failing follower?

May 2015 (13)“It is impossible to be a follower of Christ while denying, disregarding, discrediting, and disbelieving the words of Christ.”

David Platt, Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography. Tyndale House Publishers, 2015, p.17.

hermeneutical factors

April 2015 (3)“Character, context, and likely purposes in making an utterance are all factors that make for a sensible interpretation.  Proper interpretation requires more than simply paying attention to words.”

  Paul Copan & Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? (Kindle location 546).

a basis for certainty

IMG_20150220_125138In conversation the other night, someone asked me a question about how we can know what is true and what is not true. I responded by saying that I made up my mind years ago to base my understanding of what is true on what God has revealed in the Bible. There can be no other basis for certainty. I supposes hypothetically someone might be able to study all the books in the world and come to some other standard of certainty. But even if that happened, it would merely be a choice made by someone stepping out in the dark, and holding up a spent torch, saying “I see, I see!” How do I know that someone else sees? I would have to trust.

But if it comes down to a choice to trust, wouldn’t it make more sense to trust God? Why would it not make sense to let God’s word be my guide? I can imagine only three possible reason for not trusting God’s word: lack of faith in God’s existence, or lack of conviction about what he has revealed on the subject in question, or lack of trust that he cares enough to give you a certain answer. There are lots of people in each category. My sneaking suspicion is that each of these excuses feed on each other.

So, I offer this advice for those who are in constant anxiety about this thing or that. First, dare to believe that there is a sovereign God. Then, dare to study his word until you find the truth about what is bothering you. Finally, dare to live on the basis of what you found there. If you have the courage to seek his will in this way, he will reveal it to you. His faithfulness is our basis for certainty.

ACST 12. The Gift

The apostle Peter said that “God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). One of those gifts is the Bible itself. Unfortunately our need for God’s word is so significant that we often ignore it, and take it for granted. Like the air that we breathe, we take God’s gift of his word for granted, assuming its existence, but never contemplating its importance.

Since God is the source of the truth we find in the Bible, loyalty to God demands loyalty to that truth. Since God’s word comes from him, it is the standard by which we judge all truth claims, and the tool with which the Holy Spirit transforms our lives. It is the ultimate authority because it expresses God’s will as nothing else can. It sheds light on today’s path as well as yesterday’s. God has given us sure knowledge of himself through his word, and that knowledge is sufficient for our present needs. Although we do not yet understand everything about our present standing and future hope, what we do understand is enough to motivate our trust in him, and to guide us in obeying him.

There are obstacles to that kind of trust, and those obstacles should be avoided. Identifying how Satan tries to undermine that trust can help believers to fully appreciate the gift we have from God in his word, and avoid taking it for granted.

Science and the Bible

God created science, because he created the natural world and created within humanity the desire to understand its mysteries. The word of God accurately interpreted can never oppose reality. Likewise, true science (which is intended to reflect that reality) can never be in opposition to what God has revealed in his word.

However, much of what passes as scientific knowledge today is neither scientific nor knowledge. It is a conspiracy which starts from the unproven presupposition that all that is can be explained without God, and then devises unprovable theories of origin, and defends them without the slightest glance toward all the evidence for intelligent design. It persecutes free thinkers who dare to challenge those basic assumptions which drive it, forbidding them access to jobs in the field of scientific research or education.

Much of the blame for this state of intellectual blindness is put on Charles Darwin, and his theory of evolution. Darwin posited that all species originated from the same source, and came to that conclusion from the similarities he observed among the species. In his day, Darwin was effectively refuted by the scientific community, which answered his presupposition by pointing out that similarities among the species is to be expected if all of the species had the same Creator, who used the same processes and building blocks to create them.

The real cause for the conspiracy against intelligent design is not a proven scientific theory, but an unprovable religious philosophy: secularism. It was the secularists who attached themselves to Darwin’s theory, and applied it in a number of different areas of scientific pursuit.1 Secularism has taken the scientific and education fields hostage for its own purpose. That purpose is to produce a social atmosphere void of religious norms.

One of the religious norms that secularism has fought strenuously is that of biblical authority. By removing the biblical concept of creation as an acceptable concept of origins, the secularists have effectively removed the idea of God from its connection with true knowledge itself. Theistic theories are branded as taboo, and those who espouse them are ostracized.

