Thursday, February 11, 2016

Genre Must Not Be Ignored


The Bible is a book. This means it is literature. It is also true, but it is literature nonetheless. Because of this we must take genre into account when interpreting. We ignore it at our peril.

(This is part seven of the ten-part series Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple.)

The Bible contains various forms of genre: narrative, epistle, song, poetry, prayer, prophecy, law, biography, legal document, parable, apocalyptic, etc. This is one aspect of the Bible that makes it unique. It also makes it a bit challenging to interpret. This does not mean that the scriptures are difficult to understand, but rather that we must remember a few things when reading. One of those is the specific genre. If we do not do this, either accidentally or purposefully, we run the risk of arriving at some faulty conclusions about what the Biblical writers intended.

I do not intend in this post to explain how to interpret different forms of Biblical literature. Entire books have been written on this subject. Rather, this is simply a call to in fact keep genre in mind. When we do this it makes scripture much easier to comprehend. For example, when we read the 10 Commandments we may wonder how we can possibly keep the O.T. Sabbath. If, however, we recall that Exodus 20 is part of the O.T. law, and as such doesn't apply to us, then we can understand it perfectly.

Or what about proverbs that don't seem to come true? For example Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Plenty of parents have raised their children correctly only to see them stray into a life of worldliness. Should this shipwreck their faith in the truth of scripture? By no means. This is because proverbs by definition are sayings that generally describe our existence. Every single proverb does not hold true in every instance. That's what proverbs are. The type of literature is key.

If we are looking for the type of literature that has the most one-to-one application to our lives we ought to focus on the N.T. epistles. Those letters were written to the church. Because of this they are the simplest to understand and apply directly to our lives.

Additionally, remember that crystal clear texts should be used to interpret less clear texts. To do the opposite is to fail. Finally, always keep context in mind. One aspect of this is the type of literature you are reading. Genre is everything.



(To read more about specifically interpreting the Old Testament correctly, click here.)

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Bible Does Not Read Like a Myth or Fairy Tale

This is post number six in my ten-part series entitled Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple.

The scriptures are a great gift from God to us, His church. We have the wonderful and sometimes daunting task of interpreting the Bible the way God wants it interpreted. The writers of scripture meant certain things. We need to understand what they intended. It's my goal in this series to help however I can.

One consistent claim that haters of the scriptures make is that it reads like a myth or fairy tale. I sometimes wonder if those who make this claim have ever bothered to actually read the Bible. Their claim fails on many fronts. I bring up this issue because we, as readers, must understand that the Bible not only is not a fairy tale, but it doesn't read like one either. Rather, the scriptures read much more like actual happenings in space and time. That's because what we are reading did occur in space and time (eyewitness accounts).

To claim that the Bible is a myth or fairy tale requires that the one making the claim rule out the supernatural completely. In light of the relative insignificance of human beings in the scope of the universe, this is a staggeringly arrogant claim. Who is man to say that God does not exist? Man cannot possibly know enough to even make this claim.

When we read the Bible we run into the most important person who ever lived - Jesus Christ. He does not seem like a crazy person or fraud. He also doesn't act like a wizard or magician. Rather, he appears to be a normal person who happens to be very nice, care for people, and make some astounding claims. Jesus has an aura of reality and believability. A fair reading of scripture forces us to deal with this real person. That's not only because Jesus is real, but also because the Bible is written as a historical record, not a myth.

Myths and fairy tales do not have written records from thousands of years ago. The Bible does.

Myths and fairy tales change over time. The Bible does not.

People do not die for fairy tales. Many Christians have been slaughtered for standing up for the Bible.

We can be confident that the Bible is true. It is a written record of God's revelation to us. It describes real things happening in specific places at specific times in history. At its most basic level it is a book that is believable. When we read the Bible let's not interpret it as if it is some sort of fairy tale or myth. It was not intended as such. Rather, we must read and interpret it for what it is: God's record of His amazing acts in history, centering upon our glorious Lord.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Survived!

The race was a massive challenge, but I survived and did well. Praise be to God (who gave me the strength to persevere)!

Over the past two days I ran in a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon, a 2.8 mile beach run, and a one mile "fun run." These races add up to 26.2 miles - exactly marathon distance. I love the format of the Critz-Tybee Run Fest, which takes place on Tybee Island (Savannah's beach).

