Reading the Minor Prophets Together: Ten Observations from Paul House’s ‘The Unity of the Twelve’

12By 1990 there was no consensus on the structure of the Minor Prophets. Observing this fact, Paul House, in his book The Unity of the Twelve, surveyed the way scholars looked to chronology and regional location as possible ways “the Twelve” were ordered. Such approaches were significantly lacking, however, and so he concluded: “It is probable that historical research has not successfully uncovered the structure of the Twelve because that structure is governed by literary principles” (67).

In conversation with literary critics and scholars employing methods of canonical criticism, House shows why we should read the Twelve as more than 12 similar but separated oracles. Rather, by examining the structure and plot of the Twelve we can come to a clearer understanding of the unified message that the Minor Prophets is seeking to convey.

As others have observed in the Psalms, there is an intentional ordering in the Minor Prophets, better termed The Twelve. Historically, these 12 books are always found together and typically in the same order (63). For that reason, a unified study of their message is valid and valuable. And Paul House’s book, though technical, is an important for helping read and understand the Minor Prophets.

To get a sense of his argument and how the twelve prophets are unified, let me share some of his observations—first on the structure of the Twelve, then on the plot of the Twelve. Continue reading

Getting into Jonah by Seeing the Book’s Literary Structures

chiasm_textIn a pair of articles on literary structure and the book of Jonah, Ernst Wendland argues for what makes a chiasm valid, with a test case in the book of Jonah. As our church begins to study Jonah, I share the outlines from his second article. You can find his reflections on chiasms here.

They demonstrate how much the biblical authors, in this case Jonah or another prophet well-acquainted with Jonah, incorporated literary devices to express their arguments. For casual readers of the Bible, these outlines suggest that their are depths untold in the meaning and message of Scripture. For teachers, these are the structures we must find as we seek to understand the author’s original intent.

All the chiastic structures outlined below come from Ernst Wendland’s Text Analysis and Genre of Jonah (pt 2) (JETS 1996). The highlights are my own.

The Overall Structure of Jonah

A. (1:1–3) Yahweh calls Jonah the first time and he flees from Nineveh

B. (1:4–16) A life/death crisis; exhortation by the captain; Jonah’s unwilling message to the pagan sailors of the ship; result: they all repent and pray

C. (1:17) Surprising transition: Yahweh saves Jonah by means of a great fish

D. (2:1–9) Jonah’s response, a pious prayer: thank you—for letting me live

E. (2:10) Instruction: Yahweh’s miraculous object lesson is complete—Jonah is safely delivered

A’. (3:1–3) Yahweh calls Jonah the second time and he travels to Nineveh

B’. (3:4–9) A life/death crisis; Jonah’s unwilling message to the pagan people of the city; exhortation by the king; result: they all repent and pray (an even greater number)

C’. (3:10) Surprising transition: Yahweh saves Nineveh by “repenting” himself

D’. (4:1–4) Jonah’s response, a peeved prayer: please—just let me die

E’. (4:5–9) Instruction: Yahweh’s miraculous object lesson in the plant, worm and wind—Jonah is sorely afflicted

F’ (4:10–11) Conclusion (thematic peak): Yahweh’s last word to Jonah and to every current listener: “Salvation belongs to Yahweh” (cf. 2:9)

Four Chiasms in Jonah

In addition to the overall storyline of Jonah, each chapter shows remarkable literary arrangement. Again, following the work of Ernst Wendland, consider how each chapter is structured.

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Reading Jonah

With these structures in mind, you are now better equipped to read this fascinating book. Even more, with these structures in mind, we find more clearly the original emphases. For more the literary structures of Jonah, see

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Good and the Bad of Brevard Childs’s Canonical Criticism

chilsdIn his book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Brevard Child’s explains his approach to canonical criticism, a term he does not like (82), but one that generally describes his approach to interpreting Scripture in its final form. Among critical scholars, i.e., those who employed historical-critical methods of interpretation, Childs championed a new (and better) approach to the Bible.

