Christianity 201

February 28, 2018

Typing Class

With so much material to draw from, starting this month we will occasionally repeat some of the original devotional/study posts which have appeared here. This one is from 2014. The above title is a reminder that many of us took typing classes, later called keyboarding, in order to learn what a new generation seems to come by naturally.


Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen. 22:2 NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, (John 3:14 NIV)

There is no record of his* father or mother or any of his ancestors–no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. (Heb. 7:3 NLT) *Melchizedek

What is Bible typology? The website Theopedia explains:

Typology is a method of biblical interpretation whereby an element found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament. The initial one is called the type and the fulfillment is designated the antitype. Either type or antitype may be a person, thing, or event, but often the type is messianic and frequently related to the idea of salvation.

Later, the same website gives examples:

People in the Old Testament frequently are seen to be types of Christ. For instance, Moses, who led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and into the rest of the Promised Land, is clearly a type for God‘s Messiah, who leads his people out of slavery to sin and into the rest of the New Earth. A host of Old Testament characters can be seen, in this manner, to act as types of Christ, such as:

  • Adam, whose sin brought death to all. (see Jesus as the second Adam)
  • David, God’s anointed yet unrecognised King;
  • Esther, who saves God’s people even when God seems absent
  • Elisha, God’s prophet who raised the dead and fed the hungry.

Bible TypologyThere’s nothing new about this type of hermeneutic (way of interpretation). A few days ago, I noted that blogger Peter Cockrell had posted this quotation from John Calvin:

“For this is eternal life, to know the one and only true God, and Him who He sent, Jesus Christ, whom he constituted the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation. This One is Isaac the well-beloved Son of the Father, who was offered in sacrifice, and yet did not succumb to the power of death. This is the vigilant Shepherd Jacob, taking such great care of the sheep He has charge over. This is the good and pitiable Brother Joseph, who in His glory was not ashamed to recognize His brothers, however contemptible and abject as they were. This is the great Priest and Bishop Melchizedek, having made eternal sacrifice once for all. This is the sovereign Lawgiver Moses, writing His law on the tables of our hearts by His Spirit. This is the faithful Captain and Guide Joshua to conduct us to the promised land. This is the noble and victorious King David, subduing under His hand every rebellious power. This is the magnificent and triumphant King Solomon, governing His kingdom in peace and prosperity. This is the strong and mighty Samson, who, by His death, overwhelmed all His enemies.”

John Calvin’s essay “Christ Is the End of the Law” is included in Thy Word Is Still Truth, ed. Peter Lillback and Richard B. Gaffin.

There are dangers in overusing this approach. In a piece written to preachers, David Helm and Joel Miles write:

These correspondences may be broad—in which cases we simply call them analogies—or they may be narrower. When a person, event, institution, or object in the Bible narrowly anticipates some aspect of Jesus Christ, we call this typology.[1] There are many complex definitions of types. In simple terms, a type is usually a person (like Moses, or David) or an object (like the ark or sacrificial lamb) that anticipates or prefigures Jesus.

Because there are more types in the Bible than are explicitly named, preachers must be careful in how they approach typology. First, as preachers, it is easy for us to make more of typology than we should. Just because we see an object in the Old Testament that shares something in common with an object in the New Testament, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we have found a type.

For instance, just because Rahab’s cord is described as being scarlet, it doesn’t mean that God intends for us to connect it to the blood of Christ, as though both being red proves that God intended for us to bring them together. This is a fallacy. Ask yourself, if it had been green would you have been right to connect it to new life? Or, what if it had been purple? Would you have argued that God wanted us to tie it to the sign of Christ’s royalty? No, of course not.

Second, preachers often make the mistake of confusing typology for allegory. Gerald Bray explains allegory as “a method of reading a text by assuming that its literal sense conceals a hidden meaning, to be deciphered by using a particular hermeneutical key.”[2] This, also, is easy for preachers to do.

For example, we might suppose: “The five stones David picked up from the river bank are not intended to be stones at all. Rather, they are emblems for spiritual warfare that go by the names of faith, hope, prayer, courage, and fortitude.” Clearly, this is a mistake, yet one we commit all too frequently. And when we do, we actually work against the kind of ballast typology and analogy were intended to provide.

Some other articles repeat much of the above information, but Noah Kelley points out two additional nuances as found in escalating types, and forward-pointing or prophetic types:

Two more characteristics are more debated, and I will mention them in passing. The first is the fact that the typological patterns escalate as they progress, so that the antitype is greater than the type (e.g. Christ is greater than the Passover lamb). While this seems to be a fair enough assumption, Baker says that the escalation from type to antitype has to do with the escalation that takes place when moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament rather than the essential nature of typology (183).

What is more debated is whether types are forward-pointing like prophecy, or whether they can only be ascertained in hindsight. This is closely related to the question of whether the type is understood by the person recording the event, or if they were unconscious of the typological significance, or if the type was not part of the intended significance of the text but a later interpretation. While I don’t have all of these issues sorted out, I would think that it is important to affirm that the typological significance is part of the original intention of the text from God’s perspective, if not the human author’s.

My own thoughts: I believe that the types of scripture are part of the the Bible’s awesome richness and depth and that the types themselves are part of the intricate complexity of God’s purpose and plan for we, the senior inhabitants of this planet. This part of what is spoken as ‘the beauty of the Bible.’

•••Take a look now at the three verses I used to introduce today’s readings in the light of what you’ve just learned. Who (or what) is a type of who (or what)?

February 22, 2017

Why did the Messiah Die as a Roman Criminal?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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…and Where did the Israelites Come From?

Deut. 29:29
“The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed  belong to us and our children forever.”

1 Cor. 13:12
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

This is our 5th time visiting the writing of author and theologian Peter Enns. His writing style is always lighthearted but the things he discusses can be quite serious. In the two questions before us today, he doesn’t quite solve either of them, but wants us to embrace the idea that we don’t really have a complete understanding of such things. The Bible just doesn’t tell us. Click the title below to read this at source.

Two Issues in the Bible that are Really Really Important and Really Really Not Clear at All

This is no official word from above (unlike most of my blog posts). Just my opinion.

Here are the two issues that I think are very important for how we think about Christian faith and how the Bible fits into that. Many would like absolute clarity on these issues, but that clarity does not exist.

The two issues, one from each Testament, are (cue dramatic music):

Israelite origins and the meaning of the cross (atonement)

Israelite origins

The question is, historically speaking, Where did the historical group of people called “Israelites” come from?

That question is not answered by biblical scholars and historians with, “Just read the Bible.” The biblical story, which begins with one person Abraham and leads through Egypt to the Promised Land and a monarchy, is fraught with many well-known and often insurmountable historical problems.

It seems that the biblical account of Israelite origins is not so much a history as it is a story, with historical echoes of various sorts, but a story nonetheless.

The further back in time we go in Israel’s history, the more complex and mysterious the matter becomes. Certain events in the Old Testament are ones we can, generally speaking, hang our historical hat on. They include (working backwards):

  • the Babylonian exile and return (586-539 BCE),
  • the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians (701),
  • and the fall of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians (722),
  • the division of the monarchy into north and south (around 930),

Similarly, the existence and reigns of David and Solomon (10th century BCE) can (and I think should) be assumed as generally echoing historical events, even if the details of the biblical accounts raise some significant questions for historians.

But if we continue pressing backward in time, before the monarchy, the historical nature of the biblical accounts is either utterly unclear or in direct tension with the general outline of history that has come to light in the past century or so. Historically speaking, we really don’t know where the Israelites came from, and the exodus and conquest stories, which are so central to the biblical account, are particularly problematic.

And, of course, here’s the real problem and why I am singling out this issue above all others: Israelite origins is sort of a big deal in the Old Testament. You know, Abraham, Moses, Mt. Sinai, and all that.

Engaging the historical study of Israelite origins from a position of faith in the God of Israel is a challenge, and not one that I am going to solve in this post, other than to say, “Welcome to the journey; it’s really no that bad once you get used to it.”

