Monday, February 29, 2016

Series Summary: Church, Bible, And Interpretation - It's Not So Simple

Understanding the bible correctly is neither particularly easy nor difficult. Rather, the task falls somewhere in between.

The body of Christ as a whole is not particularly good at biblical interpretation. This stems in large part from the church's shameful lack of scriptural knowledge in general. Coupled with this is Christians' tendency to use all sorts of odd and random methods for understanding the bible. If the church would be consistent in using proper methods of interpretation it would be able to avoid many of the problems it faces today.

My purpose in writing the series Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple is to help fellow believers understand scripture better. I hope it has been of benefit.

Click below to read any of the posts in the series:

The Bible is a Book That is Meant to be Understood
The Biblical Writers Meant What They Said
The Biblical Text Has Meaning; We Do Not Bring Our Own Meaning To It
Biblical Meaning Stems from the Book, Not the Verse
The Bible is Full of Eyewitness Accounts
The Bible Does Not Read Like a Myth or Fairy Tale
Genre Must Not Be Ignored
Descriptive Differs From Prescriptive
The Bible Was Written in Hebrew and Greek, But We Can Generally Trust Our Good English Translations
The Gospel is the Key and Jesus Christ is the Center

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Gospel is the Key and Jesus Christ is the Center

This is the final post in the series Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple.

The bible is not an end in and of itself. We obviously do not worship the bible. However, the bible is the way we know who Jesus Christ is, what he has accomplished, and what he expects of us. Without the bible we'd have no way of knowing God personally.

Psalm 19, among other things, beautifully points out the difference between general revelation and special revelation. Apart from the scriptures we might be able to discern that God is Creator and that he is good. However, we would have no clue about the gospel.

As we seek to interpret scripture correctly we must remember that the gospel is key. It is a golden thread running from the beginning to the end of the bible. It is what binds it all together. At the center of the gospel is Jesus Christ himself. All interpretation must flow through him and keep him in mind. To fail to do so puts us in danger of coming to conclusions divorced from the primary message of the bible.

As we read the bible let's constantly ask ourselves the following question, "What does this have to do with Christ and his gospel?" This question acts as a plumb line against which to compare our conclusions. The question also functions like a magnet, drawing us back to him who really matters.

Because we are human, and thus fallen even if redeemed, we will occasionally come to incorrect conclusions about what the bible means. However, when we keep the gospel in general and Jesus Christ in particular at the forefront of our minds we have an excellent chance of arriving at the meaning God intends.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

15 for 45

To celebrate the fact that I am 45 years old I've decided to run in 15 races this year (one race for every three years of life).

Racing can be addictive. The danger comes when racing is an end in itself. I hope to avoid this at all costs. My purpose in racing is that it motivates me to run, which in turn keeps me healthy. It's physical health that is the end in all this.

Most of the races I've selected for 2016 take place in the greater Savannah area. They range from 5Ks to one marathon. The most interesting is probably going to be the Palmetto 200, a JCB team relay from Columbia to Charleston, South Carolina where I will run three different legs totaling 20 miles.

Here are the races (four of which I have already completed):

Critz Tybee 5K
Critz Tybee 10K
Critz Tybee Half-marathon
ESPN Diabetes 5K
Shamrock Run
Palmetto 200
Skidaway Island Half-marathon
Nine Line Run for the Wounded
JCB Mudrun
Firecracker 5000
Run for the River 5K/10K
Summer's End Trail Run
Pacing for Polio 5K
Rock 'n' Roll Savannah Marathon
Savannah Bridge Run

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Bible Was Written in Hebrew and Greek, But We Can Generally Trust Our Good English Translations

As we seek to understand the bible correctly we must remember that it was originally penned in Hebrew and Greek (and a little bit of Aramaic). While we don't need to be able to read Hebrew and Greek to comprehend scripture, it remains important that we respect how it was first put down on parchment.

This is part nine of my ten part series Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple.

The original languages are important. This is because all languages have certain quirks and idiosyncrasies about them. All are unique. Additionally, languages change over time. For example, the Greek spoken in Greece today differs significantly from the Koine Greek of the New Testament. Because of these things the church needs a significant number of believers who can read and teach biblical Hebrew and Greek to the next generation. If for no other reason this is important for apologetic purposes. It would do great damage to the body of Christ if no one could say with certainty what the Greek and Hebrew mean.

I'm generally not a fan of seminaries (even though I attended a fairly good one). However, I am glad that most evangelical seminaries in this country strongly support the teaching of Greek and Hebrew. Many require classes in both. Until the church gets to the point of teaching Hebrew and Greek one to another we need seminaries to keep doing what they are doing.

The Reformer Martin Luther said the following:

We will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments….

I am exceedingly glad that I speak English. The reason I say this is that the bible has been translated into English in many good forms. We have an abundance of excellent translations, for example the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT, NET, HCSB, ISV, and YLT. With modern technology it's even easy to compare translations by using a site like Bible Gateway. Because of all this we English speakers can feel confident that we know what the bible truly means even if we cannot read the original languages.

This brings us to another issue: the importance of bible translation into all languages. While we English speakers have lots of choices, some Christians around the globe have only one relatively poor translation or no translation at all. I encourage you to consider giving to those who spend their lives doing translation work; Wycliffe Bible Translators is a wonderful example.

One final thought: some of the English translations do not handle leadership issues well. Because many of those doing the translating are enmeshed in the institutional church framework they tend to translate in a way that gives pastors more authority than they actually should have. In my opinion this is the biggest weakness of many English translations. Therefore, if you are dealing with church leadership/authority issues, I highly encourage you to read multiple translations and consult numerous commentaries prior to coming to any significant conclusions/decisions.

