12 Quotes from Peter Gentry’s Book on the Biblical Prophets

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Peter Gentry, Donald L. Williams Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an incredibly helpful and accessible book in How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets. In this 140-page book, there is much general wisdom about reading Scripture and many specific applications for reading the Prophets, especially Isaiah.

In his plain-spoken and even humorous way, Gentry helps deepen our understanding how different the prophetic literature is. But even more, he gives tools to read these ancient words better.

In preaching Isaiah this month, I’ve found much help in How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets. I share a dozen of the best quotes from his book below. These give a taste of what you’ll find in this book. But let me encouragement you, if you take seriously the study of Scripture, pick up this book and spend time thinking about how to read the Prophets.  Continue reading

Two Rivers Run Through It: Tracing Zion and Zera’ (Seed) through the Book of Isaiah

matt-lamers-328906Isaiah is massive book that displays an even larger vision of God’s glory. And because of the scale and grandeur of its message, it often seems difficult to grasp its meaning. Sure, there are those familiar verses we often return to, but how do we grasp at the whole message of Isaiah?

In what follows, I am going to trace out two key themes that may help us see the forest and not just a few trees. The first stream relates to Zion, the key place in the book. The second relates to the messiah, or the seed (zera’), the key person in the book. By holding these two streams together, I think it helps us see the arrangement of the forest so that we can climb the heights in this glorious book. Continue reading

Singing the Four ‘Spirit’ Songs in Isaiah 56–66

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Perhaps you are familiar with the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. They are found in Isaiah 40, 49, 50, and 53. And I would contend, they are deeply important for understanding who Christ is and how God promised to save his people.

But do you know there are also four “Spirit” songs in Isaiah? Or better, as Alec Motyer puts it, there are four songs in Isaiah 56–66 that identify the Spirit-anointed Savior who will also come to be identified with Christ? Until, reading Alec Motyer’s commentary on Isaiah 56–66, I had not seen that.

Sure, I had often wondered why Christian tradition stops counting the Servant songs at Isaiah 53, when Isaiah 61 is clearly another song extolling the glories of a Spirit-anointed Servant. But until preparing for this current sermon series, I had not put together the reality of four songs in Isaiah 59, 60, 61, and 63. Nor did I make the connection of these chapters with the previous four Servant songs in any specific way.

But after reading Motyer’s observations, it’s hard to miss the way in which these four ‘songs’ balance and apply the previous four songs. In what follows, let me share Motyer’s illuminating insights. I’ll add a few (work in progress) observations at the end. Continue reading

Mapping Isaiah and Beholding Christ: A Literary Study of Isaiah 59

himesh-kumar-behera-216019This Sunday I will preach Isaiah 59. And to prepare for this Christmas message, I have spent time getting to know the landscape of Isaiah. Because the literary shape is so important for understanding the (theological) message of any book, I’ve spent time trying to figure out how this one chapter fits into the whole of Isaiah.

In what follows, I will share a few observations from what I’ve found. If you are interested, I’d love to hear your feedback and insight into this glorious chapter. Continue reading

Reading the Bible in Context(s): Why Faithful Interpretation Means Considering ‘Various Strata of Biblical Discourse’

aman-bhargava-272763When reading the Bible (especially the Old Testament) we must always endeavor to read it “in context.” However, because Scripture is book composed of many books, written by many authors, and recorded over many centuries, reading the Bible in context means paying attention to “various strata of biblical discourse.”

On this point, Andrew Abernathy, in his book The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdomoffers a balanced approach to reading in context that both holds fast to the grammatical- historical of the Old Testament context and the biblical-theological context of the whole canon. His words are worth considering, as we seek to understand any passage of Scripture and apply it through Christ to ourselves.

In the opening pages of his book, Abernathy writes, Continue reading

Seeing the Grace of Christ (Better) Through the Chiasm of Mark 6:7–8:30

luke-palmer-305434Chiasms are the beeessstt!
— Nacho the Librarian —

If the name Nacho is unfamiliar, I’m not sure I can or should help. But if the word chiasm is equally enigmatic, let me encourage you to do some reading on the subject. It will pay huge dividends in your reading of Scripture.