The Cross

If Israelite origins is a core Old Testament issue for Christian faith, the meaning of the cross is überimportant.

“Why did Jesus die? What is the significance of Jesus’s death?” Christian theologians have been discussing these questions for as long as there have been Christian theologians, beginning with the New Testament writers themselves, and I suppose we should take some comfort in that.

Yes, Jesus died on the cross, and yes, that changed everything. But exactly what the cross changed and how it changed it can easily begin barroom fights (assuming that biblical scholars and theologians hang out in bars, which most of them do and if not they probably should).

There have been in fact a number of “atonement theories” out there for centuries that try to explain the significance of Jesus’s death on a Roman cross. And the reason why these theories abound isn’t because theologians are looking for attention or have daddy issues they are taking out on God, but the fact that the Bible doesn’t speak with one voice on the matter.

Actually, when reading the New Testament, you get the impression that the writers were actually trying to work it out themselves. “Why did the Messiah die as a Roman criminal?” can’t be answered with a few Old Testament prooftexts—as if, “Oh yeah, duh. Obviously.” The matter of a suffering and executed Messiah was a surprise that posed a deep theological challenge for the early Christians, but one they took up with gusto.

The crucifixion of Jesus is of central importance to the Christian faith, but the nature of its significance is very hard to pin down. What, exactly, did Jesus’s execution do? Did it appease God’s wrath? Was it like a legal transaction to satisfy God’s justice? Was Jesus’s death a ransom of some sort to free captives (see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)? Was it Jesus’s victory over the power of death? Was it a moral exemplar for Christians to follow?

These theories exist because they can be found in (or perhaps inferred from) the New Testament. And so when someone asks you what seems to be that most basic of questions about Christianity, “Why did Jesus die?”, the answer actually isn’t obvious but strikes at the heart of the mystery of faith. And maybe all the atonement theories are right in their own way.

Anyway, this post isn’t about solving Israelite origins or atonement theory. It’s about how untended and even uncooperative the Bible can be if we are looking to it to pave a smooth path for us theologically. The Bible doesn’t work well that way.

But perhaps better, the Bible as is, not as we might like it to be, drives us to work together by faith in thinking through the nature of the Christian story and its implications.


We actually linked to one of Peter’s other articles earlier today at Thinking Out Loud: Why is that in each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus seems to be saying something quite different?

November 19, 2016

Do the Proverbs Come with an Iron-Clad Guarantee

Yesterday’s reading took us briefly into the book of Proverbs which we said weren’t hard and firm promises but statements of general principles. We quoted Paul Tautges and said we’d return to all six of the interpretive guidelines he gives for this book. This is his tenth time quoted here at C201; click the link below to read this (and more) at the website Counseling One Another.

Are Proverbs Sure-Fire Promises?

Last week, a church member emailed me this question:

I was having a discussion about a couple of Proverbs that I was reading with a friend and it came about in the discussion that he believed that Proverbs are promises. I had asked what his basis for believing that was. He told me because of the defined word “will’ which means it “will” happen if you do this or do that. Are the Proverbs indeed promises?

One of the ways I answered was to direct him to one of my top-three favorite commentaries on Proverbs, the Mentor Commentary, by John Kitchen. Here is how he helps us understand six principles for interpreting the book of Proverbs.

6 Principles for Interpreting Proverbs

“Proverbs can appear overly mechanical in its description of the universe, God’s sovereignty over it, and His dealings with man in it. Its observations are often stated in absolute terms, apparently leaving little room for variance. For example, consider the sequence in Proverbs 3, which demands that if one fears the Lord he will experience great health (v. 8), material prosperity (v. 10), peaceful sleep (v. 24), and protection from calamity (v. 26). How should we view such sweeping statements? Are these guarantees? Is any lesser experience a sign of moral and spiritual failure? To arrive at God’s intention, several observations should be kept in mind as one interprets and applies Proverbs.

First, the proverbs are consistent observations, not categorical absolutes. The proverbs are not always intended as promises, but only as observations of repeated phenomena. Take Proverbs 22:6: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Many a parent has been told that, in this verse, God guarantees their wayward child will return to the fold. But, like so many other proverbs, its author is making an observation of consistent behavior and outcomes (i.e. normally children raised in godly homes end up walking with God themselves), not issuing an inviolable law.

It will take discernment to carefully draw the line between divine guarantee and divinely inspired observation. A helpful path to such wisdom is the balancing of individual proverbs with the fuller witness of Scripture. This leads to a second principle of interpretation.

Second, the proverbs must be read in context. Many view the aphorisms as individual nuggets of gold scattered randomly along the path of wisdom. There is, they assert, little help to be found in the context. However, each proverbial saying does reside within the whole of Proverbs and its teaching. They must be read against the balancing treatment of wisdom in Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as the fuller span of the poetic books. Then, too, the inspired Scriptural circle must be drawn to include the whole of the Old Testament and, ultimately, the entire Bible.

Third, we must understand that, by their very nature, the proverbs are truth stripped to the essentials. They are seldom qualified, balanced by surrounding statements, or extensively defined. They are stripped down, stated, and left to stand – all with the goal of arresting our attention and engaging our minds.

A proverb is truth in its most concentrated form, and thus expects us to add Spirit-illuminated reflection to come to full understanding. A proverb is designed to be ‘unpacked’ through much meditation, comparison with life, and with other Scriptures. Murphy well says:  ‘The proverb’s declaratory nature catches our attention, but it also conceals, for it achieves only a slice of realty…. The truth of a saying – call it a partial truth – usually needs another saying to counterbalance it.’

Fourth, though Proverbs can appear simplistic to the uninformed reader, we must realize that Proverbs does not intend to present life as void of ambiguities. Consider the juxtaposition of the seemingly contradictory words of Proverbs 26:4-5:  ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes.’ The one who comes to Proverbs for simple answers requiring little thought will leave disappointed. We want to know, ‘Which is it!?  Do I answer him? Or do I not?’ Proverbs was written not merely to tell us what to do, but also to make us think. Pure pragmatists may find themselves frustrated, if unwilling to pursue reflective, Spirit-guided meditation.

Fifth, we do well to unearth the assumptions inherent to a proverb. Because a proverb is truth stripped to its irreducible minimum, all helpful qualifying and clarifying statements are implicit rather than explicit. Bullock helpfully observes: ‘The first hermeneutical principle is that the theological assumptions of the book are often more important than the textual context.’ For example, until we have carefully absorbed the instructions of Proverbs 1-9, we are not well positioned to rightly interpret the aphorisms of Proverbs 10ff. The theology of Proverbs 1-9 sets the stage for understanding the wisdom of the later sentence literature.  We must ask ourselves not only what is stated, but what is assumed about God, His relationship to, and role in, the world around us, and His purposes.

Sixth, while Proverbs is not highly prophetic in nature (though see Prov. 30:4 and the commentary there), it ultimately finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God (Isa. 11:2; 1 Cor. 1:24, 30). ‘Lady wisdom’ in Proverbs 8 is probably best understood as a personification of a divine attribute for didactic purposes, rather than a reference to the second Person of the Trinity specifically (see the commentary at 8:1, 22). Yet, it is only as we embrace Christ through faith that we are then able to enter into the wisdom that His Spirit sets forth here. When Christ becomes our very life (Col. 3:4), we find Him to be the One ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3). We should, therefore, look to the New Testament not only for clarification and balance, but for fulfillment of the wisdom so gloriously set forth in Proverbs.”

 

October 17, 2015

The Humanity of Scripture

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.
– Jeremiah 23:16
(context important; see next verse citation)

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
– 2 Peter 1:20-21

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.
 -Acts 4:20

Today we return to the blog of Jeff K. Clarke. You’re encouraged to click the title below to read this at source, and then, choose a category from the bar at the top and read some other articles.

Learning to Embrace the Humanity of the Bible

Understanding the Bible as an Example of God Using the Finitude of Human Language as Symbols of Communication

Many Christians hold to a doctrine of scripture that sees only the divine side of the documents, while significantly downplaying the human dimension. Others believe they were divinely dictated, leaving the writers to simply record what they were verbally given. However, I believe the latter view dehumanizes the bible. It doesn’t take seriously the cultural, linguistic, and historical situations present at the time, as well as the specific circumstances each writer addressed.

