“The Court of the Sheep”: A Temple Reading of John 10

herd of sheep on grassland

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.
— John 10:1 —

In John 16:25, Jesus says to his disciples, “I have said these things to you in figures of speech [paroimia]. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech [paroimia] but will tell you plainly about the Father.” In that context, Jesus was speaking of his going away and the resulting sorrow his disciples would experience (John 16:16–24). In this exchange, Jesus’s disciples did not understand what he was saying (v. 18), and so verse 25 is a pivot in the conversation.

Starting here, Jesus begins to explain what his going away means—soon he is going to leave the world and return to the Father. It is unlikely, in that moment, that the disciples understood how this departure (his exodus) would take place (by means of a cross, resurrection, and ascension), but they say in v. 29, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech.”

Importantly, this word for “figure of speech” is used only one other time in John’s Gospel. In John 10:6, John narrates and says, “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Structurally, John 10:1–21 works very similarly to John 16:16–33. Jesus says something figuratively, i.e., in a figure of speech, which his audience does not understand (compare John 10:6 and John 16:18). Then, after acknowledging the confusion, Jesus speaks again more plainly. In John 16, the focus is on Jesus’s coming departure. In John 10, the focus is similar, as Jesus describes the way he will lead his sheep out of something.

But what is that something?

In John 10:3, Jesus speaks of an unidentified shepherd, “To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” In these five verses, the place from which the sheep are led out is the “sheepfold.” As verse 1–2 indicate, the thief enters the sheepfold falsely (v. 1), but the true shepherd enters the sheepfold by means of the door (v. 2). This is the contrast that Jesus sets up in figure of speech, and it is repeated in verse 4–5, when he explains how sheep follow the true shepherd (v. 4) but not the stranger (v. 5). As John notes, this figure of speech is lost on Jesus audience. Continue reading

The Seed of the Woman Wins (Revelation 12): How Reading Revelation Rightly Gives Us Lasting Hope

1920x1080 CradleAny time you read Revelation, it is like stepping out of reality and into a carnival of mirrors. Only those mirrors do not, or should not, reflect our own faces, so much as they reflect the prophets of the Old Testament, whose faces were reflected the glory of God’s Son.

While Revelation is a book that is filled with signs, those signs have a registered trademark—a trademark found in the Old Testament. And anytime we read Revelation we should labor to understand the book in its canonical context. To that end, let me offer three words of how to interpret and apply this chapter.

These three exhortations come from my last sermon on Revelation 12. But they would apply to any passage in this glorious and mystifying book. Continue reading

Typology That Is True to the Text: What Elijah and Elisha Point Out for Modern Interpreters of Scripture

roadway sign in desert land

How does typology work? Is it something that we do when we interpret Scripture? Or, is it something that Scripture does and we recognize when we read and interpret? In other words, is typology a method of interpretation, distinctive from a literal interpretation and similar to an allegorical method? Or, is typology something that is inherent to Scripture itself?

This is no small question. Volumes have been written to debate the point. And for more than the last decade I have thought about, written about, and preached about this very thing. It my conviction, outlined in a forthcoming article co-written with Sam Emadi, that typology is found in Scripture and it not something that the interpretive community brings to Scripture. To illustrate, consider the storyline of Elijah and Elisha. Continue reading

Sufficient for What? Four Aspects of the Doctrine of Scripture’s Sufficiency

pink pencil on open bible page and pink

Writing about Sola Scriptura in his book Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity, Kevin Vanhoozer notes that the reformation principle of Scripture Alone “implies the sufficiency of Scripture” (114). But then he asks and important question: “Sufficient for what?” What does the sufficiency of Scripture promise? And what does it mean?

To that question, he gives four answers—one negative and three positive. Here they are in abbreviated form.

  1. Scripture is not sufficient for anything and everything that it may be called upon to do or describe.
  2. “Scripture is sufficient for everything for which it was divinely inspired. ‘[My word] shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isa. 55:11).”
  3. “Scripture is materially sufficient (‘enough’) because God has communicated everything we need to know in order to learn Christ and live the Christian life: ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ (2 Pet. 1:3).”
  4. Scripture is formally sufficient, which means when it comes to interpretation “Scripture interprets Scripture” so long as the interpretive community (i.e., the church) relies upon all the means of grace created by the Holy Spirit.

