For Instruction, Doctrine, and Morals: The Art of Reading

by Stephen Unthank

What does it mean to be a reader? What’s actually happening when someone reads a text? Ever since the rise of post-modernism these kinds of questions have been in vogue. And though many of the popular answers today are new, the questions themselves are not. In fact, he Bible itself as well as many of its early readers, wrestled well with what it means to read, giving us a definition to a biblical art of reading. I want to explore briefly five components to what it means to read the Bible.

Reading the Bible Spiritually

            Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthian 2:14 that the natural person, is counter-distinction from the spiritual person, does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Paul maintains that if any reading of God’s word is to be true reading, reading that leads to understanding, it must be done by the Spirit. Until the Spirit of God opens the eyes of a man, that man’s understanding is veiled to what the Scripture’s are actually saying! Paul gets at this in 2 Corinthians 3 when he writes that even to this day when the Israelites read God’s word a veil lies over their hearts.

            So much could be said about this and how we understand reading, interpretation, preaching, and so on. Craig A. Carter in his fantastic book Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition rightly brings out the implications of this in how the church has unwittingly adopted hermeneutical principles from an unbiblical enlightenment worldview. So much so that now in many institutions which seek to teach the Bible and its meaning, the atheist is valued as a more objective reader; someone better suited to understand the text!

            This though is diametrically opposed to Paul’s understanding of reading. For Paul, it is only “when one turns to the Lord that the veil [of understanding] is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:16-17). Carter, in quoting theologian John Webster, rightly states that exegesis, understanding what we’re reading, is an attempt to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.[1]

            This also means that reading the Bible Spiritually will lead to a Christocentric reading. As James Houston, in his essay “Toward A Biblical Spirituality” says that “being transformed by the personal presence of Christ in all the Scriptures, is what ‘exemplary reading‘ is all about. Beyond the text and page of Scripture, one is challenged and transformed by the person of Jesus Christ himself.”[2]

            And this leads us to the second point.

Reading the Bible Righteously

            When we read Scripture we must do so righteously. In fact, Paul makes this charge against the Corinthian Christians saying, “I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ… for while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The principle is this: Reading the Bible Spiritually, controlled and led by the Spirit of Christ, must lead to a righteousness of life, that is, being led and conformed to the image of Christ. This is precisely why Paul says that to understand the Scriptures we must have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

            It is in having the mind of Christ where our hearts, our desires, and our presuppositions are reordered to know and understand rightly. In other words, how we live deeply corresponds to what we understand. Is this not what Jesus means when addressing the Pharisee’s in John 8? He asks them, “Why do you not understand what I say?” That’s the question, right? Here is the incarnate Word, the clearest revelation of God to man, and yet, still, these Pharisee’s cannot understand. Why? Listen to Jesus’ stinging answer.

            “It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me…. If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God (John 8:39-47).”

            Hans Boersma highlights how this was the understanding of the early church. For the Patristic “one needs virtue to be able to understand or appropriate the biblical text properly. Furthermore, for Nyssa, the very subject matter of the text is virtue. The ultimate reason for this is that he believes virtue, in its true sense, should be spelled with a capital V, since God himself is virtue… Since the biblical text has God for its true subject matter, it has virtue for its subject matter. And finally, since it is our aim to share more deeply in the life of God, virtue is also the very aim of biblical interpretation.”[3]

            Thus, reading the Bible Spiritually leads to reading the Bible righteously.

Reading the Bible Prayerfully

            All of this demands that we read the Bible prayerfully. We won’t delve into this point, but the previous two points should make it abundantly clear. If I – a man prone to sin and in my flesh tempted to indulge the desires of a deceitful heart – if I should ever come to rightly understand and rightly apply and finally submit to God’s holy word, then I am in deep need of God’s help! We must come to the Bible prayerfully, beseeching God’s grace to read well and read obediently.

Reading the Bible Biblically

            Fourthly, reading God’s word obediently must mean that we read God’s word on its own terms. Thus we should read the Bible biblically. Much of the history of Bible reading might well be summed up in the words, “Did God actually say” (Genesis 3:1)? As fallen men and women we are tempted to read God’s word under the dominion of our own principles and presuppositions rather than bringing our thoughts and theories under the dominion of God’s word.

            This entails then that the reader of God’s word, work hard at understanding the rules and regulations of the Word. There is a regulative principle at work in how we read the Bible. And at the very foundation of this principle is the conviction that all of God’s word is truthful and without error. “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Reading the Bible Worshipfully

            This leads us lastly to the point that we should be reading God’s word worshipfully. Consider the example of king Josiah, who upon reading God’s law for the first time, responded first in repentance and then experienced a revival of worship. “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes” (2 Kings 22:11). He was struck under deep conviction that his life was not in accordance with what the Bible required of him. His response of repentance was right, he “humbled himself, tore his clothes, and wept before the Lord” (2 Kings 22:19).

