Category Archives: Bible Study

The Messiah in the Old Testament: Participant’s Guide

I’ve just finished teaching through a summer Bible study on the theme of the Messiah in the Old Testament. We studied the progressive development of the idea of messianic hope from it’s earliest form forward. Obviously in a ten week study we didn’t look at all the messianic passages in the Old Testament, but tried to select some of the most important based partly on how heavily the Jesus and New Testament rely on them. For instance, I included Isaiah 53 because by some counts it is alluded to over four hundred times in the New Testament.  Here’s the participant’s guide:

Messianic Hope – Participants Guide

I’m also happy to share my teaching manuscripts and weekly class handouts. If you’d like them just send me an email or leave a comment below.

messianichope

 

 

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The Messiah From Isaiah to Revelation

Isaiah has at least eighteen direct messianic references.[1] And by some counts, Isaiah’s prophecy is referred to over four hundred times in the New Testament. J. Alec Motyer says, “The Isaianic literature is built around three messianic portraits: the King (chapters 1-37), the Servant (chapters 38-55) and the Anointed Conqueror (chapters 56-66).”[2]

One example from Isaiah’s portrait of Messiah as king is found in Isaiah 11:1-10.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Notice this figure is a king who judges with equity (vv. 3-4), destroys the wicked who oppose him (vv. 4-5), and will bring knowledge of Yhwh (v. 9). Then in verse 10, the idea of a shoot from the stump is repeated:

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

So Isaiah sees this messianic world-savior king as a root of Jesse; Jesse’s true offspring, the greater David. The tree of Israel has been chopped off in judgment so that only a stump remains. But from that stump a tender shoot comes forth. And what was Israel’s hope? “There shall come…”

“There sounds out from the oldest to the latest sources…the mighty ‘he comes’ (cf. Gen 49:10), ‘he appears’ (Num 24:17), ‘he cometh’ (Zech 9:9), ‘he is born’ (Is 7:14; 9:4), ‘he comes forth (11:1), ‘he comes forth (Mic 5:1), ‘he is raised up’ (Jer 23:5), ‘until he comes’ (Ez 21:32), ‘I will raise up’ (34:23), ‘I bring’ (Zech. 12:8), ‘I saw, there come’ (Dan. 7:13).” This continually recurring assurance that the Paradise-prince will come to destroy all enemies and judge even to the ends of the earth, forms the deepest core of the mystery—it is expressed by a single word in Hebrew, in English, “He comes.” It stamps the religion of the Old Testament as specifically a religion of hope.[3]

The ultimate answer to Isaiah 11 comes in Revelation 22:7, “Behold I am coming soon.” And 22:12, “Behold I am coming soon.” And again 22:20, “Surely I am coming soon.” And who is it that is coming? He identifies himself in 22:16,

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright and morning star.”

Christian have a messianic hope still today. Certainly we have an advantage in the fullness of Scripture. We have not only Isaiah but also Revelation. But we can certainly understand the psychology of hope/anticipation that existed in Israel. Our worldview is not so very different from theirs.

We are still looking forward to a future world in which a world-saving king will reign, and will right all the wrongs, and will reverse entropy, and will establish harmony. All the things Isaiah wanted as Israel was on the verge of exile are the same things that we want and foresee as we are in the midst of exile.

And so the Christian ends where Isaiah points and Revelation ends, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)

 

 

[1] Walter C. Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, 155-156.

[2] J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: Introduction and Commentary, 13.

[3] B. B. Warfield, “The Divine Messiah in the Old Testament,” here he is both quoting and distilling Ernst Sellin.

How to Study the Bible: A Ten Step Approach

 Here is the short version of the ten steps, then explained more fully below. This approach is from Grant Osborne. (Other great resources are Kay Arthur’s How to Study Your Bible and How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.)

