Book Review: Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible

Reading the Bible well can be a daunting task for many Christians, seasoned or young. That is why it is important to get the foundations of how the whole Bible fits together, how to read the different genres or kinds of Scripture, and how Jesus relates to it all.

Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well is a short, helpful new book published recently by Crossway that aims to help in this task.

To be sure, this book is a compilation of articles that would help readers in reading and interpreting the Bible. The individual chapter authors are renown biblical scholars.

Thankfully, the editors (Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Thomas R. Schreiner) have compiled one very cohesive and concise book to address all the basic kinds of hermeneutical issues. Part 1 of the book is on the Old Testament, part 2 is on the Background to the New Testament, and part 3 is on the New Testament itself.

Helpful Time Lines

I found the last section of the book, Part 4, very helpful. These last few pages of the book contain Time Lines, and it gave me a really insightful look at the chronological history of the forefathers of the Jewish faith, the United Monarchy of the kings of Israel, the Divided Monarchy and exilic times, and the generations returning from exile.

Furthermore, the intertestamental events time line is a great resource for those Bible readers who did not know of the various historical and cultural events that predated the Bible, circumstances that affected the context of the New Testament. Consequently, the included New Testament Time Line is certainly an important chart to learn and be familiar with. When we understand the time of Jesus better, the more we can appreciate the significance of his atoning sacrifice for us and for our salvation.

Biblical Backgrounds

Similarly, Part 2: Background to the New Testament is the most meaty and dense section of this book, and yet a section the seasoned Christian should consider studying carefully. The time between the testaments and the so-called “four hundred years of silence” is an era of Christian history that needs to be studied.

While in seminary at SBTS, I recall that this content was lectured and discussed in the first week weeks of my introductory New Testament class. I remember being very confused as to who the Sadducees were, and what the Esssenes were all about. Such historical facts were completely foreign to me, cultural artifacts that were never mentioned in my Christian life in the church. This is why every Christian will be aided in their understanding of Biblical history. When we develop greater perspective that the Holy Scriptures of our Christian faith came out of true, historical time periods and cultures, we get a better understanding of how amazing Jesus is. We will in turn discover why God’s redemptive plan for all mankind is so amazing: Jesus is the fulfillment of the whole Scripture.

Highly Recommended

I heartily recommend this small book to every Christian, young and old. If you are reading the Bible for the first time, or if you are reading through the Bible for the 40th time, you’ll be sure to find that this book is an excellent assistant to your biblical interpretation.

 

Buy this book in Paperback or Kindle ebook!

The Gospel, The Whole Gospel, and Nothing but The Gospel (Part 1 of 3)

What’s included in the “whole” Gospel?The Meaning, Implications, and Significance of the Good News of Jesus Christ
Last edited: Aug 13, 2008 8:35am EST

Ken Bellous, Executive Minister of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec (BCOQ), writes:

The whole gospel includes both spiritual and practical elements. The gospel certainly is all about our spiritual response to Jesus and the salvation that he came to bring. But the gospel is also about our response to one another, as Jesus directs us to ???offer a cup of cold water in my name?????? or see that those in need are clothed, visited, cared for. God???s spiritual provision of love needs our caring response toward others. The Baptist community that is represented in this web site has long expressed a holistic concern for both spiritual and compassionate aspects of the gospel message.

After reading this “executive message” from the leader of one of the largest Baptist convention in Canada, I am now confused as to what the whole gospel “includes”. It seems that from this quote, the gospel includes more than just the atoning work that Jesus Christ accomplished through his life, death and resurrection from the cross.So the question that I will address over the next week in this 3 part blog series is this:

Is the gospel really “about” our response to one another, and not just about our response of faith to our Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice?

It seems that a reasonable person reading this quote would come out more uncertain about this traditional view of the gospel than more certain that the redemption accomplished and applied by Christ’s blood to the believer is the gospel.?? The line of thinking in the above quote seems to imply that the Gospel is not an issue of “either or” (namely, what it includes — spiritual or practical elements), but that the gospel entails a “both and” (spiritual and practical elements).?? With all due respect, I would assert that such vocabulary used in this explanation of the gospel undermines what Scripture says the gospel truly is, and contradicts what these practical elements actually are.?? I respectfully disagree with Bellous — “the gospel” in all its purity as revealed in the Holy Bible does not include our response to one another.

