7/11/2013

Conclusion: Bible Study – Read the Book in Question

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

Our most recent series of articles for Soli Deo Gloria has looked at the basic rules of interpretation and some practical suggestions to help understand the Scriptures.  We will close the series with a brief exhortation to read the Bible more.

We have abundant evidence to prove that the Bible is God’s Word given to us.  The books of the New Testament were written by eyewitnesses of the events they describe and their message has been accurately communicated to us through the centuries of copying and translation.  (See: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham and The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce) 

Those eyewitness testimonies tell us about Jesus’ teaching that the Old Testament was true (Matthew 4:4, John 17:17) and His teaching that the New Testament would be true (John 14:25-30, 16:12-15).  They also tell of the many miracles Jesus worked, and those miracles testify to the truth of what He taught (John 10:38, 14:11). 

Above all, we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit that the Bible is true.  He speaks to us in our hearts with the words of the Bible, and we are firmly convinced that the Bible is true by Him. 

The truths of the Bible ‘trump’ any opinions of the church.  They overcome the opinions of ancient writers.  They overwhelm the teachings of mere men.  They have authority over the intuitions and feelings men have in their hearts. 

Since these things are true, how can we ignore the Bible?  Why do we not pick up the book and read it?

Some people do not read the Bible because they ‘get bogged down’ in certain books that contain long genealogies and details for temple construction.  To those, I would recommend an abbreviated Bible reading plan from R. C. Sproul’s Knowing Scripture.  That plan alone is worth the purchase of Knowing Scripture, and you will also find most of the truths shared in this series in that book as well. 

Some people do not read the Bible because they have not tried a disciplined ‘plan of attack.’  For those people, I would recommend one of the Bible reading plans at http://www.esv.org/resources/reading-plans-devotions/.  These plans feature many different approaches for reading through the entire Bible.  Most people find that the most effective plans are those that mix in a little of the New Testament with the Old Testament in each reading. 

Others fail to read the Bible because they are afraid they won’t understand it.  John H. Gerstner, a noted Presbyterian theologian, taught that a person with a good knowledge of the Bible as a whole, gained through ordinary reading, could have a great understanding of what the Bible says.  We can understand the Bible because what we need to know is said in one part of the Scripture or another so clearly that even those of us who are not theologians or experts in biblical languages can understand it.

Please do not forget the power of teamwork.  Reading the Bible together with a small group or a church is important because other people can encourage us and hold us accountable.

Lastly, no discussion of reading the Bible would be complete without the exhortation found in James 1:22, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”  As we learn the commands of the Bible and try to follow them, we will see our lives transformed into Christ’s likeness (Romans 12:1-2). 
Thank you so much for joining us in this journey through the ways the Bible can be better understood and studied.  Join us for our future Soli Deo Gloria articles starting soon. 

7/04/2013

Prophecy – End Times Madness: The Revelation of St. John

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)
“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all…” – WCF Chapter 1, Section 7

This phrase from the Westminster Confession of Faith has been a great comfort to me as I approach one of the most difficult areas of the Bible to interpret: predictive prophecy.  Predictive prophecy is about the claims that the Bible makes about what will happen in the future.  It especially focuses on eschatology, the study of the end times and what will transpire at the end of the world.  This brief article will discuss the ‘ground rules to use when confronting this difficult area.

R. C. Sproul made a classic understatement when he said, “We must approach prophecy very carefully with a sober attitude.”  Sproul makes some interesting points, either directly or indirectly:

First, avoid two extremes.  The first is the “skeptical, naturalistic approach” that does away with predictive prophecy.  If there is a God who created the world, it is virtually impossible to say He does not know the future.  On the other extreme, avoid the “wild, bizarre method that sees in every contemporary event a “clear” fulfillment of a biblical prophecy.”  There is a middle road.

Second, leave room for “symbolic predictions or predictions that have a broader scope of meaning.”  The New Testament itself interprets some prophecy as having a”fulfillment of the letter” (see the Bible’s prediction of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, in Bethlehem) and a “fulfillment in a broader scope” (see the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the return of Elijah).  John the Baptist himself said he was not Elijah (John 1:19-28), while Jesus said he was (Matthew 11:13-15).  The answer to the dilemma is in Luke 1:17’s reference to John the Baptist as coming “in the spirit and power of Elijah.”  That is a clear example of a “broader fulfillment.”

Third, be extremely careful with the “apocalyptic form” of prophecy.  “Apocalyptic literature” is a special form of literature that was used in the time of the First Century.  This form of writing is laden with symbols and metaphors.  We will look at statements made by J. Scott Duval on this topic below.

Duval is the J. C. and Mae Fuller Professor of Biblical Studies at Ouachite Baptist University.    His keen interest in the book of Revelation yields several insights for dealing with apocalyptic literature such as what we find in Revelation.  We will look at some of his key insights next.

Revelation uses symbols, and Revelation 1:1 makes this clear when it says God sent the revelation “and signified it through His angel to His slave John.”  These symbols are a little like political cartoons used in our culture, where “pictures represent a reality.”  These pictures are not meant to be taken literally, “but they are taken as pointing to a reality.”  We don’t find a literal donkey and a literal elephant fighting in American politics, but the two major political parties are often portrayed in exactly this way in political cartoons.

Next, there is no rule against mixing metaphors in apocalyptic literature.  A ‘metaphor’ is a figure of speech that makes an implied comparison between two unlike things that actually have something in common.  A ‘mixed metaphor’ is when two or more metaphors are jumbled together, usually illogically.  The pictures of Revelation are often jumbled together in this way.
Last of the several principles we will look at: “don’t try to find a chronology of history in [Revelation’s] pages.”  The original audience would not have tried to, and neither should we.

Predictive prophecy, especially prophecies about things that have not occurred yet, must be handled carefully and prayerfully.  There are many pitfalls and problems with its interpretation.  We should all pray for greater understanding of the different approaches to the end times.
(Sources: Knowing Scripture by R. C. Sproul and Read the Bible for Life by George H. Guthrie)

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