  1. Outline the book as a whole
  2. Line diagram of a specific passage
  3. Grammatical study based on line diagram
  4. Semantics study: meaning of key words based on context
  5. Syntactical study: what is the relationship between the words, phrases and ideas in the passage?
  6. Historical background: what internal evidence is provided about the original setting?
  7. Genre: OT narratives, poetry, prophetic, apocalyptic, NT narrative, epistle
  8. Historical interpretation: how has this passage been understood throughout church history?
  9. Doctrines: what doctrines are taught in this passage; what other parts of the Bible teach the same doctrine?
  10. Homiletical synthesis: what is the significance of this text for Christian living and for the church?

As I sat at my desk this morning I opened my Bible to Hosea 1 intending to read chapters 1-7. In this process there were two primary entities (though I’m tempted to include my coffee as a third). Those two entities were the text before me (Hosea) and me the reader. The writer Hosea and his mind are no longer present; the only record we have is this text he left behind.

My interaction with this text unfolds in a dynamic that Grant Osborne describes as a hermeneutical spiral, by which he means the movement back and forth between the reader and the text, leading to a probable understanding of the author/Author’s intended meaning. This process culminates in the reader’s understanding of the passage for the current context and significance for the church.

This back and forth between text and context is the essence of the hermeneutical spiral, and assumes the reality that the interpreter approaches the text with “pre-understandings.” The reader comes with his own language, culture, and assumptions to the text. The spiral describes the process by which the text challenges those pre-understandings and reshapes the mind of the interpreter, who then engages the text again with a new point of reference based on the text itself.

Osborne points out that this spiral occurs throughout the interpretive process, a process that he outlines in ten steps. These steps progress from inductive study to deductive study, from the exegetical to the theological.

  1. The first step is for the reader to outline the book as a whole, in order to understand the broad intent of the author in writing. This allows for clarity in understanding any particular portion of the book or letter that has been written.
  2. The second stage then narrows attention to a particular passage, completing a line diagram of that passage. A diagram of the passage allows the interpreter to identify the individual linguistic elements of the passage.
  3. The third stage is then a grammatical study based on the line diagram, in which the relationship between various phrases is explored. Here the interpreter could be looking for transitional words such as “and,” “but,” “yet,” “neither,” “thus,” “therefore,” and other words like these, which signal the nature of the relationship between the concepts before and after the word. The goal of grammatical study is to identity flow of thought. How are the various small thoughts in this passage linked together to fit within the author’s broader purpose?
  4. The fourth stage of the process is a semantics study (“semantics” is the study of word meaning). This zooms in still further to the individual words of the passage. What do the significant words in this passage mean? Here Osborne points to the significance of context, believing the meaning of any word is found in the congruence of two factors: the semantic field (possible meanings of a word) and the immediate context in which the word is used.
  5. The fifth stage is syntactical study, evaluating the order and relationship of words and phrases. This moves beyond grammatical study in terms of precision, based largely on the new understanding gained in studying word meaning.
  6. The sixth stage is to reflect on the background in which the text was produced. What internal evidence does the document give as to its author, purpose, location, and audience? This historical material will often shed further light on the intended meaning of various explanations or exhortations the author provides.

These first six stages comprise “general hermeneutics,” which could be applied in a “scientific” sort of manner toward any text. They are not unique functions of biblical hermeneutics.

  1. The seventh step begins to address the Bible in particular. This step will involve the process of biblical study and theology. Specifically, the interpreter will want to begin by evaluating the genre of the book in which he is working. It has been pointed out that genre establishes the rules for the language game. In order to interpret sensibly, one needs to understand the type of literature he is handling.For instance, when interpreting Hebrew poetry, a student will want to give particular attention to the feature of parallelism, how the lines are linked together and what the relationship between these pairings might be. When reading narratives, it is important to identify the various characters and to evaluate how they are each portrayed. Their actions and outcomes may form the theological lesson that the author has in mind. Apocalyptic and prophetic literature rely heavily on symbolism, imagery, and symbolic use of numbers. Interpretation must allow for symbolism to function as a literary feature without demanding a woodenly literalistic understanding of these symbols.Beyond genre, the student of Scripture will want to evaluate biblical theology, how the Bible develops theology from the Old Testament into the New Testament. How are the testaments related to one another generally? How does a particular New Testament writer employ quotations or observations from the Old Testament?
  2. The eighth step moves into the realm of applied hermeneutics, beginning with an evaluation of the way in which Christians have understood the text historically. Are there key debates the church has had regarding how to interpret this passage? What doctrines has the church historically understood to flow from this passage? An especially helpful tool for this step is the Scripture index in Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine by Gregg R. Allison.
  3. This sets up the interpreter for the ninth step, which is a study of particular doctrines that the text addresses (systematic theology). This sort of evaluation will help the reader place a particular passage within the teaching of the Bible as a whole. How do the concerns of this passage fit with similar or apparently contrasting concerns in another passage?
  4. These nine steps prepare the interpreter of Scripture for the final homiletical synthesis of all the material. The main question in this tenth step regards the significance of the text being studied for the current church context and Christian living. Thus, Osborne describes the spiral as a meaning-significance model, where the meaning of the passage as intended by its author yields the significance of the passage for the church today.