Understandably, these four answers need further elucidation, and in his chapter on “Scripture Alone,” Vanhoozer explains each point that I have abbreviated above. Here are a few quotes and explanations to help round a sufficient doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency.

Continue reading

Perfect Praise: Seeing the Seven’s in Psalms 96–99

tanner-mardis-612668-unsplash (1)In his commentary on the Psalms, Konrad Schaefer shows a “pattern of sevens” that permeates Psalms 96–99. In a section of the Psalter that already demonstrates remarkable structure, these “septets” (a group of seven) add to the unity and message of Book IV in the Psalms.

Let’s hear what Schaefer says about these septets, and then consider the merit of his observations. Why should we care about these groups of seven? (Hint: It may have something to do with the number of perfection).

Continue reading

Seeing the Streams of Scripture: A Biblical-Theological Approach to Philippians 2

trail-wu-2a1TKBuc-unsplash.jpgBy myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
— Isaiah 45:23 —

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:8–11 —

Whenever we read the letters of Paul we are sure to encounter quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. Often in the same passage, there are multiple layers from the Law and the Prophets. Commentators are usually in agreement when there are explicit citations or linguistic repetitions. Interpreters of Scripture are much more at odds when there are not direct biblical parallels.

One example of this kind of interpretive difference is found in Philippians 2:5–11. In Paul’s famous “hymn,” there is an unmistakeable quotation from Isaiah 45:23 in verses 10–11. There are also many connections with the Servant in Isaiah 53. But one connection that is more tenuous is the relationship between Christ who obeyed God unto death and Adam who disobeyed God unto death.

In a remarkably balanced presentation on Adam and Christ in Philippians 2:5–11, Matthew Harmon rightly affirms the many conceptual connections between Adam and Christ. At the same time, he rightly denies any linguistic connections between Philippians 2 and Genesis 1–3. This helpfully sets up a discussion concerning what it takes for allusions to be recognized in the Scripture.

Yet, instead of siding with a narrow reading of Philippians 2 which denies all connections between Christ and Adam (a Pauline theme developed explicitly in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15), Harmon shows how the explicit connections between Philippians 2 and Isaiah 53 stands a servant typology that goes back to Israel, and from Israel to Adam. Continue reading

The Problem with All Critical Theories of the Bible

hans-peter-gauster-3y1zF4hIPCg-unsplash.jpg5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
— 1 Timothy 1:5–7 —

In his excellent commentary on the book of Joshua, pastor and Old Testament scholar, Dale Ralph Davis, addresses the problem of critical theories used to interpret the Bible. Taking aim at the documentary hypothesis, a view which conjures up multiple sources behind the Old Testament, Davis singles out the real problem of this approach—it eviscerates the reliability of God’s Word and mutes God’s message. By adding undo complexity, it obscures the clarity of Scripture.

In response to this cumbersome and faith-eroding approach, he gives wise counsel: Continue reading

Inerrancy and Interpretation: Kevin Vanhoozer on Map-Making and the Meaning of God’s Word

london
What is inerrancy? And what does it mean for a picture to be true? And what does it mean for the Bible, which is filled with pictures (similes, metaphors, parables, etc.) to be inerrant?

For those who affirm biblical inerrancy, as I do, questions like these enter into a wide-ranging debate about Scripture and hermeneutics. This is especially true when we appreciate how the truth of the Bible is not grounded in logical abstractions or mathematical proofs; it is grounded in the triune God who has spoken of himself in a book that comes together as a progressively revealed story. In other words, truth in the Bible is unlike any other book. It is not only God’s truth, but in a book composed of various genres, its truth is also conveyed through forms of speech whose truth is not easily ascertained or readily appreciated.

Again, what does it mean for a picture to be true? (For an interesting look at this problem from a wholly different angle, see Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Picture Problem“).

In Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and WisdomKevin Vanhoozer has an illuminating chapter on the nature and function of Scripture with special attention to the doctrine of inerrancy. Moving the conversation about inerrancy beyond claims of veracity, he rightly documents what Scripture is (its ontology) and what Scripture does (its function).

In what follows, I want to share his nine qualifications about inerrancy and give a short summary of each point. For clarity sake, all the enumerated points below are his; the expansions are mine with multiple quotations from his chapter. Continue reading

A Text Filled with Types: 10 Things About Joshua 5–6

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashAs we continue to work our way through the book of Joshua, here are ten things about Joshua 5–6.

1. The structure sets the action.

In every passage, the structure of the narrative sets the direction for the action. So far in Joshua, we have observed multiple chiastic structures (“narrative arcs”) that have organized the events of the Joshua 1–5. In Joshua 5:13–6:27, however, there doesn’t seem to be a chiasm, but we can make a handful of observations to help us see the story.

First, Joshua 5:13–15 should be read with Joshua 6, especially verses 1–5. Verses 2–5 present the words of Yahweh that come from the Angel of the Lord in Joshua 5:13–15. In this reading, Joshua 6:1 serves as a parenthesis  highlighting the condition of Jericho.

Second, there are three literary patterns that add to the drama. Ken Mathews lists these in his commentary:

(1) First is the prediction/fulfillment pattern. The Lord predicts “the wall. . . will collapse” (6:5), and the prediction is fulfilled when “the wall collapsed” (6:20). (2) Second is the familiar command/obedience pattern. The Lord instructs Joshua (6:2-5), and Joshua relates the instructions to the people, who obey (6:6—14), resulting in the destruction of the city (6:15—27). (3) Last is the six-plus-one pattern. The number “seven” occurs eleven times. The pattern recalls creation’s seventh day—the day of consecration. (Mathews, Joshua, 48–49)

Third, the LORD’s words in verses 2–5 can be divided into directions for days 1–6 (vv. 2–4a) and day 7 (vv. 4b–5). This division is followed by a division in chapter, where verses 6–11 tell us the events of the first day and verses 12–14 tell us the events of days 2–6. All told, these verses should be read together. Next, verses 15–24 recount the climactic events of day 7, with verse 15 highlighting the seven circles, verses 16–19 giving explicit instructions about the city, and verses 20–24 following those directions, step by step. Continue reading

Let Scripture Interpret Scripture

bibleIn our recent podcast on Genesis and Matthew, we considered how various aspects of the ancient Near East inform our understanding of Genesis. Indeed, there are many reasons to compare the Old Testament to the ancient Near East (and the New Testament to Second Temple Judaism). In both testaments, the historical background give us insight into the Scriptures.

That said, there is more insight that comes from comparing Scripture to Scripture, by reading the Old Testament with the light of the new, by reading the New Testament with the background of the Old Testament, and reading both testaments as mutually-interpreting books of God’s inspired word.

In fact, on that very point New Testament scholar Grant Macaskill makes this wise observation:

New Testament scholars are usually very good at examining the context and backgrounds provided by Graeco-Roman and Jewish literature, but we are generally less successful at examining that provided by other New Testament writings and bringing these to bear on our exegesis. There is a vast amount of literature that reads Paul in the light of Qumran; there is rather less that reads Paul in the light of Peter.

The objection, of course, is that we run the risk of conflating the distinctive theology of each and doing so without sensitivity to the timelines on which they are located. But these texts are the products of a movement with a certain cohesion, generated within a compact period of time. It is, then, necessary to the historical task for us to consider how they may relate to one another and to reflect upon the ways in which even their diversity may emerge from a basic unity of thought. (Grant Macaskill, Union with Christ in the New Testament2)

I am not a New Testament scholar, but I believe his point applies to us all. The best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture, and so we should give equal—even greater!—attention to the rest of the Bible when interpreting Scripture. Sure, let’s read extra-biblical texts that inform Scripture, but even more lets immerse ourselves in the Bible, so that our interpretations are saturated with the Bible and not just the latest academic fad or archaeological discovery.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds