Time for another open forum. This time I want us to tackle an issue I’ve been researching for fun a little bit in the last few days based upon the discussion that came up as a result of an old post on ‘hell’. Here’s the question I want to pose for you to play around with: What concept, if any, of the afterlife did the ancient Hebrew’s have? What did they envision happening to the person after death? It would be great if we could interact with a few Old Testament texts and maybe even one or two apocryphal texts from the inter-testamental period. Again, try not make your comments too long so that discussion keeps flowing. So there you go, who wants to put their thoughts down first?
Archive for the 'Exegesis' Category
When Josh Harris posted Tim Keller’s preaching notes a few days ago he also included an introduction to Keller’s preaching by Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of New City Presbyterian Church. I thought these two paragraphs were especially insightful:
“To be a great preacher, one needs to be tri-perspectival in their exegesis. That is, they need to be committed to the exegesis of the Bible, the exegesis of our culture, and the exegesis of the human heart. Some preachers claim that if you exegete the Bible properly, you don’t need to bother yourself with the exegesis of our culture or the human heart. The problem with this view, however, is that the Bible itself exhorts us to apply Biblical norms to both our lives and to our world.
As a preacher myself, I benefit greatly from listening to a wide variety of preachers. In some cases I learn what to do, and in other cases I learn what not to do. But in every case, I learn something. Some preachers teach me how to be a better exegete of the Bible. Others teach me how to be a better exegete of our culture. And still others teach me how to be a better exegete of the human heart. But no preacher has consistently taught me how to do all three in the context of every sermon more so than Tim Keller. His balanced attention to all three forms of exegesis makes him very unique, in my opinion.”
Read the rest here.
Tony shares a surfing metaphor about exegesis that strikes a chord with me – I hear where you’re coming from bro.
In the past few years I’ve sat in a lot of group bible studies working with the English text of scripture. Sometimes I’ve been leading them, sometimes I’ve merely been a participant. The aim of these study groups has been to get to the plain reading of scripture (and that doesn’t always mean the literal reading of scripture. Often the two are vastly different from each other – but that’s another blog post). You want to get behind the author’s intent bearing in mind the various layers of context you need to work through in order to gain something of a satisfactory reading of the text.
As I work side by side with others in these groups I’ve begun to notice a slight discrepancy which has the potential for some error. A lot of first language English speakers in this country are functionally illiterate. They can only read the English text at a fairly basic and obvious level, without taking real cognisance of the grammatical flow of a particular passage. This has become especially apparent to me as we’ve looked at passages in the epistles where one needs to do a bit of discourse analysis to derive meaning. You can’t really do proper discourse analysis without a functional understanding of how grammar works. And this is exactly what I’m finding lacking in many people who speak English as fluently as the Queen.
What its done to my thinking is forced me to rethink how we do bible study because now I’m aware that not only am I trying to lead a group to unpack a text but in some ways we’re learning grammar too. A form of bible study that is heavily reliant on discourse analysis is going to miss quite a few people. The reality though is that discourse analysis is necessary if you’re after accurate meaning and so we need to somehow both do discourse analysis in small groups as well as teach it along the way in a simple understandable manner. We must bear in mind that we want to also help those studying the text with us in small groups or home groups to be able to gain skills that will help them access more and more of the text in their own personal reading. I’m not sure what that looks like yet. Any suggestions?
BTW – I know my grammar are rubbish on most of my post, but that are just laziness!
As I hit the ‘publish’ button for my previous post I immediately had mixed feelings. On the one hand I’m eager to learn and debating on forums is one way to sharpen your thinking on a specific issue – especially when you have to defend your own opinion against criticism. At the same time though I just felt terribly tired and worn out from replying to comment threads on this blog and trying to faithfully provide answers to questions with the utmost integrity and in such a way that the God of the bible is glorified. It is exhausting.
And then I go to college and sit in a class discussing the finer details of advanced Greek exegesis and its fascinating, and I’m convinced that it is thoroughly important that regular bible teachers invest time in the discipline. Yet at the same time again it just feels so far removed from showing a selfless act of love to a homeless man or any other act of true godliness. And so I’m forced to ask myself a question: What, as Christians, are we really about at the end of the day? The proper answer is simple I think, “Love God and love people.”
And so it just struck me that as I enter into debates, as I discuss issues and as I explore the finer details of Greek exegesis I’m doing it all for one goal – love – love for God and love for people. If I lose that goal I lose everything. We ought to crave it daily – it ought to be what motivates me to debate with integrity on this blog and to spend painful hours in the Greek text trying to figure out what its actually saying. Those things however are not the goals – love is.
If you find yourself existentially removed from this love yet completely absorbed in all the technicalities of the periphery, as I find myself sometimes, then stop, step back and let a simple reading of the text remind you of the love of our God in Christ Jesus – crave that love and don’t proceed without it.
Here’s a post by Gordon Cheng that suggests that Paul’s address to the Athenians in Acts 17 doesn’t really advocate contextualization (be sure to read the comments). What do you think?
As for me, you’ll know if you read this blog that I’m a bit more in the contextualization camp – but in terms of defending my position exegetically (defend from scripture – sorry for the jargon) I need to give it a bit more thought.
Alright peeps – your turn (and remember no essay length comments!)…
George Whitefield College is running its annual ‘Summer School of Biblical Christianity’ from 23 Jan to 1 Feb 2008 at their campus in Muizenberg, Cape Town. They’re offering courses on Biblical Theology, Church Response to Contemporary Issues, New Testament Greek, Old Testament Hebrew, Advanced Exegesis and Post-Graduate Research. I’ll be attending the Post-Graduate Research course.
What was really interesting to me is that Mark Norman will be down from Pretoria to teach 6 sessions on understanding postmodernism entitled ‘iPod therefore I Am‘. Here’s his schedule:
Part 1: Understanding Postmodernism – The differences between ‘Premodern’, ‘Modern’ and ‘Postmodern’ societies.
Part 2: Postmodernism and the Problem of Truth – A Christian critique of postmodern views of knowledge and truth.
Part 3: Postmodernism, Terrorism and Fundamentalism – The new global war and what it means for the church.
Part 4: Postmodernism and African Thought – How post-colonial African thought relates to postmodernism and its relevance for the church.
Part 5: Postmodernism and the Use of Language – A study of postmodern approaches to language, with special relevance to Jacques Derrida.
Part 6: Postmodernism and the Stories We Live In – Are you living in the Christian story?
Mark’s talks will take place in the mornings of each day prior to the other Summer School classes.
For more information contact GWC (021) 788-1652
Or see the college website.
If you’ve ever given any detailed attention to the text of the book of Romans before you’ll be well aware of the difficulties that surround chapter 7:14ff. The big debate in scholarship that surrounds this passage comes down to the spiritual status of Paul as he discusses his struggle with sin. There are two main options: Either he is talking about his experiences as a Jew living under the law prior to his conversion to Christianity OR he is talking about his struggles with the ‘flesh’ as a regenerate Christian. The traditional view, from the time of Augustine, has held to the latter option – Paul’s struggles as a Christian. This view has been upheld by the likes of Calvin, Luther, Packer & Stott. The former view though has some notable contemporary proponents such as Moo, Witherington & Schreiner.
After consulting much of the technical exegetical arguments surround this particular text it seems that the evidence tends towards the former view espoused by Moo and co. The problem is that many evangelicals have rather strong emotional ties to this passage as it seems to relate so well to their own inner struggles with sin. So if you challenge the traditional exegesis you are also, in one sense, challenging the spiritual experience of many if not all Christians.
Now what is most fascinating to me is not so much which view is correct (I’m still not 100% sold on either view just yet and need to study it further before I’ll commit to one view, although as I’ve already stated, after having grown up with the traditional view, my initial response to the exegetical evidence is that it presents Paul in his pre-conversion state contrary to the traditional view), what is most fascinating is how we as evangelicals, who proclaim the authority of Scripture – OVER OUR SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE – debate and deal with this particular passage. My contention is that if this was a passage that didn’t appear to infringe upon such a ‘sacred’ and emotionally charged part of our spiritual experience then we would simply have dismissed the traditional view already. We would have looked at the two views, realised that both views had their difficulties, but that the one view seemed to have more evidence for it than the other, and then objectively we’d have chosen the non-traditional view and upheld the authority of scripture to the best of our ability. It seems to me however that instead of this we’re prepared to flirt with denying the absolute authority and rule of scripture in our lives and practice for the sake of upholding our spiritual experience. Simply put: Evangelicals tend to behave highly ‘un-evangelical’ in situations like this.
Surely the convictions that underpin historic evangelicalism should cause us to rise above even emotion and experience when we attempt to discern the Lord’s voice with clarity in the scriptures? I don’t want to play down emotion and experience and their role in understanding the scriptures but all things, even emotion and experience, in the end must be subservient to scripture for us to be true to our convictions as evangelicals – this has to be the case if we truly believe that scripture is our final rule for life and spiritual experience.
I’ve been working on the Sermon on the Mount as part of a post grad program and have found it wonderfully satisfying as well as troubling at the same time. Jesus’ words are both immensely encouraging and go right to the heart of hypocritical religion. As I study it more, His words seem to stick to me as I slowly begin to realise my own religious hypocrisy. One such text that has taken me aback is Matthew 7:1-6. Jesus begins simply enough:
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”
This is his guiding principle for the text; if one of his followers displays judgment then they will be judged. Before we go further, we need to realise that Jesus was critiquing the deficient righteousness of the Pharisees (cf. 5: 17-48) urging his followers to capture the true meaning of righteousness as putting Christ’s commands into practise. So we have Jesus warning the disciples that if they display the same kind of critical, harsh judgemental attitude that the Pharisees did by condemning others then they are in danger of the greater judgement (see v2). This he helpfully illustrates in v3-5 where he uses the word picture of a man trying to help his brother remove the speck from his eye. But Jesus condemns him as a hypocrite! Why? Because of the log in his own eye; this was the fault of the Pharisees who condemned others for their failings while not being able to see the greater problem of their own hearts, hearts hardened to God and others. And so Jesus warns his followers to not fall into that trap of hypocrisy; Christians do not have the right to condemn a man, which is God’s ultimate job. Ours is to love our neighbour and love God which is the sum of the Law (cf. 7:12).
But don’t we see Jesus judging others? The disciples are told to judge false teachers by their fruits so is this a contradiction? No, for the opposite extreme of being judgemental/condemning is just as bad a mistake. That extreme is to suspend all faculties of critical thought and action. This would mean to let sin go unpunished within a church community, this would mean allowing false teaching that wrecks faith to go unchallenged and that is why v6 is included in the context. It is puzzling and needs some research but the picture is that of a warning that Christians are not to give what is holy (the pearl) to what is unholy (the dogs and pigs) for they may turn and attack! The pearl I take it is that is the Gospel message (cf. Mat 13:44-45) which must at some point NOT be given to these “animals”. The animals come to represent those who are particularly opposed to the Gospel and its implications, who would at any opportunity seek to revile and mock Christ whenever they are given the message.
So Jesus would have his followers love others by helping them and challenging them in their serving of God and men by not judging and condemning them. Yet they must show some level of discrimination against serious opponents of the Gospel for the sake of the glory of God. So I take it that as we engage with non believers and believers we are to do so knowing our place, listening and loving. Yet we cannot accept all that we hear without a critical eye or ear and must be ready to engage and challenge false living and teaching but always be focussing that critical eye to our own lives first (v5). Loving others means challenging their beliefs and life if it does not come in line with Christ’s ethic, but it’s how we do this that is immensely important!
I have been trying to understand what Paul means in Colossians 1:24 when he says;
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
We can know from the rest of scripture that he can’t mean that Christ’s death did not fully acheive all that scripture tells us and as one sees in the previous verses and the rest of Pauls argument he clearly keeps reminding the Colossians that Christ is sufficient and that they must not move from the gospel but remain rooted in it (1:23). So we know from that that Paul himself is not saying that the cross is not enough. So what then does he mean when he says “…I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions…”
If anyone can point me to a good commentary or book that might help understand in the context of Colossians what Paul means that would be great, or if anyone has any insight that would be helpful please leave a comment or e-mail me.
This a constant refrain that comes out of my hermeneutics lecturer’s mouth. In hermeneutics class when asked a question and you’re unsure of the answer then simply answer with the word, ‘context’ and there’s a fairly good chance you’ll get it right. In terms of determining the meaning of a text context is king and without it you can pretty much make the Bible say what you want. Now this should be quite straight forward – nothing new. What I was thinking of the other day is how many different types of contexts you have to take into account to derive meaning and then make that meaning understandable. As I see it you have the following contexts to deal with:
Redemptive Historical Context: The Bible is a story of God’s work in the world, it is a story of progressive revelation and therefore it means that texts at certain points of the story, if not connected to the broader story, will become nothing more than proof-texts. My short experience in evangelicalism tells me that this is the most neglected context. We have to locate our texts in the bible storyline before drawing conclusions.
Historical Context: Our text has to be located within the history in which it is set. The Bible is a book written by people living in particular historical settings and we have to take that into account and not assume that the people we’re reading about all had Ipods, Macs and watched ‘Prison Break’ every night on television. This context is a bit tricky in that our knowledge of this context is based on disciplines that fluctuate. I experienced this at university in the Classical Civilizations department where there is a large amount of varying opinion as to exactly what historical conditions were like in certain eras – and opinions constantly change as new findings come to the fore. So whilst this context is helpful and necessary, it needs to be treated with humility and I would be wary of the person who puts too much stock into the historical context in order to derive meaning.
Literary Context: The Bible is literature, we have poetry, history, parable, discourse, apocalyptic etc. etc. We need to be genre sensitive and then we need to learn the rules of those various genres and be able to work with them to derive meaning. The Bible is not a systematics textbook where the meaning is just set down for you in neatly packaged propositional statements.
Those three are the standard contexts that you’ll learn about in a hermeneutics class. There are two others that I want to add:
Historical Theological Context: Texts have a history of interpretation, to ignore that history and the gifted people that God has given to the church through the ages is foolishness. We don’t do hermeneutics as islands, isolated from the rest of the church and so this context needs to be recognized.
Personal Context: I didn’t know what else to call this, but we all come to the text with our own baggage and so a helpful question to ask is, ‘why am I reading the text in this way – what from my own context causes me to see the text in this way’. This is a difficult process as you wade through your socialization, enculturation and present context to try and achieve an as objective as possible reading of the text.
From here you would start to talk about conveying the meaning to specific contexts – but that’s a whole new blog post.
I had to write a joint paper on the above topic recently and my job was to have a look at something of a theological basis for partnership in mission. Here’s a bit of what I came up with:
It is helpful to outline a brief theological basis for partnership in mission from the New Testament. One disclaimer must be made: To fully understand the theological implications of mission and partnership we need to explore a theology of the doctrine of church and its role in mission. This however is beyond the scope of this paper, but any genuine, holistic attempt to place partnership and the church within the context of mission must take this into account as it will have ramifications on the nature of partnership from a theological point of view.
Theology of church and mission aside, the following examples give indication of the existence of local church partnership in the early church. These examples have been drawn from the epistles of the apostle Paul so as to avoid the prescription/description debate that occurs often when occurrences in the book of Acts are used to authorize normative acts for the church today in terms of mission.
An extremely helpful place to start is to look at Paul’s understanding of the term ‘kononia’. The term is most commonly associated with the word ‘fellowship’ however it has also often been associated with ‘partnership’ hence the New International Version’s translation of the word in Philippians 1:5. One recent speaker at the Cape Crossword Easter Convention remarked that the term ‘partnership’ is a helpful way of delineating the main idea in the book of Philippians, so frequent are the occurrences of ‘kononia’ and its cognates.
Peter O’Brien suggests that we should understand the word kononia and its cognates as expressing the idea of common participation or ‘having something in common with someone’ – he argues however that the New Testament emphasis is on ‘participation’ in ‘something’ rather than association with someone which is the emphasis on the contemporary notion of fellowship. (1993: 294).
So in Philippians 1:5 Paul gives thanks because of the Philippian church’s participation with him in the proclamation of the apostolic gospel. When consulting 4:15 of the same epistle we see that a large component of that partnership was financial. Paul picks this up again, with presumably the same church in mind when in 2 Corinthians 8:4 Paul commends the Macedonians for their generous financial partnership. This partnership was not so much with Paul but with the Jerusalem church who were the most likely recipients of the financial gift – Paul simply acted as a go-between.
One might wonder about the apostles and other traveling church planters and evangelists as to how they might have in some sense partnered with the churches. 2 Corinthians 8:19 appears to give us some insight into this. Paul speaks of a ‘brother’ who will accompany Titus and himself in their travels and visits to the Corinthians. This brother, according to Paul, was ‘praised by all the churches’ for his service to the gospel – it seems that however he traveled and worked, he did so in close relation to the local church, perhaps even under their authority. The sending off of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1-3 is a possible correlation of this idea, where the traveling apostles are sent off under the blessing and authority of the church. In Acts 14:27 they report back to the church about their missionary initiatives.
The New Testament is clearly in support of the notion of partnership for the sake of the proclamation of the gospel. So strong is the emphasis in books like Philippians that it seems to ‘partner’ with one another for the sake of the gospel is built into the very fabric of what it means to be a Christian. A body of believers without partnership both amongst themselves and with other bodies is not a biblical body of believers. Depending upon one’s theology of the local church one might extend this then to say that the local church is designed to be in partnership, for the sake of the gospel, with other local churches, and that this is the New Testament model for the progression of mission.
See: O’BRIEN, P. T. 1993. Fellowship, Communion, Sharing in the Dictionary of Paul and his Letters. Leicester. Inter-Varsity Press.
Since mentioning recently that I’ve been battling to find missioligists who combine great missional insight with sound exegesis I’ve got my hands on three helpful books in this area. It’s going to take me some time to get through them all, but I think the authors involved in these books make up some of the most reliable names in missions:
BTW – If you’re in Cape Town this coming week then don’t miss out on hearing Chris Wright speak at the Easter Convention.
I’m doing a course called contemporary issues in missions, and one thing I keep finding over and over again is that for all the wisdom that these various missiologists impart the general standard of exegetical skill amongst them is rather poor. I’ve been reading Bosch, Escobar, Newbigin etc. etc. and whilst every page has great wisdom and insight I find that when these guys turn to the texts they’re rather weak in their exegesis.
I’ve really enjoyed reading Harvie Conn because he seems to be able to combine missional thinking with fairly decent exegesis – Peter O’Brien is also great, but to date I haven’t been able to get my hands on much of his missiology stuff.
Does anyone out there know of missiologists who are very careful with their exegesis of Scripture, who are sensitive both to the literary genre and redemptive historical context?