Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Free Bible Commentaries Online!

April 14, 2009

I have added a new link to freebiblecommentaries.org, a ministry of Dr. Bob Utley, formerly of East Texas Baptist University.

In my years at ETBU I took Dr. Utley (whom I know as “Dr. Bob”) for four classes: Old Testament Survey II, Hermeneutics I, Hermeneutics II, and Preaching.  I also had the privilege of traveling with him to Brazil for an evangelistic crusade in 2002.  He is truly a man of God.  His passion for the Bible, for the gospel, for the church, and for the lost is evident in everything that he does.  A few years ago he resigned from university teaching in order to put all of his energy into teaching ordinary church members how to interpret the Bible for themselves. 

I recommend his commentaries to you.  They are something of a unique genre, in that they are more interactive than most commentaries.  They provide a wealth of helpful information (as commentaries should), but they are self-consciously designed to teach readers the skill of Bible interpretation as opposed to dependence on commentaries.  Dr. Bob’s passion is not to tell you what you should think about the Bible; it is to teach you how to come to your own sound conclusions about what the Bible teaches. 

This website is a gift to the church.  I encourage you all to bookmark it and refer to it often.

Why I Am a Christian, Part 4b: Because of the Bible

November 15, 2008

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1: Because of Experience

Part 2: Because of Jesus

Part 3a: Because of the Resurrection

Part 3b: Because of the Resurrection

Part 3c: Because of the Resurrection

Part 4a: Because of the Bible

In the previous post on the Bible I set forth the primary reasons why I believe its claim to be the authoritative Word of God is a claim that warrants my belief.  Now I will address secondary reasons.  These secondary reasons are confirming evidences of the Bible’s divine origin.

(1) The unity of the Bible.  It is utterly remarkable that a collection of dozens of books, spanning thousands of years in composition, written by about forty or so authors from diverse backgrounds, in three different languages, addressing controversial matters of ultimate meaning, could have produced such a harmonious work.  I am not saying that the various biblical books speak with one voice on every issue.  There is a distinct theology of Paul, just as there is of Isaiah, of Moses, and of Luke.  Each author makes his own contribution in terms of style, content, and theology.  But when they are put together into a canon, these books cohere as one large narrative that begins with creation and ends with new creation, finding its center in the person of Jesus Christ.  The foreshadowings of the New Testament in the Old, and the echoes of the Old in the New, the multiciplicity of shadows and types that point forward to Christ, and the multiplicity of ways that Christ fulfills those shadows and types, all point to a single divine mind behind this book.  The Quran and other holy books come nowhere near the majesty of this harmonic unity.

(2) Predictive prophecy. Events foretold in the Bible have been fulfilled as they were foretold.  I think of the last two chapters of Daniel in particular, with its meticulously detailed prophecy of the wars between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies that post-dated the time of Daniel by several hundred years.  Of course, a number of scholars argue that the book of Daniel was actually written after these events, but one can’t help but think that a bit of viciously circular reasoning has gone into that conclusion.  If one rules out the possibility that the future can be foretold a priori, then of course one will have to conclude that whatever appears to be a genuine predictive prophecy would have had to have been delivered after the events it foretold.  The same is true for Isaiah 45:1, which mentions Cyrus by name as the future deliverer of Israel.  Cyrus was a Persian king who lived well over a century after the time of Isaiah, and just as Isaiah foretold, he delivered Israel from exile.  Other examples could be multiplied, particularly in regard to prophecies made about Jesus Christ.  The fact that a book that claims to come from God indicates an ability to predict the future with accuracy confirms its claim by showing that a divine mind that transcends time must stand behind it. 

(3) Historical evidence.  Most holy books have little connection to history, for most are not really about history but about what you might call “religious philosophy.”  Even the Book of Mormon, which does profess to relate history, is hopelessly disconnected from reality.  It is a fairy tale about a civilization in North America for which there is no shred of evidence, translated from mysterious golden plates that no one can access anymore, and occasionally showing traces of historical anachronism.  The Bible is in a completely different league.  There is no doubt that it is a genuine book from antiquity; we have thousands of manuscripts that date back through time, in a variety of languages.  It speaks of figures and civilizations that have been confirmed by the evidence of history.  The ruins of Jericho are available for anyone to go and see today, for example.  And on those historical questions where the Bible’s validity has not been confirmed by archaeology, I would say just give it time.  Historians used to believe that the Bible was simply wrong about the Hittites; they used to believe that the Hittites never existed.  Further archaeological evidence confirms that they did exist.  The same happened in recent decades with King Belteshazzar of the book of Daniel.  It was widely doubted that he ever existed until an inscription was discovered bearing his name.  We are dealing with a book that is rooted in history and that has been confirmed, time and time again, by the historical record. 