The photo to the left is of my wife Alice and me. She, along with a couple of our kids, accompanied me to Tybee for last night's 5K. I figured that I would finish the race in about 22 minutes. As I approached the finish line I was shocked to see the clock say 19:26. That's the fastest 5K I've run in almost fifteen years.

While I'm thrilled about my 5K performance, I must admit that I "robbed Peter to pay Paul." The exertion from last night made today somewhat of a struggle (that combined with a wicked wind that never let up at Tybee). Despite these factors, I was able to complete all four races today. I finished the 10K in 47:19, the half-marathon in 1:48:18, the 2.8 mile beach run in 24:19, and the one mile run in 7:32. Those times were about what I expected when considering gradual fatigue and wind conditions.

I realize that physical fitness in general and racing in particular are not exceedingly important in the big scheme of things. However, God has given us bodies for which we are to be stewards. Racing motivates me to run, which in turn keeps me in good shape. That's ultimately why I do it. I hope you take part in some sort of physical exercise. You won't regret it!

The three photos below are the beginning of the 10K (I'm number 531 in the bright yellow hat), the middle of the 10K where I'm dying, and the finish of the 10K where the blessed end is in sight.





Friday, February 5, 2016

Well This Is Going to Be Crazy


Quick running update: Ever since the marathon three months ago I've still been running quite a bit. I enjoy it, it helps me maintain my weight, and keeps me in good overall physical shape. One thing that motivates me to run five times per week is getting to race. This weekend I'm tackling a big one: The Critz-Tybee Run Fest.

This is going to be challenging, fun, and a little crazy. That's because the Run Fest is actually five races in one event. Tonight I'll run in a 5K. No big deal. Tomorrow is when it gets tough. That's when I'm running in a 10K, then a half marathon, then a 2.8 mile beach run, and finally a one mile "fun run." By the end I doubt the fun run will live up to its name.

The total distance totals 26.2 miles, which is exactly marathon length. Yikes!

Racing is a funny thing because what you have is essentially a group of people who are willing to pay to provide their own entertainment. No one is running for me; I'll be putting forth the effort. And yet I happily shelled out close to $100 to take part. It's odd really. Nevertheless, I'm very much looking forward to this.

I'll provide an update on Sunday about how things go in the Run Fest - that is if I can get out of bed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Bible is Full of Eyewitness Accounts

This post is the fifth in my blog series entitled Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple.

All sorts of people today doubt the truth claims of scripture. This doesn't surprise or concern me when coming from secularists. I would expect nothing else. However, I'm deeply troubled when followers of Christ struggle with whether not to trust as true what they read in the Bible. Many act as if the Bible is a nice book but lacking in solid, historical reasons to believe it.

I want to encourage fellow Christians with the reminder that we can trust scripture. One reason is the fact that the Bible is full of eyewitness accounts. From Genesis to Revelation we read account after account written by people who were there in time and space. They saw and lived what happened.

The person of Jesus Christ is the most critical aspect of the Bible. It all revolves around him. But what do we know of him? Frankly, we know a ton. Matthew's and John's gospel accounts are extremely important for us because both men were part of Christ's twelve apostles. They were right there in the midst of everything that occurred. John in particular was part of Jesus' inner circle (along with Peter and James). His twenty-one chapters are a goldmine of eyewitness data. He saw, lived, and experienced life directly with our Lord. And then John told us about it.

The most important events in the life of Jesus Christ are his crucifixion and resurrection. If they are true, then he is a very special and unique person indeed. If not, then he is a fraud to be rejected. Why ought we believe, in particular, in the resurrection? Because many, many people saw the resurrected Christ. Paul writes the following in I Corinthians 15:1-8:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Jesus appeared to over five hundred people! Paul is telling the Corinthian believers that they should hold strong faith in the resurrected Christ because so many folks saw him in the flesh. They were eyewitnesses. Not only that, but many remained alive. Paul is almost challenging those doubting in Corinth to travel to Israel to ask the eyewitnesses themselves.

To sum up, the Bible makes massive truth claims. These claims are supported again and again by people who saw what happened. We have the written records of people who spent years with our Lord. They even saw and spoke with him after he was resurrected from the dead. These accounts give us great reason to believe.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Biblical Meaning Stems from the Book, Not the Verse

As a runner I see Philippians 4:13 at almost every race. This is because somebody invariably has "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" printed on the back of their T-shirt. A Christian outreach organization to runners even exists based upon this verse. While the organization seems fine, their use of Philippians 4:13 yanks the verse completely out of context.