The interpreter has not reached his goal until this tenth step has been finished. This is where the interpretive process culminates. As has been said, the goal of hermeneutics is the sermon, meaning that interpretation is aimed at understanding the way the passage challenges the Christian in a contemporary setting. The sermon is aimed first at the reader and then at the congregation that the reader might address.

The spiral motif is helpful in that it points out the dynamic relationship between the reader and text, encouraging the interpreter to seek the confrontation of the text and to open herself to having reshaped thoughts and attitudes. At the same time, the spiral is limited in its hermeneutical guidance. The real interpretive process lies in the ten-step process that Osborne outlines, whereas the spiral simply describes a reality that should be unfolding throughout every step of the process.

Some Thoughts on Daily Bible Reading

lightstock_4192_xsmall_nikolas_Lots of people use Bible reading plans to guide their daily Bible reading. I’m in favor of reading plans – I use M’Cheynes One Year Reading Plan myself. But I also think it’s important to remember that reading plans are man-made tools, not divine mandates.This means you’re free not to read the Bible today.

One reason this is helpful to remember is that many of us feel burdened at times by obligatory Bible reading. Our minds are racing for one reason or another. Our hearts are melancholy and unresponsive to gospel truths. In this condition a hurried and distracted heart easily finds that following a reading plan feels like a chore. Maybe on a mind-chaos day it would be better not to read, but to rest.

John Owen was very realistic about the difficulty and distractions of our minds. In his writings about meditation he says, “When, after this preparation, you find yourselves yet perplexed and entangled, not able comfortably to persist in spiritual thoughts unto your refreshment…cry and sigh to God for help and relief.” And then he advises to end the time and come back to it tomorrow.

So maybe you’re not “feelin it” today. Your mind is in a thousand places and try as you might, it refuses to be reined in. What should you do? I humbly suggest you close your Bible and instead fix your mind on one verse or prayer that you might take with you through the day. “Lord, set in my heart a sense of the joy and freedom that are mine as a child whose Father is God.”

Remember, the Bible doesn’t demand for itself to be read every day. Thou shalt read the Bible daily is not one of the ten commands. Many (perhaps most?) Christians throughout history have not had access to the Bible at all, or at least not in a language they could read. One of the clearest calls to the constant use of Scripture is found in the first psalm, “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” There is no call for daily Bible reading, but rather for constant meditation. The expectation is both less and more.

Bible reading is aimed at preparation for heaven. Like trees don’t grow overnight, so the fruit of devotion to Scripture is cumulative not instantaneous. We read as preparation for heaven, not just for today. This future orientation removes the pressure from immediate daily obligations. The goal is larger and longer. Thus we should read the Bible regularly in preparation for heaven, but this does not demand daily reading. If it seems more prudent to forego Bible reading for a day, our preparations for reunion with God are not thereby thwarted. Geoffrey Thomas encourages persistence in Bible reading with heaven as the goal:

Do not expect always to get an emotional charge or a feeling of quiet peace when you read the Bible. By the grace of God you may expect that to be a frequent experience, but often you will get no emotional response at all. Let the Word break over your heart and mind again and again as the years go by, and imperceptibly there will come great changes in your attitude and outlook and conduct. You will probably be the last to recognize these… Go on reading it until you can read no longer, and then you will not need the Bible any more, because when your eyes close for the last time in death, and never again read the Word of God in Scripture you will open them to the Word of God in the flesh, that same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you forever to his eternal home.

