Too Long for Twitter

I found this thought by Krister Stendahl worth sharing. I shared here because it’s too long for Twitter and no one like multiple tweets that try to communicate a single thought or comment.

“The believer has the advantage of automatic empathy with the believers in the text—but his faith constantly threatens to have him modernize the material, if he does not exercise the canons of descriptive scholarship rigorously.” Krister Stendahl, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1:422.

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Book Review: From Eden to the New Jerusalem

From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology by T. Desmond Alexander 

Kregel ǀ Amazon ǀ WTS

Many thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy!

Interest in biblical theology (hereafter BT) has been on the rise in recent years and a number of fine volumes have been published on the subject. One of those entries is T. Desmond Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology . One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that Alexander’s approach is hardly like most others. Rather than an introduction to the discipline of BT per se, it’s more an example of how one can do BT. There is no discussion of the history of the discipline, nor of what constitutes such—it’s simply a demonstration of one approach to BT.

He states that this book has its origins in a study he was doing on what Revelation 20-22 reveals about death and the afterlife. Using that study as a springboard, Alexander explores the meta-story of scripture from…end to beginning? Yes, Alexander puts it in reverse and explores the grand story of scripture by starting at the end—Revelation—and working back to Genesis. By that I mean that his study of Revelation 20-22 serves as a catalyst to study from the beginning—Genesis0—and work through the Bible, tracing the development of particular themes.

You should not expect, however, a detailed walkthrough of the whole Bible, but rather a thematic exploration that hits on some of the more central themes in Scripture, the temple motif in particular. Admittedly, I had reservations about this approach; however, Alexander capably accomplishes the purpose he set out to achieve in this book, which is to answer the questions “Why does the earth exist?” and “What is the purpose of human life?”

Having said this, it seemed a bit odd (initially) that Alexander would have entitled the book From Eden to the New Jerusalem.  Given his approach, shouldn’t it have been the other way around? Not really, because Alexander vacillates back and forth between the two canonical bookends and discusses not only how each serves to frame the biblical story, but how the temple motif figures into the intervening material. Obviously this is not an exhaustive discussion of the motif, but a survey to show at minimum how the temple, from the garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem, is developed throughout the biblical story.

Overall, Alexander’s take on the meta-narrative of scripture is one with which I can mostly resonate. If someone wanted to know what my general take is on the big picture of scripture is, I would recommend this book. While I remain unconvinced that the whole of Scripture is bound by a single unifying concept or theme (Heilsgeschichte would be the most likely contender), Alexander ably answers the questions asked at the outset.

Though a few years old now, I gladly recommend this title, particularly if you are interested in biblical theology in general or the temple motif specifically. This book clocks in at only 208 pages (including bibliography and scripture index), so it will leave many questions unanswered or partially addressed. However, Alexander amply footnotes his discussion throughout. That and the bibliography should provide plenty of resources for additional study.

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How Do You Read the Bible?

I’ll confess that for the first few years of my Christian life, I read the bible in ignorance. I didn’t know anything about anything concerning scripture. Sure, I knew the book names and memorized some verses over time and I got the gist of certain parts of it after a while. But I was ignorant, ignorant of so many important factors that simply must be considered if we’re going to rightly discern and interpret scripture. It wasn’t until I went to seminary that the scales were lifted and I began to see the scripture in a whole new light. *as an aside, you don’t have to go to seminary to learn to interpret scripture* It was there that studying Hebrew, Greek, and hermeneutics totally transformed my approach to scripture.

In addition to these critical tools, over the last few years I’ve also come to the point where I try to read a text, no matter what portion, in light of the whole. Once an interpretation is reached in light of the immediate context (which isn’t always a satisfactory one), I want to know what part it plays in the larger story. While I am not totally convinced a singular unifying theme ties both testaments together, there are enough thematic strands present to bind the two testaments together as a grand narrative.

