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The Preservation of the New Testament
Bibliology · Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism · J Harold Greenlee

Quite some time ago I acquired several boxes of books from my mother when she sold the house in the country and moved to an apartment in town. Among those books was Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, by J. Harold Greenlee. Recognizing it as one of the books on The Master’s Seminary 850 Books for Biblical Expositors list, I put it in the stack of “keepers,” to be forgotten until just a few days ago when I was updating my LibraryThing library. I have been meaning to do some studying of the science of textual criticism for some time now and, having the book in hand, now seemed like the right time.

Everyone who studies the Bible will most likely ask, if there are no surviving original manuscripts, if every manuscript we have is a copy or a copy of a copy, how do we know the available manuscripts are reliable? This is undeniably a vital question. If the ancient texts we possess are not accurate, how can we know the Bible we have is really the Word of God?

In his introduction, Greenlee offers three basic reasons to trust the texts from which our Bibles are translated: the vast number of manuscripts available for comparison, the age of the surviving manuscripts, and the consistency of the surviving manuscripts.

[T]he number of available mss. of the N.T. is overwhelmingly greater than those of any other work of ancient literature. . . . The earliest extant mss. of the N.T. were written much closer to the date of the original writing than is the case in almost any other piece of ancient literature.
. . . The plays of Aeschylus are known in some fifty mss., the works of Sophocles in one hundred, the Greek Anthology and the Annals of Tacitus in one ms. each, the poems of Catullus in three hundred of independent value; while there are a few hundred known mss. of works of Euripides, Cicero, Ovid, and Virgil. In the case of the N.T., in sharp contrast, there are over 4000 extant mss. in Greek, 8000 in Latin, and 1000 in other languages. As regards the time interval between the extant mss. and the autograph, the oldest known mss. of most of the classical Greek authors are dated a thousand years or more after the author’s death. The time interval for the Latin authors is somewhat less, varying down to a minimum of three centuries in the case of Virgil. In the case of the N.T., however, two of the most important mss. Were written within 300 years after the N.T. was completed, and some virtually complete N.T. books as well as extensive fragmentary mss. of many parts of the N.T. date back to one century of the original writings.
   Since scholars accept as generally trustworthy the writings of the ancient classics, even though the earliest mss. were written so long after the original writings and the number of extant mss. is in many instances so small, it is clear that the reliability of the text of the N.T. is likewise assured.

   In the N.T. and in other ancient literature as well, there is no question concerning the reading of most of the words. Textual criticism needs to operate in only a limited portion of the text. . . . the main body of the text and its general sense are left untouched . . . textual criticism engages in turning a magnifying glass upon some of the details.

—J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Eerdmans, 1964), 15–17.
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All the Words
Bibliology · Translating Truth · Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem is smart. He agrees with me on Bible translations.

   All the words of Scripture are breathed out by God for purposes only he fully understood. He put the words there so that we could use them to probe deeper into the meaning of Scripture and even to construct arguments or to answer arguments yet to be invented in the future. But some of these words of God are simply deleted from dynamic equivalence translations. Unless our theory of translation seeks to translate all the words (in some way or another), we will leave out things that we don’t know we are leaving out, and we will leave out part of the meaning of Scripture.
   Are only some words of Scripture breathed out by God?

—Wayne Grudem, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 32–33.
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Psalm 51, more or less
Bibliology · Translating Truth · Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem offers an example of the editorializing found in dynamic equivalence translations of the Bible:

Generations of Christians have identified with David’s famous words of repentance in Psalm 51:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me (Ps. 51:10–11, esv).

All essentially literal translations include the same elements of this prayer: a request for a “clean heart” (or a “pure heart”) and a right spirit from God, and a plea that God not cast the person from his presence or remove his Holy Spirit.
   But look at The Message on this passage:

God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.

   On first reading The Message on this passage people might think, “How creative!” “How Catchy!” “What an interesting way to put it!” But then we realize: creating new ideas is not what translators are to do. We have no business creating things God did not say. Why should anyone think it right to invent new metaphors that God did not use (“Don’t throw me out with the trash”) and omit clear wording that he did use (“Cast me not away from your presence”)? This kind of material belongs in sermons; it does not belong in a book that says “Bible” on the cover.
   Are only some words of Scripture breathed out by God?

—Wayne Grudem, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 44–45.
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Dumbing Down the Bible
Bibliology · Leland Ryken · Translating Truth

Dynamic equivalence translations of the Bible, according to Leland Ryken, not only assume illiteracy in their readers, but also ensure that readers remain at a low literacy level.

   Further assumptions about modern readers fill out the picture of what I call a naive readership. Dynamic equivalence translations regularly assume that contemporary readers struggle with figurative language, so that, in the words of one translation, “at times we have chosen to translate or illuminate the metaphor” (NLT). Incidentally, translating the metaphor is exactly what equivalence translations do not do; they do not translate the metaphor but remove it from sight. Not only is figurative language said to be beyond the ability of modern readers, but so is the ability to enter the ancientness of foreignness of the biblical world. In the preface to the NIV, we read that the translators based two of their renderings on the premise that “for most readers today the phrases ‘the Lord of hosts’ and ‘God of hosts’ have little meaning.” An unstated and perhaps unrecognized assumption in all this is that readers cannot be educated beyond their current abilities—to me a naive and untenable premise. If this were not the operating premise, translation committees would not fix their translation at a lowest common denominator of reading ability and comprehension. In effect, “easy reading” translations ensure that readers will remain at a naive level of comprehension, even if the translators would disavow that this is their aim.
   This, then, is one way in which dynamic equivalence translations are naive: the translators producing them assume an audience with minimal linguistic and theological ability and then produce a translation adapted to the assumed needs of the audience. Essentially literal translations are not naive in this sense. They expect from their readers what we as a society expect of educated adults and even bright teenagers in other areas of life. The reply to the charge of elitism is simple: essentially literal translations make the Bible neither more nor less difficult than it was in the original. Faithfulness to the original is the goal of essentially literal translation; catering to the assumed wants and needs of the modern reader is the goal of dynamic equivalence translations.

—Leland Ryken, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 64–65.
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They could have said it that way
Bibliology · Leland Ryken · Translating Truth

Literate readers are not the only ones insulted by dynamic equivalence Bible translations.