(4) The shocking honesty of the Bible.  If I were going to make up a religion, I certainly wouldn’t make up Christianity.  Why would anyone, out of their own imaginations, conjure up a religion that says we are all desperately wicked sinners who are destined for Hell unless we find hope in a redeemer?  Who would have made up something so complex and mysterious as the Trinity, the Incarnation, or substitutionary atonement?  Who would come up with a gospel that is at once a message of free grace and yet is at the same time the most costly thing imaginable, both to God and to us?  Who would have written a book that paints all of the great heroes of the faith with their warts in full view: Abraham, David, Moses, Paul, Peter?  Man-made religions have a tendency to romanticize and to reduce the demands made upon us by the deity.  Christianity does the opposite: it is penetratingly real, honest, utterly demanding, and even a bit complicated, all because it is built on a book that bears these characteristics.  The Bible does not bear the marks of mere human imagination. 

I do not bring these points up because I think I can, by the use of reason alone, certify the Bible’s authority.  I have already argued that the Bible’s authority is intrinsic and self-attesting; there simply cannot be any higher court of appeal.  Nevertheless, what we find when we appeal to reason and to experience is that the Bible’s divine origin is confirmed and that it clearly stands in a category by itself, thereby further strengthening our warrant to believe it is the holy Word of God.

A Lesson on How to Read the Bible: Revel in Diversity

February 3, 2008

The Bible is both one book and a collection of books.  It has both one author and many authors.  These two poles of unity and diversity must be held together in our reading of Scripture.  If we ignore one or the other, we lose the unique character of Scripture for what it is: both the divine Word of God and the diverse words of men. 

Conservatives tend to err on the side of unity because of their (correct) prior commitment to the inspiration and inerrancy of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).  Thus, conservatives harmonize passages that stand in tension with one another, whether they be historical tensions or theological tensions.  I believe harmonization is a necessary step in Bible interpretation, but there are bad ways to harmonize that conservatives often fall into.  It is often the conservative’s temptation to leap to harmonization too fast, before the richness of Scripture’s diversity has been taken into account.  Thus, Paul’s theology may be imposed on the Sermon on the Mount, functioning as a grid through which Jesus’ teaching may be filtered.  I believe that, when properly understood, there is no contradiction between Paul and Jesus, but we must allow their diverse teachings to stand, listen to each in his own context, and then draw out the theological unity.

Liberals, on the other hand, focus almost completely on Scripture’s diversity.  They carve up books, assigning this portion to one source, this portion to another, and developing elaborate theories about which redactor added what or omitted what in order to communicate what.  They not only pit Paul against Jesus, but they even pit Jesus against Jesus.  Some of Jesus’ sayings are authentic, but most aren’t, so they say; they are, rather, creations of the early church projected back onto Jesus.  This approach to biblical interpretation is loaded with unfounded presuppositions and will never hear the Word of God for what it actually says.

The Bible must be read as both diverse and unified.  In order to appreciate the Scripture’s diversity, we must give attention to its diverse literary genres.  Kevin Vanhoozer has argued that the diverse genres are not mere literary wrapping paper that we tear through in order to get to the propositions.  They are, rather, the God-given forms in which the propositions are delivered, thus constituting components of revelation themselves.  If we mine Scripture for information but ignore the diverse speech acts (such as warnings, promises, declarations, commands, etc.) and genres (narrative, poetry, apocalyptic, didactic) in which that information is conveyed, then we fail to hear what the authors are actually saying, and thereby we fail to hear what God has spoken.  Literary genres are much more than diverse containers of information.  They are, as Vanhoozer argues, lenses through which we view the world. 

So read the Bible by reveling in its diverse literary genres.  Put on the lenses of the various forms of literature and let them show you how to see the world.  The lens of narrative invites us to see the unfolding of God’s purpose in the story of Israel and Jesus and to place ourselves within that story.  The lens of law demands that we see ourselves under the supreme lordship of God.  The lens of wisdom literature beckons us to view the world as God’s world, ordered by his design (Proverbs), yet often refusing to reveal to us its secrets (Ecclesiastes), thereby calling us to trust the wisdom of God even when we don’t understand (Job).  The lens of apocalyptic thrusts us into cosmic warfare, showing us that all of life is lived on the verge of the end, when God’s sovereign plan for the consummation of history will come to pass in a cataclysmic upheaval, and the forces of darkness will be crushed.  The lens of didactic (epistolary) literature sets us within the context of the new humanity redeemed in Christ, the church, and shows us a new way of being in this overlapping of the ages.  The lens of poetry summons us to view all of life as lived before God, in relationship with him (Psalms), yet falling under his judgment for our failures without putting ourselves outside his ultimate redemptive purpose (the Prophets). 

If we bypass the significance of these literary genres and extract bare information from the Bible, then we have not truly heard what God has spoken.  Let the diversity yield its richness to you as you read.  Put on these various lenses and let them each contribute to a fuller understanding and response to God and his purpose for us.