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(13 posts)

Literary Interpretation

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.
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” —Luke 22:19–20 Memo to Dr. Luther and all my Lutheran friends, whom I love: There have been several different understandings of what Jesus meant by taking the bread and saying, “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19) and by taking the cup and saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Was he saying that the cup and the bread were signs of his body and blood, or that they somehow were transformed into the very body and blood of Jesus? It was natural then, and it is natural today, to point to a representation of something and say that the representation is the thing. For example, I look at a photograph of our house and say, “This is our house.” It would not enter anyone’s mind to think I mean that the photograph was transformed into my house. If Jesus stooped down and drew a camel in the sand, He would say, “This is a camel.” The drawing doesn’t become a camel. It represents a camel. We know he used language this way because in the parable of the four soils, he interprets the images of four kinds of people with these words: “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy” (Matt. 13:20). He means the rocky ground represents a kind of person. There is nothing modern or strange about this way of thinking, and it is the most natural way to understand Jesus’ words. The cup and the body represent his blood and body. Moreover, if we insist on saying that “this is my body” and “this is my blood” must refer to the physical body and blood of Jesus, what becomes of the statement, “This cup . . . is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20)? Are we to say that the cup is the new covenant in the same way that the cup is the blood? Surely, “this cup . . . is the new covenant” means “this cup represents the new covenant that will be purchased and inaugurated by my bloodshedding tomorrow morning.” Therefore, it seems wise to understand the words “this is my body” and “this is my blood” to mean: “The cup and bread represent my physical body and blood offered up for you in death as a sacrifice for your sins.” —John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World (Crossway, 2006), 347–348. This post is among several that have been lost. Thanks to Google and the elephantine memory of the internet, I was able to restore it. I am not able to restore comments to their normal place, so, since this was an unusually good discussion, I have reproduced them below. Christina What of the rest of the passage? What of Jesus' clarification that "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink?" What of the fact that Jesus lost many followers after this meal, followers who just "could not accept" Christ's teachings? Piper's explanation focuses on just one sentence made by Christ when in reality, He said much more that night. David Kjos Christina, Short answer: 1) What of any number of other figurative expressions in the Bible? 2) You're confusing the Lord's last supper in the upper room with the Jesus' Bread of Life sermon in John 6. Longer answer: John 6:48 "I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." 52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" 54 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever." Jesus said he was bread, then he said his flesh was food, and his blood drink. Then he said he was bread again. Elsewhere, he said he was the light (John 8, 9), the door and the good shepherd (John 10), and the vine (John 15). Is he really bread? Light? A door? A vine? Are we really branches, or sheep? Finally, that "as a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore" is a commentary on the nature of their faith. Regarding the question at hand, it is neither here nor there. Christina Thank you for your reply. I did not mean to imply that the bread of life sermon and the Last Supper were one and the same. Obviously however, Christ's words on the subject are connected. Though Christ used many metaphors in his teaching, he seems to go out of his way to emphasize that this teaching about bread and wine is not metaphorical. As for his followers' deserting Jesus, John 6:60-66 is very, very explicit with the fact that he was deserted for this specific teaching on Christ's flesh and blood: "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" Jesus replies, "Does this offend you?" This was not a general disagreement in overall beliefs here - the followers found something upsetting about this specific teaching. It seems strange to me that the followers would balk at a simple metaphor if that is in fact what Christ's language implies. Anyhow, I thank you for the commentary and for your response. David Kjos I should assume, then, that you believe that Christ intended his disciples to actually eat his flesh and drink his blood, not to eat and drink bread and wine and understand it metaphorically as flesh and blood. Otherwise, you are admitting it is metaphor. Was Jesus buried, resurrected, and ascended into heaven in the flesh, or did his disciples eat him? Something in this equation is figurative. If it isn't food/blood/eat, I'd like to know what it is. (A metaphor, as you apparently don't know, is an analogy drawn between two different things or actions by saying that one is the other, e.g. "I am the door." Compare to simile: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . .") And again, regarding John 6:60ff, your insistence that the response of some to Jesus' teaching in any way interprets the teaching begs the question. Your interpretation depends on the a priori assumption of your interpretation. Your argument can be expressed by the following syllogism: Jesus said a. a was unacceptable to many. Therefore, a means b. How did we get to "a means b"? By assuming it in advance, obviously. The fact that Jesus' teaching offended some is no interpretation of the teaching itself. We are not told, "They understood him to mean _____, and since they couldn't accept it, left him." We aren't told