Meanings of Words: A Word About Meanings

If terminology and words are to have any meaning, I would argue that these so-called practical elements are not included by what we would proclaim to be the “gospel”, but rather that they constitute Gospel implications without which would devalue the gospel’s significance. In this blog series, I am utilizing Robert H. Stein‘s hermeneutical delineation of “meaning”, “implication”, and “significance”, as the issues here are grammatical and hermeneutical in nature (A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Baker: 1994). For hermeneutically speaking, there is only one meaning to a given biblical text, and many implications from which we can draw numerous significant applications for today.Therefore, I am arguing that the gospel has only one meaning, but many kingdom implications that significantly apply in different ways to us in our own contexts. I hope to show that these practical elements that the whole gospel is said to include are not the gospel itself, but are rather the implications that arrive out of one who has been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.?? For Christians who have been transformed by and trusted in the gospel, being a true bona fide disciple of Christ is about how we treat one another.Let us, then, first consider the meaning of “the gospel”: Continue reading

The Gospel, The Whole Gospel, and Nothing but The Gospel (Part 1 of 3)

What’s included in the “whole” Gospel?
The Meaning, Implications, and Significance of the Good News of Jesus Christ
Last edited: Aug 13, 2008 8:35am EST

Ken Bellous, Executive Minister of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec (BCOQ), writes:

The whole gospel includes both spiritual and practical elements. The gospel certainly is all about our spiritual response to Jesus and the salvation that he came to bring. But the gospel is also about our response to one another, as Jesus directs us to “offer a cup of cold water in my name…” or see that those in need are clothed, visited, cared for. God’s spiritual provision of love needs our caring response toward others. The Baptist community that is represented in this web site has long expressed a holistic concern for both spiritual and compassionate aspects of the gospel message.

After reading this “executive message” from the leader of one of the largest Baptist convention in Canada, I am now confused as to what the whole gospel “includes”. It seems that from this quote, the gospel includes more than just the atoning work that Jesus Christ accomplished through his life, death and resurrection from the cross.

So the question that I will address over the next week in this 3 part blog series is this:

Is the gospel really “about” our response to one another, and not just about our response of faith to our Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice?

It seems that a reasonable person reading this quote would come out more uncertain about this traditional view of the gospel than more certain that the redemption accomplished and applied by Christ’s blood to the believer is the gospel.  The line of thinking in the above quote seems to imply that the Gospel is not an issue of “either or” (namely, what it includes — spiritual or practical elements), but that the gospel entails a “both and” (spiritual and practical elements).  With all due respect, I would assert that such vocabulary used in this explanation of the gospel undermines what Scripture says the gospel truly is, and contradicts what these practical elements actually are.  I respectfully disagree with Bellous — “the gospel” in all its purity as revealed in the Holy Bible does not include our response to one another.

Meanings of Words: A Word About Meanings

If terminology and words are to have any meaning, I would argue that these so-called practical elements are not included by what we would proclaim to be the “gospel”, but rather that they constitute Gospel implications without which would devalue the gospel’s significance. In this blog series, I am utilizing Robert H. Stein‘s hermeneutical delineation of “meaning”, “implication”, and “significance”, as the issues here are grammatical and hermeneutical in nature (A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Baker: 1994). For hermeneutically speaking, there is only one meaning to a given biblical text, and many implications from which we can draw numerous significant applications for today.

Therefore, I am arguing that the gospel has only one meaning, but many kingdom implications that significantly apply in different ways to us in our own contexts. I hope to show that these practical elements that the whole gospel is said to include are not the gospel itself, but are rather the implications that arrive out of one who has been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  For Christians who have been transformed by and trusted in the gospel, being a true bona fide disciple of Christ is about how we treat one another.