            But he also gave himself to worshiping God obediently! “And the king went up to the house of the Lord…and he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant” (2 Kings 23:1-3).

            Isn’t this a great picture of what reading is all about? What is the chief end of reading? It is to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments with all your heart and all your soul. O, may we all be such readers of God’s word!

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.


[1] Craig A. Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Pre-Modern Exegesis, (Baker Academic, 2018), 131.

[2] James M. Houston, “Toward A Biblical Spirituality” in The Act Of Bible Reading: A Multi-disciplinary Approach to Biblical Interpretation, edited by Elmer Dyck (InterVarsity Press, 1996), 156.

[3] Hans Boersma, Scripture As Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church (Baker Academic, 2017), 19-20.

 



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For Instruction, Doctrine, and Morals: Interpretation, Truth and Holiness

by David Smith

To interpret is to identify the meaning or significance that the thing has which we interpret. Humans interpret. We do not choose to interpret; interpretation is unavoidable. But we do choose how we interpret and thereby what our interpretation will be. Furthermore, interpreting is a perpetual activity for us. It’s not as if interpreting takes place at a given moment in time and then once having been done we can dispense with it. That could hardly be the case. With the passage of time we encounter new experiences, new realities: events, people, places, and objects. We must and will interpret them. How?

At the heart of answering the “How” question is recognizing that our interpretation of any and every thing is another way of expressing what we believe we know. When we identify the meaning or significance of something we are making claims to knowledge. In both interpretation and knowledge claims we are unavoidably relating one reality to another reality. In this we are saying something about what characterizes the relationship of one reality to another. In such affirmations we are claiming that we know something that is true about the things we are interpreting and their relationship to each other. Thus, my interpretation at this moment of my fingers is that they are a welcome instrument in my typing even if I cannot seem to always make them strike the key that I want them to strike!

Notice that in order to interpret I must be able to and do distinguish one distinct reality from another distinct reality. Life itself reveals that the reality we live in is marked by a vast number of realities that are distinct in their own right, their own way, and we simply cannot know them in any sense of that term apart from the fact that they are outside of us and do not depend for their existence on our experience with and perception of them. Yet, it is also true that our experience with and perception of all the realities we encounter is crucial to our interpretation of these realities. That’s another way of saying that we, in ourselves, are a particular reality, even as the things we encounter have their own distinct and distinguishable reality.

Whether we want to admit it or not, then, no one’s interpretation of anything can be merely arbitrary or merely subject to only their own beliefs and reasoning. How could it be? Indeed, one could not even assert such a thing with any intellectual coherency if indeed it were so. After all, to affirm that interpretations and knowledge claims rest, in the end, on merely one’s own beliefs and reasoning is to affirm that fundamentally there is no true communication going on between us and any reality outside of us. It would mean that we could not actually communicate with any one, nor have any true knowledge of any reality, or any certainty that our interpretation was true or valid in any sense. There would be no ability to intellectually comprehend what anything is, no  meaningful way to decide how to respond to anything, and no way of making any sense whatsoever regarding any feelings we had about what we encountered or made assertions about. If there is not some true knowledge of realities that is true for everyone in some sense or in some ways, then there is no justification of any kind for moral outrage regarding anyone or anything, and certainly no way of being able to communicate that moral outrage to others.

Yet, every day, especially in the United States, a never ending stream of moral outrage is barked out through innumerable individuals and groups, and many in the name of each of us having “our own truth.” Listen to “my truth”! Well, why should I? If we can each have our “own truth,” if “truth” is only about each person expressing themselves, then no one is actually capable of understanding or, therefore, caring about “your truth.” Your interpretation, in this system, only matters to you because you are the only one actually capable of understanding it. In that case, why would you talk about it? Based on your principles no one understands what you are saying.

So, you see, none of this deifying of the individual and their experience for interpretation can account for reality. There really are realities that are what they are regardless of the interpretation people place upon them. Unavoidably, this means that all the great diversity of realities in the universe have their own distinct existence, are related to each other and what is true about them is expressed in all their relationships to each other. This means that genuine knowledge by any of us regarding anything is dependent on someone actually knowing what is true regarding all the relationships between all the realities of the universe. Somewhere, someone must know everything, and be able to communicate true knowledge to us in order for any of us to know anything and have an accurate and meaningful interpretation of anything at all.

The apostle Paul wrote of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity that in him are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). “All things were created by him and for him” and “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17). As John wrote, “apart from him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). Our interpretation of anything, then, is dependent on our ongoing willingness to submit our thinking, our desires and our actions to the authoritative interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ that he gave to his apostles. This is another way of saying that only minute-by-minute repentance—change in thinking, desires and actions to conformity to the truth as it is in Jesus (Eph. 4:21) gives us the ability to interpret anything rightly. This is because the only truth is marked by holiness (Eph. 4:24). Only the pure in heart see God (Mt. 5:8). Only the Triune God gives such truth, such holiness, such an interpretation. 

