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

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

Hermeneutics as Disciple-Formation

Christ in OTThe one who follows Jesus to the cross (but no further) is an admirer; the one who takes up the cross is a disciple. The admirer, unlike the disciple, follows Jesus only up to a point. . . . The Emmaus road admirers did not recognize Jesus; he was a stranger to them. They were incapable of reading the Scripture or the situation rightly. . . . Admirers [users and critics] of Jesus are able to follow the biblical testimony up to a point; they are able neither to recognize what it means for them nor to appropriate its perlocutionary effect [i.e., the way the word ‘works’]. Similarly, for many readers, the text is a ‘stranger,’ to be admired or followed only ‘up to a point.’ Like the Emmaus travelers, the itinerant reader may be familiar with the text without ever having a moment of recognition, without ever coming to a personal knowledge of the ‘strange new world of the Bible,’ without ever deciding whether the stranger [i.e., the triune God] is friend or foe.
 Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? —

Hermeneutics, technically defined, is “the science that teaches us the principles, laws, and methods of interpretation” (Louis Berkhof). Since college, this subject has been a passion and a pursuit. And so it is with great joy that I continue to consider this topic with the men of Occoquan Bible Church today.

Because the ‘science . . . of interpretation’ is actually part of God’s wise and gracious process of making disciples, it is vital we learn more than interpretive skills and techniques when we study hermeneutics. We must begin with the right posture of heart, which is to say the Holy Spirit must grant new eyes and new affections, so that as born again disciples of Christ our biblical studies bring us into greater communion with the triune God.

Keeping this personal knowledge of God at the center, I have tried to frame our study around the Father who Speaks, the Son who is that Spoken Word, and the Spirit who empowers us to believe and receive the Word of God. Most, if not all, of these thoughts are unoriginal, but novelty for novelty sake is never the goal of interpretation. Rather, the goal of Bible reading, I believe, is beholding Christ in all Scripture. With in mind, I share the notes here on three presuppositions (read: postures of the heart) disciples need to rightly understand the Word of God.

  1. Author — The God Who Speaks
  2. Text — The Word God Writes
  3. Audience– The Spirit Who Empowers Understanding (today’s lesson)

In these, my hope is to consider how faithful interpretation enhances doxology and discipleship. For any other aim misses the point of Scripture.  As Kevin Vanhoozer has wisely written, we must be disciples who receive the Word of God not mere admirers, dubious critics, or pragmatic users of God’s Word. To that end we pray and study.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Let the Reader Understand: Interpretation That Sanctifies (1 Corinthians 10:1–13)

sermon photoTypology. Intertexuality. Biblical interpretation. Sanctification.

Those are esoteric subjects for a nerdy few, right? Well, I don’t think so. At least, according to 1 Corinthians 10, we see how the Apostle Paul cites ten different events in Israel’s history, which he says were written down for the church, as a means of instruction and sanctification.

In a section of 1 Corinthians where Paul continues to confront idolatry, Paul teaches us how to read the Bible and what ongoing purpose the Old Testament Scripture has for New Testament churches. You can listen to or read this week’s sermon. Below are discussion questions and resources for further study.  Continue reading

Israel and the Church: Continuity, Discontinuity, or Something of the Two?

haysIn his influential study on intertextuality, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of PaulRichard Hays argues the apostle Paul’s hermeneutic is “functionally ecclesiocentric rather than christocentric” (xiii). In a series of essays, he shows how the apostle applies Old Testament texts to the New Testament church, and in so doing he questions the commonly held assumption that Paul wrote with a Christocentric approach to the Old Testament.

In comparison to the Gospels, especially Matthew and John, Hays shows that Paul is much more reticent to cite messianic prooftexts. Rather, writing to local churches who are comprised of the eschatological people of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11), he applies the Old Testament scriptures semi-directly to the church. I say semi-directly, because the old covenant scriptures only apply through the mediation of Jesus Christ, a point Hays goes on to affirm: “christology is the foundation on which [Paul’s] ecclesiocentric counterreadings are constructed” (120).