Here’s why: Chiasms are a literary device often used by biblical authors, who seek to emphasize certain points in their writing. Because Hebrew Prophets and New Testament Apostles wrote without B, I, U on their keyboards, they had to make use of other devices to stress emphasis. And following from the repetitive nature of Scripture (see Peter Gentry, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophetsch. 3), chiasms became a regular way biblical authors made their points. On chiasms, Gentry writes,

The word chiasm comes from the letter . . . chi (X), . . .where the top half of the letter is mirrored in the bottom half. If an author an author has three topics and repeats each on twice in the pattern C B A :: C’ B’ A’, the second cycle or repetition is a mirror image of the first arrangement.

A nice example is found in Isaiah 6:10, where Yahweh explains what will happen during Isaiah’s long ministry of preaching:

Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed. (46–47)

This way of writing fills the Scriptures. And growing disciples of God’s Word must learn how to identify such structures (and how to reject fanciful literary creations of the modern interpreters that are not in Scripture). Still, more often than not, when we find repetitions in Scripture, they are there to help identify the main points of the author. Thus, rather than being some esoteric approach to Scripture, seeing the structures of the biblical authors is a necessary and vital for understanding the message of Scripture.

Thus, I share the following outline of Mark 6:7–8:30, a section of Mark’s Gospel that identifies Jesus as the Christ. By paying attention to Mark’s literary structure, I contend we can better understand who Christ is and how disciples of Christ come to know him as Lord.  Continue reading

The “Arranging of the Psalms Was an Exegetical Act”: Further Biblical Evidence for Seeing Arrangement in the Psalms

puzzzleIf I were to put forward one article in defense of reading the Psalms as an intentionally arranged and ordered book, it might be this one by Yair Zakovitch, “On the Ordering of Psalms as Demonstrated by Psalms 136–150,” in The Oxford Handbook to the Psalms (New York: OUP, 2014), 214–227. In it, he shows how the Psalms are not a collection of songs. They are instead songs with hooks and refrains that fit together like puzzle pieces.

In fact, in his chapter Zakovitch provides exegetical evidence for the ordering of the Psalms by excavating the words of Psalms 136–150. Due to space, he only focuses on these fifteen psalms, but his exegetical work provides proof from every one of these fifteen psalms, that their arrangement is not accidental. In fact, just the opposite: careful attention to the Psalms shows how meticulous they are in demonstrating order—something that we should observe as we read and interpret the Psalms.

On this point he writes in his introduction,

The writing of the 150 psalms that constitute the book of Psalms was a long and protracted process, and their arrangement and redaction into five books occurred in stages over many years. The order of the individual psalms within the Psalter did not happen by chance but is evidence of deliberate design. This order may even reveal something of the early development and growth of the Psalter. Similarly, the act of arranging the psalms was an exegetical act: The meaning of a single, isolated psalm differs from the meaning it draws from its context, from our reading it in light of the psalms that precede and follow it.

Form critics, disciples of Hermann Gunkel, were not inclined to question the ordering of the psalms since their interest lay in revealing the poems’ preliterary Sitze im Leben, the sociological contexts in which they were composed and in which they functioned before being put in writing. Interest in the arrangement of the individual psalms grew with the development of redaction criticism and the various aspects of inner-biblical interpretation.

Continue reading

From Dust to Trust: Rebuilding Shattered Dreams with the God of the Psalms (Psalms 90–106)

the-psalmsWhat happens when your dreams are pulverized? To whom do you turn? Where do you run?

In the Psalms, Book 3 (Psalms 73–89) concludes with the crushing news that the crown of David had been buried in the dust of the earth. In short, because of Israel’s sin, and the sin of David’s sons in particular, God permitted the nations of Egypt and Babylon to plunder and then exile the nation of Judah. In 586 B.C., the final phase of God’s judgment sent the exiles to Babylon, destroyed the temple, and ended the rule of David’s sons.  Second Chronicles 36 tells of this exile. And Psalms 88–89 sing of the horror of these events, wondering even how God could permit his covenant with David to suffer so great loss.

