Reading Devotionally

November 15, 2010

The following is the last question posed by swbtsbloggers.

Question: How do you apply this textual hermeneutic when reading the OT devotionally?

Answer: In many ways, what I am suggesting is that devotional reading is good Bible reading. The Bible itself even commands us that we read it in much this same way (cf. Joshua 1 and Psalms 1). My understanding of devotional reading is reading the Word of God in order to gain wisdom and learn how to live. What I am suggesting is that we follow the author’s lead in understanding the message of his text. When we have successfully done so, we will gain wisdom and learn how to live.

In practice, I simply read the Bible. However, I try to read large sections of the Bible at a time. Often we have a tendency to read with a narrow focus. We often get no sense of the overall theme or movement of a book. Applying this hermeneutic means following precisely the instruction of Scripture: meditate day and night upon Scripture that we may be careful to do and find wisdom and success.

The interview was first posted at swbtsbloggers.


Importance of Hebrew

November 1, 2010

The following is the sixth question posed by swbtsbloggers.

Question: Is learning OT Hebrew important? Why?

Answer: Learning Biblical Hebrew is an important step in sound exegesis. It is not to say that one must know Hebrew in order to understand the Bible; however, the profundity of the Bible is often lost in translation. Although translators work hard at the task, translation is a task that is fraught with difficulty. Every translation is an interpretation of what is being said. Since every language has a certain degree of ambiguity, the interpretive options are multiplied in translation. Learning Hebrew allows the interpreter to see more clearly the interpretive options that are available and unavailable.

More importantly, learning Hebrew allows the interpreter to see intended allusions and connections that are often more difficult to see in translation. This fact is not due to the failures of the translators, but the facts of translation. Furthermore, biblical authors take words and their shapes seriously, so that they often connect their interpretations with the forms of the words.

The interview was first posted at swbtsbloggers.

Encourage Reading Well

October 18, 2010

The following is the fifth question posed by swbtsbloggers.

Question: What are some ways we can encourage reading the Old Testament well in our teaching and preaching?

Answer: The first step in encouraging others to read the Old Testament well is to practice it yourself. In both the study and presentation of God’s Word, be careful to follow the text of the author, avoiding what he avoids and examining what he presents. Work diligently to ensure that every observation and every piece of evidence is rooted in the text. Seek to understand the text of Scripture with the rest of Scripture in mind.

The second step is just pointing out what you are doing as you practice good reading. Let the audience know that you have avoided questions that the text does not answer. Let them follow your line of reading as you work through a text. After you have taught for a while, you will notice that they will begin to emulate your practice.

The interview was first posted at swbtsbloggers.

Reading Textually

October 4, 2010

The following is the fourth question posed by swbtsbloggers.

Question: Why does it matter if we read the OT textually or not?

Answer: Technically, the only way to read the Old Testament is textually. And I suppose that is a good point to make. The Old Testament only exists as a text. It does not exist in any other form. In order to understand it, we must read it as it is: a text. The problem with “reading” it any other way is that the interpreter will inevitably be led away from the text. The object of our reading should be the text, not the things to which the text points. Although Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Josiah are important historical figures, what we are after is God’s perspective on them and the events surrounding them. The way to determine God’s perspective is through the reading of His Word.

The interview was first posted at swbtsbloggers.

Interpreting the Old Testament

September 20, 2010

Continuing the written interview with swbtsbloggers, here is the third question.

Question: What is the best way to read and interpret the Old Testament?

Answer:The most important activity in reading and interpreting the Old Testament is reading the Old Testament. I realize this observation may sound trite, but I find it amazing how many people are explaining the Bible without paying attention to what the Bible says. Too often people are consumed with the “gaps” of information within a biblical text. They become distracted by guessing what Abraham must have been thinking, or where Cain got his wife, or other matters that the text simply does not address. The point in reading the Old Testament is to trace the message of the author through the pages of his text. Attempting to answer questions that the text does not answer is not reading the Old Testament.

Second, I find it important to read with the big picture in mind. No passage of Scripture is written in isolation from the other parts of Scripture. Each passage serves a function within the larger strategy of the author of the book. Finding how each passage fits together is an important, and often neglected, aspect of biblical interpretation that requires a serious reading of the biblical material over and over again. The Old Testament is an incredible world of text with a myriad of inner-connections. Sometimes the connections exist within a book; other times they exist between two books. Understanding the larger picture of Scripture goes a long way to understanding any particular passage as well.