For Hays, his aim is to observe the hermeneutical principles at work in Paul’s letters. My question is more systematic. What does Paul’s method of interpretation say to us about the relationship between Israel and the Church? Debates rage between Dispensationalists who make a clear division between Israel and the Church and Covenant Theologians who have ostensibly replaced Israel with the Church. Thankfully, these hard divisions have been revised in recent years—Progressive Dispensationalists see more continuity between Israel and the Church (even as they retain a unique place for Israel), and Covenant Theologians like Richard Gaffin and Anthony Hoekema have centered Old Testament promises in Jesus Christ and his new covenant people. Still, the debate continues: how should we relate the testaments? Continue reading

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

Will the Real Elijah Please Stand Up? Learning from Jesus How to Read the Bible Literally

elijah“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5–6)

And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:10–13)

Every self-respecting, Bible-believing evangelical wants to read the Bible “literally.” No one wants to be called a “spiritualizer” or accused of (un)intentionally “allegorizing” the “plain meaning of Scripture.” But what does it mean to read the Bible “literally”?

On one hand, it is mistaken to read a passage text differently than the author intended. A well-formed grammatical-historical  approach to interpretation affirms authorial intent and the possibility of discerning meaning in a text. On the other hand, it is mistaken to read the biblical text so rigidly (read: literalistically) that in the name of seeking the literal meaning of the text we miss the meaning of the Bible’s divine author. But how do we discern the difference?

The best way I know is to watch and learn from Jesus himself. Continue reading

Blood Moons and Smoke-Filled Skies: An Already and Not Yet Approach to the Day of the Lord

moon

When we read in Acts 2:19-20, “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the  sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,” we who are unaccustomed to apocalyptic literature are quick to scratch our heads and ask: What does this mean?  Our doctrinal convictions keep us on the trail: Scripture is perspicuous (i.e., clear) and true, therefore, Peter must means what he says. He is surely not incorrect. But how can the moon turn to blood? Should we really expect the Sea of Tranquility to fill with blood, just like the Nile in Exodus?

When reading such language in Scripture, we do well to remember that Scripture interprets Scripture and that in this case, the apocalyptic language of Joel 2 is being cited by Peter to explain the historical events of Pentecost–the outpouring of the Spirit foretold in Joel 2:28. However, for reasons we will see, Peter also includes the more troubling language. Therefore, to understand the whole section lets consider four biblical-theological points that will help us see how the Day of the Lord is both a present and future reality—a method of interpreting the Old Testament that the Apostles often employed.

1. Historical Acts 2 quotes apocalyptic Joel 2.

Importantly, the strange language comes not from the historical narrative of Luke, but rather the prophetic literature of Joel. In this way, he is quoting an Old Testament prophecy to explain the events of recent history—i.e., the ostensible drunkenness of the disciples (Acts 2:13). Therefore, we must not read these words as portending to a literalistic interpretation—the moon is dripping blood. Rather, Luke is telling us how these strange, poetic words have come come true in the historical events of Pentecost. Continue reading

Introducing “How” To Do Biblical Theology: Fifteen Axioms from Graeme Goldsworthy

atpThis week our Sunday School classes begin a summer-long study of According to Plan: An Introduction to Biblical Theology.

It is not hyperbole to say Graeme Goldsworthy’s book was revolutionary in my understanding of Scripture, theology, hermeneutics, and preaching. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience with him; I know many friends and ministers of the gospel who have.

If you have not read him—or heard of him— let me whet your appetite. The first seven chapters of his book outline a basic methodology for biblical theology. Without including everything, I’ve laid out fifteen axioms about biblical theology from his introduction.

Certainly, these axioms do not exhaust the subject. They don’t even exhaust Goldsworthy’s contribution (see his Christ-centered Hermeneutics and Christ-centered Biblical Theology), but they do make a sizable dent in introducing “how” to do biblical theology.

So, take up and read. Tolle Lege. Then go back to Scripture with a greater hunger and skill in seeing Christ in all Scripture—the personal and spiritual aim of all good biblical theology.