But what about the writers? After all, do we not refer to many of the works in the New Testament as letters and epistles, written by people like Paul, Peter, and James? These are real people, writing to real churches, addressing real situations, in real time.

With this in mind, these sacred writings are essentially human documents. And, while God has chosen to uniquely witness through them, he has done so through human language, identifying with us through every stage of the theo-drama. In essence, God breathes upon the words and witnesses through them, making them reliable witnesses that point us towards God.

The Error of Error-Free Arguments

A significant problem with maintaining a completely one-sided, divinely written bible, is that any notion of error, however minor, is quickly dismissed. The inconsistencies are either explained away or labelled as yet another example of a liberal reading of scripture.

cropped-bible-5.jpgAs a reactionary move, many also attempt to argue that the original manuscripts are error-free. However, the fact that we do not possess any of those original manuscripts makes the point difficult to argue. How can you make a claim about original manuscripts when those documents don’t even exist? It’s almost as if the argument is one the system requires in an a priori sense, rather than one that exists after careful analysis and thoughtful reflection.

Arguments in favor of a wholly divine document seem to exist because people are afraid the bible will lose all credibility and become untrustworthy without it. I disagree. If anything, they will be viewed with even less suspicion because we will no longer be afraid to treat them for what they are – human documents.

The central message will retain its faithfulness and trustworthiness, but we will not be threatened every time we encounter a discrepancy, which usually has to do with geography, science and a time-based cultural idea (the ancients believed, for instance, that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth).

A Profitability View of Scripture

I once heard Clark Pinnock outline what he termed a plenary profitability doctrine of scripture. In this model, the scriptures faithfully serve the purpose for which they were written, are profitable toward those ends, and will never lead us astray.

Pinnock argued that the bible is first and foremost a collection of human writings that God speaks through by accommodating himself to the language, customs and cultures of the day. That is, he used what was at his disposal.

Similar to the incarnation, on which Christ took upon himself the totality of what it meant to be human, so in scripture, God incarnates by taking on the humanness of the writers and the situations they experienced at the time.

These are not timeless documents, removed from the world of real life, but time-driven and time-determined pieces of literature. God led the writers along as wind moves along a sailboat, not in the sense of control, but enablement and inspiration.

The documents are real, down to earth, living witnesses to God’s ongoing care and relationship with humanity. They are testaments to the ever-presentness of God’s life and our lives coming together. These are not some secretly coded, multilayered, cosmic writings, but living stories of God’s loving interaction with creation.

Scripture, therefore, is not a depository of propositional truth statements to be mined, but a witness to God’s gracious and redemptive activity.

Scripture as an Example of God Using Human Words as Symbols

Scripture is story, a redemptive story, that seeks to draw people in and invite them to become apart of what God is doing in the world.

Scripture is an example of God using the finitude of human words as symbols of communication. Human language can never fully capture or convey all that God is, for the finite could never grasp the infinite in its totality. But, through human language, God testifies, works and acts to invite people into his action-story. Human words become a vehicle for divine witness.

However, such a view doesn’t mean that the book is perfect. No, what it does mean is that God accommodates to human words, ideas and cultural/historical situations as a means to communicate his role in the cosmic, redemptive drama. God comes to dwell with us through human language, in spite of its inadequacies.

God speaks through and enlivens human words. It becomes a living and loving word precisely because of this. He works through the human language of story, metaphor, symbol and poetry. Even the historical accounts, wrapped as they are in cultural nuance, become vehicles of grace.

God works through the imperfections of human language, and redeems it. He doesn’t feel the need to make corrections, but maintains the humanness of the documents to showcase his own beauty; a treasure in a clay pot.

God took the author’s words seriously, including their flaws, and uses it in a unique way to reach out to the world. We need to allow scripture to be free of our right-brain grip of certitude and learn the art of embracing the openness and ambiguity of the story and its characters.

If God isn’t afraid of the human ambiguity in scripture, why should we? We’ve been given what we need to know to make us wise for salvation; filled as it is with parable, paradox and punctuations of uncertainty.

Learning to Appreciate the Humanity of the Bible

We can, however, be certain that God will lovingly and faithfully witness through the uncertainty of these human writings. We need not fear imperfection, but learn to embrace the perfect One within it – Jesus, the Living Word of God. We need to learn how to read scripture as it is, while embracing the depth of the Lord’s witness through it.

When we learn to appreciate the humanity of the bible, we will be in a better position to listen to the divine voice that speaks through it. In order to understand what a passage means, we first have to understand what it meant. Then and only then will we be able to listen for the divine voice through the vehicle of human words.

This is the bible.

September 21, 2015

The Four Signposts

Daniel 7:

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

Revelation 6:1:

I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!”

One of the things we don’t spend a lot of time on here at C201 is prophecy. Personally, I find it very difficult, and I know some of your eyes glaze over when you see texts like those above. Furthermore, it seems like there are many voices out there who hold different interpretations on the same passage, not to mention the occasions where world events render past interpretations no longer applicable; but this should not stop us from pressing in to this scripture genre.

Still — how can I say this? — we need to be reminded that this content is in the Bible. It’s there for us to explore and understand and then, after events have come to pass, see that God, existing outside of time, knew these things all along.

This weekend I was reading about Mark Davidson, author of the book Daniel Revisited. The book was released by WestBow, but has been acquired by and will be reissued by Thomas Nelson in December. I went to his website, The Four Signposts, and found the article below.

Again, I know that some of you just are not drawn to understanding the nuances of the prophetic passages — books like Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation and even sections of Matthew — but the Bible is really clear that a day of judgement is coming. Too often we have favorite themes and Bible literature that we study at the expense of others. I believe that Christianity 201 readers need to have at least a passing familiarity with these sections of scripture. Including me.

(Note: In Mark’s first paragraph I’ve added links to the full scriptures excerpted above, and also emphasis in other paragraphs.)

daniel-revisited-cover-smallThe Four Signposts: A Summary

The Four Signposts are four sets of events which will occur, one after the other, prior to the Tribulation or Rapture. These events are derived from the Biblical prophecies of the four beasts in Daniel 7:1-27, the ram and goat in Daniel 8:1-26, and the four horsemen in Revelation 6:1-8. The fulfillment of these events identified in prophecy, have been, and will continue to be, reported as news stories in the Middle East.

In my book, Daniel Revisited, I go into detail of why these three prophecies qualify as identifying the Four Signposts. These three prophecies all share three things in common:

1) They are all applicable to, and will be fulfilled in, modern-day end times just prior to the Tribulation (passages in Daniel 7 and 8 indicate this is so);
2) They all describe the nations involved in, the actions of these nations, and the societal conditions of the geographical areas involved, during the times just immediately prior to the appearance of Antichrist;
3) They all describe the same set of events, just from different perspectives.

The First Signpost includes the lion with wings that is forced to stand upright and its heart replaced, and the first horseman that rides a white horse. The democratizing of the nation of Iraq and the career of its former leader Saddam Hussein, are the news events that fulfilled these prophecies.

The Second Signpost includes the bear that is higher on one side, the ram with two long horns, and the second horseman that rides the red horse. The supreme leader is the first long horn on the ram; the leadership of Iran’s IRGC is the second horn coming up last and longer.  Iran will invade many countries and cause chaos across much of the Middle East.  They will most likely interrupt the Gulf oil supply and end America’s petrodollar causing economic chaos.

The Third Signpost includes the four-headed leopard, the goat with the one great horn, and the third horseman who rides the black horse. The news events to fulfill this signpost are still completely in our future. It will include a four-nation Sunni confederacy taking back the conquests of Iran, and ending Iran in the form that it currently exists. Due to the probable cut off of oil, food will be available but will be very expensive. We do see today some events setting up the Third Signpost. In addition to food price hikes we have seen in the last few years, the governments of Turkey, Egypt and Syria are becoming Islamist. This situation is required for fulfillment of the Third Signpost.

