Notes on Hermeneutics 5

A screen shot of the Web site for the online B...
Image via Wikipedia

Last night I went back to an issue that was raised last week. That involved the Greek word πας (“all” or “every”). Some Christians want to limit that word to refer only to selected people within the “all.” We also looked at κοσμος (“world”) to see whether there were textual reasons for limiting it to only a portion. Compare John 3:16 with John 1:9-10 and see whether such limitation works In the case of this word. The limitation is in opposite directions which leads to inconsistencies. The key was to recognize that presuppositions can and do influence how people read and analyze texts.

In the first class, I noted that there is no such thing as a “neutral observer.” Thus, we approach Scripture from the perspective of Christian, specifically aligned with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and the faith is confessed in the Book of Concord. If someone begins with a different perspective, then it makes sense that different processes can be used and different conclusions can be reached, not that it is necessarily incorrect, just different, but often incorrect as well.

We also discussed the differences between “word studies,” which are badly used and misunderstood, and external entailment, specifically looking at the verbal noun and unpacking what goes with that verb. (Voelz, pp. 188-192).

Another topic was the God-language debate and how we understand what the Bible uses for descriptions of God, sometimes “literal” (“God is creator”) and most often “non-literal.” Note that when we use “non-literal” it does not mean untrue. Then Voelz introduces a third category called “virtually literal analogies” — those that have a greater degree of correspondence such that we distance them from metaphors (under non-literal”).

We examined a controversial passage, 1 Timothy 2: 11-15. Specifically, we looked at whether γυνη should be translated as “woman” or “wife,” and correspondingly, whether ανδρος should be translated “man” or “husband.” Note that such a choice also influences how we apply the text. Although we didn’t have time, we could have explored v. 15 and who the implied subjects of the sentences are. We looked at 1 Corinthians 11-14 and Acts 18:24-26 relative to this text.

Some deep thinking in class last night, but good discussion and progress was made regarding how that affects our understanding of texts.

Book Review— The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synago...
Image via Wikipedia

Nancy Guthrie (author of several books including Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow and Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament) has begun writing a new series of five books, study guides for seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. The first guide will be published  by Crossway this summer, titled The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis. I had the privilege of receiving an advance copy to review. Here is a very short review; once it is formally published I will write a fuller review.

Is there a need for another study guide on Genesis? In a word, yes. And this is the book. My passion is for teaching, and sadly for the Old Testament much of the material published for the average Christian is not Christ-centered, but “principle-centered” which becomes nothing more than a new version of legalism. Nancy Guthrie sets a new standard by being truly Christ-centered, starting with Jesus’ fulfillment of the entire Old Testament and maintaining that focus throughout the guide. Having read three of her previous books, and the Christ-centered nature of them, I expected the same top notch quality. I was not disappointed. The proven format of personal study, teaching chapter, and group discussion highlights Christ as the center of Genesis. Her questions are not merely “how-to” guides, but they bring a fresh perspective and point the reader continually to Christ. Do you want to study or teach Genesis? Then this book is for you. Nancy Guthrie has provided a valuable resource for the church. Well done, Nancy.

Notes on Hermeneutics

Matthew Evangelist. The text also says - Abrah...
Image via Wikipedia

The main thrust of the session was to look at the building of a matrix for background understanding of a text. Since I had given the assignment for Jeremiah 31:31-34, I used that as the basis for discussion, specifically focusing on covenant (ברית).

Genesis 12:1-3, 7 Fourfold expression of God’s call and covenant with Abram (great nation, blessing, great name, land). All parts of the covenant are dependent on God (Yahweh) not Abram. Each of these will receive partial fulfillment throughout the Old Testament, but reach their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, which will be realized in all its glory at the end when Christ returns (Hebrews 9:27-28) (i.e. for the land, see Hebrews 3-4, especially 4:8-10).