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield’s Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  



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The Gospel & Joy to the World

by Dan Doriani

     One December, a week or two before Christmas, the worship leader announced the hymn “Joy to the World” and a woman nearby groaned, “Oh no, not ‘Joy to the World’ again.” I understand her point; she wanted a new Christmas song, but still, how can we grow tired of joy to the world. Psalm 96 begins “Oh sing a new song to the Lord,” so the desire for something new is legitimate. Still, we need to hear ourselves, since we can get tired of good news. We can forget the material advantages of living in the West. We can take loving family for granted. And we can forget the gospel or even tire of it. Again, we can understand this. The ultimate crime for a preacher is to propagate falsehood, but perhaps the penultimate crime is making Christianity [seem] boring. This happens when pastors or teachers present the same ideas in the same words over and over. Of course, that never needs to happen. The Bible is one story, but it has hundreds of subplots. It has one theme, but so many variations it makes Mozart look like a slacker.

     I was reminded of these things when I recently prepared a message on 2 Timothy. There, as Paul faces death, he calls himself apostle of the promise of life (1:1). Death is a terrible foe and the unjust execution that awaited Paul is an especially pernicious way to perish. But for Paul, the “promise of life… in Christ” (1:1) solves the problem of death, as he says a few verses later. The appearance “of our Savior Christ Jesus [has] abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” for which God appointed Paul and apostle (1:10-11). While believers grieve when a friend dies, the Apostle says, we do not “grieve as others do, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).

     Believers should learn from Paul, since most spiritual problems have their resolution or cure in the gospel. When we have a difficulty, we should stop and ask, “How does the gospel address this? As Paul faces death, he remembers that the gospel promises eternal life. The gospel addresses many other challenges:

  • If we face conflict with family or neighbors, we remember that “the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15) grants peace with God and the hope of peace with man.
  • If guilt burdens us, we trust “the gospel of the grace of God,” since justification and propitiation remove the guilt of sin (Acts 20:24, Rom. 3:24-25).
  • If enslaved to sin, we remember the message of redemption (Eph. 1:7, 1 Cor. 6:11).
  • If we feel lonely or unloved, the gospel offers adoption into the family of God (Rom. 8:15, 23).
  • If we are estranged from God or neighbor, the gospel offers reconciliation with God, and then, if possible, with man (2 Cor. 5:18, Rom. 12:18).

     We may extend this principle broadly. Pastors often visit people who suffer from tragic accidents or illness. We can lead them to “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23, 24:14) which assures us that God reigns, come what may. If we minister to the betrayed, we remind them that Judas betrayed Jesus, so cruelly, with a kiss. Yet Jesus entrusted himself to the Father, who vindicated him (1 Pet. 2:23). If we are falsely accused, we remember first, that God has silenced the Accuser, Satan, who accuses God’s own, “day and night… by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:10-11). When we face a false charge, we should think, “I may face one false charge, but I am erroneously unindicted for ten others – and the gospel covers them all.” If we are estranged from family, we remember that the gospel gives us new brothers and sisters and parents (Matt.12:46-50).

     So let us never grow weary of the gospel or the “joy to the world” that it brings. Rather let us return to the gospel, committed to exploring the ways it holds the answer to the fundamental issues of life, and to finding joy in it.

Dan Doriani teaches Theology and Ethics at Covenant Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster and talked everyone into a joint Yale/Westminster Ph.D. He also pastored a very small church for five years and a very large one for eleven. He plays tennis, hikes mountains, wrangles grandchildren, speaks at conferences, and writes books, including The New Man.



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Erdmann Neumeister and His Pious Orthodoxy

by Simonetta Carr

Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756) hated Pietism but his music was full of vigorous piety and lively devotion. The difference was in the premises. He (as Luther had done before him) sang about a triune God who works in history and draws us to him through the objective, external Word and sacraments. Many Pietists doubted the Trinity and the historicity of Jesus, despised institutions, and encouraged inner devotion and a meticulous introspection that Luther would have called “navel-gazing.”

Neumeister’s Life

            Born at Uechteritz, Germany, from a schoolmaster and organist, Neumeister studied theology and poetry at the University of Leipzig. One of the main subjects of discussion around that time was the recent visit of the popular lecturer August Hermann Francke and his subsequent expulsion from Saxony due to the disputes he generated.

            Francke, a disciple of Philipp Jakob Spener, had become, like his teacher, one of the greatest exponents of a tendency known as Pietism. As most Pietists, Francke belittled ordinary church attendance with its mixture of fervent and indifferent members. He believed Luther’s reformation had not gone far enough, and sought to go further by emphasizing personal experience and heart-felt devotion. In the ensuing debates between Orthodox and Pietists, Neumeister sided with the Orthodox, and maintained that position for the rest of his life.