Finally, the Fourth Signpost includes the terrible ten-horned beast, the little horn on one of the four horns of the goat, and the fourth horseman who rides the green horse. The news events to fulfill this signpost are even further in our future. It starts at the end of the Third Signpost where the great new nation that covers much of the Middle East fragments into four pieces. The man who is to be Antichrist will arise out of one of these four new nations, take it over, conquer two others, and have the fourth submit to him. The remainder of the Islamic realm then will also submit to him. At this point, a pre-Trib Rapture and the seven-year Tribulation are imminent.

These Four Signposts are warnings to God’s Church. By watching these Signposts, we may know – as our world goes through each week, month, and year – what season of God’s plan we are in during these end times prior to the Tribulation. These news events will be truly terrible due to their causing economic and mental anguish among the populations of the world due to the cutoff of oil. Islam may be seen as gaining the upper hand and western civilization as being on the decline. But these events, instead of being continual bad news, can be seen instead as fulfillment of detailed and absolute prophecy that must be fulfilled in order for God’s promises to come to fruition.

Those of us who are His must prepare.  Those on the fence in the churches will have their last chance to repent and follow Christ wholeheartedly.  The unbelievers can be witnessed to and shown that the Bible is the living and breathing word of God and is telling all of us what is playing out right before our eyes.

August 15, 2014

The Danger of Over-Contextualization

As I get older, I keep hearing that broadly-applied Bible verses are not the universal promises we believe them to be, but have specific contexts. “…Plans to give you a future and a hope…” appears on plaques and coffee mugs and if it doesn’t fit on a bookmark, creators of ‘inspirational giftware’ simply inscribe “Jeremiah 29:11” the verse now being part of our collective consciousness like John 3:16 and Psalm 23:1.

The problem with this approach is that now the pendulum swings to the other extreme, we distance ourselves from ‘Bible promise’ verses lest they set us up for false hope. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick;” right?

In some cases this is just unnecessary caution. Maybe the Ephesian husbands needed to be told to love their wives (5:25) more than other people the Apostle Paul wrote to, but I cannot simply dismiss that with a, ‘Well that verse is for the Ephesians and doesn’t really apply to me.’

I say all this in the light of recent re-reading Romans 15:4

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Eugene Peterson translates this:

Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.

At the blog reVer(sing) Verses:

In every time and era, there will probably be a select group of people who are against old teachings, considering them outdated and conservative. In the early church days, there were a lot of commotion about the conversion of Gentiles into the faith, and accommodating both Jews- with their numerous customs – and Gentiles – with their alien habits and beliefs, into the Church – especially in the church of Rome. Even till today, there are plenty of people who cannot accept some of the laws of the Old Testament, and claim it as out-dated and entirely redundant in this faith. Non-believers perhaps think that we are crazy for following the words of such an ancient book. We cannot assume that when Paul says ‘everything’, he refers to books and laws outside of the Bible – that would be too far and too unfair an assumption to make. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come [1 Cor 10:11].

…[continue reading a breakdown of the rest of the verse; click here]…

The blog Logos Walk touches on four keywords in the verse:

  • “Instruction”. What a child receives from parents to guide them into maturity along the right path.
  • “Perseverance”. Sticking with it regardless of the temporary circumstances, in order to attain an ultimate, worthwhile goal.
  • “Encouragement”. Support provided to sustain one’s will to continue persevering in the instruction they know will lead to the worthwhile goal not yet obtained.
  • “Hope”. The yet unattained worthwhile goal that is so real in it’s coming true that it is considered to be “future fact”.

A few years ago, Clay Gentry wrote about the context of the verse itself. That context is interesting because it bears on the issue of Old Testament law versus New Testament liberty, and the issue of the stronger brother deferring to the spiritual sensibility of the weaker brother.  Then he makes a conclusion which ties everything together so well:

There are two points of application that we should make from our examination of the context of Romans 15:4.

The first is, make sure you understand the context of a passage and the way the speaker/author used it before make applications and teachings from your chosen passage. While you may teach the truth, it’s always best to keep passage(s) in context so as to not go beyond what the speak/author intended. Remember, if it’s true there’s a passage that teaches it.

The second is, read the Old Testament. While the names, places, and events may seem foreign to us, there is a great wealth of knowledge and insight to be gained from the Old Testament. In keeping with the theme of dealing with weaker brethren you might read about how Joseph dealt with his brothers, or Moses dealt with the Children of Israel, or Nehemiah dealt with the people of Jerusalem when the walls were rebuilt. In reading these stories you’ll learn strategies for being patient and be comforted in that you too can deal with your weaker brethren. While we may not be justified by the Old Testament today Paul tells us we shouldn’t ignore it.

I hope that this has helped you see the richer meaning of God’s word. Keep on reading, keep on studying, and keep on praying for wisdom and understanding…

…[Go deeper with this study; read the whole article by clicking here]…

 

February 27, 2014

Bible Typology

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen. 22:2  NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, (John 3:14  NIV)

There is no record of his* father or mother or any of his ancestors–no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. (Heb. 7:3 NLT) *Melchizedek

What is typology? The website Theopedia explains:

Typology is a method of biblical interpretation whereby an element found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament. The initial one is called the type and the fulfillment is designated the antitype. Either type or antitype may be a person, thing, or event, but often the type is messianic and frequently related to the idea of salvation.

Later, the same website gives examples:

People in the Old Testament frequently are seen to be types of Christ. For instance, Moses, who led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and into the rest of the Promised Land, is clearly a type for God‘s Messiah, who leads his people out of slavery to sin and into the rest of the New Earth. A host of Old Testament characters can be seen, in this manner, to act as types of Christ, such as:

  • Adam, whose sin brought death to all. (see Jesus as the second Adam)
  • David, God’s anointed yet unrecognised King;
  • Esther, who saves God’s people even when God seems absent
  • Elisha, God’s prophet who raised the dead and fed the hungry.

Bible TypologyThere’s nothing new about this type of hermeneutic (way of interpretation). A few days ago, I noted that blogger Peter Cockrell had posted this quotation from John Calvin:

“For this is eternal life, to know the one and only true God, and Him who He sent, Jesus Christ, whom he constituted the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation. This One is Isaac the well-beloved Son of the Father, who was offered in sacrifice, and yet did not succumb to the power of death. This is the vigilant Shepherd Jacob, taking such great care of the sheep He has charge over. This is the good and pitiable Brother Joseph, who in His glory was not ashamed to recognize His brothers, however contemptible and abject as they were. This is the great Priest and Bishop Melchizedek, having made eternal sacrifice once for all. This is the sovereign Lawgiver Moses, writing His law on the tables of our hearts by His Spirit. This is the faithful Captain and Guide Joshua to conduct us to the promised land. This is the noble and victorious King David, subduing under His hand every rebellious power. This is the magnificent and triumphant King Solomon, governing His kingdom in peace and prosperity. This is the strong and mighty Samson, who, by His death, overwhelmed all His enemies.”

John Calvin’s essay “Christ Is the End of the Law” is included in Thy Word Is Still Truth, ed. Peter Lillback and Richard B. Gaffin.

There are dangers in overusing this approach. In a piece written to preachers, David Helm and Joel Miles write:

These correspondences may be broad—in which cases we simply call them analogies—or they may be narrower. When a person, event, institution, or object in the Bible narrowly anticipates some aspect of Jesus Christ, we call this typology.[1] There are many complex definitions of types. In simple terms, a type is usually a person (like Moses, or David) or an object (like the ark or sacrificial lamb) that anticipates or prefigures Jesus.

Because there are more types in the Bible than are explicitly named, preachers must be careful in how they approach typology. First, as preachers, it is easy for us to make more of typology than we should. Just because we see an object in the Old Testament that shares something in common with an object in the New Testament, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we have found a type.

For instance, just because Rahab’s cord is described as being scarlet, it doesn’t mean that God intends for us to connect it to the blood of Christ, as though both being red proves that God intended for us to bring them together. This is a fallacy. Ask yourself, if it had been green would you have been right to connect it to new life? Or, what if it had been purple? Would you have argued that God wanted us to tie it to the sign of Christ’s royalty? No, of course not.