Third, it is important to remember that the Old Testament is a theological book. It has become commonplace to speak of reading the Bible theologically. However, it seems better to think of the task of biblical interpretation as reading theology rather than reading theologically. The former is a statement regarding the nature of revelation; the latter is a statement regarding the predisposition of the reader.

The interview was first posted at swbtsbloggers.

Christ in Old Testament

September 6, 2010

Following up on the previous post, here is the second question posed by swbtsbloggers.

Question: Is the Old Testament about Christ?

Answer: Honestly, the Old Testament is about many things. By this statement, I do not mean that the Old Testament is not about Christ, for it certainly is. One of the dangers to avoid is finding Christ under every rock or tree in the Old Testament. This type of mistake is often found in allegorical treatments of Old Testament passages. I have heard it said that in the Old Testament, you don’t need exegesis, just a little extra-Jesus. However, such is not the case. Not every narrative or prophecy is a direct testimony to Christ; however, one does not need to push him in there.

The Old Testament is about Christ in the broader literary strategies of biblical books. It is often the case that Messianic passages are found in the most important passages of a biblical book or even a group of biblical books. I will use the Pentateuch as an example. Much of the material in the Pentateuch is about something other than Christ. Especially read in isolation, much of the biblical text does not seem to be about Christ at all. Perhaps it is about God’s special acts for Israel in the past, but not Christ. However, as one looks at the larger narrative seams of the Pentateuch, these important passages that conclude a section of the Pentateuch, then one begins to understand the significance of Christ in the author’s message.

Let me trace one aspect of the literary strategy of the Pentateuch as an example. In Gen 49:8-12, Jacob gives his blessing to Judah. In the blessing, Jacob states that the sons of his father will bow down to him, that he will subjugate his enemies, and that he will be a ruler forever. This blessing concludes a major section in the Pentateuch, the narrative from creation through the patriarchs. It also provides a interpretive framework for evaluating what has occurred in the narrative, for notice that the blessing of Judah demonstrates that Judah replaces Joseph. In Joseph’s dream, his brothers bow down to him, but in the blessing of Judah, Judah replaces Joseph as his brothers bow down to him. This same trend continues throughout the most significant passages of the Pentateuch. Furthermore, this type of strategy which extends beyond small narrative units to the literary strategy of the entire book is common in the Old Testament. Therefore, Jesus has every justification for claiming that the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms testify to him. They do so not in every word, but in the overall strategies of these biblical books.

The interview was first posted at swbtsbloggers.

Importance of Old Testament

August 23, 2010

Sometime ago students from swbtsbloggers asked me to complete a written interview. The topic of greatest interest to them was how to read the Old Testament. For those pondering some of the same questions on the topic, over the next several weeks I will be posting their questions and my answers.

Question: How important do you think that the OT is for Christians today?

Answer: It is virtually impossible to overstate the importance of the Old Testament for New Testament believers. First, it constitutes about seventy-five percent of the Bible. Much of what we know about God, man, and the world is found in the Old Testament. It is important to remember that the Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus and the early church. It is fair to say that the theology of Jesus and the apostles is an Old Testament theology. We would do well to follow their lead in taking seriously the Old Testament when constructing theology ourselves.

Second, the Old Testament is necessary for providing the proper background to understanding the New Testament. Without the Old Testament, important New Testament terms would have little hope of proper interpretation. Even a word as simple as “flesh(sarx) would be in serious jeopardy of misinterpretation in terms of Greek philosophy rather than Old Testament theology. The life and significance of Jesus is misconstrued without attention to the Old Testament (i.e. J.D. Crossan)

Third, the Old Testament provides us with a solid basis for an apology of the faith. Christianity is not a newcomer in the religious history of humankind. When one understands that Christianity is the faith of the Old Testament, then it outlines the heritage of Christian belief and opens doors of evangelism to adherents of Judaism.

The Old Testament has a rightful place alongside the New Testament as the revelation of God to man. Without its abiding witness, too much would be lost, confused, or placed out of balance. The New Testament should not overshadow its significance, but enhance it as a testimony to God and His work among His people.

The interview was first posted at swbtsbloggers.