This brings me to the topic for today's post. Far too many Christians fail to interpret scripture correctly because they look at individual verses for meaning. When
this happens, even with well-intentioned believers who respect the Bible, they often arrive at erroneous conclusions. For example, Philippians 4:13 has nothing to do with running. Rather, the context of the passage is Paul's God-granted ability to handle both having plenty of physical goods/money and not having enough. God strengthened the apostle to be content regardless of his particular situation.

If Christians who cherish Philippians 4:13 would keep it in the context of book, chapter, and paragraph, they would not even consider using it to refer to running. That application would seem silly to them in the context of Paul's purpose for the letter. One of Paul's primary reasons for writing to his friends in Philippi was to thank them for their financial support. He wasn't planning on running in any 5Ks or marathons (at least I don't think so).

When the Bible was originally penned, no chapter, paragraph, or verse divisions existed. In fact, they were not added until hundreds of years later. They were inserted not to assist with interpretation, but to help readers find specific sections more easily. That is key: the chapter, paragraph, and verse divisions are not inspired.

Where does the primary meaning lie? It lies in the book itself. When determining the meaning of any part of scripture, the reader must take into account everything the author has said prior to that particular sentence he is reading. This can be difficult, especially with long books. This is one reason it is so important to read all the way through Biblical books instead of sifting for favorite passages.

The author(s) of each book had a train of thought and built an argument. The individual books build upon themselves as they progress from beginning to end. For example, it is folly to try to understand Romans 12:1-2 in a vacuum. These familiar verses say:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans chapters 12-16 focus a great deal on how Christians should live in light of what God has done. But how do the Roman believers know what God has done? They already know by reading chapters 1-11. Romans 12-16 only make sense in the context of 1-11.

Another truth to keep in mind during interpretation is that each book is part of the Bible as a whole. When reading, for example, from the prophets or writings in the Old Testament, the reader must keep them in context of the Pentateuch (Genesis - Deuteronomy). When reading the New Testament, we absolutely have to remember all of the O.T. To ignore what has come before a particular passage is to risk poor interpretation.

Many sincere followers of Jesus Christ have great respect for the Bible. Many also come to faulty conclusions about what the Bible means. We have all done this, myself included. One way we can avoid this error is by keeping verses in context. It is the book that provides the meaning God intends.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Biblical Text Has Meaning; We Do Not Bring Our Own Meaning To It

This is the third post in my blog series entitled Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple.

Postmodernism has swept through our society over the past half-century leaving a trail of destruction in its path. Postmodern thought is essentially a rejection of modern thought. Objectivity has given way to subjectivity. Absolute truth has been rejected as old-fashioned. Postmodernists scoff at the idea of meta-narratives. Instead of the focus being outside of self, postmodernity emphasizes personal feelings and opinions.

One critical aspect of postmodernism is the idea that the reader of a book brings meaning to the text. In essence, this allows the reader to determine what any book means based upon the reader's own background, presuppositions, political leanings, beliefs, etc. This doesn't really matter if someone is reading something of little significance like this. However, it's fairly obvious how troublesome postmodernism is when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Many churches and denominations have happily embraced the idea of the reader bringing their own meaning to the scriptures. This allows them to say that the Bible means whatever they want it to mean. In this way folks who claim to be followers of Christ can reject straightforward scriptural teachings on issues such as the atonement, homosexuality, women's roles, etc.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it reduces the Bible, or any other book for that matter, to meaninglessness.

The Bible is not a postmodern book. The Bible is also not a modern book. The Bible is an ancient book. It is an ancient one that remains meaningful and relevant for today. Its meaning and relevance stem from the fact that the text has objective meaning. A basic reading of the scriptures shows that The Biblical Writers Meant What They Said and The Bible is a Book That is Meant to be Understood. The writers meant certain things that had meaning then and have meaning now.

When we read the Bible at no point is there any suggestion that we ought to bring our own meaning to the text. Frankly, that idea is just ridiculous. God has spoken through the pages of scripture. He means what He means. It is our duty to responsibly interpret the Bible to comprehend what God means.

God gave meaning to the Bible. We do not bring our own to it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Biblical Writers Meant What They Said

The Bible contains various types of genre (teaching, poetry, apocalypse, history, prophecy, etc.). Despite these differences, the writers make clear one very basic thing: they mean what they say.