Let us, then, first consider the meaning of “the gospel”: Continue reading

Hermeneutics 101

Hermeneutics (hur-muh-noo-tiks) n. [Grk.]: the craft of interpreting Scripture

7 Questions to Ask Every Passage

  1. Who is the author and who is his audience?
  2. Why is the author writing and what is his burden for his audience?
  3. How does this verse connect to the rest of the chapter and the book thewhole storyline of the Bible?
  4. What does the language of the passage highlight and draw attention to?(e.g., parallels, word pictures, specific details, repetitive words/phrases)
  5. What does this reveal about the nature of God and the nature ofmankind?
  6. How does this passage reveal our need for a Savior and God??sdisposition to provide a Savior?
  7. What response or action does this passage call for?
From New Attitude 2008

Hermeneutics 101

Hermeneutics (hur-muh-noo-tiks) n. [Grk.]: the craft of interpreting Scripture

7 Questions to Ask Every Passage

  1. Who is the author and who is his audience?
  2. Why is the author writing and what is his burden for his audience?
  3. How does this verse connect to the rest of the chapter and the book the
    whole storyline of the Bible?
  4. What does the language of the passage highlight and draw attention to?
    (e.g., parallels, word pictures, specific details, repetitive words/phrases)
  5. What does this reveal about the nature of God and the nature of
    mankind?
  6. How does this passage reveal our need for a Savior and Godʼs
    disposition to provide a Savior?
  7. What response or action does this passage call for?
From New Attitude 2008

Hermeneutical Deconstruction: Always Deferring, Never Arriving

Deconstruction is hard to pin down in terms of its understanding of where to find meaning, to some degree because it is not looking for a meaning, but is usually trying to overthrow meanings to create new ones. Consequently, this approach can only loosely be called reader-response. ((cf. H.-G. Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Seabury, 1975).)) The focus of deconstruction, like that of structuralism, (( cf. Claude Levi-Strauss, Ferdinand de Saussure, Noam Chomsky)) is in fact neither on the author nor the reader as supplying the meaning, but on the text itself, which it attempts to read very closely. With the postmodern hermeneutical shift away from “understanding” and toward “reading,” it seems closer in its basic commitments to locating meaning(s) in readers, but it also attempts to let the text overthrow the reader as well. ((David Seeley states: “Deconstruction is often misunderstood as allowing readers to attribute to the text any meaning they desire… [In fact] nothing could be further from the truth” (Deconstructing the New Testament [Leiden: Brill, 1994], 157).)) Curiously, deconstruction even acknowledges a role for an author, though that role is mostly negative: the author provides the framework that his text can undermine. But, as meaning is always “deferred,” always on the move, never arriving, it consequently can have no locus, and even though it has roots in both structuralism and in reader-response theory, it self-consciously tries to transcend the whole discussion of the locus of meaning. That solves the problem, but the cost (the loss of real determinate communication) is very great.

Dan McCartney, Let the Reader Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible, (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 299-300.

Emerging Missional Fallacies in Postmodern Exegesis

Earlier in the fall of 2007, I was invited by Rev. Ken Silva (SBC) of Apprising Ministries to serve as a correspondent for his online apologetic ministry. This past December, I finally responded to his invite and committed to writing 1-2 articles on the Emerging Church every month starting in January 2008. However, due to my busy January schedule and the extremely busy Spring semester here at Southern Seminary, I thus have yet to publish anything. I sincerely apologize for not living up to my self-proclaimed commitment and for my lack of foresight into my schedule.Please know that my first responsibility is to my seminary studies; at the same time, please also pray that what I share with you here would be a fruit of and an overflow from the countless hours I spend reading the Scriptures and books on theology.

