Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

cropped-biblevizarc7mediumorig.jpg[This morning I teach the men of our church about three horizons in biblical interpretation. Here are the notes. What follows is a portion of content.]

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

In Preaching and Biblical Theology, Edmund Clowney identified three horizons that the faithful interpreter must engage three horizons to rightly understand biblical truth. These three horizons relate to the biblical text, the biblical covenants (or epochs), and the biblical Christ (i.e., the canonical testimony about God in Christ).

Expounding on these three horizons, Richard Lints has written in his illuminating book, The Fabric of Theology,

The biblical text has three interpretive horizons: the immediate context of the book (or passage), the context of the period of revelation in which the book (or passage) falls, and the context of the entirety of revelation.

It is signally important that we take each horizon seriously if we want to understand the biblical material properly. While no horizon takes precedence over the others, each must nonetheless be regulated by the other two. The meaning of any given passage will depend to a great extent on its place in its own particular epoch and its place in the entirety of redemptive revelation. The theological interpreter of Scripture must allow the three horizons to dialogue with one another continually, helping to explain and clarify the meaning of the others.

It is when we keep all three horizons in dialogue that Scripture begins to inform us about what questions it considers important and the framework necessary to find answers to those questions.[1]

In other words, only by attending to the three horizons can we understand how to read Scripture on its own terms. Likewise, because our goal is to know God, not just Moses or Matthew, it is imperative we read theo-logically, i.e., seeking to know the word (Logos) of God (Theos).

Knowing God is our goal and it requires careful attention to grammar, history, and the covenantal canon. Only as we learn how to read these three horizons together will we be able see how the leaves and the trees (words and sentences) begin to form a well-ordered forest (the whole biblical canon), a forest that has come to us through many seasons of growth, decay, and rebirth (i.e., the progression of covenant that have led to Christ).

In the next three sessions, we will spend time on each horizon. But let me give some biblical bases for each of them.  Continue reading

Love Your Neighbor: A Biblical Theology of Race and Ethnicity

 

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
— Ephesians 2:14–18 —

Love Your Neighbor: A Biblical Theology of Race (Sermon Audio)

From the timing of this sermon it might look like it was a response to the recent Executive Order from President Trump. That’s not the case. Yet, the timing does seem providential as this final sermon in our series (Rhythms of Mercy: Cultivating Habits of Holiness in a Hostile World), comes to address the difficult subject of race and ethnicity.

Instead of tackling the problem of racism head on, something for another sermon, this message steps back to lay a biblical foundation for understanding what the Bible says about race. Following the contours of redemptive history (i.e., Creation — Fall — Redemption — New Creation) I try to show in this sermon how God’s intention has always been to bring reconciliation to all peoples. Clearly, this is the aim of the gospel and hence racial reconciliation is a central implication of applying the gospel to all areas of life.

You can find the sermon online and the sermon notes available here. Additionally, there are discussion questions below based on the sermon and many more resources that helped me think through these issues below. In particular, these resources focus on listening to African-American Christians whose various experiences have helped me tune in to the larger issues of ongoing racism in our country. I pray they will help you, as well, and that God would give us listening ears, loving hearts, and wisdom to pursue compassionate justice. Continue reading

The Good News ‘Out of Egypt’ (Matthew 2:13–15)

advent03Christmas is a time of holiday cheer, or at least that’s the way it’s usually sold. But biblically, we find something much different, something much more like what happened in Egypt yesterday morning. In the infancy narratives of Matthew, Jesus becomes a refugee when Herod seeks to take his life. Matthew tells this brief account in Matthew 2:13–15 and explains that this was to fulfill the words of Hosea, “Out of Egypt, I will call my son.”

Sunday, I preached a message on this difficult, but important and comfort-rich, text. I argued that Matthew’s inclusion of this text makes Jesus’ flight to Egypt and back again a link to the promises of Hosea 11 and the hope of a new exodus. Just as Moses led the people of God out of Egypt, so too Jesus came to deliver his people and bring to them  a new exodus. This was the messianic hope of the prophets, and Matthew makes a connection to words of Hosea so that we might find the same promise fulfilled today: Christ has come to bring us out of Egypt to dwell with God himself.

For those suffering at Christmas time, lacking Christmas cheer, Matthew’s Gospel offers hope. And though it takes a long runway to see all that he is doing, he brings the mourner in exile great promises of God’s deliverance.

You can listen to the message online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as well as a few helpful resources. Continue reading

Apostolic Exposition: How Did the New Testament ‘Preachers’ Handle the Text?

paulJust how dependent were the apostles on the Old Testament?

This is a question that interests all types. Biblical scholars, theologians, preachers, seminary students, and devoted Sunday School teachers all take interest in how the Old Testament foreshadows the New and the New Testament quotes the Old. Anyone familiar with my blog, or at least its title (see the Emmaus Road dialogue in Luke 24) will know that this has been an interest of mine for years. After all, what could be more exciting than understanding the unity of Scripture and how God’s inspired Word finds its telos in Jesus Christ.