            After graduating in 1695 with a thesis on German poets, Neumeister remained at the university for some time as lecturer in poetry. Two years later, he accepted a call as assistant pastor at Bibra, about 100 south of Leipzig, where he soon became senior pastor and assistant superintendent of the district. It was around this time that he began writing cantata texts for the chapel of Duke Johann Georg of Saxe-Weissenfels. He might also have come into contact with young Johann Sebastian Bach, who had connections with the ducal family.

            Duke Johann George was impressed with Neumeister’s cantatas, which were innovative for their inclusion of operatic recitatives and arias. In 1704, he invited the pastor to Weissenfels as court preacher and tutor for his first daughter Fredericka. The girl, however, died in 1706, as did two other children of the duke. Two more had died in previous years, leaving the duke and his wife childless for some time.

            Left without a pupil, Erdmann was invited by the Duke’s sister, Anna Maria, as senior preacher at her court in Zary, Poland, where he stayed until 1715. At that point, he accepted the calling to pastor St. James’s Church at Hamburg, where he continued to preach and write until his death.

            Neumeister was in Hamburg when Bach applied for a position as organist at St. James. Ultimately, the position was given to a man who gave a large donation to the church. Neumeister commented with outrage that the church would reject even “one of the angels of Bethlehem … who played divinely,”[1] if that angel could not produce enough money.

            Ultimately, Bach composed music for at least five of Neumeister’s libretti, and the two men continued to share a Lutheran understanding of piety as natural fruit of the proclamation of the gospel.

Opposing Pietism in Prose and Song

            As it so often happens, the controversy between Orthodox and Pietists expressed itself in song. Typical Pietist hymns focused on obedience and emotional responses. For example, in one of his hymns, Francke yearns for God’s “flaming love” to delight his soul,

That all the powers of heart and mind

Are so with Thee united;

That Thou in me and I in Thee,

And yet I cannot cease to be

Forever drawing nearer.[2]

            This language of God in us in a subjective, experiential way was in contrast with the more frequent language of God for us used by Orthodox Lutherans like Neumeister. Persuaded of the power of the gospel to bring life, Neumeister opposed the Pietist bursts of flame by singing, preaching, and writing about solid theological doctrines, the external means of grace, and the liturgical year which Pietists typically despised.

            Advent, for instance, was for Neumeister a time to thank God who “has once again, for an entire year, preserved his holy word and holy sacraments for us, pure and unalloyed.”[3]

            The most obvious evidence of the importance Neumeister gave the sacraments is a hymn on baptism as an external and sure sign and seal of God’s promise. In this context, unity with God is not based on private attempts to draw near to Him but on the objective work of the Holy Spirit.

Satan, hear this proclamation: 

I am baptized into Christ! 

Drop your ugly accusation,

I am not so soon enticed. 

Now that to the font I’ve traveled,

All your might has come unraveled,

And, against your tyranny,

God, my Lord, unites with me.[4]

            Neumeister, who was quick to make a distinction between piety and Pietists (“They talk a lot about piety but they are only Pietists”[5]), was a fervent promoter of the type of piety that is freely generated by the proclamation of the gospel. Instead of urging his congregation to find a closer communion with God in private devotions or in small groups (conventicula) supposedly made up of particularly devoted souls, he encouraged them to take full advantage of God’s means of grace, and “pray devoutly that [God] would continue to grant us this grace and to preserve his precious word and sacraments for us and for our posterity.”[6] In fact, he had no compunctions about calling “devil’s prophets” and “toads and vipers”[7] the Pietists who were encouraging people to move away from these ordinary means.

            Was this an endorsement of sterile formality, as the Pietists suggested? Not for sinners who were fully conscious of their inability to rise to God. For them, Neumeister’s words of assurance were (as they still are for us) a welcome balm.

Now my conscience is at peace,

From the Law I stand acquitted;

Christ hath purchased my release

And my ev’ry sin remitted.

Naught remains my soul to grieve —

“Jesus sinners doth receive.”[8]

 


[1] Quoted in Pelikan, Bach Among the Theologians, p. 43.

[2] August Hermann Francke, Another Step is Made With God, https://hymnary.org/hymn/HPBU1795/147

[3] Erdmann Neumeister, Christlicher Unterricht wie die h. Adventszeit, das h. Christ-Fest und das Neue Jahr gotgefallig zu feiren sey, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, Bach Among the Theologians, Wipf & Stock Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 1986, p. 4.

[4] Erdmann Neumeister, God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It, https://wmltblog.org/2011/05/gods-own-child-i-gladly-say-it/

[5] Robin A. Leaver, “Religion and Religious Currents,” in Raymond Erickson (ed.), The Worlds of Johann Sebastian Bach, Amadeus Press, 2009, p. 127

[6] Pelikan, Bach Among the Theologians, p. 4.

[7] Robin A. Leaver, “Religion and Religious Currents,” ibid.