Second, preachers often make the mistake of confusing typology for allegory. Gerald Bray explains allegory as “a method of reading a text by assuming that its literal sense conceals a hidden meaning, to be deciphered by using a particular hermeneutical key.”[2] This, also, is easy for preachers to do.

For example, we might suppose: “The five stones David picked up from the river bank are not intended to be stones at all. Rather, they are emblems for spiritual warfare that go by the names of faith, hope, prayer, courage, and fortitude.” Clearly, this is a mistake, yet one we commit all too frequently. And when we do, we actually work against the kind of ballast typology and analogy were intended to provide.

Some other articles repeat much of the above information, but Noah Kelley points out two additional nuances as found in escalating types, and forward-pointing or prophetic types:

Two more characteristics are more debated, and I will mention them in passing. The first is the fact that the typological patterns escalate as they progress, so that the antitype is greater than the type (e.g. Christ is greater than the Passover lamb). While this seems to be a fair enough assumption, Baker says that the escalation from type to antitype has  to do with the escalation that takes place when moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament rather than the essential nature of typology (183).

What is more debated is whether types are forward-pointing like prophecy, or whether they can only be ascertained in hindsight. This is closely related to the question of whether the type is understood by the person recording the event, or if they were unconscious of the typological significance, or if the type was not part of the intended significance of the text but a later interpretation. While I don’t have all of these issues sorted out, I would think that it is important to affirm that the typological significance is part of the original intention of the text from God’s perspective, if not the human author’s.

My own thoughts: I believe that the types of scripture are part of the the Bible’s awesome richness and depth and that the types themselves are part of the intricate complexity of God’s purpose and plan for we, the senior inhabitants of this planet. This part of what is spoken as ‘the beauty of the Bible.’

Take a look now at the three verses I used to introduce today’s readings in the light of what you’ve just learned. Who (or what) is a type of who (or what)?

February 1, 2014

The Bible: 100% Human, 100% Divine

There is a similarity between the incarnation of Jesus and the book we call The Bible in that in both cases we are dealing with Holy, Divine Truth delivered to us in a wrapper made of flesh. I know that statement, the comparison, and the title of today’s reading may sound disturbing, but I hope the more you ponder it, the more it will either grow on you or at least give you something to consider.

Our key verse today is II Peter 1:21 :

For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (NIV)

The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.  (MSG)

Prophecy has never been a product of human initiative, but it comes when men and women are moved to speak on behalf of God by the Holy Spirit. (Voice)

Each one of these nuances the situation somewhat differently.

Peter Enns describes a conference he recently attended where he addressed this theme; I haven’t included every detail, you can read more at The Bible is a Human Book.

…The conference was sponsored by Biblica, formerly the International Bible Society. About 20 biblical scholars and theologians were invited to participate in an open conversation about the Bible—or as one organizer put it, “What is the Bible and what do we do with it?”—which coincidentally happens to be the title of the last chapter of my book Inspiration and Incarnation.

The conference was aimed primarily at creating conversations around several topics that Biblica is thinking through concerning the present and future of Bible reading.

One huge initiative of Biblica is what they call Community Bible Experience, which is a highly successful approach to encourage community Bible reading using Bibles without chapter and verse numbers, reordering books of the Bible to reflect when they were written, and to create space for people to engage the Bible in community in a “book club” kind of vibe rather than a traditional “Bible study.”

CBE is not a gimmick, folks. It works. The link above will explain it more fully…

…I was asked to speak on, “The Word Made Flesh: The Bible as a Human Book.” Here’s what I said, in brief.

1. Change “as” to “is” in the title. The Bible is a human book, meaning there is nothing in the Bible that does not fully participate in the human drama and cannot be explained on the basis of it’s “humanity.” In other words, there is nothing in the Bible to which one can point and say, “Ah, here is something that is divine and NOT human.” “As” suggests distance between the Bible’s thoroughgoing humanness.

2. The Bible is not merely a human book, but it is a thoroughly human book. That is a paradox, a confession of faith. The evangelical challenge can be summarized as the need to work through a synthesis where both of these claims are respected—i.e., the Bible reflects various and sundry (not one) ancient (not modern Christian) ways of thinking about God and the life of faith.

3. The evangelical system has not always done a good job of pulling off his synthesis, in part because the thoroughgoing humanness of the Bible is too often adjusted or kept at a safe distance in favor of protecting theological statements about the nature of Scripture.

4. Another way of articulating the challenge: true dialogue is needed between the Bible as a means of deep spiritual formation and “taking seriously” Scripture’s thoroughgoing humanity. Of course, just what “taking seriously” means is the money question, and too often in evangelical formulations, at the end of the day, the diverse and ancient nature of Scripture is either tolerated or tamed rather than allowed truly to inform Scripture’s role in spiritual formation.

5. I closed with suggesting three overlapping models for Bible readers today for engaging the Bible with greater attention to the Bible’s own character that then also fosters spiritual formation.

 ** A dialogical model: Taking a page from the history of Judaism and much of premodern Christianity, the Bible is a book where God is met through dialogue rather than primarily as a source of doctrinal formulations. Reading the Bible well means being open and honest about what you see (for example, Canaanite genocide) rather than feeling the need to corral all parts of Scripture into a logically coherent system. The dialogical model is also woven into the nature of Scripture itself, e.g., Job, Ecclesiastes, and lament Psalms.

 ** A journey model: Rather than a depository of theological statements disguised as a narrative, think of the Bible as modeling our spiritual journey by letting us in on the spiritual journey of the ancient Israelites and first followers of Jesus. This model allows the theological and historical tensions and contradictions to stand as statements of faith at various stages of that journey rather than problems to be overcome in preserving a “system” or “owner’s manual” approach to Scripture.

 ** An incarnational model: I continue to think that an incarnational model of Scripture provides needed theological flexibility for addressing the realities of a Bible that is both located squarely and unambiguously located in antiquity and continues to be sacred Scripture.

 

Agree or disagree? If you want to go deeper on this, you’ll find opportunity in the comments which followed the article.

 

November 23, 2013

Finding the Divine in the Human Transcripts

The mere suggestion that today’s devotional, yes devotional comes from Rob Bell is enough to cause some eyes to glaze over; and the sound you hear is the sound of some people clicking away at this point. Rob Bell has, in very little time, emerged as a very controversial writer, whose work probably asks more questions than it answers.

But he makes you think. And that’s consistent with my goals here at Christianity 201. He’s started a series on his blog robbell.com titled “What Is the Bible?” (Not to be confused with Phil Vischer’s excellent DVD series for kids, “What’s In The Bible?”)  As I write this, Rob has 14 chapters posted, and I do admit to having no idea where he’s going and what he’s going to say next.

In the very first section, he echoes words being said by other writers that we are putting too much pressure on the Bible to respond to questions it was never intended to answer. That whatever level of inspiration we ascribe to scripture — and there are three or four — we are beginning with words that flowed from some individual’s pen (so to speak), or as Bell puts it, “Someone wrote something down.”

The following is some of the first section of What Is The Bible?, however, as we do here at Christianity 201, I’ve taken the liberty of formatting obvious scripture citations in green and indented:

Rob Bell 2013Many of the stories in the Bible began as oral traditions, handed down from generation to generation until someone collected them, edited them, and actually wrote them down, sometimes hundreds of years later. That’s years and years of people sitting around fires and walking along hot dusty roads and gathering together to hear and discuss and debate and wrestle with these stories.

The people who wrote these books had lots of material to choose from. There were lots of stories floating around, lots of accounts being handed down, lots of material to include. Or not include.

(There’s a line in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings 11 where the author writes

As for the other events of Solomon’s reign-all he did and the wisdom he displayed-are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon?

Well, yes, I guess they are…it’s just that we have no idea what the author is referring to. Interesting the assumption on the author’s part that not only do we know this, but that we have access to these annals. Which we don’t.

