Category Archives: Old Testament

The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: A Very Brief Introduction

The Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS) has become a topic of discussion among academic authors like, Francis Watson, Daniel Treier, Kevin Van Hoozer, and Stephen Fowl. Right from the beginning the name itself sounds like something we shouldn’t be doing. It is as if we are allowing our beliefs to determine what scripture says. While that does happen in many quarters, it’s not the case with TIS. Actually those who are involved in TIS see it more as a recovery of premodern hermeneutics (Bible interpretation). The argument is that modernist hermeneutics, like the Grammatical Historical (GH) method, have not lived up to their promise in providing a method of a truly unified reading of scripture. Some have suggested that the GH method leaves us with interpretive pluralities where each interpreter has the final say on what Scripture says.

So as you can probably imagine this would create a few challenges. If Scripture is the means by which God speaks then It ought to be read as a whole. This first came to my mind many years ago when I suggested that what we were looking for in our interpretation of Scripture was author intentionality in the text. That is to say we wanted to know what the human authors were trying to say. I can remember the conversation because a friend of mine returned and asked if I saw any ambiguity in this. That was when I started to look at other sources like John Calvin. At that point in my life I had only become familiar with Calvin through the Institutes of the Christian Religion which was helpful. However, reading through his commentaries I realized how different his hermeneutic and the hermeneutic of the Patristic homilies were compared to what I had seen in contemporary authors.

So just a recap on what has just been said. TIS places emphasis on the claim that God is the author of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) and therefore should be understood in light of the whole. Obviously there is much to say on this and I will have to discuss this in more detail as I work through it myself. But because the subject matter of the Old and New Testament is the Messiah or Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27, John 5:39) we have an essential unity that plays a big role in our exegesis (or what we come away with from the text). This is not to say that GH should be eradicated from our exegetical practice. But TIS does bring unity to the particulars left behind by GH.

What of the human authors of Scripture? I knew you were going to ask that. As I stated above on the ambiguity of author intentionality, the challenge is our inability to definitively map out what the writers intention actually is. TIS seeks to clarify that the author’s intention is what is found in the text. It is God who is the author of Scripture who can make His intention known through the centuries to His people. This last move makes the church the primary context of Biblical interpretation.

I know this was brief but I hope it has prompted you to ask questions about your own method of interpretation. Maybe you can share with me some of your conclusions as I don’t have too many of my own yet. If you are interested I have listed some literature that has contributed to the discussion of TIS below.


Treir, Daniel J. Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

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Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

Richard A. Taylor, Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook

Kregel Publications, 2016, 205pp., ISBN 978-0-8254-2761-9.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is sixth in the Handbooks For Old Testament Exegesis series by David M. Howard Jr. Taylor’s book is a step forward in the right direction for Old Testament exegesis. Avoiding the pitfall of assuming that all text should be interpreted in very same way Taylor opens the book by giving some foundational insight in to the type of literature the apocalyptic genre is.  He writes,

The expression apocalyptic literature refers to a type of writing that adopts to a significant degree the outlook of apocalypticism and portrays those themes through a vivid use of symbolic language.

Taylor spends the entire first chapter explaining the foundation of apocalyptic literature, defining terms, and talking method for understanding apocalyptic literature. In so doing he has established a solid start point for the discussion.  From here he explains seven major apocalyptic themes (chapter 2), basic guidelines for apocalyptic interpretation (chapter 4), teaching apocalyptic literature (chapter 5), and ends by providing sample apocalyptic texts (chapter 6).

Interpreting Apocalyptic literature is a well written and very necessary introduction to the topic of apocalyptic literature. At 205 pages it isn’t going to delve into every instance of apocalyptic literature found in the Bible. However the strengths in the volume is it’s easy to read style providing the pastor, seminarian, or laity with a solid resource for reading and understanding this particular genre.

RATING 4 out of 5


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review: Preaching Old Testament Narratives

Preaching Old Testament Narratives

Benjamin H. Walton (DMin, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

Preaching Old Testament Narratives

Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Mi 49505-6020, ISBN 978-0-8254-4258-2.