Genesis 15 The reassurance given to Abram regarding the covenant promises finds expression in 15:6 (NAS95) “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Further, in the ceremony that follows, the one-sided covenant receives its ultimate expression when God’s essence (“smoking oven and a flaming torch”) passed between these pieces declaring that if Abram fails in any aspect, then God will die (using the treaty understanding that the lesser king passes between the pieces). Jesus’ death satisfies that requirement and fulfills the old covenant.

The connection to Jeremiah 31 becomes immediate with Jesus’s institution of the “new covenant” or better “new testament” or further “new last will and testament” which becomes effective when the person dies. Thus, the old covenant gives way to the new testament in Jesus’ death.

Exodus 24 the “blood of the covenant” half thrown on the altar, the other half thrown on the people. From then on, the blood of the covenant will either be a curse, “his blood and death be on us” (Matthew 27:25), or a blessing, “his blood shed for me” (Matthew 26:8), an unworthy recipient.

Exodus 20:24 “in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you.” Here the promise of God’s presence is related to his name and his remembering (to act for the deliverance of his people). This connects Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20, “baptizing in the name of …”), the Lord’s Supper (“do this in remembrance of Me”), absolution (Matthew 18:20 “for where two or three are gathered together in My name”), and the forgiveness of sins and salvation which comes through these means.

At several points I emphasized how critical translations become so that we can better understand the original language text and be able to communicate effectively when preaching and/or teaching.

Liturgy — The Word (Spoken) 1

Papyrus Bodmer VIII, Original: Biblioteca Apos...
Image via Wikipedia

The first peak of the service now comes through the reading of the Scriptures. Lectionaries are a set of readings that follow the church year. There are one year readings (same cycle every year), several different three year readings, and even a six year cycle. Most Lutheran communities follow one of the three year lectionaries.

The first reading is normally from the Old Testament; the exception being the Sundays of Easter, which uses readings from the Book of Acts. The Old Testament selection focuses on the main idea of the Gospel reading. Thus, rather than reading consecutively through a specific book of the Old Testament the lectionary varies from week to week. For example, notice the first readings for the next two weeks:

April 10 (Lent 6) Ezekiel 37:1-14

April 17 (Palm Sunday) Isaiah 50:4-9a

April 21 (Maundy Thursday) Exodus 24:3-11

April 22 (Good Friday) Isaiah 52:13—53:12

April 24 (Resurrection of Our Lord) Acts 10:34-43

The second reading comes from one of the letters in the New Testament (epistles). Again, the selection focuses on the Gospel reading for the day (as reflected in the Collect prayer). With the NT letters, we find a little more consistency. We find a series of readings coming from the same letter for 4-6 weeks. For instance, notice the epistle readings for the Sundays of Easter come from Peter’s first letter.

May 1 (2nd Sunday of Easter) 1 Peter 1:3-9

May 8 (3rd Sunday of Easter) 1 Peter 1:17-25

May 15 (4th Sunday of Easter) 1 Peter 2:19-25

May 22 (5th Sunday of Easter) 1 Peter 2:2-10

May 29 (6th Sunday of Easter) 1 Peter 3:13-22

June 5 (7th Sunday of Easter) 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11

Next posting moves to the Gospel reading.


Series A — Palm Sunday OT

Zechariah as depicted on Michelangelo's ceilin...
Image via Wikipedia

I am using the traditional texts for Palm Sunday rather than “Sunday of the Passion” texts.

Zechariah 9:9-10
Zechariah, “Yahweh remembers” or “one who is remembered by Yahweh,” is a fitting name for the prophet and for his message. The prophet calls the people of Judah to repent of their sins, specifically because they continued in the tradition of their fathers’s sins (1:2). That call for repentance, reflected throughout the history of God’s people, fills the first eight chapters.

God’s Judgment was for the purpose of repentance and ultimately restoration (8:22-23). Zechariah transitions now not just to a future view, but an apocalyptic perspective of the future. Namely, God Himself will come to fully restore his people.

Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The contrast could not be greater. Whereas the nations (even Judah!) had boasted of the strength of their armies, this King comes as a humble one. He is the designated King in mode denoted by the selection of David’s son with the anticipated rejoicing (1 Kings 1:38-40). This humble one still brings salvation/victory. No one should underestimate him and what he came to do. The power of his word is such that he speaks peace to nations who only want to see the power of the sword.

The only hope for God’s people is God himself. God came once to fulfill this prophecy; He will come again to bring it all to completion. “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28). Prepare, people of God! Rejoice greatly for your King comes to you!

Epiphany Season

Epiphany season is like Advent, often forgotten and overlooked, especially since it is sandwiched between Christmas and Lent.

This year it might be good to look at the Epiphany season, because it is the longest that it will ever be. The number of Sundays after Epiphany varies each year depending on the date of Easter. Some years there are only four or five Sundays, but in 2011, there are nine Sundays after Epiphany (Jan 9, 16, 23, 30, Feb 6, 13, 20, 27, Mar 6).

Epiphany (“showing forth”) season reveals who Jesus is, starting with the visit of the magi (Jan. 6) and culminating in the Transfirguation. That revelation of Jesus continues even today through the witness of the Church.

I think it significant that Isaiah, the primary Old Testament reading during Advent (Series A), is also the primary Old Testament reading during this season. Particularly on Jan. 16, the reading is Isaiah 49:1-7, of which 49:6 is critical in the book of Acts.

Isaiah 49:6
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
                to raise up the tribes of Jacob
                and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
         I will make you as a light for the nations,
                that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

The last two lines are used by Luke to see the fulfillment and extension of that prophecy in Luke and Acts: Luke 2:32, Acts 13:47. See David Pao (Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, Baker, 2002) for further details on this.

Just some thoughts at the beginning of this great season.

Advent A OT (Series A)

Advent 3 OT (Series A)
Isaiah 35: The judgment on the nations in Isaiah 34 gives way to a vision of God’s restoring work in Isaiah 35. The imagery covers many aspects of change. The changed landscape (“wilderness and desert blossom abundantly”). Encouragement to those who are ready to give up (“Strengthen the weak”). Reversing the effects of sin (“eyes of blind opened… the lame shall leap”). The result is that Yahweh brings the people back to Zion, and they sing with everlasting joy.

For those in Judah who were experiencing and would experience the pain of separation from God because of their sin, these prophecies held out hope in “impossible situations.” How do we view something like this? To many of us in the U.S., who live in relative physical luxury, these promises of God’s restorative work do not excite much hope or passion for the future or God’s work. Yet when we strip away our masks and see ourselves and our lives as they really are, then we see that the future we planned is but a pale shadow of what God desires for our future.

God’s restoring work involves the totality of creation because everything was ruined in Adam’s sin (relationships with God, within ourselves, with others, and with creation). In Jesus, we see the fulfillment “in principle” (Voelz) of all these prophecies (see the Gospel reading). Thus, these promises are real and valid when seen in fulfillment in Jesus Christ. We will join in the everlasting singing going to Zion, God’s dwelling place in heaven.

Stripping away the non-essential

This past week in ministry has demonstrated how fragile life can be. A good friend faces monumental changes in ministry due to physical problems. The physical devastation is matched by the hidden, yet just as serious emotional and mental struggles. Platitudes fail to provide an adequate response for us as Christians. At times like this, we are drawn back to the Scriptures, not with the latest technique or fad informing our search, but a broken body, a broken heart, a broken spirit. We have questions that we may not think appropriate to even raise… no, not the usual “why?” but “God, where are you??!!!” and stronger ones.

Last Sunday’s OT reading was Lamentations 3:22-33. How much more fitting can this be?! In the midst of Jeremiah’s lament, he comes to the center of the chapter and the book with some great words:

3:20 Surely my soul remembers

And is bowed down within me.

3:21 This I recall to my mind,

Therefore I have hope.

3:22 The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,

For His compassions never fail.

3:23 They are new every morning;

Great is Your faithfulness. (NAS95)

To grasp how much this represents a statement of faith, we have to go to the beginning of the chapter and realize that Jeremiah’s ultimate “enemy” is God himself!