   In the urge to relieve allegedly inexpert readers from the need to make interpretive decisions, and to guard readers from misinterpretation, dynamic equivalence translator overlooked one important thing: in the overwhelming number of instances where these translators believed that they need to change, explain, or clarify the original, the original authors could have said it that way and chose not to. The psalmist had the linguistic resources to say (in Ps. 78:33) that God ended the days of the wicked “in futility” (NIV) or “in emptiness” (REB) or “in failure” (NEB) instead of saying that “their days vanish like a breath” (RSV, ESV, NRSV). At the heart of the dynamic equivalence experiment is the attempt to fix the assumed inadequacies of the Bible for modern readers. This maneuver is not an example of sophistication as opposed to naivete; it is instead and unwarranted affront to the original authors (an extension of the “what the author was trying to say” fallacy that has become so prevalent).

—Leland Ryken, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 68.

And let‘s be clear: the “original author” receiving this “unwarranted affront” is none other than God himself.

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The Cost of “Readability”
Bibliology · Leland Ryken · Translating Truth

If I relay a message inaccurately, does it matter how plainly I speak?

   Several ideas ordinarily cluster around the charge [that essentially literal translations are obscure or opaque]. One is the assumption that whenever an English translation is difficult or unclear, the fault can be assumed to lie with the translation and its philosophy rather than being a property of the original text. Related to this is the assumption that when a colloquial or modernized translation is judged by reading tests to be more easily grasped by the population at large, this means that translations that require a higher reading level are obscure.
   It is my belief that all modern translations are accessible to a lower reading level than traditional translations are. Not only has readability been elevated to a status all out of proportion to its legitimate place, but it has also been misrepresented. I have moved among people for whom readability is apparently the primary aim of English Bible translation, an error reinforced by advertising for what I will call “easy reading Bibles.” I will state my critique of the readability fallacy very succinctly: what good is readability if what the reader reads is not what the original text of the Bible says? If it is not what the original text says, the so-called readable translation has actually removed the Bible from a reader, not, as it is claimed, brought the Bible close to the reader. [bold type added]

—Leland Ryken, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 73–74.
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Necessary Difficulty
Bibliology · Leland Ryken · Translating Truth

While practitioners of dynamic equivalence translation attempt to remove difficulty from Bible reading, Ryken points out that difficulty is, and always has been, a natural quality of Bible study.

   Over against the claims of a naive modern audience that is in a special position in finding the Bible difficult, I incline to the view that there is much in the Bible that is inherently difficult and technical. Surely Anthony Nichols is correct when he writes, “One cannot escape the fact that the Bible contains many concepts and expressions which are difficult for the modern reader. There is no evidence that they were much less so for the original readers. They, too, had to cope with technical terminology, with thousands of OT allusions and Hebrew loan words, idioms and translation must have been very strange to them.”
   In a similar vein, Wayne Grudem pictures the situation thus: “Lest we think that understanding the Bible was somehow easier for first-century Christians than for us, it is important to realize that in many instances the New Testament epistles were written to churches that had large proportions of Gentile Christians. They were relatively new Christians who had no previous background in any kind of Christian society, and who had little or no understanding of the history and culture of Israel. The events of Abraham’s life . . . were as far in the past for them as the events of the New Testament are for us!”

—Leland Ryken, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 74–75.

Is it so unreasonable to expect difficulty in the study of an infinitely difficult subject? And if the difficulty is removed, has not the subject, by and large, also been removed?

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The Bible for Dummies?
Bibliology · C John Collins · Translating Truth

During the last week, I’ve been sharing some excerpts from Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation. In Chapter 3, What the Reader Wants and the Translator Can Give: First John as a Test Case, C. John Collins demonstrates how dynamic equivalence translators, in their efforts to make the Bible easily readable and to translate the message, rather than the words, of Scripture, actually lose the message along with the words. The case he makes is quite good, but as it takes us to the outer limits of my ability to follow Greek, I’m not going to try to share it here. I will leave it to you to pick up the book and sort it out for yourselves.

What I would like to address, in an otherwise good chapter, is the idea that different types of translations, including dynamic equivalence translations, might be appropriate for different contexts. Collins distinguishes three different uses that might call for different translations:

(1) a Bible for church; (2) a Bible for family reading, which includes children, and personal study; (3) a Bible for the uninitiated. . . . these different contexts might be best served by different translation philosophies. What kind of translation might suit these various contexts for the English reader?*

Collins goes on to say, quite correctly, that a Bible translation for use in the church ought to be an accurate, essentially literal translation. Furthermore,

. . . I see no reason for the home version to be different from the one used in church . . . One might object, however, that the higher level of language in this version excludes children; but in my own experience I have not found this to be a viable objection. Children—mine, at least—live up to what is expected of them, and aim to expand their language capacity anyhow. I do not find them to be embarrassed to admit that they do not understand something, and the exercise of explaining a passage to young children has done me good. I admit that this puts more weight on parent’s shoulders, but then our churches ought to welcome this, and equip their families for the task.†

So far, so good; but then he continues:

The third category of translation is the one for outreach. Here we might indeed prefer a Bible version simpler than the ecclesiastical one; but if we use such a version, we should explain to people that its purpose is introductory.‡

Collins goes on to emphasize the need for disciples to be challenged intellectually to better things, quoting C. S. Lewis: “[Christ] wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head” — which is quite correct. However, I seriously doubt the wisdom of using second rate translations “for the uninitiated.” My objections are:

  1. It has the potential to create confusion, and undermine confidence in the Word of God. What are we saying if we give a Bible one day, only to return later with another, better Bible, explaining that “some of the stuff in the first Bible we gave you isn’t quite right, but this one can be trusted — honest”?
  2. It diminishes the role of the Church in the proclamation of God’s Word. The Word of God is not meant to stand alone, outside of the Church. That is not what we mean by sola Scriptura. In addition to simply being read, it is to be explained and taught. Some of it is difficult. That is why we have pastors — preachers, teachers, shepherds — as well as congregations of mature believers: to disciple the young and immature. We are not simply to hand out Bibles and hope for the best; we are to preach it, teach it, and live it out among our neighbors. In the same vein, but far more importantly,
  3. It fails to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating God’s Word. God chose the words he wanted us — all of us, simple and wise — to read. If God doesn’t intend for us to receive the word independent of teachers, it is even more true that he does not intend for us to receive it independent of himself. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14). No matter how simple the translation, none of us can understand it adequately unless we are filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make the Word understood, if we bring it accurately.