To sum up: let's always remember that the bible was written thousands of years ago in Hebrew and Greek. Despite this, we can know what the bible means.

Monday, February 22, 2016

I Actually Won a Race on Saturday!

Well, this was unexpected.

Racing is a funny thing because where you finish has much more to do with who shows up than with how you actually race that day. On Saturday nobody truly fast participated. Hence, I won.

Saturday's race was the ESPN Diabetes 5K, a fund raiser for (obviously) diabetes research and support. I'm always glad to support a good cause while running. Just before the start of the race I looked around and didn't see anyone I recognized from previous races as being particularly fast. Soon after the starting gun went off I found myself in second place. At around the half mile mark I pulled alongside the runner in first place and asked, "Where are all the fast runners?" He replied that they must not have heard about the race.

At the one mile marker I was alone in first place. That's when I decided to go for the win. I knew that the guy I had passed was younger than I was; I didn't want him to out sprint me at the end. Therefore, I tried to push the pace as much as I could for the entire race. It was uncomfortable and somewhat painful. However, in the end I won by about 45 seconds. Sweet.

My finishing time was 18:51, but several of us runners believe the course was short by a tenth of a mile or two. We all had significantly faster times than we were expecting. One other interesting note: we old guys crushed the younger ones. The top six male finishers were all over thirty years of age. We put those youngsters in their place!

To see the race results click here.

I do not expect to win any more races. However, I have to admit that this was a lot of fun.

(FYI - I added a specific Running page to the blog. You can find it on the pages bar above between the Links and Why I Resigned pages.)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

An Excellent Post on the Book of Acts and the Descriptive/Prescriptive Issue

Keeping with the theme of description and prescription, I'm linking to an excellent post that Guy Muse wrote a few years ago entitled simply Acts--description or prescription?

I highly encourage you to read it. Guy deals with the issue charitably, asking some good questions.

Below I've included the comment I left on Guy's piece:


I've read your blog for a while but this is my first comment.

My belief is that the book of Acts is prescriptive for church life of all time. My reason for believing this is that the disciples were present at that time. They either gave approval to church practices or told the people to change what they were doing. They also wrote directly to churches.

If we follow the apostolic approved practices of church life, then we can know with certainty that how we are functioning is acceptable to God.

If we depart from the church model we see in Acts, then we have no certainty that what we are doing is God-honoring. If we leave Acts behind, we wander into the danger of postmodernistic, "almost anything-goes" territory.

If we follow what we read in Acts, church life becomes much simpler. Also, instead of spending money on buildings, programs, and pastoral salaries, we can give it to both the poor and needy and international missions work.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Descriptive Differs From Prescriptive

Another challenging aspect of Biblical interpretation is determining what to do with narrative accounts. Do they simply describe what occurred at a certain place in space and time? Or, are the events and outcomes we read about normative for us today? (This post is part eight of my ten-part blog series Church, Bible, and Interpretation - It's Not So Simple).

I've studied this issue quite a bit over the past five years or so. It is not simple, nor are there any satisfyingly quick answers. I believe it is safe to say that some narrative passages are only descriptive while others are prescriptive. How are we to adequately handle this?

We must keep several things in mind:

First, narrative passages from the Old Testament are far less likely to be normative for us today than passages from the New Testament. This is because much of the O.T. describes old covenant Israel. In the pages of the N.T. we read of the new covenant community - the church. This is why the book of Acts is often central to any discussions of the descriptive/prescriptive issue.

Second, let's aways, always, always keep narrative passages in their broader context when interpreting. Single passages fit into an overall structure of a book. We have to keep the entire book in mind when determining meaning from any particular passage.

Third, as always we ought to use clearer verses to interpret those that appear less clear to us. For example, King David had multiple wives. Is this a model we should follow? Certainly not. Plenty of other passages make it clear that one man should be made one flesh with one woman (Genesis 2:24 is key to our understanding).

Finally, we must not make the mistake of picking and choosing from narrative when considering what passages are telling us how to live today. It is extremely tempting to call certain narrative passages prescriptive simply because they support activities that we already enjoy in church life. The flip side of this is saying that other narratives are only descriptive because they give us a model that flies in the face of what we like. I wrote an entire blog post on this specific temptation that you can read here.

As we ponder whether or not we should apply certain narrative passages to our lives, let's recall a couple of other things. First, the apostles were part of the early church. It is safe to say that they would not have given approval to church practices that were aberrant. Instead, they would have led the early believers to live church life correctly. Therefore, when we consider narrative sections of the book of Acts we should, I believe, fault on the side of treating them in a prescriptive manner. Click here to read more on this subject.

Second, it is a sad reality that most traditional church pastors reject N.T. passages as being prescriptive, including much of the book of Acts. This is because these pastors cannot treat Acts as prescriptive and at the same time go about their business as usual. Click here to read a post I wrote entitled Professional Pastors Tell the Church That the Biblical Model for Church Life is Unimportant. We must be skeptical whenever salaried pastors begin calling into question the book of Acts as normative for church life.

To sum up, the descriptive/prescriptive issue as it relates to Biblical narrative is not an easy one. We all tend to like simple, straightforward answers. However, we don't get that luxury here. When it comes to narrative, we need to examine each passage thoroughly prior to making any significant decisions. Finally, I highly encourage you to come to your conclusions about the descriptive/prescriptive issue within the context of the church community. The group is usually wiser than the individual.

Monday, February 15, 2016

More Race Photos

For clarification, these are not racy photos, but race photos. If that disappoints you, then you need some help. These are additional pics from the Critz Tybee Run Fest:

Crossing the finish line at the 5K Friday night

Doing my Heisman pose during Saturday morning's half-marathon

Suffering straight into the wind during the 2.8 mile beach run

A quick rest and pose between races

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


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.