what they thought he meant, only that they couldn't accept it. And even if we were, that would be no indication of the actual meaning of Jesus' words, but only of their understanding of them. David So Jesus can't be present in the bread and the wine? David Kjos David, That's the wrong question. The question is not what can be, but what is. The question is also not is Jesus present, but is the bread and wine actual flesh and blood, or representative of flesh and blood. The point of this post is to answer Lutherans who want to find a middle ground between those two options. The plain meaning of the text eliminates that dilemma. When we read the text literally (recognizing literary form), the metaphor becomes obvious. Can Jesus be present, and if so, in what sense? The answer to that is somewhat complex, and I don't have time to answer that here and now. I suggest consulting R. C. Sproul, Kingdom Feast (particularly lecture 6, The Presence of Christ) for a good answer to that. David Hello David, Paul writes in 1 Cor 10: 16The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 'participation/sharing IN the blood of Christ', and 'participation/sharing IN the body of Christ'. 'is it' is estin. Paul could have used a different term if he wanted to convey signifies, but he doesn't. He looks to me to be convinced (but misled you might say) that the churches of the saints were participating IN the body and IN the blood. How are you going to explain that away? In greek it can be translated as 'is it not the blood' and 'is it not the body' and no other translations seems to be available. You ask in what sense can Jesus be present? We say, 'in with and under'. It is a mystery, but that doesn't make it any the less implausible. what is implausible, is that Jesus would institute anything as solemn as this communion, and it clearly was, and it was his last act with the apostles, with the words that He has used, that translate freely from the Greek, and have it seen as a mere memorial. This IS my body. 'Is' could have been said as 'signifies', there are alternatives. Would Jesus have it that we battle over the word 'is'? It is clear, but it is spiritual. We see things in a physical sense, our minds battle against spiritual things. 'Is'! No it can't be. How can this bread, this wine, be 'is'? I became a Lutheran in 1993 and it has taken me until this year, to finally agree with Luther. My understanding HAD to be based on scripture, but it also had to be based on whether or not 'is' should be seen as 'signifies' or 'is' as in 'it is hot'. The following is from The guy may be RC, but I don't see his reasoning as being anything but impartial. 'From a linguistic perspective I would consider it problematic to represent the Greek word esti in English with the word "signifies." Esti (which sometimes appears with a nu after it as "estin") is just the Greek equivalent of "is." It's the verb "to be" in the third person singular form (present tense, active voice, indicative mood), and it would translate as "(he/she/it) is." Esti works just the same way that "is" does in English. In both languages, the verb "to be" can be used to signify existence (as in "God is") or predication ("the grass is green") or equivalence ("Bruce Wayne is Batman"). It can also be used literally ("Jesus is the Son of God") or figuratively ("King Herod is a sly fox"). The latter seems to be a special case of equivalence. We do see passages in the New Testament where esti is used figuratively. For example, in Revelation 17:9 John is told, "the seven heads [of the beast] are seven mountains on which the woman is seated." The word for "are" here is "eisi(n)" which is just the plural form of "esti(n)," the way that "are" is the plural of "is." Here we have a figurative use of "is," and the seven heads do signify seven mountains. However, I would resist translating eisi as "signifies." That's not what the word means in Greek. What it means is "are." It's being used to convey the idea of signification, but that's its connotation rather than its denotation. It would be legitimate to use the connotation of a word as a translation if the receptor language can't express the same thought any other way (e.g., in languages that don't have the verb "to be"), but if the receptor language (English in this case) has exactly the same usage of exactly the same verb (it does) then the thing to do is translate the word according to its actual meaning, which is "is." To render esti in English as "signifies" is not actual translation. It's paraphrase. Paraphrase is warranted when actual translation is impossible or when it would be misleading, but when the receptor language accomodates a straightforward translation, it should be used. We otherwise run the risk of the translator's own biases distorting the message in the original. Whenever possible the original should be presented to the reader in the receptor language, and he should be allowed to determine the connotation of what is being said.' Your thoughts? David Kjos David, Having been raised Lutheran, I'm fairly familiar with the Lutheran position, and the confusing "in, with, and under" language. But you're still missing the point. There is no question about the correct translation of words here. The word is "is." We know that. If there was no "is" (or other form of "to be"), we could not call it a metaphor. Translation is not the issue. The issue is interpretation. The literary form in this case, a is not a, is metaphor. To ignore that is to fail to interpret literally. David Hello David, I thought I did get the point, hence the long reply regarding what 'is' is. This is not a case of a drawing or a photograph representing anything. The confusing 'in with and under' is a way of describing the mystery of how God works through bread and wine. Sacrament itself is based on the greek mysterion, recognising that we can't understand how such a thing as 'This is my body' is to be understood to be fulfilled. John Piper admits it when he says: 'Therefore, it seems wise to understand the words "this is my body" and "this is my blood" to mean: "The cup and bread represent my physical body and blood offered up for you in death as a sacrifice for your sins." ' He doesn't know. He's applying human wisdom to something unfathomable. 'Is' is used by Jesus Christ, not 'signifies', not 'represents', not 'is a picture', not 'is a drawing'. We say, let God be God, when we hit things that are beyond our puny wisdom. For John Piper to write 'it is wise to understand . . .', he is placing human wisdom onto a simple 'is', because we don't get it. 'to ignore that is to fail to interpret literally'. That 'is' means 'is' is a failure to interpret literally? Interpreting 'is' as 'represents' is not a literal interpretation. David Kjos David, I have stated very clearly that I know what "is" means. But words don't stand alone. When the verb "to be" is placed between two distinctly different nouns, that is a metaphor, and we do not insist that the one thing actually is the other. This is what it means to interpret literally. We have to recognize the literary genres and devices used by the author: simile, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, etc. If you don't do that, you are not interpreting literally. If you persist in ignoring the metaphor here, I'll have to assume that you believe Jesus is made out of wood, steel, or maybe fiberglass, and has hinges on one side and a lock on the other, because he said "I am the door," and "am" means "am." But it goes without saying that such an interpretation is obtuse. It is not interpreting literally; it is, in fact, failing to interpret at all. If you don't like "represents," that's fine; there are other, possibly better, ways it could be expressed. How the metaphor should be interpreted may be open for debate, but what absolutely cannot be denied is the fact that it is a metaphor. David Hello David, Sorry I haven't replied earlier, other things ... Where do you get 'to be' from in the scripture surrounding 'This is my body'? 'Is' does not correspond with 'to be' ... there's a line there but I won't take it:) In regard to Jesus' I am statements, he continues beyond I am the door, by explaining the metaphor e.g. No-one comes to the Father except through me. ditto with Light, Shepherd, etc. Jesus also says, 'I am working', which is clearly not a metaphor, and nor does he need to explain it to the disciples. He explains metaphors. Please don't suggest I am a fool because I disagree with you. Like yourself, there have been many from both sides of the coin (about HC) who we would both admire for their faith,and works, even if there are aspects about their understanding that we might disagree with. To suggest that I am of such a low intelligence that I cannot recognise an obvious metaphor is indicative of frustration on your part. I get the same from premillenialists. David Kjos David, I haven't suggested you're a fool, and if I do, it won't be for disagreeing with me; it will be for being unteachable. What I have done is attempt to correct your ignorance. I also have not suggested that you are "of such low intelligence" that you cannot recognize an obvious metaphor; my impression, i.e., that you stubbornly refuse to acknowledge one, is actually much less complimentary than that. Now, obviously you need a little grammar lesson: English conjugation of "to be" Infinitive: be Present Participle: being Past participle: been 1st person singular: I am/was 2nd person singular: you are/were 3rd person singular: he/she/it is/was 1st person plural: we are/were 2nd person plural: you are/were 3rd person plural: they are/were "I am working" is not a metaphor. The structure of a metaphor is subject [to be] predicate nominative. "Am working" is the predicate; "am," in this case is an auxiliary, or helping, verb. In a metaphor, [to be] is the lexical, or main, verb. That structure is what indicates a metaphor. Whether or not they are explained--and they usually are not--they are metaphors. "This is my body/blood" has the structure of a metaphor. Is it? Unless you believe that the bread of the Lord's Table is actual muscle from the incarnate body of Jesus, and the wine is actual blood from his veins, you must answer, "Yes, it is a metaphor." Then, you can go on to consider how the metaphor is to be taken. David Hello David, Thank you, sincerely, for your reply. I am going to take some time to construct a reply, so please don't think me rude for not giving you a fuller response right now. David Hello David, I agree that we are not dealing with actual muscle and blood, and therefore, to consider Jesus statements as metaphor is a natural and logical response. Before I go any further, and possibly waste our time, what do you believe occurs with Holy Communion? Do you agree with Calvin? or Zwingli? or some other understanding. Piper holds that Jesus Christ's body and blood are experienced spiritually when the bread and wine are eaten. Is this your understanding? David Kjos David, I agree with Zwingli's position as far as I understand it. I'm not aware of any significant difference between Calvin and Zwingli on this, though there might be. Calvin said that Christ consecrated the bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood, and so I believe. In his Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, he wrote This is my body. As to the opinion entertained by some, that by those words the bread was consecrated, so as to become the symbol of the flesh of Christ, I do not find fault with it, provided that the word consecrated be understood aright, and in a proper sense. So then, the bread, which had been appointed for the nourishment of the body, is chosen and sanctified by Christ to a different use, so as to begin to be spiritual food. . . . Christ declares that the bread is his body. These words relate to a sacrament; and it must be acknowledged, that a sacrament consists of a visible sign, with which is connected the thing signified, which is the reality of it. I would further stipulate that Christ's body and blood are metonymies (a figure similar to metaphor) for his death. That is, there is no unique value in the actual flesh and blood of Jesus--it is no different from yours or mine, and to think otherwise