[8] Erdmann Neumeister, Jesus Sinners Doth Receive, https://hymnary.org/text/jesus_sinners_doth_receive_word_of_conso

 



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For Instruction, Doctrine, and Morals: Not the God of the Dead

by Jeffrey Waddington

For a decade the Westminster Assembly of divines (i.e., theologians) met at Westminster Abbey in London (1643-1653) to produce a Scriptural doctrinal standard and church government. During that time the well-known Confession of Faith was drawn up to explicate the system of doctrine drawn from the text of Scripture itself. In the profound first chapter of the confession where the primacy of Scripture was trumpeted, the divines articulated an interpretive principle that protects the sound handling and understanding of God’s Word. In particular, we find the following:

6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

Since the Bible is God’s Word itself, what it says God says. But we need to go beyond what the Scriptures say explicitly. Rich theology requires affirmation of what we may explicitly locate by chapter and verse in the Bible. But sound doctrine also requires that we reckon with what is taught implicitly.  That is, what may be deduced from Scripture by good and necessary consequence is equally authoritative with what is stated in black and white and so is therefore equally binding. Deduction of good and necessary consequence involves getting at the background of a text or the bringing together of texts from different parts of Scripture and asking what these texts together mean.

There is significant biblical precedent for deducing good and necessary consequences from Scripture. In Luke 20:27-39 our Lord Jesus Christ has a verbal exchange with some Sadducees regarding a woman who had seven husbands (she married each of seven brothers successively in order to have children) and they wondered whose wife she would be in the “resurrection.” Of course, this whole conversation was a trick to trap Jesus between a rock and hard place. Sadducees, one of the sects of Judaism in Jesus’ day, didn’t believe in the resurrection or in the existence of angels. And they only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament. Knowing this, Jesus was wary of their shenanigans.

Where would you expect Jesus to turn in order to prove the reality of the resurrection? Probably not Exodus 3:15-22. But that is exactly where Jesus turned to refute the errors of the Sadducees. Jesus goes right to the encounter that Moses had on the back of Mount Sinai when he discovered a burning bush that was not consumed. In the conversation between Moses and the angel of the Lord/the Lord in the burning bush God identified himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why does Jesus turn to this text to prove the reality of the resurrection? What is there about it or within it that Jesus looks to?

Jesus’ argument for the reality of the resurrection (and of angels too) is in the present tense of the verbs in God’s expression that he is the God of Abraham. God is the God of the living, not of the dead. It is not merely that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the days of the flourishing. That is, of course, true enough. But God reveals himself to Moses and the children of Israel as the God of the living. He is the God of their fathers. Not He was. He Is. Jesus here provides us with an example of deducing an authoritative and binding biblical teaching that is not on the surface of the text but is nevertheless present and indeed required for the text to make any sense.

God is not the God of the dead. He is the God of the living. While we can glean this truth from many places in God’s Word where this is taught in a prima facie way, Jesus does not go that route. By providing us with this example he is putting his stamp of approval on the deduction of good and necessary consequences from Scripture and showing us that these are equally binding with explicit doctrine.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.



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For Instruction, Doctrine, and Morals: The Analogy of Scripture

by Jeffrey Stivason

Panel discussions are great.  I love the unscripted “off the cuff” format because it is in those moments that you often get the best help from a speaker.  I remember listening to one such discussion and the speakers were asked what three or four books in addition to their Bible they would take to a desert island.  As each speaker listed his books the lot finally fell to the man from whom I eagerly awaited an answer.  What were his favorite books?  What books helped to form his piety?  What reading shaped his theological demeanor?  What was his answer?  A simple concordance is what he would take. 

If memory serves, I think one of his fellow panelists jabbed him saying, “You already get to take a Bible!” But apparently the speaker had more in mind than simply reading through His Bible, which is obviously a godly and spiritually productive exercise.  This speaker had a mind to study the Bible using what has been historically described as the analogia scripturae or the analogy of Scripture.

Now, that obviously prompts a basic question. What is the analogy of Scripture?  It is a hermeneutical principle or a basic principle of Biblical interpretation which re-emerged within the Protestant Reformation.  The principle is founded upon the belief that the Scriptures have one primary author, the Holy Spirit, who inspired Scripture. Identifying the Holy Spirit as the primary author does not reduce all other human authors of the Bible to mere automatons but it does place them under the Spirit’s superintendence.  Obviously, more could be said of the mode of the Spirit’s inspiration but for now let’s think about the principle that arises from the Spirit’s work. 

Think for a moment about academic work. When an academic sets out to study the thought of a particular individual the academician must read all of that person’s work.  And he must read every word in the context of that man’s body of work in order to understand the man’s thought.  So, it is the case with Scripture. If the Spirit is the primary author of the Bible then we must conclude that a difficult Scripture passage can be best understood when it is studied in light of the whole Bible.  Sometimes this principle is described as that practice whereby less clear texts in the Bible are understood in light of clearer passages. For example, the millennium of Revelation 20 requires the interpreter to look at other passages in order to determine its meaning.

