Rome, the Radical Reformation, and Exegesis (Muller)

 Among other things, the Protestant Reformation was brought about by a return to Scripture and it’s teachings.  Obviously, this is a huge discussion and it’s even hard to know where to begin when discussing this topic.  What got me thinking of this today is a paragraph I read in Richard Muller’s volume on “Holy Scripture” from his four-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics set.  I’ll put the quote below (I broke it up to make it easier to read).  Notice Muller’s excellent comments on the radical Reformation.

The Reformers, operating at least initially in the context of traditional Catholicism, were able to adjust and revise certain key doctrinal points—like the doctrines of justification and the sacraments—by recourse to exegesis, while at the same time assuming the churchly stability of the larger body of doctrine.

(It was one of the functions of the radical Reformation, perhaps most forcefully in its antitrinitarian moments, to test this assumption and to demonstrate the impossibility of holding on to the larger body of traditional dogmatic formulations when the tradition as a whole was set aside.)

The Protestant orthodox, however, were left with the task of reconstructing a churchly and confessionally governed dogmatics in the context of a hermeneutical revolution. Doctrines like the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the fall and original sin, which had developed over centuries and with the assistance of an easy mingling of theological and exegetical traditions and of an exegetical method designed to find more in a text than what was given directly by a grammatical reading, would now have to be exposited and exegetically justified—all in the face of a Roman Catholic polemic against the sole authority of Scripture as defined by the Reformers over against the tradition and the churchly magisterium, a polemic made all the more telling by the presence of the teachings of the Radicals.

 Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy;  Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 443–444.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Spurgeon’s Allegorizing

  Charles Spurgeon mentioned to his students that within certain limits it was OK to “spiritualize” a text.  He spent some time explaining this point in Lectures to My Students.  It’s not exactly easy to get a precise definition of what it means to “spiritualize” a text; it has to do with the interpretation of Scripture, which is a huge topic in itself.  However one defines it, there is an overlap between spiritualizing and allegorizing.  In fact, I would argue that Spurgeon’s sermons sometimes contain allegory.

One example is his sermon on Genesis 7:15 which is called “The Parable of the Ark.”  I recently read this sermon in my studies on Genesis 6-9.   While Spurgeon says in the introduction he’s going to give a “parable” on the ark, it’s really an allegory.  Here’s Spurgeon’s allegorical interpretation of the “one window in the ark”:

I have often wondered how all the creatures could see through one window; but I have not wondered what was meant by it, for I think it is easy to point the moral. There is only one window whereby Christians ever get their light. All who come to Christ, and receive salvation by him, are illuminated in one way. That one window of the ark may fitly represent to us the ministry of the Holy Ghost. There is only one light which lighteneth every man who cometh into the world if he be lightened at all. Christ is the light, and it is the Holy Spirit of truth by whom Christ is revealed.

…There was only one window to the ark; and though there were first, second, and third stories to the ark, all saw out of one window; and the little saint, who is in the first story, gets light through the one window of the Spirit; and the saint, who has been brought up to the second story, gets light through the same window; and he, who has been promoted to the loftiest story, has to get light through the same window too. There is no other means of our seeing except through the one window made to the ark, the window of the Holy Spirit. Have we looked through that? Have we seen the clear blue sky above us?

While it is true that the Holy Spirit gives illumination, it is certainly not the meaning of the ark’s window.  The window in the ark was just a window in the ark, not a veiled reference to the Holy Spirit.  In fact, there could have been more than one opening in the ark depending on how one translates the very difficult phrase in Gen. 6:16a.  Some scholars say there may have been an 18 inch (a cubit) opening all around the top.  Whatever the case, Spurgeon clearly missed the meaning of the text.

I’m not saying Spurgeon was a terrible preacher.  He was human and made many mistakes like the rest of us.  And some of his sermons were better than others. I just wanted to point this out to help us avoid the error of allegorizing a text like this.  Αnd it is helpful to remember that even our favorite preachers err and it’s healthy for us to admit that.  This will keep us from emulating their error.  It will also keep us from idolizing our favorite preachers.  And it reminds us that God can [thankfully!] accomplish his purposes through fallible preachers and imperfect sermons.

The above quote by Spurgeon is found in Spurgeon, C. H. The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons. Vol. 53. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1907, p. 270.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Figures of Speech in the Bible (Bullinger)

 The text of Scripture, like other texts and writings, contains many figures of speech.  The Bible is not a textbook or manual that uses wooden propositions that are always literal and bland.  When you read recipes or the instructions for your daughter’s new bike, you’re not going to find many figures of speech.  You’ll just get plain words that give bare information you need to finish a task.

Scripture, however, is full of all different kinds of writing, speech, reports, emotions, commands, propositions, explanations, stories, and so forth.  When reading the Bible it’s good to remember that it’s not a dry textbook or straightforward instruction manual!  I’ve been going through one resource that is meant to help Bible readers read the Bible better: Figures of Speech Used in the Bible by E. W. Bullinger.  Although this book is just over one hundred years old, it is a helpful tool for learning about the different figures of speech in Scripture.  This resource will help the reader better interpret Scripture and it’ll help those who translate Scripture to think about the figures of speech in translation.

I have to admit Figures of Speech isn’t the easiest book to read.  It is somewhat dated and it does contain many linguistic terms that are new to me. But for the most part, it’s not too tough to understand what Bullinger is getting at.  The book contains three main sections: 1) Figures of speech that involve the omission of words, 2) Figures of speech that involve the addition of words, and 3) Figures of speech that involve the change of words.  There are a few appendices that talk about things like the use of the genitive case and Hebrew homonyms, for two examples.  At the end of the book, there are helpful indexes so you can look up words, Scripture citations, and subjects.

Here are a few examples of the figures of speech Bullinger explains:

Epizeuxis: or, Duplication – The Repetition of the Same Word in the Same Sense.  When the word is repeated in close and immediate succession, no other word or words coming between, it is called GEMINATIO, pronounced Gem-i-nā´-tio, which means a doubling, duplication, a re-doubling.  …It is a common and powerful way of emphasizing a particular word, by thus marking it and calling attention to it.  Examples: Gen. 6:17 – and behold, I, even I, bring a flood of waters upon the earth.  Gen. 7:19 “And the waters prevailed exceedingly.” Here, as in other passages, the doubled adverb is used for a superlative. מְאֹד מְאֹד (meōd, meōd), greatly, greatly. 

Pleonasm; or, Redundancy   When more Words are used than the Grammar requires –    Ple´-o-nasm. Greek, πλεονασμός (pleonasmos): from πλέονάζειν (pleonazein), to be more than enough. …The figure is so called when there appears to be a redundancy of words in a sentence; and the sense is grammatically complete without them. … But this redundancy is only apparent. These words are not really superfluous when used by the Holy Spirit, nor are they idle or useless.  …Gen. 1:2.—“And darkness was upon the faces of the deep,” i.e., upon the deep. But how much more forcible and emphatic the expression becomes by the pleonasm. … Gen. 11:8.—“So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth:” i.e., all over the earth.

Anyway, it’s hard to give great examples that are properly formatted here on the blog.  Bullinger goes into much detail for every figure of speech and gives tons of examples from Scripture of the figure of speech he’s discussing.  If you’re interested, I suggest going online and looking through some pages of the book.  I don’t agree with all of Bullinger’s interpretations and divisions/descriptions, but the book is for sure helpful in getting the student of Scripture to think about the figures of speech in the Bible.  It’ll help us read the Word better for sure.

Here’s the Amazon link to the hardcover or paperback of Bullinger’s Figures of Speech and here’s the Logos edition.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Reading Scripture Like the Ethiopian Eunuch (Calvin)

 The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 can teach us today quite a bit about reading Scripture.  While on the long ride home from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, this man was reading Isaiah (presumably someone else was driving!).  He kept reading even though he didn’t understand it all.  When Philip asked him about the text, the eunuch admitted he needed someone to guide or lead him in reading the prophet.  He asked Philip about the text as they sat together there in the chariot.  Luke tells us that Philip answered by preaching the gospel about Jesus beginning with Isaiah 53.  I really like how John Calvin commented on this:

Most excellent modesty of the eunuch, who doth not only permit Philip, who was one of the common sort, to question with him, but doth also willingly confess his ignorance. And surely we must never hope that he will ever show himself apt to be taught who is puffed up with the confidence of his own wit. Hereby it cometh to pass that the reading of the Scriptures doth profit so few at this day, because we can scarce find one amongst a hundred who submitteth himself willingly to learn. For whilst all men almost are ashamed to be ignorant of that whereof they are ignorant, every man had rather proudly nourish his ignorance than seem to be scholar to other men. Yea, a great many take upon them haughtily to teach other men. Nevertheless, let us remember that the eunuch did so confess his ignorance, that yet, notwithstanding, he was one of God’s scholars when he read the Scripture.

This is the true reverence of the Scripture, when as we acknowledge that there is that wisdom laid up there which surpasseth all our senses; and yet, notwithstanding, we do not loathe it, but, reading diligently, we depend upon the revelation of the Spirit, and desire to have an interpreter given us.

 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 354.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Brute Historical Facts of the OT?(Provan)

 Iain Provan’s essay, “Hearing the HIstorical Books” in Hearing the Old Testament is an excellent, helpful, and thought-provoking read.  I really appreciate it and I highly recommend it.

One of the main points Provan makes in this article is that the OT is not just a depository of historical facts.  Typically we think of history as a recounting of brute facts; some people approach the OT in such a manner.  Here’s Provan:

This is simply nonsense. We have no access to brute historical facts. To the extent that we know about the past at all, we know about it primarily through the testimony of other people. There is no way of writing historiography that does not involve such testimony or “story-telling.” Because this is so, interpretation is integral to all historiography as well. All testimony about the past is also interpretation of the past. It has its ideology or theology; it has its presuppositions and its point of view; it has its narrative structure; and (if at all interesting to read or listen to) it has its narrative art, its rhetoric.

Later Provan writes this:

The historical books of the Old Testament likewise address their readers through their rhetorical art. They are of course profoundly interested in the past… but they are not interested in it for its own sake. They tell the story of the past, selecting their material and interpreting it, in order to persuade their readership of certain truths and to advocate certain ways of living. We miss the point if we dwell on the facts themselves—no matter how important it may be to defend the idea that these texts are indeed rooted in real events. We shall only get the point if we are able to overcome false modern notions about the nature of historiography that lead to false expectations as to what our biblical historical texts should be able to do for us. We shall only get the point if we pay attention to the story itself that our biblical authors have woven out of the facts, which is also the story (interpreted properly within the context of the whole biblical story) through which God addresses the church. That should be the focus of our attention: the story itself, in all of its artfulness, through which God speaks.

Provan then goes on to give examples from the OT that show aspects of its story, including rhetoric, literary forms, subtlety, the big picture, and so on.  Again, this is a very helpful article when thinking about the OT from a Christian/NT  point of view.

Iain Provan, “Hearing the Historical Books,” in Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, ed. Craig G. Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 258.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Use of the OT by NT Writers

Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation, 2nd ed.

One obvious reality of the NT is that it is full of OT citations, allusions, echoes, and so on. This is a topic that has been discussed and debated often and for quite some time. I recently read Joel Green and Richard Hays’ chapter in Hearing the New Testament called “The Use of the Old Testament by New Testament Writers”. Here’s a summarized section of the chapter that I thought was helpful – it’s about how NT authors utilized the OT Scriptures:

1. Among the ways in which NT texts are linked to Israel’s Scriptures, the most obvious is direct citation, which may or may not be introduced with an introductory formula. For example, in Luke 3:3–6 the ministry of John is said to be continuous with the prophecy of Isa 40:3–5….

2. In other cases, the NT writer’s dependence on the OT is evident in summaries of OT history and teaching. The sermon of Paul in Acts 13:16–41 is of interest in this regard….

3. The influence of the OT is also seen in the use of type-scenes in NT narratives. Type-scenes constitute a form of repetition in biblical narrative, an episode composed of a fixed sequence of motifs, often associated with recurrent themes. They reiterate similar events—say, the announcement of birth or the trial in the wilderness—by drawing on a common inventory of actions….

