Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Interpretation—Understood through Careful Study

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

Reading is always interpretation. In any written text, ideas from the mind of one person are translated into written language. Readers then translate the written text back into ideas in their own minds, seeking to decipher the author's ideas from words on the page or screen. Like other ancient writings, the text of the Bible requires a bit more effort than newer works. The most recent biblical book was written over 1,900 years ago in a language that is no longer spoken (Koine Greek) by an author who is long since dead (John the Apostle) who lived in a time and culture very different from our own (the first century in the Middle East). But unlike other ancient texts, the Bible also had a Divine Author who is wholly other, so additional care must be taken.

To understand the biblical authors’ intended meaning, we must do the hard work of interpretation, bringing our Spirit-illumined minds and God-given capacities to the text, discerning the authors' intended meaning and the significance of that meaning for life.

Interpretation has two basic components. Hermeneutics consists of the assumptions we bring to study and the principles we follow as we study. Hermeneutical principles answer such questions as What is the measure of interpretation? Where do we find meaning? What do we do about apparent conflicts among passages? We will look at Hermeneutics more deeply in August.

Exegesis is the process of working out the meaning the biblical author intended to convey and the significance of that meaning today. Exegesis begins with the big picture, moves to the details, and circles back to the big picture. It has two essential phases. Phase One asks, What did it mean? We answer this question by studying the text, both the whole and its parts, and its context. Phase Two asks, What does it mean? We answer this question by understanding the similarities and differences between our context and the context of the original readers. We will look at Exegesis more deeply in September.

Interpretation takes time and effort. When we invest our time and effort doing the work and developing the skills, we will reap a bountiful harvest. So, we must commit ourselves to do interpretation well, living out what we discover and teaching others to do so.

2 Timothy 2:15–19
F. F. Bruce and J. J. Scott Jr.  Interpretation of the Bible. Ed. Elwell, W. A. (2001). In Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition (pp. 611–615). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Illumination—Revealed by the Spirit

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

As we have seen over the past few months, revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, and canonicity make theological and historical claims about the Scripture. Revelation says that Scripture is God’s written revelation of his nature and will, including the good news of deliverance and glorification, to humanity. Inspiration teaches that Scripture was breathed out by God and written by human authors. Inerrancy refers to the truth of the original transcripts of Scripture. It says that Scripture is true, conforming to reality and speaking the truth in everything it affirms. Canonicity is a historical concept that refers the authenticity of Scripture.

Illumination is different in that it makes a theological claim about God's interactions with his people with regard to Scripture. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit clarifying the meaning of Scripture to believers who are maturing in faith and fellowship with Jesus. The Spirit's illumination can take place directly with each believer or indirectly through the spoken or written words of teachers. Whatever the means, illumination is always a work of the Holy Spirit connecting the mind of God with the minds of his people. God gave us the Bible because he wants his people to understand. He then helps us understand by acting as our guide to the meaning and significance of his Word. God the Spirit illuminates the Scripture as we engage its truth.

The Spirit illuminates the Scripture, helping believers to understand and know how to live out that understanding. He reveals the things of God that have been hidden (Ephesians 1:15-23). He uncovers the deep things of God, interpreting the significance of spiritual things that human wisdom cannot explain (1 Corinthians 2:6-14). He illuminates the Scripture for believers who are maturing in Christ, but does not do so for those who cater to the flesh (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).

Illumination is one side of a two-sided partnership, for it requires our participation. Believers must take a prayerful approach to Scripture. We must hone our skills as we practice the principled study of Scripture. We must practice informed and open listening to Christian teachers who unfold God’s Word through spoken word, the written word, or life.

Ephesians 1:15-23
1 Corinthians 2:6-14
1 Corinthians 3:1-4
C. C. Ryrie. Illumination. Ed. Elwell, W. A. (2001). In Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition (pp. 590–591). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Canonicity--Discerned Authority

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

Life is full of gray. We all face choices that are difficult or unclear. Who gets to speak into those choices? Whose voice do you trust? We likely have family and friends who we trust to help us, but sometimes they don't know any more than we do. Whose voice is authentic and has authority to speak? Whose voice always brings wisdom?

Proverbs tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). God is that authentic and authoritative voice. But how do we know which words are God's words? Canonization is the process by which the people of God have answered that question for over two millennia.

