Tag Archives: hermeneutics

Peeling Back the Veneer of Bad Hermeneutics to Display the Old Testament as a Glorious Masterpiece: a Review of Jesus on Every Page

ImageDavid Murray, Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013).  246pp., including study questions, end notes, and Scripture and subject indices.  Review by Doug Smith.

The author, Dr. David Murray, is professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  For me, reading Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament is like looking at a piece of antique furniture covered with multiple layers of veneer.  As I read through the book, layer after layer of veneer was stripped off until a beautiful original masterpiece sparkled in dazzling glory.  At least four layers come to mind as modern obstacles to reading the Old Testament as a work about Jesus.

Peeling Back Layer 1:  We Can See an Approach That Is Biblical

The book shows an approach that is modeled in the Bible itself, although this method of interpretation is often hidden by layers of academic “scholarship” that sometimes asserts as truisms rules such as “one cannot use the New Testament to interpret the Old Testament.”  Dr. Murray shows, from the Scriptures, that Jesus and the apostles had other ideas, as they believed that the Old Testament spoke of Him (John 5:46; Luke 24:27, 44), and Old Testament authors such as David knew it (Acts 2:25-31; cf. Psalm 16:8-11).  Whether law, prophecy, poetry, promises, or wisdom literature, Jesus is shown to be the focus of the whole Old Testament.

Peeling Back Layer 2:  We Can See an Approach That Is Balanced

We must not avoid the ditch of denying that the Old Testament is about Jesus, when the New Testament clearly demonstrates that it is, but must also avoid the ditch of seeing Jesus in ways that abuse the true intention of the text.  Some have failed to see the richness of the Old Testament’s witness to Jesus because fanciful allegorizations that toss away the historical significance of the text have deterred them.

Chapter Thirteen, “Christ’s Pictures,” is especially helpful in its treatment of typology, which some view with suspicion due to some flagrant abuses in interpretation. The author warns of getting to Jesus “through various unpredictable leaps of logic and irrationality” (137) and offers a constructive definition of typology:  “a type is a real person, place, object, or event that God ordained to act as a predictive pattern or resemblance of Jesus’ person and work, or of opposition to both” (138). Types must also have a fulfillment that is enlarged, clarified, and heightened in Christ (148).

The careful definition and explanation of the typology in the BIble helps guard against abuse, but should also give us confidence that there are types beyond the ones explicitly identified as such, so that we should not be ashamed to see people like Joseph as real historical figures who prefigured Christ’s work of redemption:  “Limiting ourselves only to explicit types would mean that while minor characters such as Melchizedek and JOnah are types because they are identified as such in the New Testament, major biblical personalities such as Joseph and Joshua are not” (140).

Peeling Back Layer 3:  We Can See an Approach That Is Accessible

For some, seeing Christ in the Old Testament is obscured a thick overcoat of seemingly cold, complicated jargon.  This book’s personal, simple approach makes it easily accessible.  Dr. Murray begins the book with his personal journey on the “Emmaus Road,” which would lead him to wonderful vistas of seeing Christ in the Old Testament.  It is encouraging to hear that, just as this doesn’t come easily to many of us, that the author is a fellow traveler who has been changed on the journey and is passionate to share that experience.

Furthermore, the book uses a simple, popular style to treat a subject that has been handled academically.  While there is a place for technical, exhaustive treatments, the Lord has richly blessed us with a resource that covers the main topics, gives practical suggestions and examples, is relatively brief (just over 200 pages of generously sized and spaced font) and is not hard to digest.

Make no mistake – the burden of this book is to radical alter conventional thinking about the Old Testament, but it is possibly to be helpful and persuasive without limiting oneself to an audience of specialists.

By “putting the cookies on the bottom shelf,” as some have described similar approaches, the author has produced a work that is useful for the average individual as well as the pastor or the scholar with more training in academic literature.

Peeling Back Layer 4:  We Can See an Approach That Is Full of Faith

For some, the main obstacle to seeing Jesus in the Old Testament is a veneer over their own hearts; a veil that separates them from seeing clearly because of their unbelief.  This book demonstrates faith in God, in the words of Jesus, in the words of the Holy Spirit communicated through the prophets and apostles – a faith that turns on the lights, and without which we can only see shadows in the Old Testament.

This is a veneer that only the Holy Spirit can pull back (2 Corinthians 3), and I pray God will place this book in the hands of some that will read these Scriptures with a new understanding for the first time, and put their faith in Christ.

In addition, this book has some other uses I can commend.  For students taking a Bible class in college, particularly an Old Testament one, it could be a great tool for a potential scenario where the professor (even if conservative) may advocate a method of Old Testament interpretation that downplays the New Testament.  The man or woman in the pew would be edified by reading this work, and could get more out of their Old Testament Bible reading as a result.  This would also be a great textbook – I hope to use it in my teaching of Bible study methods to adults (definitely the next time I teach a CAPS hermeneutics class!), as well as a high school Old Testament survey class.  Bible professors and pastors should eagerly ingest this book.  As I am preparing to go share God’s Word as a guest speaker this weekend, I have more passion and clarity in my mind about this topic as a result of reading this book, and a desire to continue learning and seeing Jesus in His Word — all of it, New Testament and Old.  I highly commend this book, and if you order before today is over, you get a generous helping of resources to help in your study ($100 value for free, including Dr. Murray’s Old Testament lecture notes, video series on Christ as the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, and more).

