Thursday, December 28, 2006

Holiday Reading: Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden

One nice feature of the holiday break is the opportunity to read. This week I have been reading Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden. I have had this volume on my shelf since its publication in 2003, but simply have not had time to read it. But my wife had read it, and continually (but always lovingly) encouraged me to read it.

At the time of writing this post, I am about 340 pages into it (of a total 500 some pages), and it is tremendous. Marsden writes clearly and engagingly, bringing Edwards to life in 3D vividness. I have always loved Edwards, and Marsden's portrait has reminded me once again why Edwards is such an impressive figure. Yet Marsden does not gloss over Edwards' own flaws and shortcomings, but mentions them from a sympathetic perspective. Also helpful is Marsden's ability to place JE within his historical, cultural, and social context so that we may better appreciate Edwards.

I have been most struck by Edwards' relentless infatuation with the beauty and glory of Christ as revealed int he gospel. This infatuation is all the more interesting in light of his own battles with "melancholy" (i.e., depression). What an encouragement to all of us who battle the occasional (or sometimes more than occasional) bouts of spiritual dryness and depression.

Have you read Marsden on Edwards? If so, what were your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Galatians 6:16 - "The Israel of God"

One more post on the conclusion to Galatians. After prioritizing "new creation" in contrast to concerns over circumcision and uncircumcision, Paul writes:

"And those who walk according to this rule, peace and mercy upon them, and/even upon the Israel of God"
Galatians 6:16

The big question that arises from this text is what the phrase "Israel of God" refers to. Does it refer to the church, Jewish Christians, or Jews in general? So take your best shot at interpretation, but please support your conclusion with evidence from the text!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Galatians 6:15 - New Creation

As he comes to the end of his letter to the Galatians, Paul restates a key point in 6:15 -

"For neither circumcision is anything, nor uncircumcision but new creation"

That circumcision is a key issue in the letter is obvious, but where does this reference to "new creation" come from? So, in light of this somewhat unexpected twist of phrase, I ask the following questions:

1. What exactly does Paul mean by "new creation"?

2. How does the concept of "new creation" relate to other key themes in the letter such as justification, the Spirit, promise, blessing, children of Abraham, the heavenly Jerusalem, etc.?

3. Are there any pertinent OT backgrounds that might shed light on the phrase "new creation"?

As usual I have my own thoughts, but I'd like to start by opening the floor to you.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Galatians 6:2 - Fulfilling the Law of Christ

"Bear one another's burdens and you will fulfill the law of Christ"
Galatians 6:2

Continuing our discussion from the previous post, here are a few more questions:

1. Should the future tense of the verb be understood as a simple indicative (as the translation above reflects) or as an imperative?

2. What is the relationship between the law of Christ and the Mosaic Law?

3. How is it that bearing one another's burdens fulfills the law of Christ?

To your keyboards, scholars, theologians, and otherwise opinionated folks!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Galatians 5:14 and the Fulfillment of the Law

"For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Gal. 5:14)

Four questions for contemplation:

1. What does Paul mean when he says the Law is fulfilled in one word?

2. Is there any difference in Paul's mind between "doing" the Law and "fulfilling" the Law?

3. How do we synthesize this with Jesus' statement in Matt 5:17-18 that he came to fulfill the Law? In other words, if Jesus fulfilled the Law in what sense then do Christians fulfill the Law?

4. What are the implications for how Christians should view the Law based on Gal 5:14?

Take your pick and pontificate away.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gratitude - A Thanksgiving Reflection

At its worst, Thanksgiving is simply an excuse to stuff ourselves silly with food and watch football all day. But at its best, it is an opportunity for us as followers of Christ to reflect upon what we are truly grateful for. One of the most striking Biblical passages on gratitude is found in Rom 1:21. Having stated what can be perceived about God in creation such that humanity is without excuse, Paul says:

"For even though they knew God, they did not glorify God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Rom 1:21)

Paul places humanity's ingratitude at the heart of our rebellion against him. Gratitude flows from a heart that is overwhelmed with the grace of God shown in the cross (cf. Col. 2:6-7). The author of Hebrews goes even further:

"Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:28-29).

Notice what gratitude is linked to in this passage: participating in the kingdom, a life of worship, reverence, and a recognition of God's consuming holiness. Gratitude is a tangible demonstration that we are living out the kingdom in the present in anticipation of its consummation.

So tomorrow, as you are sitting down to eat with friends and family, reflect upon the ultimate grounds of Christian gratitude. How can we not be grateful for God (who reveals himself as a consuming fire) sending his Son to bear the wrath that we deserve?

Friday, November 10, 2006

9 Marks Newsletter on Biblical Theology

The latest edition of the 9 Marks Newsletter focuses on Biblical Theology, including articles by Tom Schreiner, Jim Hamilton, and a Pastor's Forum with contributions from Graeme Goldsworthy, Ray Ortlund Jr., and Bruce Waltke.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Paul & Scripture SBL Seminar Group

Last year at the annual meeting of SBL (Society of Biblical Literature), a new study group was formed to study the issue of Paul's Use of Scripture. Many of the most significant scholars working on this subject are involved, many of whom approach the issue from quite different perspectives and assumptions. In anticipation of this year's meeting (about one week from now), they have posted several of the papers on the web here.

