The Literary Structure of Isaiah 1–66: Eleven Infographics

concrete building

For the last two months, I have preached through the book of Isaiah, one section at a time. In all, that made for seven sermons and seven sermon handouts. In attempting to capture and communicate the message of Isaiah, I looked for the literary structures of Isaiah. First, I looked at the big picture of the book. Next, I considered each section. And last, I tried to see the branches on the trees, that are found in the glorious forest of Isaiah.

For each sermon, I put them together in infographics that look something like the stairs pictured above. What follows then are eleven screen shots of the book of Isaiah. They follow a basic chiastic structure for the whole book (see below), and each attempt to show the dramatic arc of judgment and salvation in each section, even down to the ten oracles of Isaiah 13–24.

Isaiah 1–12

Isaiah 13–27

Isaiah 28–35

Isaiah 36–39

Isaiah 40–48

Isaiah 49–54

Isaiah 55–66

As I went through Isaiah, I found help from David Dorsey, Alec Motyer, Barry Webb, Peter Leithart, the Chiasmus Xchange, and others. And for those who look at these outlines, I am sure that much more could be done to show the literary connections of the book, both at the micro- and macro-levels. But for now, I leave these outlines here, in hopes they may serve you as you read, study, or preach Isaiah. 

If you have further reflections and/or insights into this glorious book, please share them in the comments. At the bottom, I also linked to the seven sermons that arose from these outlines. May these graphical outlines be a source of encouragement and help as you hear the voice of God in Isaiah. Continue reading

Prosopological Exegesis: Four Reasons Not to Buy This Modern Approach to Scripture

books on the table

Yesterday, I explained in four points what Prosopological Exegesis (PE) was and is. Today, I offer a point-by-point examination.

This excerpt comes from the following from “Reading the Psalms with the Church: A Critical Evaluation of Prosopological Exegesis in Light of Church History” SBJT 25.3 (2021): 87–91. The larger article engages various approaches to the Psalms, and compares older modern versions of Psalm studies to the new approach found in PE. Suffice it to say, I am concerned with what PE offers. And here are four reasons why:

  1. PE’s use of Greco-Roman literary tools and dramatic practices are anachronistic, and should not be used for interpreting Scripture.
  2. PE’s rejection of Enlightenment typology misses the way Scripture employs typology; we need to go back and evaluate what true biblical typology is and is not.
  3. PE’s defense of orthodox doctrine comes at the expense of biblical unity, an interpretive practice that will ultimately undercut orthodoxy.
  4. PE’s interpretation of Hebrews is mistaken; we need to evaluate how Scripture interprets Scripture.

Here is the full text, explaining each point in detail.

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Unmasking Prosopological Exegesis: Defining a New (and Improved?) Way to Read Scripture

rosary and face mask on top of a bible

Prosopological exegesis.

Have you heard of it? If not, that’s alright, I suspect this technique for reading Scripture will run its course in the next decade and be replaced by another interpretive fad in the 2030s. In the mean time, however, this way of (mis)reading Scripture will find its way into articles, book, commentaries, and pulpits. And for that reason, students of the Word and especially teachers who rely on the scholarship of others (read: all of us), should be( a)ware of this approach to reading the Bible Christologically. 

To those who have been stuck in hermeneutical circles that deny typology and the need to read Scripture canonically, prosopological exegesis (PE) may sound like a great gain, as the voices of God are “unmasked” in certain parts of the Old Testament. But as Peter GentryJim Hamilton, and Jim Dernell have each argued, this ostensibly Christ-centered approach to the Old Testament misreads God’s Word. Instead of following OT texts and types until they come to their full revelation in the New Testament, as God the Father, Son, and Spirit are revealed as the one God in three persons, PE takes a shortcut to the persons of the Trinity. For this reason, it is a “naughty” way to read Scripture, as Michael Carlino argues in his new piece at Christ Over All:Give Diamonds, Not Coal: Why Prosopological Exegesis is Not the Gift You Are Looking For.”

Tomorrow, I will share my own concerns with prosopological exegesis. But today, I will offer an explanation of what PE is. What follows, then, is part of my Southern Baptist Journal of Theological article, “Reading the Psalms with the Church: A Critical Evaluation of Prosopological Exegesis in Light of Church History.” You can find this SBJT article here, along with another article that gives a constructive proposal for reading the Psalms. In both articles, I show why PE is not a reliable method to reading Scripture, and what follows is the start of that argument—namely, defining what prosopological exegesis is.

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Reading for Scripture Saturation: (Re)Introducing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

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How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

A few years ago, I introduced a reading plan focused on Scripture saturation more than Scripture box-checking. As a new year begins, I return to that reading plan for myself and for others who might be interested in focusing on one (or two or three) books in a month, instead a daily selection of Bible readings.

