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

Resources for Reading the Psalms Canonically

libraryOver the summer, I preached a series of messages on the Psalms. I argued that they are one unified book telling the story of salvation. In their midst the reader finds a movement from lament to praise and a series of peaks and valleys that follow the course of redemptive history from David (in Books 1 and 2) to the exile of David and Israel (in Book 3) to the establishment of Yahweh’s kingdom (in Book 4) to the coming kingdom of a New David (in Book 5).

As I preached this series, I was greatly helped by a number of resources. I’ve included many of them below. If you are interested in understanding the Psalms as one, unified and intentionally-arranged book, these articles, chapters, and books are a great start. If you have other key resources not listed here, please share them in the comments. I’d love to see how others are understanding the Psalms and their glorious message of grace.

In what follows you will find:

  1. Sermons
  2. Articles
  3. Academic Articles
  4. Book Chapters (with annotated notes)
  5. Books (with annotated notes)
  6. Commentaries (with annotated notes)
  7. Videos and Infographics

I pray these resources are helpful and that they increase your passion for the Psalms.  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.

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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

Does Paul Interpret Moses Allegorically? A Few Lexical Notes on Galatians 4:24

allegoryNow this was written allegorically: these women are two covenants.
One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.[1]
– Galatians 4:24 –

What does ἀλληγορούμενα mean in Galatians 4:24?

To answer the question about the lexical meaning of ἀλληγορούμενα is difficult, because it is only used once in the New Testament. That being said, I think we can say a few things, acknowledging that this word and its immediate context (Gal 4:21–31) is a hotbed for interpretive disagreement. That said, here are a few notes on the matter which came from a recent Sunday School class. Continue reading

Learning to Read Moses’ Allegory: Matthew Emerson on Galatians 4:21–31 and Paul’s Reading of the Pentateuch

paul.jpegIn his illuminating article on Galatians 4:21–31, Matthew Emerson shows how we should learn to read Moses from the Apostle Paul. In a passage that typically is used as an example for how to not read the Old Testament like Paul, Emerson makes the opposite case. And I believe he is exactly right.

In his article,“Arbitrary Allegory, Typical Typology, or Intertextual Interpretation? Paul’s Use of the Pentateuch in Galatians 4:21–31,” he lists a number of historical and contemporary approaches to Paul’s use of allegoreō in Galatians 4:24. In what follows, I will list some of his findings (all the quotations are from his article) and summarize his compelling argument for learning how to read Moses from Paul in Galatians 4:21–31. If you can get to his article, I encourage you to read it, or anything he writes. Continue reading

On “Speaking Allegorically”: An Engagement with Friedrich Büschel in the TDNT

chiasm_text

[Here is the first in a few blogposts following up from today’s Sunday School lesson on Galatians 4:21–31 at Occoquan Bible Church.]

In the first volume of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Friedrich Büchsel notes how “allegorical exposition” is common among ancient people including “Indians, Mohammedans, Greeks, Jews and Christians.”[1] In particular, allegorical interpretation arose when something in the text brought modern offense, as is the case of Homer. This too carried over in Christian interpretation. Where various Old Testament texts seemed to oppose accepted theology, allegorical interpretations were made to smooth out the differences. Büschel notes, “In method, . . .  the Jewish and Christian interpretation of the OT is dependent on this allegorical exposition of Homer.”[2]

Büschel goes on to report Aristobulus as the first Jewish interpreter to adopt an allegorical approach and he learned it from the Greeks: “It can hardly be doubted that he took over the allegorical method from the Greeks, for he is saturated with Greek culture and uses the same method to interpret Greek poetry.”[3] Still, the greatest name associated with allegory is that of Philo. Philo may have been influenced by Greek culture but never at the expense of the literal sense. If anything, he upheld the literal sense of the Law and then went beyond the literal sense. This kind of polyvalent approach adumbrates that of other known ‘allegorists’ like Origen. In his own day, Büschel calls Philo “a theologian of the centre who avoids extremes and can combine diverse elements.”[4] In fact, it would be misleading to label Philo an extreme if that implied he forsook the legal requirements of the Law. Rather, as Büschel concludes,

In this matter we should bear in mind the highly complicated nature of Philo’s theology. It maintains an artificial balance between a legal and literalistic Judaism on the one side and an intellectual and spiritualistic mysticism on the other, never inclining too much to either the one or the other, but keeping the two in equilibrium.[5]

While Greek approaches to literature influenced Aristobulus and Philo, it also impacted the Jews in Palestine. For instance, one positive fruit of this allegorical approach was the inclusion of Song of Songs in the canon. “Only by means of allegorising could this collection of love songs be understood as a representation of the love which binds Israel to God.”[6] Additionally, the nature of “allegory” is different in Palestine. “Among the Palestinians allegorical interpretations are both rarer and less arbitrary; the distance between the literal meaning and the allegorical is much less.”[7] This difference stems from the Palestinians distance from Greco-Roman philosophy and from their closer adherence to the text. Nevertheless, it is apparent that among Jews there is a polyvalent approach to the text (“For the Palestinians, too, it is in keeping with the dignity of Scripture that it has many meanings”[8]), and thus an openness to reading the Scriptures allegorically. Continue reading

The Soundtrack of Salvation (pt. 2): The Family Tree of David in Psalms 42–72

the-psalms

How do you know who you are?

For all of us stories, especially family stories, define who we are. While the world tells us we can define ourselves however we want, the truth is we need an overarching story to set the context for our lives. Apart from Christ, we seek to write a story with our lives that satisfies our cravings and bolsters our self-confidence.

When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, however, we not only receive the Lord’s righteousness and life, we also receive his name, his family, and his history. Importantly, Jesus’ family history does not begin in a Bethlehem stable, it goes back to Ruth and Boaz—another family in Bethlehem. And in the birth of their great-grandson David, we find the foundational patriarch who defines the royal family of King Jesus and all of human history. In the Psalms David is the central figure. In Book 1 he is the author and centerpiece of (almost) every psalm. And now in Book 2, he continues to have the leading role.

This week, building on the message from last week, we consider how the sons of Korah, Asaph, and Solomon all factor into David’s later life. As I argue in the sermon, Book 2 begins with the highpoint of David’s life in Psalms 45–46; it then plummets into the conflicts that arise following David’s sin with Bathsheba in Psalms 51–71; it concludes with God intervening to save David and establish David’s son Solomon on the throne in Psalm 72. In this story we find the family story of David, of Jesus, and of every child of God who has entered into David’s story by way of trust in David’s Son.

You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. But perhaps most helpful are two infographics that display the story of Psalms 1–72. Here are the infographics, also in PDF (Book 1 and Book 2). Below are discussion questions and resources for further study.

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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