G. Thomas is speaking about the necessity of persistence in Bible reading. We should certainly persist even when feelings do not align. I’m not so much talking here about persistence over the course of ten years as I am about frequency from day to day. So  if you haven’t read your Bible in thirty days, then these thoughts are not for you. You should probably commit to daily Bible reading for the next thirty days and revive the experience of its constant benefits. But for those whose hearts feel bound to mechanical daily duties, go breathe the fresh air of freedom. As you walk in fellowship with the Father, there will be many days of joy and freedom in reading the Bible, but it won’t be every day. And there will come a day when reading the text is outmoded, giving way to the greater glory, “that same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you forever to his eternal home.”

Are some passages more important than others?

A friend told me he doesn’t mark up his Bible or underline verses because that would imply that some verses are more important than others, which doesn’t fit with the reality that the same God has given us all of Scripture. God is the source of every word. So every word is of equal importance. So if we underline, that will undermine the divine origin. The sincerity in his reasoning was evident and easy to appreciate. But I’m not ready to put up my underlining pen just yet, for at least two reasons.

photo-7First, some passages are more important than others. In Matthew 23, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and condemns them for being attentive to tithing spices yet neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” He then tells them they ought to have observed the weightier commands without neglecting the others. The laws that led them to tithe spices had significance—Jesus affirms this. But justice, mercy and faithfulness are more important. And by extension, we could appropriately say that the passages that command these weightier matters are also more important. Micah 6:8 is more important than Leviticus 27:30.

Passages that address the orientation of the heart transcend prescriptions for external conformity. Both are important, but one is more so.

Additionally, when Jesus is asked “Which is the great[est] commandment in the law?” he replies without equivocation, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great[est] and first [most important] commandment” (Matthew 22:34-40). Whether you translate those words as superlatives or not, the point Jesus makes is clear. There is one command that rises above the others in importance, because it summarizes the whole. In this instance, the surpassing importance of the command to love God with our whole being lies in the fact that it encases the rest of the law. It has summarizing power.

Passages that have “summarizing power” have a unique sense of importance.

Paul also sees gradation of significance within revelation. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1Cor 15:3-5). Within his teaching some elements of the message were more important than others.

Is it appropriate describe some things that God has said as “more (or less) important” than other things God has said? I think it is.

Second, underlining is a tool to help us see how it all fits together. If you were to open my Bible to Hebrews, you’d see “hope” and “hold fast” underlined numerous times throughout the book. Turning over to 1 Peter, you’d see every occurrence of “conduct” [behavior] and “do good” circled. What’s the purpose for that? It helps me visualize certain themes within those letters. Marking up our Bibles is an aid to understanding and memory. Thus as Mortimer Adler has said, “marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”

So even if you still can’t bring yourself to affirm that some passages are more important than others, you can still underline verses with an easy conscience, knowing that your markings are only an aid to you and not an offense to the text.

Applying the Method

Bauder suggests and applies three helpful exegetical principles…

When we answer theological questions, we often find ourselves confronted with a variety of evidence. Some of the evidence will point in one direction while some of the evidence may seem to point in one or more other directions. Because the evidence is of different sorts, it carries different weights.

Weighing the evidence to discover an answer is one of the more difficult challenges in theological method. It is more of an art than a science. It usually involves an element of judgment. When the evidence appears to point in more than one direction, we must allow some of the evidence to explain the rest. In other words, part of the evidence will explain not only our answer, but also the remainder of the evidence.

Previously, I have suggested three methodological principles that should guide us in making these judgments. First, didactic (teaching) passages must explain historical references. Second, clear passages (texts that have only one likely interpretation) must explain obscure passages (texts that have more than one plausible interpretation, but in which no single interpretation is significantly more likely than another). Third, deliberate passages (texts that aim to address the theologian’s question) must explain incidental passages (texts that touch on the question only tangentially).

Read more here.