Before the birth of the Church, the people of Israel discerned and recognized the Old Testament Canon over a span of about 1,300 years, recognizing various documents and collections as authentic and authoritative: (1) speeches and sayings, (2) individual books, and (3) collections of books. The Old Testament Canon (known as the Tanakh, which includes the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings mentioned by Jesus in Luke 24:44) was fixed around 164 BC.

The New Testament followed a similar path over a span of about 350 years. During the first century, some writings were already recognized (for example, the writings of Paul were recognized by Peter in 2 Peter 3:16). During the second through fourth centuries, lists of books appeared noting sacred writings appropriate for worship and private devotion. In AD 397, at the Council in Carthage, the New Testament Canon was fixed.

Canonicity is a quality of those sacred writings that have divine authenticity and authority. God's people discover this quality; they do not determine it. We recognize the Canon; we do not regulate it. It guides and commands life and ministry (Deuteronomy 31:24-29), and it is our task to read, meditate, and obey (Joshua 1:8-9).

A life well-lived can only happen through wisdom, and wisdom begins by respecting, honoring, and worshiping God. The 66 books of the Christian Bible are the written word of God, discovered and recognized by prayerful believers over centuries and confirmed through use and obedience over the centuries until now. So let us fear God, study his book, and live out the wisdom only he can give.

Deuteronomy 31:24-29
Joshua 1:8-9
Numbers 21:10-15
Joshua 10:12–14
1 Chronicles 29:26-30
Luke 24:44-49
2 Peter 3:14-18
J. R. McRay. Bible, Canon of. Ed. Elwell, W. A. (2001). In Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition (pp. 155–156). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Inerrancy—True Truth

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

Let’s say you’ve headed out on a driving trip across the country. You have your trusty map-app in hand, stops are all planned out, and the car is packed. All goes well for the first couple of days. On the third day, you arrive at a crossroads and take the one the app says leads to your next stop. You end up on the “shore” of a swamp. This is not on the map. The map says this is a cute bed and breakfast. The map was mostly true. But not today. Truth is important.

Inerrancy refers to the truth of the original transcripts of Scripture. It says that Scripture is true, conforming to reality and speaking the truth in everything it affirms. Scripture is not false. It conforms to reality. It is the true, written word of God. A correct understanding of the truth in Scripture requires proper interpretation, using appropriate bible study methods and assumptions. At a minimum, these tools and assumptions include considering the whole of scripture and approaching the text with the assumption that God’s Word does not contradict itself.

God always speaks truth, so his Word is truth, and he himself is a sufficient basis for the assumption of biblical inerrancy (Hebrews 6:16-18). God never lies (Titus 1:1-2). Scripture follows the same rules that it makes for prophets. The Old Testament set strict criteria for those who spoke for God. First, even if a prediction took place, the person making this prediction was not to be followed if he encouraged listeners to follow other gods (Deuteronomy 13:1-5l). Second, those who spoke for God were to declare only what God himself had said. If what they declared did not occur, the declaration was not from God (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Just as a prophet of God must always speak that which is proved true, so also Scripture always speaks that which is true. The Scripture claims this truth and authority for itself (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Our life in Christ is a journey. We have companions and spiritual leaders along the way, but Scripture is the only true and completely trustworthy map. We must put forth every effort to understand this trustworthy map and follow it alongside our brothers and sisters as we journey together to becoming like Christ.

2 Timothy 3:14-17
Deuteronomy 13:1-5
Deuteronomy 18:20-22
Hebrews 6:16-18
Titus 1:1-2
P. D. Feinberg. Bible, Inerrancy and Infallibility of. Ed. Elwell, W. A. (2001). In Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition (pp. 156–159). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Inspiration—Truth Breathed Out

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

When we think about inspiration, we often think of something along the lines of, “I feel so inspired…” But biblical inspiration is not about feeling. It is about history and reality.

With regard to the text of Scripture, inspiration means that through the influence of the Holy Spirit, the writings of God-selected persons (prophets) are also the trustworthy and authoritative Word of God. Inspiration has to do with this influence, describing the process whereby the breath of God—his spiration—works through his prophets, making their written words his Word.

The family of terms translated “breath” in the New Testament, namely, pneuma and related terms, is used concerning the creation the universe (Genesis 1:2) and of humanity (Genesis 6:17) in the Greek version of the Old Testament. God spoke, and the universe became. God breathed into the human's nostrils, and he became a living being. God breathed into the writings of the prophets, making those written words the very Word of God.

Because the Scripture, this written text, is breathed by God, it has value for our growth as persons in community in Christ. The prophets understood they were writing the words of God. They understood inspiration and their part in it. They communicated this each time they used the phrase, “This is what Yahweh says.”

