Reaching for his cell phone ringing with the sound of “Boomer Sooner,” Hugh reads the name of the caller, “David,” he says, “What is going on, Dave?”
David answers, “Hugh, can I ask you a question about our Bible study coming up this Sunday in Sunday School?”
“Sure, Dave. What is your question?”
“I know we are about to start studying the Gospel of Mark section by section and yet, I am not sure what we mean when we say, ‘gospel.” What is it? What are the authors intending to teach the reader? From what I can tell, the four gospels are not like modern biographies. For one thing, they don’t all share the same information and for a second thing, they don’t have the same order. What can you tell me to help me know what I am looking at when I read a gospel?”
“Great questions, Dave. Since we are on the phone, I will try to streamline my reply and if we need to expand it, we can do it later in person.”
“First, Dave, before the early Christians began to use the word, gospel, it referred to good news about a military or political victory. The New Testament translates the Greek word, euangelion, as good news. From Mark 1:14-15 ‘good news’ refers to the message proclaimed by Jesus Christ or according to 1 Corinthians 15: 1 the good news concerning Jesus Christ. This is why the early believers seized the term ‘good news’ for the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
“That is interesting, Hugh.”
“And second, Dave, in a large sense, the Gospels contain stories. We know stories grab our attention and help us retain the content of what we are being told. Stories aid us in becoming part of the events being described. Stories help us to be more than mere readers. Using our imaginations, we enter the story personally, emotionally, and psychologically.”
“That’s true, Hugh.”
“Dave, the early believers understood that Gospels drew on the personal experiences of the apostles. Justin Martyr, who lived from about A.D. 100 – 165, in his First Apology, refers to the Gospels as the ‘memoirs’ of the Apostles. Thus, it seems the early church felt that these gospel authors were writing biographies about Jesus. You have already noted that when we read the Gospels today, they are much different from modern biographies.
“Hugh, Matthew and Luke jump from his birth into this ministry with little to any information about his teen years. Mark, which what we are going to study, introduces John the Baptist without any mention of the birth of Jesus. why is that so?”
Dave, that’s keen insight about the Gospels. Have you thought about how they are arranged? In a general manner, they are arranged topically. They report what Jesus said with a variety of ways. The major difference between the Gospels and modern biographies is the amount of time the Gospels devote to the last week of Christ’s life.”
“Dave, remember just because they are not modern biographies, does not mean they are not biographies. Ancient biographies followed simple outlines. Generally, they focused on the birth or arrival of the hero and follow his life to his death. We know that the way a person dies often says much about the way the person lived.”
“The ancient authors selected sayings and actions done by the hero in order to demonstrate a truth or something important about the hero. Reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John shows they have much in common with ancient biographies.”
“Dave, another important point to remember is this, ‘ancient writers or biographers did not feel compelled to record speeches verbatim. Paraphrasing and summarizing set the pattern for many ancient biographers. They felt free to arrange the materials to suit their themes or purposes.
“It has been said, ‘The goal of the gospels writers was to tell the story of Jesus in a faithful, yet relevant and persuasive manner for their readers. Rather than viewing the differences between accounts as errors in reporting, we should see them as illustrations of the different theological purposes and emphases of the gospel writers.’”
“Dave, let me show you how this knowledge of ancient biographers helps us understand what appears to be a discrepancy in scripture. Many astute readers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke notice that the second and third temptations are reversed in the two gospels.
“Matthew focuses on the Kingdom of God and thus, doesn’t it make sense to end the temptations with Satan offering the kingdoms of the world to Jesus? And Luke emphasizes Jerusalem. Doesn’t it make sense that Luke would end his temptations with Jesus jumping off the temple to only be rescued by the angels? Each Gospel writer ends the temptations to emphasize his theological focus.”
“And before we call it an evening, Dave, let me remind you that the Gospels are not only ancient biographies, but they are ancient biographies that focus on Christ. They are not merely recording stories, but specific stories related to the life and ministry of Christ. They seek to communicate theological information about Jesus to their readers. All story-telling has a purpose and the Gospel writers determined to tell the story about Jesus, and Jesus, alone.”
“Dave, does that help some as we move towards our study in Mark’s Gospel?”
“It does, Hugh, thank you for helping me tonight. I can rest, now, I think. Good night!”
“Good night, Dave.”
If you have thoughts about ancient biographies and how the Gospels used this methodology, please comment.
Like it or not, if you read, you are an interpreter.
The context of the sentences and paragraphs guide the interpretation you make. For example, the word, “bolt.” What picture pops into your mind?
Left to itself, you might imagine at least 3 ideas. But used in the context of a sentence, the meaning is clear.
“The mechanic tightened the bolt.”
“The lightning bolt struck the plane.”
“The dog bolted out the door when it heard the bath water running.”
SIX CONSIDERATIONS CAN GUIDE OUR INTERPRETATION OF A BIBLICAL PASSAGE:
CONSIDERATION 1: YOUR PREUNDERSTANDINGS
Preunderstandings contain the ideas we may impose on the text before we study the text serious. We may be aware of some preunderstandings, but not others. Every encounter the reader experiences with the text adds to this preunderstanding: Sunday School lessons, sermons, Bible studies and a myriad of other possible experiences. Admittedly, some experiences involved true understandings of the text, while others may not be true.
often spring from theological agendas. Assuming that you know what the passage
means because you have studied it in detail is dangerous. Familiarity may breed
contempt for a passage already studied. Truths may be overlooked. Additional
warnings need to be uttered in relationship to a culture that believes it knows
what Jesus would do.
stand at the cusp of changing every time a passage is examined. The goal is to improve one’s comprehension
each time the text is studied.
CONSIDERATION 2: YOUR BASIC CONVICTIONS
question basic convictions remain important to the interpreter. Unlike preunderstandings,
these beliefs will not change each time we read a passage. Basic convictions are not tied to one passage
but are gleaned from the entire Bible.
The student could list several of these non-negotiables which are
connected to beliefs towards the Bible. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays
offer these for our consideration:
1.The Bible is the Word of God. Although God worked
through people to produce it, it is nonetheless inspired by the Holy Spirit and
is God’s Word to us.
2.The Bible is trustworthy and true.
3.God has entered into human history; thus, the
supernatural (miracles, etc) does occur.
4.The Bible is not contradictory; it is unified, yet
diverse. Nevertheless, God is bigger than we are, and he is not always east to
comprehend. Thus, the Bible also has tension and mystery to it.[ii]
CONSIDERATION 3: YOUR AIM IN INTERPREATION
of the interpreter rests on finding the intended meaning of the text. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart rightly state,
“the most important ingredient the interpreter brings to the task is
enlightened common sense. The test of good interpretation is that it makes good
sense of the text. Correct interpretation, therefore, brings relief to the mind
as well as a prick or prod to the heart.” [iii]
interpreter needs to remember that discovering a “new” or “unique” meaning
which no one else ever saw is not the goal of interpretation. This may border
on pride where the interpreter attempts to find what all other interpreters
throughout history failed to discover. Indeed, the interpretation may be unique
to the one who sees or hears it for the first time, but it not an new and
CONSIDERATION 4: YOUR TRANSLATION
your read the preface to your favorite and trusted translation? Why not? Many
readers fail to understand that their favorite Bible translation is, in
reality, someone else’s interpretation of the original languages. The reader
needs to understand the complexity of translations. There is no one word in the
original language which can be translated in every context as the same word. Even
the Greek word, kai, or “and” can mean, “and, also, indeed, and but” as well as
many others, depending on the context.
translation, or version, is a scholarly attempt to render the stories and
thoughts of a people from ancient cultures who spoke ancient languages into a
modern language that is spoken by people who live in very different,
asked yourself, “Is my translation a literal translation or is it a dynamic
translation? That is, “Did my translators seek to stay as close to the literal
word order of the Hebrew and Greek texts or did they seek to do an idea for
idea translation?” James Moffatt, a Bible
translator said, “A real translation is an interpretation.” [v]
CONSIDERATION 5: THE GENRE OF YOUR LITERATURE BEING STUDIED
must be aware of the literary types found in the Bible based on formal and
technical criteria apart from the author of the text, provenance, and subject
matter. Texts are placed in categories based on literary conventions called,
Hebrew Old Testament major genres include historical narratives, poetry, prophecy,
and wisdom literature. The Greek New Testament genres can be classified as
gospel, epistle and apocalyptic. Each of these may include sub-categories. For
example, narrative may touch upon parable, fable, short story, and saga.
CONSIDERATION 6: THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE PASSAGE
should explore the historical context behind the passage. This differs from
book to book. Research the time and culture of the author as well as his
intended readers. What geographical, topographical, religious, economic, and
political situation did the author and readers live? How might those areas
touch upon the intended meaning of the author? The intended purpose should be
sought as well, if possible to discover.
to the historical context is the literary context. The interpreter recognizes that words make
sense in sentences. But more than that, they make sense in relationship to the
sentences and paragraphs before and after them.
“The most important contextual question you will ever ask – and it must
be asked – is, “What is the point?” The goal is to trace the author’s train of
If the interpreter considers these six facets of interpretation with each text under study, he or she will be further down the road to a clearer understanding of that passage.
Can you add other considerations I did not mention? Leave a comment with your ideas and a once sentence summary of what you mean by your consideration.
[i] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Jr. Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible,
the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 462.
[ii] J. Scott Duvall and J.
Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word,
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 145.
[iii] Gordon D. Fee and
Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for
All Its Worth, (Grand Rapdis: Zondervan, 2003), 18.
[iv] Michael J. Gorman. Elements of Biblical Exegesis, (Grand
Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 40.
A NEW GOLD RUSH – WHO WILL STEP UP TO THE CHALLENGE?
Awake from his nap, Jason peered over his rusty, battle scared metal coffee mug. Jason watched the six hundred gold miners feverishly dig pot holes into the sandy and gravel bed of the creek. Each miner searching for easy gold. It is September 1851. Jason sat on his log chair on the edge of the shoreline in the bend of an old creek near Balarat, Australia. He had heard that the old miners deemed this spot, “Golden Point.”
Jason reflected over the holes he personally had
dug. Most of his holes seldom reached a
depth of more than three feet before hard clay was encountered. How frustrated
Jason felt as contemplated moving to another area to dig yet another three-foot
hole in search of that elusive gold. His meager tools consisted of a pan, a
cradle and a puddling trough. Most of
his miner friends as well as himself barely scratched out a mere half an ounce
of gold a day – if they were blessed.
Jason, like hundreds of other miners before him, abandoned
claim after claim here at Golden Point. Every direction Jason’s eyes scanned,
pot holes stretched across the horizon. He pondered on the thought, This hard
clay NEVER produces gold. To reach the hard clay was to reach the end of the
search for easy gold in this location.
Rumors had flooded the camp the evening before and most
of the miners broke camp heading for richer fields. More and more claims lay
abandoned until the old bend in the creek. Jason thought it looked like a
cemetery where someone forget to fill in the graves.
Jason was startled from his day dream by his older
brother, John. “Dig deeper! Today, we
must dig deeper! We have to dig deeper
than anyone else ever has! I believe the best gold lays at the bottom of this
These hopeful admonitions of John’s broke the early morning
stillness. The Cavanagh brothers vowed over the last evenings late supper of
warmed beans that they would dig deep for gold. As far as they knew, no other
miners before them had been bold enough to dig through the hard clay. John and
Jason theorized that century’s old rich gold lay below in an old creek bed.
The brothers selected an abandoned claim and began to dig
the hard clay. The Cavanagh brothers dug
with abandon. Inch by inch the brothers dug, only to find another inch of hard
clay. The brothers dug through blisters and through blood. Jason wondered if
all this effort would pay off or if the other miners would be correct? Would
there be no end to the hard clay?
Jason and John admitted they had dug the first day
without a hint of reward. The second day, the brothers determined to keep
digging as more miners left the Golden Point area for those richer finds
upstream. Some miners laughed and mocked
the Cavanagh brothers for their persistence in digging the hard clay so deep.
With resistance like two tug of war teams pulling a rope
in opposite directions, the clay put up a ferocious fight. But the hard clay
continued to slowly yield its hard contents as John and Jason repeatedly dug
and rested. First John would dig, then Jason dug. The process repeated itself
so many times the brothers lost count.
As the sun began dropping behind the horizon on the
second day, and after two back breaking days of digging the hard clay, the
brother reached between 6 and 7 feet. The Cavanagh brothers dared not stop
because of dark. Somehow, innately they knew
they were about to hit pay dirt. They dug until their lights died.
Finally, exhausted, John and Jason forced themselves to
try to sleep. Sleep proved to be elusive to Jason. His mind could not escape
what he hoped to see on the third day. In
the early light of dawn, the brothers surveyed their work and prayed this day
would be the day gold would be theirs. Sore and fatigued the boys went back to excavating.
Shortly, Jason stopped digging. He hit
something. It was a gravel layer. He
lowered his light into the hole so he could see better. He spied it. A large cache
of gold. He yelled for John.
Jason and John Cavanagh victoriously walked into Geelong,
Australia on September 20, 1851. The brothers both carried saddlebags filled
with 30 pounds of gold. News spread as far as Adelaide and Hobart in a very
short time. Every able-bodied man hurried to the Golden Point to dig through
the hard clay. Jason and John were set for life. Digging the hard clay proved
worth the effort and the ridicule.
How about today’s believer and the book of Revelation?
What about you?
The gold of Revelation may be like digging in the hard
clay, but the rich rewards await the faithful, diligent, and tenacious
interpreter. Gold can be found in the most
The tools we need to dig the riches of God’s gold from
Revelation include REMEMBERING the historical context and READING with purpose
HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE REVELATION
THE EARLY CHURCH’S EXPERIENCE
Early Christians experienced a growing and intensifying persecution
for their faith (Revelation 1:9). Specifically, the Ephesian church endured
suffering and hardship (Revelation 2:3). Even the church at Smyrna stayed
faithful through slander and adversity (Revelation 2: 9-10).