This particular point seems to contradict everything I’ve read in this book so far. In addition to these objections, I can’t help remembering and repeating Leland Ryken’s words from the previous chapter: “what good is readability if what the reader reads is not what the original text of the Bible says?” Accuracy has got to come first, regardless of the target audience.

*C. John Collins, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 91.

†Ibid., 93–94.

‡Ibid., 94

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The Canon of Scripture
Bibliology · F F Bruce · The Canon of Scripture

I’ve begun reading The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce. The logical place for a book with that title to start is with a definition* of the word canon, and so it does. First, it’s not a really big gun. That would be a cannon. Scripture is, of course, a really big gun—the big gun—of religion and theology; but that’s besides the point.

   The word ‘canon’ has come into our language (through Latin) from the Greek word kanōn. In Greek it meant a rod, especially a straight rod used as a rule; from this usage comes the other meaning which the word commonly bears in English—‘rule’ or ‘standard’. We speak, for example, of the ‘canons’ or rules of the Church of England. But a straight rod used as a rule might be marked in units of length (like a modern ruler marked in inches or centimeters); from this practice the Greek word kanōn came to be used of the series of such marks, and hence to be used in the general sense of ‘series’ or ‘list’. it is this last usage that underlines the term ‘the canon of scripture’.
   Before the word ‘canon’ came to be used in the sense of ‘list’, it was used in another sense by the church—in the phrase ‘the rule of faith’ or ‘the rule of truth’. In the earlier Christian centuries this was a summary of Christian teaching, believed to reproduce what the apostles themselves taught, by which any system of doctrine offered for Christian acceptance, or any interpretation of biblical writings, was to be assessed. But when once the limits of holy scripture came to be generally agreed upon, holy scripture itself came to be regarded as the rule of faith. For example, Thomas Aquinas (c 1225–1274), says that ‘canonical scripture alone is the rule of faith’. From another theological perspective the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), after listing the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, adds: ‘All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.’ These words affirm the status of holy scripture as the ‘canon’ or ‘standard’ by which Christian teaching and action must be regulated. While the ‘canon’ of scripture means the list of books accepted as holy scripture, the other sense of ‘canon’—rule or standard—has rubbed off on this one, so that the ‘canon’ of scripture is understood to be the listof books which are acknowledged to be, in a unique sense, the rule of belief and practice.

—F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, 1988), 17–18.

That is what the canon is. If Scripture is to be our “rule of faith and life,” it behooves us to know how it is that we came to recognize our Bible, in its present form, as the Word of God. And that is what this book is about.

*Another good definition is here.

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The Old Testament: A Christian Book
Bibliology · F F Bruce · The Canon of Scripture

F. F. Bruce titles a chapter in in his book, The Canon of Scripture, “The Old Testament becomes a New Book.” By this he means that with the coming of Christ it became a Christian book. Its meaning was illuminated so that it was no longer understood as merely a Jewish book, but as a book explicitly about Christ. And the Apostles plainly stated that this was so.

   According to the Acts of the Apostles, the early preaching of the gospel to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles was regularly marked by the appeal to the fulfillment of Old Testament scripture in the work of Jesus. It is to him, Peter assures Cornelius, that ‘all the prophets bear witness’ (Acts 10:43). When Philip is asked by the Ethiopian on his homeward journey from Jerusalem to whom the prophet is referring as he describes the suffering of the Isaianic Servant, Philip does not hesitate: ‘beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus’ (Acts 8:35). The impression given in Acts is confirmed by Paul: ‘the gospel of God . . . concerning his Son’, he says, was ‘promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures’ (Rom. 1:1–3), and throughout his exposition of the gospel in the letter to the Romans he shows in detail what he means by this. Thanks to the illumination thrown on them by their fulfilment in Christ, the ancient scriptures became a new and meaningful book to the early Christians. The prophets themselves, we are assured in 1 Pet 1:10–12, had to search hard to find out ‘what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory’; they had to learn that their ministry was designed for the generation which witnessed the fulfillment of what they foretold.
   Various figures of Old Testament expectation were now identified with Christ—the prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15–19), the son of David (2 Sam. 7:12–16), the servant of Yahweh (Is. 42:1, etc.), the righteous sufferer (Ps. 22:1, etc.), the stricken shepherd (Zech. 13:7), and others. It is not simply that a number of texts out of context are given in a Christian significance: the New Testament interpretation of a few Old Testament words or sentences actually quoted often implies the total context in which these word or sentences occur. Moreover, different New Testament writers will quote different words from the same context in a manner which suggests that the whole context had been given a Christian interpretation before those writers quoted from it. It has been pointed out, for example, that from Ps, 69:9 (‘zeal for thy house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me’) the former part is applied to Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in John 2:17 and the later part to his patient endurance verbal abuse in Romans 15:3. While no one is likely to maintain that the one writer has influenced the other, ‘it would be too much of a coincidence if the two writers independently happened to cite the two halves of a single verse, unless they were both aware that at least this whole verse, if not any more of the Psalm, formed part of a scheme of scriptural passages generally held to be especially significant’. This implies something more substantial in the way of primitive Christian exegesis than a chain of isolated proof-texts of ‘testimonies’.

—F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, 1988), 56–57.
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Mysteries Disclosed
Bibliology · F F Bruce · The Canon of Scripture

It is an unfortunate fact that the church today often gives the Old Testament second-rate status. This ought not be, and, to borrow a phrase, “from the beginning, it was not so.” First century Christians lived with the expectation of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. Many of those prophesies, they knew, had already been fulfilled in Christ; others were yet to come. The Old Testament, they knew, was the story of the Christ.

