Jesus in Context – One of the Most Helpful Biblical Background Books Around

JesusInContext-BockI recently came across the most helpful resources on the historical backgrounds to the Gospels that I have ever seen. It is called Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study by Darrell Bock. This book works through the synoptics and John and pulls just about any relevant extra-biblical text in full quotation to help you see what other ancient writers said about a topic, a city, a custom, etc. Reading the geneaology of Jesus? Look and see how other ancient Jewish writers did genealogies. Studying Jesus’ turning water to wine at Cana? You go to that miracle in this book and it first gives you a bit of historical background on eschatology and wine followed by relevant quotations from 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, Tobit, and the Talmud on wine and quotations from Josephus on Cana. Combine the content with Logos Bible software and you have an unbelievably powerful resource for your studies. This book concludes with multiple indices that include index by topic, by scripture, by extra-biblical reference and a huge list for further reading broken down by topic, If you are a student of the Gospels and want extra-biblical references all in one place this is the book for you. If you would use Logos and would like to have it at your disposal in a fully searchable, indexed format with clickable links with full references for you to use in your study or writing, you can get it here.

Review of Logos “How to Read the Bible” Collection – Part 4

OutOfContextThe 4th and final review of Logos’ “How to Read the Bible” Collection is a review of “Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible” by Richard Schultz. This was the best book in the whole collection. There are a lot of books that cover similar content to this one but this one has two things going for it that the other’s don’t. Books like D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies are excellent but pretty academic. This book can be read and understood by everyone from a beginner to a scholar. That is hard to pull of.

The second thing that makes this book stand out is that Schultz has hundreds of examples of interpretation errors from familiar books and familiar authors. He touches on everyone people like Rick Warren, James Dobson, John Piper, Larry Crabb and many more. What is so great about this is that in no way does Schultz come across like an attack dog. He is very, very humble in his presentation and even concludes the book with a section on his own care for those who make these mistakes in interpretation. The book really makes you respect and admire Richard Schultz.  He does it so well and his examples are so good that I am considering buying this book for my Christian Basics class.

The first section of the book deals with some of the most popular works that relied on misinterpreting scripture. Any guesses as to what his main example is? The Prayer of Jabez! He thoroughly and respectfully dissects that book and shows which principles of biblical misinterpretation went into the writing of that once extremely popular book. Second, he deals with the underlying misconceptions of scripture that lead to the common misinterpretations.

Schultz doesn’t just discuss how to do it wrong. Along the way he finds moments  of opportunity to introduce correctives to the problems he is outlining. So when he discusses proof texting he also discusses the different types of context and how to identify and use context to assist our interpretation. Here is one example where he emphasizes the use of historical-critical interpretation scripture,

What is important to note here is that biblical interpretation can go wrong at various points. When interpreting textual details, we can adopt a questionable translation of key words or phrases. Furthermore, we can ignore both the historical and literary contexts of the passage, which largely determine how the passage should be understood and how it functions within Scripture. We can also pay too little attention to the formal, structural, and stylistic features of a text and how these shape the communication of divine truth. Further difficulties are involved in the process of application, as we bridge the gap between the world of the Bible and our contemporary world and recommend concrete steps toward affirming and living out the truths and lessons of the Scriptures. Here we can move too quickly in universalizing a specific action or instruction, assuming that what one ancient Israelite experienced can and should be experienced by all contemporary Christians. – Schultz, R. L. Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible p. 19

He deals with so much more…common problems with word studies, understanding genre, failure to read prophesy in its original context (aka finding Jesus everywhere), and errors in application.  If you haven’t ever read a book on common ways to misinterpret scripture you really should get this book. So many of the discussions I have seen online would be cleared up if more people understood the even half of the principles laid out in this book.

The Difference Between Eisegesis & Exegesis – Sounds Boring but It is Something Every Christian Should Understand

sherlockholmeswatsonA crime has occurred. The investigator arrives on the scene. He sees the body, the weapon and the footprints leading away. This is nothing new. He has seen similar scenes a million times and knows exactly what has happened. Without any further questions he determines exactly what all of this means, exactly how it happened and the identity of the killer.

What is the problem with this? The problem is, there was more investigating to be done of what this specific crime scene was trying to tell him. He already has his conclusions in mind before he has all the information. The biggest problem was either ignorance or arrogance…he assumed that based on past experience that he would be able to figure all this out based on a cursory glance of the scene. If he really wanted to know what happened, he would be asking more questions, finding more evidence and not assuming that he already had the answer. Remember, a lot is on the line here…an innocent man may get convicted and a murderer walk free! It is important that he gets this right. That is eisegesis.