But with such a consideration, it is important that we take our cues from Scripture and not use Scripture for our own (theological) ends. Thus, to return to the question of how the apostles made use of the Old Testament, it is worth observing how frequently the New Testament apostles took their cues from the Old Testament.

Answering the opening question with in an unreserved affirmative, I will trace the way three “apostles” (Peter, Stephen, and Paul) preached the new covenant gospel from the Hebrew Scriptures. My aim is to show how Acts gives us a model for preaching the gospel which necessarily unites the Old Testament promises in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In my estimation, this kind of reading is necessary for understanding the Bible, knowing Jesus the Christ, and walking in obedience to the gospel. Let’s dive in and see what Acts has for us.
Continue reading

Our Long-Awaited Hope: Seeing God’s *Son* Through the Scriptures

hope

From where does hope come? And why does it take so long to get here? 

In our microwave age of instant information and Siri solutions, we don’t wait well. Yet, Christianity is a religion of patient endurance, long-suffering, and waiting—pure and simple waiting. Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God are told to wait. After the Exodus, Israel is forced to wait forty years because of their sinful unbelief, and at the other end of the Old Testament, Israel is left waiting for their messiah to bring a new exodus. Just the same in the New Testament, Hebrews 6:12 instructs, be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

We should probably take it as axiomatic, then, that God wants his people to wait. Anyone who has ever prayed knows that the waiting is where God does his working. Saints are not matured in a day; they are formed in periods of years, decades, and generations. Hence, in this season of Christmas when we reenact Israel’s waiting of the Christ’s birth, we do well to think about the way that God promised his Son, so that in our waiting, hope would flourish.

From Genesis 3:15 to Jesus (to Revelation 12 too), the promise of a child-savior runs through the Bible. During Advent, we remember most explicitly the details related to the Angelic host, the Magi, and the Bethlehem Star, but God’s inspired apostles also send us back into the Old Testament to remember all that led up to Christ’s birth. Thus, in keeping with the pattern of waiting and watching in Scripture, it is worth observing just how and how often and how long God prepared the way for Jesus to come through a myriad of promises and prototypes leading up to the birth of Immanuel, God with us. (Fittingly, what follows is not short. But how could it be? The arrival of Christ’s birth took millennia.)

What follows is a thread of verses that trace how God prepared the way for Jesus. It begins with God’s promise of son in Genesis 3:15 and continues to see how this theme is expanded and developed through the history of Israel. It’s not a short journey, but neither was the voyage the Magi took to worship Jesus (approx. 500 miles in around two months time). In this age of fast-paced consumerism, may God give us grace to look long and longingly at the Messiah whose arrival took millennia to achieve, and may God produce fresh hope in us for the second advent of God’s Son. Continue reading

The Covenantal Cast of the Biblical Canon

otThe covenantal character of Scripture challenges the idea of the Bible as a textbook. ‘For the Christian conception of God the Bible is our only textbook. In its pages we have the self-revelation of God.’ Without doubt, the Bible teaches us about God. It has a key didactic function: if we are to respond to God in the area of truth, we need to be instructed in the truth. But we also need to do justice to its covenantal nature, its function of finding us and holding us for God through its promises. The promissory nature of Scripture means that it gives us information about the plans and purposes of God. The Bible is God’s many-sided provision for his covenant people.[1]
– Peter Jensen –

In his book The Structure of Biblical Authority, Meredith G. Kline makes the case a canon is not a product of the church, but the product of God’s people in an ancient Near Eastern context. In other words, the biblical canon (i.e., what books are included as authorized Scripture) did not come after the Apostles, or for that matter, after the Old Testament Prophets. Rather, from the beginning, the canon has been a “closed” covenant document between God and his people.

In the first chapter of The Structure of Biblical Authority, Kline shows how ANE covenants had “canons.”

To sum up thus far, canonical document [sic] was the customary instrument of international covenant administration in the world in which the Bible was produced. . . . While it has been acknowledged [by critical scholars] that the Israelites at a relatively early time recognized certain written laws as divine revelation, the meaning of this for the history of the canon concept in Israel has been obfuscated. (37, 39)

He argues that a better understanding of “covenant” will correct our doctrine of canon:

The origin of the Old Testament canon coincided with the founding of the kingdom of Israel by covenant at Sinai. The very treaty that formally established the Israelite theocracy was itself the beginning and the nucleus of the total covenantal cluster of writings which constitutes the Old Testament canon. (43)

From this covenantal origin, the canon grew as the covenants of God with his people developed over time.

“Our conclusion in a word, then, is that canon is inherent in covenant, covenant of the kind attested in ancient international relations and the Mosaic covenants of the Bible. Hence it is to this covenant structure that theology should turn for its perspective and model in order to articulate its doctrine of canon in terms historically concrete and authentic” (43–44).