As we all know, or should know, the Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on the very word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). So we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means an ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the new year.

And today I offer a reflection on why a reading plan dedicated to saturating in Scripture may be a help for those who need to slow down and meditate on God’s Word. Or, for others, why a plan that encourages reading larger sections of Scripture might help Bible readers see more clearly the full message of the Bible.

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The Servant-King Who Brings Peace to Earth: An Advent Message on Isaiah 49–54

three kings figurines

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
­­– Isaiah 53:4–5 –

I heard the bells on Christmas Day / Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet / The words repeat / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come, / The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along / The unbroken song / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, A chant sublime / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

These are the opening words to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famous Christmas song, “I Heard the Bells on Xmas Day.” You’ve probably heard it, but if not I’d recommend the version by Caroline Cobb + Sean Carter. At the same time, you may not know the story behind the song, but it’s worth the telling.

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How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

john03How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

In Luke 15 we come across a parable told by Jesus, directed at the Pharisees, where a shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go save the one lost sheep. In that parable Jesus says something about himself and the lost sheep he has come to save. Even more, in that parable, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees who have refused to find the lost sheep. Simultaneously, he reveals the kingdom he is bringing, a kingdom filled with lost sheep, now found by Christ.

Just in case you have not read Luke 15 in a while, here it is again.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

In Luke’s Gospel everyone agrees this is parable. Jesus is using sheep to speak about the conditions in Jerusalem, which he was going to change soon.

In John 10 we have a similar parable, though the word parable (parabolē) is replaced by the word “figure of speech” (paroimian, v. 6). Ironically, many who read Jesus’s words in verses 1–6 do not recognize the parabolic nature of Jesus’s language. Instead, they see his words about the sheep as a mere illustration or metaphor. But in so doing, these commentators miss the context of Jesus’ sharp words.

So let me begin by saying that on the last day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus addresses his adversaries, the ones seeking to kill him, and he tells a parable that describes God’s coming judgment on the temple courts of Jerusalem. At the same time, his parable identifies Jesus as the only Savior who can lead his sheep away from this impending disaster.

This is the context of John 10:1–6, and in these six verses, we find at least three reasons for reading this passage in this way.

First, Jesus is not speaking to shepherd-peasants. He is speaking to the leaders of Jerusalem (9:40–41). As we read in John 8–9, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who were leaders in Israel. And as John has shown from the beginning, when Jesus drove out the traders from the temple (John 2:13–22), Jesus is bringing a message of judgment against such false leaders.

So, as Jesus speaks here, he is not speaking literally about sheep and pens, he is using a figure of speech to condemn the shepherds in Jerusalem. And this is the second reason I don’t see vv. 1–6 as mere illustration. In verse 6 Jesus tells us how to interpret his words: “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

So Jesus’s opponents don’t understand his words. And like all the parables Jesus told, this was the purpose. The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to reveal and conceal, to save and judge. And so here, Jesus’s sheep hear his voice, but his enemies will be confounded. And this was as it was designed by God.

So again, Jesus is speaking to the false shepherds of Jerusalem, and second he is speaking in a parable to them. But then, third, Jesus is speaking of events foretold in the Old Testament.

That is to say that when Jesus spoke of shepherds, sheep, sheepfolds, and strangers, we was digging into a rich tradition of biblical imagery and biblical prophecy. As we read in Ezekiel 34, the reason why God brought judgment on Jerusalem was largely a result of shepherds fleecing the sheep and failing to protect the flock.

So too in Jesus day, the Jewish leaders were not protecting the flock from sin but were robbing them and defiling God’s house. And accordingly Jesus came with this figure of speech aimed directly at the priests. In short, it is a word filled with warning.

At the same time, it was a word filled with hope and salvation for those sheep who have ears to hear. In fact, as John 10 continues, Jesus explains further how he will bring salvation to his sheep, even as the judgment comes. And for those today seeking to find salvation, shelter, and security from a world under threat of God’s judgment, this chapter is filled with gospel promises.

On Sunday, our church considered these promises and what it means that Jesus is the Door (John 10:7, 9), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), and the Sovereign Sacrifice—the Son who had authority to lay down his life and take it back up again (John 10:17–18). Indeed, these are just some of the truths found in John 10:1–21 and you can hear the whole sermon here.

May the Lord continue to open the ears of his sheep, so that they are led from the courts of destruction to the eternal courts of God. This is the promise of John 10 and one we need today.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Election and Evangelism: What God Has Joined Together Let Not Man Separate

brown rock formation on sea shore

On Sunday, our church considered one of many passages in John where the Beloved Disciple unites God’s sovereignty in salvation with the responsibility of man to repent and believe. With perfect, Spirit-inspired balance, John records the way God gave a particular people to the Son (i.e., the elect) and how these people will come to faith, as God calls all men and women to repent and believe. Indeed, what God has joined together—his sovereignty and man’s faith—cannot be torn apart without doing damage to the doctrine of election and the duty of evangelism.