is papist superstition. So the spiritual benefits of the Lord's Table are through faith in the substitution of Christ for us on the cross. The sacrament is the symbol of Christ's death. Our participation in it is the symbol of the reality expressed in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." David Hello David, Zwingli: "To eat the body of Christ sacramentally, if we wish to speak accurately, is to eat the body of Christ in heart and spirit with the accompaniment of the sacrament...You eat the body of Christ spiritually, though not sacramentally, every time you comfort your heart in its anxious query 'How will you be saved'...When you comfort yourself thus, I say, you eat his body spiritually, that is, you stand unterrified in God against all attacks of despair, through confidence in the humanity he took upon himself for you. But when you come to the Lord's Supper with this spiritual participation and give thanks unto the Lord for his kindness, for the deliverance of your soul, through which you have been delivered from the destruction of despair, and for the pledge by which you have been made sure of everlasting blessedness, and along with the brethren partake of the bread and wine which are the symbols of the body of Christ, then you eat him sacramentally, in the proper sense of the term, when you do internally what you represent externally, when your heart is refreshed by this faith to which you bear witness by these symbols" (Zwingli's Fidei Expositio in "Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries pp.190-191). Z rationalises; there is no action by God. Calvin (from: also wrote: "We begin now to enter on the question so much debated, both anciently and at the present time--how we are to understand the words in which the bread is called the body of Christ, and the wine his blood. This may be disposed of without much difficulty, if we carefully observe the principle which I lately laid down, viz., that all the benefit which we should seek in the Supper is annihilated if Jesus Christ be not there given to us as the substance and foundation of all. That being fixed, we will confess, without doubt, that to deny that a true communication of Jesus Christ is presented to us in the Supper, is to render this holy sacrament frivolous and useless--an execrable blasphemy unfit to be listened to." Calvin admits the necessity of the presence of Christ. Paul writes 1Cor 11: 29For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body [Christ] rightly. If Z is right, what on earth is Paul writing about? He's clearly mad! How could simple bread and wine cause a person to 'eats and drinks judgment if he does not discern the body rightly'? David, the early Christians were accused of cannibalism by the Romans because of these words and their belief regarding them. They were killed for not withdrawing their belief. It wasn't until the 13th century that the RC invented their belief of physical change. The didache states: You must not let anyone eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptized in the Lord's name. For in reference to this the Lord said, "Do not give what is sacred to dogs". Sacred? Baptised? for a memorial? The didache also states: On every Lord's Day--his special day--come together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. Anyone at variance with his neighbor must not join you, until they are reconciled, lest your sacrifice be defiled. For it was of this sacrifice that the Lord said, "Always and everywhere offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is marveled at by the nations." Why confess your sins prior to the Lord's Supper, why reconcile with your neighbour, why is it called a 'sacrifice' by us, if it is JUST a memorial? It is incredible, that such simple words, in Greek, or Aramaic, or English, 'This(is) my body' can't be accepted at face value. How much more simpler could my Lord Jesus have put it? David Kjos David, I'm not going to defend Zwingli, as I don't know him well enough to know that I want to. Since I never quoted him in the first place, you're wasting your time refuting him here. And the Didache--seriously? I think we had best stick to Scripture. I only quoted Calvin because you asked if I agreed with him; I looked up what he said regarding the text in question so I could answer your question accurately. Now, I haven't said that Christ is not present. As we gather together to "do this in remembrance of [him]," what could be a more perfect example of the reality of Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst"? Certainly he is present, but it is a spiritual presence. The presence of Christ will always be spiritual until he returns in the flesh (this is a fact dictated by the indivisibility of the two natures of Christ). You ask, "How could simple bread and wine cause a person to 'eats and drinks judgment if he does not discern the body rightly'?" Remember, as I said in my last comment, not only are bread and wine symbols for body and blood, body and blood are symbols for death: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). When one does not rightly discern (understand) the death of Christ and what it accomplished, i.e. the atonement, he brings judgment upon himself. It is akin to taking the Lord's name in vain: the Lord will not hold him guiltless who does so. Final points: We don't believe, and I haven't said, that the Lord's Supper is just a memorial, so I won't go down that trail. The Romans accused the Christians of cannibalism because they misunderstood the words "this is my body" in the same way papists do, which is similar to the way you are understanding it. Finally, we do take the words "this is my body" at face value. What in the world can you mean by that, having already admitted that "body" is not actual meat? I think I've covered what that face value is. I think I've gone as far as I care to go with this. If you really want to understand this, I encourage you to get Sproul's Kingdom Feast, which I recommended above. If you still don't get it then, I'm sure I can't help you. David Hello David, Take care. Enjoyed the debate.--In Christ David