We see something similar in the gospel of John where it’s written

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of disciples, which are not recorded in this book

and then the book ends with this line:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

It’s as if the writer, just to wrap things up, adds Oh yeah, I left a ton of stuff out.)

The authors of the books of the Bible, then, weren’t just writing, they were selecting and editing and making a multitude of decisions about what material and content furthered their purposes in writing and what didn’t.

These writers had agendas.

Luke: I too decided to write an orderly account for you…
The Book of Esther: This is what happened…
John: These are written that you may believe…

There were points they wanted to make, things they wanted their readers to see, insights they wanted to share. These writers, it’s important to point out, were real people living in real places at real times. And their purposes and intents and agendas were shaped by their times and places and contexts and economies and politics and religion and technology and countless other factors.

What does it tell us about the world Abraham lived in that when he’s told to offer his son as a sacrifice he sets out to do it as if it’s a natural thing for a god to ask…?

The David and Goliath story starts with technology-the Philistines had a new kind of metal, the Israelites didn’t. The story is under-girded by the primal fear that comes when your neighbor has weapons that you don’t have-like spears. Or guns. Or bombs.

Why does the Apostle Peter use the phrase there is no other name under heaven…? Where did he get this phrase and what images from military propaganda would it have brought to mind for his listeners?

Real people,
writing in real places,
at real times,
with agendas,
choosing to include some material,
choosing to leave out other material,
all because they had stories to tell.

Of course, in the broader world of hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation) this might be just one of many approaches. But I offer it today as refreshing way of rethinking scripture. Later in the section Bell writes:

When people charge in with great insistence that this is God’s word all the while neglecting the very real humanity of these books, they can inadvertently rob these writings of their sacred power.

All because of starting in the wrong place.

You start with the human. You ask those questions, you enter there, you direct your energies to understanding why these people wrote these books.

Because whatever divine you find in it, you find that divine through the human, not around it.

Each section of What Is The Bible? links to the following section, and new sections are currently being added almost daily.  Here again is the link to part one.

Related:

September 13, 2013

For I Know the Plans I Have for Who?

This is a longer post today, and readers here are certainly accustomed to longer articles!  (I’ll put up something shorter tomorrow if you want to spend two days  on this one.) The article was sourced at the website, Church of the LIving God, based in Traverse City, Michigan. There are a number of first rate articles here and I hope you’ll not only click through, but look around the rest of the site.

This article is concerned with a verse that is very popular, Jeremiah 29:11. I know that in the past, there have been many times that I have taken this as a personal promise. But lately I started hearing suggestions that the verse needs to be seen in proper context. I’ll let you decide after reading this. The article at source appears under the title, Rebuke and Restoration.


(This post is part of a series. For an introduction to the topic read, “How ought we read the Bible?” To see all posts in this topic, go to “Does the Bible really say that?”)

High-Speed History

After the Garden, the Flood, and the Tower, God made for himself a people that would bring forth the Messiah. As His chosen patriarchs, God made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that hinted at what would come. In Jacob’s children, God’s promise began to be fulfilled and his offspring grew rapidly in number. While Jacob was still alive, his family was made slaves to the Egyptian pharaoh, and remained so for 400 years.

At the appointed time, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt to wander in the wilderness awaiting entry to the Promised Land. Once established in their own land, God set up a system of judges and later, kings to rule over them. The third king over the United Kingdom was Solomon, son of David. King Solomon built his kingdom on the backs of the northern tribes. As the opulence of his kingdom grew he also added countless wives. With the wives came their gods. With the gods came their temples. Due to this idolatry, God judged Solomon by declaring that his kingdom would not continue; there would be a schism.

After King Solomon died, the ten northern tribes had had enough. They refused to submit to the new king and revolted. So after roughly 500 years in the Promised Land, the people were divided into a Southern Kingdom called Judah and a Northern Kingdom called Israel. Two centuries later, Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and led into captivity. As far as we know, this was the end of Israel as a people group.

After the fall of Israel, Judah was concerned, and for good reason. The same could happen to them. They had barely survived against the Assyrian attack that took Israel. Still, the fate of Israel was not enough to keep Judah in God’s will.

Enter the Weeping Prophet

A prophet named Jeremiah entered the picture. He hated his job. He prophesied against Judah and Jerusalem, warning them of their imminent end if they did not return to God and reject the foreign gods. First he warns the kings. When they will not listen, he goes to the Jewish places of worship to warn them, but they will not hear it either. Jeremiah tells them that Judah will be overrun, Jerusalem destroyed, and the people of Judah scattered. He repeatedly admonishes them that if they do not turn, their land will be laid to waste and they will be taken to Nebuchadnezzar for seventy years.

And then it happened. Just as Jeremiah had prophesied, Judah was taken by the Babylonians. From amidst the ruins he wrote a letter1 to be delivered to the Jews in exile. It was a message from God: “I have not abandoned you.”

(Background note: When the north was taken, they were dispersed. When the south was taken, they remained a whole. The northern kingdom was spread so thin that their culture and faith were lost entirely. Not so for Judah. They continued their heritage and religious practices, though in a foreign land.)

A Message of Hope

The message from God continues:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”2

Pretty cool message, eh? Basic summary of God’s message: “Yes I put you here. It was because of your refusal to submit. But this is not the end. After 70 years, you’ll return to Jerusalem.”

This is not the end of the message though. God continues….

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”3

The Verse

So if you haven’t figured it out yet, our focus is currently on Jeremiah 29:11. This verse is probably one of the best known. It probably graces more posters, bumper stickers, coffee mugs and mission statements than any other.

You see what happened here. God chose a people and they sometimes chose him back. Their history is one of repeatedly following God, then leaving Him. This is just one more example of that. The people of Judah left God. God told them they would be taken captive if they didn’t return. They refused, and it happened. Then God said “I haven’t abandoned you. I still have plans for you.” This is a very cool story of God’s love and faithfulness to his people.

THE QUESTION:  Is this verse for us?

This is a verse with a long history of use apart from its context, so we’ll work through it slowly.

Put bluntly, this verse is not a promise we can claim.

This verse is a prime example of proof-texting. Proof-texting is coming to the Bible with a position in mind and looking for verses that support our position, without regard to context. It’s premeditated Googling.

Our goal is to look at the text and see what it says about itself. Let it tell us what it means.

Question: Who is the “you” in the passage?

Answer: Clearly, this is addressed to the people of Judah in captivity. (See Ezra 1 to see the account of Cyrus releasing them to return to Jerusalem, “in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah”.)

So, Jeremiah 29:11 is part of a specific message to a specific group and it has been fulfilled. Furthermore, there is no reason explicit in the text to think that it should apply to us.

The nature of God’s plans for us

What are “the plans God has for a specific person or people group”? Can we say that God always has the same intention for all people? I don’t think so.

Example:  If God promised his plan for one side in the battles we looked at last week was victory, doesn’t that mean his plan for the other side was defeat?

It seems to me that it is inescapable that God’s plans for us are sometimes unpleasant.

Does God always have a plan for us?

I don’t think so.

This is a big topic, but for the purposes of this post here are some things to think about:

  • Sometimes God actively plans for things to happen to us.
  • Sometimes things happen to us as a result of our actions
  • Sometimes things happen to us as a result of other people’s actions
  • Sometimes things happen to us because of the fallen nature of our world

This is not an exhaustive list of causes, but it makes a point: Just because God knows what will happen, that does not mean he caused it to happen.

God knows what is going to happen, but that doesn’t mean it is always part of his plan.

There is no biblical reason that we ought to expect him to show us his plan, when he has one. God has spoken. He gave us his word. It contains all the direction we need to live a life pleasing to him. He may direct us with specific plans, but the Bible doesn’t give us any reason to believe that we ought to expect this as the norm.

Who’s to say what God wants?

Based on the way we often talk, it sounds like we presume that God’s highest goal is our happiness. I don’t think many actually believe that, but the way this verse is tossed around adds confusion. This is unhelpful. It presumes that we are the final judge over whether God made the right choice. Was God’s choice to send the Jews into captivity worse than his choice to bring them out?