In the city of Pergamum, Antipas, a faithful believer
died for his faith. The church with little strength, Philadelphia, stayed
faithful to Christ and did not renounce His name (Revelation 3:8).
John, the Apostle, mentioned the faithful martyrs who
were slain because of the Word of God and their testimonies in Revelation 6:9. Revelation rehearses the frequent deaths of
the saints (Revelation 13; 16:5-6; 17:6; 18:24, 19:2 and 20:4).
THE ROMAN EMPEROR DOMITIAN’S RULE
The Roman Emperor Domitian (A D 81 – 96) appears to begin
this persecution against Christians. Roman historians, Pliny, Tacitus and
Suetonius describe Domitian as “savage, cruel, devious, sexually immoral, mad,
Suetonius states that when his brother Titus fell
seriously ill, Domitian ordered the attendants to leave him for dead before
Titus breathed his last breath.
Suetonius continues to paint a demented picture of Domitian as he says
that he would stay in his room alone for hours and often would catch flies only
to stab them with the needle-sharp pen.
Pliny the Younger, (ca AD 61-113) describes Domitian’s
[It is the] the place where . . . that fearful monster
built his defenses with untold terrors, where lurking in his den he licked up
the blood of his murdered relatives or emerged to plot the massacre and
destruction of his most distinguished subjects. Menaces and horror were the
sentinels at his doors . . . always he sought darkness and mystery, and only
emerged from the desert of his solitude to create another (Pan. 48.3-5).
Pliny continued to describe Domitian in his Panegyricus
He (Domitian) was a madman, blind to the true meaning of
his position, who used the arena for collecting charges of high treason, who
felt himself slighted and scorned if we failed to pay homage to his gladiators,
taking any criticism of them to himself and seeing insults to his own godhead
and divinity; who deemed himself the equal of gods yet raised his gladiators to
Domitian demanded to be called dominus et deus noster (our lord and god). For a believer to refuse to say words of
loyalty and allegiance to the emperor was equal to treason. This brings
trouble. He built a huge temple
dedicated to himself at Ephesus.
Christians suffered at the hands of Roman Emperor
Domitian, partly due to a misunderstanding related to the practices of the
Christian faith. Christians were misunderstood and vigorously rooted out. All a
Christian needed to do was to worship the pagan gods and the imperial cult to
be freed. Some Christians did just that.
Others refused to recant their faith in Jesus Christ. All
a suspected Christian had to do to escape horrible treatment, and maybe, death,
was to sprinkle a few sands of incense in the eternal flame burning in front of
the statute of the emperor. Those who
refused might be burned alive, killed by lions in the arena or crucified.
THE PURPOSE OF REVELATION AS HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Revelation presents those facing such futures with a
brighter future and a realistic world view.
Revelation stresses the need for believers to gain an eternal view of
the world. It presents the reader with the opportunity to worship the true God
with his host in heaven. It helps the reader see suffering as triumph in light
of the future glories presented by the Lord of heaven.
Revelation is seen as comfort to Smyrna and Philadelphia
who experience suffering now. It stands as a warning to the churches of
Thyatira and Sardis, churches that are already dead. The judgments found in Revelation
come as invitations for the world to repent.
SEVEN STEPS TO READING
REVELATION WITH PURPOSE AND AWARENESS
Seek to set aside your preconceptions, presuppositions, and preunderstandings.
Preconceptions, presuppositions and preunderstandings
color and possibly taint what we believe the biblical passage to mean. Often,
the reader uses these without any awareness or evaluation of them. Always be willing to read the text afresh and
recognize that your former understandings may need to be altered or
deleted. Retain a teachable spirit and
mind. Let the Word have supremacy in interpretation.
2. Strive to understand the passage as the first readers understood the passage.
Never is the goal to understand what the text means to
you! John’s intended meaning is the goal
of your study. Refuse to ignore those
first Christians and the setting in which they lived. Begin with the question, “What
did John, the apostle, intend for his first readers to understand?” While parts
of the book do gaze into the future, remember that you, the interpreter, must
see that future meant to Revelation’s first readers. How would they have understand
3. Resist the temptation to put everything into a tight chronological order.
Remember Revelation’s purpose is to transform the first
reader’s worldview from one of the temporal world to God’s eternal rule. Thus, Revelation will not always fit tightly
into a chronological line. Sometimes the picture maybe compared to a telescope.
The first part allows for a certain object to be brought into focus. The second
extension shows more detail than the first extension while the third extension provides
greater detail than either the first of the second.
Read Revelation 6:12-17 and the sixth seal account. This
seal culminates with the great day of judgment. When the seventh seal is opened
(Revelation 11:15-19), the end of the world is in focus again with the judging
of the nations. Additionally, the first bowl in Revelation 16:1-2 shows another
set of judgments. Revelation 19-22 presents another detailed picture of end
time judgments. Thus, more specific information is gained from each extension
of the telescope.
4. Separate what is intended literally and what is intended symbolically
As always, John’s intended meaning is key. John uses pictorial or symbolic language to
convey historical reality. This implies
that pictorial language needs not be literal. The genre of symbolic language
needs to follow that genre.
Would you literally expect to see a woman sitting on seven
hills if you read Revelation 17:9? Why not?
We take the symbol seriously, but not literally. First century believers naturally took it to
refer to Rome.
5. Seek to correspond John’s definition of an image in one place with subsequent places.
Two clear examples include John’s reference to the son of
Man in Revelation 1:17 which is Christ and in Revelation 1:20 the golden
lampstands are the churches. The reader
needs to note these clear definitions. When
Revelation 11:3-4 refers to lampstands again, it seems natural to understand
that as referring to a church as well.
A Word of caution – be aware that John uses precise
definitions with some images and he is fluid with other images. Check out his usages of star in Revelation
1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1 with 8:10-12 as well as 22:16.
6. Study the Old Testament with its corresponding historical context and symbols.
How can the modern reader ever figure out what the
various symbols refer to if John did not provide the correct definition? Two answers are available for the reader. One
has been covered earlier with the historical context. The second is the Old
While Revelation possesses NO DIRECT Old Testament quote,
it does contain more Old Testament references that any other New Testament
book. The Old Testament shows up in
almost 70% of Revelations verses (Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application
Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 33. The four major Old Testament
books are Psalms, Daniel, Isaiah and Ezekiel.
7. Separate the main idea from the surrounding details.
The basic strategy to understand Revelation is to begin
with the big picture and work towards the details. This is just opposite the
normal manner of biblical interpretation.
Locate the major theological ideas of Revelation and write them in one
succinct sentence. Keep the main point
of the section in view always.
Now, if you had not understood the need for hard,
persistent, and consistent work in understanding Revelation, you should
now. Revelation will yield its rich gold
when the interpreter persists through the hard clay. Remember the first century
world context and the seven steps to reading Revelation.
What is your preferred manner to interpret Revelation and
The man I write about was not a greedy man. He died in a mine in Corbin, Montana. Reported to be a decent, kind, and mostly jovial man, he occasionally helped fellow miners, struggling to make ends meet. He modeled what it means to be decent with his interactions with other men.