It Doesn’t Matter What I Believe

We need to make this our approach to every doctrine we study: When I was teaching college, I was working in my office one day when a student knocked on my door. She introduced herself and immediately said, “Sir, I would like to know if you believe in predestination.” The reply I gave her has become something of a stock answer for me. I said: “It doesn’t matter what I believe. The question is, ‘Does the Bible teach predestination?’” —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 34–35.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. —John 1:1 One of the first rules of hermeneutics is that the original meaning of the text—that is, how the original audience would have understood it—is the meaning of the text. So what did the Apostle John mean by calling Jesus “the Word”? According to Richard Phillips, One of the earliest Greek philosophers was Heraclitus (sixth century BC). He thought about the fact that things constantly change. His famous illustration was that you can never step twice into the same river; it is never the same because the water has flowed on. Everything is like that, he said. But if that is true, how can there be order in the world? His answer was the Logos, the word or reason of God. This was the principle that held everything together in a world of change. There is a purpose and design to the world and events, and this is the Logos. The Logos fascinated Greeks from Heraclitus onward. What keeps the stars in their courses? What controls the seasons? Order and purpose are revealed everywhere in the world. Why? The answer is the Logos, the divine logic. The Word. Plato said, “It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” In a stroke of divine genius, John seizes on this word and says, “Listen, you Greeks, the very thing that had most occupied your philosophical thought and about which you have been writing for centuries—the Logos of God . . . has come to earth as a man and we have seen him.” —Richard D. Phillips, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 143–144.

More Than Nuggets

A short lesson in hermeneutics: It’s never a good idea to make a biblical case for something—especially something as monumentally important as the mission of the church—from just a few texts. The Bible isn’t just a potpourri of pithy sayings from which we can pick up a nugget here and a nugget there. No, it’s a grand, sweeping, world-encompassing story that traces the history of God’s dealings with mankind from very beginning to very end. If we really want to understand what God is doing and what he would have us to do as his people, we need to have a good grasp of what that story is, what its main themes are, what the problem is, what God’s remedy to the problem is, and what it all looks like when the story ends. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 67.

The Exodus as a Type

Here is another good lesson in hermeneutics from What Is the Mission of the Church? How did the New Testament writers understand Old Testament texts? DeYoung and Gilbert debunk an errant interpretation of the typology of the exodus: [S]ome have argued that the exodus from Egypt provides a paradigm by which we should understand God’s entire program of redemption. . . . because the exodus from Egypt had political, social, and economic components, we must understand the gospel, redemption, and our mission to have political, social, and economic components as well. There’s a certain compelling logic to that argument, especially since the final salvation of God’s people will certainly include those aspects. But there are also significant problems with that understanding. Perhaps the most important is that the New Testament writers simply do not treat the exodus in that fashion. In their writings as in the prophets, the exodus does function as a type (or paradigm) of redemption, but typology is not a matter of carrying every aspect of a type over to its antitype. Thus when the New Testament talks about the exodus as a type of salvation, what it focuses on is not at all its political and economic aspects, but rather the picture it provided of the spiritual salvation God was bringing about. In Matthew 2:15, for example, when Matthew ties Jesus explicitly to the redemption of Israel from Egypt, he doesn’t draw out any political or economic implications. Rather, he has already said that Jesus’s mission was to “save his people from their sins,” and now he’s tying the exodus itself to that aim. It’s as if he is saying, “If you think the exodus was a great redemption, you haven’t seen anything yet!” In Ephesians 1:7, too, Paul adopts this language of “redemption”—famously used to describe the exodus—and puts it again in terms of salvation from sin: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” Similarly in Colossians 1:13–14, the apostle evokes the exodus with the imagery of Christians being taken out of Satan’s kingdom: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Again, the language and imagery of exodus are used to talk not about political and economic redemption, but about spiritual redemption. So while the exodus does seem to function in Scripture as a paradigm of salvation, we have to be as careful as the apostles were in using it. We should see in the exodus God’s redemption of his people from slavery, and rejoice that he has redeemed us from slavery, too—not slavery to a foreign political power, but slavery to sin. We should also recognize that on the last day, God will indeed set everything—politically, socially, and economically—to rights. And we should rejoice in that certain hope. But we would go beyond the evidence of Scripture—and beyond the practice and writings of the apostles themselves—if we appropriated the exodus in every literal respect as the pattern of our mission in the world. The Gospel writers do not use it that way, the apostles do not use it that way, and we ourselves should not use it that way, either. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 79–81. That last sentence bears repeating: “The Gospel writers do not use it that way, the apostles do not use it that way, and we ourselves should not use it that way, either.” Remember that principle in all your Old Testament reading.