Many individual scientists and educators, however, have come to Christ, because they realize that God’s word is true, and have put their faith in what that word says about Jesus’ death, and God’s promises. This has led to a somewhat dualistic existence, since the rules of their religious life are at odds with the rules imposed upon them by their “secular” lives.

This situation is truly intolerable, and it cannot last forever. The scientific and education communities must eventually own up to their being held hostage by an unproven religious philosophy. Until that happens, at least the religious community must hold fast to fiat creationism. The so-called theistic evolution perspective is a compromise that does no good for the Church, and only encourages secularists, whose goal is not the truth, but a social structure free from religion.

The Bible is a gift given to humanity in order that we accomplish God’s will for us. Attempts (like those made by the secularists) to lessen the importance of the Bible should be fought militantly. Unfortunately, the evangelical church in the 21st century has failed to engage in this battle. One of the results of this failure is that our view of the Bible has suffered. Although we call the Bible God’s word, and insist that it is reliable, what the world hears is “the Bible is true except for when it is not.”

Supernatural Experience and the Bible

Another major attack on the believer’s view of the Bible has been an elevation of the role of supernatural experience. Since God, angels and demons exist, there will always be supernatural experiences, some of them orchestrated from heaven, others from a different place. Historically, these supernatural experiences have increased our appreciation of the Bible, because they affirm that the same God who spoke through such experiences in the past (as recorded in the Bible) is still working today. Unfortunately, Satan loves to abuse a good thing. He has encouraged believers to put too much trust in their own experiences, rather than to rely on God’s truth. This is not new. The Israelite society that conquered the promised land under Joshua faced a similar situation. After successfully possessing the land under the power of God, they soon fell under the influence of those nations that they had defeated. Part of the reason for that is that they intermingled with those very cultures that God had sent them to displace. They became enamored with those people, and listened to their stories of religious encounters at the Asherah poles and oak trees. Soon they began experimenting with the rituals themselves, and had similar experiences. It was not long before the law of Moses was a dim memory, and the real religious life of the Israelites was of pagan origin. The result, as the book of Judges demonstrates, is that the Israelites were soon controlled by the very cultures which God had commanded them to displace.

Whenever a society places more emphasis on supernatural experience than God’s revelation in his word, it opens itself up to demonic deception. Satan and his demons look for ways to distract people from the truth of the Bible. They use dreams and visions, and pretend to be lost loved ones with messages from “the other side.” The demons can be very convincing in this role, since they would have witnessed these loved ones while they were still alive. Satan does not have the power to awaken anyone from the dead, but he does have the ability to deceive those who believe it is possible.

A biblical story which shows this strategy the devil uses is that of Saul and the medium at En-dor. This story is found in 1 Samuel 28:7-20 (ESV).

7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.” 8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” 9 The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. 15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.” 20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.

This passage is not intended to justify what Saul did. It was obvious that Saul was acting outside the boundaries of God’s law, since he himself had commanded that all such mediums be destroyed (9). But God appears to have used his desperate attempt to rescue himself as another means of communicating with him, to announce his judgment for disobedience, and confirm that the kingdom belonged to David. Neither is this story intended to legitimize the function of the medium. Actually, the medium herself expressed surprise when she discovered that she could see Samuel (12). She expected a demon pretending to be Samuel. Whether this was actually Samuel resurrected (awakened) by God for this occasion, or whether it was merely a vision that God gave, this whole story reaffirms the principle that God’s people are to look to Him and his word for guidance, not to supernatural experiences.

Ecclesiastical Authority and the Bible

If Satan cannot dilute our trust in God’s words with science or the supernatural, he will attempt to replace those words with our traditional understanding of them. Because the Church has theologized in the past, she has developed theological traditions. These are not wrong in themselves – in fact, they prove quite helpful. The problem is when “tradition in effect becomes a lens through which the written word is interpreted. Tradition therefore stands as the highest of all authorities, because it renders the only authoritative interpretation of the sacred writings.”2 When these theological traditions are defended by ecclesiastical authorities, then the authorities themselves wind up replacing God’s word.

Jesus encountered this problem with the Pharisees and scribes. He accused them of leaving God’s word and holding to the traditions of men (Mark 7:8). When God gave his word to the Israelites through Moses, he specifically commanded them not to add to it or take away from it (Deut. 12:32). Success and prosperity depended upon them knowing and obeying God’s written revelation, and not turning from it to the right hand or the left (Joshua 1:7-8).