According to Kline, God’s people have always had a canon to document their covenant with God. In truth, this canon was not codified until Sinai, when Moses wrote down God’s Words (after God himself etched his law in stone). But from the beginning, God’s people had a clear and sufficient word that established his covenant rule. From this beginning, we shouldn’t be surprised to see that the Bible is and has always been cast in the mold of covenant. Continue reading

On Typology: Ten Axioms from God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants

ktcIn the opening pages of their “concise biblical theology,” God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants (GKTGC), Stephen Wellum and Peter Gentry lay out a description of typology that is worth considering. In what follows, I’ve synthesized their discussion into ten axioms. All of the quotations are from GKTGC; the references to other authors are found in their discussion (pp. 38–43). I’ve also taken the liberty comment and expand their thoughts in a few places.

1. Typology is not allegory.

This is an important distinction, one that is often confused. Wellum and Gentry write, “The major difference is that typology is grounded in history, the text, and intertextual development, where various ‘persons, events, and institutions’ are intended by God to correspond to each other, while allegory assumes none of these things.” Moreover, “‘allegorical interpretation’ depends on some kind of extratextual grid to warrant its explanation.” (38)

2. Typology is textual-historical.

Citing Richard Davidson,  Wellum and Gentry explain, “Typology is symbolism rooted in historical and textual realities.” But more than isolated (synchronic) symbols scattered in Scripture, biblical types (i.e., redemptive events explained by inspired Scripture) fit into a larger system of revelation. Richard Lints defines this when he says, “The typological relationship is a central means by which particular epochal and textual horizons are linked to later horizons in redemptive revelation.” (39) Continue reading

The Good News About Gender: From Genesis 1:27 to Revelation 19:6–9

malefemaleNot a week goes by but what a new story emerges about sexual orientation, gender identity, or the implementation of some new SOGI policy. In our county, the Prince William County School Board will be voting on a proposed change to the school non-discrimination policy.

With so much discussion about sex and gender going on, our church considered on Sunday what Scripture says about gender and how the gospel speaks to those facing gender dysphoria (defined by Mark Yarhouse as “the experience of distress associated with the incongruence where in one’s psychological and emotional gender does not match one’s biological sex”). This biblical inquiry requires us to consider how creation, fall, the law, the gospel, and the new creation inform our understanding and stir our affections. What results is a sevenfold approach to answering the question: What does the Bible say about gender?

You can find the audio here and Scripture references, discussion questions, and resources below. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper and a Biblical Theology of Feasting

mealJust as the food we eat expresses and establishes the relationships we have, so too meals in the Bible establish and express kinship relationships. Even more, a meal is often a central part of entering into a covenant. And once that covenant is established, a shared meal is one of the greatest ways our identity is formed and reinforced. Let’s follow these two strands through Scripture to see how they shine light on the Lord’s Supper.

Covenant-Making Meals

In Genesis 26:26–33, Isaac and Abimelech “cut a covenant” (v. 28); this covenant is followed by a meal: “So he made a feast, and they ate and drank” (v. 30). Likewise, when Jacob and Laban “cut a covenant” to repair the breach of trust between them (Genesis 31:43–54), a sacrifice and a meal ratified the agreement: “Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread” (v. 54). This pattern of sacrifice and feasting accompanied most covenants in the Old Testament. And we certainly see the Lord feeding his people and feasting with them throughout the Old Testament. Continue reading

Literal, Christological, Spiritual: A Look Into Calvin’s Approach to Hermeneutics and Preaching

calvinWhat is our aim in preaching?  What should it be?

This is a debated question among preachers who share many of the same evangelical convictions—namely, the authority and sufficiency of Christ. Some argue for a “text-driven approach,” which gives pride of place to timeless truths of the text discovered through a rigorous grammatical-historical approach to the text. Others call for an “apostolic” or “redemptive-historical” approach, where the methods of the apostles are imitated.

Often the former critiques the latter of reading into the text, appealing too much to typology, even straying into allegory. (Full disclosure: I think this argument is a red herring. It applies to some who advocate a figural approach to Scripture. But it falls flat against interpreters like Richard Gaffin and G.K. Beale). By contrast, those who read with an eye to the redemptive-historical nature of Scripture, worry that exegesis which only reads passages at the textual level and makes direct application (e.g., drawing ethical principles from Boaz’s treatment of Ruth) misses the Christological aims of Scripture—not to mention, the way any passage fits into the context of the whole Bible (what is known as the “canonical context”).

Space doesn’t permit a full discussion here. Two helpful books that engage this subject are the edited volume by G.K. Beale, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text? Essays on the New Testament Use of the Oldand the multi-perspective book Biblical Hermeneutics: Five ViewsThese books will show the turning points in the debate. For now, let me put forward a mediating approach which takes the best of both positions, one historically modeled by John Calvin. Continue reading