Bread of Life (turns out it’s not real bread)

Wednesday··2014·04·16 · 2 Comments
Yesterday, my wife drew my attention to a comment on the Housewife Theologian blog in which I was named, with negative implication, in relation to the Gospel Coalition Food Pharisee post to which I responded here. That doesn’t bother me—in fact, it’s rather thrilling to be named at all in the comments of a post by an author who never mentioned me and has likely never heard of me. But then there is the following statement: [W]hen food is such a pervasive theme in Scripture (as opposed to say, oh, being a car mechanic), and when Jesus gives as one of His names the Bread of Life, investing some time to think on that is neither shallow nor useless. My first reaction was little more than, “Well, that’s silly,” but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me, and the more it bothered me, the more I thought about it, until I saw just how horrifying a statement it is. What bothers me, to put it mildly, is the evidence that one of the greatest gospel discourses in Scripture has been so horribly misconstrued. First, the claim that food is a pervasive theme in Scripture is less than tenuous. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any text of which food is the theme, not without entirely missing the point, anyway. That’s bad. But to think that the Bread of Life discourse should cause us to think about nutrition and ethical agribusiness is nothing less than tragic, and absolutely heart-breaking. Pay attention, because lives depend on it: The Bread of Life is spiritual food for spiritual life. That is all it is, and it is all of that. To miss that is a tragedy. To add to it, to mingle it with worldly concerns for a worldly agenda is spiritual malpractice, a gross violation of 2 Timothy 2:15. But all is not lost. God is still in his heaven, Jesus is still Lord, and the Holy Spirit is still ministering through the Word, which is sharper than any two-edged sword. Surely it can cut through this confusion. I recommend a careful reading of John 6, followed by a skillful exposition of the same.

Grudem’s Lexical Lunacy

Michael Beasley calls into question—rather embarrassingly, I think—Wayne Grudem’s lexical basis for tinkering with the definition of New Testament prophesy. [Grudem’s] list of examples of prophetes is derived from page 794 of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT). Though I can credit him for supplying the reference, it would have been better for him to mention the section/subsection from which he harvested his data. I say this because lexical articles found within TDNT normally peruse a variety of scriptural word uses from OT, LXX, rabbinic, intertestamental, profane Greek, and NT sources. The value of this is that the student of Scripture can learn about the full lexical spectrum of words that are used in the Bible, from the good, bad, and ugliest examples. What is so striking about Grudem’s citation is that TDNT’s complete section dealing with the word prophetes begins on page 781 and ends on page 861 of volume VI in the series—a fairly large section for just one biblical word. Thus, for the full span of 80 pages, there is a wealth of information supplied concerning the use of prophetes—most of which deals with the OT and NT uses of the word. However, Grudem chose to draw from the least relevant section: profane (secular) Greek, a section which spans thirteen pages. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 54–55.

Merely Human Words

Posting from The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, it has occurred to me that not everyone knows what this doctrine of fallible prophesy is all about. This bit of hokum from Wayne Grudem should give the sense—or, rather, nonsense—of it. So prophecies in the church today should be considered merely human words, not God’s words, and not equal to God’s words in authority. But does this conclusion conflict with current charismatic teaching or practice? I think it conflicts with much charismatic practice, but not with most charismatic teaching. Most charismatic teachers today would agree that contemporary prophecy is not equal to Scripture in authority. Though some will speak of prophecy as being the ‘word of God’ for today, there is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic movement that prophecy is imperfect and impure, and will contain elements that are not to be obeyed or trusted. For example, Bruce Yocum, the author of a widely used charismatic book on prophecy, writes, ‘Prophecy can be impure—our thoughts, or ideas can get mixed into the message we receive—whether we receive the words directly or only receive a sense of the message.’ But it must be said that in actual practice much confusion results from the habit of prefacing prophecies with the common Old Testament phrase, ‘Thus says the Lord’ (a phrase nowhere spoken in the New Testament by any prophets in New Testament churches). This is unfortunate, because it gives the impression that the words that follow are God’s very words, whereas the New Testament does not justify that position and, when pressed, most responsible charismatic spokesmen would not want to claim it for every part of their prophecies anyway. So there would be much gain and no loss if that introductory phrase were dropped. Now it is true that Agabus uses a similar phrase (“Thus says the Holy Spirit”) in Acts 21:11, but the same words (Gk. Tade legei) are used by Christian writers just after the time of the New Testament to introduce very general paraphrases or greatly expanded interpretations of what is being reported (so Ignatius, Epistle to the Philadelphians 7:1–2 [about A.D. 108] and Epistle of Barnabas 6:8, 9:2, 5 [A.D. 70–100]). The phrase can apparently mean, ‘This is generally (or approximately) what the Holy Spirit is saying to us.’ —Wayne Grudem, cited in Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 66–67. If you can subdue your laughter over the term “responsible charismatic spokesman” for a moment, I think you can see just how thoroughly emasculated “prophesy” is in this scheme. “Merely human words”? One wonders why there would even be a word to describe something so inconsequential.