For those familiar with the debates surrounding the doctrine of salvation, one of the longstanding charges against the doctrines of grace (Calvinism, if you prefer) is that the doctrine of election undermines evangelism and missions. Sadly, there have been some who have defended the doctrine of election without possessing an equal passion for the lost (i.e., Hyper-Calvinists, which means more than Calvinists with zeal). But biblically, election is one of the greatest motivations for evangelism.

This is evident in John’s Gospel and throughout the rest of the New Testament. And in what follows I want to highlight the connection between evangelism and election. In particular, I will show seven places, starting with John 6, where election is found in the same context as evangelism. Rather than hindering the gospel ministry, these passages teaches that the doctrine of election always spurs on missions and evangelism. Continue reading

Was Jesus Among the Larpers? How Reading John 4 with Genesis 29 Helps Us Understand Biblical Typology and Jesus’s Identity

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Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Hear: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 1) — A Sermon on John 4:1–18

In John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus is the Word made flesh (1:14), the Only Begotten God (1:18), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:19), and the one to whom all the Law and Prophets wrote (1:45). But did you also know that Jesus was also a Larper? Not a leper, mind you, but Larper—a Live Action Role Player.

As best I could find online, Larping is a type of game where a group of people wear costumes representing a character they create to participate in an agreed [upon] fantasy world. Most recently, Larping gained attention in the Marvel Comic series Hawkeye, but it’s been around a lot longer than that. If you need an example of what Larping looks like up close, just go to a Medieval festival near you, and you will surely find a group of Live Action Role Players.

Now, if you don’t want to go to a Medieval Festival to see LARP-ing, you could also read John 4. In this famous chapter, where Jesus confronts the woman at the well, the Lord assumes the role of particular character from the world of the Patriarchs. Indeed, as John tells it, Jesus is a man (or “bridegroom,” see John 3:29) who meets a woman at a well, who will in time, become his bride. Let’s consider how this works. Continue reading

Seeing the Literary Structure of John 2–4

close up shot of bible text

The first step in understanding any book of the Bible is to see what is there and especially how the biblical author has arranged his material. In the case of the Gospels, for instance, it is important to remember Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not turn on their iPhones and hit record. While we have plenty of quotations from Jesus, nearly all of them have been translated from Aramaic and brought to mind by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). This means we do not have Jesus’s spoken words in red letters. What we have are the Spirit-breathed words of God penned by the apostles.

In each book, the Spirit leads the authors to present Jesus in a coherent fashion. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the true Israel, and the prophet like Moses, to name a few ways he is presented. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced as the true tabernacle (John 1:14), in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. Throughout John’s Gospel, this theme of Jesus as the true and better temple will repeat (see e.g., John 2:19–22; 14:1–3).

Reading the Gospels on their own terms, therefore, becomes imperative for understanding their message. Harmonizing the Gospels (i.e., comparing Matthew to Mark to Luke to John) has its place, but it is far better to let the Evangelist speak each in his own way. When we do that, and stop strip-mining the text to find sources behind the Bible, we see how the Evangelists made their case for Jesus as God’s the Son, the long-awaited Messiah. To that end, this blogpost will consider one section of one Gospel—John 2–4. Continue reading

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: A Christmas Meditation (Matthew 1:1-17)

close up shot of a stained glass

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says that the cross of Christ is a stumbling block for Jews (1:23). Due to the Law’s instruction, it is clear that law-abiding Jews would take offense at anyone hung on tree. As Moses announced in Deuteronomy 21:23, such a man was accursed by God.  Understandably, the call to believe in and worship a man nailed to a tree would have been hard to accept.

Two thousand years removed from Golgotha, the cross has become a symbol of peace and hope. In the West, Christians have grown up seeing crosses on church steeples and tee shirts. More than a few devotees to Christ adorn them around their neck or ink them on their skin. Clearly, the cross is no longer a stumbling block.

What is a stumbling block today is the Bible itself. In almost a complete reversal, the word of God, which would have posed no cultural problem for the Jews of Jesus’ day, causes many professing Christians to wince and excuse its contents.

For many, the world of the Bible is foreign. Its words, warfare, and worship are hard to understand. Add to this the self-deprecating truths of total depravity and unconditional election, and you have a Bible that is not just unfamiliar, but even offensive.  Yet, it is not only doctrine that trips up Bible readers; it is also genre selection. Continue reading