: An Introduction to Biblical Theology"

Anglicanism needs more and more biblical theologians of his ilk.

Best wishes for your next endeavors in Sydney.

Simon Gathercole on the New Perspective

There's a lot of talk on various websites about the New Perspective. I've been waiting for something like this to be written to which I can point my friends who want an accessible overview in plain English. Until now I haven't seen anything like this written anywhere. It's very good. I recommend you read it if you are interested in understanding what the New Perspective says and how evangelicals respond to it.

Jun 11, 2007

Beale Reviews Hays' Conversion of the Imagination

Beale Reviews Hays' Conversion of the Imagination

(From Matt Harmon's Biblical Theology blog)

In the latest issue of JETS (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society; not available online to my knowledge), G.K. Beale reviews (190-94) Richard Hays book The Conversion of the Imagination. Hays' book is in large part of a collection of several previously published essays collected in one volume, with the addition of an introductory chapter of reflecting on his own work. Beale focuses his review on the methodological and hermeneutical issues in the book, some of which I will breifly highlight here.

First, Beale wonders why Hays feels the necessity to use the term "metalepsis" to refer to Paul's practice of citing or alluding to OT texts in such a way that he intends the original context of the OT citation/allusion to be accounted for as well. Beale notes that this claim goes back at least as far as C.H. Dodd.

Second, Beale questions the use of the term "imagination," noting that Paul wanted the conversion of the entire mind, not merely the imagination. He acknowledges that Hays probably includes this "broad" sense of the imagination, but rightly worries that the term "imagination" could be misunderstood in the sense of a "fanciful creation of images that is more in the realm of artful possibilities than of absolute redemptive-historical realities that should shape people's thinking" (191).

Third, Beale affirms Hays' claim that although Paul appears to creatively develop an OT text, it retains essential conceptual links to the original intent of the passage. Such developments are made in light of fulfillment in Christ and the notion of progressive revelation.

Fourth, Beale expresses appreciation for Hays' criteria for detecting scriptural allusions and echoes that have become somewhat of an "industry standard" in the study of the OT in the NT.

Fifth, Beale affirms Hays' contention that Paul's recipients were every bit as sophisticated readers of the Bible as contemporary ones (a claim disputed in NT studies). Beale goes on to qualify this by stating that one must at the same time acknowledge different levels of readers among the recipients; some would have caught the more subtle allusions and echoes on a first read that others may have missed. Beale also rightly recognizes that the repeated reading and teaching of the letters would have allowed even the least biblically literate to recognize the subtle appropriations of Scripture present in the letter.

Sixth, Beale affirms Hays' conclusion that Paul's exegetical practices are sufficiently distinct from his Jewish contemporaries to warrant special investigation. On this point they are in contrast to the conclusion of (among others) Richard Longenecker in his work Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period.

I agree with Beale that for those seeking to further understand how Paul interpreted the OT, Hays' book is a helpful window into that discussion. Like both Beale and me, you may not agree with all of the interpretive decisions he reaches, but your thinking will be stimulated. Who knows, not only your imagination but even your entire way of thinking might be changed.

Feb 13, 2007

Kingdom of God Part 3: The Purpose of the Parables (Mk 4:10-12)

Matt Harmon posted the following on his blog.

In response to the question of why he teaches in parables, Jesus says "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN." (Mark 4:11-12)

Several questions arise from Jesus' answer:

1. Does Jesus use parables to intentionally prevent some from seeing, hearing, repenting, etc.?

2. What exactly does the phrase "mystery of the kingdom of God" mean?

3. How does the "citation" of Isa 6:9 fit with the larger context of Mark?

4. How does the larger context of Mark illuminate Jesus' statement here?

I think this is a great set of questions. I'm convinced that Jesus is undertaking an Isaiah-like ministry to the remnant who he is drawing into his kingdom. Isaiah's ministry was to deafen, blind and harden - to hasten the coming of Yahweh's judgment on idolatrous Israel. Jesus is now bringing Israel out of their exile, through a kind of New Exodus, the center of which is his work as king in establishing his kingdom through is life, cross and resurrection. Some will hear what Jesus has to say, obey, follow him, perceive, and believe in him. Others will go away hardened, troubled, angry or doubting. We might want a Jesus whose message is palatable and easy to receive. Though his yoke is light, the response he requires is repentance and humility, and the courage to follow him. And what is most striking of all, and which comes out clearly not only in the Synoptics but in John as well, is that these same disciples to whom he has given the "mystery of the Kingdom" are the same one's who fail to love him, fail to perceive, fail to really believe in him before and after his resurrection - some even remain doubting prior to his ascension. And yet this little band of spirit filled disciples become perhaps the greatest missionaries the church has ever seen. There is grace here. God reaches out to needy sinners in the gospel to save them through Jesus Christ, empowering a response of faith and obedience.