That the Old Testament prophecies were ‘mysteries’ whose solution awaited their fulfilment in the New Testament age was axiomatic in the early church. Occasionally the word ‘mystery’ itself is used in this sense . . . ‘To you’, says Jesus to his disciples, ‘the mystery of the kingdom of God has been given, but to outsiders all these things come as riddles, so that they see without perceiving, and hear without understanding; otherwise they would turn back and receive forgiveness’ (Mark 4:11f.).
   In the Pauline writings one aspect of the gospel—the manner and purpose of its communication to the Gentile world—is treated as a ‘mystery . . . which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to Christ’s holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit’ (Eph. 3:4f.). That the Gentiles would place their hope on the Son of David and rejoice in the God of Israel was affirmed in the Old Testament, as Paul emphasizes in a series of quotations in Romans 15:9–12, but how this prospect would be realized and what its implications would be could not be appreciated until the Gentile mission was launched in the apostolic age.
   The individual New Testament writers have their distinctive interpretive methods. Matthew records how this or that incident in the life of Jesus took place ‘in order that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet’ (Matt. 1:23, etc.). Paul sees the partial and temporary setting aside of Israel as clearly stated in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms as he finds the ingathering of the Gentiles adumbrated there. The writer to the Hebrews sees the priestly and sacrificial order of Israel as an earthly ‘copy’ (ineffective in itself) of the heavenly reality which was perfected by the work of Christ. John the evangelist portrays Jesus as giving substance to a number of Old Testament motifs—the word, the glory, the tabernacle; the bread of life, the water of life, the light of life. In the Apocalypse may be seen what has been called ‘a rebirth of images’ from the Old Testament and other ancient lore, some of which might have been thought unadaptable to a Christian purpose, yet all pressed into service to depict the triumph of Christ. However differently the interpretative tradition is developed by those writers, the core of the tradition is common to all: Jesus is the central subject of the Old Testament revelation; it is to him that witness is borne throughout.

—F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, 1988), 59–60.
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More Light, Less Sight
Bibliology · F F Bruce · The Canon of Scripture

With the incarnation of Christ, the Old Testament had become Christian book. What had previously been a mystery was now disclosed. But not everyone got it.

[T]his Christian book, as it was to the church, comprised the holy scriptures of the Jewish people. Even the Septuagint version, which the Gentile church took to its heart, was in origin a Jewish translation. When the law and the prophets were read week by week in the synagogue, whether in the Hebrew original or in the Greek translation, they were understood in a Jewish sense, according to the ‘tradition of the elders’. Jews and Christians had the same sacred book, but that did not serve as a bond of unity between them.
   As Jews heard the scriptures read, they learned that every male child had to be circumcised when he was eight days old if he was to be reckoned a member of the people of God. They learned that every seventh day was to be observed as a rest day, and that certain other days throughout the year were to be specially set aside for sacred purposes. They learned, moreover, that the flesh of certain animals was not to be eaten, because they were ‘unclean’, and that the flesh even of ‘clean’ animals might be eaten only under certain stringent conditions—for example, both their fat and their blood were forbidden for food. These restrictions were so binding that any infringement of them imperilled one’s membership in the chosen people.
   Christians—even, to an increasing degree, Christians who had been brought up to observe these regulations—soon came to adopt a relaxed attitude to them. In the new order inaugurated by Christ circumcision was irrelevant. The keeping of the sabbath and other sacred days was not obligatory but voluntary. As for food-restrictions, Jesus was recorded as having once given a ruling which meant, in effect, that all kinds of food were ‘clean’ [Mark 7:19].
   Yet the text of scripture had not changed: what had changed was the Christians’ understanding of it in the light of their Master’s teaching and achievement. It is easy to appreciate how Jews, who did not share the Christians’ estimate of the person and work of Jesus, found this playing fast and loose with the divine commandments an incomprehensible and totally deplorable proceeding.
   Christians, on the other hand, who found such luminous testimony to Christ and the gospel in the same scriptures, wondered how Jews could read them with such lack of comprehension. One explanation was that a ‘judicial blinding’ prevented Jews from seeing what was so plain to Christians. Paul uses the story of Moses’ face, which shone with reflected glory after he had been in the presence of God, so that he had to put a veil or mask on it (Exod. 34:29–35); in Paul’s application of the story, the veil is somehow transferred from Moses’ face to the minds of the synagogue congregation ‘whenever Moses is read’, so that they cannot see ‘the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 3:7–4:6).

—F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, 1988), 63–65.

Although Christians and Jews were reading essentially the same texts, the message they were reading was quite different. Jewish interpreters became deliberate in excluding interpretations, even those they had previously accepted, that were too Christian-friendly. So with the coming of their Messiah, the Jews were even farther removed from understanding their scriptures than before.

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Septuagint Onlyism
Bibliology · F F Bruce · The Canon of Scripture

The Bible contains few words more obvious than the phrase “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). It always interests me to find fresh illustrations of this ancient truth. Postmodernism, for example, is rich with proofs of this truism. This week I discovered another piece of modern folly that is nothing new. It seems King James Onlyism has ancient roots, reaching back (at least) to the early first century. Many KJVOists scorn any attempt at scholarly textual criticism, claiming that the KJV is not only translated from inspired documents, but is itself an inspired translation. It is therefore unnecessary, and in fact dangerous, to go back to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. The early church father Jerome (347–420), in his work of translating the Old Testament, encountered the same attitude in regard to the Septuagint.

[H]e soon became convinced that the only satisfactory way to translate the Old Testament was to cut loose from the Septuagint and work from the original Hebrew—the ‘Hebrew verity’, as he called it. Accordingly, he gave himself to this task and completed the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin in 405. This work included a further version of the Psalter, the ‘Hebrew Psalter’, a rendering direct from the original; religious conservatism, however, preferred to go on using the more familiar wording based on the Septuagint.
   For this work Jerome needed to perfect his knowledge of Hebrew, and did not hesitate to rely on the help of Jewish teachers. . . . Jerome’s dependence on Jewish instructors increased the suspicion of some of his Christian critics who were put off in any case by such an innovation as a translation of the sacred writings from Hebrew (with its implied disparagement of the divinely-inspired Septuagint).

—F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, 1988), 88–89.
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Acts in the NT Canon
Bibliology · F F Bruce · The Canon of Scripture

The Acts of the Apostles is a book that doesn’t quite fit with the other New Testament books. It’s not a Gospel, nor is it a doctrinal treatise like the Epistles. It’s just a bit of history sandwiched in between. That is not to say that it’s any less important than the rest of the Bible (Pentecost, anyone?); it’s just a bit different, and, I think, is probably rather neglected at times.