Colonel Thornby, a local newspaper owner in Deadwood, South Dakota, described this man in the Weekly Pioneer-Times, July 13, 1905 issue as a man who possessed a balanced mind – a mind more balanced than most of the miners he encountered.
Our man prospected throughout the west when he came upon the gold rich ground of the Black Hills. His prospecting side kick was Hank Harnesy, a Texas cowboy.
Moses! Our gold mining friend carried the name: Moses. When Moses and Hank came to the outcroppings of what became their gold mine in 1876, Moses grasped gold-rich raw materials in this hand, and while looking at it, Moses eyes streamed with tears dropping to the ground.
Moses turned to Hank, his partner as he said, “There is a homestake!” For Moses and Hank and other miners, a “homestake” was a local expression meaning that this is a sufficient amount to take back East. Hence, Hometsake Mine was named.
Hank, Moses his brother Fred and a Mr. Alex Engh co-owned the mine. A few months later, a H. B. Young purchased a few feet of the mine claim. In 1877, about a year after the founding of the mine, the infamous, Mr. George Hearst, father of the media tycoon, William Randolph Hearst, desired to purchase the 10 acre Homestake Mine.
Moses represented himself and his partners. The men met in the Welch House Hotel in Deadwood. The walls of the rooms consisted of board sheathing covered by a thin cloth. Any conversation spoken in one room could be heard in the adjacent room.
After a rather intense session of negotiation, Mr. Hearst and Moses agreed on a price between $70,000.00 and $75,000.00. Mr. Hearst had a set price and Moses wanted more. Finally, Mr. Hearst argued that neither Moses nor he could see into the ground. As a result, if the mine failed, Hearst’s partners would call this adventure “One of George Hearst’s foolish follies.” Moses agreed to the price Hearst offered.
Upon meeting with the newspaper editor, Colonel Thornby, Mr. Hearst said this about Moses, “Moses Manuel is a philosopher. In all my experiences I have never met a more intelligent prospector. Had he been an educated man, he would make a great lawyer. He made the best argument I have ever heard, and I have heard thousands on the sale of a mine. “
Between 1876 and 2001, the Homestake Mine produced 40 MILLION ounces of gold. The price of gold on December 9, 2018 is $1250.00 dollars per ounce. Forty million ounces today would be worth $5 billion dollars.
Rule 1 – Letters are the major literary form of the New Testament.
Rule 2 – Letters were generally less formal, more personal and based on past relationships. See Philemon as an example.
Rule 3 – Letters often corrected or exposed a situation in a local church or in the life of a person or persons. See Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians for samples.
Rule 4 – Epistles tend to be more formal, self-explanatory treatises written to a wider audience.
Rule 5 – The distinction between Paul’s letters and epistles often blur.
Rule 6 – Paul’s letters and epistles from early were addressed to churches with the intention of being obeyed (2 Thess 3:14), swapped (Col 4:16) and understood to be the Word of God (1 Cor 14: 37-38; 1 Thess 2:13).
Rule 7 – Paul’s letters and epistles gained the reputation of being binding on both churches and individuals, even for churches founded by others (2 Pet 3:15-16).
FIVE PARTS OF A FIRST CENTURY LETTER/EPISTLE
When beginning to study the letters or epistles of the New Testament, remember these five elements may or may not be found in every letter. However, these five parts are normative and should be expected. If one is missing, one might desire to discover the why it is missing, if possible. Only a brief explanation of these 5 parts is presented here.
Part 1 – Salutation – normally there is a reference to author/sender of the letter and the recipients – “Paul, an apostle, to the Thessalonians…” This is followed by a tradition greeting of blessings. Occasionally the author states whey he is writing.
Part 2 – Thanksgiving and / or Prayer – All of Paul’ letters have a thanksgiving except Galatians.
Part 3 – Body – This normally contains most of the space of Paul’s letters.
Part 4 – Exhortation and instruction – See Romans 12:1-15:32; 1 Corinthians 3:1-16:18.
Part 5 – Conclusion – Wishes for peace, the offering of a holy kiss, a concluding paragraph, benedictions, doxologies, greeting to other believers, prayers and prayer requests are some of the concluding remarks found in Paul’s letters.
HOW CAN WE UNEARTH THE RICH GOLD FOUND IN THE EPISTLES?
Step 1 – Read the entire letter in one siting. If this letter was from someone special to you, you wouldn’t put it down until you had read, and maybe even, re-read parts of it. Why short change yourself by reading a few verses and the letter aside? You might find it helpful to use an online service where you can delete the chapter and verses before you begin to read. This may radically change how you read.
Step 2 – Read the letter seeking to learn its historical context. You may find it helpful to use study helps – Bible dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias, and commentaries. Look for information related to the author and the recipients: their cultural, historical, and relationship background. Discover the date and place of writing. Explore the reason for writing the letter. Highlight the circumstances before, during and after the letter was written, if possible.
Step 3 – Using a Bible with paragraph divisions, trace the flow of thought throughout the book. Notice important words and themes. You could number each paragraph and write a one sentence summary beside the paragraphs. Then, produce a working summary of the contents for quick review. Notice transition words, like, therefore, and, but, however etc. Complete this step with a ONE SENTENCE summary of what you feel is the author’s intended message to his audience.
Step 4: Write out theological principles discovered in Step 3. Make this present tense verbal statements summarizing the intended truths of the author as presented to his audience. Jack Kuhatschek in his book, Applying the Bible, presents three qualifying questions to use: 1) Does the author state a principle? 2) Does the broader context of the text state or reveal a theological principle? 3) Why was the particular teaching, exhortation or command stated?
Step 5: How does our theological principle(s) agree or disagree with the rest of the Bible? Are there other passages that teach the same truths or do other passages contradict my theological principle? Allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Permit one Scripture to illumine other passages. We hold to a basic conviction that Scripture never contradicts itself.
Step 6; Ask how does a believer seek to live out the theological principles presented in Step 5? 1) Begin by reviewing the principle in light of the original situation in the epistle or letter. 2) Explore a situation in our lives which corresponds to the principle. 3) Be specific with the application in real life terms that match the truth found in the letters or epistles.
Join Me this week …
This week – Would you be bold enough to respond to this blog by sharing with me and others who read this blog what you are studying what God is teaching you through his Word. The same principles work with any other genre in Scripture that has an historical background to be discovered. How are you applying it today? I will start:
On Sunday evenings I am teaching through the book of Joshua with our small group at church. We will be exploring Joshua 8. As I studied this chapter, I discovered the principle that we can return to gain victory at places of previous defeat if we remind ourselves of that God’s plan leads to victory if we only trust God and obey Him completely.
The gold city of Dawson remained filled with disenchanted gold miners. Some found mining jobs in the open mines, others fed themselves with short-term jobs offered by mine supply businesses, restaurants, hotel clerks, and washing clothes among others. Most stayed because they were either broke or too embarrassed to return home.