Feeling moved, awed, or convicted in response to Scripture is good. It is important to feel the feelings rather than set them aside as useless or analyze them into non-existence. But feelings are not the foundation of faith. Truth is. And the inspired Word of God is our primary source of the truth about God. Feelings must not be the filter through which we select which biblical passages are authoritative and which we set aside. The entire Bible is authoritative.

Biblical truth, gleaned from the entire Bible, is a sure foundation. It is always worth our intellectual, emotional, and behavioral engagement. Know the truth. Feel the feelings. Do God's work.

2 Peter 1:16-21
1 Peter 1:10-12
1 Corinthians 14:36-40
2 Peter 3:14-18
C. F. H. Henry. Bible, Inspiration of.  Ed.  Elwell, W. A. (2001). In Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition (pp. 159–163). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Revelation--God Unveiled

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

The revelation of God’s power and divinity surrounds us, for nature reveals these (Romans 1:20). We watch waves crashing upon the shore and tides flowing in and out, giving us glimpses of God’s power. We learn math that echoes God’s orderliness and beauty. We gaze upon a newborn infant, and our hearts leap at the reflection of God’s divinity in this tiny human form. The revelation of God is all around us, but this general revelation, given by nature, does not tell us everything God wants us to know. His power and divinity are crucial, but he also wants us to know who he is and what he desires for us. God gave us special revelation, namely, Scripture and the incarnation of Christ, to communicate this truth. Last year we studied the doctrine of Christ; this year we focus on Scripture.

   Scripture reveals God's nature. It shows us that God is self-existent, eternal, steadfast, all-knowing, unique and pure, correct, good, love, in charge, all-powerful, and always present.
   Scripture reveals God's will. From the laws and prophets of the Old Testament to the commands and instructions of the New, Scripture tells us what God expects and requires of his people.
   Scripture reveals the good news of salvation. In it we see God telling his people Israel that they will be his people and he will be their God. We see him declare himself as the God who delivered his people from slavery and oppression in Egypt. We see the Savior foreshadowed as the Prophet, Priest, and coming King. We see the life, teaching, and people of this Savior, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

So, what is our proper response to the revelation of God, both general and special? Let's return to Romans 1 for some insight. The foolish see nature’s revelation, but do not give God honor. But we shall. The foolish do not give thanks to the Creator. But we shall. The foolish become futile in their minds. But we shall become fruitful. The foolish trust their own minds and hearts. But we shall seek and trust the Spirit and his illumination of God's revelation. The foolish choose to worship nature. But we choose to worship God and God alone.

This is what Scripture reveals.

Revelation 1:5b-8
John 1:1-5
Hebrews 1:1-4
Romans 1:18-23
C. F. H. Henry. Revelation, Special.  Ed. Elwell, W. A. (2001). In Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition (pp. 1021–1024). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Bibliology - The Doctrine of Scripture

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

Throughout 2018, we will be looking at the Doctrine of Scripture, known as Bibliology. This month, we look at its unity, truth, significance, and power.

The Bible is one text. The Christian bible is composed of the Old Testament (39 books, also known as the TaNaKh) and the New Testament (27 books). The TaNaKh was finalized in 20 BC and was the Scripture used by Jesus and his apostles and mentioned in the New Testament. The 27 books of the New Testament were written in the first century AD and recognized as Scripture by the church as the New Testament Canon. The church officially declared the canon closed in AD 397 (canonicity).

The Christian Bible was written by around 40 human authors and one divine author, God, over the span of about 2,000 years. Despite the many human authors and the span of years, the Bible is one text. It is God’s communication of himself in text (revelation) and was breathed out by God (inspiration) and written by human authors.

The Bible is true. It is without error in what it affirms (inerrancy), for what it says happened, actually happened, and the truths it proclaims are true. It will not fail to achieve the purposes God has for it (infallibility).

The Bible is significant. While nature reveals God’s power and divinity (Romans 1:20), the written Word reveals Christ, law, salvation, and much more. It is important to understand this written text, for understanding is good (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).

The Bible is powerful. It works in the lives of the people of God, teaching, reproving, correcting, and instructing in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). As believers read and study the Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us its import (illumination) and guides us as we seek to understand what it says and what it means (interpretation).

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

Unity of the Bible (
R. H. Mounce. Bible. Ed. Elwell, W. A. (2001). In Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition (pp. 152–153). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.