Although I will not be able to attend SBL this year, I am thankful for this resource. If you are interested in reading about current scholarly discussion on this issue, I highly recommend reading these papers.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Gal 4:19 - A Neglected Image of Pastoral Ministry

In his efforts to avert apostasy among his Galatian converts, Paul uses an image of pastoral ministry that is at once evocative and neglected:

"My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!" (Gal 4:19)

Paul portrays himself as a woman in labor, racked by painful contractions as he seeks to Christ formed within the Galatians. In doing so he uses the same verb (odino) found in the quotation of Isa 54:1 in Gal 4:27, which speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem giving birth to the people of God. By doing so, Paul aligns himself with the purposes of God. Central to that purpose is seeing Christ formed in the Galatians. The passive voice indicates that it is God who forms Christ in the Galatians; we might even think of Paul's ministry as the "womb" in which God forms Christ in the infant Galatians.

Have you ever thought of your own ministry in terms of laboring to see Christ formed in the people you work with? For those in full-time ministry, do you consider a central feature of your ministry seeing Christ formed in the people you serve? Do your methods, programs, etc. further this end, or something else?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Review of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church

For those who might be interested, I recently wrote a review of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church that is available in The Witness, an online magazine of Grace Theological Seminary. It can be found at this link (you'll need to scroll down the page a bit to find it):

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Reformation Day Reflection

Tomorrow marks the 489th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of a building at the University of Wittenberg where he taught. Although not intended as the start of a new religious movement, Luther's theses set fire to the brush fire that became the Protestant Reformation. But before that fateful day it was his study of Romans that unlocked the mystery of the gospel, and it was Rom 1:17 ("For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."). Here are Luther's own words on his struggle with that text:

"I greatly longed to understand Paul's epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, 'the justice (righteousness) of God', because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what He meant." "Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice (righteousness) of God and the statement that 'the just (righteous) shall live by his faith'. Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas the 'justice (righteousness) of God' had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven."

May we who are Protestants be good stewards of this rediscovery of the gospel in our own day and work for reformation in the church for the glory of God and the advance of the kingdom.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Book Recommendation: Exegetical Fallacies

Although it has been out now for almost 12 years, I still find that some are unaware of the execllent little book by D.A. Carson entitled Exegetical Fallacies. In it Carson explores four different "categories" of exegetical fallacies: word study, grammatical, logical and presuppositional/historical. In the fifth and final chapter Carson offers concluding reflections on additional areas where fallacies may lurk. Each chapter contains an abundance of examples, largely drawn from NT scholarship (including an example from his own work!).

Everyone who ministers from God's Word will benefit from Carson's incisive scalpel. Awareness of these common errors can save us all from flawed conclusions or flawed arguments used in support of valid conclusions. Perhaps best of all, it is less than 150 pages, meaning one can read through this quickly and benefit immensely. Even if you have little or no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, you will still benefit from reading Exegetical Fallacies

And even if you have read this in the past, if it has been awhile since you have perused the pages it is worth carving out some time to skim back through and be reminded of those fallacies we are most inclined towards.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Weekend Talk Series @ Ohio University CCC

This weekend I am speaking four times at the Fall Retreat for Campus Crusade for Christ at Ohio University (my alma mater). The series is called "Snapshots of a King" and is taken Matthew's Passion Narrative:

"A Humble King" (Matt 21:1-11)

"An Obedient King" (Matt 26:36-46)

"A Sacrificial King" (Matt 27:33-54)

"A Triumphant King" (Matt 28:1-20)

If you think of it, I would appreciate your prayers. Pray that God would enable me to paint a compelling picture of Jesus the King!

Further Evidence for an Inclusive Reading of "Us" in Gal 3:13-14?

As discussed in the previous post, I am persuaded that when Paul says Christ redeemed "us" from the curse of the Law, he is referring to Jewish and Gentile Christians, not merely Jews. An additional line of evidence for this may be found in 3:22, where Paul says "But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."

Here there should be no question that Paul refers to not only Jews but everyone (in the Greek it is ta panta, which could even be translated "all things") being imprisoned under the reign of sin. But instead of saying "the Law" has imprisoned everyone he says "the Scripture." Now, this could merely be Paul using a synonym, or Paul could mean the entire OT witness (Law, Prophets, Writings). Or he may even have a particular Scripture reference in view, which if that is the case then why not Deut 27:26, quoted in Gal 3:10? If so, that would provide further evidence of the link between the curse of the Law and the larger curse that rests on all creation from Eden.

So what do you think? Am I desperately grasping for evidence to support my flimsy view or is there something to seeing a link between 3:10ff and 3:22?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Christ redeemed "us" from the curse of the Law

In Gal 3:10-14, Paul asserts that those who rely upon the works of the Law are under a curse (presumably because no one is able to perfectly keep the Law). He then claims that Christ has redeemed "us" from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for "us" (3:13). But who does the "us" refer to? Does it refer to Jews (exclusive) or to Jew and Gentile alike (inclusive)? Each view has its difficulties. On the inclusive view one must explain in what sense Gentiles were under the curse of the Law as well as the significance of the citation of Deut 21:23. Advocates of the exclusive reference must account for the seeming parallel between the "us" of 3:13 and "we receive" in 3:14 as well as the seeming implication that Paul would be speaking of exclusively Jewish reception of the Spirit in 3:14. The parallel between the "us" of 3:13 and "we receive" in 3:14 strongly suggests to me that Paul has in view an inclusive reference to believers in both places — Christ redeemed Christians (Jew and Gentile alike) from the curse of the Law so that Christians (Jew and Gentile alike) might receive the promise of the Spirit.

If this is so, that raises the question as to how Gentiles who did not have the Law can be subject to its curse. Admittedly, Paul does not directly answer this question in Galatians. But he does address a similar issue in Rom 2:12-16. There Paul argues that Gentiles who sin without the law perish without the Law (2:12) and that “whenever Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts” (2:14-15). From this passage in Romans, then, it is not a significant step to the idea that Paul considered Gentiles to be under the curse of the Law. After all, Gal 3:10-14 emphasizes that “whosoever” relies on doing the Law, regardless of ethnicity, are under a curse, for no one is able “to do all that is written in the book of the Law.”