In fact, throughout all sixty-six books of the Bible the writers mean what they say. Go ahead and open to any passage in any book and begin reading. Does it ever seem as if the writers either do not mean what they say or that they are just fooling around? The answer is no. The tone used by all the writers is serious. They write with purpose. They desire that their meaning be understood. What they have to say matters.

At no point do the writers say, "Ignore this if you want. It's up to you." Likewise, they do not write, "I'm joking. Just pretend I didn't say this at all." All the writings, Old Testament and New, convey serious meaning. In fact, every word matters. In Revelation chapter 22, right near the end of the Bible, we read the following in verses 18-19:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

God takes the Bible seriously. If we doubt this just look at what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." Thankfully for us Jesus fulfilled the Law; because of that we do not have to. The point for the purposes of this post, however, is that none of God's word can be ignored.

God's message to this world is important. Because of that, the Bible is important. The Biblical writers understood this. Their goal was to convey this message clearly to their readers/listeners. Due to the gravity of what they wrote about, they meant what they said. We cannot ignore any of it. It all matters.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Bible is a Book That is Meant to be Understood

This post is the first of a ten-part series on Biblical interpretation.

The Bible is a book. This is painfully obvious. It is a book that is meant to be understood. This should also be painfully obvious.

Throughout the scriptures we read exhortations by writers for the readers and listeners to hear, listen, and pay attention. They are also told to obey. In order for those receiving the instruction to do these things, they must not only understand but be able to understand. This means that the Bible must have been written in such a way that it was/is meant to be comprehended.

In the Old Testament the Israelites are told repeatedly to follow God's law. They are blessed by God for doing so and punished when they disobey. When we look to the New Testament we see Jesus point to the importance of God's law. Christ expects those listening to him to comprehend. He answers their questions when they do not. As we move into the remainder of the New Testament we read writers (Paul, Peter, James, etc.) who have specific instructions and commands. At no point do we sense the writers being purposefully confusing. Their clear goal is to communicate.

The Old Testament originally existed in scroll form (as opposed to codex). The same is true for the New Testament. A few hundred years after Christ scrolls evolved into codices. Regardless of form, the words of the scriptures did not change. They were translated into other languages, especially during the Reformation. Despite this, the meaning did not change.

We ought not treat the Bible as if it is some form of foreign communication that has mysterious meaning. It is a book. We should treat it as such.

Authors write books to be understood. When this does not happen, readers ignore the authors. The writers of the Bible very clearly want to be understood. Their writing conveys this. It was penned in a manner that makes the meaning clear. They intend for those reading and listening to comprehend fully their message.

When we read the Bible we can understand it. We should understand it. The authors meant for this to be the case.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple


If interpreting the Bible correctly was a simple process, then the church would likely have far fewer arguments.

Let me be clear: the problem is not with the scriptures. Rather, the problem lies with Christians not using basic principles of interpretation that make understanding clear. Far too many believers treat the Bible as if it is some sort of exotic book that must be read and understood differently from other books. When they do this they come to all sorts of ridiculous conclusions about what the Bible means.

I have no time or interest in people who reject portions of scripture because they simply do not like them/do not want to obey them. I equally have no time for folks who obviously interpret the Bible in ways that make no sense (these people have usually already decided what the text should mean before they actually analyze it). The people I do have time for are Christians who want to understand the Bible but for some reason struggle to do so. Many times their failures stem from either poor teaching or lack of teaching in the past.

The sad fact is that many, many followers of Jesus Christ have come to many, many faulty conclusions about what the scriptures mean on many, many topics. Largely because of this I'm going to be posting a ten part series on Biblical interpretation. I do not intend for the upcoming pieces to be either highly academic or unnecessarily lengthy. Rather, I'll simply be discussing basic techniques for understanding what we need to understand from the Bible.

I am chagrined at the state of the church in this country. However, I also believe it has great potential. One way for the church to be much holier and have greater impact on society is if we have a better comprehension of what God means through the scriptures. My hope is that this upcoming blog series will help a little with that.

The series topics are as follows:

1. The Bible is a book that is meant to be understood.

2. The Biblical writers meant what they said.

3. The Biblical text has meaning; we do not bring our own meaning to it.

4. Biblical meaning stems from the book, chapter, and paragraph (not verse).

5. The Bible is full of eyewitness accounts.

6. The Bible does not read like a myth or fairy tale.

7. Genre must not be ignored.

8. Descriptive differs from prescriptive.

9. The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, but we can trust our good English translations.

10. The Gospel is the key, and Jesus Christ is at the center.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

"Anglican Split Is Really About Scriptural Authority, Not Gay Marriage"

Click here to read an excellent article by Eric Metaxas entitled Anglican Split Is Really About Scriptural Authority, Not Gay Marriage. He hits the nail on the head.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

In Case You Missed It...