However, it is at just this point that we must make a distinction. The analogy of Scripture can and must be applied antecedently and subsequently.  In other words, if we are interpreting Isaiah 53 and the substitutionary atonement found therein, then we must use all textual antecedents prior to Isaiah 53 in the interpretive process. In other words, all texts written chronologically prior to Isaiah are important when interpreting Isaiah.  However, we must not stop at that point. If we really believe that the Spirit is the primary author of Scripture, then we must also use all subsequent texts.  In other words, I must read Isaiah 53 in the interpretive light of II Peter 2:24-25, Matthew 8:17, John 12:38 and other New Testament texts which cite and explain Isaiah 53.  To fail to apply the analogy subsequently would be to treat Scripture as if it were not a unity written by one primary author, the Holy Spirit.  

So, the next time you are packing for a cruise grab your concordance.  You may just find yourself on a deserted island with plenty of time to practice the analogy of Scripture!  

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

 



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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

For Instruction, Doctrine, and Morals: Exegesis Not Eisegesis

by John Hartley

The work of biblical interpretation must begin with a commitment to the humble yet courageous task of exegesis, matched with an equally daring rejection of eisegesis.

In the former, we submit to both the Divine author and human authors of Scripture. In the latter, we ask Scripture to submit to us, as we subtly, even if unwittingly, vie for a place in the authorship ourselves.

In eisegesis, the will of the reader is imposed upon Scripture. In exegesis the will of Scripture is imposed upon the reader. The former is a reading into the text, the latter a reading out of the text.

An absurd illustration can make the point. A man who takes up the Bible to discover best practices for being influential, so he might excel in 21st century corporate leadership, is engaged in eisegesis. He comes to Scripture to read into it that which he wishes to read out of it. What he wants from the Bible is not determined by the Bible.

On the contrary, exegesis reverently seeks to understand the author’s meaning in humble and courageous submission to the text of Scripture where by faith, under the enablement of the Holy Spirit, we sincerely accept the whole of Scripture as God’s self-revelation to humanity. An exegete is willingly under the text to devotedly keep fellowship with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2). 

Biblical exegesis then requires we bow before Scripture, not that we make Scripture bow before us, either by forcing it to yield our pre-conceived notions, or by our presuming its reliability is undetermined until we have subjected it to our method of study.

More narrowly, in practice, exegesis seeks to understand the immediate literary context of any passage of Scripture within its historical setting. Careful and exact attention is paid to background, the parsing of lexical forms, the analysis of sentence structure, the flow and order of thought, and other features unique to the original Hebrew or Greek, such as word order or Semitic parallelism.

Some have called this yeoman’s work the grammatical-historical method, a somewhat scientific approach which is said to lay claim to all sound exegesis. As a method it is correct and necessary, as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.

There is always a theological level involved in the exegetical task, not merely a grammatical-historical level. A controlling theological idea is to be brought to bear on the reading of all Scripture which is itself derived from Scripture. Fundamentally, for every Christian, it is the theological commitment that Scripture is the work of a transcendent Divine author who was pleased to reveal himself in the unique voices of several human authors.

This controlling theological idea immediately opens Scripture to us as having “a real and vital wholeness,” a unity which presses itself into the exegetical task. Such exegesis will not abandon the grammatical-historical level, but it will indulge in the rest of Scripture to interpret any given passage (analogia fidei, WCF, 1.9). This will include the overriding motif of promise (OT) and fulfilment (NT), the interpretive light of “typology” and the grand unifying testimony which shines outward from all Scripture – Christ himself (John 5:39).

Now it might disturb us to hear of a controlling theological commitment being brought to the exegetical task. We like to think the grammatical-historical method allows us to be objective exegetes while a theological commitment prior to interpretation must always be the false start of subjectivity.

For example, it is not hard to imagine a non-Christian scholar of New Testament literature claiming the higher ground of objectivity over a believing scholar who holds to Divine authorship, the covenantal unity of scripture, and the Christocentric gravity of scripture.

Instead of laboring to deny this point, the believer ought to concede it. No one is objective in the task of exegesis. No not one. In fact, the Christian should be the last person to defend an objective exegetical method of interpreting Scripture, for we know there is no foundation for truth outside of Scripture by which the legitimacy of Scripture is established. We have come to know what the Bible is by the enabling and persuading ministry of the Holy Spirit.  

If we conclude exegesis is reduced to pure science, then we must allow that someone not part of the new creation may gather as much fruit from the task as one who is born from above. This is not to say believers can be loose about exegetical skills achieved through exegetical training and exegetical experience. It is to say, however, that God’s written word has been given to God’s believing church. 

John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.