This line of argumentation has led me to consider the possibility that Paul considered the curse of the Law as a particularization/focusing of the larger curse that rested upon all of creation as a result of Adam's transgression in Eden. This post is already too long to add further argumentation, so I will simply open the floor for comments and questions. What say you, friends?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Purifying Effect of Looking at Christ

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
1 John 3:1-3

In 1 John 3:1-3, the author speaks of that great day when we will see Christ face to face. He admits that it is not entirely clear what this will entail, but he does assert on thing very confidently: "when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is." But being transformed into the image of Christ is not something that is only a future hope. In the very next verse John asserts "everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." As I read the text, it seems to me that the implication is that in our present condition we are also purified as look upon Christ. In our present condition that looking takes place as we "see" Christ in the proclamation and incarnation of the gospel with the eyes of faith. (Cp. the similar line of through in Paul at 2 Cor 3:18-4:6)

Central, then, to growth in holiness (or as it is sometimes called today "spiritual formation") is looking at Christ.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Knowledge in 1 John and the Postmodern Epistemological Crisis

This semester I am taking my Greek exegesis class through 1 John. This time through the epistle one of the things that has struck me is the emphasis that John places on knowledge. The two verbs meaning "to know" (oida and ginosko) appear a combined total of 39x. Even more striking is the variety of direct objects used with these verbs. They can be broken up into two categories. The first is peronal objects (whether pronouns or proper nouns) that refer to God, sometimes to specific persons of the Trinity (2:3, 4, 13, 14; 3:6; 4:2). The second group consists of abstract concepts such as truth (2:20) or God's commands (2:4). Related to this second category are examples where a verb of knowing is followed by a phrase that expresses the content of what a believer knows (2:3, 5, 29; 3:2, 5, 14, 15, 19, 24; 5:2, 13, 15, 18, 20).

Two reflections suggest themselves from this data:

1. Central to the Christian life is the "experiential" knowing of God, something not reducible to mere intellectual assent to a set of propositions.

2. Central to the Christian life is the cognitive knowing of certain propositional truths about God.

To be biblical, we must embrace both the experiential and cognitive aspects of knowledge. Losing sight of either of these realities results in a distorted view of Christian knowledge. This is important today especially in light of those who, enamored with postmodern critiques of intellectual hubris, wrongly claim that propositional knowledge must be jettisoned as a relic of modernity. Furthermore, not the confidence and certainty that John claims Christians have about the reality/truth of these claims. There is no hint of the false humility of postmodern culture that abandons certainty in the guise of humility. This of course does not mean that Christians have absolute or exhaustive knowledge of such matters, but it does mean that Christians can have sufficient knowledge for certainty on fundamental aspects of the Christian faith. At the same time, these observations also serve to correct those who in their pursuit of propositional truth lose sight of the experiential aspect of knowledge, thus reducing Christianity to a set of beliefs devoid of personal, experiential knowledge of God.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Jonathan Edwards' Blank Bible

Yale University Press has been publicizing the publication of Edwards' Blank Bible, which is one the most anticipated volumes in the series. To whet our appetites, you can now download for free a pdf copy of the section on Galatians. Just click on this link:

and click on the link at the end of the post. Most notable in his notes on Galatians are Edwards' lengthy comments on 5:17 and the work of the Spirit.

For those who may not know, the Blank Bible was Edwards self-made study Bible. He unbound a Bible he had received, placed in between each page a blank sheet of paper, and then had the volume rebound. This allowed JE to make notes on the text as he went. These notes contain his own observations/reflections on the text as well as notes from other sources, in addition to references to his thoughts elsewhere in his writings. No doubt there are many treasures yet to be mined from JE in this new volume.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Christ Publicly Portrayed as Crucified

In his rebuke of the "foolish Galatians," Paul asks the question "Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified." Because there is so much going on in Galatians this little gem of a verse is often overlooked. But notice what Paul is saying--he is claiming that the Galatians "saw" Jesus Christ crucified in his preaching of the gospel. These Gentiles lived hundreds of miles from where Jesus ministered and several decades later; as such they never physically saw Jesus with their physical eyes. But in the preaching of Christ crucufued Paul claims that the Galatians "saw" Jesus publicly portrayed as crucified.

In my estimation this is one of the great descriptions of gospel preaching--preaching in such a way that those who hear the message "see" Jesus Christ as the crucified one. That they see Jesus as the one crucified for their sins. For it is in this seeing of Jesus that we are transformed into his image (2 Cor 3:18). This, then, is the great task of preaching.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Fulfilling All Righteousness

Recently I've begin working through Matthew in preparation for a retreat series I am doing for Campus Crusade at Ohio University. I'll be speaking four times from Matthew 21-28: the triumphal entry (21:1-11), Garden of Gethsemane (26:36-46), crucifixion (27:33-54), and the resurrection & commissioning (28:1-20).

Matthew's interest in Jesus' fulfillment of the OT is well-known. But as I was reading Matt 3, I was struck by Jesus' words to John to justify John baptizing Jesus - "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." When I read this it raised the question, "In what sense does John baptizing Jesus fulfill all righteousness?" So then, what does this mean, and why does Jesus (via Matthew) express it in these terms?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

How Far is Too Far?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked regarding reading the Bible in a biblical-theological manner is whether we have the right to make connections that the Biblical texts themselves do not explicitly make. In other words, when reading an OT passage (such as Psalm 1) that is not explicitly quoted or strongly alluded to, am I on shaky ground to connect the concepts, themes, etc. to corresponding NT ones? I suspect that most of the people who read this blog would say such an approach is fine with appropriate constraints. But that raises the $64,000 question - what are those appropriate contraints? If you were helping someone to learn to read the bible in a biblical-theological manner, what sort of principles would you pass on to them to enable them to make good, substantive and appropriate connections?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Carson Quote on NT Theology

The following is one of my favorite quotes on NT Theology, but properly tweaked it would also apply to Biblical Theology:

Those who write NT theology should ideally become intimately acquainted with the text of the NT, develop a profound grasp of the historical (including social and cultural) frameworks in which the NT books were written, maintain and sharpen the horizon provided by the entire canon, foster literary skills that permit varied genres to speak for themselves, spot literary devices and correctly interpret them, learn to fire imagination and creativity in a disciplined way and acknowledge and seek to accommodate and correct their own cultural and theological biases. All of these elements must be maintained in appropriate balance, nurtured by love for God and fear of God and growing hunger to serve his people.”

D.A. Carson, “New Testament Theology,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development, 810.

Oh that God would raise a generation of pastors, missionaries, scholars and lay people who are able to handle God's Word in such a manner!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 is a fascinating beginning to the entire Psalter. There are many angles one might take in studying and teaching this psalm, but I want to focus on the psalm within its biblical-theological context. Throughout the history of the church some commentators have read the psalm Christologically (if I remember correctly including Calvin), seeing the description of the blessed man as pointing forward to fulfillment in Christ.

Is this legitimate? Why or why not? Are there indications in the text of Psalm 1 that such a reading is justified? And does the the fact that Psalm 2 which follows is clearly messianic in nature play any role in reading Psalm 1 christologically?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Big Week for the Harmons

On Friday (7/28) of this week (which also happens to be my 33rd birthday) we will be closing on our new house in Indiana, and then the following Monday (7/31) we will be moving to Warsaw, IN. In light of this my blogging will be sporadic at best, but once we're settled I hope to be more active again.

Keep checking in ...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology

Recently I've had a couple of conversations in which the relationship between biblical and systematic theology came up. One of the criticisms that is often levelled against those who emphasize biblical theology is that it is done to the neglect of systematic theology. While this may be fair in some cases, I do not think it is an accurate assessment of most who do biblical theology.

So how then would you explain the relationship between biblical and systematic theology? How do they contribute to one another? What contributions does biblical theology make that systematic theology does not, and vice versa? And is it possible to do both well at the same time or must they remain distinct at all times?

I have my own thoughts, but I want to hear from you.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Key Biblical Theological Themes

Tomorrow I begin teaching a course on Biblical Interpretation and Communication for Campus Crusade staff. One of the major emphases in the course is helping students to identify key biblical-theological themes in the particular passage they are working in so they can connect their passage to the larger canonical witness. Of course, one of the challenges we face is that for those who are new to such an approach, it can be quite challenging to identify those threads.

Consequently, I'd like to help them by giving them some suggested threads that are rather common in Scripture. Those of us who have done this for a whole can sometimes forget that it has taken us a while to get to the point where we immediately recognize such threads. So I'll get our discussion started by suggesting the themes of prophet, priest and king, all of which find their fulfillment in Christ. In other words, when working in an OT passage one thing to consider is whether any of the references to a prophet, priest, or king in some measure point forward to the ultimate prophet, priest, or king Jesus Christ. Sometimes that pointing forward is done in a negative way; in other words, the failures of a particular prophet, priest or king point forward to the need for a prophet, priest or king who does not fail (e.g. Saul in 1 Sam).

Another example would be the theme of God's presence with his people, be it mediated through a tabernacle, temple, his incarnate Son, or the people of God. Recognizing such a theme enables one to make helpful connections across the canon.

So what other key biblical theological themes or threads are so pervasive or pivotal in Scripture that knowing them opens one up to the ability make key connections to different parts of the Biblical story?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Job News

I am excited to report that today I officially signed a contract for the position of Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Our family is excited about this ministry opportunity, especially the chance to train and equip pastors and missionaries to encounter Christ through the Scriptures.

The next 5 weeks will be full of details such as moving and the like. But we are so grateful to God for providing this opportunity. For the past ten years we have sensed that God was leading us in this direction, and to now come to the fruition of that calling is a joy that defies expression. It is no exaggeration when I say that I still am overwhelmed with how good God has been to us and how undeserving we are of his grace in calling us to this ministry.

I also trust that despite my teaching and writing responsibilities I will be able to continue our conversation on this blog.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Role of Historical & Exegetical Background in Interpretation

Lately I've been reflecting on the place of the role that knowledge of background material plays in interpretation. In particular I have in mind the issue of Jewish exegetical traditions and interpretation of certain NT passages. One example that comes to mind is Paul's reference to the rock following the Israelites in the desert in 1 Cor 10. On the surface the reference seems quite strange; but if one knows of various Jewish exegetical traditions about that rock Paul's reference becomes more understandable, even if it remains striking.

The point I want to raise is the necessity of such background knowledge for understanding Scripture. On the one hand, my own work has revealed the value of understanding such exegetical traditions for illuminating Paul's own use of the OT. But on the other hand I firmly believe in the perspicuity (i.e., clarity) of Scripture and want to affirm that those who lack the opportunity of graduate education are entirely capable of understanding God's Word.