 

Why a book on teaching Old Testament narratives? Mostly because it has become a challenge for Pastors in a Church culture that expects teaching that is “practical” to provide honest reflection on the Old Testament text. Rather than gleaning from the high content already provided by Old Testament narratives the popular practice is to treat the Old Testament narratives as something like Aesop’s Fables. Instead of unfolding the history of redemption, it is assumed that the Old Testament narratives are there to show us some moral or practical life lesson.  This isn’t to say that moral or life lessons aren’t helpful. However, for Pastors the primary function is to Shepard God’s people with God’s Word and here in lies the challenge.

This way of preaching is what Walton calls “Preaching with Biblical authority” he goes on to say that this type of preaching “means that our sermons accurately proclaim and apply the message of their biblical preaching text”(29). Such an understanding realizes that our conception of reality is construed by finite understanding and thus requires an infinite God to explain His will to us. Therefore, unless the message comes from the text, we run the risk of misrepresenting God. What Walton wants to speak to is preaching whose authority is not derived from the pastor but from God’s word.

Preaching Old Testament Narratives is a comprehensive treatment of its subject matter. The 254 pages are broken up into two sections, Discover The Message and Deliver The Message. In Discover The Message, Walton provides a 5 step methodology beginning with selecting a complete unit of thought  or what Walton calls CUT(47). As the name implies this is simply choosing the preaching text. This is very helpful for obvious reasons. For Walton’s approach the objective in this stage of sermon preparation is to select a complete unit of thought so that the original theological message or OTM can be identified.

Steps 2 and 3 involve identifying the theological and historical contexts (45) and plot. Here Walton observes that Old Testament Narratives teach about God, hence the theological context. However, one further important step for Walton is the historical. Since we are looking at a different time period or era the thoughts and feelings of the people of Israel are different than those in 21st century America. Thus a proper understanding of the text looks and both these contexts of theological and historical. This leads Walton into Step 3 which is to study the plot. In order to provide thoughtful reflection on Old Testament narratives one should have a thorough understanding of the plot found in the CUT.

After arriving at the proper contexts and understanding the plot the next step seems fairly logical, discover the original theological message (OTM) and craft the take home truth. Discovering the original theological message for Walton. A complete unit of thought will have an original theological message that was intended for its original audience. The tenancy is to by pass the step and fabricate a message familiar to 21st century American experience. The problem is created when we don’t first seek to find out what that message communicated to Old Testament hearers. Once the original theological message is understood we can then move on to the next step in crafting the take home truth (THT).

The second part of the book deals specifically with delivering the message. Here Walton lays out the process of sermon preparation consisting of topics such as: creating the introduction, preaching through the complete unit of thought, stating and getting listeners to “buy” the take home truth, picture painting, making the move to Christ, and the conclusion. Each of these topics are well thought out and given a thorough treatment. Walton’s goal here is to give the reader the tools to execute on what he calls the four pillars of excellent preaching: accuracy, relevance, clarity, and inspiring.

Overall this is a pretty important book. This is an area that many pastors struggle with and Walton provides more than a foundation from which to build. Rather he walks the reader carefully through each step. There are some sections that have more to do with personal style which isn’t necessary for preaching Old Testament narratives. However the section on making the move to Christ is very well done and would prove to be helpful . I highly recommend this book for those still trying to navigate Old Testament narrative preaching or even for those who are quite comfortable with preaching Old Testament narrative and would just like a different perspective on the matter.

RATING 4 out of 5


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Psalm 42:11

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:11).