3:2 He has driven me and made me walk

In darkness and not in light.

3:3 Surely against me He has turned His hand

Repeatedly all the day.

3:8 Even when I cry out and call for help,

He shuts out my prayer.

Thus, Jeremiah’s struggles with the king, the false prophets, the soldiers who were ordered to imprison him several times, pale in comparison to his struggle with God. Even his prayers seem blocked from God (3:8). No wonder his soul is bowed down within him (3:20)!

God hears Jeremiah’s pleas. His Son, Jesus who faced this same experience. He is abandoned by his friends, ridiculed and beaten by his enemies, and hung on a cross. There he cries out: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” In that very act, God is not far away At all. When this truly righteous person is abandoned, there God is solving the dilemma of all people who feel abandoned.

Sometimes our enemies might be people, other times ourselves, and sometimes the effects of sin in this world in the form of diseases. When we experience such, we are not into comparing with others. We cringe when someone states, “At least it isn’t _____.” (fill in the blank as you see fit). At this point the one enduring the anguish does not care. He or she needs to know that God cares, even if for a time it seems that God is silent, hidden, and that he has forgotten the person.

My next posts will be reviews of two books dealing with this very topic, one from a pastoral perspective and one from a person who suffered personally. Two years ago I wrote a book review of Pastoral Care under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering by Pastor Richard C. Eyer. This past Friday I received a book from Tyndale for reviewing, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie.

When we strip away the non-essential, we gain a perspective about God, about life, about ourselves that doesn’t match the world, but begins to move us closer to God’s  perspective. It is not an easy journey, it is filled with pitfalls, and it will leave us struggling with failure, sadness, anger. But Jesus knows exactly that path and he walked it for us and now with us.

Woe is me! … Send me!

Isaiah 6:1-8. Have you noticed the dramatic turn-around in this call of Isaiah? It is also a dramatic call for us.

We are surrounded by “reality TV,” which looks nothing like real life. News and entertainment often are indistinguishable. We have a “god” of our own imagination. Isaiah’s words slap us in the face, waking us up from our own created world, to the real world. The real world is filled with sin and its effects. But Isaiah opens our eyes to the real God too. We may reduce God to our buddy, who is confusing at times, even a laptop god who acts as a comfort blanket. Or we push him away then wonder why he is indifferent to us. So, our ultimate question is: “Who is this God?”

God appears in his holiness (majesty). The angels sing the refrain of praise, far beyond anything we can imagine. Isaiah is being called by this holy God to speak to an unholy people. Isaiah’s reaction (like the people in Exodus 19) is to take stock of the people (sinful) and himself (sinful). “Woe is me!” strips away any pretense that Isaiah is “better” than his hearers. Before this holy God, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

God obviously was aware of Isaiah’s sinful state, but God also knows that the solution rests with him (God) not with any human effort. God approaches Isaiah through the angel who touches Isaiah’s lips with the burning coal and then proclaims: “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” As a cleansed person, now Isaiah is transformed from the woe-filled sinner to the forgiven sinner, a prophet ready for God’s work. Only that will sustain him as he faces a nation of people who refuse to listen to him.

How critical it is for us to be reminded of this truth about the forgiving God who restores the sinner! Each Sunday in worship as we confess our sins, we join Isaiah saying “Woe is me!” But even better, God’s words come to us “I forgive you your sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. Those life-giving words bring us back from the sinful reality of this world to the restored reality of life with God. So simple, so profound! Send me, Lord!

“All people” in Joel 2:28

Interesting discussion in Bible class this morning about the end times (more specifically, “in the last days”). I directed the class to Acts 2:16ff for the New Testament perspective on that phrase, relating to Joel’s prophecy.

But I went back this afternoon and was studying the Joel passage checking to see how the NET translated the passage. What struck me was the translation of 2:28 “After all of this
I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people” rather than the more traditional “on all people”. The footnote reflects a Calvinist thought, so now I am looking at other translations to see how they handle it.