Why ought we to automatically pick the promises/plans we like?

Is there biblical grounding for picking the plans we like? Why don’t we pick plans like the following:

  • “This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room.”4
  • “The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured.”5

These are plans that God had – for the same groups of people, no less. Couldn’t we precede these plans by “For I know the plans I have for you”? What makes them any different, besides our choice?

Other examples of plans God had for people: Joseph’s imprisonment, Hosea’s prostitute, Paul’s numerous troubles, John the Baptist’s beheading…   On and on it goes.

We don’t get to pick the promises. If and when God makes promises, he picks what they are and who they are for. 

What does it mean that God’s plans are “for our good”?

Pulling from the 29:11 text again, what does it mean that something is for our good? … What does it mean that it is not to harm us, but rather to give us hope and a future?

Looking at the Bible holistically, we cannot say that God’s plans for us are always good – if by good we mean pleasant or enjoyable or aligning with our desires.

In addition to the examples mentioned above, we have Jesus’ promise that “in this world we ought to expect trouble”6. But in that same passage he says we ought to have peace because he has overcome the world! Add to that passages like Romans 8:28 that says God uses things for our good.

Giving us things that are good and bringing good from that which happens are hugely different things.

About prospering…

The NIV’s rendering of the word “prosper” is unfortunate. It has led to an unwarranted use of the word in Christian circles.

There are Christian traditions that think we ought to all be incredibly rich because we are “children of the King”. There are others who believe that we ought to have no belongings at all because Jesus was broke and homeless.  I think both of these miss the point, but that’s another topic.

Looking at other versions we see this translated as well-being, welfare, peace, and good.

The sense I get is that God is talking here about restoration, not about riches.

Does God have specific plans for us?

Sometimes, this is clearly the case. Jeremiah 29:11 is an example of specific plans that God had for specific people. Hopefully it is clear that we are not those people, and those are not our plans. But does this example mean that God has specific plans for us and we need to figure them out? I don’t think so.

Some deep questions to ponder:

  • Is it possible that God doesn’t want us to be approved for that mortgage?
  • Is it possible that God doesn’t have an opinion about which career path we choose?
  • Is it possible that God doesn’t have a specific individual in mind for our spouse?
  • Can we ruin God’s plans?

We’ll probably cover this notion in future weeks when looking at other passages, so for now we’ll move on.

Can we decide which promises are for us?

As we’ve covered today and in previous weeks, God makes promises to whom he desires and when he desires.

When a promise or principle is conveyed in a text, we need to do our homework to decide to whom it was originally directed and whether that includes us.

The bottom line – we don’t pick.

The idea that we can select phrases from the Bible at will and declare them to be ours is an incredibly common practice, but it has no Biblical basis.

“Claiming” is a notion that is completely foreign to the Bible.

Why presume that we can pluck this verse from the bible by itself anyway?

For instance, let’s say this verse did apply to us. Wouldn’t that mean that we also ought to expect 70 years of captivity before we are ‘prospered and not harmed’? Why do we get to pick what we want and forego all the rest? This seems awfully self-serving.

So what’s the point of Jeremiah 29:11?

Should we ignore it completely? Of course not!

As we’ve seen in other examples, this was a message to a specific people at a particular time. This shows us how God dealt with them, then. Is it an indication of how he will deal with us? I don’t think so. It’s a case-by-case thing. Certainly there will be situations that seem to line up with this and many others that don’t. Imposing this verse on all of Christian life will only lead to confusion and disappointment. This is not to be read as a promise for us, but rather an example of God’s faithfulness and a reminder that he is in control by showing an example of his dealings with others.

There are plenty of places to look for examples of how God will deal with us. Anything that speaks to God’s nature is unchanging. God is good. God is faithful. God is just. These are well-established principles. In addition, we have promises that Jesus gave to Christians that we can cling to because we too are Christians.

  • “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” ((Matthew 11:28))
  • “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ((Matthew 28:20))
  • “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” ((John 14:3))

June 6, 2013

Use Your Bible

The scriptures today appear as links, and I really hope you’ll take the time to read each one; especially since the theme today is about using your Bible to the fullest.  This is from the website Unlocking The Bible where it appeared under the title 14 Ways to Use the Bible.

The Bible is wonderful because it gives us a knowledge of God, of men, of the universe, and of redemption.

No other book can be compared to it in this respect, but it not only informs us about these important truths, it also tells us what we are to do with it.

We have within the Bible itself instruction as to our attitude toward it.

In it we are exhorted to:

1. Read it.Nehemiah 8:8. And may I suggest that it be read slowly, carefully, prayerfully, in large portions, repeatedly, reverently and with a willing spirit to follow its precepts.

2. Believe it.Romans 10:8. Because it is the Word of faith. It has been given to increase our faith in God and His working in the Universe.

3. Receive it.James 1:21. Here it is the engrafted word that is to be received as the soil received the seed, or the tree receives the graft. Taking the Word of God in our heart life, allowing it to grow and bear its own fruit in motives and actions.

4. Taste it.Proverbs 19:10. For it is the good Word of God. Some seem to be afraid of the Bible for fear it will require them to do something they do not wish to do. Be not afraid; it is good and right in all its requirements.

5. Eat it.Jeremiah 15:16. This process suggests that we not merely taste but actually live by it, as Jesus said, “Ye shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4.

6. Hold it fast.Titus 1:9. It is a faithful word. All its promises are true; all its history is true; and its statements are truth. Therefore we are to rest our faith upon it.

7. Hold it forth.Philippians 2:16. Because it is the Word of Life. All who come under its beneficent rays feel its life giving power.

8. Preach it.2 Timothy 4:2. Here it is called simply the Word. It suggests that we are not to preach any one part of it or any one phase of it, but preach it in its entirety and fullness.

9. Search it.John 5:29. This suggests work and patience. The Greek word carries the idea of “ransack” as the housewife goes through the home at housecleaning time; or “to track” as the hunter laboriously follows the game through the brush, so we are to search for truth and run down the lines of God’s revelations to man.

10. Study it.2 Timothy 2:15. Here is a word that means close application to the Word of God, as the builder minutely studies the plans of the architect before erecting the structure.

11. Meditate on it.Psalm 1:2. This word has much the same meaning as “eat” for it means literally “to chew the cud.” Turning the Word of God over and over in the mind till the sweetness of its truths feed our souls.

12. Compare it.2 Corinthians 2:13. This is not so much what we do with the Scriptures as what the Holy Spirit does with them in our hearts. This is a divine commentary always at hand. Or as John puts it in 1 John 2:27, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”

13. Rightly divide it.2 Timothy 2:15. This is not an arbitrary division of subjects but the following of a line of truth from the first place mentioned to the last place mentioned; noticing it in all its relation to other truths and as the word literally means “the cutting of a straight line” of truth in the Bible.

14. Delight in it. Psalm 119:92. Seven times in this Psalm the Psalmist speaks of delighting in God’s word. This should always be the heart ambition and attitude.

“Study it carefully; think of it prayerfully;
Deep in thy heart let its precepts dwell.
Slight not its history; ponder its mystery,
None can e’er prize it too fondly or well.
Accept the glad tidings, the warning, the chidings,
Found in this volume of heavenly lore,
With faith that’s unfailing, and love all prevailing,
Trust in its promise of life evermore.”

*Adapted from portion of W.H. Pike’s beginning remarks in Summarized Bible: Complete Summary of the Old Testament.

Bonus item:

I know that this type of article isn’t typical of what we do here at C201, but as long as we’re doing lists, here’s one that appeared a few days ago the blog Deep Thoughts by Gman under the title Old Versus New.

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant
Gifts and Sacrifices for guilt of sin vs. Self-sacrifice by guiltless Christ
Physical Building where One goes to worship vs. Reign of Christ in hearts of believers
Limited promises vs. Limitless promises
External standards vs. Internal Standards
Limited Access to God vs. Unlimited access to God
Legal Cleansing vs. Personal cleansing
Obey the rules vs. Serve the living God
Forgiveness earned vs. Forgiveness freely given
Repeated yearly vs. Completed by Christ’s death.
Human effort vs. God’s grace
Available to some vs. Available to all.