Grudem’s Hermeneutical Hijinx

As we have seen, Wayne Grudem’s doctrine of fallible prophesy depends on some desperately selective lexicology. On top of that, his hermeneutics make a pretty desperate stretch, leaning heavily on the much-debated prophesy of Agabus (Acts 21:11). The advocates of fallible prophecy have analyzed Agabus as never before in church history. Grudem insists that Paul was not bound by the Jews, but by the Romans. Recalling the simplicity of Agabus’ prophecy, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands, and declared, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” Within this prophecy, nothing is said about the timing, duration, or final outcome of Paul’s captivity. When we consider Paul’s initial arrest by the Jews, Luke tells us nothing about how Paul was restrained, except that the Jews took hold of Paul and dragged him. Concerning this last observation, it is helpful to note that the Jewish attorney, Tertullus, testified before Felix that Paul had been arrested [ekratesamen] because he “stirs up dissension among all the Jews through the world.” When we consider this account, we should note that the concept of Paul’s arrest by the Jews raises further questions about the manner in which he was restrained by them seeing that the concept of being formally arrested typically included the idea of being bound, as in the case of John the Baptist and Christ: John the Baptist: Matthew 14:3 For when Herod had John arrested [kratesas], he bound [edesen] him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. (NASB95)Jesus Christ: John 18:12 So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound [edesan] Him, (NASB95) Though none of this explicitly proves that the Jews temporarily bound Paul directly, it does raise serious questions about the veracity of those who insist that such a matter is impossible. Despite this, Grudem insists that Paul was never directly bound by the Jews. It would be one thing if Grudem dismissed this discussion for a lack of scriptural evidence, but this has not been his approach. One of the central arguments of fallible prophecy rests upon the absence of any explicit reference to the Jews binding Paul. By rendering an argument which rests on the absence of data, Grudem supplies nothing more than an argument from ignorance. To his mind, the fact that Luke says nothing about Paul being directly bound by the Jews actually proves that it never actually occurred. In reality, the lack of such a record proves nothing by itself. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 88–90.

Grudem’s Exegetical Error

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. —1 Corinthians 14:29 Wayne Grudem imagines that this verse demonstrates a difference between Old and New Testament prophesy. He explains, When Paul says, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Cor. 14:29), he suggests that they should listen carefully and sift the good from the bad, accepting some and rejecting the rest (for this is the implication of the Greek words diakrino, here translated “weigh what is said”). We cannot imagine that an Old Testament prophet like Isaiah would have said, “Listen to what I say and weigh what is said—sort the good from the bad, what you accept from what you should not accept”! If prophecy had absolute divine authority, it would be sin to do this. But here Paul commands that it be done, suggesting that New Testament prophecy did not have the authority of God’s very words. —Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1054, cited in Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 147–148. According to Grudem, prophets used to be held to a standard of absolute veracity, but now, anyone can be a prophet, and leave it to the listener to separate the filet mignon from the bologna. Michael Beasley replies, Grudem’s repeated use of this text is simply stunning. In his book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, he manages to refer to this passage 72 times. Such repetition reveals his dependency upon his interpretation of this one passage. Grudem assumes that Paul’s use of the word diakrino eliminates the idea of passing judgment over the claimant of prophecy. He believes that this is the case in view of his stress on an interpretation of diakrino whereby a partitive analysis of the prophecy is in view only, but not the prophet. Yet . . . the principal means by which any prophet was evaluated was through the passing of judgment of what was said. Therefore, the concept of a partitive analysis of a prophetic utterance does nothing to advance the thinking of fallible prophecy. Grudem’s resistance to the notion of judging the claimant of prophecy has no scriptural basis, yet he offers not much more than a farcical offer by Isaiah: “Listen to what I say and weigh what is said—sort the good from the bad, what you accept from what you should not accept.” Indeed, Isaiah would never say, sort the good from the bad, for a simple reason: he was a genuine prophet of God. However, this does not mean that Isaiah would have resisted critical evaluation as a prophet, for this would have been a contradiction to God’s word as we have already examined in Deuteronomy 13:1–5, 18:18–22, and Jeremiah 14:13–15. The need for prophetic testing is rooted in the presence of false prophets, not genuine ones. A genuine prophet will always withstand scrutiny, but the false prophet will fail when evaluated by God’s prescribed tests. What Grudem resists is the idea that the scrutiny prescribed in 1 Corinthians 14:29 is in any way similar to the Old Testament standard whereby the prophet was principally scrutinized by the accuracy or inaccuracy of his utterance. For him it would be sin to scrutinize an infallible messenger like Isaiah. Yet, the Apostle Paul was willing to subject himself to scrutiny over his own words: Galatians 1:8: But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! Critical analysis and testing are absolute necessities for the body of Christ. Paul’s willingness to be scrutinized demonstrates the need for the church to be discerning, and it also demonstrates the primacy of the message over the messenger. When the Bereans heard the word of God through the Apostle Paul, they examined what he said by the standard of God’s word. Rather than calling this sin or rebellion, Luke called the Bereans nobleminded: Acts 17:11: Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 148–150.