Perhaps the answer lies in asserting the general clarity of Scripture in its essential message and content while maintaining the value of background studies as providing a richness and depth to that essential message. One of the questions I was asked in my dissertation defense was something along the lines of "If Paul's use of Isaiah in Galatians is not essential to understanding Galatians, what is the value of your research?" The question was asked in a good spirit and in no way attacking. My answer (one that I am still thinking through) was that although Paul's basic message in Galatians is understandable even to those who do not notice the repeated allusions and echoes of Isaiah, the depth and richness of that message cannot be fully appreciated without recognizing Paul's profound engagement with Isaiah (esp. chs. 49-54).

So what say you?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Where's Matt?

As is obvious from the lack of any posts from the past three weeks, life has been extremely busy. So I wanted to give a very brief update. The past few weeks have been filled with dissertation revisions, travel, and many other things. Most significantly, however, is the very strong prospect of me taking a NT teachin position for the upcoming school year. Until it is completely official (i.e. I have signed a contract) I won't mention where, but it is a position that I am excited about. I have made two trips to the school, moved through the interview process, and now await final confirmation, which hopefully should happen by the end of this month. In light of this we are handling all of the logistics of house buying (we found a GREAT house), moving, etc.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that I'm leaving Wed to teach for Campus Crusade for Christ for 4.5 weeks?

So if you think of it, ask for God's sustaining grace and blessing during this exciting but challenging time for us!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Recommended Resource: Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

A resource that I have found helpful in identifying biblical theological themes across the canon is The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, edited by Leland Ryken, James C.Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III. After an introductory article covering topics such as image/symbol/metaphor and literary conventions, the rest of the volume contains articles on a wide variety of topics, ranging from Aaron's Rod to Zion. The vast majority of the articles that I have read appear to be well written and full of biblical references so that one can trace the theme throughout Scripture. There are no bibliographies attached to the articles, but the subject and scripture reference indeces are extremely helpful for quickly checking where a particular passage you are interested in is mentioned. Although it retails for $45, Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore has it available for just $30 (follow the link with the name of the book above).

Have any of you found this resource helpful?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Handling the Intertestamental Period in the Biblical Story

One of the relatively unique features of The Drama of Scripture is the fact that it devotes an entire chapter to the intertestamental period. Reading this made me wonder how to best treat this 400 year "gap" in the biblical storyline as presented in Scripture. What elements are necessary to mention in order to help people recognize that nearly 400 years of history and hope transpire between the last chapter of Malachi and the first one of Matthew? And how does one do this succinctly and yet competently?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Recommended Resource: The Story of a Kingdom

I have just been notified of another excellent website that seeks to explain the Bible by walking through the storyline; it's called The Story of a Kingdom. The niche of this particular site is its orientation towards a simple and understandable presentation of the Biblical storyline with a view in particular towards those who have English as a second language. Available on the site are three resources available for pdf download: (1) The Story of a Kingdom, a study guide that walks through the Biblical story including questions, diagrams, etc. useful for group of personal study; (2) The Story of a Kingdom book, a shortened version of the study guide written to read more like a book; and (3) a Powerpoint presentation that overviews the entire curriculum.

Although I have not read the materials extensively, my initial examination reveals an excellent resource. The author is Jonathan Gibson, one of the editors of the Beginning with Moses website I have previously mentioned. I look forward to digging deeper into this resource and trust it will be helpful to others as well. I have now added a link to this site on the sidebar to the right.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Essentials in the Biblical Storyline Part 3 - Promise (Gen 4 - Mal 4)

In some ways this might be the most difficult chapter of the biblical storyline to condense neatly and succinctly since it covers the time from the fall to the advent of Christ. The OT is filled with significant promises, covenants, events, etc. that ar important for the biblical storyline, but as you think of the big picture which one are especially crucial for understanding the storyline?

Think in terms of promises, covenants, specific figures, events, etc.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Essentials in the Biblical Storyline Part 2 - Rebellion (Gen 3)

Continuing in our series of walking through the main sections of the biblical storyline, today I want to focus on the Fall in Genesis 3. What elements of this passage are crucial for understanding the biblical story? Again, think in terms of what we learn about God, humanity, the world, etc.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Essentials in the Biblical Storyline Part 1 - Creation (Genesis 1-2)

Recently I 've been reflecting on the essentials of the biblical storyline as I prepare to teach an biblical interpretation and communication for a parachurch organization this summer. In order to faciliate my thinking, I've begun working through the key movements and asking myself the question: "What does a person need to grasp from this particular chapter in the biblical story to ensure they understand the rest of the story and themselves properly?"

In light of that, I'm beginning with the Creation account in Genesis 1-2. What aspects of these chapters would you regard as essential for a person to understand the story of Scripture and the story of their own lives? In particular I am thinking about truths about God, human beings, the world, etc. that emerge from Genesis 1-2. So what would you highlight?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Gospel Pattern of Practice Rooted in Doctrine

Tonight in my weekly Bible study we'll be looking at 1 Peter 2:18-25. As I've studied this passage this week, I've been struck again by how often the NT authors explicitly root their ethical instruction in specific aspects of the gospel. For example, here in 2:18-20 Peter exhorts servants to be submissive to their masters, even if it means suffering unjustly. Then in 2:21-25 Peter roots this endurance of unjust affliction in the example of Christ, leading him to make six statements about Christ did or did not do:

1. Commited no sin
2. No deceit found in his mouth
3. Despite being reviled did not revile in return
4. Despite suffering did not threaten
5. Entrusted himself to the one who judges justly
6. Bore our sins on the cross

This leads then in 2:24 to a purpose statement: so that having died to sin you might live to righteousness.