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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Gasparo Contarini and the End of a Dream

by Simonetta Carr

“I thank God,” Cardinal Gasparo Contarini wrote as he prepared to travel to Germany, “… for the colloquium, and for the good beginning that has already been made, and I hope in God that irrelevant considerations will not intrude themselves, and that, as I have many times said to his Holiness, there will not be such a great disagreement in the essentials as many believe.”[1]

            The colloquium was the one scheduled at Regensburg, Germany, in 1541, with the hope of a reconciliation between Protestants and Roman Catholics. It was a hope many had long relinquished. By then, disagreements between the two parties had continued for twenty years. Young people had known nothing but conflict.

Seeking Reform

            Born in 1483, Contarini still held memories of the formal unity that used to bind the church. A patrician and humanist, he had been involved in the ideological fervent of his times. After the pope’s excommunication of Luther and the reformer’s condemnation at the Diet of Worms, Contarini had stayed in touch with the religious struggles in Europe. He agreed with many Lutheran ideas, but had no intention of leaving the papal church.

            By all appearances, circumstances weighed against hopes of reconciliation. A man of his times, Contarini knew nothing about positive thinking messages. Just five years earlier, he had confessed to Cardinal Reginald Pole his frequent bouts of sadness. Still, he believed optimism was a Christian duty, since the future belonged to God who cared for His church.

            Besides, his own life stood to him as a testimony of a possible middle way. It was on the day before Easter 1511 that he first came to the realization that the Christian is justified by faith alone apart from his works by the merits of Christ alone. It sounded a lot like Luther’s conclusions. In fact, other Reformers, such as Jacques Lefevre, had arrived to similar interpretations of the Pauline letters. The difference is that Luther had carried them much further.

            Well familiar with Luther’s writings and the Augsburg Confession, Contarini kept nurturing hopes that Protestants and Roman Catholics could reunite. This conviction continued after his appointment as cardinal in 1535. In fact, he used his position to address his concerns about the Roman Catholic Church, especially regarding the rampant corruption and abuses of power. His outspoken views on these matters made him a leader of the spirituali, a loose group of likeminded Christians.

Regensburg

            His appointment as papal legate to the Colloquy of Regensburg looked like the crowning of his hopes. Other representatives were the Protestants Philipp Melanchthon, Martin Bucer, and Johannes Pistorius and the Roman Catholics Johannes Gropper, Julius Pflug, and Johann Eck.

            The discussions proceeded well. When they arrived at article five, Contarini’s hopes appeared particularly close to being realized, as the doctrines of justification by faith, interpreted as trust (fiducia), and of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on the believer were readily accepted, as was assurance of God’s forgiveness of penitent believers in spite of their lapses in obedience and faith. Even the commendation of good works was interpreted in Augustinian terms, “not in so far as they are our doing, but to the degree that they flow from faith and are the doing of the Holy Spirit.”[2]

            It almost sounded too good to be true. “Dio laudato!” cried Contarini. Even John Calvin was pleasantly surprised. “You will marvel when you read the copy [on the article on justification] … that our adversaries have conceded so much,” he wrote to his friend William Farel. “For they have committed themselves to the essentials of what is our true teaching. Nothing is to be found in it which does not stand in our writings.”[3]

            Some were more cautious – justifiably so, because article nine, the authority of Scriptures, spelt trouble. The Protestants were ready to agree that Scriptures need interpretation, and that many church councils had an important place in reaching biblical conclusions, but insisted that man’s decrees had to be always subordinate to Scriptures – as the history of heretical popes and councils had proven.

            Contarini remained hopeful, especially since the following articles presented little trouble – that is, until they came to article fourteen, on the issue of transubstantiation. In this case, the discussions lasted nine days, twice as long as it had taken to discuss justification.

            From day one, the Protestants were unwilling to accept any teaching that sounded slightly idolatrous. Although the wording of the article (which stated the true and substantial presence of the body and blood of Christ after consecration) could have been stretched to embrace a variety of interpretations, differences arose even before the doctrine of transubstantiation was mentioned. The very fact that the host was elevated in what Rome defines an “unbloodied sacrifice” sounded blasphemous and unscriptural in the Protestants’ ears.

            Contarini, on his part, was caught by surprise. For some reason, he had not fully understood the Protestants’ position on this issue and was not prepared to defend it. He even opposed the suggestion by one of the Roman Catholic delegates to simply say that Jesus was present “in truth and person.”

An Unbridgeable Gap

            Most Protestants, equally tired of compromises, agreed that no rewording in the world could have bridged the gap between the two theologies, which now appeared in its full extent.             The colloquy continued anyhow, while some of the participants hung on to flickering hopes. The next major hump was article twenty, a compilation of miscellaneous clauses on the adoration of saints, celibacy, monasticism, and the Mass (including the celebration of private masses and the limitation of the cup to the priest). To each of these, Melanchthon presented a counter clause. In the end, the original draft of the articles was presented to the emperor, together with nine Protestant counter-articles.