In the early days of the forming of the New Testament canon, the place of Acts was undetermined. The Gospels had been collected and bound in codex (book) form early in the second century AD. The Pauline Epistles comprised a second, separate collection. The book of Acts brought the two together.

The gospel collection was authoritative because it preserved the words of Jesus, than whom the church know no higher authority. The Pauline collection was authoritative because it preserved the teaching of one whose authority as the apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles was acknowledged (except by those who refused to recognize his commission) as second only to the Lord’s. The bringing together of these two collections into something approximating the New Testament as we know it was facilitated by another document which linked the one to the other. This document was the Acts of the Apostles, which had been severed from its natural companion, the Gospel of Luke, when that gospel was incorporated in the fourfold collection. Acts had thereafter to play a part of its own, and an important part it proved to be. ‘A canon which comprised only the four Gospels and Pauline Epistles’, said Harnack, ‘would have at best an edifice of two wings without the central structure, and therefore incomplete and uninhabitable’ [A. Harnack, History of Dogma, E. T., II (London, 1896), p. 48, n.2.].

—F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, 1988), 132–133.
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The Springs of Salvation
Athanasius · Bibliology · F F Bruce · The Canon of Scripture

The first known listing of the twenty-seven books we now recognize as the New Testament is found in the thirty-ninth festal letter (announcing the date of Easter in AD 367) of Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria.

Again, we must not hesitate to name the books of the New Testament. They are as follows:

   Four gospels—according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke, according to John.
   Then after these the acts of the Apostles and the seven so-called catholic epistles of the apostles, as follows: one of James, two of Peter, three of John and, after these one of Jude.
   Next to these are fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul, written in order an follows: First to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians, and after these to the Galatians and next that to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians and two to the Thessalonians and that to the Hebrews. Next are two to Timothy, one to Titus, and last the one to Philemon.
   Moreover, John’s Apocalypse.

These are the ‘springs of salvation’, so that one who is thirsty may be satisfied with the oracles which are in them. In these alone is the teaching of true religion proclaimed as good news. Let no one add to these or take anything from them. For concerning these our Lord confounded the Sadducees when he said, ‘You are wrong because you don not know the scriptures.’ and he reproved the Jews, saying, ‘You search the scriptures, because . . . it is they that bear witness to me.’
   But for the sake of greater accuracy I must needs, as I write, add this: there are other books outside this, which are not indeed included in the canon, but have been appointed for the time of the fathers to be read to those who are recent converts to our company and which to be instructed in the word of true religion. These are . . . the so-called Teaching of the Apostles and the Shepherd. But while the former are included in the canon and the latter are read [in church], no mention is to be made of the apocryphal works. They are the invention of heretics, who write according to their own will, and gratuitously assign and add to them dates so that, offering them as ancient writings, they may have an excuse for leading the simple astray.

—Athanasius, quoted in F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, 1988), 208–209.

Athanasius lists the canonical books without distinguishing some as deserving higher status than others, as had always been done before. It is especially worth noting that “John’s Apocalypse” (Revelation) is simply listed without comment, as previous church fathers had often listed it, so to speak, with an asterisk.

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The Spirit & the Word
Bibliology · God Is the Gospel · John Calvin · John Piper · Soteriology & the Gospel

It is a great indication of the hubris of men that the Roman Catholic religion avers that the authority of Scripture has been given it by ecclesiastical decree. Calvin, of course, agrees with me:

Not the Church but the Spirit Confirms the Word
As John Calvin pondered the basis of our confidence in the gospel, he was dismayed that the Roman Catholic Church made the authority of the Word dependent on the authority of the church:
A most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men! [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press, 1960), 1:75 (I.vii.1).]
   How then shall we know for sure that the gospel is the word of God? How shall we be sure, not the just that these things happened, but that the biblical meaning given to the great events of the gospel is the true meaning—God’s meaning? Calvin continues:
The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not then find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit therefore who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrated into our hearts to persuade us that the faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded . . . because until he illumines their minds, they ever waver among many doubts! [Ibid. 79 (I.vii.4).]
—John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 78–79.
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Each Scripture and All Scripture
Bibliology · F F Bruce · The Canon of Scripture

CONTEXT! That is the cry of many a frustrated exegete when challenged with faulty interpretations of scripture. One cannot hope to interpret any scriptural text properly without a basic understanding of its context, historically, and within the whole counsel of God. F. F. Bruce, concluding his book The Canon of Scripture, writes:

   It is not enough to say ‘the Bible says . . .’ without at the same time considering to whom the Bible says it, and in what circumstances. One sometimes meets people who, in discussing the life to come, quote Ecclesiastes 9:5, ‘the dead know nothing’, as though that were the Bible’s last word on the subject, as though Jesus’ death and resurrection had not given his people a new and living hope to which the author of Ecclesiastes was a stranger.
   Canonical exegesis does not absolve the reader from the duty of understanding the scriptures in their historical setting. Indeed, it reinforces that duty. Each part of the canon makes its contribution to the whole, but that contribution cannot be properly appreciated unless attention is paid to the historical setting of each part in relation to the whole. Historical criticism, rightly applied, is as necessary for canonical exegesis as it is for the exegesis of the separate biblical documents. Each separate document may take on fuller meaning in the context of the wider canon to which it now belongs, but that fuller meaning cannot be logically unrelated to its meaning in (precanonical) context. A study, for example, of the biblical doctrine of election could not be undertaken it there were no Bible, no canon of scripture; but it would be worthless unless it took into account the historical sequence of the relevant subject-matter.
   This is bound up with what is often called progressive revelation. That the biblical revelation is progressive is obvious when one considers that it was given in the course of history until, ‘when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son’ (Gal. 4:4). To call it progressive, however, may be misleading if that adjective suggests that every stage in the revelation is more ‘advanced’ than the stages which historically preceded it. If one thinks again of the doctrine of election, the principle of election implied in God’s call of Abraham, according to the narrative of Genesis 12:1–3, is more ethically and religiously ‘advanced’ than many of the ideas on the subject cherished by some of Abraham’s descendants at later stages in their history. (The principle revealed in the call of Abraham, that some are elected in order that others through them may be blessed, has not always been borne in mind by those who thought of themselves as the elect of God.)
   To adapt words of Paul, the reader of scripture should say, ‘I will read with the Spirit and I will read with the mind also.’ The inclusion of each scripture in the canon of all scripture helps one in the understanding of each scripture, but at the same time, since each scripture makes its contribution to all scripture, the understanding of all scripture is impossible without the understanding of each scripture.