Instead of looking for the sources behind the text (e.g., Julius Wellhausen) or certain forms in the text (e.g., Herman Gunkel), or traditions running through the text (e.g., Gerhard Von Rad), Childs advocated an approach to the Bible which studied the final form of the text. In the academy, this approach turned the corner towards studying the unity of the Bible and not just its diversity. His work spurred on others to read the Bible canonically, and his labors helped turn the corner towards what is known today as TIS, the theological interpretation of Scripture.

Therefore, its worth considering what he said on the subject of reading the Bible in its canonical form. From his chapter on “Canonical Criticism,” here are a few insightful quotations, listed under five summary statements.

(Spoiler Alert: At the end, I’ll outline a few reasons why Childs approach may not be helpful as some think.) Continue reading

Red Carpet Christianity: A Summary and Conclusion to the Book of Ephesians

more-than-we-can-imagine_Red Carpet Christianity (Ephesians 6:21–24)

Since September our church has studied the book of Ephesians. This week, we finished the sermon series with a summary and reflection on Paul’s letter. In particular, I argued that the gospel creates communities of faith that learn how to walk together in love. It’s this love that displays the wisdom of God to the world and that builds up the individual Christian.

To turn it the other way, Ephesians teaches us that individuals need gospel communities (i.e., local churches) to grow in grace and truth. We need one another to grow up in Christ and we need others who model for us what it means to walk in wisdom. This is what we find in Ephesians 5–6, models of godliness in various situations in life.

Still, because the ideals of Ephesians 5–6 are not always found in our homes and workplaces, we also need Christians who have faithfully applied the lines of Scripture to difficult situations. Hence, Christians are built up when they consider the lives of other saints and seek to imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). This is a main point in this sermon and one that unites all that we have seen in Paul’s glorious letter to the Ephesians.

You can listen to the sermon online. Information about the individuals mentioned in the sermon can be found below, as well as links to all the previous sermons in this series. Continue reading

Not Quite the End: Five Pastoral Lessons from the End of Ephesians

jakob-owens-298335-unsplashI love the end of Paul’s letters. Why? Because there is so much missions-mindedness in them. For instance, in Romans 16, Paul lists a few dozen of his gospel associates. In Titus 3 he shows how he is making plans for the gospel to go throughout the Mediterranean. And in Colossians 4, he is again speaking of the laborers who are both faithful and dangerous.

This week our church finishes up the book of Ephesians, and again Paul is demonstrating the way that he scheming for the gospel’s advance and shepherding the church in Ephesus he knows and loves. Though the content of Ephesians 6:21–24 is considerably less than other letters, we can see that his closing words do more than just conform to the epistolary conventions of his day.

In fact, there are at least five ways Paul’s closing words in Ephesians 6:21–24 display his pastoral heart. Continue reading

“All the Father Has Given Me”: Election and Evangelism in the Gospel of John

anthony-garand-498443-unsplashJesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
— John 6:35–37 —

If the book of John is the most evangelistic Gospel—or at least, if it is the one most often lifted from the canon and given as an evangelistic tract—it is also the Gospel with the greatest emphasis on God’s sovereignty to open blind eyes to the person and work of Christ. For instance, the whole message of the man born blind (John 9) identifies the way God intended his blindness for his glory. That is, through his blindness, God would glorify his Son in the miracle of healing, such that the healing miracle revealed the blindness of the Pharisees and the promise sight for the blind.

In fact, throughout John’s Gospel we find instances of those in the dark coming into light, and the supposed enlightened ones (think Nicodemus) proving their darkness. These themes of light and darkness highlight the sovereignty of God who both creates light and darkness (see Isaiah 45:7). Still, the most evident examples of God’s sovereignty in John’s Gospel relate to the way he grants life  and salvation to one group of people, but not another. Indeed, for all the places John invites readers to believe in Christ, he equally insists that no one can come, believe, or receive the gift of salvation unless God sovereignly enables them. Continue reading

“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center (Ephesians 6:5–9)


“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center

Paul is unashamedly Christ-centered. And it seems that in whatever subject he is discussing, he brings it back to the Lord who saved him and commissioned him to preach his gospel.