However, it is so easy for those who are part of an ecclesiastical tradition to place undue authority on that tradition. Like Paul, who commended his churches for maintaining the traditions that he had set up for them (1 Cor. 11:12; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6), we are right to resist change unless it is clearly called for by scripture. But our commitment to sola scriptura requires that we constantly compare our traditional understandings with God’s word, and it must be the standard by which we judge them.

Being Christian About the Bible

To possess and maintain a proper view of the Bible, believers should look to Jesus himself for an example. Our bibliology (view of God’s revelation through scripture) must be “…bound up with our loyalty to Jesus Christ. If He is our Teacher and our Lord, we have no liberty to disagree with him. Our view of Scripture must be His.”3 The following texts demonstrate that Jesus viewed the Bible as a divinely inspired text which could be relied upon because it was free from error and falsehood:

Matthew 22:29 NET “Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God.”

Luke 22:37 NET “For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me is being fulfilled.”

Matthew 4:4 NET “But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

John 10:35 NET “…and the scripture cannot be broken”

Nor did Jesus limit his view of the reliability of the Bible. In fact, it was the Old Testament scripture to which he was referring when he made his statements defending the Bible’s veracity.

Those who look to the Bible itself (like Jesus did) for their view of the Bible will find that “every word of God proves true” (Prov. 30:5). They will find that the biblical authors unashamedly proclaimed that what they were saying and writing were God’s words and as reliable as He is. The phrase “Thus says the LORD,” for example, appears in the Old Testament 416 times. The phrase “…declares the LORD” appears 361 times. Therefore “…any attempt to find in the Bible some encouragement to restrict the areas in which Scripture is reliable and truthful will surely fail, for the implication of literally hundreds of verses is that God’s word is reliable in every way.”4

It is to this word from God, this Scripture, this Bible, that we turn to discover the answers to the questions we have today about God, humanity, sin, Christ, salvation, the Church, and the future. We will not ignore the voices of science, supernatural experience, or ecclesiastical tradition. But in the final analysis it will be in God’s message itself that we place our trust. It is that message that we will proclaim to this and the next generation.


1 Once the theory of evolution suggested that long periods of time were all that was necessary to explain the biological universe, similar presuppositions were brought to bear on geological and astronomical questions. These three fields of scientific endeavor have ever since served as the major evidence for evolution. For some arguments against secularist presuppositions, see;;

2 John MacArthur, “The Sufficiency of the Written Word.” in Don Kistler, ed., Sola Scriptura. (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), 152.

3 John R. W. Stott, You Can Trust The Bible. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1982), 38.

4 Wayne A. Grudem, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation.” in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Scripture and Truth. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 58.

ACST 11. The Light

The psalmist calls God’s word “a lamp to (his) feet and a light to (his) path” (Psalm 119:105), affirming that what God says helps him walk as God desires. Today’s culture tends to treat the Bible as a dark and confusing path, rather than a light. But God’s word is intended to be understood in the contexts and times in which it was originally given, and with a minimum of effort, and we can understand and apply it to our modern contexts as well.

Traditionally, this doctrine is known as the clarity or perspecuity of scripture. It affirms that “Scripture can be and is read with profit,with appreciation and with transformative results.”1 Some might argue that since the Bible is God’s word, one requires divine help to read it. But the evangelical doctrine of clarity assumes that the divine help is built into the inspired text itself.

In fact, one reason that people often have problems understanding scripture is that in addition to being God’s word, it is also written with human words.2 Hermeneutics, the science of biblical interpretation, exists to help human beings understand the meaning intended by the original human authors of scripture. God did not bypass the minds of those human authors. His word is written in their words. The more we understand them, the more we will understand him.

When biblical texts are treated in accordance with the rules of literature established for the genres they reflect, their meaning is obvious. Willful ignorance of the teachings of God’s word cannot be excused by claiming that the Bible is too confusing.

The Genealogies

Many stumble over the lists they find in the Bible, and fail to see how such lists – e.g. the genealogies – can be theologically appropriate, or devotionally uplifting. But the existence of these numerous lists is the very thing that made these texts come alive to the original recipients, since they realized that what God did effected the lives of people like them, and – in many cases – their own families.