All that to point you to a helpful post at The Gospel Coalition, one you may have read already. If not, take a moment to read it–it’s quite good. Jen Wilkin names and discusses a few reading strategies employed by Christians that leave them ultimately unchanged by the scripture. Why? Primarily because the scripture isn’t read in the way it should be. Check out the categories and be reminded how not to read the scripture!

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Book Review: Invitation to Biblical Interpretation

Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson 

Kregel ǀ WTS ǀ CBD

Many thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy!

My review is one of many that are a part of the blog tour for this book.

Köstenberger and Patterson (hereafter K/P) have written this book “to teach a simple method of interpreting the Bible,” (23) presumably the purpose for anyone who has ever written a hermeneutics text. There is a distinct difference, however, in the approach that K/P have taken. They call it the “hermeneutical triad,” which is comprised of history, literature, and theology (24). These are the components used to construct the grid through which the reader is to read the biblical text. As the authors note, they are not the first to use this grid (they give appropriate nods to Longman, Dillard, Wright, and Vanhoozer), but the first to describe it with a specific name. K/P also claim to take a rather novel approach to the interpretive process, namely moving from specific hermeneutics to general (25). So rather than starting with words (i.e. syntax), they start with canon, particularly looking at the bigger picture of Scripture. They take this approach because of “the common linguistic premise that the discourse context is primary for determining word meaning” (26).

You might already decide the track the authors will take simply by their names and the associations that attend them. They are upfront that they look at scripture as “the inerrant, inspired Word of God” and that this conviction underpins the entirety of their work. While this is repellant to some, it would be unfair to immediately dismiss this work so simply.

K/P begin by offering a bit more detail to their triad. History (=historical context) is critical because all scripture is rooted in real-life history—it wasn’t produced in a vacuum. Second, the bible is literature. K/P state that literature (at least concerning scriptural literature) has three components—canon, genre, and language and these components are the object of their literary analysis (27). The third component is theology. Interpreting the scripture as God’s self-disclosure demands that it be rightly understood if God himself if to be understood rightly. Is this triad effective as a hermeneutical approach? In this review, I hope to answer this quest thoughtfully and humbly.

 Concerning the format, each chapter begins with a list of objectives, a modest outline of the contents, and a visual “road map” of sorts. These are rather common elements in textbooks and will prove to be helpful to some, not as much to others. Each chapter also concludes with a list of guidelines that succinctly reiterate the main points of the chapter, a short glossary of key terms and a list of study questions. These elements can be helpful if one takes opportunity to take advantage of them. There are also helpful appendixes in the back for building a biblical studies library and a glossary, as well as scripture, person, and subject indexes.

 Though I do not plan to summarize each chapter here (there are 16!), I will speak generally of its three-part history-literature-theology division. Chapter 1 sets the stage for the task at hand and introduces the reader to the discipline of interpretation by discussing two different aspects of biblical interpretation, namely what it is and why it should be done properly, and a condensed history of hermeneutical approaches spanning from the Old Testament to modern theories and practices. As stated, this history is quite brief, but helps to understand how various methods have come and gone and how we got to where we are.

Now that introductory matters are introduced, one can feast on the real meat of this book—the hermeneutical method itself. Part one of the book is concerned with the historical-cultural background of the bible and (obviously) begins with the OT. K/P essentially offer a historical synopsis of the major historical events and persons that we might say help define the OT era and set the stage for the arrival of the Christ. K/P also briefly discuss the Second Temple period (or intertestamental period) for its now-recognized importance in better understanding the historical-religious atmosphere of the NT era. The remainder of the chapter is a discussion of primary and secondary sources and their importance for understanding the historical background of the text. One of the helpful features that this book includes (and other hermeneutics texts as well) is a sample of how the features previously discussed figure into the hermeneutical process. Here both OT and NT examples are provided and aptly demonstrate how historical background is helpful and necessary to rightly begin the interpretive process.