You can buy the book here if you want a hard copy, or here if you prefer the Kindle version.  I also encourage you to check out Dr. Murray’s blog at headhearthand.org.

Thanks, Dr. Murray, for your part in helping to strip off the veneer to display the beauty of the Old Testament.


I received a digital review copy of this book from the author, with the freedom to give it an honest review, which I have done.

New Hermeneutics Class to Focus on Genesis 1-11

A new six-session, monthly class on hermeneutics (Bible study methods) is scheduled to begin on Saturday, February 23, at Fellowship Chapel, 201 Crockett Street, Bristol, Virginia.  Tri-Cities Area CAPS representative, Doug Smith, will lead the classes in a hands-on Bible study of Genesis 1-11.  This class is suitable for those who have never taken a class in Bible study or hermeneutics, as well as those who have experience and education in this area and would like a refresher or chance to look closer at this foundational portion of Scripture with a group.

The cost for the class is $12, which includes a notebook, handouts, and Why Genesis Matters by Dr. Jason Lisle of the Institute for Creation Research.  Materials may be pre-ordered no later than Friday, February 15 to prepare them for the first class.

The class will meet the fourth Saturday of the month (Feb 23, Mar 23, Apr 27, May 25, June 22, July 27) with the following schedule:

8:00 a.m. Breakfast (optional; bring your own for a time of fellowship and conversation before class)

9:00 a.m. Teaching Session, first part

10:10-10:15 short break

10:15 a.m. Teaching Session, second part

11:30 a.m. conclusion of teaching session; optional dismissal or questions/fellowship until noon

At the conclusion of these classes, we hope to offer a new preaching class for those interested in publicly teaching and preaching God’s Word.  However, this class is strictly a Bible study class designed to be useful for both personal edification and those wishing to share with others.

Please click here to contact us if interested (please include “Genesis class” in the message) or to request a pre-registration form.  You may also download the form by clicking here.

Book Review: Biographical Preaching by R. Larry Overstreet

R. Larry Overstreet, Biographical Preaching: Bringing Bible Characters to Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2001) [Christianbook.com   Google Books]

Reviewed by Doug Smith

One of the turning points in my life occurred when I first began sitting under expository preaching.  Another happened when I began to learn what expository preaching was, and how to do it.  It’s not that God uses only expository preaching; He certainly uses other approaches.  However, there is nothing like taking a text of Scripture and explaining its content and urging its implications on a congregation.  Furthermore, it seems to be a logical implication of texts like 2 Timothy 3:14-4:4 and even the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

There are many helpful books available on the general subject of expository preaching.  Many authors helpful break down the steps of studying a book or passage of Scripture, analyzing it, and preparing a sermon that faithfully communicates the text.

Preaching consecutive textual units (through a book or portion of a book) is probably the most frequently promoted way to preach expository messages, but it is not the only way.  Dr. Larry Overstreet, an experienced pastor and seminary professor, has written a persuasive volume advocating Biographical Preaching as another approach for the preacher.  His book is clear, concise, practical, and of a rare breed.  While not the only book on the subject, it is one of few readily available, and it treats the matter with more depth than any subsection the present author has reviewed in other books on preaching (although the brief treatment by Irvin Busenitz in MacArthur’s edited book, Preaching, previously entitled Rediscovering Expository Preaching, is worth a look.  Its appearance in The Master’s Seminary Journal is here in pdf form:  “Must Expository Preaching Always Be Book Studies? Some Alternatives”).

Summary

The meat of the book is comprised of seven chapters.  In order, they deal with the definition, philosophy, value, method, mechanics, model, and variety in biographical preaching.  In addition, there are two appendices containing example sermons.

Overstreet views good biographical preaching as a subset of expository preaching.  He defines it as “the method of preaching that expounds a Bible character, based on careful exegesis, to deduce the principles that regulated his or her life and to apply the principles to the modern listener” (13).  He distinguishes between historical biographical sermons, which emphasize “the development of the person in history,” and character biographical sermons, which focus on “the inner nature of the person” in all areas: “spiritual, mental, moral, emotional, social, and even physical” (15-17).

One key issue in biographical preaching is the nature of the narrative portions of Scripture.  Most biographical material in the Bible is drawn from the narratives of Scripture, which do not directly relate commands to readers.  The issue at hand is whether narratives are intended to be prescriptive (telling us how to live) or merely descriptive (relating what happened in the storyline of God’s activity).

