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.

Continue reading

Systematic Theology in Military Garb: B.B. Warfield on The Theological Task

warfieldThis year I am reading through the works of Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield. As I find various important points or quotes, I’ll try to put them up here. Today I offer this first quotation that pertains to the task of systematic theology and its relation to exegesis and biblical theology.


“The Idea of Systematic Theology,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, vii 1896, pp 243–71; reprinted in The Works of B.B. Warfield, 9:67–68. Cf. Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield81).

Using military imagery, Warfield explains how systematic theology takes the recruits of exegetical theology and the companies formed by biblical theology and marches them into battle.

The immediate work of exegesis may be compared to the work of a recruiting officer: it draws out from the mass of mankind the men who are to constitute the army. Biblical Theology organizes these men into companies and regiments and corps, arranged in marching order and accoutered for service. Systematic Theology combines these companies and regiments and corps into an army in a single and unitary whole, determined by its own all-pervasive principle. It, too, is composed of men—the same men which were recruited by Exegetics; but it is composed of these men, not as individuals merely, but in their due relations to the other men of their companies and regiments and corps.

The simile is far from a perfect one; but it may illustrate the mutual relations of the disciplines, and also, perhaps, suggest the historical element that attaches to Biblical Theology, and the element of all inclusive systematization which is inseparable from Systematic Theology. It is just this element, determining the spirit and therefore the methods of Systematic Theology, which, along with its greater inclusiveness, discriminates it from all forms of Biblical Theology, the spirit of which is purely historical. (The Works of B.B. Warfield, 9:67–68)

Systematic theology is an imminently biblical discipline. And as Warfield’s vivid illustration reports, any systematic theology that does not recruit from the scriptures and march with the organized companies of biblical theology has little power to defeat the dark armies of this world.

With that in mind, may we be biblical systematic theologians. And may our Bible reading grow into a strong army of systematic theology.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo credit: Banner of Truth

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

Calvinism in Context: 1 Corinthians 8:11


And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed,
the brother for whom Christ died.
— 1 Corinthians 8:11 —

When Paul confronted the Corinthians for eating meat sacrificed to idols, he warns that their carelessness threatens to “destroy” their brothers. In the context of 1 Corinthians 8, Paul uses this warning to motivate followers of Christ with greater “knowledge” (i.e., stronger consciences) to think twice before eating meat sacrificed to idols in the presence of younger believers whose consciences have not been so trained. This is the literary context. In the context of theological debates, however, this verse serves another purpose—namely that this verse proves general atonement, the belief that Christ died for all humanity without exception.

Convinced that Christ’s death effectively accomplished the salvation of his elect, a vast number beyond comprehension (see Revelation 7), I believe that it is errant to conclude 1 Corinthians 8:11 is a proof text for general or unlimited atonement. Rather, it is one of many verses that articulate a view of Christ’s death that is personally connected to a people the father gave him before the foundation of the world (cf. John 17). But instead of making a theological case, let’s consider the context of 1 Corinthians 8 to see what Paul says and how his language informs this theological debate. Continue reading

Calvinism in Context: Psalm 106:6–12

red seaThen they believed his words; they sang his praise.
— Psalm 106:12 —

Speaking of the law (Hebrews 10:1), the festivals and the Sabbath (Col 2:19), the New Testament regularly understands God’s redemption in Israel as a “shadow” or “type” of the redemption procured by Jesus Christ. In Luke 9:31, for instance, Jesus discusses his “departure” (read: “exodus,” exodon) with Moses and Elijah. Truly all the saving events of the Old Testament prefigure the saving events of the New.

Psalm 106 is no different. In that glorious Psalm, the author remembers the work of God to save Israel from Egypt. Running like a thread through the Psalm is the sin of Israel (e.g., vv. 6, 13, 21, 24-25, 28, 39, etc.), followed by the grace of God to save (vv. 10, 23, 30, 44-46).