 Part two focuses on literature and there is much to feast upon here. This part is comprised of three subsections: canon, genre and language, topics that are continually at the center of study and debate. In their discussion of the OT canon, they introduce readers not only to the concept of canon, but also canonical interpretation. This approach typically evokes one name—Brevard Childs—and they spend a few pages discussing his method and that of Christopher Seitz, whom they credit with forwarding Childs’ work. While their contribution is hardly even a primer on the subject, it is enough to help the hermeneutical novice get a bearing on an important interpreter’s contribution to the field. The discussion of law and covenant are helpful here, particularly in light of more recent research on the various types of covenants in the ANE. While much of what K/P discuss is typical of introductory hermeneutics texts, they distinguish themselves somewhat by tackling matters that aren’t typically included, such as the Exodus and the development of messianism. The Exodus may seem an odd subject to discuss hermeneutically, but K/P clearly believe events such as the Exodus to be actually historical events and thus it is necessary to know its place in the development/evolution of the Israelite people and the scriptures they produce.

 The bulk of part two, as one might expect, is concerned with the myriad features of the various types of literature, e.g. narrative, prophecy, poetry, wisdom, apocalyptic, etc. I was pleased to discover that the canonical book of Revelation is given an entire chapter’s devotion. Few books frustrate and fluster bible readers more than Revelation and it’s not hard to see why. However, both novice and more learned students of the scripture will gain from K and P’s contribution.

 One of the more challenging sections to plow through is poetry. Even in English poetry is difficult to me, partly because of its esoteric vocabulary. Certainly every subject that has been scrutinized by scholars has yielded its own brand of highly specialized terminology, but poetry is one that I’ve had a harder time fully grasping because of this. K/P don’t hold back and offer the reader a number of technical terms in this section, such as aposiopesis, apophthegm, dactylic, anapest, and amphibrach to name a few. While they provide brief definitions (thankfully!), poetry is inherently contrary to most readers’ use of language and these kinds of terms will certainly not help the beginning interpreter.

 Part three of the book, while comparatively short, is perhaps one of the most helpful sections for beginning readers (more learned folk might learn something as well!). Here the authors tackle the issue of language, and no current hermeneutics text would be complete without it. K/P address initially some important aspects of Greek (genitive, the article, word order), yet do not address Hebrew specifically. K/P also introduce the reader to discourse analysis, an area that has received much more attention in recent years and is making its way into more texts such as this one. The twenty pages devoted to exegetical fallacies is also a helpful, especially to those new to the task (but we more experienced interpreters aren’t immune, so this is a good refresher on some basics, though certainly less extensive than Carson’s work). The final chapter of this unit deals with figurative language, an element that continues to befuddle many and spark plenty of debate. K/P do a fine job of acclimating the interpreter to the shallower waters of discerning the meaning behind figurative language, though one will have to look elsewhere for more comprehensive treatment.

 The final unit of the book concerns theology and thus rounds out K and P’s hermeneutical triad. Unfortunately, this section was the least stimulating for me personally. Why? Mostly because it’s quite short in comparison. Naturally I expect a hermeneutics text to be concerned primarily with historical and literary features and issues, but given the attention paid to theology in interpretation in recent years, I really hoped for more here. But that’s not to say this section isn’t good, because it is. I appreciate and resonate with the authors very strongly here because they argue for a theology that is derived from the bible, rather than imposing one’s own viewpoints onto the scripture. Essentially this is known as a biblical theology, to which they give attention in the following pages, specifically the issues, methods, and history of biblical theology. Not surprisingly, K/P discuss the theology of the NT (though briefly) and the use of the NT in the OT, another topic that has received a healthy share of scholarly attention in recent years. This unit on theology is concluded with a seemingly logical end—the dispersion of theology, or a chapter on preaching/teaching the scripture as a result of examining the text through this hermeneutical triad. Because not all interpreters of scripture are necessarily teachers and/or preachers, this final chapter will be of less value to some than others.

 In sum, I am confident to say that Köstenberger and Patterson have produced an immensely helpful volume that will certainly become the standard biblical hermeneutics text for many (if the endorsements are any indication) and a valuable companion resource to many others. While Invitation to Biblical Interpretation treads plenty of very familiar ground, its inclusion of more recent research will set it apart from other similar texts, as will the vastness of the terrain it surveys and samples of the method at work. I can highly recommend this volume to the uninitiated who have only begun the potentially perilous journey of biblical interpretation, as well as to the well-traveled sojourners who have covered many miles in their exploration of the canonical landscape.

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Book Review: How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens by Michael Williams

Zondervan ǀ WTS ǀ CBD ǀ

Thanks to the folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

This is my contribution to the book tour for which I received this copy of Michael Williams’ book. For my part, I chose Genesis and Romans for review (I’ve not read every page of this book as it was not required for the review).

The title of the book says it all—Williams writes to show how one can read the bible in such a way as to find Jesus in every book in the canon. This sort of Christocentric hermeneutic is certainly nothing new or novel, but Williams feels that “the fact that all of scripture testifies about Jesus” has been somewhat obscured by other details that tend to be the object of the bible reader’s study. His aim, then, is to provide a snapshot view of each biblical book, wherein he offers enough thematic ties to formulate a theme for that book and ultimately how each canonical book points to Jesus.

Each canonical book/chapter is comprised of several parts. First, he offers a quick introduction of the book in question. Bear in mind it’s not an introduction that you would find in a commentary or other more specialized work, but something much more generalized, at least in the chapter on Genesis. Other chapters throughout the book briefly summarize the story up to that point either chronologically or thematically and segue to the contents of the book itself. These brief glimpses at the landscape of the biblical story are helpful in that they are concise and show the reader how various books relate to others (the book of the twelve is a good example).

Each chapter has a graphic inserted just after the introductory paragraph that indicates what Williams’ believes to be the theme of the book. For Genesis, the theme is said to be “God separates out one through whom he would bless all nations” (13). This aspect of Williams’ book will likely serve as the spawning ground for most of readers’ disagreements. I will agree with Williams’ that the idea of separation is an important theme early on in Genesis, but I am not convinced that it is the theme. Williams’ notes the acts of separation in the first creation account (vv1:1-28) and the subsequent separation of people, i.e. Seth from Adam and Eve’s other children (5:3-32), the line of Abraham from all other people (12:1-3), etc, but does not discuss how the remainder of the story plays out except in a brief summary (clearly the nature of the book prevents such extended discussions). Each chapter also includes memory passages/verses that reinforce the proposed theme.

The subsequent sections are “The Jesus Lens”, “Contemporary Implications”, and “Hook Questions”. The “Jesus Lens” sections obviously tells how the canonical book in question points to Jesus, which in Genesis (acc. to Williams) is accomplished by showing “Jesus is the one to whom all God’s separating was always meant to lead, and Jesus is separate from all others in his ability to bring the promised divine blessing to the nations” (15). I must say that I was surprised that the so-called “proto-evangelium” of Gen 3:15 was not mentioned, given that many see in that verse the beginnings of what Christ would ultimately accomplish. The “Contemporary Implications” section is exactly what it sounds like—a brief attempt to show the contemporary relevance of these ancient texts and their pointing to Jesus. Williams maintains the theme of the canonical book here and ties it together by showing how God’s work of separation continues in the life of modern believers. The final part of each chapter is “Hook Questions,” questions provided for readers to engage personally and/or in a group setting, presumably for those who wish to pursue matters beyond the initial discussion of the chapter. These questions will be helpful to varying degrees depending on a number of factors, some being more helpful than others.

On the New Testament side, I chose to read and comment on Williams’ treatment of Romans. The theme proposed is “Through Christ, God brings his chosen ones from death to life”. While this is certainly a concept Paul discusses in Romans, I’m not convinced that it would serve as the theme of the book. This is due mostly to my own view of Romans, which is to say I see it as Paul’s explication of what the gospel is and how it is effected in the life of sinners and how they, upon regeneration, are to live the gospel. This is certainly not at odds with Williams’ proposed theme—much of what the gospel is in Romans concerns what God does to reconcile sinners to himself, i.e. bringing them from death to life, but one is hard pressed to condense the whole of Romans to this one idea.