May 8, 2012

The Truth of Scripture is Accessible to All

Today we return for a visit to the blog Jesus Carries Me, where Lila wrote this post under the title, 

Who receives Understanding of the Scriptures?

Scripture Reference: Matthew 13:36-43  (link takes you to NIV; NLT is below)(NLT)13:36 Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.”

37 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

40 “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

For many Christians the answer to this question is rather obvious, but it never was for me. If one has been fed lies for years like I was, it is an exceedingly exciting time when the Truth intersects your life and enters your heart. Burdens of deception and lies are hurled to the ground and light fills the heart.

You see, for years one of the lies I was taught was that you have to have the title “apostle” in the specific church I grew up in to receive understanding of the Scriptures. This also excluded anyone outside of the borders of this denomination. Only these “apostles” received insights and that meant it was kind of useless to read the Bible since you won’t understand much of what you read anyway. Since I never knew God then (although I religiously attended church), I didn’t understand most of what I read no matter how hard I tried. Consequently I never questioned this lie.

But thanks be to God, one day the Truth entered my dark heart and with that a desire to read the Bible. Not only that, I now understood what I read. I found the treasure I longed for all my life. I found the Truth. I couldn’t get enough of reading the Bible and God proved His faithfulness by first taking me to the Scriptures that would make these lies come crashing down. At first, I didn’t know where to start. But, although I was alone in a room with my Bible, He was there too. He took me from one Scripture to the other and over time taught me His liberating Truth with the precision and timing of a perfect Teacher. One example is this portion of Scripture in Matthew 13:36-43.

After Jesus told the parable of the weed sown among good seed, the disciples approached Him wanting to understand what He just said. Those who love the Lord and His word will desire to receive more enlightenment and will ask for better understanding. Many others may think of the Lord’s word as a nice little story. Some may disregard His words in an off-hand way and some may even mock His word. Folly always mocks anything it doesn’t understand. But His true followers will ask to understand what He says. They realize they don’t know it all and that He is all-knowing. These are the ones to whom He reveals the deeper meaning of His words. I learned that this privilege is not reserved for people with religious titles, but for anyone who humbly comes to the Lord in faith and ask for greater understanding.  As we read here, we can see how Jesus gave an exposition on the parable of the seed and the weed to those who asked. He shows them how there will be a separation of the righteous and the unrighteous at the end of time.

Jesus concludes His exposition by saying that this is open to the understanding for all who have “ears.” This is a non-exclusive term. It is open to all who desire to know more. It is not a promise made exclusively to people who flaunt religious titles. Instead, the Lord, in His generous nature, is eager to teach anyone: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” So, the Lord invites anyone with a sincere desire for wisdom and understanding  to ask and it will be given to them. The verses below further confirm that there is no exclusivity. God does not show favoritism.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:27) 

[These words were written for all believers, not exclusively to church leaders]

November 19, 2011

N. T. Wright on Enjoying the Bible

Thanks to blogger and friend Jon Rising for getting me on to a N. T. Wright video binge today.   Check out Jon’s posting of a recent piece, A Parable About a Parable, especially if you don’t have time for what follows.  Today’s piece is a 30-minute television program produced at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.

May 6, 2011

Proof Texting the Celebration of a Terrorist’s Death

Stuart James at Credo House (Reclaiming the Mind blog) posted this, as apparently Facebook and Twitter were counting the Bible verses people were using to either justify or condemn the celebration following Osama Bin Laden’s death.  His was a top ten list

Top ten most quoted bible verses on social media following the death of Osama bin Laden:
1. Proverbs 24:17 “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.”

2. Psalm 138:8 “The LORD will make PERFECT the things that concern me”(KJV). (NIV: “The LORD will vindicate me; your love, LORD, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands.”)

3. Proverbs 21:15 “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” (Rick Warren started this one):

4. Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?”

5. Ezekiel 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”

6. Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

7. Proverbs 11:10 “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.”

8. Proverbs 24:18 ” … or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.” (The popularity of this verse is due to it finishing the sentence begun by the #1 most popular verse.)

9. Proverbs 24:1 “Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company;” (probably an effort to quote Proverbs 24:17)

10. Proverbs 28:5 “Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.”

…but the list continues at this Christianity Today post with 14 more verses, though you’re fine just to stay with the ones listed here.   Personally, I think this was a good time not to weigh in on the discussion either way, but to practice the silence that Proverbs teaches is the hallmark of wisdom.

…I know some of you are thinking that this is more the kind of thing I would post at Thinking out Loud, but I believe that those of us who desire spiritual maturity — and to reflect spiritual maturity — should be very careful when it comes to polarized debate or polarizing reactions to current events.

Knowing God, and knowing the character of God means that there is no conflict between verse #1 and verse #7 or between verse #3 and verse #5.  It means living in the complexity of the tension that exists between two conditions, not a simple either/or type of response.

February 12, 2011

Devotional Interpretation

I often get asked about the two dominant study Bibles on the market, The NIV Study Bible (also reprinted in NASB, KJV and TNIV) and The NLT Life Application Bible (also reprinted in NIV, NKJV and NASB).  It’s an over-simplification on my part, but I usually fall back on this line:

“The NIV Study takes us in to Bible times and shows us some of the background of the text in its context; whereas the Life Application notes brings the Bible into our time and explains the revelance of the text to our lives today.”

Of course, the individual study notes in both number in the thousands, and shouldn’t be reduced to this generalization, but it works to some degree.  Another generation would be to say the Life Application notes are more devotional in nature.

Back in June 2010, Darrell Buchanan wrote a blog piece he called Devotional Interpretation; two words I had never mentally combined before…

I recently came across John Goldingay’s explanation of “Devotional Interpretation” in a section of his larger entry on “Hermeneutics” in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (InterVarsity Press: 2003).

Specifically focusing on the Pentateuch, Goldingay says devotional interpretation is interested in the significance of a text “for people’s personal lives, especially their personal relationship with God” (390). This is a big reason why so many with good intentions to read through the Bible make it through Genesis and Exodus but usually give up when they reach the middle of Leviticus!

What a devotional reading forgets is that the focus of much (most?) of the Bible is on the community – Israel in the OT and the church in the NT.  Or, as Goldingay puts it: “[T]he Pentateuch instinctively thinks corporately, as modern readers do not. It thus has the potential to rescue devotional reading from some of its individualism” (391).

The Christian Faith Institute blog seems to take a very un-charitable view of devotional interpretation at first glance, though I suspect their concern is when it waters down preaching, which requires study at greater depth.

…A common practice is to interpret scripture “devotionally” or “privately”. By “devotional interpretation” we mean reading the scripture assuming what it means to us personally, without taking the trouble to see if that is the intended meaning of the passage. Devotional study is a positive practice, but the casual use of it is what we are referring to here. Devotion to God must be based on what God actually says…

…The first step in applying the scripture is to understand what it meant to the generation when it was written. Scripture does not mean what we think it means, because we feel that God has spoken to us from it in a particular way. The scripture means what it meant to the generation it was addressed to.

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet 1:20-21).

“Private interpretation” means we interpret the Bible personally, without first finding out what it means contextually (in its own context). The meaning of prophetic scripture is not arbitrary, according to our view, but it is according to what the Holy Sprit originally said…

F. E. Stoffler (as cited by E. J. Swensson) provides some historical background:

Later [Pietism] was opposed to the Enlightenment attempt to reduce Christian commitment to the acceptance of a few propositions held to be rationally demonstrable…Pietists strove to restore to Protestantism a theology based on a commonsense, untortured, more-or-less literal, and basically devotional interpretation of the Bible.

I’ve stated here already that the Jewish mindset was that the scriptures were like a diamond; and just as a diamond refracts the light differently when held at different angles to both the light source and the human eye; so also are the various ways that the scripture can be interpreted.   Therefore, I believe that the ‘face value’ of a text may be valid for some, while the historical context interpretation may serve others better.  But I do not risk suggesting that the one is better than the other.