After setting forth the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the Bible (an act that guarantees its accuracy) and in empowering the preacher, Overstreet considers the purposeful intent set forth in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which teaches that “‘All Scripture’ is purposeful for (1) teaching, and/or (2) rebuking, and/or (3) correcting, and/or (4) training in righteousness, and (5) for an overall purpose stated in 3:17” (28).  In addition, he cites Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 to demonstrate that Christian believers can look to the Old Testament for instruction and hope (29).  He concludes:  “The biographical preacher, then, can approach the Word of God with confidence that the principles gleaned from the lives of the people included therein are pertinent and relevant to lives today” (31).

Although the author sees practical relevance in the narratives of the Bible, he does not lose sight of their theological significance.  Since the narrative portions of Scripture highlight “the working of God in and through the lives and actions of people,” the preacher must remember that “God is always the ultimate focus of a biblical narrative” (32).  Furthermore, each narrative can be viewed at three levels:  the ground level of the individual(s) in the story, the middle level of how the story figures into the bigger story of the people of God, and the top level of how the narrative functions in the overarching plan of God (33).  Proper exegesis is necessary to analyzing and applying the text appropriately and avoiding reckless spiritualizing or allegorizing (32).

Overstreet argues for the value of biographical preaching because of its popular appeal, practical nature, powerful ability to impact lives, and profitability in making the Bible come alive for people (chapter 3).  He then lays out a method for this approach:  examining the relevant texts, studying the background, analyzing the person, using imagination, and focusing the sermon (chapter 4).  He provides helpful lists of questions to ask to gather key data concerning the person’s life, character, and practical application (82-84).

Chapters five and six give further strategies and examples to promote thorough preparation, while chapter seven advocates the use of dramatic monologues in biographical preaching — assuming the perspective of the character (possibly including props and costumes).  Appendix one gives a sermon example, while appendix two shows how a monologue may be presented.

Evaluation

Overstreet lays a great homiletical foundation and reviews essential elements of sermon preparation.  His theology and view of Scripture are clearly articulated and underlie his views on preaching.  His focus on application and contemporary relevance appropriately shape his approach to biographical preaching (the sermon is not a lecture, but something to teach us about the life that pleases God).  Furthermore, I found the book convincing on the usefulness and propriety of biographical preaching.

The book is realistic and helpful for one seeking to preach a biographical sermon.  The author is honest about the hard work involved, but does not leave the preacher to guess how hard it will be.  Practical helps are given, such as the lists of questions to ask (an invaluable inclusion) and examples of sermons.  Overstreet walks the preacher through essential elements in preparing, such as outlining, transitions, titles, introductions, conclusions, and illustrations.  He leaves no doubt as to what is involved in preparing a biographical sermon.

I found the author irenic concerning other views.  He respectfully interacts with Sidney Greidanus (192, note 1; Overstreet refers to Greidanus’s Preaching magazine article, “The Necessity of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament”; cf. related article, “Biographical Preaching Revisited”, a response to “Salvaging the Old Testament Biographical Sermon” by Timothy Peck, an article endorsed by Overstreet), who does not see a legitimacy to biographical preaching.  He also disagrees with Warren Wiersbe in Preaching and Teaching with Imagination (where Wiersbe suggests that monologues should only be done by those with adequate training and talent; see 199-200, note 5).

My only caveat — and at this point it is a personal one — is the advocacy of dramatic monologue for a sermon presentation (chapter 7).  I understand that my opinion may be the minority in many circles today, but – with all due respect to those who disagree – I have not yet become convinced that drama has a place in the public worship meeting of the church.  I understand that some of the concerns overlap with much preaching:  using imagination to fill in some blanks; dramatic use of the voice, etc.  I am also aware that God sometimes commanded people, especially the Old Testament prophets, to do dramatic things (in those cases, as an illustration of a spiritual truth for the nation Israel or as an analogy for something God was going to bring to pass).  However, what I continue to come back to is that drama was not unknown in the Greek culture of the ancient world.  It was perfectly accessible in the apostolic age.  Yet, nowhere in Scripture is it commanded or modeled as a strategy of communicating truth to the church.  My fears are that it could contribute to an entertainment mindset (even if that is not the intention), and, perhaps even more significantly, inadvertently undermine its content because of the nature of its medium (truth being presented by someone who is pretending to be someone else).  Perhaps I am carrying things too far here.  Intelligent hearers will know that the preacher is not really the individual he is portraying.  Nevertheless, I daresay that those who are convinced that dramatic monologue has a place in the preacher’s toolbox will find in this book some very practical helps for preparation, even if I am not convinced of its propriety.

Conclusion

I heartily recommend Biographical Preaching as a valuable resource.  It is an enjoyable and clearly written resource that persuasively shows the value and propriety of biographical preaching and gives a clear strategy to walk one through the steps of preparing such messages.  For those of us committed to preaching through books of the Bible, utilizing resources such as this to give a little more variety to our preaching may help breathe new freshness into our preaching, as we show people today what we can learn from the individual lives recorded in the Bible.