The Archaisms

Some object that the scriptures are outdated, and thus obsolete. Every writing is a product of its own time, and the scriptures are no exception. But the really good writings are so good that they are worth the time and effort it takes to overcome the time barrier. Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies, for example, are still performed today, and many versions of his works are available. People still study his writings, and some do it exclusively. Often a Shakespeare book will be published with professional annotations. The reason is that without those explanatory notes, many of the sayings, although written in English, would be incomprehensible. Time has so changed how things are communicated in English that such extra study is necessary if we are to understand what Shakespeare meant. But no one blames Shakespeare for that. It is not that he wrote without clarity. Time has made his clear words unclear. It only takes a little effort and study to appreciate the genius of Shakespeare. The same is true of God’s word.

In fact, it takes less time and effort to understand the Bible than it does Shakespeare for several reasons:

1) Scholars continue to research the background of Bible texts, revealing insights that help the average Christian understand what the original authors of scripture intended to say. This is actually one of the purposes for commentaries and Bible textbooks.

2) New translations of the Bible help to clarify texts, words and phrases that were difficult to understand in the past. This is why Christians should not get hung up defending just one translation of the scriptures, as if God has only endorsed one. That is just not true. The King James Bible may have been the best translation available to explain God’s word to English speakers in 1611, but a lot has changed in the last 400 years. Biblical scholarship has changed, and not all of it has been modernist. The English language has changed drastically. In fact, if you ever see one of those King James Bibles written exactly as they were written in 1611, you will notice how hard it is to read it.

I recommend that every serious student of the word of God possess two English language Bibles: one should be more word-for-word literal, and the other should seek dynamic equivalence. Just in the short time that I have been preaching and teaching the Bible, the actual versions that I recommend have changed several times. Currently I recommend the ESV (English Standard Version) for its literal rendering of the original words, and the NLT (New Living Translation) as an example of dynamic equivalence.3

3) Theologians continue to posit theories and doctrines that are aimed at showing the meaning of the Bible as a whole, or the particular emphasis of a biblical author. As more work is done in this area, the average Christian is more able to explain what scripture means. As long as we continue to draw a distinction between those doctrinal systems and the Bible itself, this process can only magnify the clarity of scripture.

4) Unlike Shakespeare, the Bible is best understood when its message is applied. “Application focuses the truth of God’s Word to specific, life-related situations. It helps people understand what to do or to use what they have learned.” 4 Those who commit themselves to living the Bible find its message less complex. As believers find themselves walking in the footsteps of the biblical characters, they understand why God blessed them when he blessed them, and why he withheld blessing or brought judgment when they rebelled or sinned.

5) The truly born-again Christian has the help of a resident Bible expert: The Holy Spirit, who inspired the Bible, and thus can explain its message best. The Holy Spirit accompanies the word, and brings about understanding and conviction (1 Cor. 2:11; 1 Thess. 1:5; 1 John 2:27). He encourages listeners not to harden their hearts when they hear God’s voice (Heb. 3:7-8). He also appears to particularly accompany the preaching of the word, so that it has special power (1 Peter 1:12).

The Genres

One of the characteristics of scripture that leads many to label it as confusing is that it is a collection of many different types of writing, not just one. A genre is a type of writing. Poetry is one genre, and history is another. One would never approach a book of poetry expecting to get the kind of information she can get from a history book. But the untrained reader often approaches an obscure text of scripture expecting to be “blessed” the same way she was blessed when reading John 3. It doesn’t work that way.

The Tanach

The Hebrew compilers of scripture recognized this fact, and grouped together books of similar genres. This simple grouping consisted of the Torah, the Neviim, and the Chtuvim. The whole Hebrew Bible is thus often called the Tanach, from the first letters of those three genres.

The Tanach
Torah = “Law” (Instruction from Moses about who the Israelites are, and what God has planned for them.) Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Neviim = “Prophets” (A look at the Israelites from God’s viewpoint.)Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Twelve Minor Prophets.

Chtuvim = “Writings” (A look at the Israelites from their own viewpoint.)
Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles.

The Torah

Both the Neviim and the Chtuvim were (in a sense) commentaries on the Torah, since the Torah served as the basis for the Israelite identity, as it carved out the pattern for the nation in relationship with its LORD. The Torah established the parameters of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic ceremonial regulations were important because they accentuated this covenant relationship, and tied together the Israelites as a separate people, intended to be uniquely God’s.