Rumors spread in the spring of 1899 that miners had found new gold. The steamers confirmed the rumors. Cape Nome, Alaska drew over 8,000 people for the new jackpot. Eric Lindblom, John Brynteson and Jafet Lindberg, known as the “Three Lucky Swedes,” joined forces in the Circle City area of Alaska. They left that area and moved to the west coast of Alaska, near the Anvil Creek. By the fall of 1898 excitement and renewed hopes spread among the disillusioned miners in the Yukon and Alaskan territories.
By summer of 1900, the largest general delivery address in the U.S. postal system would be in a town that did not exist a year earlier? A tent town mushroomed after gold was found on the beaches of the Snake River along its mouth.
In just a few months the population reached 20,000 people. The only equipment the people needed to mine for gold were shovels, buckets and rockers to separate the gold from the sand and rocks. The unexpected birth of Nome provided hope for many broke, desperate people,and renewed dreams.
Like the exciting news of the gold strike in Nome, Alaska, the gold that can be mined from the Book of Acts is plentiful for the person willing to invest time and surrender to the illumination of the Spirit.
Our mining goal this week is to discover how to mine the gold from the Book of Acts. May the Lord spur his miners to dig the depths of Acts. May we be spiritually bankrupt and know we are so destitute that we run to the book for its wealth.
QUESTIONS FOR THE GOLD MINER TO REMEMBER TO ASK …
We, gold miners, need to remember, like the Gospels, the Book of Acts presents narrative which requires two questions for the interpreter to focus keenly upon:
1) What is Luke’s intended message of each episode included in the Book of Acts.
2) What does Luke tell his readers by the way he connects the individual stories and speeches to form the larger narrative?
SIX QUESTIONS TO ASK AS WELL …
The primary meaning of any story in Acts can be discovered by these six questions: Ask
ADDITIONAL ISSUES TO REMEMBER
The gold miner must evaluate the length of Luke’s stories and how they are connected to understand Luke’s logical connections. Keep in mind, the length of Luke’s stories hint toward the events Luke considered most important.
The gold miner in the gold field of Acts must realize that the application of Acts brings new issues not faced with the Gospels. In the Gospels, no interpreter believes he/she will walk with Jesus into Jericho or sit with Jesus in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. However, in Acts the ministry of Jesus fades into the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The question is, what in Acts is normative for the church or for a believer to imitate the experiences and practices of the early church. The other option relates to a descriptive method of applying Acts, that is, what should the modern church or believer hold to as important, valuable, and inspiring, but not binding?
SEVEN STEPS TO HELP MINE THE GOLD HIDDEN IN THE BOOK OF ACTS
Select the passage you desire to explore.
If you plan to preach exegetically through the Acts, you should evaluate the paragraph divisions of your translation. You could compare your translation with that of 2 or 3 more. Use the paragraph divisions to help you identify the major thought development of the chapter.
Explore the literary connections of the passages before and after your passage.
The gold miner needs to be explore the intended meaning of the passages immediately before and immediately following his passage understudy. This will help to keep the flow of thought intact. The miner needs to expand his awareness of the contents of Acts from the beginning of the Book of Acts and to the end of the Book of Acts. The miner should know the terrain of Acts like as well as any gold miner would know his stake.
Determine Luke’s intended meaning of the passage under study.
The literary context studied in the previous section now provides the grid from which the current study must fit logically. The miner for the gold in the passage should explore as many aspects of the passage as possible. Nothing should be taken for granted.
The miner needs to review his presuppositions and pre-understandings related to the passage which he/she brought to the passage from former study, other sermons or Bible studies, or any other source that could slant the interpretation away from Luke’s intended meaning.
Ask what characteristics of the persons in the narrative can be modeled or need to be avoided?
Acts is filled with persons who modern day disciples should model in behavior, attitude, faith, and being. In similar manner, other persons serve as models who the modern believer ought to refused to emulate.
Of course, Peter, Barnabas, and Paul standout as major role models to imitate. A few including Stephen, Lydia, and Philip show the modern miner how to live a life of faith and obedience. Ananias and Sapphira with their deception and subsequent judgment portray those negative models to avoid as well as Simon, the sorcerer and King Herod Agrippa.
The gold miner will ask what characteristics did each person exemplify that is worthy of study and application? Alongside this feature of study, the gold miner will ask what was God’s response to those who modeled faith and obedience and what was His response to those who disbelieved or disobeyed? Another question needing to be asked is what should be followed and what ought to be avoided by today’s believers?
Ask what is the
theological meaning intended by Luke?
Examine the rest of Acts and ask if the events in this passage are normative in other parts of Acts?
Reading Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35 reveals the early believers selling property and giving material goods to other believers in need. So, our question is, “Does God expect the modern believer and modern church to sell our goods and give it to other believers in our local churches?” Without question, this generosity causes us to want to be like our early brothers and sisters in Christ.
But, the modern interpreter must continue to read Acts 5. Here Ananias and Sapphira sell property and give some to the apostles. Peter makes the situation clear in Acts 5: 3-4. He clearly states that Ananias and Sapphira were free to keep the profit they had made from the sale. God did not require them to sell the property or to give money to the apostles. Thus, the sharing of property and goods rested purely on a voluntary response to needs of other believers.
Mark the places where events and themes are reduplicated in Acts.
Many of these are easy to identify if one keeps a pencil/pen handy and makes a list. Check the number of references to prayer, preaching, witnessing, God’s sovereign control over events and people, the spread of the Gospel from Jew to Gentile as a place to begin.
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT!
Let me suggest we read and highlight the number of ways God revealed His will to the early church in Acts.
Remember the mere fact that something is repeated does not automatically mean that it is normative for Christianity throughout history.
Please feel free to post your observations in the response area this week. Let’s see howmany ways we can find. Then we can evaluate how many we feel are normative and timeless.
Please use this format:
Acts 8:26, 12:7 – God used angels to communicate His will to the early church.
A Miser had buried his gold in a secret place in his garden. Every day he went to the spot, dug up the treasure and counted it piece by piece to make sure it was all there. He made so many trips that a Thief, who had been observing him, guessed what it was the Miser had hidden, and one night quietly dug up the treasure and made off with it.
When the Miser discovered his loss, he was overcome with grief and despair. He groaned and cried and tore his hair. A passerby heard his cries and asked what had happened.
“My gold! O my gold!” cried the Miser, wildly, “someone has robbed me!”
“Your gold! There in that hole? Why did you put it there? Why did you not keep it in the house where you could easily get it when you had to buy things?”
“Buy!” screamed the Miser angrily. “Why, I never touched the gold. I couldn’t think of spending any of it.”
The stranger picked up a large stone and threw it into the hole. “If that is the case,” he said, “cover up that stone. It is worth just as much to you as the treasure you lost!” Wealth Without Value
I pray as we review the wealth of wisdom found in the Bible, we will do more than merely pull it out and gaze with fondness on the truths contained. May we be wise enough to apply the gnomic truths to our hearts and let the truths penetrate into the very fibers of our character.
INTRODUCTION TO THE WEALTH OF WISDOM
This blog post will limit itself to the discussion of Hebrew wisdom as found in the Bible. Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes make up the largest category called Hebrew Wisdom and some scholars included the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs). Even some of the Psalms fall under this category. Not every verse of these books reflects ‘Hebrew wisdom.’
