The Good and the Bad of Brevard Childs’s Canonical Criticism

chilsdIn his book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Brevard Child’s explains his approach to canonical criticism, a term he does not like (82), but one that generally describes his approach to interpreting Scripture in its final form. Among critical scholars, i.e., those who employed historical-critical methods of interpretation, Childs championed a new (and better) approach to the Bible.

Instead of looking for the sources behind the text (e.g., Julius Wellhausen) or certain forms in the text (e.g., Herman Gunkel), or traditions running through the text (e.g., Gerhard Von Rad), Childs advocated an approach to the Bible which studied the final form of the text. In the academy, this approach turned the corner towards studying the unity of the Bible and not just its diversity. His work spurred on others to read the Bible canonically, and his labors helped turn the corner towards what is known today as TIS, the theological interpretation of Scripture.

Therefore, its worth considering what he said on the subject of reading the Bible in its canonical form. From his chapter on “Canonical Criticism,” here are a few insightful quotations, listed under five summary statements.

(Spoiler Alert: At the end, I’ll outline a few reasons why Childs approach may not be helpful as some think.) Continue reading

Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Canonical Reading

bill-williams-3302And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
— Genesis 1:28 —

Few commands in Scripture are more important than the first one: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”

In Genesis 1 we learn God made mankind in his image and after his likeness. The purpose of this “imaging” is disputed and multi-faceted (as I’ve described here). However, it is clear that the first command is to be fruitful and multiply, a pregnant command if there ever was one.

In fact, from the placement of this command—the first chapter of the first book in the Bible—we see how programmatic this command is. It is fundamental to being human, and therefore it applies to every one of us. At the same time, from a canonical reading of Scripture we learn how this phrase repeats and develops, so that it bears significance for more than just having babies. In other words, though it never loses this meaning (child-bearing is an implicit part of humanity), the progress of revelation also shows how fruitfulness relates to the Word of God, regeneration, and the Great Commission.

So, in what follows, I will list out many places where this language (“be fruitful and multiply”) occurs, with a few comments along the way.  Then, I will list four ways that reading Genesis 1:28 canonically helps us understand this verse and the whole structure of the Bible. Continue reading

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

prophets

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

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

“Give Me Life . . . According to Your Word”: How God’s Law Leads to Gospel Life

ben-white-131241There is a way of thinking today that says life and liberty are found by rejecting or rewriting the law. Personal expression is all that matters: “Just be yourself . . . Be authentically you!” And if any rules or laws—be they religious or otherwise—get in the way, just reject or rewrite those restrictions.

Importantly, Scripture is not silent on this matter. And it teaches the opposite. Instead of rejecting the law as a place of life and freedom, it actually says that life is found in keeping the law. Or to be more specific, life is enjoyed as one seeks to obey the law. Yes, Paul says that the law does not have power to make alive (Romans 8:3), but that is not all he says about the law (see Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:13–14).

Moreover, Psalm 119 demonstrates what a heart cries, when it has been circumcised by the law. In other words, whereas mere obedience cannot earn life; those who have been made alive by God will hunger and thirst for life in the law. Obedience to the law is not antithetical to life; it is the very essence of life under the Lord.

So let us consider how Psalm 119 cries out for life in the Word of God. Continue reading

Starting with Adam: Seeing How the Priesthood Begins in Genesis 1–2

gateEarlier this year, The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology published my article on typology. In it I argued for a “covenantal topography,” i.e., a semi-predictable pattern which all biblical types follow as they develop through the covenant history of the Bible. In that article, I focused on the priesthood as an example of how types develop from creation through the patriarchs, the law, and prophets. Ultimately, they culminate in Jesus Christ and by extension apply to those in Christ. At least, that’s the argument I made.

If you are interested in typology and how the Bible fits together, this article (“From Beelines to Plotlines: Typology That Follows the Covenantal Topography of Scripture“) may be worth considering (or critiquing, or I hope considering and improving). For today, I share the first phase of the priesthood, to show how priestly themes begin in Genesis with the creation of Adam as the first royal priest. Continue reading

The Warfare Worldview of Ephesians

kingWhen was the last time you prayed against the devil? Or, attributed your physical pain or emotional vexations to a demonic spirit?

If it has been some time (or never), it’s probably because you live in the 21st Century America, where the evils of the world—moral and natural—are explained by biological factors and scientific calculation. But if you lived in 16th Century Europe, it would be a different story.

In the Medieval period, ghosts and goblins, spirits and demons were regularly blamed for spiritual and physical tribulations. In that world, God and the angelic realm were not excluded from visible world. Sovereign over all spirits, God ruled the world and nearly every struggle in life could be connected to spiritual realities. Today, faith in God, especially Christian faith has demystified. Religion is a private affair. And God, in the public square and in the halls of learning, is an unwelcome guest.

As a result, Bible-believing Christians must fight against the prevailing, scientific worldview handed to them by television and education. Whereas leading scientists once gazed into the heavens to worship God, now scientifically-minded man is blind to the enchanted world in which we live. This is not to say we should go back to pre-scientific age of vain superstitions, but as Scripture testifies, we should see that the event on earth are part of God’s cosmic conflict with evil.

This fall, as we remember the Protestant Reformation, the supernatural makeup of the world and the spiritual warfare that the God’s Word invites is but one unified truth we need to recover. As John Calvin commented in his words to King Francis, “When the light shining from on high in a measure shattered his darkness, . . . [Satan] began to shake off his accustomed drowsiness and to take up arms.” Indeed, faithful preaching of God’s Word will be met with spiritual opposition, and thus we who seek to make Christ known must be steeled by the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit.

For that reason, we come to the book of Ephesians and the faithful examples of the Protestant Reformers. Continue reading

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

On Biblical Theology and Interpretation

Christ in OT“Jesus became the direct and primary source of the
church’s understanding of the Old Testament”
— David Dockery, “Typological Exegesis”
in Reclaiming the Prophetic Mantle, 174 —

If reading the Bible well is a passion for you, you will appreciate the reflections of these interpreters of Scripture.

 

The Text, the Whole Text, and Nothing But the Text. Willem VanGemeren is right when he argues that the historical-grammatical interpretation is the way to read the Bible on its own terms.

Hermeneutics refers to the manner in which we listen to the text, relate it to other texts, and apply it. Hermeneutics calls for a discipline of mind and heart, by which the student of Scripture may patiently study the biblical text in its various contexts, including historical, grammatical, literary, and cultural.  This approach is best known as historical-grammatical analysis. (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 27)

The Textual Horizon is not Enough. And VanGemeren is also correct to caution against exegesis which fails to consider the larger framework of the Bible.

The problem with the historical-grammatical method, however, is that students of the Word may be tempted to think that they have control over the text when all they have done is examine its constituent parts—but what grasp do they really have of its message?  Only after seeing how the parts fit together and how they relate to the rest of the book and to the rest of Scripture can the student master the clear message of the text.  Proper exegetical theology, therefore, requires synthesis. . . .

Interpretation also involves equal concern for the Old and New Testaments.  When the two parts of the Bible are held in careful balance, the continual tension between law and gospel, token and reality, promise and fulfillment, present age and future restoration, Israel and the church, and earthly and spiritual only enhances a christological and eschatological focus. (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 29, 38) Continue reading

Reading the Bible Better: What Makes a Valid Chiasm?

chiasm_textStructure is not simply artificial device or literary elegance. It is a key to meaning. Oversight of structure may result in failure to grasp the true theme.
— Ernst Wendland —

This week, I enjoyed participating in my second Simeon Trust workshop. To those who teach the word regularly I can think of few ways to invest three days that will encourage and equip you more in your “Word work.” (You can also find great resources on their website).

At our workshop we focused on Prophetic literature, specifically on the book of Isaiah. Therein, the topic of finding a text’s structure was discussed, which brings us to the point of this post: chiasms.

Chiasms are literary structures that shape the words of Scripture in a X-like manner (hence, chiasm for the Greek letter X [Chi]). That is, chiasms work like a series of concentric circles, with an outer ring (A, A’), an inner ring(s) (B, B’), and an emphasized center (C). For instance, Jonah 1 presents a chiasm, with multiple layers.

A The LORD HURLED a storm (4)
A1 The mariners were afraid and joined YHWH in hurling cargo (5a)
A2 Jonah was unafraid and went down to sleep (5b)
B The captain confronted Jonah with God’s Words (‘Arise, call out …)
C The sailors query Jonah (7–8)
D Jonah identifies himself (9)
E The sailors are exceedingly afraid (10a)
       10b                  X Fleeing the Presence of the LORD = God’s Discipline
                           E’ The sailors want to know what they can do (11)
D’ Jonah suggests that the sailors drown him – repent? (12)
C’ The sailors try to save him and themselves (13)
B’ The sailors call out to YHWH ‘let us not perish’ (14)
A’ The men HURLED Jonah into the sea – the storm stopped (15)
A1’ The men feared YHWH exceedingly (16)
A2’ Jonah was swallowed by a fish (17)

(For other chiasms see Genesis 1–11Matthew 3:1–4:17; 1 Corinthians 11–14).

While most acknowledge the use of chiasms in Scripture, there is greater disagreement on what designates a true chiasm. Put into the form of a question: How do we know when a passage is truly “chiastic” and not just the literary creation of the interpreter? What validates a chiasm? Continue reading