More particularly, when the people sinned God sent a mediator. In Egypt, it was Moses; at Baal-Peor, it was Phineas. Even in Psalm 105, we discover God saved his people through the previous “sending” of Joseph to Egypt. In truth, God demonstrates his love for Israel, in that while they were still sinning God sent Joseph, Moses, and Phineas to “save” his people from destruction. In this way, Psalm 105 and 106 foreshadow the kind of salvation God would ultimately give in Jesus Christ.

In fact, situated as the final Psalm in the fourth book of the Psalter, Psalm 106 perfectly sets up the culminating redemption anticipated in Book V of the Psalter. The God who reigns (see Pss 90–99), will accomplish salvation once and for all, by sending his final mediator, his own son, to bring salvation to his people.

Psalm 106: A Pattern of Regeneration 

Narrowing our focus, Psalm 106 foreshadows Christ’s work of redemption and specifically the doctrine of effectual calling, with regeneration preceding faith. While not speaking of “regeneration”, the movement from depravity, to redemption, to faith in Psalm 106 is instructive.  Continue reading

For Your Edification (5.25.12)

For Your Edification is a bi-weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.


Training Parrots or Making Disciples?  In his pastoral epistles to Timothy, Paul says that his son in the faith should rightly divide the word of truth (1 Tim 2:15).  Later, Timothy is exhorted to pass on all that he learned from Paul to the next generation of teachers and Christian leaders (2 Tim 2:2).  To say it another way, in order for maturing disciples to pass on the faith to future generations, they must learn how to handle God’s Word and not just parrot answers from other talking heads.

To this end, author, pastor, and professor, Jim Hamilton, has given a concise definition of three keys terms that relate to rightly handling the Word of God..  These terms—exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology—are a good place to begin understanding how biblical interpretation relates to theological understanding.

Here are Hamilton’s one sentence definitions to each.

Exegesis is the careful analysis of the meaning of a particular passage.

Biblical theology is canonical exegesis. That is, biblical theology seeks to correlate the meaning of relevant texts from across the pages of Scripture.

Systematic theology then seeks to bring everything together for a full statement of what the whole Bible teaches on particular topics.

If these terms are unfamiliar to you, or, alternately, if you have read numerous books on the subject, Hamilton’s short piece is helpful for defining and relating exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology.  Check out the whole thing to see why biblical interpretation is so important for Bible reading and teaching.

The Rose.  Southern Baptist Pastor, Matt Chandler, exposes the hypocrisy of many Christian preachers when he recalls an incident where a preacher uses fear as the primary weapon against sin.  By contrast, he states (screams!) that “Jesus wants the dirty rose!” because he has died to make us righteous.

You can find the whole sermon, ‘A Shepherd and His Unregenerate Sheep,’ at Desiring God, and his new book The Explicit Gospel is a helpful articulation of the gospel that is too often assumed.


Summer Family Activity Book.  Summer is a great time for rest, relaxation, and recalibration.  But, it is also a time for families to take extra time together and to use the summer as a time to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But where should a family begin?

Enter the Village Church, who has come up with an excellent children’s activity book for your summer.  This book is filled with ideas for instructing children in the gospel and having lots of fun at the same time.  Here is the outline of the chapters:

SET A RHYTHM: Activities to help your family set a rhythm [of Bible intake] as you spend time this summer

AT HOME: Activities to help you be intentional with time you spend at home

OUT AND ABOUT: Outings and adventures you can take as a family

ON THE WAY: Things to do as your family travels

You can find the whole PDF here: Summer Family Activity Book.

Childhood Conversion. While we are on the subject of children, you should be aware of helpful article by Jim Elliff on the subject of children’s conversion.  Elliff, a pastor of Christ Fellowship of Kansas City, examines the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of children and how conviction of sin, biblical revelation, and spiritual regeneration are necessary for true conversions.