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Easter Meditation: Zechariah 3

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”

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Dispensationalism

“As was already said in the preceding, the distinction between the law and the gospel is not the same as that between the Old and the New Testament. Neither is it the same as that which present day Dispensationalists make between the dispensation of the law and the dispensation of the gospel. It is contrary to the plain facts of Scripture to say that there is no gospel in the Old Testament, or at least not in that part of the Old Testament that covers the dispensation of the law. There is gospel in the maternal promise, gospel in the ceremonial law, and gospel in many of the Prophets, as Isa. 53 and 54; 55:1–3, 6, 7; Jer. 31:33, 34; Ezek. 36:25–28. In fact, there is a gospel current running through the whole of the Old Testament, which reaches its highest point in the Messianic prophecies. And it is equally contrary to Scripture to say that there is no law in the New Testament, or that the law does not apply in the New Testament dispensation. Jesus taught the permanent validity of the law, Matt. 5:17–19. Paul says that God provided for it that the requirements of the law should be fulfilled in our lives, Rom. 8:4, and holds his readers responsible for keeping the law, Rom. 13:9. James assures his readers that he who transgresses a single commandment of the law (and he mentions some of these), is a transgressor of the law, Jas. 2:8–11. And John defines sin as “lawlessness,” and says that this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, 1 John 3:4; 5:3.”

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 613.

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Hagar And The Covenant Of Works

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:21-26 NIV)

The law-simply stated-can communicate different ideas to different people. Sometimes the term is used in reference to the Old Testament as a way of distinguishing it from the New Testament. The term law can also be used to refer to a certain collection of laws within the first five books of the Old Testament often referred to as the Pentateuch. Sometimes it is in reference to the Ten Commandments or the decalog. When we come to the New Testament we find Paul using law to contrast works (Col. 3:15, ref. Lev. 13:5) from faith (Gal. 3:11, ref. Hab. 2:4). So it goes without saying that any study of Scripture would require a good understanding of the law if for no other reason than its repeated occurance throughout Scripture and its relationship to the Gospel.

From the text above (Gal. 4:21-26) there is a significant amount that we can glean about the law. Dr. James P. Boyce has written, The two covenants of works and grace are spoken of in Gal.4:22-31, and are called “the two covenants” in verse 24… That of works, is the covenant of the law entered into between God and all mankind through the first Adam, their natural head and appropriate and appointed representative… A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties by which any one or more things are to be done under the sanction of reward or penalties (Abstract Of Systematic Theology P.235). Covenant is a term that we are not as familure with but one of vital importance if we are to understand the law and Gospel. For this we will now look at our text.

For this explanation Paul takes his readers back to Genesis 16. His reason for doing this was probably to properly explain the proof-texts used by the Judaizers who argued that obedience to the law brought about fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul explains that Sara and Hagar are two covenants. Sarah is the free woman who represents those who are united to Christ through faith. Hagar represents the law and the covenant that was given on Mt. Sinai. In this covenant Moses and the elders swore the oath of ratification and obedience to the law. Under this oath the sanction of reward was life and the penalty was death. Thus Hagar’s children are born in bondage because they were born under the law.

The principle here is one of blessing or curse in the covenant of works. If God’s people are obedient to the law given on Mt. Sinai coventat blessings will fall upon them. However if God’s people are not obedient to the law covenant curses will fall upon them. Paul believes this is the case of present Jerusalem and this would also apply to anyone who envokes the law over grace. That is why Paul says, For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:10-11 ESV). According to the covenant of works you must obey it perfectly both inwardly and out in order to recieve the blessings of life. But as Paul says “it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law.”

Having said all this it is important to keep in mind that someone did keep the law perfectly inwardly and outwardly and received the blessings of life. If it wasn’t for Jesus’ active obedience to the law their would be no righteousness for us to receive under grace. Using Paul’s figurative interpretation we are of the free woman (Col.4:28) because we are born of the promise (Col. 4:24). It is important to realize that the covenant on Sinai doesn’t simply go away, with any covenant there is a promise that is made, and if Israel doesn’t keep their end of the promise God must keep His. This reaches back to Adam our covenant head who was the first to break the covenant with God (Rom. 5:12-21).

There are a number of ways to simplify this. One scholar put it this way, Adam was offered life on the condition of his obedience, he could but didn’t. Israel was offered life on the condition of obedience, the couldn’t because they were fallen so they didn’t. Christ takes that same promise of life offered to Adam and Israel and not only could he but He did. Jesus in other words met all the demands of the law and executed them perfectly. Under the covenant of works He merited life and that life was passed on to all who have faith and believe.

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