Habakkuk Overview (Outline)

Wordle: Habakkuk

TRUSTING GOD IN TROUBLESOME TIMES

Habakkuk’s Message of Hope

I. Take Your Perplexities to God (1:1-2:1)

A. with alarm over unchecked sin (1:1-4) (Our prayers suffer when we are unconcerned.)

1. in our country

2. in our church

3. in our selves

B. with amazement at God’s sovereignty (1:5-11) (Our prayers suffer when we are unimpressed with God.)

C. with awareness of God’s character (1:12-17)  (Our prayers suffer when we are not gripped by God’s character.)

D. with anticipation for God’s answer (2:1)  (Our prayers suffer when we are proud, stubborn, and impatient concerning God’s answer.)

II. Think Upon the Payday of God (2:2-20)

A. Consider the vision God reveals (2:2-3)

1. Its transmission – written and plain

2. Its trustworthiness (cf. Hebrews 10:37-38)

B. Consider the verdict God renders (2:4)

1. On those who trust in themselves

2. On those who trust in God (cf. Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38)

C. Consider the vengeance God repays (2:5-20)

1. Description of the wicked (2:5)

2. Declaration against the wicked:  five woes – catalog of wrongs & corresponding retribution (2:6-20)

a. First set of woes

i. Plunder (2:6-8)

ii. Self-exaltation (2:9-11)

iii. Oppression (2:12-14)

b. But God’s glory will cover the earth (2:14)

c. Second set of woes

iv. Exploitation (2:15-17)

v. Idolatry (2:18-20)

d. But God is in His holy temple – let all be silent (2:20)

III. Triumph in the Person of God (3:1-19)

A. Plead with God in supplication (3:1-2)

1. Pray for revival

2. Pray for mercy

B. Praise God for His supremacy (3:3-15)

1. Remember His sovereignty over nature and nations

2. Remember His salvation for His people

C. Pursue God for satisfaction (3:16-19)

1. Recognize that circumstances are not guaranteed

2. Rejoice in the character of God

a. Rejoice in His salvation

b. Rejoice in His strength

Ezra 7:10 – Overview of Sermon Preparation Process

* Click here for a PDF file or click here for a Word document file of this article (4 pages).

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. – Ezra 7:10 (KJV)


We will overview the sermon preparation process, looking at Ezra 7:10.

1. Before doing anything else, we need to read and re-read the text and…

2. pray over the text.

3. Write down some observations on the text itself. Aim for 30.

4. Read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Ezra is the book the text is found in.  Ezra and Nehemiah were not two, but one book in the Jewish arrangement of this portion of the Bible.  This will give you a head start on the historical and literary context of Ezra 7:10.  Note any connections to the content of Ezra 7:10.

Now we are ready to look at the basic study process and sermon preparation based on this text.

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HERMENEUTICS (STUDYING THE TEXT)

This process lays the groundwork for the sermon.  Using Daniel Doriani’s method from Getting the Message (which we use as a text book in CAPS classes), we will look at hints for studying Ezra 7:10 in light of its:

C – Context – literary and historical.  What can we learn from the words, sentences, paragraphs, books, etc. around the text and is there anything from history (in or outside Scripture) that sheds light on the meaning and significance of the text?

A – Analysis – How is the passage put together?  What are some important grammatical and content markers?  Can you outline or structure the text visually to show how it functions?

P – Problems – Do you see any difficulties in understanding or communicating the text?  Has the text been misused to teach false doctrine?  Are there translation issues?  Could someone easily misunderstand this text?  Are there wrong assumptions to guard against in interpreting and applying this text?  Are there unfamiliar concepts or words?  Are people overly familiar with this text yet missing its full teaching?

T – Themes – What are the main themes addressed in the passage?  Can you relate them to other key passages in the Bible?  How does this passage specifically and (uniquely?) advance these themes in comparison to the other passages?  What are relevant cross-references?  Are there word studies that help you understand the themes of this passage (that also do justice to the interpretation of the text in context)?

O – Obligations – What does the text require people to believe, do, or avoid?  Does the application look significantly different for us versus what was required for the original audience?  What is the principle to be obeyed and how can it be obeyed today?

R – Reflections (Main Point & Redemptive Thrust) – What is the main point of this text?  How can you boil it down to a single sentence proposition that tells us the primary theme/topic (what the text is talking about) and the thrust (what the text is saying about what it is talking about) – and join the main application with the main theme?  How does the text point to our need of Christ or what Christ has done?

(CAPTOR – acronym helps you remember these phases of study for hermeneutics)

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HOMILETICS (PREACHING THE TEXT)

The task now is to take the most important insights from our study of the text and communicate them in a sermon.

  • Take the main point of the text and rephrase it for the sermon – draw the congregation in by making the application clear in the main point of the sermon (we must…/you must…).
  • Craft the homiletical outline and transitional statements, especially between your sermon points.
  • Make sure you have prepared to adequately explain the text and include appropriate illustrations.
  • Craft your introduction and sermon conclusion.  (Frontload application in introduction, bring home in conclusion.  Rule of thumb: land where you took off.)