—F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, 1988), 296–297.
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Illumined by the Spirit
Bibliology · God Is the Gospel · John Piper · Soteriology & the Gospel

Continuing from last week’s entry from Piper’s God Is the Gospel (and very much in tune with yesterday’s post on Thomas Chalmers), in which we saw that the Word of God is confirmed by none other than his own Spirit, we will now see how that happens, and how it does not. Piper writes:

The Unmistakable Majesty of God Manifest in the Word
But how does this persuasion happen? Is it by the Spirit telling us a new fact—namely, the whisper, “This book is true”? Do we hear a voice? That is not the way it happens. The glory of God in the gospel does not need another witness of that sort. How then does the internal testimony of the Spirit work in conjunction with the glory of God in the gospel? What does the Spirit do?
   The answer is not that the Spirit gives us added revelation to what is in Scripture, but that he awakens us, as from the dead, to see and taste the divine reality of the glory of Christ in the gospel. (Recall the seeing of 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6.) This sight authenticates the gospel as God’s own Word. Calvin says, “Our Heavenly Father, revealing his majesty [in the gospel], lifts reverence for Scripture above the realm of controversy” [Institutes, 1:92 (I.vi.13).]. This is the key for Calvin: the witness of the gospel is the immediate, unassailable, life-giving revelation to the mind of the majesty of od manifest in the Word itself—not in new revelation about it.
   We are almost at the bottom of this experience of the internal testimony of the Spirit. Here are the words that will take us deeper.
Therefore illumined by [the Spirit’s] power, we believe neither by our own [note this!] 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. [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press, 1960), 1:80 (I.vii.5).]
—John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 79.
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Literary Interpretation
Bibliology · How to Read the Bible as Literature · Leland Ryken

Having finished The Canon of Scripture last week, I am beginning a new book in the Bibliology category: How to Read the Bible as Literature by Leland Ryken.

Getting the most from God’s Word requires more than just casual reading. It requires work, and some knowledge of interpretive methods (hermeneutics). This is because the Bible is not a simple how-to book. It does not convey its message through propositional statements alone. Oh, it contains straight-forward propositions: “You shall not murder,” for example, and “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” are propositional statements that require no interpretation. But Scripture is also a literary work. This means that its contents are presented in various literary forms (genres) that engage the imagination and convey images and meanings that bare propositions cannot. Therefore, we cannot be satisfied with reading; we must learn to rightly interpret.

   Literature always calls for interpretation. It expresses its meaning by a certain indirection. The statement that “our neighbor is anyone in need of our help” is direct and requires no interpretation. By comparison, Jesus’ Parable of the good Samaritan requires a reader to determine what the details of the story add up to.
   The more concrete or complex a story is, the more open it becomes to interpretation. The story of David in the Old Testament illustrates this. What does the story of David communicate about God, people, and society? There is, of course, no single answer, nor is it always easy to determine exactly what truth is communicated by this or that episode in the story. It is no wonder that the story of David has elicited so many interpretations.
   Biblical poetry also requires interpretation on the part of the reader. Consider, for example, the most important of all figures of speech: metaphor and simile. These figures of speech compare one thing to another: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water” (Ps. 1:3). Exactly how is the godly person like a tree? How many of the suggested points of comparison are valid? These are questions of interpretation that metaphor and simile always place before a reader.
   If the need to interpret literature and the unavoidable differences in interpretation from one reader to another strike us as a risk, we should also note the advantages of literature as a medium. They include memorability, ability to capture a reader’s attention, affective power, and ability to do justice to the complexity and multiplicity of human life as we actually experience it.

—Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Zondervan, 1984), 22–23.
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Meaning & Form
Bibliology · How to Read the Bible as Literature · Leland Ryken

The Bible is a literary work. For that reason, in order to comprehend what it says, we must seek to understand how it says what it says.

   A literary approach to the Bible is preoccupied with form, and that is for a very good reason. In any written discourse, meaning is communicated through form. The concept of “form” should be construed very broadly in this context: it includes anything that touches upon how a writer has expressed his content. Everything that gets communicated does so through form, beginning with language itself.
   While this is true for all forms of writing, it is especially crucial for literature. Literature has its own forms and techniques, and these tend to be more complex and subtle and indirect than those of ordinary discourse. Stories, for example, communicate their meaning through character, setting, and action. the result is that before we can understand what a story says we must first interact with the form, that is, the characters, settings, and events. Poetry conveys its meanings through figurative language and concrete images. It is therefore impossible to determine what a poem says without first encountering the form (metaphor, simile, image, etc.).
   The literary critic’s preoccupation with the how of biblical writing is not frivolous. It is evidence of an artistic delight in verbal beauty and craftsmanship, but it is also part of an attempt to understand what the Bible says. In a literary text it is impossible to separate what is said from how it is said, content from form.

—Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Zondervan, 1984), 28–29.
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Stories of the Bible
Bibliology · How to Read the Bible as Literature · Leland Ryken

If you have not read the previous posts in this series, you may want to do that before continuing with this one.

The Bible contains a variety of literary forms. Story is one of them; in fact, the majority of the Bible is in the form of stories. Leland Ryken quotes Henry R. Luce, founder of Time Magazine, as saying, “Time didn’t start this emphasis on stories about people; the Bible did.” “Narrative,” writes Ryken, “is the dominant form in the Bible.”

Stories come in different types, and the stories of the Bible are no exception. All stories are either tragedy or comedy. Comedy is not humor, as we tend to think of the word. Comedy is a story with a happy ending. A comedy is, as Ryken calls it, a “U-shaped” story, beginning in happy circumstances, then descending into misery, before rising to its happy resolution. Sometimes it skips the first segment, beginning in misery, but the ending is always happy. Tragedy begins in a variety of circumstances, and ends in misery.

Among the tragedies of the Bible are the stories of Saul and Samson. The majority of the Bible’s stories, however, are comedies in which the protagonist or protagonists encounter difficulty and suffering but end in positive circumstances. The Gospels are comedies. Job and Revelation are comedies. The larger story of the Bible is most definitely a comedy.

