Reading the Psalms Canonically: Neither Undisciplined Allegory nor Christ-less Historicism

psalmsHow did we get the Psalms? And how do we get into the Psalms? Meaning, how do we apply the Psalms of ancient Israel to ourselves today? And in applying them, how do we avoid undisciplined allegory and mere historicism devoid of Christ?

These are important questions for reading the Psalms. And few have answered these questions better than Bruce Waltke.

In his essay, “A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms” (found in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, 3–18) he observes four historical phases in the development of the Psalms. And rightly, I believe, he helps us to see (1) how individual authors wrote Psalms, (2) how these Psalms were gathered into various collections (perhaps stored in Solomon’s temple), (3) how these collections were arranged at a later period by a (Levitical?) editor, and (4) how this collection of Psalms serves to point forward to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has now come and fulfilled the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44–47). Continue reading

Textual, Epochal, Canonical: Do The Three Horizons of Interpretation Apply to the Psalms?

horizonWhen I teach hermeneutics, one of the key points I make is the need to read each passage with three horizons in mind. These horizons have been labeled by Edmund Clowney and Richard Lints as the textual, epochal, and canonical horizons. And careful attention to them help the interpreter keep an eye on the the grammatical structure of any given text, the relationship of that ‘text’ to the larger context of the book or covenant in which it is found, and the final connection between that text and the whole of the Bible—hence, textual, epochal, and canonical horizons respectively.

In books like Exodus, Ezekiel, and Ephesians, it is makes sense to read the Bible at these three horizons. But what about the Psalms? Does this approach apply to them? Indeed, if the Psalms are a book purposefully arranged, it does. And so, I do believe we should employ these three horizons when reading any given Psalm.

Reading the Psalms Textually, Epochally, and Canonically

As we study the Psalms, we should look not only at the immediate Psalm, but where it fits into the Psalter and the storyline unfolding in this eschatologically-charged book. On this point, Psalm scholar John Crutchfield has rightly observed that a faithful reading of the Psalms must consider three levels of interpretation. Under a section entitled ‘Methodology and Presuppositions” (Psalms in Their Context: An Interpretation of Psalms 107-118), here’s what he says: Continue reading

Twelve Reasons for Reading the Psalms as a Unified Canon That Leads to Christ

bibleTo read something canonically means reading something as a unified whole, instead of fragmenting the book or letter into dozens of independent (or worse, divergent) pieces. Reading canonically seeks to understand the author’s intention, by recognizing the literary shape of his document. It is aware of the genre of the composition, but even more it looks at the internal evidence to see what is there. When reading books in the Bible, this way of reading is challenging, but always well-repaid. By seeing the literary shape of the text, we come much closer to understanding the meaning of the message.

But what if the book is composite, something like Proverbs, which is a collection of wise sayings? Or the Psalms, which is the ‘hymnbook’ of Israel and the Church? Is it possible to such books as a unified whole?

When it comes to the Psalms, I believe the answer is unmistakably, “yes!” And the reasons are manifold. In fact, drawing on the work of other Old Testament scholars, I want to suggest  twelve reasons why you should read the Psalms as a book written as one unified canon. Or to say it differently, here are twelve evidences of intentional arrangement in the Psalter—arrangement that should inform the way we read the Psalms and that should ultimately lead us to a more Christ-centered understanding of the Psalter and its individual Psalms. Continue reading

Kingdom and Covenant: The Main Entrance to the Cathedral of Scripture

In recent years, Kingdom and Covenant have received ample attention in the field of biblical theology. This is due in large part to a book co-written by two professors at Southern Seminary, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. Most recently, the latter articulated their position at the Regional ETS meeting held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you haven’t seen the video (above), I would encourage you to take an hour an listen.

This post is not about that presentation or that book, however. Instead it concerns another book with a similar theme, The Drama of Scripture. While many covenant and dispensational theologians have pushed back against Kingdom through Covenant, there are others who have found the twin themes of kingdom and covenant as persuasive and most basic for putting the Bible together. One example of this is Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.

Writing independent from (and prior to) Gentry and Wellum, they produce a strikingly similar  conclusion about the place of kingdom and covenant in Scripture. Using a cathedral as an illustration for reading the Bible, the argue for covenant and kingdom as the “main entrance” into the Bible. They write,

In our opinion, ‘covenant’ (in the Old Testament) and ‘the kingdom of God’  (in the New Testament) present a strong claim to be the main door through which we can being to enter the Bible and to see it as one whole and vast structure. Continue reading

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

Evidence of Design: Lexical and Thematic Unity in Genesis 3–4

chiasm_textGod’s Word is inspired by God, but it is also written by men. And in many cases, these men show incredible literary skill in penning God’s Word. One thinks of Psalm 119’s acrostic praise of God’s Word or Jonah’s detailed use of chiastic structures as examples of authors employing literary devices to shape and structure their God-given, God-inspired words.

The same is true in Genesis 3–4. In a section that is often whisk-away as myth or relativized as poetry, we find that the historical details of Cain and Abel are written with incredible attention to literary style (i.e., history in poetic form). The number of words, the narrative parallels between the first family (ch. 4) and the first sin (ch. 3), and the repetition of expression are just a few ways Moses employs poetics structures to stress the main points of this historical narrative.