While many proverbs are found in the books mentioned above proverbs appear in many other books and even in the New Testament. Two examples suffice: Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels and the Book of James. Almost all books of the Bible contain these proverbial statements. Genesis 4:9 asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Psalm 334:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Even 1 Corinthians 13:13, “so faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (RSV).
WHAT IS THE WEALTH OF WISDOM?
Wisdom is the ability to see our situations in life as God sees them. Or wisdom involves the skill to employ godly choices in life (Fee, How to Read the Bible, 225). The process is to apply God’s Word to our lives and thereby we make godly choices. If only it were that easy!
Proverbs are one of the most common forms of Wisdom literature. Robert H. Stein defines ‘proverb’ as “a pithy saying that expresses a general truth that has become common property whose authorship is generally unknown” (Stein, Playing by the Rules, 131).
Three categories capture our attention in the study of Proverbs.
1) Maxims or proverbs handing out advice on behavior,
2) axiom, or proverbs whose truth is assumed to be self-evident, and
3) aphorism, or a proverb which contains a concise statement of a principle or truth.
Remember the purpose of the wisdom books is the develop character into the reader. The collection of proverbs provides the reader with generalized insights into godly living. The literature is intended to guide the reader into making godly choices. R. B. Y Scott explains, “has to do how men (and women) ought to act in the workaday world, with personal character, and with a way of life that can be called good because it has coherence, value, and meaning.” (Scott, The Way of Wisdom in the Old Testament, 5).
HOW CAN THE WEALTH OF WISDOM CHARACTERIZED?
Leland Ryken highlights five essential characteristics of proverbs:
1) Proverbs are striking and memorable. The goal of a biblical proverb is to help us remember its gnomic truth.
2) Proverbs are both simple and profound. While a proverb may be short, the depth of truth contained in it may never be fully mined.
3) Proverbs are both specific and general. Proverbs highlight a universal bent in life.
4) Proverbs are often poetic in form. Many of the proverbs are presented in parallel statements. Metaphor and simile appear quite often among the proverbs. 5) Proverbs are observations about human experience. The writers of Hebrew Wisdom were the most observant of their day and were able to relate the truths observed into written form. (Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature, 122-123.
A common feature demanding that it be kept in the mind when studying proverbs is that the Hebrew author was presenting general truths and did not worry about exceptions to the truth he expressed. The proverb writer believed his reader would employ common sense and recognize that the proverb might not apply to every situation.
HOW DO WE GAIN UNDERSTANDING FROM THE WEALTH OF WISDOM?
First, remember that the wisdom literature, in general, and the Proverbs, specifically, present probable truth and not absolute truth. These point out general patterns of behavior which provides the reader with potential success if followed. These are not “legal guarantees” from God. Their aim is to present a truth in a memorable manner without seeking to cover every conceivable life situation. Stated another way, the proverb does not concern itself with possible exceptions to its truth. The statement merely ignores it from thought.
Second, attempt to avoid placing modern, Western thoughts upon the statements. Most of the proverbial statements reflect a simply and content life. Any thoughts of affluence and abundance are generally imposed on these sayings. The life of the ancient Hebrew proverbial writers were simple: simple houses, a desire to have enough food to eat, and a general hope for a happy life.
Thirdly, the starting point is with the literary categories which make up the proverb. As stated earlier, we must ask does the proverb present itself in parallelism form, as simile, as metaphor, as a word play or even in narrative? Paying attention to these literary forms releases the potential for the reader to grasp the intended meaning of the original writer.
Finally, one handy method to study the proverbs comes when these are categorized according to topic: family, money, business dealings, etc. Or the proverbs may be examined according to character traits: the lazy man, the frugal man, the wicked man, etc.
ARE THERE RESOURCES TO HELP UNDERSTAND AND APPLY THE WEALTH OF WISDOM?
Alter, R. The Art of Biblical Poetry. New York: Basic Books, 1985.
Fee, Gorden D. and Douglass Stuart. How to Read the Bible for all its Worth. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003
Murphy, R. E. The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1996.
Ryken, L. How to Read the Bible as Literature. Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Academic Books, 1984.
Stein, Robert H. A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.
Pearls, diamonds, and gold represent wealth and opulence. All three demand large amounts of money to be obtained. Only nobles and kings possessed such rare items. Today, a set of cultured pearls might set a husband back $500 to $5000 for a string of 50 pearls.
Pearls captured the imagination of ancient cultures. The Hindu holy books record that their god, Krishna, found a pearl in the sea and promptly surrendered the pearl to his daughter, Pandaia, on her wedding day. The Egyptians utilized mother-of-pearl as far back as 4200 B.C.
A pearl earring, once owned by the Roman General Vitellus (pictured), provided the general with enough funds to capitalize an entire military operation according to the first century Roman historian, Suetonius.
Enamored by pearls, Roman women even covered their furniture with pearls. Roman women sewed pearls onto their gowns and would walk upon the pearls in the hems of the gowns. Not to be outdone, the Romans Emperor Caligula, proclaimed his horse a proconsul and decorated the horse with pearls.
A pearl figured in what literature records as the most expensive dinner the world has witnessed. Cleopatra desperately needed to persuade Marc Antony the Egypt’s wealth and heritage that raised the country above conquest. While Marc Anthony lounged at the table with an unfilled plate and a goblet of vinegar (or wine), Cleopatra took a pearl earring, crushed it, liquified it, and then, drank it. Witnessing this, Marc Antony left his plate empty and the matching pearl earring. He conceded defeat.*
IDENTIFYING THE PEARLS OF POETRY
The richness of poetry is almost without end. Poetry is the second most occurring literary genre in the Bible behind narratives. Several features separate biblical poetry from prose. Parallelism or rhythmic balance stands as the most important feature. Terseness and shortness of lines provides a second feature. Third, Hebrew poetry leans towards the avoidance of conjunctions and particles. Finally, Hebrew poetry prefers to use simple, figurative language: (hyperbole, metaphor, personification, and analogy, etc.,) or extended (idioms, riddle, parable, or similitude etc.).
WHAT MOTIVATED BIBLICAL WRITERS TO EMPLOY POETRY?
Biblical writers employed the pearl of poetry because poetry expresses a richness which prose cannot. The ideas carried by poetry transmits more power than prose. Poetry possesses more emotional power than prose. Poetry may lead one to action, to change attitudes, or even comfort a grieving heart. Many of Jesus’ teachings gain a richness if the reader appreciates the poetry found in His words and teachings.
Biblical poetry adds beauty intending to increase the dramatic and emotional impact of the words upon its audience. These forms of parallelism fill the understanding in a greater way than a single sentence or phrase. Perhaps more important for an ancient culture was its adding to the ease of being memorized.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES CONCERNING THE PEARLS OF POETRY
Biblical poetry cannot be read like prose. The writer of biblical poetry concerned himself with arousing emotions and creating certain impressions rather than exact accounts and scientific definitions.
FOUR PEARLS OF POETRY
As a rule English poetry consists of rhyme and rhythm. Consider the poem:
“The Spider and the Fly” by Mary Howitt
“Will you walk into my parlour? Said the Spider to the Fly?
“Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy,
The way into my parlour is a winding stair,
And I’ve many curious things when you are there.”
The rhyme is seen in lines 1 and 2: fly – spy as well as lines 3 and 4: stair – there. Likewise, rhythm stands more important for English poetry. Lines 1 and 2 have 15 and 14 syllabus while lines 3 and 4 have 12 each to provide the rhythm.
In Hebrew poetry, the thing that is similar is parallelism. Some of the traditional terms to define this parallelism include:
PEARL 1: Synonymous Parallelism –
The second and following lines of synonymous parallelism must duplicate the idea of the first line with a different, but similar idea.
Matt 7:7-8 –
Ask, and it will be given to you;
Seek, and you will find;
Knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives,
And the one who seeks finds,
And to the one who knocks it will be opened.
Asking, seeking, knocking are similar but different means of praying. Two lines are required for synonymous parallelism, but more can be included.
The interpretive principle for synonymous parallelism is that each line must stress the same truth.
PEARL 2: Antithetical Parallelism –
Antithetical parallelism requires the second line to contrast the first line. This is the most common kind of parallelism in the Bible. Jesus’ teachings alone provide for over 130 examples. Entire chapters of Proverbs are antithetical parallelisms.
Proverbs 15:17 –
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
Than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
Antithetical parallelisms are generally limited to two lines. Occasionally a third line may exist such as in Matthew 10: 32-33.
Remember that these are poetry and poetic license may be intended by the author. To interpret this poetry, understanding one line provides the key to understanding the second line.
PEARL 3: Climatic or Step Parallelism –
Step Parallelism allows the second line to pick up the idea of the first line. The second line does not repeat the idea of the first line, but advances the thought or moves the thought of the first line to a higher plane with the intention of bringing the idea to a peak. This form is not as frequent as the first two pearls. An example is Matt 10:40 –
And whoever receives me receives him who sent me
Whoever receives you receives me,
Pearl 4: Chiastic Parallelism
The fourth parallelism found in Scripture is chiastic which reveals itself in a particular parallelism structure. Statement 1 has two elements: A and B. The second statement has two parts as well, but in reverse order. B and A. See Matthew 23:12
A. Whosoever exalts himself
B. Will be humble
B’ and whoever humbles himself
A’ will be exalted.
Interestingly the chiastic parallelism may be either synonymous or antithetical in meaning. Scholars have identified additional types of Hebrew poetry, but these are the major four found in the Old and New Testaments.
THE PEARLS OF POETRY IN THE WORDS OF JESUS –
Would you be surprised that the recorded words of Jesus contain 220 examples of parallelism? Without a doubt, Jesus intended to impact the emotions of his audience. Jesus sought to evoke an emotional response with His words. Perhaps if a speaker, preacher, or teacher today wants his words remembered, he might consider using parallelism.
Share with me your favorite Psalm or Proverb and why it is your favorite. When you share with me, I will share mine with you on Monday, November 5, 2018 after everyone has had an opportunity to share this week.
Dr. Russell Herman Conwell tells about an African farmer who longed for release from his poverty and hard life. Stories of large diamond finds spread like wildfire. The farmer liquidated his farm and set out to search for diamonds. The farmer crisscrossed the African continent hoping to find diamonds. After years of unsuccessful searching, he stood broke. In desperation, the farmer threw himself into a river and drowned.
On the other hand, the new farm owner picked up a strange looking stone about the size of a country egg. He placed it on his mantle. A visitor saw the large rock and told the new owner that the rock on his mantle had to be the largest diamond he had ever seen. The new owner of the farm said, “Heck, the whole farm is covered with them.” And sure enough – it was – it turned out to be the Kimberly Diamond Mine – the richest diamond mine the world has known. Can you imagine? The original owner stood on “Acres of Diamonds.”*
What is our take away?
We need to look and see! Located in the Law of God are diamonds that we can discover should we decide to look and see. The Law of God contains “acres of diamonds” for the dedicated student of the Word
Where are the Diamonds of the Law found?
The Books of Genesis through Deuteronomy contain much of the “Law.” Some passages refer to the entire Old Testament as “Law” (John 10:34; 12:34; 15:25; 1 Cor 14:21). The Law exists mostly in Exodus 20-Deuteronomy 33 and other materials can be found in these chapters.
Many of the Laws presented in this section sounds weird to our ears.*
“Do not cook a young goat in his mother’s milk (Exodus 34:26)
“A man who has lost his hair and is bald is clean (Leviticus 13:40)
“Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear (Deuteronomy 22:12)
Have you broken any of these laws?*
“A woman mus not wear men’s cloting, nor a man wear woman’s clothing (Deuteronomy 22:5)
“Stand up in the aged of the presence of the aged” (Leviticus 19:32)
“Do not … put tattoo marks on yourselves (Leviticus 19:28).
Imagine the Jewish Rabbi’s claim that there are 613 commandments or laws contained in these chapters which are often referred to as “Law.” Genesis is included in the Law section because it introduces Exodus to Deuteronomy as well as the tradition that Moses authored these first five books, called the Pentateuch.
What Kind of “Law” Diamonds may be found?
The first kind of Law reads, “If A happens, then B is the consequence.” This is called a caustic law. These laws normally involve civil or secular law.
The second kind of Law states, “You shall not murder.” These are called apodictic laws. They appear as commands, imperatives, instructions or prohibitions. Often these reflect Divine Law which are declared. The apodictic law lends itself to being more ‘religious.”
A third kind of Law is a legal series. Here several laws occur in a group and can almost appear to be poetic in form. Of course, the best example is the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 2-17/Deut 5:6-21). These tend to fall under the apodictic law form.
Finally, the Law contains two instruction genres: priestly and ritual. The priestly instruction constitutes laws designed to aid the priest in duties. These may be found in Leviticus 6-7 (about offerings) and 21 (priestly purity). The ritual laws directs laymen in their performance of worship tasks – Leviticus 1-5 (how to bring offering and what to offer).
General principles to keep in mind as you search for the diamonds of the Law:
The Law of the Old Testament does not represent a full legal system with crimes and punishments spelled out. Often, there is no stated penalty for failure to keep the Law and no one is especially tasked to enforce the Law. The Old Testament Law appears to promote a self-enforcement on the Israelites.
The purpose of the Law exists to educate the Israelites into how to live life in the presence of God – not to provide them a “How to do Law” handbook. The aim is never judicial, but educational.
Interpret the Law as guidelines that govern Israel’s ongoing life with their God, that is, how to maintain their relationship with God. Remember that the Law intends to create a distinctive people dedicated to living for their God.
God intends the Law to provide a model of timeless ethical and theological principle so His people develop or strengthen their relationship with God.
Specific Principles to Aid the Interpreter Hoping to Grasp the Diamonds of the Law of the Old Testament.
Alwaysstudy the preceding and following literary context of any type or collection in which the “Law” code is found. Spot and study surrounding laws and see them as clues to interpretation.
Alwaysstrive to grasp the “Law” under study in its cultural context. Recommended tools include Bible Dictionaries, Bible Encyclopedias, commentaries and other background resources.