Stories are also divided into more specific subtypes. One of these is the heroic narrative, which comprises the majority of biblical narratives. Heroic narratives are stories that are built around the life and actions of the protagonist.

So what? Well, if you want to get more than a shallow Veggie Tales-style “moral of the story,” you want to know how meaning is conveyed through stories. Leland Ryken describes the hero of the heroic narrative:

   A literary hero or heroine is representative. The purpose behind the storyteller’s selection of specific heroes and events is that they in some sense capture the universal human situation. It is commonplace that whereas the historian tells us what happened, the writer of a literary narrative tells us what happens. The hero of stories in the Bible do more than set the historical record straight. They also are models and paradigms of the religious experience of the human race. They capture what is true for us and for people around us. Characters like Joseph and Ruth and David do not stay within their stories in the Bible; they merge with our own experiences as we begin to “build bridges” between their stories and our own.
   Usually such representative heroes are exemplary of some ideal, though they need not be wholly good (in the Bible they rarely are completely idealized). Stories tend to get written about people whose character and exploits we can look up to. The stories of the Bible are no exception. They give us a memorable gallery of moral and spiritual models to emulate. On the other hand, stories can also includes a positive ideal by negative example. They can indirectly encourage good behavior by telling the story of a hero who failed to measure up to such a standard. Some of the most foolish misreadings of biblical stories I have encountered have come from a misguided assumption that we are intended to approve of the behavior of biblical heroes in virtually every episode in which they figure. One of the distinctive features of the Bible is how deeply flawed its heroes and heroines are. The Bible portrays most of its protagonists as Cromwell wished t be painted—warts and all.
   Of course, in describing hero stories as moral or spiritual examples, I run the risk of making them appear to be simplistic moral fables. This is emphatically not true of heroic narrative in the Bible. All we need to do is dip into biblical scholarship and literary criticism to sense that these stories are subtle, frequently complex to interpret, and usually characterized by a kind of cryptic understatement or mystery that requires the reader to supply and abundance of interpretation. The moment we reduce the moral or spiritual meaning of the hero’s experience to an ideal, we have turned the story into a platitude and robbed it of its power.
   The antidote lies in respecting how stories work. The values or virtues that are inculcated by a hero story like that of Joseph or Ruth are embodied in the protagonists character and life. The strategy of literature is to give form and shape to human experience by projecting it onto a character. A story can communicate truth or reality or knowledge simply by picturing some aspect of human experience. A story conveys truth whenever we can say, “This is the way life is.”
   In other words, “the whole story is the meaning, because it is an experience, not an abstraction” [Flannery O’Connor, Mysteries and Manners, 73]. To say that the story of Abraham embodies an ideal of faith is not to offer that interpretation as a substitute for the story but as a pair of eyes by which to see what the story itself means. As readers we must protect the integrity of the story, while at the same time realizing that “all narrative . . . possesses . . . some quality of the parable” [Frank Kermode, “Interpretive Continuity and the New Testament,” Rariton, Spring 1982, 36].

—Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Zondervan, 1984), 75–77.
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Poetic Language in Scripture
Bibliology · How to Read the Bible as Literature · Leland Ryken

Few Christians would dispute that the Psalms contain some of the most beautiful language in Scripture. Yet I dare say that a great many pass over much of the poetic language of the Psalms without understanding it. I know I have. Take, for example, Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is / when brothers live together in unity! / It is like precious oil poured on the head, / running down on [Aaron’s] beard . . . Be honest now — how many of us have any idea what that means? Very few, I would guess. This is because poetry does not make simple propositional statements. It uses figurative language such as image, metaphor, and simile to cause the reader to enter into an experience with the author. That is what makes it poetry. We need to learn to identify and interpret these figures of speech. Using the example of Psalm 133, Leland Ryken gives us a lesson:

   Image, metaphor, simile, and symbol are the “basics” of poetry, but there are other figures of speech that we also need to identify and interpret. One is allusion. An allusion is a reference to literature or history. As with metaphor and simile, we first need to identify the source of allusion and then interpret what aspects of that earlier situation are relevant to the context in which the allusion appears.
   Psalm 133:1–2 provides a good example:

How good and pleasant is it
   when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
   running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
   down upon the collar of his robes
.

The fellowship the pilgrims experience en route to Jerusalem to worship God in the temple is like oil (simile), but not just any oil. It is specifically like the oil of Aaron (allusion). The passage to which this alludes is Exodus 30:22–33, where we learn that this oil was a “sacred anointing oil” that was only used only in connection with official worship at the tabernacle or temple. Having identified the source of the allusion, we can interpret it: the fellowship of the pilgrims is, like the anointing oil a holy thing and a preparation for worship at the temple.

—Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Zondervan, 1984), 97.

You can see, I hope, how rich this passage is when its poetry is understood, and how meaningless it is otherwise. So it is with all of the poetry of Scripture.

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Figures of Speech in Biblical Poetry
Bibliology · How to Read the Bible as Literature · Leland Ryken

Poetry, according to Robert Frost, is “saying one thing and meaning another.” And while that is quite true, poetry possesses an eloquence that direct propositions lack. Through figurative language, poetry is able to convey, with an economy of words, meanings that would otherwise require paragraphs.

As I’m reading How to Read the Bible as Literature, and learning about the various poetic devices used in Scripture, I thought I would just list several poetic devices with their definitions and some examples. The examples will be taken from Ryken’s book (chapter 4, The Poetry of the Bible).

Simile
   Simile compares one thing to another using the words “as” or “like.” Your tongue . . . is like a sharpened razor (Psalm 52:2).

Metaphor
   While a simile presents one thing as being like the other, metaphor presents the subject as actually being the other. The Lord God is a sun and shield (Psalm 84:11).

Metonymy
   A metonymy skips the comparison all together and simply replaces one thing with another with which it is closely associated. The sword will never depart from your house (2 Sam. 12:10). This phrase contains two metonymies, sword, and house. The meaning is that violence will persist in David’s family.

Synecdoche
   A part is used to represent the whole. Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Bread represents all material needs.

Allusion
   Refers to a past event. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made (Psalm 33:6).

Personification
   Attributes human characteristics to inanimate objects. Then all of the trees of the forest will sing for joy (Psalm 96:12).