A few days ago Russell Moore penned an excellent piece entitled 2 Chronicles 7:14 Isn’t About American Politics. It is one of the best articles I've read in quite a while on both American politics and biblical interpretation. This is a must read - especially for all culture warriors.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Best Thing I've Seen on Facebook This Year


A couple of weeks ago I posted The Stupidest Thing I've Seen on Facebook This Year. On the positive side of things, today I came across the best thing I've seen on Facebook in quite a while. It's always good when Batman puts Robin in his place, especially when sound theology is on the line.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I Attended a Ceremony This Past Weekend

My family and I attended a ceremony a few days ago.

We met with a hundred or so other people in a church building. We all sat in long rows. Most everybody there was quiet the majority of the time. The exception was the couple of hymns we were invited to sing. The pastor did almost all the talking. We followed a specific order of ceremony, outlined for us in a bulletin. The pastor preached/spoke to us in monologue form. It felt like we were watching a show.

What we attended was a wedding.

My family and I enjoyed it very much. We love the folks who were married, which made the wedding a happy occasion. Additionally, we don't usually go to more than one wedding per year. Due to the infrequency, it was special.

You probably see where I'm going with this post. The above ceremony I described could also be an accurate picture of most worship services. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, worship services are frequent. Nobody needs to attend frequent ceremonies. Ceremonies by definition are supposed to be special in part because of their infrequency. When they happen weekly (or more) they lose a lot of luster. Second, church meetings should be family get-togethers. These are, almost by definition, informal. Families hang out, simply spending time together. They participate in each others' lives. This cannot happen during ceremonies.

Weddings ought to be ceremonies. Church gatherings not so much. Let's make sure that when we come together we generally do so informally. This is when family life truly happens.

Monday, January 11, 2016

On Misunderstanding God's Sovereignty and the Resulting Loss of Hope

Most Christ-followers believe that God is sovereign. I know I do, and I imagine you do as well.

How we define and understand the sovereignty of God are important. If we make an error in this it can lead to a deep sense of hopelessness.

God is indeed sovereign. The Bible shows us that God controls all things. Nothing happens that is outside his divine omnipotence. This wonderful truth ought to give us both hope and peace. It would be an awful and terrifying thing to think of something beyond God's control. If that could happen, then God would not in fact be God at all.

It is easy to cherish the sovereignty of God when things are generally going well in our lives. However, when the trials come (problems related to family, job, money, etc.) doubts may begin to creep in. This is where the danger exists. If we define God's sovereignty as God answering our prayers in the way we want him to, then we are in trouble. This is because God knows much better than we do what we need. We generally desire for God to take away various unpleasant things in our lives. After all, we like comfort. God, however, often uses discomfort to both train us and draw us closer to him.

When God answers differently from what we ask for this does not mean that he has failed to be sovereign. He cannot do that because his sovereignty is one of his unchanging attributes. God applies his sovereignty according to his omniscience. He knows all things, including what is best for us. We are the ones who fail to fully understand how God works out his sovereignty in our lives for his glory. While he may apply it one way, we sometimes think that bad things that happen to us mean God failed in his sovereignty. We are incorrect.

In Romans 8:28 we read, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." God works to bring about what we need, not necessarily what we want. We must not make the mistake of over applying God's sovereignty to areas of our lives in such a way that limits God; we must avoid putting God in a box. More specifically, we have to avoid thinking, "God has to answer my prayer in such-and-such a way or he is not sovereign after all." That simply shows ignorance on our part.

God is fully sovereign. He will act according to his perfect character, will, and goodness. When he responds to our prayers in ways we do not like, let's not fall into hopelessness. God has not abandoned us. Rather, he is helping our sanctification process.

God's sovereignty is a reason for great hope. Let's avoid defining and comprehending that sovereignty in ways that God has not.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Interesting Thoughts on an Interesting Topic

I haven't given a great deal of thought to the issue of head coverings. However, when I have pondered it, I've assumed that the primary reason for it is modesty. Jeremy Gardiner proposes a different reason in the piece entitled Why Headcovering is not about Modesty. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, his short essay is worth the read. As for me, I don't really know what I currently think about head coverings. I'll have to ponder it some more.