Sunday, March 27, 2011

Biblical interpretation down through the ages - introduction

Hermeneutics is the science that gives us the principles of interpretation.  These principles guide anybody's system of theology.  They ought to be determined before one's theology is systematized, but in practice the reverse is usually true.  At least in the awareness of most people, hermeneutics is one of the last things to be considered.  Most people know something of the doctrines they believe but little of the hermeneutics on which they have been built. Preferably the principles, and thereby the method, of interpretation should be established before attempting to interpret the Word of God so that the results are a correct interpretation of Scripture and a right system of theology growing out of those interpretations.  

While many diverse methods of interpreting Scripture have been proposed over the course of history, today there are basically two distinct hermeneutical methods — the allegorical/spiritual and the literal/plain.  The general definitions of both are below:

Allegorical/Spiritual method - the method of interpreting a literary text that regards the literal sense as the vehicle for a secondary, more spiritual and more profound sense.  The historical import is either denied or ignored and the emphasis is placed entirely on a secondary sense so that the original words or events have little or no significance. 

Literal/Plain method - the method that gives to each word the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, customary usage, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking.  The spiritual meaning of a word or expression is one that arises after the literal designation and is dependent upon it for its existence.

How these two divergent methods of interpretation came into being is an interesting study.  I'll write about them over the next several weeks.

(to be continued)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Hymn Sing

I just got back from helping lead the annual spring hymn sing. I wish you could have been there to hear what it sounds like when 800+ people sing (and I mean really sing!) to the glory of God. Amazing!!!

One of my favorite songs of the evening:

Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
On Calvary.

Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary.

Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary!

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Gal 3:21-22 - the law does not justify

Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe (Gal 3:21-22).

"The apostle then asks the question, “Is the law then against the promises of God?” The answer is that the law and the promises are not in conflict because each has a distinct function. The law is a ministry of condemnation. The promises are a ministry of salvation. The law judges a person on the basis of obedience or disobedience. The promises judge man on a basis of faith. The law, whose ministry is one of condemnation, was not intended to express God’s attitude towards man. God’s attitude towards man is one of grace. The law is not the basis of God’s judgment of man. A sinner who rejects Christ, goes to the Lake of Fire for all eternity, not because he has broken God’s laws, for his sin is paid for. He goes to a lost eternity because he rejects God’s grace in the Lord Jesus. The law is a revelation of the sinner’s legal standing, and as such condemns him. It cannot therefore justify him, as the Judaizers claim."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Constantly Abiding

There’s a peace in my heart that the world never gave,
A peace it cannot take away;
Though the trials of life may surround like a cloud,
I’ve a peace that has come here to stay!

Constantly abiding, Jesus is mine;
Constantly abiding, rapture divine;
He never leaves me lonely, whispers, O so kind:
“I will never leave thee,” Jesus is mine.


Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside.  I was so foolish and ignorant—I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.  Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.  Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.  My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.
(Ps 73:21-26)

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.  Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.  And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Rom 8:33-39)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Acts 2 Church today? The miracles.

Most agree that miracles, similar in nature, variety, and number to those recorded in the Book of Acts, are no longer happening among God's people today, and that such supernatural works did not persist beyond the apostolic period.  There is also general agreement among Christian historians that up until about 70 AD the record is clear but that the rest of the first century is obscure; so that when the Church appears in the second century, the situation regarding miracles is so changed we seem to be in another world altogether.  As one such historian puts it,

"The thirty years which followed...the destruction of Jerusalem are in truth the most obscure in the history of the Church.  When we emerge in the second century we are, to a great extent, in a changed world.  Apostolic authority lives no longer in the Christian community; apostolic miracles have passed; the Church has fairly begun her pilgrimage through "the waste of Time."  As Dr. Arnold has finely said: "We stop at the last Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy with something of the same interest with which one pauses at the last hamlet of the cultivated valley, when there is nothing but moor beyond.  It is the end, or all but the end, of our real knowledge of primitive Christianity; there we take our last distinct look around; further the mist hangs thick, and few and distorted are the objects which we can discern in the midst of it."  We cannot doubt that there was a Divine purpose in thus marking off the age of inspiration and of miracles, by so broad and definite a boundary, from succeeding times."

Acts and the Epistles show evidence that a gradual change took place during the approximately forty years between Pentecost and the destruction of Jerusalem.  For example, in Acts 5 all of the sick who were brought from various cities to Jerusalem were healed by the apostles (v 16).  But twenty-five years later we find Paul himself is denied healing (2 Cor 12:7-9).  And near the end, we see him advising Timothy to take a little wine for his frequent ailments (1 Tim 5:23).  Still later we learn that Paul has left another worker sick at Miletum (2 Tim 4:20).  In the early chapters of Acts no one who is preaching Christ dies, but as Israel's opposition increases, Stephen is killed (Acts 7:54-59).  And a little later James dies by the sword of Herod (Acts 12:1-2).  So although in the early chapters of Acts Jerusalem, the seat of Israel's government, is filled with miracles, after the stoning of Stephen there is never again any record of a public miracle in that city called the city of the great King (Matt 5:34-35).

Of course not everybody agrees that there has been a change.  Some argue that such miracles are still happening today; but are they merely seeing what they wish to see?  Others admit there are no miracles as seen during the apostolic era, but they say that this is because we are less spiritual today and that a revival of faith would bring them back.  But the fact is, there have been great spiritual revivals as well as great spiritual leaders in the history of the Church, with no matching revivals of great public miracles.  Still others argue that the purpose of miracles in the apostolic era was to authenticate the truth of Christianity; that once this had been done and the canon completed, there was no further purpose for them and therefore they ceased.  But to say they were necessary only at the very beginning of the Church raises another question:  If useful then, why not now?  Moreover, that reasoning seems rather limiting.  It is true that miracles of the bible authenticated divine revelation, but they also relieved human problems and needs and these needs haven't stopped.  In fact, we live in a world filled with all kinds of complex sicknesses and problems, so our need for supernatural help certainly hasn't decreased.

So what happened? What was the reason for this sharp change?

In Scripture great public displays of miracles are consistently connected with the earthly kingdom of God.  They are seen when that kingdom was established at Sinai and did not completely stop until it ended with the departure of the Shekinah-Glory.  Miracles are also recorded in the OT predictions of a future re-establishment of the kingdom under the reign of the Messiah as well as when the kingdom was announced as being imminent in the Gospels.  In Acts, too, they are the signs of the kingdom, given primarily as a testimony to the nation Israel (1 Cor 1:22), because its imminent establishment depended on Israel's repentance.  Of course we know she did not repent nor believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, so that kingdom was not established — but it will be (Rom 11:25-27).

The Epistle to the Hebrews, written especially to Christian Jews, specifically mentions the miracles of the period of Acts, indicating their purpose and meaning. Hebrews 2 refers to the testimony that was "at the first spoken through the Lord"; and then says that the same message "was confirmed to us by those who heard [Him]" (v 3), a clear reference to the apostolic preaching in the Book of Acts. Continuing on, the very next verse (v 4) says, "God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles." The three Greek words here are generally used in the NT to describe miracles. Dunamis points to the source of the miracle; it is an act or display of divine "power." Teras describes the immediate effect it is intended to produce; it is a prodigy or "wonder." Semeion indicates the purpose of the miracle; it is a "sign" pointing to something beyond it.

Later in Hebrews 6:5 the miracles of the Acts period are referred to once again, this time using the Greek term dunamis and reminding the Jewish readers of that generation that they had "tasted...the powers of the age to come." These miracles and manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, although "tasted" by that generation, are clearly said to be in the future.  Now this "age" cannot be the Church age, because that had already begun and was even then running its course. Nor can it be heaven or the eternal state, for there will be no need for miracles then.  It seems clear to me that the true meaning of "the age to come" is the Millennial Kingdom, which was offered by Peter to the nation in Acts 2-3 but, because it was rejected, will now follow the Church age and be ushered in at the second coming of Christ.  It will be during this time that the Pentecostal signs and wonders will return in a higher and glorified sense, as we can see in Isaiah 35.

The great miracles of Acts, then, are powers which belong to the Millennial Kingdom. This suggests that their occasional and partial enjoyment by the generation living during the time of Acts, as also in the period of the Gospels, was intended to authenticate an offer of the kingdom to Israel, a genuine offer although conditioned on the repentance of the nation. It also explains why, following Israel's rejection in Acts 28 and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, the age of great public miracles came to an end.

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom (1 Cor 1:22).

**It is interesting to note that Geerhardus Vos seems to agree that there was some connection between the miracles during the Acts period and the eschatological expectations of that time: "The subsequent receding of this acute eschatological state has something to do with the gradual disappearance of the miraculous phenomena of the apostolic age" (Eschatology of the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 980).  He does not attempt to explain what the connection is, however. 

(to be continued)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pithy sayings - 2

Popular opinion is the greatest lie in the world.

You have to decide even to hesitate.

We're all funny. Some of us just don't know it yet.

The more you judge, the less you love.

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea.

A fellow who is always declaring he’s no fool usually has his suspicions.

Love begins with love.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

The one important thing I've learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously: The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.

A friend is one before whom you may think aloud.

It's so much easier to pray for a bore than to go and see one. (CS Lewis)

Men occasionally stumble on the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. (Winston Churchill)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Not what these hands have done
Can save my guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh hath wrought
Can make my spirit whole.

Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers, or sighs, or tears
Can ease this awful load.

Thy love to me, O God,
Not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest
And set my spirit free.

Thy work alone, Lord Jesus,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.

I praise the God of grace,
I trust His love and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine;
My God, my joy, my light!

— Horatius Bonar