So note the gospel pattern here: (1) exhortation to specific actions; (2) foundation in some aspect of the gospel. I think this pattern underlies all of the ethical instruction of the NT, even where the gospel foundation is not explicitly stated. In those cases, though, I believe we are required to make the connection in order to truly understand how to live out the commands of Scripture.

And as one final note, I have once again been struck by oour amazing Savior, who did all of this. Who among us can be sinless for even one day, or perhaps even one hour? Who among us never deceives with our speeh? Who among us does not return insult for insult? Who among us does not offer threats? Yet Jesus perfectly embodied these impossible traits. How can our hearts be cold towards one who is so amazing in his sinless perfection?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Help for a Classical Music Neophyte

Although I enjoy classical music, I am woefully ignorant about it. At this point, my knowledge and exposure is pretty limited to Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Tchaikovsky and Bach, but even my exposure to them is rather rudimentary. So I am turning to others to assist me in expanding my classical music horizons. The recent gift of a 60GB video IPod as a graduation gift has fueled my desire to expand my classical music library, so what suggestions do those of you who have more knowledge than me ( = just about anybody) for where to begin adding to my collection?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Role of Faith in Politics & Society

Andrew Sullivan writes an interesting piece on the intersection between Christianity and political involvement. In light of our recent post on 1 Peter 2:13-17 (see below) and the God-ordained role of government to restrain/punish evil and praise the good, how do you evaluate Sullivan's argument?

NOTE: I would be particularly interested in the perspective of our readers who are outside of the U.S., as I am guessing they might have some particularly helpful observations that Americans at times may be blind to.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Blogging Hiatus

This weekend is graduation for me here at Wheaton, and with all of the family and friends in town to celebrate, I will be unable to post anything again until at least Monday. I will, however, occasionally check in and see what's going on, so please feel free to continue posting comments. Have a blessed weekend.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Drama of Scripture: Act 2 - Rebellion in the Kingdom

This morning I read Act 2 - Rebellion in the Kingdom in Drama of Scripture. Given the title of the chapter I expected to find rebellion against God as the central motif in the chapter, but was surprised that the word rebellion did not occur anywhere in the chapter. To be sure, the term mutiny is used. But the central term that emerges is autonomy, defined as "choosing oneself as the source for determining what is right and wrong, rather than relying on God's word for direction" (43).

While not in any way denying that autonomy is an excellent way of expressing Adam and Eve's sin, I guess I was anticipating more discussion of the fall in terms of God's vice-regents / stewards rebelling against their commission from Gen 1:26-31 and instead asserting their own authority to rule as they saw fit (which is certainly an expression of autonomy.

This relates to a second observation. Great emphasis is placed on the horizontal dimensions of sin, and although the vertical dimensions of sin are mentioned (and even described as fundamental), the amount of discussion of the horizontal effects of sin has the subtle of effect of making them seem more important. Related to this is the very brief and almost in passing reference to God's judgment on Adam, Eve, the serpent, and the ground, something I would have liked to see more discussion of. One of the things that Gen 3 clearly highlights is that as his creation we are responsible / accountable to God, and I think establishing that fact as early in the story as possible is very important.

Final observation - given the importance of this act for the entire storyline I was a little surprised that it only received four pages; I would have expected and hoped for more.

Of course, I should mark these comments as provisional, subject to revision as I continue through the book. Perhaps these are lines developed as the book progresses, and I am aware that one cannot do everything in a book this size. But I wanted to get some initial thoughts out there. So what think you, esteemed readers?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

1 Peter 2:13-17

In the weekly Bible study that I lead, I am teaching through 1 Peter. This week I will teach through 2:13-17, a section that speaks about the Christian's obligation to submit to government authorities and the place of government within God's created order. One of the things that I always seek to do is trace the biblical-theological roots of the (or one of the) major themes in the passage. So with respect to tracing the biblical theological roots of the obligation to submit to government authorities and the role of government, what key passages would you draw upon and how would you trace them out? The obvious parallel is Rom 13:1-7 (though there are some differences between the two passages), but I'm thinking primarily of the OT and canonical roots.

I've already taken my stab at it, but I want to see your efforts before I share mine at some point. So, readers, how would you trace the biblical theological roots of submission to government authority?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Drama of Scripture

A friend of mine was kind enough to purchase for me a copy of The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen. He has asked me to read and evaluate it. So in the next couple of weeks I hope to make some posts on aspects of the book I find interesting. But in the meantime, have any of you read it? What was your take? What things should I be looking for as I read?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Wheaton Ph.D. Program

Several of you have asked me to post on the Wheaton Ph.D. program that I am on the brink of finishing, and now seems like an appropriate time. The program itself is only 4 years old, and I will be the 3rd graduate from the program. It is designed as a hybrid between the standard North American program in which one does two full years of coursework and then a dissertation and the British model in which you move straight to dissertation work. The result is a requirement of about 1/2 to 1/3 the amount of coursework of a NA program, but an emphasis on beginning dissertation work immediately. The intention is for students to finish in 3-4 years.

Strengths - The quality of the mentors is top notch, as a glance at the website will show. The small size of the program (only 6 admitted each year; typically 2 each in OT, NT, & systematics) means focused attention from your mentor and a close knit community within the program. It also enables Wheaton to fully fund your tuition and offer an $8,000/yr stipend in return for about 8 hrs/wk of work for a professor. On that front, it may be the best deal in evangelicalism. There is a strong emphasis on integration across the disciplines, and in the admissions process they look for dissertation ideas that focus in one area but significantly interact with other disciplines as well. In particular this program is establishing a reputation for doing work on the use of the OT in the NT.