A second investigator arrives on the scene. She doesn’t come to the scene thinking she already knows what happened. She takes each crime scene (text) by its own merits, requiring a careful study of the background of the crime through asking good questions (as any good investigator knows how to do): Who was this person? Who did they know? Who were they talking with moments before the died? Those things are not readily apparent just glancing at the scene/text. It takes work. It takes an investigative spirit. It all starts with humility. There is a humility that comes when you believe that Scripture is God’s Word to humanity and if we are to understand it and faithfully apply it, it is going to take some work. Remember, there is a lot on the line here. In Biblical interpretation that is called exegesis.

What I have laid out here is the background for biblical “Exegesis”, a Greek word that means “to draw out” or “to guide/lead out”. When you read scripture, you are drawing the meaning from the text into your life. Eisegesis, on the other hand, means “to guide/lead in”. The thing that is being lead in are your own presuppositions, preconceived ideas, biases, culture, etc. Eisegesis reads Scripture solely through what those words mean, stripped out of their historical context (point #3 below) and plopped down in front of someone, pointed whichever way they want to point it and do with it what they want to do with it. Here is how Mark Strauss puts it,

“In the same way, every time you read the Bible you are already interpreting it. The only question is whether you will interpret it well or poorly—that is, whether you will hear the text as the author intended it to be heard, or whether you will impose your own ideas onto the text. Exegesis means drawing out the author’s original meaning. “Eisegesis” refers to the opposite: misinterpreting the text by reading into it your own assumptions and meaning.” – Strauss, M. L. How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God’s Word Today, p. 44.

None of us can read Scripture in a vacuum that is able to remove all preconceived ideas and culture from our minds. It is just impossible. But we must be aware of that potential and recognize it when it influences us strongly enough that we might be missing the actual meaning of the text. When we read scripture we should always come to it with a few things in mind:

  1. Scripture is the Word of God. That means it has authority over us and it is truth.
  2. Scripture has an absolute meaning and intention by the original author that he wanted his audience to understand.
  3. In order to get to that meaning you have to understand the context of the passage (audience, occasion/situation, author, etc).
  4. Because God’s Word is truth and we need that truth to inform our lives, the purpose of Bible study is determining what God’s Word means and applying that to our lives to partner and participate with God in spiritual transformation and renewal.
  5. We do not come to scripture to bend it to our desires or predetermined ideas. That would undo #1 by giving us authority over scripture rather than the other way around.

CENI – The Good Side

After that last post about the limitations of CENI (Command, Example, and Necessary Inference) I want to point out some of the things I think are good about those three things.

First, I appreciate people who have a zeal for scripture. Some of the people who hold most tightly to CENI know the Bible backwards and forwards. It is impressive. I wish we all had that kind of knowledge, especially if that knowledge comes from such a love of God that we are immersed in His Word to the point that it is written all over our hearts and minds from study…to the point that it bears fruit in our lives that is undeniable. I love it when I meet someone who has a tremendous knowledge and grasp of the Scriptures AND whose life has been transformed by the Bible to be more like Jesus. It is a beautiful thing.

Second, I agree that commands are important. When God commands something, we best pay notice and do it. Faith requires it. To have a command of God and ignore it not faith at all. That is faithlessness. So I want you all to hear me say that God’s commands are very important to me. I think David Platt said it well in his book Follow Me,

“We can all profess publicly belief that we don’t possess personally, even (or should I say especially) in the church. Hear the shouts of the damned in Matthew 7 as they cry, “Lord, Lord!” Jesus replies to them, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” 29

Clearly, people who claim to believe in Jesus are not assured eternity in heaven. On the contrary, only those who obey Jesus will enter his Kingdom. As soon as I write that, you may perk up and ask, “David, did you just say that works are involved in our salvation?” In response to that question, I want to be clear: that is not what I am saying. Instead, it’s what Jesus is saying. Now I want to be very careful here, because we could begin to twist the gospel into something it’s not. Jesus is not saying that our works are the basis for our salvation. The grace of God is the only basis of our salvation— a truth we will explore further in the next chapter. But in our rush to defend grace, we cannot overlook the obvious in what Jesus is saying here (and in many other places as well): only those who are obedient to the words of Christ will enter the Kingdom of Christ. If our lives do not reflect the fruit of following Jesus, then we are foolish to think that we are actually followers of Jesus in the first place. – David Platt, Follow Me p.16

There is an important distinction made here about obedience and works. Those things work alongside our salvation. They are associated with our salvation. As David said, they are “involved” in our salvation but are not the “basis” for our salvation. Jesus thought obedience was vitally important. So do I. To think any less of obedience would be to make Christ out to be a liar.