HERMENEUTICS:  For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. – Ezra 7:10 (KJV)

  • CONTEXT OF EZRA 7:10 – Literary: Books of Ezra/Nehemiah, especially Ezra 7:9 & 8:22.  Historical:  Post-Babylonian captivity, return to the land, Ezra a scribe/priest.
  • ANALYSIS OF EZRA 7:10 – Ezra had prepared his heart to do three things, all related to “the law of the LORD”:  seek, do, and teach.  “For” indicates this is a reason for something else (context indicates “the good hand of God” – 7:9).

For Ezra had prepared his heart

  1. I. To seek the law of the LORD
  2. II. and to do it
  3. III. and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
  • PROBLEMS IN RELATION TO EZRA 7:10 – What is “the law of the LORD”?  “Statutes and judgments”?  The relation of “the law of the LORD” to our concept of Bible & Gospel?  What do we make of the handling of the mixed marriage situation in Ezra-Nehemiah?

  • THEMES IN EZRA 7:10 – God’s Word (Josh 1:8; Ps 1, etc.); obedience/blessing; teaching/preaching (Matt 28:18-20)

  • OBLIGATIONS IN EZRA 7:10 – God’s hand can be on leaders and all other people (8:22) if we devote ourselves to God’s Word (God’s Law… now “all Scripture” 2 Tim 3:16-17) by study, obedience, and teaching.  Devote ourselves to these things – make God’s Word priority #1; Devotion – active – does not happen by accident – not passive, but proactive!  “Bible before breakfast” – say no; schedule; alarm clock, etc.; quiet place; streamline reinforcement (audio Bible on drive, etc.).

This order is important:  to teach we need to be models of obedience, to obey we need to know what Word teaches, etc. and must have a devotion to God to do all of these!

Study – set aside time & routine; read, meditate, ask questions of Bible; learn how to use study tools properly; Obedience – do what we understand God’s Word to require, even if inconvenient or hard; Teach – share with others what God’s Word teaches (evangelism, family worship, parenting, Sunday School, preaching, etc., etc.)

  • REFLECTING ON THE MAIN POINT & REDEMPTIVE THRUST OF EZRA 7:10

Main Point – Ezra experienced the blessing of God because he was devoted to the Word of God; Redemptive Thrust – our fallen condition of ignoring or misusing the Word/fear of sharing it & Christ’s (the incarnate Word) perfect example of knowing, doing, and teaching God’s Word – God’s Word points to Him and brings us to faith.  Do these things on the basis of the Gospel — Romans 12:1-2  (this devotion to God’s Word is not moralistic but a response to the great salvation He has accomplished for us).

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HOMILETICS: For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. – Ezra 7:10 (KJV)

  • MAIN POINT – God’s blessing rests on those who devote themselves to His Word (study, obey, teach).  à  In order to enjoy the blessing of God on our lives, we must devote ourselves to the Word of God.
  • HOMILETICAL OUTLINE & TRANSITIONS –

To enjoy God’s blessing, we must devote ourselves to

1. Study God’s Word (DILIGENTLY SEEK OUT ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR LIVING)

TRANSITION:  “To enjoy God’s blessing, we not only need to devote ourselves to studying God’s Word, but also to obeying God’s Word.  We need to obey God’s Word to enjoy His blessing.  Notice that the text said that Ezra ‘prepared his heart…to do it,’ that is, to practice, obey, or perform what he saw in his study of God’s law….”

2. Obey God’s Word (DO WHAT IT REQUIRES)

TRANSITION:  “We need to obey God’s Word.  But devotion to God’s Word does not stop with study and obedience.  We also need to teach God’s Word.  Notice that the Bible says Ezra ‘prepared his heart…to teach.’”

3Share God’s Word (TELL OTHERS WHAT IT REQUIRES)

  • ILLUSTRATIONS – Biblical illustrations (obedience to God’s Word in Ezra-Nehemiah – handling the intermarriage situations, festivals; teaching – Neh. 8); illustrations from word studies; how you know what someone is devoted to or if someone is devoted to something (their tools/equipment; their schedule; their activities; their performance; their conversation); what/who a preacher is devoted to (who he quotes, models his ministry after, listens to etc. etc.); qualities of a good teacher; qualities of a bad teacher (illustrating by contrast)
  • INTRODUCTION – get attention, raise need, hint at application, orient to text, give context;

Text is about qualities of a person blessed by God & their devotion to His Word – about a teacher who is favored.  An introduction might talk about how you know if someone is devoted to something (see in illustrations above).  Another approach might be to talk about the opposite of Ezra – qualities of a bad teacher (we can all think of real life examples).  This illustration would also function throughout the sermon as a foil to compare what we should be against the alternative.

Introduce text, theme, context — People were coming back from Babylon, where they had landed because they refused to devote themselves to know and obey God’s Word – were now returning – how to enjoy God’s blessing?

Ezra’s example:  Ezra a leader – but this applies to all of God’s people (8:22).

Introduce proposition before transitioning to body:  If we want God’s hand of blessing, we must devote ourselves to His Word.

  • CONCLUSION – Land where you took off. For example, recap qualities of a bad teacher and qualities of a good teacher, the things we must be devoted to according to Ezra 7:10.