Alwaysapply laws to the New Testament parallel of the original audience. If a Law speaks to the nation of Israel as a group, this can be applied to Christians in general.
Alwayskeep in mind the genre of the Law as you interpret. Each section of the Law requires a different approach. For instance, poetic sections, like Deuteronomy 32-33, require an interpretation approach appropriate to poetry. In like manner, the application ought to follow the guidelines for poetry.
Always, and this is assumed, but we must always depend on the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds to the truths of God’s Word. Ask for His help as we begin.
Steps to Mining for the Diamonds of the Law of the Old Testament
Ask, “What did the text mean to the biblical audience? “
Remember that much of the Law is set in a narrative context. Reviewing the principles of narrative interpretation might prove helpful. What are the literary and historical/ cultural contexts? What is going on with God’s people?
2. Ask, “How are the people in that Old Testament world where our passage is happening, like us or different from us?”How does the old covenant and the new covenant differ in application, purpose and impact on their lives and our lives?
3. Ask, “That theological principles are being taught in the passage?”
Seek to state the universal, gnomic truth of the passage in such a way that it would be true in the Old Testament period and in our present time. What principle stands taught in other places in the Bible?
4. Ask, “How should individual believers use this timeless and universal principle sin their lives?”
What specific situations can the truth be applied in the life of believers? What kinds of things should a believer do, think, say, or be?
What do you find the most difficult part of interpreting the Old Testament Law? What other suggestions do you have to help students correctly interpret the Old Testament Law? Post them and let’s discuss how to mine the diamonds from the Old Testament Law.
Steve Gillman writes a blog called “The Penny Hoarder.” His August 6, 2015 blog is titled, “20 Fun Ways to Go Treasure Hunting in Your Home and Neighborhood.” Gillman recounts exploring old mines in Colorado. Once Gillman found a shrine 2,000 feet inside a mountain. He discovered “a plastic flower, an unreadable newspaper clipping, and a cross etched into the tunnel wall.”
He shares that he has found antique jars, an old gold pan and other relics while searching through a western ghost town. Employing a metal detector, Gillman unearthed coins from the sand on Michigan beaches. He says the thrill of the hunt kept him going.
What motivates the Bible student to keep exploring for treasures in God’s Word? What might the Bible student discover that was previously unknown? One area to spend time digging in the dusty pages of our Bibles involves literary genres. Maybe that is a new term for you?
“How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her.”
The law of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of gold and silver pieces. Your hands made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments. May those who fear You see me and be glad, Because I wait for Your word
The Word of God is a bottomless treasure for a truth seeker!
Exploring the Old Testament literature leads to a discovery: various genres or kinds of literature found in the Old Testament cannot be interpreted with the same methodology.
Turn to the Contents page of a Bible and it is clear that the truth hunter needs skill in narrative, the Law, poetry, prophecy, and wisdom literature. Each of these areas have several sub-types of literature contained with them. Let’s explore the five types of Old Testament genre treasures:
The Gold of Narrative
As you weave your way through the pages of the Old Testament, you will unearth the truth that nearly half of the Old Testament is a narrative of some sort. Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah, and Haggai contain significant amounts of narrative.
One may use the terms narrative and story interactively. Narrative genre possesses a sequential plot with time action, setting, and characters. Your exploration may lead you to discover heroes, comedy, reports, and farewell speeches. If you are into riddles, fables, parables and popular proverbs, prepare to have your mind stimulated with the rich narratives of the Old Testament.
Dig into Genesis 22 to read about a father who takes his only son to a mountain to sacrifice him to God. Rummage in Genesis 24 as it relates how one man decided who his wife would be. Pilfer in 1 Kings 7 and 12 and discover a royal construction project. If your taste is in battles, push the dust-off Numbers 21, Judges 3 and 8. The treasures of this genre just keep delivering.
The Diamonds of Law
You might think, “How boring!” The treasures of this genre are rich beyond belief. Remember that the Law sits among the historical context of Israel’s theological history – that is, between Genesis 12 and 2 Kings 25. This historical context provides the Law with a sense of movement. This aspect of Law makes it much more enjoyable to reconnoiter.
Imagine peeling back the layers of the Old Testament only to reveal much of the first 5 books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, consists of law. Most of Leviticus and Deuteronomy focuses on the Law. Why would anyone desire to invest time studying the Law? We know much of the Law is theological.
Treasure hunters, called scholars, divide the Law into four major groups: the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:22-23:33); the Deuteronomic Code (Deut 12-26); the Holiness Code (Lev 17-26) and the Priestly Code (Exod 25-31; 34:19; Lev 16 and parts of Numbers). The oppressive and wicked background of Egyptian life reflects against God’s revealed Law. Thus men ought to relate to each other in a different method than that seen in the Egyptian’s treatment of the Hebrews.
The Pearl of Poetry
The richness of poetry is almost without end. While narrative genres occur most often in the Scriptures, poetry is the second most used genre. The treasure hunters, scholars who have been at this search for some time, estimate that about one third of the Old Testament is poetry. Almost all books contain some form of poetry.
My fellow treasure hunter, do you realize that Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Lamentations contain poetry? Even the prophetic books hold great pearls of poetry. As a matter of fact, almost every book of the Old Testament has nuggets of poetry in them.
Some of these poems inspire the reader to live a higher and more purer life. Other poems lift our view of God to the heavenlies. Some poems show the value of human life in the midst of calamity. Those writing poetry find ways to express their frustration with life, their times of hopelessness, and their times of exceeding joy in serving God.
The Jewel of Prophecy
These fascinating books contain some of the most inspiring lumps of God’s Word. Pry open your Bible to Isaiah 40:31, 53:6, Amos 3:12; Jeremiah 2:23b-24; 15: 1-2, and 31: 31-34 and your eyes will open wide with new wonder.
Your mouth might open wide with surprise as your learn that only a small percent of the prophetic message contains a reference to the future. The major focus of the prophets sets sight on the disobedience of God’s people and the coming judgment. The prophets highlight the forth telling of God’s truth to His people far more than telling the future.
The prophetic books shine a light on the rich jewel of God’s love for his people and the heaviness that He bears because of their rejection of His love and care. Today the biblical treasure hunter needs to carefully open the lid of his mind and heart to the words and written record of the prophets. The treasure hunter can explore a literature of diversity in rhetorical styles and literary creativity.
The Wealth of Wisdom
The final Old Testament mound to mine for treasure are Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs which contain wisdom literature. Without question, this is some of the most rewarding literature to study. The exploration of this genre shows that some wisdom pieces are easily understood, but other nuggets can be difficult to grasp their significance and application.
The treasure hunter can be assured that he has uncovered Wisdom literature as it glistens with imperatives – listen, look, think, reflect. A true result of discovering this genre is its seeks to develop the character of the treasure hunter. Wisdom’s goal is to help the treasure hunter learn to make wise choices and live godly in a perverted world.
What treasures have you discovered from your study of God’s Word?
Feel welcome to leave me a note and I may use it in a future blog when as I cover each of these five Old Testament genres in upcoming blogs soon.