4. Finally, the dependence of NT writers on the OT is recognized in allusions or linguistic echoes…. In attuning our ears to register OT echoes in NT texts, we account for the way in which the great stories of Israel have served the writer as a trove of symbols and metaphors that shape the author’s understanding and representation of the world and of God’s salvific activity.

The above quotes are found in Richard B. Hays and Joel B. Green, “The Use of the Old Testament by New Testament Writers,” in Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation, ed. Joel B. Green, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 129.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI





Historical Interpretation of the OT: Three Requirements (Long)

 V. Philips Long wrote a helpful article for the NIDOTTE called “Old Testament History: A Hermeneutical Perspective.”  It’s a very level-headed discussion about interpreting the history recorded in the OT.  One section of the article gives three requirements for the interpreter of OT history.  Here’s a summary of those three requirements:

  1. Literary competence.  It may seem surprising to begin this section on requirements for historical interpretation with an emphasis on literary competence, but any who wish to include the OT among their sources for the history of ancient Israel or, for that matter, those who may wish to dismiss it, must at least recognize that competent literary reading of the OT with a view to discovering its truth claims (historical or otherwise) is a necessary first step….  By ‘literary competence’ I mean a developed awareness of the conventions and workings of a given literary corpus and a consequent ability to discern what kinds of claims a given text within that corpus may be making (cf. Barton, esp. 8–19; Baron, 93). When one is learning a foreign language, one studies the grammar of that language (i.e., the linguistic principles by which it communicates) so as to increase linguistic competence and the ability rightly to interpret individual utterances. By the same token, when one’s aim is to understand individual passages of a “foreign” literary corpus such as the OT (which originated at a time and place far removed from our own), it is immensely useful to learn what one can of the “grammar” of that literature (i.e., the literary principles by which it operates).  …One of the best ways to improve one’s literary competence is to read as much of the literature under consideration as possible….
  2. Theological comprehension.  A second requirement for those who would interpret the OT historically is theological comprehension. Again, just as it may have seemed odd in the preceding section to highlight literary competence as a requirement for historical interpretation, so it may seem odd to stress theological comprehension as a requirement for those who would use the OT responsibly in historical reconstruction. But the fact is that in the narratives of the OT God is a central character, not only present behind the scenes but occasionally intervening directly in the action of the story—e.g., sending plagues, parting seas and rivers, destroying city walls, appearing in visions, throwing enemies into panic, protecting his people, speaking through his prophets, fulfilling their words, and so forth. In short, the God depicted in the OT is not only transcendent but is also immanent in human (historical) affairs. As G. B. Caird succinctly puts it, “the most important item in the framework within which the people of biblical times interpreted their history was the conviction that God was the Lord of history” (217–18; cf. Westermann, 210; Wolff).

  3. Historical criticismThe core story of the OT presents itself as a true story, and not just in the sense that it is “true to life.” The central events of the sweep of redemptive history are presented as real events that happened in the lives of real people (cf. Arnold, 99; Halpern, 1988; Licht, 212–16). Whatever artistic traits may be present in the narratives of the OT (and they are many), it remains the case that most of these narratives present themselves as more than just art for art’s sake. They present themselves not merely as realistic narratives but as referential narratives, as the verbal equivalent of portraits, not just generic paintings. Therefore, unless it can be demonstrated that this assessment of the character of the narratives is incorrect—and there are some who think so (e.g., Smelik, Thompson)—then any legitimate literary reading must take their historical truth claims seriously, whatever one may believe about the truth value of the claims.

    It is necessary to acknowledge the Bible’s historical truth claims not only for literary reasons, but for theological reasons as well. For “in point of fact, the Bible consistently presents theological truth as intrinsically bound to historical events” (Arnold, 99). The religious faith propagated in the OT is dependent not simply on some “story world” but on the real world about which the stories are told. As noted earlier, the God of the OT is the Lord of history, and his self-disclosure and salvific actions are accomplished in both event and word (see Long, 1994, 88–119).

 Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), chapter 4.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015