And therein lies the main concern I have with this book and others like it—the attempt to condense canonical books to a singular theme is often difficult, if not sometimes impossible. Many books of the bible are quite complex and defiantly resist simplified categorization, thematic or otherwise. To do so concerns me because too often people (especially many modern bible readers) are more concerned with simplifying the scriptures so that they can make more expedient use of it. It’s a common approach in many churches today to hurry up and get to the application—what does this mean for me today? While I believe the scripture is certainly relevant for readers of all eras, we must not bypass the difficulties and complexities of scripture just to get to why it’s important today. Cart before the horse, anyone? This approach can easily lead to bad interpretations which inevitably leads to bad theology.

However, let me be clear in what I do not wish to suggest—that Williams’ book will lead to this end. Yes, it could for some, those who fit the mold I mentioned above, but for those whose desire is to read the scripture from a bird’s-eye perspective, to get a snapshot of the bible’s story, Williams’ book will help you in that. I agree with Williams and others who believe the whole of scripture finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ and that we should read the it accordingly, but I also believe the fullest and most faithful way to read the scripture Christocentrically (or through the Jesus lens) is to understand each book and each section of scripture as it was understood by its original hearers and readers, to whatever extent we are able. I am confident that Williams would agree with this and he does an admirable job of telling the greater story that all scripture, as a whole, is meant to tell. He has written a very readable book (at times even humorous) and it will serve well those who wish to see how the scripture tells of Jesus, whether by a whisper or a shout.

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The Apocrypha

It’s only in recent years that I have given much attention to books/works that lie outside the Protestant canon. As a Baptist, I was never really exposed to these books and when they were mentioned, it was probably in the context of a conversation or statement about “the Catholic bible,” you know, the one with all those extra books. I can vaguely remember talk of these books through my early years as a Christian and most who spoke of them did so only vaguely and ignorantly (I don’t mean ignorance to imply stupidity)–they simply didn’t know much about them. This was the case with me for many years and I regret that I was so reticent about reading and learning about them.

A number of reasons ultimately played a role in my hesitations with the apocrypha, but perhaps the biggest one was unfounded suspicion. To hear “Maccabees” or “Tobit” was to hear clanging symbols because those books weren’t in my bible. Rather than look into them for myself, I figured they weren’t included for a reason and so I remained content to leave them be.

Over the years I’ve managed to broaden my horizons and read beyond my little denominational circle and have come to see the value in reading and learning about these books that didn’t make the final cut, at least for us protestants. I enjoy reading the apocrypha and hope that you, if you’ve not read it it, will take up and read some of it some time.

With that in mind, I will say that among the apocryphal writings, 2 Esdras is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Here’s a passage I was reading this morning–it sounds so “biblical”, right? (2 Esdras 7:112-15, CEB)

The present world isn’t the end. Glory does not continuously remain in it, and so those who were able prayed for the weak. But the Judgment Day will be the end of this time and the beginning of the future, endless time in which decay is no more, indulgence is undone, unbelief is cut off, but justice is fully grown, and truth arisen. Therefore, no one will then be able to have mercy on someone who has been condemned in the judgment, nor to overwhelm one who has conquered.

Good stuff!

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Random Thought

John Collins states in Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader that “Apocalyptic literature is crisis literature” (24). Shortly thereafter, he describes the situation in the book of Revelation:

The worldly reality seemed to be that God had lost control; Satan and Satan’s forces had the upper hand. The Roman emperor as Satan’s representative held all power. What John did through his apocalypse was to give his readers a different way of understand their situation, an eschatological view of current events. Beyond the appearance was the reality that God was bringing order our of the chaos of the universe. Satan and his cohorts, especially the Roman emperor, would be defeated by the heavenly armies. God would be victorious (25; emphasis mine).

This caught my attention because I have usually read this kind of statement in regards to the creation account of Genesis 1. It’s interesting that the same sentiment can be found in both places, which happen to begin and end the canon. While there is certainly way more to this issue to rest content on this brief assertion, that Scripture begins and ends with God demonstrating his authority over creation and everything in it is quite cool, don’t ya think?

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