Emerging Missional Fallacies

On that note, I am excited to write to you concerning the Emerging Church and postmodern theology! In this opening half of the year, I will share with you how I came into contact with Emerging theology and the things that have led me to confront evangelical accommodation in today???s postmodern culture. Although I was very eager to write to you about the beliefs of Emerging churches, I found it necessary to write appealing to Emerging pastors to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.For there are certain pastors who have crept unnoticed into the church that are reading their own personal desired interpretation and ideas into the Bible???s text, ideas that are not necessarily extra-biblical but rather extra-textual to the passage preached on. These usually result from careless exegetical fallacies that remove the text from its original context ((D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996)). More specifically, I am concerned about ordained ministers of God???s Word are eisegeting an Emerging missional ecclesiology into the New Testament ??? where as 2000 years of biblical scholarship have found no explicit ???missional??? meanings in such passages whatsoever.Since such exegetical fallacies are being performed by postmodern pastor-communicators who have been trained at evangelical seminaries and ordained by evangelical denominations, I am thus very disappointed at the failure of these teachers to rightly handle God???s Word. I am very fearful that our seminaries and denominational entities are neglecting their duty to train and discipline ministers who are not rightly handling the word of truth.While I am only a first-year seminarian, I fear I may be stepping on the toes of spiritual giants who are much more well-read than me. However, as a man ???of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God??????I must speak in Christ (2 Cor 2:17). While such pastor-communicators may disregard doctrine as unimportant to the regular Christian as long as he just believes in Jesus Christ, I am not ashamed to say that I believe that doctrine is very, very, very important. For only through the Word of God can ???the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work??? (2 Tim 3:17). Therefore, it is of utmost importance that ministers of God???s Word keep a close watch on themselves and their teaching (1 Tim 4:16). If we are not careful but sloppy in our handling of God???s Word, the blood of the sheep will be on our hands.

Called to be Missional?

The example of an emerging missional fallacy I am responding to is in a postmodern exegesis of Ephesians 4, and to be exact verse 1:

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit???just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call??? 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.Ephesians 4:1-7, ESV

Without providing the historical context nor the occasion for which Paul writes these letters, I recently heard one Emerging pastor describe the ???calling??? that we are ???called??? to actually has two meanings, namely a ???double calling??? of sorts. The pastor said that we are called to be Christians, and additionally, to do something. The calling to which Paul referred to, in which we must walk, and that very something we are are ???to do??? had thus been exegeted as “a calling to be missional”. ‘The consequence of being missional (whatever this means) is being an incarnational community’ (whatever this means), the speaker said (my paraphrase).

What is wrong with this deconstructive exegesis?

Firstly, I am not saying that the concept of being a missional Christian or an incarnational community is absent from Ephesians. From a careful study of the text in its literary context, it can certainly be an implication, and maybe even an important significance of the letter ((Robert Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994. pp. 37-46)).Secondly, I am not against the concept of missional living ???- when it is described biblically as being a missionary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we are, whatever we are doing. After all, I am very supportive of The Resurgence missional initiative, as well as the missional/church-planting work of Pastors Mark Driscoll and Timothy Keller. However, I am saying that a careful grammatical-historical exegesis of such passages like Ephesians 4:1 can not possibly result in a ???double calling???. When Paul wrote ???calling???, he meant one thing ??? that is, one calling that the Ephesians have been called to. Therefore, to say explicitly in a sermon (or ???conversation???) that the word ???calling / called??? that Paul used is simply to employ a blatant word fallacy ((Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, pp.27-64)). Such is at the least misleading, if not a complete misreading of the text.

A Small but Important Distinction

While one may argue that missional living and incarnational community could possibly be a point of this text, it is more likely that such is an application from and subsequent result of being a ???called??? person of God. And while I do not want this article to be entirely exegetical, we must us take a brief look at the underlying Greek text of Eph 4:1.

????????????????? ??????? ?????????? ???????? ??? ??????????????? ????? ???????????? ???????????? ??????????????????????? (peripatesai ??? Aorist Active Infinitive: to walk up and down, to walk about) ??????? ??????????????? (kleseos ??? Genitive Singular Feminine: a calling, call) ????? ?????????????????? (eklethete ??? 2nd Person Plural, Aorist Passive Indicative: to call, summon).

All that is to say that the Ephesians should live in a manner that is worthy of the calling which they have already received. For since God???s love is so great, since his salvation is so powerful, and because God has already granted such reconciliation, we then should live accordingly. We should value God???s love enough that our lives be shaped by it.The question inevitably is then, what is this ???calling??? (???????????????) with which we have been ???called??? (??????????????????)? What have the Ephesians been called to? What does the text actually say?O???Brien appropriately notes that this admonition ???arises out of the gracious, saving purposes of God (cf. 2 Cor 5:20), which ahs been presented in the first three chapters??? (274, PNTC). ???This appeal is grounded in the ???indicatives??? of God???s saving work in Christ.??? Notice the conjunction ???therefore??? (???????) at the beginning of verse 1. Hence, the calling refers to the Holy Spirit???s prompting that caused the Christians in Ephesus to believe in the first place. The author is thus urging his readers to live a life that conforms to their saved status before God. As is evident elsewhere in Paul???s letters, the Apostle???s use of ???calling??? refers to God???s choosing and election of some to salvation, ???God???s drawing of men and women into fellowship with his Son through the preaching of the gospel??? (275, PNTC).

A Life that Conforms to their Saved Status.

This is where the idea of missional living may come in to play in the text as the manner to which we ought to live. As we read on in the chapter, Paul speaks specifically of bearing with one another in love, humility, gentleness, patience, and maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace ??? characteristics of those who have been called by God. I do concede that being God???s chosen, ??????dedicated ones??? and messengers of his gospel, should transform every part of life. It involves the obligation to live in a manner that is in accordance with the name of him whose they are and whom they serve (Phil 1:29)??? (Foulkes, TNTC, 116). Having been called into the purity and unity of the one body of Christ, we therefore have a divinely ordained responsibility in God???s purposes for the world.All that is to say that such is the desired result of Paul???s double emphasis on election. Believers should live according to the manner in which they have been called ??? because God???s love is so great, and His salvation so powerful, and that He has granted us reconciliation. For God loves us in this way ??? by giving us His Son and calling us to receive Him by faith (John 3:16)! We should cherish God???s love for us to the point that we are shaped by it; subjects of the love of the King ought to love those seemingly unlovable ones. Klyne Snodgrass rightly draws out an important implication: ??? ???calling??? is used of the salvation and responsibility of every Christian, not of the ???professional ministry??? or an elite group. This one call is for all Christians to live in accord with what God has done??? (NIVAC, 196).In application of verse 2, it would be appropriate to apply this in terms of living missionally and being the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors. However, a careful exegesis of the text cannot have that as the goal of being called. Again, O???Brien correctly notes (276, PNTC) that the imperatives of verse 1 leads to two prepositions in verse 2 (with all humility and gentleness, with patience) and followed by two participial clauses which act as imperatives (???bearing with one another in love??? and ???eager to main the unity???). It is more than clear that these admonitions draw us toward the goal that we must aim for ??? preserving the unity (verse 3). We are clearly being called to cultivate the graces of humility, gentleness and patience, all of which are seen perfectly in the life of Christ, all of which are to lead us towards unity in the body of Christ.Concerning this unity, Chrysostom puts it nicely:

???In the body it is the living spirit that holds all members together, even when they are far apart. So it is here. The purpose for which the Spirit was given was to bring into unity all who remain separated by different ethnic and cultural divisions: young and old, rich and poor, women and men.???(Homily on Ephesians 9.4.1-3)

Conclusion

In conclusion, I hope it is clearly evident that whenever pastor-teachers preach God???s Word, we must not neglect the careful study and exegesis of the Scriptures in its original context in order to discern the meaning of the inspired words to its original audience. The implications of that meaning will only have power to save souls and transform lives when it is explained within the literary and historical context of the biblical passage, and the implication of God???s Word will only have its desired effect when its significance is rightly related and applied to the modern reader.God???s Word is neutered of its power when a preacher falsely asserts that a biblical author meant two things in one word, when a proper grammatical-historical exegesis certainly proves otherwise. Once the semantics, cultural distance, context and genre of the Scriptures are studied carefully through proper exegesis, the resulting theological interpretation may then show itself to thoroughly grounded in the Bible and thus the core meaning of the text can be unleashed from the Scriptures. If today???s postmodern communicators can grasp the import of such methods of biblical studies ???- and apply it -??? I am sure we can arrive at a post-Emerging hermeneutic where the meaning of Scripture in its original context is applicable to all post-whatever communities.