On this note, we see in Ephesians 6:5–9 how Paul teaches us to bring Christ to work. In five verses written to slaves and masters, he gives us at least five motivations for the workplace. While we have to think carefully about how Paul’s context is similar and different from our own, these verses give us many practical applications for doing work to the glory of God.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including how to think carefully about Paul’s approach to slavery, are included below. Continue reading

Paul, Slaves, and the Church: How the Gospel Creates a People Passionate for Love and Justice

museum of the bible

In Washington, D.C. the Museum of the Bible has an exhibit tracing the impact of the Bible on slavery, and the impact of slavery on the Bible. Tragically, as the artifact above reveals, slave holders invited God’s judgment on themselves (see Revelation 22:19), in order to control their slaves and defend their institution of slavery.

In another exhibit, Ephesians 6:5 (“Slaves/Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ”)  is cited as one verse among many that were used out of context to control God-fearing slaves. In reading this verse by itself, you can see how it could be misused to do horrendous damage. But how should we understand this verse? Did Paul condone slavery? Are his words to be ignored, rejected, or attributed to some cultural blindness of his day? Why didn’t he speak against slavery?

To be sure, questions like these need answering. But denying the veracity of God’s Word, as some like to do, is not the answer. Rather, we need to understand Paul’s words in their historical context and how his commitment to the gospel both liberated individuals from slavery to sin/death/hell and, in time, led to emancipation for slaves across the Mediterranean.

To get at his historical context, lets consider two questions:

  1. What did slavery look like in first century Ephesus?
  2. What did Paul think of slavery?

By getting a handle on these two questions, it will help us understand Paul’s words and how his witness shows how far pro-slavery Christians deviated from God and his Word. At the same time, by considering Paul’s unswerving commitment to the gospel, we will see how that message (alone) forms a foundation for all genuine pursuits of love and injustice, liberty and emancipation. Indeed, by understanding more clearly the way the gospel works, we can see more clearly the wisdom of God, the goodness of Paul’s words, and the reason why he, as God’s chosen apostle, addressed slaves and their masters as members of Christ’ church, rather than a class of people suffering under an unjust system. Continue reading

Seven Ways to Glorify Christ in Your Work

pexels-photo-313773In Ephesians 6:5–9 Paul finishes his “household codes” by addressing slaves/bondservants and masters and how they ought to work as unto the Lord. In fact, in five verses Paul makes five explicit references to Christ. Thus, as with marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33) and parenting (Ephesians 6:1–4), he gives hyper-attention to the way Christ motivates Christians in the marketplace.

Acknowledging the cultural differences (and challenges) between masters and slaves in Ephesus and our own modern free-market, post-slavery context in America, there are numerous ways Paul’s words continue speak to marketplace Christians today. In what follows, I’ll list seven ways Paul puts Christ in the cubicle, the shop, the council chamber, and the medical office.

Indeed, by walking through these five verses, we can see how Christ motivates, supervises, evaluates, and coaches his followers. Rather than bifurcating Sunday from the rest of the week, Paul teaches us how Christ should be present with believers as they enter the work week.  Continue reading

The Final Days of Jesus: A 40-Day Reading Guide

final daysThis week marks 40 days until Resurrection Sunday. While some celebrate with Lent and others do not, we should all prepare our hearts to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To help in that endeavor, let me encourage you to pick up and read The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor.

A few years ago I put together a 40-day reading plan for that book.  The outline lays out daily Scripture readings from the Gospels, many intra-biblical connections to the Old Testament, and the page numbers to read from The Final Days of JesusIf you are interested in that 40-day reading plan, you can find it here.

Here is the devotional guide’s introduction. Let it be an invitation to a slow, worshipful reading of the passion narratives in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Continue reading