            It was obvious that the colloquy had failed. Pope Paul III turned for answers to another cardinal who had been suggesting iron-fist measures against Protestants: Gian Pietro Carafa, the future Pope Paul IV. Carafa revived the Roman Inquisition and launched it against anyone suspected of Protestant tendencies. The investigations didn’t spare Contarini, his writings, and his friends.

            Contarini died on 24 August 1542, slightly more than a year after the colloquy, as papal legate in Bologna. Three years later, Pope Paul convened the Council of Trent, which left no room for compromises or vague definitions. Protestants were no longer considered brothers in a mutual attempt at reconciliation. They were declared anathema – cursed by God – even for doctrines to which Regensburg had been sympathetic.


[1] Letter by Gasparo Contarini to Alessandro Farnese, 12 Feb 1541, quoted in Peter Matheson, Cardinal Contarini at Regensburg, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972, p. 40.

[2] Matheson, ibid, p. 108.

[3] Ibid, p. 109.

 



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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

For Instruction, Doctrine, and Morals Podcast

by Jonathan Master

For Instruction, Doctrine, and Morals

James and Jonathan have a few questions about biblical interpretation, and Keith Stanglin is the right man to answer them. He’s the associate professor of historical theology at Austin Graduate School of Theology, and has written The Letter and Spirit of Biblical Interpretation, an overview from the early church to our day.

How helpful, really, is the history of interpretation for Bible reading? Is there a considerable difference between how the Bible was interpreted and applied in the pre-modern era, compared to today? If so, what are the differences, and why do they matter?

Dr. Stanglin deals with the historical-critical method, authorial intent, and the kind of student the Scriptural interpreter must be—and he’s not talking about the level of one’s education!

Show Notes

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Isaiah 7 and Matthew 1:14

Song of Solomon 1:2

 

If you want the opportunity to win a free copy of Keith Stanglin’s book, register here. The copies are a complimentary gift from our friends from Baker Academic.

 



The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

The Preacher and Teacher: The Intersection of Duties

by Jeffrey Stivason

For me, as for so many others, Sinclair Ferguson has been and continues to be one of my heroes in the faith. While a Ph.D. student at Westminster Theological Seminary he was one of my professors. What is more, while he was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, I would listen to his morning and evening sermons week by week for almost ten years. So, when he published Some Pastors and Teachers it was a book I greatly anticipated and one that has not disappointed.  Let me give you an example.

I once asked Dr. Ferguson advice on selecting commentaries for use in preaching and teaching. He gave some wonderful counsel.  He told me to buy the best commentary on the book I happened to be preaching through, and then he added, the best book may not be the one with which you have the most in common theologically.  I understood him to be saying, “Read and think” not “read and mimic.” 

So, when I opened the pages of Some Pastors and Teachers I read and re-read with delight.[1] However, the article that caught my eye was the one originally published in 2009 in a book titled Sola Scriptura. It is the chapter titled, Scripture and Tradition.  It was written during the two years in which Dr. Ferguson was preaching through the book of Romans in Columbia, SC.

In the midst of that article, Dr. Ferguson writes, “It would be hard to find a better illustration of the new approach to the Bible in Roman Catholicism than the widely acclaimed commentary on Romans by Joseph A. Fitzmyer” (p. 378).  Now, Dr. Ferguson did not award Fitzmyer the title of “best commentary on Romans” (cf. p. 378).  However, he is able to recognize why some might. 

Nevertheless, in this article Dr. Ferguson patiently and precisely enables the reader to see how a Roman Catholic scholar like Fitzmyer, who has a desire for careful exegesis coupled with faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Church, is led to state “that the teaching of the Scriptures cannot simpliciter (‘directly’) be identified with the teachings of the sacred tradition” (p. 378-379).  For instance, Dr. Ferguson points up Fitzmyer’s acknowledgment regarding Romans 3:21-26, wherein Fitzmyer says, “It is important to recognize that such effects [i.e. justification, redemption, expiation and possibly pardon] of the Christ-event are appropriated through faith in Christ Jesus, and only through faith. It is the means whereby human beings experience what Christ has done” (p. 380).”  

Being a scholar, Dr. Ferguson is quick to point out that it would be quite wrong and even naïve to read Fitzmyer as capitulating to the Protestants. He is not.  But Dr. Ferguson is pointing up the remarkable, Fitzmyer’s recognition of Paul’s emphasis on the unique role of faith, which could be mistaken as the comment of a Protestant exegete!

Now, my point in all of this, no matter how fascinating, is to point up the fact that this chapter, which is more academic in nature, likely, had its beginnings in the regular duties of pastoral work.  By simply writing this article for the church Dr. Ferguson was demonstrating the inter-relationship between the work of a pastor and that of a teacher.  Or to put it differently, Dr. Ferguson was, in his work as a pastor and teacher, serving the bride of his Savior.   

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.


[1] Most of the articles have been published before and many in “relatively obscure places” (p. xi). The delight of the book is to have them combined in a single volume and organized as they are here.

 



The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.