The Neviim

The Neviim held the Israelites accountable for living up to the demands of that covenant. That was why the prophets often condemned their own people. God was speaking through them, calling them to task for their failure to be who he wanted them to be, encouraging them to live up to who they were. Reading the prophets requires keeping that in mind, and continually tracing the prophetic pronouncements back to the original covenant stipulations they reflect. While prophetic texts contain many predictive elements, they are best read not as merely history written beforehand, but as historical reflections on Gods plan as revealed in the Torah. This explains why the Hebrews considered some historical books (e.g. Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings) as prophets.


The writings category is somewhat surprising as well. It contains poetry and wisdom literature, but also some historical books. The biggest surprise is that the Hebrews categorized the book of Daniel as a writing instead of a prophet. The best way to see this category is as sort-of the opposite of the prophets. While the prophets showcase God’s people from God’s viewpoint, the writings view life from the perspective of God’s people themselves. Perhaps Daniel is included in this category as an example of how godly wisdom works its way out in the life of a leader in exile. Of course there are prophecies in Daniel, just as there are examples of poetry and wisdom in the Torah and Neviim.

The New Testament

The Gospels: Instruction from Jesus about who Christians are, and what God has planned for them.Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

Revelation: A look at Christians from God’s viewpoint.Revelation

Acts & The Epistles:A look at Christians from their own viewpoint.
Acts, The Pauline Epistles, The General Epistles

The New Testament contained books which followed a very similar pattern. The new covenant was explained by Jesus to his disciples. Revelation is a means of encouragement from God as Christians seek to live their lives in obedience to that covenant while encountering opposition from the Dragon (Satan), the Beast (political powers), and the False Prophet (religious deception). Acts and the Epistles swing back in the other direction as the new Church seeks to define and defend itself as the new covenant people of God.

New Translations and Versions

When it became necessary to translate the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Hebrew Bible, and add the new inspired writings of the New Testament, new versions came about which did not follow the Jewish tripartite categories. Eventually a new standard classification system developed which divided the OT into law, history, poetry and prophecy, and the NT into Gospels, history (Acts), epistles, and prophecy (Revelation). No classification system is inspired, and this new one had its flaws, but it was an honest attempt at classifying texts according to their genre. The problem was that each biblical book may contain examples of several genres.

Genre Classification Today

The approach today is to treat smaller segments of text within the biblical books, and seek to understand their meaning based on the type of writing they reflect. Thus any text might be classified as apocalypse, epistle, genealogy, gospel, law, narrative, poetry, prophecy, proverb, psalm, or wisdom and with each classification comes a different set of rules for interpreting the text.5

The Problem with Lights

Like every other electrical device, a flashlight has to be turned on to work. The Bible is a light to illumine dark paths, but it will do no one any good if it stays on the shelf. Just claiming that you have a flashlight is not going to be very helpful. You have to pull it out and turn it on. Millions have found encouragement and solace in the Bible, but each has had to put their trust in it. Those of us who have had the privilege to study the Bible for many years can testify that it never fails to light the path for those who dare to use it.

1 James Callahan, The Clarity of Scripture. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 9. See also Gregg Allison, The Protestant Doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture. (Deerfield, IL: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1995), 516-517. Allison provides and defends the following definition: “Perspicuity is a property of Scripture as a whole and of each portion of Scripture whereby it is comprehensible to all believers who possess the normal acquired ability to understand oral communication and/or written discourse, regardless of their gender, age, education, language, or cultural background. However, the level of people’s comprehension of perspicuous Scripture is appropriate to and usually varies proportionately with various factors, including, but not limited to, spiritual maturity. In addition, the doctrine of perspicuity is always affirmed in the context of a believing community, a context which assumes the assistance of others in attaining a more precise understanding of Scripture, and perspicuity requires a dependence on the Holy Spirit for Scripture to be grasped, and calls for a responsive obedience to what is understood. Moreover, perspicuity includes the comprehensibility of the way of salvation to unbelievers who are aided by the Holy Spirit, and it does not exclude some type of cognition of Scripture in general by unbelievers.”

2. Moises Silva, “Who Needs Hermeneutics Anyway.” in Walter C. Kaiser and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 16.

3. Serious Bible students can now have access to dozens of versions, and the more, the better. Bible software programs have made this possible for many, as well as Bible study websites on the Internet.

4. D. Veerman, How to Apply the Bible, 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Tyndale,1993), 15.

5. See