In a day when bold and italics were not available and space was limited, these structures evidence the main point of his writing. Moreover, they capture the way in which human authorship is “fully human” (i.e., marked by conventions of human speech). Divine inspiration does not cancel out man’s humanity in his writing. Rather, it improves his acuity, frees his will, and empowers his words. This is what Peter means when he says “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Genesis 3–4 as a Test Case

Considering this, we look at Genesis 3–4 as an example of this literary design, where Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote with incredible attention to detail—hence allowing us to interpret with great detail. What follows are some of the observations Gordon Wenham has made to show the lexical and structural detail of Genesis 3–4. Continue reading

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: Reading Each Evangelist on Their Own Terms and Seeing How Each Reads the Old Testament

arc.jpegAny alert reader of Matthew’s Gospel will notice the tax collector-turned-evangelist is regularly quoting from the Old Testament. To him, the events of Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection “fulfill” the prophecies of the Old Testament. What may be less evident is that the other Gospel writers who are less explicit in their citations are equally informed and shaped by the Old Testament.

In a previous post, I suggested interpreters of the Bible should keep in mind that the authors of Scripture demonstrated various approaches to reading the Old Testament. Today, I want to catalog a few of those approaches, drawing again from the exegetical insights of Richard Hays’ and his careful study of the four Gospels, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. (A larger study of approaches would include Paul and Peter’s use of the Old Testament. We must save that for another day).

Reading the Gospels on Their Own Termsgospels

In the introduction to Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Richard Hays rightly observes:

Jesus and his followers were Jews whose symbolic world was shaped by Israel’s Scripture: their ways of interpreting the world and their hopes for God’s saving action were fundamentally conditioned by the biblical stories of God’s dealings with the people Israel. Therefore, it is not surprising that as the earliest Christian communities began to tell and retell stories about Jesus, they interpreted his life, death, and resurrection in relation to those biblical stories (i.e., the texts that Christians later came to call the Old Testament). (5)

Contesting the “unconscious Marcionite bias” of many modern readers, Hays writes his book to “offer an account of the narrative representation [read: re-presentation] of Israel, Jesus, and the church in the canonical Gospels, with particular attention to the ways in which the four Evangelists reread Israel’s Scriptures—as well as the ways in which Israel’s Scriptures prefigures and illuminates the central character in the Gospel stories” (7).

I believe he hits his mark, helps students better see what each biblical author is doing with the Old Testament, and proves why it is necessary for us to understand intertextuality, in general, and how each author employs various methods of intertextuality to show how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament storyline of Israel and thus sheds light backwards on the Hebrew Scriptures and forward to Christians who worship to God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.

What follows, then, is a brief—well, it’s not as long as Hays volume—summary of points concerning each Gospel writer. Continue reading

Typology and Typologies

gospels

Typology is typically considered as a unified whole, or at least, when discussing the subject, we speak of typology and not typologies. And with regards to hermeneutics and its application to systematic theology, this is appropriate. We must be able to synthesize our findings in Scripture and draw certain principles and conclusions (however, tentative) from the whole corpus of Scripture. Because the Bible is a unity (John 10:35), inspired by the one, triune God (2 Peter 1:19–21), we can and must seek to understand how typology works in the Bible.

At the same time, not all biblical authors do typology in the same way, and thus we need to take into consideration how each writer employs Scripture. Most recently, Richard Hays has made this point in this magisterial volume, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Working carefully through the four Gospels, Hays makes the conclusion that each Evangelist uses the Old Testament in different ways. After engaging the text of each book, he provides general conclusions about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and how typology, what he calls a figural reading, is employed by each.

Without denying the field of typology, i.e., the general study of types and anti-types, I think his observations are worth making careful consideration. Could it be that many disagreements about the nature of typology are due to the fact that various interpreters are beholden to different approaches in Scripture itself? Could it be that one reason typology is debated so frequently (not to mention vehemently) is that we do not appreciate Scripture’s own variety of typologies? 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

Matthew’s Intertextual “Mashups”: Learning to Read Scripture from Jesus’ Inspired Disciple

matthewIt is well known that Matthew cites regularly from the Old Testament. He opens his Gospel by introducing Jesus as Abraham and David’s Son (1:1). He places Jesus at the end of Israel’s history—at least from Abraham to David through the exile to himself—and even frames this genealogy after the Toledōt structure of Genesis. Not surprisingly, the rest of his Gospel echoes, alludes, and cites the Old Testament. But one facet of his citations recently caught my eye.

In reading Richard Hays Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Hays shows multiple places in Matthew’s Gospel where the Evangelist (or Jesus) speaks from two (or three) passages of Scripture. Hays calls this metalepsis, “a literary technique of citing or echoing a small bit of a precursor text in such a way that the reader can grasp the significance of the echo only by recalling or recovering the original context from which the fragmentary echo came and then reading the two texts in dialogical juxtaposition” (11). It’s the way Americans often weave movie quotes into their everyday conversation. Only, in the New Testament, it is the Hebrew Scriptures which form the well from which the biblical authors draw. This is how Jesus taught and spoke, and it is the way his Spirit-filled disciples do too.

Therefore, in reading Matthew, what at first looks like a simple citation from the Old Testament is often a more elaborate conflation of two or more passages. In what follows I will list a consider three examples mentioned by Hays, cite a few others, and draw a couple points of application for reading as a disciple of Jesus’s disciple, the apostle Matthew.  Continue reading