Two Kinds of Prophesy

Michael Beasley demonstrates the consistency between the Old and New Testaments in the judgment of prophesy, concluding that in the New, just as in the Old, there are only two categories of prophesy: not fallible and infallible, but genuine, and counterfeit. [In the Old Testament], when the claimant of prophecy was found to be false, the prophet was declared to be “evil” (H. ra’, G. poneron) such that he was to be purged from Israel’s assembly: “that prophet shall die” (Deut. 18:20) and “So you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deut. 13:5). This familiar injunction, “you shall purge the evil from among you,” which is repeated ten times in Deuteronomy, consistently referred to the death of the one deemed as evil. In the Septuagint, the word used for evil is poneros which is the same term that Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and 1 Corinthians 5:21 (“. . . remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”). As we already discussed, the new order of the New Covenant calls for church discipline rather than the death of the offender. Such was the case for Paul’s dealings with the Corinthian church, and such is the case for his instructions to the Thessalonians. Paul’s antithesis between good and evil in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 is quite strong and clear: “. . . hold fast to that which is good, abstain from every form of evil [ponerou].” We should also note that Paul’s injunction is devoid of any exceptions: “abstain from every form [pantos eidous] of evil.” The Greek word for form [eidous] speaks of the form of things based upon sight or observation. Thus, this term speaks of the form or substance of things based upon empirical analysis of that which is observed. Thus, Paul’s command to abstain from such evil is rooted in this matter of observation and analysis. Such observation and analysis we have already seen prescribed in texts such as Deuteronomy 13:1–5, 18:18–22; Jeremiah 14:14–16; Matthew 7:15–23, 24:24; Corinthians 12:3, 13, 14:29, 16:22; and Galatians 5:2–23. False prophesy encompasses multiple forms of evil, and all of it must be rejected: prophesies issued in the name of false gods; prophesies falsely issued in the name of the true God; prophesies issued by prideful presumption, fleshliness, malicious intent, and lovelessness—all such forms of false prophecy, and the false prophets who deliver them, are to be classified as evil and resisted as such. Alternately, valid prophecies and the prophets who deliver them are to be embraced as good. Any form of compromise from these prophetic tests is not only dangerous, it is unloving. In all of this, we must recognize that the notion of a third category of prophecy (fallible prophecy) is nothing less than a human contrivance. Scripture presents only two categories of prophecy: prophetes (prophet) and pseudoprophetes (false prophet). Out of this reality, Christ warned the disciples concerning the manner in which false prophets present themselves: Matthew 7:15–23: 15 “Beware of the false prophets (pseudophrophetes), who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 162–164.

Principles of Biblical Interpretation

Even in this secular age, when biblical Christianity is almost universally despised, everyone loves the Bible—as a convenient prop, that is. From an entirely irreligious President quoting “Two Corinthians” to athletes invoking Philippians 4:13, folks love to make Scripture say what they want it to say. But the Bible is not a ball of Silly Putty to be formed and manipulated according to our wills. It cannot be made to mean whatever suits us. It is God's Word, and it means today what he meant when he said it—no more, and no less. We need to learn to understand God's Word correctly, as he intended (2 Timothy 2:15). The following is a list of principles of biblical interpretation that will help you to do that. The literal* principle. Scripture should be understood in its literal, natural, and normal sense. While the Bible does contain figures of speech and symbols, they are intended to convey literal truth. In general, however, the Bible speaks in literal terms and must be allowed to speak for itself. The historical principle. A passage should be interpreted in its historical context. What the author intended and what the text meant to its first audience must be taken into account. In this way, a proper, contextual understanding of the original meaning of Scripture can be grasped and articulated. The grammatical principle. This task requires an understanding of the basic grammatical structure of each sentence in the original languages. To whom do the pronouns refer? What is the tense of the main verb? By asking simple questions like these, the meaning of the texts becomes clearer. The synthetic principle. This principle, the analogia scriptura, means that Scripture is to be its own interpreter. It assumes that the Bible does not contradict itself. Thus, if an understanding of a passage conflicts with a truth taught elsewhere in the Scriptures, that interpretation cannot be correct. Scripture must be compared with Scripture to discover its accurate and full meaning. The clarity principle. God intended Scripture to be understood. However, not every portion of the Bible is equally clear. Therefore, clearer portions should be employed to interpret the less clear. —John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue (Eds.), Biblical Doctrine (Crossway, 2017), 25–26. * “Literal” is used here in the popular sense, meaning “not figurative.” A more proper use of the word means “according to literary genre.” According to this definition, all Scripture, including figurative passages, are to be interpreted literally. Literary Interpretation


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