In last week’s sermon, I considered this tragic fall. This week, I moved into Psalms 90–106, where we discover what the God of Israel did to resurrect his people from the dust of death. In short, there is great encouragement in Book 4 of the Psalms. For anyone suffering the calamities of this world, even losing all that they own, this section of the Psalter is a powerful message of hope, as it continues to trace God’s work of redemption from David (Psalms 1–71) to David’s son Solomon (Ps 72) to David’s sons (Psalms 73–89) to the hope God himself dwelling with people (Psalms 90–106) and raising up a new David (Psalms 101–03 and 107–150).

If such a message sounds needed, you can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Below you will find discussion questions, the four infographics we’ve used to help outline the Psalms, plus a few articles I’ve compiled to help show why reading the Psalms as one story is both biblically faithful and pastorally fruitful. Continue reading

Reading the Psalms from the Beginning: How Reading the Psalms Canonically Is More Ancient Than Modern

focusIs a canonical approach to the Psalms a new creation, or the invention of modern scholars? Or do we do we find anything like it in church history?

This important question was raised recently and I didn’t have a one-stop, go-to resource to provide an answer in the affirmative. Indeed, most studies advocating the canonical reading do not spend great time on interpretive strategies in early church. Rather, most focus on, in the words of Hans Frei, the “Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative,” and the biblical-theological need and warrant to read the Psalms as a literary whole.

Still the question lingers. Is a canonical approach merely a recent invention. Providentially, my reading on the Psalms took me to David Mitchell’s work , The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalmswhere he spends fifty pages tracing the history of psalm interpretation. In his first chapter, he give a resounding ‘yes’ to the question, order and arrangement have always been taken into consideration until the modern period of hermeneutics. Only since the Enlightenment, with its skepticism towards the supernatural inspiration of the Bible, has an atomized approach to the Psalms been the norm.

In what follows I summarize his research and outline why we can have great confidence that a canonical approach to the Psalms is not just a modern invention, it is a recovery and an amplification of the Christian practice of reading the Bible as God’s inspired word. Continue reading

From Exaltation to Exile: The Tragic Fall of David’s House (Psalms 73–89)

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From Exaltation to Exile: The Tragic Fall of David’s House

In his chapter on the Psalms, Paul House writes of Book 3, Psalms 73–89:

Subtle shifts in tone, superscriptions and content leading up to historical summaries in Psalms 78 and 89 indicate that part three [Psalms 73–89] reflects Israel’s decline into sin and exile. This national demise occurs in about 930–587 B.C. and has been described previously in 1 Kings 12–1 Kings 25 as well as in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Twelve. The view of history found here matches that in the Prophets: Israel’s covenant breaking led God to rebuke, and then reject, the chosen people and to expel them from the promised land. These Psalms portray this rebuke and rejection against a background of the remnants faith struggles and the Lord’s patience. (Old Testament Theology, 413–14)

In Sunday’s message I attempted to show some of the history of Judah that stands behind the events of Book 3. I argued that by learning the history of David’s sons and listening to the priestly heralds of Book 3 we come to learn about Israel’s hope and our own hope. Whereas the sins of David’s sons led to the demise of their throne, God would ultimately remain faithful, as it evidenced throughout Book 3 and even more in Books 4 and 5.

While fulling getting our hands on the history and poetry of Israel challenges us—we are, after all, removed from Israel’s history by over 3,000 years and differing languages—it is evident that devastating fall afflicts David’s house and the house of the Lord between the end of Book 2 and the end of Book 3. Psalm 72 shows the exalted throne of David, now given to Solomon; Psalm 89 shows the crown of David thrown into the dust.

In the infographic, I try to show some of the probable connections that make up the details of Book 3, as it gives the soundtrack of David’s falling house. Discussion questions below focus on Psalm 89. And sermon audio and sermon notes are also available. (You can find a list of observations related to Psalm 74 and 2 Chronicles 10–12 here). Continue reading