Training in Righteousness
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Entries in Bible Study (110)


When you have to show your cards

I'm in the midst of writing a paper, due on Friday. It's a review of the book Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. As an aside, let me just say that the books in the "Counterpoints" series, from which this book comes, are excellent. I have read a few, and they are really well done.

My responsibility in this assignment is to summarize each of the three views, by Walter Kaiser, Darrell Bock, and Peter Enns. After summarizing those views, I have to state my own views, with attention to these issues:

  1. The use of Sensus Plenior as an appropriate way of explaining the NT use of the OT

  2. The best way to understand typology

  3. Whether NT writers take account of the context of OT passages

  4. Whether NT authorsuse of contemporaneous Jewish exegetical methods explains the NT use of the OT

  5. Whether 21st century Christians can replicate the hermeneutical and exegetical methods used by the NT authors. 

Considering that each author has expressed his views clearly, given good Scriptural examples, and been rebutted by the other authors, a reader should have an idea where she will land on the matter. I know where my views are, but coming out with a position with the appropriate amount of Scriptural support and careful thought it always a bit daunting. I have done my reading, including some extra research, and I have come to some conclusions, but it's always hard to articulate things well.

In class, there was a moment when our prof asked us, "Do you think we should use the same interpretive methods as the NT authors?" There was silence. No one wanted to brave an opinion right away. Of course, the two gents who tended to dominate the discussion eventually spoke up. I, however, did not, but when asked, I said, "Do we have to use their methods?" i.e., is it necessary in order to gain meaning. My prof said it was a good point.

It's always a scary process to lay out what we think. When reading the book, I was able to agree on various points from all three authors (yes, despite the controversy surrounding Enns, I did agree with him on some points). It is so easy to just agree with what sounds best without a thorough examination of things. This is about more than endorsing one view; it's about coming to my own conclusions, and most of the time, I feel woefully inept at such things. 

Today is a holiday here in Canada, and soon, we're off to enjoy some family time. Starting tomorrow, though, it's time to get busy. I want to do well, and on my last assignment, the prof noted that he wanted to hear more of my own views, so it's time to stop being timid. He's not there to evaluate me as a colleague; I'm his student, and if I am not as smart as Kaiser, Bock, and Enns, he'll understand.


Sin isn't going anywhere

One of the lessons I keep learning is that sin isn't going anywhere. Of course, that is a no-brainer. But I think on some level, I believed as a younger woman that somehow, sin would become less of a factor as I got older. Surely, Christian maturity would mean sin would magically become less of a problem. That has not happened, of course. While it may be packaged in different scenarios than previous years, sin is still there. 

When we have our sin pointed out, or are convicted by our sin, we have two choices: confess it or deny it. In order to deny sin, we must also reject what Scripture says, because Scripture tells us that if we deny sin, we make God out to be a liar (I John 1:8). To be a Christian and to deny sin means we must change our attitude toward Scripture: perhaps it's wrong in places; perhaps it's not really inspired; perhaps that is just a cultural mandate. In the extreme, we may reject Scripture altogether. It's easier to deal with sin if we reject the existence of a standard.

In Psalm 32, the Psalmist gives details about what his unconfessed sin wrought:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
for day and night your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (v.3-4)

That last phrase reminded me of Psalm 1, where the one who delights in the law of the Lord is compared to a tree by a river, well-watered and refreshed (Ps 1:3). When we are aware of unconfessed sin, how easy it is to avoid the very words which will convict us. The consequence of avoiding God's word is dryness, not refreshment. It's a slow fade from unconfessed sin to complete apathy toward God.

Sin has consequences. Aside from the reality that it separates us from God, like the Psalmist, we can experience physical symptoms. Guilt can be deadly. And yet, in our current culture, we are discouraged to feel shame and guilt for our sin. And I understand why that is. Many people are made to feel shame and guilt for things that are not their own sin, and it can eat away at a person to feel shame and guilt for past abuses at the hands of other people. When it comes to or own sin, though, we have to resist the temptation to deny our culpability.

If we are out of God's word, away from the sound of biblical preaching, and secluded from the fellowship of the church, how easy it is to think God doesn't care about our sin. How easy it is to stick our fingers into our ears and cry, "la la la la," and go on our merry way.

If we truly believe in a holy God, we can't pretend that sin isn't a problem. If we want to be reconciled to him, we can't ignore it. But thanks be to God for I John 1:9, which promises us forgiveness for confessed sin. When the Psalmist confessed, he received forgiveness:

I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,"
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (v.5)

While many of the dispositions of my heart stubbornly cling to me, I know that God will not refuse forgiveness. That gives me hope. 


I wish you could have all come with me

There were more than a few times this past semester when I wished that I could have had taken some of my friends to seminary with me. The content of the course, studying and interpreting the Bible, is one that I know many of my friends, on-line and face-to-face, would have loved. 

Aside from learning biblical interpretation skills, I also learned a lot of other things, and one thing continually came up: this book is amazing. The Bible is amazing. And several times, it occurred to me that not every Christian has a copy of the Scriptures in her own languages. My husband and I support missionaries in Papua New Guinea who are in the position of the tribe they live among not only lacking a Bible, but they lacak a written language. This is a huge challenge. I can't even imagine what that it like.

There was a time when owning one's own copy of the Bible was frowned upon. Even 150 years ago, not every family had its own copy of the Bible. There was a day when the Bible was chained to a pulpit in a church to protect it. Books were expensive. Women did not have the kind of time to study that we do now. They had no modern conveniences to wash their clothes or cook their meals. Likely, they were juggling more than 2 children. Likely, the daylight hours were filled with work, not study, and when evening came, there may have been no electric light. We are priviledged.

Yet, for all that priviledge, there are still many who don't put Bible reading and study on the top of their priority list. There are many other things that interfere. We have technology that is meant to give us more time, but are we using it to get into the Bible? This should be an age when biblical literacy ought to be at a high, but it isn't. We have hundreds of different kinds of specialty bibles, but are we studying them? And I don't mean the obligatory chapter a day. I mean sitting down and asking ourselves, "What does this mean, and what are the implications?" Yes, we have pastors whose job it is to preach the Bible, but since we have our own Scripture and the resources to study, why don't we?

Not everyone needs to attend seminary, but all Christians should be invested in study of the Scripture. And we ought not to be afraid of throwing ourselves into the pursuit. A while ago, someone asked me why I was attending seminary if I have no plans to become a pastor (because I don't). I said I wanted to learn more about God and the Bible. The answer was: "Aren't there any ladies bible studies at your church?" I had a hard time explaining that yes, there are, but I wanted more than that. I suspect that I am occasionally looked at as if I'm getting above my station.

Some of the best moments of the class this semester was when our prof went out on a bunny trail about a biblical principle and got a discussion going. It was wonderful to learn among others who are just as invested in learning as I am. Not everyone needs this, but I think everyone needs to be invested to some extent if we as the church are going to survive in a culture that is not our own. Christian womanhood involves caring for our loved ones, our children, our husbands. Yes, it involves being hospitable and keeping a good home. But surely there is time for study. Surely, with all the ease we have, there is time. 

I'm getting off my soapbox now.


We need Bible teachers

Last week, I had to read a commentary on Daniel 9 by Keil and Delitzsh. Not only was the language dense, but it was interspersed with the Hebrew characters, which were totally unrecognizable to me. I am a very visual reader, and when I see unfamiliar characters, it distracts me from the flow of thought. On my own, this was difficult.

Over the years, I have done a lot of learning on my own. When I was homeschooling, I liked to call myself an auto-didact because much of the learning I did was in preparation to teach my kids, and on my own, I learned a lot. But learning in a vacuum isn't always good. And there were things I definitely needed help with. During the years we homeschooled, when I began to have a desire to attend seminary, my husband reminded me that I could do a lot of learning on my own. Back in those days, Monergism had bundles of books one could buy if she was too busy for seminary. I did purchase one of those bundles, but there were still things I didn't understand.

The church is a body. We are a community. Learning in community is a valuable thing. Sometimes, just hearing how someone else has understood a principle helps others. It is possible for women to learn a lot about doctrine and theology just from reading books, and there are plenty of good books to contribute to that. But there is still a great value in learning from someone else. There is great value in a well-taught Bible study. And there is a need for good teachers.

The reason I am going to seminary is to be equipped so that I can become a better teacher. However, not every woman has the time or the desire to learn on her own. Think of the young mothers out there juggling diapers, carpools, laundry, and possibly a job. Or the woman who has both teenagers and an elderly parent; or teenagers and an ill husband. How about the single mother, who may be working more than one job? The freedom I have to study is a gift from God. I want to use that gift to encourage others.

I remember being a new Christian attending a college aged Sunday school class and hearing people who had been brought up in the church. They seemed to know everything. I knew nothing. I am glad I had people over the years who taught me. Aside from the reality that not everyone is at the same place spiritually, I can't help but think of those who are from other countries and have come to Canada or the United States. Learning is difficult when there is a language and culture barrier. We need good teachers who can preset biblical truths in manageable pieces without watering it down completely.

The need for children's Bible study is obvious. But so is adult biblical teaching. It is my prayer that women and men would grow in their understanding and pass it on to others.


Individualism and hermeneutics

Yesterday's hermeneutics lecture was really great. I am regularly copying down some of the interesting things my prof has to say. Last week, my favourite was when Dr. B. made a play on word with "hermeneutics." He said "Herman must be there. Make him your friend."

Yesterday, we got on the topic of how we interpret Scripture keeping in mind the community of the church. Not only do we give credence to interpreters of the past, but we don't isolate ourselves as we interpret, rather, we seek the interpretive voices of others. Dr. B. did not have much good to say about the approach that says that I just need to take myself and my Bible somewhere quiet and figure it out on my own. He believes this attitude arises from the individualistic bent of our society. He encouraged us not to make every application about us personally, but move beyond ourselves to look at what the implications are for the entire church. Yes, there is room for personal piety, but if we continually look to make everything a personal message for us, he belives we are missing out. He also is not entirely in favour of, as a preacher, making applications for others, but rather isolating principles and seeing what the implications are.

In light of the ensuing dicussion, which took us off on a few bunny trails, I think the other students were in agreement with him. Yesterday's comment of the day was: "Commentaries are your friend."

At one time, I viewed commentaries as a last resort. Somehow (probably from my own dimwittedness) I got the notion that there was some sort of failure involved if I had to consult a commentary, never mind more than one. I have since learned that while we definitely need to pursue a diligent study of the text, commentaries provide us with a way of watching someone else interpret the text.

Dr. B. suggested that disregarding what other scholars, past and present, have to say about a text is short-sighted. He pointed out that many of the scholars have spent years reading and studying the text, and we should not be unwillinging to consult their expertise. Studying the Scriptures in community is a valuable and necessary thing. We gather together on the Lord's Day to hear the word in a community. I think we sometimes get so focused on our individual life of faith, we neglect our part in the Body of Christ. Perhaps this individualism is where the "what does it mean to me" line of thinking originated.

I was really thankful for this perspective. It conformed some of my thoughts, and it is always good to know that we're on the right track.