Third, I am not a patternist (someone who believes we must use the New Testament as a pattern for EVERY practice…in essence, no one is a full fledged, 100% patternist) but I do value biblical example. I worship with a church that takes the Lord’s supper every Sunday. We worship without instruments, as the early church did. We sing. We pray. We read scripture out loud together. Fasting is important to me and so is giving, teaching, evangelism…these are all a part of my life and ministry. Why? They are because they were either taught in the New Testament or given to us by example. While I don’t believe every detail of their assembly was to serve as an example for us today, I do believe that having continuity with those who have gone before us is important, while still recognizing that even in the 21st century we are still the Lord’s people.

Fourth, inferences are more common than is often pointed out. When we read, we constantly make inferences. It is just part of reading comprehension to fill in the gaps with assumptions and to create meaning where none has been communicated. That is part of the beauty of reading the written word, entering into it’s space and taking something of value from it. I don’t appreciate necessary inference being used as a battering ram in the past, to push through various doctrines that aren’t explicitly laid out in scripture, I still think there is value in inference if done lovingly, with care and in line with a heart that is set on loving God and neighbor. Inference reminds us that there actually is interpretation going on here and if there is interpretation going on then someone is reading scripture and that is a good thing.

Greek and Hebrew Textual Study Tools Big List

There are all kinds of great tools on the web for studying the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament (the text, textual variants/criticism, etc). I thought it might be nice to start a list of them so that when anyone needs them you can get them all in one spot. I am also going to start a new page on my blog where these will go as well so that it will always be at the top of the blog in the resources there and not get buried by new posts. If you know of any resources that can be added feel free to mention them in the comments and I will check them out. All updates will be on the Textual Study Page.

Manuscripts

Categories of NT manuscripts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categories_of_New_Testament_manuscripts

List of NT Papyri: – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Testament_papyri

List of NT uncials: – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Testament_uncials

List of NT minuscules:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Testament_minuscules

List of NT Lectionaries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Testament_lectionaries

Manuscript comparator – http://openscriptures.org/prototypes/manuscript-comparator/

Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts – http://www.csntm.org

Septuagint Full Text – http://bibledatabase.net/html/septuagint/

Text Compilations:

Textus receptus/Authorized Version interlinear http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/Greek_Index.htm

Textus receptus (parsed) – http://www.unboundbible.org/downloads/bibles/greek_textus_receptus_parsed.zip

Majority text (parsed) – http://www.unboundbible.org/downloads/bibles/greek_byzantine_2000_parsed.zip

Variations between the Textus Receptus and Majority text – http://www.dtl.org/alt/main/variants.htm

NA26 – http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~fisher/gnt/

Greek New Testament with Major Variants – http://www.laparola.net/greco/index.php

Textual variants:

List of Major NT Texual Variants: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_major_textual_variants_in_the_New_Testament

Interlinear OT (the Leningrad codex) – http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/Hebrew_Index.htm

Online Lexicons:

Lidell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon – http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/definitionlookup?redirect=true&lang=greek

Other Ancient Texts:

Perseus Digital Library – http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/

Help From You Guys With Accordance or Logos – What is the most common command in the Bible?

I had an email discussion yesterday with a buddy about what the most frequent command in scripture is. If you google it you will find “do not be afraid” comes out on top. That is at least the theory but I can’t find really any evidence that backs it up. They say it occurs 365 times in the Bible and that there are 365 days in the year, and that God was making a point with that (even though the Jewish calendar didn’t have 365 days). Often the command “Fear not” (like in Acts 27:24) is actually in the passive and is not an imperative. It comes across as an imperative though. Anyone thought about any of this? Help me out. What is the most common imperative in the whole Bible? Is it:

  • Go
  • Say/Tell
  • Listen
  • Do
  • Something else?

Any ideas out there?

Two Contradictory Church of Christ Principles

There are two principles you will hear if you spend much time in our fellowship:

  1. We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent
  2. We support our practices by studying the Bible looking for commands, examples and necessary inferences

I am sure someone, somewhere has already pointed this out…but I will go ahead and say it. These two often stated principles are contradictory. #2 is about speaking where the Bible speaks and finding a way to speak where the Bible is silent and making that just as authoritative as when the Bible speaks. It is important we are honest with ourselves about this one. If we really stuck with #1 we would be in much better shape.

Infant Baptism

I had slacked on my baptism series because this post has been a difficult one to publish. I really want to make sure I have my facts straight here and not stir things up based on faulty information. Infant baptism is practiced by a very high percentage of Christianity and it is important to understand the practice and how it is supported by those who practice it.