Growth in godliness and usefulness in ministry (as leaders or church members) are evidence that God’s blessing is upon our lives.  This blessing comes via our devotion to seek out, obey, and teach God’s Word.  Does your life give evidence of God’s blessing?  Devote yourself to these things.  You will please God.  You will enjoy God.  You will point others to God.  In other words, if you commit yourself to these, you will enjoy His blessing.

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After you do your Bible study and steps to prepare your sermon, finish up by completing the outline or manuscript you will take to the pulpit or use from memory.  Put the intro and conclusions in their place and flesh out the outline with the illustrations and other material you wish to include, including integrating the redemptive thrust so that your sermon is preached in the context of the Gospel.  Pray over it and preach the Word!

Book Review – Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

Goldsworthy, Graeme. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007. Jacketed Hardcover, 341 pp.

(Review copy courtesy of InterVarsity Press.)

Table of Contents

Excerpts:

PDF Introduction: Can hermeneutics be saved? PDF 1. The necessity for hermeneutics

Graeme Goldsworthy (Th.M. & Ph.D., UTS Virginia) is a retired lecturer at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. His other books include Prayer and the Knowledge of God (IVP, 2005), According to Plan (IVP, 1991; 2002), Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Eerdmans, 2000), Gospel & Kingdom, The Gospel in Revelation, and The Gospel and Wisdom. These last three titles have been reprinted as The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Paternoster, 2001)

Is there a key to interpreting the Bible? What should our basic presuppositions for hermeneutics be? What do we need to take into consideration when we approach the exegesis and interpretation of the Bible?

Description

Graeme Goldsworthy argues that the gospel is the hermeneutical key to the Scriptures and reality. In this book, he considers the basic foundations of proper biblical interpretation. His book is divided into three major sections. He lays some ground rules, shows faulty structures that deserve to be torn down, and suggests how we should rebuild in their place.

Section one, “Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics” (chapters 1-4), looks at the foundations of hermeneutics, particularly the basic presuppositions that support a proper approach. In this section, the author stresses the importance of the doctrines of grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, faith alone, and the Trinity. He also deals with the effect of the fall upon the human mind and the significance of the role of the risen Christ as mediator.

The second section, “Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 5-12), surveys the history of interpretation and the problems of faulty presuppositions and approaches. The author admits that he relied on secondary sources for this section, in order “to show some of the reactions and evaluations occurring in recent scholarly comment, particularly by evangelicals” so that we can “see how the various trends in hermeneutical theory have troubled and exercised the critical judgment of evangelicals” (p. 87). From allegorical interpretation in the early church to Enlightenment rationalism, postmodern “reader-response” approaches, and even evangelical pragmatism, the author relentlessly sifts through approaches that have eclipsed the gospel. He shows that liberals do not have a monopoly on the eclipse of the gospel, but many approaches adopted in conservative quarters have also obscured its clarity, including literalist and subjective approaches. He argues that a “proper grammatico-historical exegesis stems from the fact of the incarnation” (p. 99).

The final section, “Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 13-19), gives Goldsworthy’s prescription for a hermeneutical approach that is faithful to the Bible and therefore centered upon the gospel. Goldsworthy advocates “typology as a method of relating the Testaments” that underlines “the perspective of both their unity and diversity” (p. 238) by asking every text “how it testifies to Jesus” (p. 252). An extensive chart demonstrates how a macrotypology of the Bible works (pp. 253-256). He deals with the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of gospel-centered interpretation and takes a look at the concept of contextualization, including considerations relevant for Bible translation. He includes practical suggestions for Bible study (such as reading plans, taking notes, and prayer) and lists resources for teaching sound hermeneutics to children.

Evaluation

I found this book to be stimulating and fascinating. At least three strong points distinguish this book. The book is stellar in focusing on Christ as the hermeneutic of Scripture and reality, whereas many standard (even “evangelical”) hermeneutics texts neglect the scriptural idea that Christ is the hermeneutical key (Luke 24:27, 44). It seems so obvious, but it has been so obviously forgotten: “the principles of hermeneutics are to be found within the Scriptures themselves” (p. 22). Goldsworthy also persuasively argues that our hermeneutical approach is part of our sanctification, the renewing of our minds, made possible by the gospel. The fall affected our minds and ability for correct interpretation, but Christ even died for this—to justify and sanctify us from our faulty hermeneutics. Finally, the author’s analysis of how the gospel has been eclipsed by flawed hermeneutical approaches is no pedantic exercise but a helpful warning of how quickly we can move from the approach to the Bible advocated by Christ Himself and that displays His gospel in all its clarity. Neither historical proximity to the time of the apostles nor an accumulation of centuries of knowledge are fail-safe measures to ensure proper interpretation; only a renewed mind submitted to the Scriptures will protect Bible-believing Christians from alien influences that undermine the gospel in their hermeneutics.

Goldsworthy addresses several practical concerns with helpful warnings. He warns that separating biblical theology from systematic theology puts one “on the road to liberalism” (p. 271). He warns that the more dynamic Bible translations tend to iron out its metaphors, obscuring the way the text was originally communicated (pp. 290, 293). He writes that “recourse to commentaries and other helps is best left until later rather than sooner in the process of dealing with a text” (p. 313).