  1. Biblical theology is more than being “biblical” in our theology — “Deciding to be biblical, and believing and acting upon what the Bible teaches, does not solve all our problems” (19).
  2. Biblical theology is Christ-centered, meaning “biblical theology shows the relationship of all parts of the Old Testament to the person and work of Jesus Christ and, therefore, to the Christian” (23). Likewise, “Biblical theology enables us to discover how any Bible text relates to ourselves. Because Christ is the fixed point of reference for theology, we are concerned with how the text relates to Christ and how we relate to Christ” (71).
  3. Biblical theology is a methodological approach to showing [how all parts of the Old Testament relate to Christ] so that the Old Testament can be understood as Christian Scripture” [cf. 2 Timothy 3:14–16]” (23).
  4. “Biblical theology needs to emphasize some theme or themes which provide basis for understanding the single, unified message of the Bible” (77). Any valid biblical theology will show from Scripture is unified message, and how it relates to the final and full revelation of God in Christ (Hebrews 1:1–2).
  5. Biblical theology is a verbal map of the overall message of the Bible,” and “Biblical theology enables us to map out the unity of the Bible by looking at its message as a whole.” (23–24)
  6. Biblical theology provides the basis for the interpretation of any part of the Bible as God’s word to us” (25). As William Dumbrell has said elsewhere, “Interpretation of the Bible demands a framework within which the details are set. . . . We need to know the big picture before we look at the details.” (William Dumbrell, The Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus, 9).
  7. Biblical theology, speaking generally, stands between systematic theology and exegetical theology. In practice, biblical theology is most like historical theology, as “it contains a history of God’s revelation to mankind” (32). At the same time, biblical theology is what insures systematic theology is biblical, as “systematic theology will constantly make use of biblical and historical theology” (32). That said, biblical theology is most closely related to exegetical theology; it is “the last stage of exegetical theology . . . which examines the process of progression of God’s revelation to mankind” (35).
  8. Not every “biblical theology” is equally biblical, for “many biblical theologies have been written in which the biblical presuppositions have been rejected in favor of humanistic ones” (48). Importantly, biblical theologians must the inspiration, authority, and unity of the Bible.
  9. Biblical theology must affirm a number of underlying presuppositions about the Word of God and the world we live. Goldsworthy enumerates five (45):
    1. God made every fact in the universe, and he alone can interpret all things and events.
    2. Because we are created in the image of God we know that we are dependent on God for the truth.
    3. As sinners we suppress this knowledge and reinterpret the universe on the assumption that we, not God, give things their meanings.
    4. Special revelation through God’s redemptive word, reaching its high point in Jesus Christ, is needed to deal with our suppression of the truth and hostility to God.
    5. A special work of the Holy Spirit brings repentance and faith so that sinners acknowledge the truth which is in Scripture.
  10. Biblical theology should learn how to read the Bible from the apostles — “Jesus claims . . . he himself is the subject of the Old Testament. His teachings constantly point to the Old Testament as that which he fulfills. Thus the Old Testament does not stand on its own, because it is incomplete without its conclusion and fulfillment in the person and work of Christ” (52).
  11. Biblical theology should be a Christian endeavor – “In doing biblical theology as Christians, we do not start at Genesis 1 and work our way forward . . . Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goals and meaning. The Old Testament will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills” (55).
  12. Biblical theology recognizes that God’s Word is a progressively revealed revelation” — The Old Testament “is revelation because in it God makes himself know. It is redemptive because God reveals himself in the act of redeeming us. It is progressive because God makes himself and his purposes known by stages until the full light is revealed in Jesus Christ” (57).
  13. Biblical theology avoids the mirrored extremes of literalism and allegory — “Literalism involves the very serious error of not listening to what the New Testament says about fulfillment. It assumes that the fulfillment must correspond exactly to the form of the promise.” Conversely, “allegory assumed that history is worthless as history. Allegory results when a supposed hidden meaning is read out of something that on the surface is historical but which in fact has no value as history” (67).
  14. Biblical theology pays attention to the typological structures of the Bible — “Typology . . . takes account of the fact that God used a particular part of human history to reveal himself and his purposes to mankind. But it was a process, so that the historical types are incomplete revelations and depend on their antitype for their real meaning [e.g., the substance of Christ interprets the shadows of the Old Testament]. Typology rejects the principle of literalism [the belief that “says the historical promises lead to exactly corresponding historical fulfillments”]  . . . It also rejects the principle of allegory. [the belief that “says the historical promises and events are of significance only for the hidden meanings which lie beneath them”]. (68)
  15. Biblical theology ought to ground its methods of interpretation in the principles of the Reformation — “The literal or natural meaning of the text was what the text intended to convey to its original readers. It was thus a rejection of the allegorical interpretation that regarded such [historical-grammatical] meaning as irrelevant. Most significantly, however, the reformers did not see the literal meaning as being exhausted until it found its fulfillment in Christ. Thus, they recognized that the literal meaning at the Old Testament level pointed to a future event with a fuller meaning. Unlike allegory, the connection between the two was a matter of revelation in the Bible itself.” (68–69)

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