Elliff points to the ways that many churches, pastors, and child evangelists have misled children and their parents by giving false assurance for salvation based on a prayer, a service, or some other outward act instead of the powerful inner-working of the Holy Spirit.  For ministers and church members, Elliff’s article is worth reading to have a better understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and how to share the gospel with children.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

John Murray on Systematic and Biblical Theology

Writing on the relationship between systematic and biblical theology, John Murray writes with great balance, saying

Systematic theology is tied to exegesis.  It coordinates and synthesizes the whole witness of Scripture on the various topics with which it deals.  However, systematic theolgoy will fail of its task to the extent to which it discards its rootage in biblical theology as properly conceived and developed.  It might seem that an undue limitation is placed upon systematic theology by requiring that the exegesis with which it is so intimately concerned should be regulated by the principle of biblical theology.  And it might seem contrary to the canon so important to both exegesis and systematics, namely the analogy of Scripture.  These appearances do not correspond to reality.  The fact is that only when systematic theology is rooted in biblical theology does it exemplify its true function and achieve its purpose (John Murray, “Systematic Theology: Second Article,” WTJ 26, no. 1 (1963), 44-45).

Well said.

(HT: Brian Payne, from his doctoral dissertation, The Summing Up of All Things in Christ and the Restoration of Human Viceregency: Implications for Ecclesiology, SBTS 2008, p. 15)

Faithful Exegesis: A Mark of Humility

Colin Adams, at Unashamed Workman, posts a thought-provoking nugget this morning about the faithful exegesis and the example of John Calvin.  He writes:

There are many loose ends in Scripture. All too frequently in my preaching I feel gravely tempted to tie some of those ends together: or at least to make educated guesses regarding ‘unknowns’ beyond the text. I was interested, then, to read of John Calvin’s attitude to these “One might imagine….” comments:

“There were…necessary safeguards to [Calvin’s] reasoning process. In dealing with any biblical text, Calvin purposed not to exceed what Scripture itself taught. The Reformer was careful not to enter the realm of speculation. As Calvin said, ‘Where the Lord closes His holy mouth, let us also stop our minds from going any further.’ In other words, he would say no more than Scripture” (Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin, p 79).

With Colin, I have felt that angst, seeing in Scripture possible connections, plausible connections, even probable connections, but connections that lack explicit textual warrant.  This is part of the joy of biblical theology–seeing the intertextual types, patterns, and allusions employed in Scripture.  Nevertheless, making too many connections may become a theological and exegetical snare.

In fact, the temptation to say more than God says, takes us back to the Garden.  It pulls on our sinful longings to be like God (cf. Gen. 3:1-6).  So, I appreciate Colin’s reminder this morning that faithful exegesis is hard and humbling.  Hard because we are called to say what God says, and this is sometimes difficult to grasp; and humbling because it restricts us to say only what Scripture says, nothing more.  Overly speculative exegesis is not faithful exegesis.  In this instance, Proverbs 13:3 is sage advice:  “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.”

Deuteronomy 29:29 is another timely word: The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut. 29:29).  God has given us his Word that we might know him; he has fully revealed himself in Jesus, the incarnate Word (cf. John 1:1-3, 14; Heb. 1:1-2:4).  But at the same time, God’s word is not like google.  There is a defined limit and we cannot simply search out whatever our vain curiosities desire.  By design, there is sixty-six book limit, and as such, we are humbled to wrestle with what God has said–not what he might have said, not what he could have said, not what he will say, not what he left out, but should have said.  God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and for that we are eternally helped and gratefully humbled.

This week as we consider God’s word, may we speak the revealed things boldy, loudly, persistently, and may we with reverence and silence cover our mouths concerning the unspoken mysteries of God.  As Solomon tells us “there is a time to keep silent and a time to speak” (Ecc. 3:7)

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Walter Kaiser


[In Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Peter Enns, Darrell Bock, and Walter Kaiser present three different approaches to biblical interpretation.  They address questions concerning sensius plenior, typology, Jewish methods of interpretation, matters of contextual interpretation, and whether or not we today can interpret the Bible like the New Testament authors.  Some of the discussion involves technical concepts and language, but anyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of matters to consider in reading the Bible in context.]

Walter Kaiser: Single Meaning, Unified Referrents

Kaiser, Old Testament scholar and former president of Gordon-Conwell, is a careful theologian and true biblical exegete.  Citing a host of OT-NT connections, Kaiser’s chapter simply unpacks Scripture to make his case.  The other scholars cite Scriptural examples, but appeal more often to hermeneutical philosophies (Bock) and second temple Judaism’s methods of interpretation (Enns).  In fact, both Bock and Enns chastise Kaiser for his simplistic reading of Scripture (92, 97). 

The great strength of Kaiser’s chapter is his demonstration of how to interpret the OT in its context and then to show that the NT authors read their OT correctly.  He argues for an antecedent theology that informs every OT passage.  As opposed to Enns, who must go to the NT to find ultimate, Christotelic meaning, Kaiser goes to Genesis 3:15ff to show the “Promise-Plan” of God provides ample Messianic witness in the OT itself.  This is a crucial distinction, and for me at least, a tremedously convincing argument for Kaiser and against Enns: the gospel is not just explained in the NT, it is to be found from the very beginning, pointing forward to the Promised Seed. 

To summarize, Kaiser argues for reading each passage in its historical context, he denies Sensius Plenior, he appeals to making analogy between OT and NT (in this way there is a sense of greater fulfillment, when NT patterns or echoes (R. Hays) are picked up), and he appeals to the unfolding plan of God within the OT to make sense of the OT context and that NT writers did that very thing.  The problems of reconciling OT with NT do not lie with the writers themselves; they lie in us and our inability to rightly divide the word, so that we can say that the OT writers did not write better then they knew (Sensius Plenior), rather they wrote better than we know.  As biblical interpreters, it is our prayerful responsibility to learn from them what they knew and what the Spirit was testifying to them and through them (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

May we, with Walter Kaiser, labor to understand the grammar and historical setting of the Bible, and may we go on to see how all Scripture is fulfilled in Christ (John 5:39).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Bible Arc dot com, a Review and Infomercial


It was a life-changing revelation to me when I discovered that Paul, for example, did not merely make a collection of divine pronouncements, but that he argued. This meant, for me, a whole new approach to Bible reading. No longer did I just read or memorize verses. I sought also to understand and memorize arguments. This involved finding the main point of each literary unit and then seeing how each proposition fit together to unfold and support the main point. (”Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts,” pg. 18)

If you are familiar with John Piper’s preaching and method of exegesis, than you are probably familiar with his use of “arcing.”  Piper’s statement above reflects the way he reads the NT epistles, and the benefits of systematically interrogating the argument in each NT letter.  To that end, Pastor Piper has commended Daniel Fuller’s method of Biblical Arcing.  In short, it is an excellent means by which students of the Bible can hone in on the author’s intent.  I bring attention to this exegetical device, because recently, an online web site has been developed for the sole purpose of “arcing” New Testament passages. has many strengths.  For starters, it furnishes all the tools necessary to complete the arcing process.  It provides helpful sidebars with navigable widgets and buttons that provide great opportunity to use the arcing nomenclature — which is a little foreign for beginners.  It provides Greek, ESV, NASB, KJV translations, as well as the possibility of providing your own translation.  Moreover, it provides more than 2 hours worth of introduction and training.

Another interesting feature that is forthcoming will be the sharing feature, where completed “Arcs” will be posted, and discussion about their accuracy will be moderated on the website.  This could certainly provide some rich exegetical conversations.

While this method of Bible study is excellent in the dense theological material of Paul’s letters or other New Testament Epistles, it is probably less fruitful for NT narrative passages, or Old Testament literature.  In fact, currently this only works with the New Testament.  Though, even in gospel writing, a device like this still helps us microwave Christians to slow down and let the passage simmer in our minds.  Finally, the point-and-click arcing is more cumbersome than what you would do with paper and ink, but with all the tools in front of you, and with help just a few clicks away, this program looks to be very helpful for the novice “Arcer” (like me), not Archer (like Nimrod). 

In sum, the online capabilities of Bible Arc dot com are really quite impressive.  And for only ten dollars you can setup a yearly account that will save your work and come back to it at a later date.  Additionally, you can print your documents to a PDF file for your own record keeping, and with its note-taking possibilities, Bible Arc dot com provides a great platform for personal Bible study or sermon preparation.

Hats off to all those who created this web gem.  If you are serious about Bible studies, I encourage you to drop the ten bucks and avail yourself of this helpful resource.

(HT: Johnathon Bowers

Sola Deo Gloria, dss