Advocates of infant baptism have several points they use to support the practice. Let me start with one example from the Roman Catholics who view baptism as a sacrament necessary for all mankind regardless of age due to our fallen nature,

“Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.51″ (link)

First and foremost, Catholics view baptism as necessary for salvation. Supporters of infant baptism make several points they say support the baptism of infants:

  1. Tradition – Some believe the earliest witness to infant baptism dates back to Irenaus in the second century and that the tradition of infant baptism over the last 1800 years carries a lot of weight.
  2. Apostolic origin – they cite Origen and St. Augustine as saying the practice had apostolic origin – See #4 in the 1980 Catholic Instructions for Infant Baptism. That link is to a very interesting document where they even bring up the issue of believers baptism and talk about why it is more important to baptize people when they are infants. More on that in a moment.
  3. Scripture -They believe scripture supports the need for infants to be baptized. The biblical support comes from two sources. The first are passages they believe support original sin. The second are the household baptisms found in Acts (Acts 16:15, 16:33, 18:8, 1 Cor 1:16, 2 Tim 1:16, 4:19). The assumption is that infants and small children would have been baptized along with the adults .
  4. Replacement of circumcision – Many believe that baptism is the new covenant’s form of circumcision. Circumcision was done to infant males on the 8th day of their life. There are many parallels between baptism and circumcision and they view those parallels as including being done as an infant including as a sacrament that gains someone access to the grace of God.

Let’s examine these.

Tradition – Everett Ferguson has a wonderful book on baptism called “Baptism in the Early Church,” which is just under 1000 pages of invaluable information. Ferguson gives the Irenaeus quote that many say is the first witness/support of infant baptism (A.H. 2.22.4).

“He sanctified every age of life by having the like age in himself. For he came to save all by means of himself, all (I say) who by him are born again to God – infants, children, boys, youths, and the old.. He therefore lived through every age, made an infant for infants and sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying these…”

It is not convincing and the word baptism is never even used (Ferguson, 308). Irenaues is saying that Christ went through all stages of life so that he might be able to sanctify all. Ferguson believes that the Irenaeus reference does not actually favor infant baptism and that many of the quotes that people cite to support the practice, when looked at in context don’t actually lend much support at all.

Everett Fergus says the first mention of infant baptism came from Tertullian (2nd century) and was actually written in opposition to the practice. That tells us that the practice was a very early one but it is an assumption to say that it had apostolic origin. Here is what Tertullian had to say (quoted from Ferguson, 364),

According to the circumstances and nature, and also age, of each person, the delay of baptism is more suitable, especially in the case of small children. What is the necessity, if there is no such necessity, for the sponsors as well to be brought into danger, since they may fail to keep their promises by reason of death or be deceived by an evil disposition which grows up in the child? The Lord indeed says, ‘Do not forbid them to come to me.’ Let them ‘come’ they while they are growing up, while they are learning, while they are instructed why they are coming. Let them become Christians when they are able to know Christ. In what respect does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins? Should we act more cautiously in worldly matters, so that divine things are given to those to whom earthly property is not given? Let them learn to ask for salvation so that you be seen to have given ‘to him who asks.’ (On baptism, 18)

The sponsors Tertullian mentions are those who stand in the place of the baptized infant in order to make a confession for them. More from Ferguson on Tertullian’s take,

“Tertullian confronts and already definite scriptural argument for baptizing children, namely Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:14. Tertullian’s response underscores the importance for him of teaching, learning, and personal knowledge of and commitment to Christ – the reasons for his advocacy of a delay of baptism until these conditions had been fully satisfied. He joins a host of earlier Christian writers in the affirmation of the innocence of children, a condition making infant baptism incosistent in his view with the generally recognized meaning of baptism as bringing the forgiveness of sins.” (Ferguson, 365)

Apostolic origin – Origen supported infant baptism as seen in his commentary on Romans (V:9) in 244 AD. There he says that it was passed down from the apostles (See under Tradition/Church fathers I.). He doesn’t get any more specific than that. His view was that at birth all are ritually unclean and stained by sin that must be washed away. This is slightly different than original sin. If it was passed down by the apostles I am not sure why Tertullian had such a tough time with it. We don’t have any biblical evidence of apostolic origin (some assume household baptisms give us that support…that is an assumption with no specific verses telling us infants were baptized in those instances).

Scripture – The strongest point here are the household baptisms in Acts 16 & 18. If you read Acts 16:31-34 it sounds like the salvation of the household was dependent upon the faith of the jailer himself (the head of the house). Again, this is layered with all kinds of assumptions. Do we know children were baptized in the households? In Beasley-Murray’s book “Baptism in the New Testament” he tackles Jeremias’ assumptions about the signficance of the household baptisms. Jeremias believed that the whole house must include every single person in the house. Bruce makes an interesting parallel in the case of Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:44-48). Beasley-Murray points out that in that instance the Holy Spirit was poured out on the entire household so that everyone spoke in tongues and praising God. He says if we are to be consistent here that would require the infants in the house to be just as involved in speaking in tongues and praising God as it would involve in them in being baptized (p.315). In this instance “all” would not include every member of the house.

How does that go along with the necessity of faith for salvation? We have no way of knowing who that included but reserve the possibility that it included the entire household. The scriptural argument is inconclusive and filled with assumptions. here is the key question – Would the apostles have practiced something incompatible with the rest of the New Testament teaching regarding baptism? In other words, if the rest of the New Testament teaches that faith is a part of baptism, how then can you conclude that those without faith were baptized by those who taught the necessity of faith for the baptized? More on that in the next point.

Replacement of circumcision – Circumcision and baptism have some similarities. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant. Baptism is a part of the new covenant. However, it is not a perfect 1-to-1 match. Otherwise we would be baptizing only 8 day old males. There are significant differences. In Romans 4, Paul makes the point that Abraham is father of both the circumcised and uncircumcised who have faith. In other words, circumcision no longer matters. Faith does matter and it matters especially when it comes to baptism.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” – Colossians 2:9-12

Here Paul parallels baptism and circumcision. He calls our baptism a circumcision done by Christ through faith in the power of God. That is incompatible with infant baptism. Faith and baptism are inextricably linked. We see this connection in the Gospels as well. When Jesus commissioned the apostles he told them to make disciples by teaching and baptizing (Matt 28:19-20). We see the connection in Acts (Acts 8:12,13, Acts 18:8). I could site many other examples and verses but it boils down to this – we don’t have any examples or teaching that baptism is to be practiced on unknowing or unwilling participants. Baptism is always a choice. It is a choice to turn from worldly ways to turn to follow Jesus Christ.

I don’t personally find any of the pro-infant baptism arguments to hold water. For those of you who are reading this who worship in a group that practices infant baptism, I would be very interested in hearing your view and response to this post.

Click here to read one person’s defense of infant baptism.

Ben Witherington on Hermeneutics

While looking back at Witherington’s Pagan Christianity material I ran across a really well written piece on hermeneutics. Any preacher, Bible class teacher, elder, or Christian in general could learn a lot from this.

Hermeneutics – What is it and why do Bible readers need it.

Hermeneutics is the art of biblical interpretation. Reading requires interpreting and that interpreting needs to be done as accurately as possible. A couple of additional resources to consider adding to your shelf would include:

  1. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Blomberg
  2. Exegetical Fallacies by Carson
  3. Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation by Cottrell & Turner
  4. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard
  5. Handbook of Biblical Criticism by Soulen
  6. Elements of Biblical Exegesis by Gorman

Let the Bible Speak for Itself

I was working on a LIFE group lesson about the front doors the church has where people first encounter the church. Being in ministry I am often thinking about ministries and how we can get people in the door through our ministries (Small groups, worship, service projects, etc). So I opened up the Bible and began looking for biblical examples in the early church of “front door ministries”. I had a really hard time coming up with anything at all. I was stumped. I could have proof texted a few verses, strung them together and made a point but it would have been my point and not the Bible’s point. I ended up realizing that the front doors to the church really aren’t ministries. The front doors are people, each and every one of us. Now that is biblical, practical, and better than anything I could have come up with trying to twist a bunch of disconnected scriptures around to make a point not really found in the Bible.

It is important we let the Bible say what it means to say and not what we want it to say. Another place we see this is in the study of the Song of Solomon. In the past, people were so worried about the sexually explicit content of the book that they allegorized it into being about the relationship between Christ and the church. Once you do that to the book all that sex talk couldn’t possibly have anything to do with sex! Once ancient Christian scholar, Hippolytus, allegorized the book in order to make it teach his pet doctrine, asceticism. Asceticism is defined as abstinence from all pleasures. In other words, his interpretation for the book, interpreted it to mean exactly the opposite of what it was literally saying. Another ancient scholar used the allegorical approach to say the talk of the woman’s two breasts were symbols of the Old and New Testaments or of the Law and the Gospels! We have to let scripture speak for itself and not twist it into saying what we want it to say or because we don’t think it should say this or that.

How often do we get in the way, muddle things up and complicate things until what we have to say about scripture is completely disconnected from the contents themselves?