Potential Drawbacks - In addition to it being difficult to get in, the attempt to be hybrid between NA and British models can result in feeling a bit squeezed at times. They are still working through some of these issues, and because it is a new program they are still working through various issues in the program. The stipend is guaranteed for only three years, though there is the possibility of getting it extended for a fourth year. Something else to consider is that since the program is almost brand new, it is hard to know how a Ph.D. from Wheaton is perceived within the academy when searching for a job. I have yet to hear anything negative, butw who knows what is said behind closed doors.

Advice - If you are interested in learning more about studying at Wheaton, feel free to ask questions here or email me. I would recommend making contact with the particular professor you might be interested in studying under here at Wheaton and discussing potential dissertation topics to see what catches their interest.

In sum, I think Wheaton is one of the premiere Ph.D. programs within evangelicalism, and if you are interested in doing doctoral work, this is a place you need to consider.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Together for the Gospel

The past few days I was at the Together for the Gospel Conference, and I imagine that others who read this blog were there as well. I may have other posts on this conference, but I wanted to begin with a very open ended post to give those who were there a chance to comment on the conference. What were its strengths and/or weaknesses? Favorite speaker or message?

NOTE: Tim Challies has detailed notes from the various sessions at T4G for those who couldn't attend or need a refresher on all that was said. Thanks, Tim.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Recommended Resource: New Dictionary of Biblical Theology

This dictionary was published by IVP back in 2000, edited by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy. The subtitle is "Exploring the Unity & Diversity of Scripture" and it does just that. With approximately 125 contributors that span the spectrum theologically and internationally, this dictionary is a helpful resource that is divided into three parts.
Part One: Introduction contains articles on foundational issues in biblical theology such as exegesis and hermeneutics, NT use of OT, relationship of OT to NT, canon, systematic theology & biblical theology, and even preaching and biblical theology. These articles provide a substantive but generally accessible entry point into biblical theology and its relationship to other aspects of theology.
Part Two: Biblical Corpa and Books has articles on major sections of the canon such as Genesis to Kings, the prophetic books, etc., followed by entries on each individual Biblical book. In these articles the contributors attempt to identify key themes within the specific biblical book itself as well as indicate how the specific themes of a book contribute to the larger canonical presentation of that theme.
Part Three: Themes contains articles that trace key themes throughout Scripture (e.g. Adam, exile, Jerusalem, Law, sin, suffering, wilderness).

Every entry concludes with a very short bibliography for further reading (at times I wish these were longer).

As with any dictionary, the quality of individual entries can vary, but by and large the articles are well-written and helpful starting points. Consequently this is an excellent resource for any who are actively engaged in the study and teaching of Scripture and want to understand how the parts relate to the whole.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-13 records the Transfiguration of Jesus in front of Peter, James and John (cp. Mark 9:1-13). During that transfiguration Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain with Jesus (17:3). What is the biblical-theological significance of their appearance? And why Moses and Elijah? How does their appearance contribute to our understanding of who Jesus is?

HINT: There is a LOT that could be discussed here; feel free to explore any and all of those possibilities.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Christ as the Rock of Exod 17 (1 Cor 10:1-4)?

In 1 Cor 10:1-4, Paul makes the shocking claim that the rock from which the Israelites drank in desert (Exod 17) was Christ:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.
(1 Cor 10:1-4; NAS1995)

On what basis does Paul make such an identification? Is this merely fanciful exegesis? Is there any theological basis for such an identification?

Recommended Resource: Beginning with Moses

I am pleased to recommend the website Beginning with Moses as an excellent resource for Biblical Theology. There are a number of helpful articles, sermons, and yes, a blog. There are some heavy hitters who are involved with this site (e.g. Graeme Goldsworthy, Simon Gathercole), and the folks who have put it together are doing some fine thinking and writing. I look forward to further exploring the site myself in the coming weeks, but from what I have already seen this site should be bookmarked and visited regularly.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Can one really read EVERY OT passage in light of the NT?

Under a previous post, a reader asked the following question:

"I've a question about connecting the OT to the NT. Although I do agree that the OT is connected to Christ, for instance, the institution of the sacrifices in Israel's worship; is it possible to interpret every single passage in the OT as pointing towards Christ? For example, how is it possible to interpret the deep friendship between Jonathan and David in the light of Christ?"

So, good readers, is it in fact possible to interpret every OT passage as pointing forward to Christ? If so, how? And what about the example of David and Jonathan's friendship?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Luke's Use of Isaiah 49:6

According to Luke 2:32, Simeon refers to Christ as "a light of revelation to the Gentiles," which is almost certainly an allusion to Isa 49:6 ("I will also make You a light of the nations").

According to Acts 13:47, Paul responds to Jewish opposition to his gospel message by claiming that the Lord commanded he and Barnabas, followed by a citation from Isa 49:6 ("I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth").

So in Luke 2:32, Luke seems to indicate that Christ is the fulfillment of Servant in Isa 49:6, while in Acts 13:47 he seems to present Paul and Barnabas as the fulfillment of that same Servant passage. On what basis, then, does Luke assert that both are true? In other words, what is the underlying theological logic that allows Luke to make such claims?