Despite the strengths of the book, one should use this book with much discrimination.

First, this book is not a handbook on hermeneutics for the average person.

Its best use would be at the seminary and graduate level. Even then, it may not be a good choice for an introductory hermeneutics class. Its lengthy treatment of matters related to hermeneutical theory is helpful. The author gives some advice about putting theory to work, but the book lacks a comprehensive method for hermeneutics. I point this out, not to denigrate the book, but to help people like me who might assume by its title that it would contain a comprehensive method for its approach. I recommend reading it in thinking through hermeneutical theory, but if you must choose one book to help you interpret the Bible, this is not the one. To see a work designed more for the purpose of equipping one to practice the gospel-centered interpretation the author advocates, see his introduction to biblical theology titled According to Plan: the Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (IVP, 2002) or the shorter summary by Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (IVP, 2002 — see my review here). (He does provide a brief overview the role of biblical theology in chapter 4 of this book.) The purpose of these works is to help one interpret the parts of the Bible in light of its big picture (something often neglected in hermeneutics texts), but are insufficient to equip one to deal with the various literary genres of Scripture.

Second, the reader should be aware of the author’s view on “literal” interpretation.

Goldsworthy classifies literalism as one of the culprits for the eclipse of the gospel in evangelicalism (p. 169ff.). While conceding that the incarnation required some literal fulfillment, he argues that the New Testament does not support a literal interpretation of Old Testament promises for the restoration of Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple (p. 170). He asserts that the “one great hermeneutic divide that separated Jesus from the unbelieving Jews concerned this very issue of prophetic fulfillment . . . That the Old Testament Scriptures are, as he says, about him (John 5:39-47; 8:39-47, 56-58) must seriously qualify literalism, since Jesus (as Jesus) is not literally in the Old Testament” and adds that “the hermeneutical principle of the Old Testament could only be understood Christologically” (p. 170). As convincing as his arguments appear, some may counter that New Testament events do not decisively rule out a future literal fulfillment, particularly since the prophets often saw events of Christ’s first and second coming together, like peaks of a mountain range that look side by side from afar.

Related to these views on literal interpretation is Goldsworthy’s amillennial eschatology. “Instead of the expected glorious reign of the Christ in a renewed Jerusalem, we learn that the scepter of the risen Christ is the preached word that will be the focus of the worldwide missionary endeavor of the church . . . Pentecost is the demonstration that the millennium has begun, Satan is bound, and Christ reigns through his gospel” (pp. 224-225, cf. p. 82).

Third, the author should probably give more caution in his advice about utilizing critical scholarship.

He suggests that Fundamentalism desires a return to pre-critical exegetical methods (p. 138, cf. pp. 181-182), although he may be painting with a bit of a broad brush, as some fundamentalist seminaries do engage critical works and even recommend critical commentaries as resources. While Goldsworthy recognizes the problem “of the extent to which we can plunder the Egyptians without returning to the leeks and the garlic” (p. 138), it seems that a further caveat should be given. There is a time and place to engage such scholarship, but it is probably best done—with much caution—by the trained scholar or pastor.

Conclusion

In this book, Goldsworthy addresses key issues in regard to hermeneutics. It is a challenging and worthwhile read for the serious student (although a subject index could have increased its usefulness), but may not be the best choice for a stand-alone guide to hermeneutics.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

This review is revised from its original appearance at www.sharperiron.org.

Resources to Diagram a Passage by Arcing/Tracing

Arcing and tracing are great ways to analyze the flow of an argument in a passage, especially discourse (such as the epistles; it is more difficult to use for narratives).

Note: Arcing and Tracing have the same goal. Arcing uses curves (arcs) whereas tracing uses brackets (usually easier to read). One can easily translate an arc diagram into a traced one or vice versa, depending on one’s preferences. Arcing in the Piper booklet below is presented as on a horizontal plane, utilizing only verse/proposition numbers without the text. The method on the BibleArc website uses text and arcs it vertically. Tracing uses the text with brackets instead of curves. Now that I’ve confused you, be sure to check out the resources below for clarification.

• www.BibleArc.com has to be one of the most innovative and helpful websites I’ve seen. It allows you to arc a passage of Scripture, save as a .pdf, and share with others. It has all the tools for dividing the verses into propositions and labeling them with their relationships to each other. It even allows you to save your own arcs on the web at the site to go back and edit or download again. (HT: Matthew Wireman)

• For more on “arcing,” see John Piper, Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God Ministries, 1999), 48pp. booklet with chart. Order fromwww.desiringGod.org at <http://www.desiringgod.org/Store/Booklets/ByTopic/54/85_Biblical_Exegesis/> or download for free at <http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/booklets/BTBX.pdf> (booklet only; chart not included in online version).