Anthropomorphism
   The portrayal of God in human terms. Your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy (Exodus 15:6). God, being spirit, doesn’t actually have hands.

Hyperbole
   Exaggeration. All night long I flood my bed with weeping (Psalm 6:6).

Paradox
   An apparent contradiction that the reader must resolve. The mercy of the wicked is cruel (Proverbs 12:10). A paradox makes no sense outside its context, but when analyzed in context can be seen to express truth.

Figures of speech are at times difficult to classify and overlapping. A good example of this is Exodus 15:6, cited above under anthropomorphism. Ryken writes:

   Consider the statement “your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy” (Exod. 15:6). Exactly what should we call this? It could be considered metonymy, inasmuch as it was God's power over nature, and not literally his hand, that conquered the Egyptians. It is synecdoche if we consider that the right hand stands for the whole being of God. The hand could be regarded as a metaphor for God’s power, or as a symbol of that power. The whole enterprise of labeling quickly collapses under the weight of its own complexity. The simplest solution is to be aware that the transcendent God of the Bible is repeatedly portrayed in earthly and human terms and that such descriptions are of course figurative rather than literal. The word “anthropomorphism” seems to cover the phenomenon as adequately as any other. How to Read the Bible as Literature, 102–103.

What is the purpose of these figures of speech, and what are we to do with them?

   These diverse figures of speech tend toward similar effects. They are governed by the impulse to be concrete and vivid. They are usually a way of achieving tremendous concentration, of saying much in little. They tend to be a shorthand way of suggesting a multiplicity of meanings, connotations, overtones, or associations, and as such they are a way of achieving wholeness of expression. Most of these figures of speech use the principle of comparison. They use one area of human experience to shed light on another area. In one way or another, they operate on the principle that A is like B. This is not limited to the obvious examples of metaphor and simile. With personification, for example, the object is treated as though it were a person. In using such comparisons, poets obviously resort to poetic license. They operate on the principle “it is as though . . .” instead of confining themselves to what literally exists.
   We should note, finally, that all of the figures of speech cited above place similar responsibilities on reader. First a reader must recognize or identify the figure of speech. This usually involves sensing element of strangeness in an utterance, since figures of speech differ from our ordinary, straight-forward way of speaking. Then a reader must interpret the figure. This usually entails drawing a connection or correspondence between two things. It always involves determining how the figure of speech is apt or suitable for what is being discussed, and what meanings are communicated by the figure. “Why is this figure of speech here?” is always a good interpretive question to ask. ibid., 100–101.
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The Realism of Parables
Bibliology · How to Read the Bible as Literature · Leland Ryken

Parables are in part allegorical; that is, they contain fictional elements that are symbolic of real people and situations. But that is not to say they are not realistic. It is their realism that gives them life and makes them applicable to every place and time of our lives.

   There is no doubt that the parables of Jesus lend themselves to almost indefinite reflection and application, but why do they capture the listener’s attention in the first place? They are folk literature, originally oral. Indeed, they are the touchstone of popular storytelling through the ages.
   Virtually the first thing we notice about the parables is their everyday realism and concrete vividness. “It is ‘things’ that make stories go well,” writes P.C. Sandes of the parables; here “everything . . . is concrete and vigorous. Everything is described in solid terms.” The parables take us into the familiar world of planting and harvesting, traveling through the countryside , baking bread, tending sheep, or responding to an invitation. The parables thus obey the literary principle of verisimilitude (“lifelikeness”), and a perusal of commentaries always uncovers evidence of how thoroughly rooted in real life the parables are. There is no fantasy in the parables of Jesus—no talking animals or imaginary monsters, only people such as we meet during the course of a day. The parables reveal “an amazing power of observation.”
   This minute realism is an important part of Jesus’ parables. On the surface, these stories are totally “secular.” There are few overtly religious activities in the parables. If we approached them without their surrounding context and pretended that they were anonymous, we could not guess that they were intended for a religious purpose. An important by-product of this realism is that that it undermines the “two world” thinking in which the spiritual and earthly spheres are rigidly divided. We are given to understand it is in everyday experience that spiritual decisions are made and that God’s grace does its work.

—Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Zondervan, 1984), 139–140.
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Sola Scriptura in the Confessions
Bibliology · Martin Luther · R C Sproul · Scripture Alone

In October of 1518, Martin Luther was already in hot water with the pope after having posted his Ninety-Five Theses the previous year. But he made things considerably worse for himself when, in a debate with Dominican Cardinal Cajetan, he asserted that the pope could and had erred. He turned up the heat considerably in the summer of 1519 when he confessed to Johannes von Eck that not only could popes and councils err, they had erred grievously in condemning John Huss.

So was born the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura. It was not that Luther despised church authority. He merely recognized that Scripture alone was inerrant and infallible, and therefore only Scripture possessed absolute normative authority. This principle is codified in several sixteenth century Reformed confessions which R. C. Sproul excerpts in the first chapter of his book, Scripture Alone.

The Theses of Berne (1528):
The church of Christ makes no laws or commandments without God’s Word. Hence all human traditions, which are called ecclesiastical commandments, are binding upon us only in so far as they are based and commanded by God’s Word. (Sec. 2)
The Geneva Confession (1536):
First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as a rule of faith and religion, without mixing it with any other things which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than what is conveyed to us by the same Word of God, and without addition or diminution, according to the command of our Lord. (Sec. 1)
The French Confession of Faith (1559):
We believe that the Word contained in these books has proceeded from God, and receives itls authority from God alone, and not from men. And inasmuch as is the rule of all truth, containing all that is necessary for the service of God and for our salvation it is not lawful for men, even for angels, to add to it, to take away from it, or to change it. Whence it follows that no authority whether of antiquity, or custom or numbers, or human wisdom, or judgments, or proclamations, or edicts, or decrees, or councils or visions, or miracles, should be opposed to these holy Scriptures, but on the contrary, all things should be examined, regulated and reformed according to them. (Art. 5)
The Belgic Confession (1561):
We receive all these books, and these only as holy and confirmation of our faith; believing, without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the church receives, and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnessed in our hearts that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves (Art. 5).
Therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule (Art. 7).
The Second Helvic confession (1566):
Therefore, we do not admit any other judge that Christ himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what is to be avoided (chap. 2).
—R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone (P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 18–20.