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Resurrection & Reading the OT

According to Luke, one of the things Jesus stressed to his disciples immediately after his resurrection was how to read the OT:

"Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." (Luke 24:27)

"Now He said to them, 'These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.'" (Luke 24:44-48)

In these two passages, Jesus makes it clear that if his disciples are to read the OT correctly, they must read it with a view to his suffering/resurrection and the proclamation of that message to the ends of the earth. In other words, if we read the OT without attempting to understand how that particular passage in some fashion points forward to Christ and the gospel, we are not reading the OT in the way that Jesus commands us to. I would call this a "gospel-centered hermeneutic." Only in the light of Jesus' death/resurrection and the proclamation of that event do we have the hermeneutical key for reading the OT in all its fullness.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Empty Tomb

"But the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.'" So they departed with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Matt 28:5-7 (ESV)

Words to reflect upon as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of of Christ, the bedrock foundation of our faith.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Vos on Biblical Theology

One of the classic works on Biblical Theology is a book entitled Biblical Theology by Geerhardus Vos. He defined biblical theology as follows:

"Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self revelation of God deposited in the Bible" (p. 13)

He then notes four main features of God's self-revelation in Scripture:

1. The historic progressiveness of the revelation-process. Revelation does not stand alone, but is inseperably attached to God's redemptive actions.

2. The actual embodiment of revelation in history. Revelation is incarnate in history, not merely incidental to it.

3. The organic nature of the historic process observable in revalation. Revelation and redemption move forward progressively not in a uniform sense, but often in bursts.

4. The fourth aspect of revelation determinative of the study of Biblical Theology consists in its practical adaptability. God's self-revelation is not exclusively or primarily for our intellectual advancement, but for the living out of God's purposes in the world.

Although originally written in 1948, Vos's work remains a must-read for those interested in biblical theology.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

OT in NT: 1 Peter 2:9-10

"But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY."
(1 Peter 2:9-10, NAS1995)

The phrases in all caps are identified by the NAS as OT citations/allusions. Here is the breakdown:

Chosen race - Isa 43:20
Royal priesthood - Exod 19:6
Holy nation - Exod 19:6
People for God's own possession - Exod 19:5
Not a people - Hos 1:10; 2:23
People of God - Hos 2:23
Not received mercy - Hos 1:6; 2:23
Received mercy - Hos 2:23

I would add the following additional allusions/echoes:

proclaim the excellencies - Isa 43:21
the one who called you from darkness to light - Isa 42:6-7, 16

So here is the two-part $64,000 question:

1. What are we to make of language describing Israel in the OT applied to the church?

2. How should these OT citations/allusions/echoes influence our interpretation of 1 Pet 2:9-10?

Recommended Resource: God's Big Picture

For those interested in getting started in understanding the storyline of the Bible, I can think of no better resource than God's Big Picture: Tracing the Story-line of the Bible by Vaughn Roberts. He organizes the biblical storyline around the theme of kingdom, which he defines as "God's people in God's place under God's rule and blessing" (p. 21). He then organizes the biblical story around the development of this theme throughout Scripture:

1. The pattern of the kingdom
2. The perished kingdom
3. The promised kingdom
4. The partial kingdom
5. The prophesied kingdom
6. The present kingdom
7. The proclaimed kingdom
8. The perfected kingdom

This is an excellent place to begin for a basic understanding of the biblical storyline. This book is about as basic as it gets while remaining responsible in its handling of Scripture, and is only about 150 pages. For those wanting a more substantive version, check out Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy. Roberts acknowledges that his work is merely a less technical version of Goldsworthy, but this makes it more accessible than Goldsworthy.

So what do you think? For those who have read the book, what are your impressions?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

What is Biblical Theology?

Such a question at first might seem obvious - theology derived from, or based on, the Bible. But unfortunately it's not that simple, because the term "Biblical Theology" has come to take on a specialized meaning. Perhaps the best way to explain what is meant by biblical theology is to define it along with other "types" of theology:

Systematic Theology - the attempt to organize the teaching of the Bible under various headings such as theology proper (what the Bible teaches about God and his character), anthropology (what the Bible teaches about human beings), soteriology (what the Bible teaches about salvation), Christology (what the Bible teaches about Christ), etc. Examples of this approach would include: The Institutes by John Calvin; Systematic Theology (3 vols.) by Charles Hodge; Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. In the past this was sometimes also referred to as Dogmatic Theology.

Historical Theology - the attempt to trace the development of specific doctrines (e.g., the Trinity) throughout the history of the church. Attention is paid to heretical views that forced the church to sharpen and refine her formulation of doctrine. An example of this approach would be Historical Theology (2 vols.) by William Cunningham.

Pastoral Theology - the attempt to relate Christian doctrine to specific life situations in the church (e.g., sickness, suffering, interaction with the culture). Attention is paid to how Christian doctrine is to be lived out within the church and the culture.

Biblical Theology - the attempt "to explore the unity of the Bible, delving into the contents of the books, showing the links between them, and pointing up the ongoing flow of the revelatory and redemptive process that reached its climax in Jesus Christ" (J.I. Packer, "Foreword" in The Unfolding Mystery by Edmund Clowney, p. 8). Attention is paid to the "storyline" of Scripture and prominent themes across the Bible usually with an attempt to relate them to gospel and/or Christ.

While I certainly believe all of these approaches are important, it is my conviction that biblical theology provides the basis for systematic, historical, and pastoral theology. So on this blog the focus will be on biblical theology, but given the interlocking nature of biblical theology with the other disciplines we will often delve into these other areas as well.


Welcome to this new forum for all things pertaining to biblical theology (and some things not related at all). My hope is that this will serve as a place where I can post my own developing thoughts on topics related to biblical theology, ranging from discussion of specific biblical passages to broader biblical theological themes. Only time will tell how this blog develops, but my hope is to start discussions that will provoke thought on how Scripture fits together and connect those discussions to larger issues in the church and culture where possible.

And since I am new at this, I appreciate your patience as I learn the ropes of blogging.

For more information on me, please click on my profile. I look forward to our ongoing conversation.