Here’s a video of Piper talking about arcing:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYcsXanMlvM&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xd0d0d0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

• For more on “arcing” and “tracing,” see Thomas R. Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990), 77-126. These two chapters are available online for free from links at his faculty webpage <http://www.sbts.edu/theology/faculty/thomas-schreiner/>:

“Diagramming and Conducting a Grammatical Analysis,” in Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 77-96. Non-exclusive, one-time permission is granted to use this chapter, excluding any permission of a third source. The permission applies to this usage only. Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 1990. <http://www.sbts.edu/documents/tschreiner/book_IPE_chapter5.pdf>

Tracing the Argument,” in Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 97-126. Non-exclusive, one-time permission is granted to use this chapter, excluding any permission of a third source. The permission applies to this usage only. Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 1990. <http://www.sbts.edu/documents/tschreiner/book_IPE_chapter6.pdf>

Here are some additional tips to make use of these methods.

1. Pray. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see Him in His Word (cf. Ps. 119:18).

2. Choose a literal translation for this step of study (it does not have to be the same translation you preach from). The New American Standard is probably the best choice for its accurate rendering of prepositions. (Other options: ESV, NKJV)

3. Choose a passage. Try to find a unit in the length of a paragraph. Start with shorter units while learning tracing.

4. Divide the verses into propositions (a proposition is an assertion or statement about something and can even be a sentence fragment).

5. Read the passage and highlight key words that will serve as indicators of the relationships between propositions.

6. Find the relationships within each verse itself first. Then find relationships with neighboring verses. Then begin to link to other verses/relationships in the text.

7. Use your findings to structure the passage (outline it).

8. Summarize the argument of the passage and identify the exegetical idea/main point.

9. Now you are ready to do further study (observing repeated/contrasted words and concepts, looking up meanings of individual words, noting the verbs, relating the passage to the rest of the book and the whole Bible, finding application, etc.).

Is a Good Grasp of Grammar Essential to Bible Study?

“An evangelical believes that God humbled himself not only in the incarnation of the Son, but also in the inspiration of the Scriptures.  The manger and the cross were not sensational.  Neither are grammar and syntax.  But that is how God chose to reveal himself. A poor Jewish peasant and a prepositional phrase have this in common, they are both human and both ordinary.  That the poor peasant was God and the prepositional phrase is the Word of God does not change this fact.  Therefore, if God humbled himself to take on human flesh and to speak human language, woe to us if we arrogantly presume to ignore the humanity of Christ and the grammar of Scripture.”

John Piper, Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts, page 11 (emphasis added) (booklet available for free download by clicking here)

Relevance in “Surprising” Places

I don’t know why I am surprised. Maybe it’s because we often suppose that we have to think of some clever way to introduce what we speak on and beat our heads against the wall to figure out how an ancient document has anything to do with life today…

But sometimes the answer is right under my nose. I recently preached from Ezra 7:10 at a rescue mission.

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

How could this help the men who are seeking help to come out of rough situations? Is it immediately obvious? Certainly, it is good to encourage them to devote themselves to study, practice, and teach the Bible, and I did that.

But I found a great on-ramp to share that by noticing the situation not far from the verse I planned to preach.  Times like these make me so grateful for the sound counsel of reading the whole book in which the preaching text is contained.  I didn’t have to view Ezra 7:10 in isolation of the rest of the book (actually, it can be dangerous to do that sort of thing!).

I found the relevance in the historical background in Ezra 7:9, and in Ezra 8:22.

For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.

[Then notice how the last phrase of verse 9 is connected with verse 10, “For,” or because of this reason] For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

and Nehemiah’s words to the king in 8:22:

The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.

What did I draw from this?  Ezra was part of a group coming up from the Babylonian captivity, where the nation had landed because of their refusal to hear and obey God’s Word.  Furthermore, to have the blessing of God (his good hand upon them), required a heart that diligently sought Him, seeking His Law, obeying it, and teaching it.  Ezra 8:22 shows that God’s hand could be on more people than Ezra.

As I saw these connections in God’s Word, the light bulb came on!  What a natural path of application!  As the people in Ezra’s day were seeking a new start, so are the men at this rescue mission.  As the people in Ezra’s day needed to study, do, and teach God’s Word and seek God to have his good hand upon them, so the men in this mission needed to diligently pay attention to the Bible, obey it, and be prepared to share it with others.  A right approach to God’s Word was foundational to a new start for the children of God then, and is also key to a “new start” for those who know Christ now.

Never underestimate the value of studying the context.  Sometimes you don’t need clever ideas. Often, you just need to read, pray, and think about the text surrounding your text.  You may just be surprised at what you find.

40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible – Mohler Interviews Plummer About His New Book

On June 24, Dr. Albert Mohler interviewed Dr. Rob Plummer about his new book, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible. The interview discusses some of those questions, covering some great issues in hermeneutics.  I had the privilege and joy of taking Dr. Plummer’s class on Biblical Hermeneutics, and thoroughly profited from it.  The book, in many ways, distills much of his course.  This interview is well worth the time to listen.  Left click to stream, right click to download:  http://www.sbts.edu/media/audio/totl/2010/AMP_06_24_2010.mp3

Click here to preview or buy the book at Amazon: