Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Walt Russell explains how to read the Bible effectively

Below I go over two posts written by Biola University New Testament professor Walt Russell. The material below is almost the same talk he gave for the Stand to Reason Masters Series in Christian Thought. His book on the subject of interpreting the Bible is called “Playing With Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul“. I highly recommend that you read the book, so you know how to read the Bible effectively. But these four articles will teach you most of what you need to know if you don’t want to buy the book.

Here is part one which talks about how postmodern relativism is at odds with discovering the original intent of an author.

Excerpt:

Twenty-four year-old “Janet” (not her real name) was angry at my emphasis on seeking to discover authors’ intentions when we read their texts. She was an evangelical Christian and a second grade teacher in a public school. She prided herself in helping her 20 students learn to love literature. She would read them a story as they gathered around her, and then ask each child, “What does the story mean to you?” She prodded them to come up with their own unique meanings. With such strong encouragement, the class of 20 would eventually have 20 different meanings for the one story. Janet sensed that I was a naysayer about such “love of literature.” Pouring a little emotional gasoline on the fire, I said, “Janet, you’re certainly doing your part to insure that these 7 year-olds will never recover from a radically relativistic view of meaning!” Now I had her full attention.

Here is part two which talks about the importance of knowing the genre of a text before you try to interpret it.

Excerpt:

“INDIANS SLAY TIGERS!” — the newspaper headline virtually screams out at you. The thought of something being slain is repulsive. You’re gripped by a mental image of southern India’s Bengal tiger. You imagine its beautiful face, its stripes and piercing eyes. Then your image is shattered by the sudden blast of a high-powered rifle. You see the exquisite creature writhe in pain, fall gracelessly in its tracks and die. Having read no further than the headline, you feel sick, as if you’ve witnessed something tragic.

But should you feel this way? The slaughter of an endangered species — especially one as magnificent as the Bengal tiger — is horrifying, no doubt. But suppose you failed to notice that the headline “INDIANS SLAY TIGERS!” appeared in the sports page of the morning paper. Clearly enough, it now refers to different Indians, different Tigers and a different manner of slaying than you originally thought. And is it really that tragic that the Cleveland Indians badly beat the Detroit Tigers in a major league baseball game last night? Not unless you’re a long-suffering Detroit Tigers’ baseball fan. But how do you now know that the headline is about baseball and not tiger-slaying in India? You look at the words “INDIANS SLAY TIGERS” and you know exactly what each word means. When you combine these words, how can they not mean exactly what you first thought they did — that Indians slay tigers? Answer: because their meanings are communicated (as the meanings of all words are) through genres!

Here is part three which talks about the importance of reading the context of a verse before you try to interpret it.

Excerpt:

“Never Read a Bible Verse!” That’s the title of a little booklet my friend and Christian radio personality, Gregory Koukl, has written to help people read the Bible well. What great advice. “That’s right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph — at least.” But the current is flowing the other way in our popular sound-bite culture. Not to be left out (or left behind!), the Church has its own version of sound-bite culture: verse-bite culture. In verse-bite culture we take a sentence or sentence-fragment from a biblical paragraph, memorize it out of context, write it on a little card, put it on a billboard, a plaque, a rock, etc. Somehow we think that just because this little chunk of Scripture has a verse number in front of it, it was meant to be a free-standing unit of thought. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Apart from the fact that chapter and verse divisions weren’t added to the New Testament text until 1560 — long after the New Testament’s inspired authorship — there is a more important reason for never reading just a Bible verse, and instead reading at least the paragraph that contains it.

Here is part four which talks about the importance of applying the words of the Bible to your life.

One verse that is often misinterpreted is missing from the articles, but present in the STR lecture. It’s Philippians 1:6 that says “6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Russell says in the lecture that this promise is specifically intended for the church in Philippi, to whom Paul is writing, not necessarily to all Christians. He is giving them a promise just after directly referring to their good work in supporting him in his ministry. Some verses are just not meant for us, and the context reveals it.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Michael Licona on ancient biography and harmonizing Bible contradictions

Brian Auten posted the latest lecture by Dr. Michael Licona at Apologetics 315. Brian’s site has the MP3 file (48 minutes, 44.5 Mb). I can make a smaller version for anyone who wants it.

Here is the video and my point-form summary.

The topic:

  • Contradictions do not affect the minimum facts case for the resurrection, although they are troubling
  • Most people respond to alleged contradictions by trying to harmonize them
  • Most verses that appear contradictory can be harmonized successfully
  • Some verses cannot be harmonized successfully without really damaging the texts
  • Christians should not gloss over these few real contradictions nor pretend that they don’t exist
  • How should we respond to the verses that cannot easily be harmonized?

Genre considerations:

  • The genre of the gospels is “ancient biography”
  • Ancient biography is not the same genre as modern biography
Insignificant differences

1. Contradictions vs. Differences:

  • In ancient biography, if a source mentions one person’s name, it does not mean that other people were not present
  • Example: one woman versus two women at the tomb, an account may only mention one woman when there are two
  • That is a difference, not a contradiction

2. Time compression:

  • in ancient biography, writers are allowed to leave out events in order to compress time
  • Some gospels omit details (guy version) and other gospels give more details (girl version)
  • For example, the cursing of the fig tree in Mark and Matthew

3. Narrative flow:

  • the ancient biographer’s style was to link together events into a narrative, even if they are slightly out of order
  • This means that the ordering matters less to ancient biographers than forming a coherent narrative
  • For example, the prediction by Jesus that Peter would deny him

Significant differences:

1. Biography allows for portrait painting

  • When people paint portraits, they sometimes use illustrations or imagery to convey the person’s character
  • For example, Shakespeare adds things to his history of Julius Caesar to make it more dramatic
  • For example, the genealogies in Matthew, the portrait of Jesus in the garden in John

2. Even if there are contradictions in an account it doesn’t mean that the basic facts are undermined

  • For example, even if we don’t know for sure if one thief or two thieves cursed Jesus, no one doubts that he was crucified
  • The basic details of the story are not affected by apparent contradictions

Then there is a period of Questions and Answers.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Walt Russell explains how to read the Bible effectively

Below I go over two potss written by Biola University New Testament professor Walt Russell. The material below is almost the same talk he gave for the Stand to Reason Masters Series in Christian Thought. His book on the subject of interpreting the Bible is called “Playing With Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul“. I highly recommend that you read the book, so you know how to read the Bible effectively. But these four articles will teach you most of what you need to know if you don’t want to buy the book.

Here is part one which talks about how postmodern relativism is at odds with discovering the original intent of an author.

Excerpt:

Twenty-four year-old “Janet” (not her real name) was angry at my emphasis on seeking to discover authors’ intentions when we read their texts. She was an evangelical Christian and a second grade teacher in a public school. She prided herself in helping her 20 students learn to love literature. She would read them a story as they gathered around her, and then ask each child, “What does the story mean to you?” She prodded them to come up with their own unique meanings. With such strong encouragement, the class of 20 would eventually have 20 different meanings for the one story. Janet sensed that I was a naysayer about such “love of literature.” Pouring a little emotional gasoline on the fire, I said, “Janet, you’re certainly doing your part to insure that these 7 year-olds will never recover from a radically relativistic view of meaning!” Now I had her full attention.

Here is part two which talks about the importance of knowing the genre of a text before you try to interpret it.

Excerpt:

“INDIANS SLAY TIGERS!” — the newspaper headline virtually screams out at you. The thought of something being slain is repulsive. You’re gripped by a mental image of southern India’s Bengal tiger. You imagine its beautiful face, its stripes and piercing eyes. Then your image is shattered by the sudden blast of a high-powered rifle. You see the exquisite creature writhe in pain, fall gracelessly in its tracks and die. Having read no further than the headline, you feel sick, as if you’ve witnessed something tragic.

But should you feel this way? The slaughter of an endangered species — especially one as magnificent as the Bengal tiger — is horrifying, no doubt. But suppose you failed to notice that the headline “INDIANS SLAY TIGERS!” appeared in the sports page of the morning paper. Clearly enough, it now refers to different Indians, different Tigers and a different manner of slaying than you originally thought. And is it really that tragic that the Cleveland Indians badly beat the Detroit Tigers in a major league baseball game last night? Not unless you’re a long-suffering Detroit Tigers’ baseball fan. But how do you now know that the headline is about baseball and not tiger-slaying in India? You look at the words “INDIANS SLAY TIGERS” and you know exactly what each word means. When you combine these words, how can they not mean exactly what you first thought they did — that Indians slay tigers? Answer: because their meanings are communicated (as the meanings of all words are) through genres!

Here is part three which talks about the importance of reading the context of a verse before you try to interpret it.

Excerpt:

“Never Read a Bible Verse!” That’s the title of a little booklet my friend and Christian radio personality, Gregory Koukl, has written to help people read the Bible well. What great advice. “That’s right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph — at least.” But the current is flowing the other way in our popular sound-bite culture. Not to be left out (or left behind!), the Church has its own version of sound-bite culture: verse-bite culture. In verse-bite culture we take a sentence or sentence-fragment from a biblical paragraph, memorize it out of context, write it on a little card, put it on a billboard, a plaque, a rock, etc. Somehow we think that just because this little chunk of Scripture has a verse number in front of it, it was meant to be a free-standing unit of thought. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Apart from the fact that chapter and verse divisions weren’t added to the New Testament text until 1560 — long after the New Testament’s inspired authorship — there is a more important reason for never reading just a Bible verse, and instead reading at least the paragraph that contains it.

Here is part four which talks about the importance of applying the words of the Bible to your life.

One verse that is often misinterpreted is missing from the articles, but present in the STR lecture. It’s Philippians 1:6 that says “6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Russell says in the lecture that this promise is specifically intended for the church in Philippi, to whom Paul is writing, not necessarily to all Christians. He is giving them a promise just after directly referring to their good work in supporting him in his ministry. Some verses are just not meant for us, and the context reveals it.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Michael Licona on ancient biography and harmonizing Bible contradictions

Brian Auten posted the latest lecture by Dr. Michael Licona at Apologetics 315. Brian’s site has the MP3 file (48 minutes, 44.5 Mb). I can make a smaller version for anyone who wants it.

Here is the video and my point-form summary.

The topic:

  • Contradictions do not affect the minimum facts case for the resurrection, although they are troubling
  • Most people respond to alleged contradictions by trying to harmonize them
  • Most verses that appear contradictory can be harmonized successfully
  • Some verses cannot be harmonized successfully without really damaging the texts
  • Christians should not gloss over these few real contradictions nor pretend that they don’t exist
  • How should we respond to the verses that cannot easily be harmonized?

Genre considerations:

  • The genre of the gospels is “ancient biography”
  • Ancient biography is not the same genre as modern biography
Insignificant differences

1. Contradictions vs. Differences:

  • In ancient biography, if a source mentions one person’s name, it does not mean that other people were not present
  • Example: one woman versus two women at the tomb, an account may only mention one woman when there are two
  • That is a difference, not a contradiction

2. Time compression:

  • in ancient biography, writers are allowed to leave out events in order to compress time
  • Some gospels omit details (guy version) and other gospels give more details (girl version)
  • For example, the cursing of the fig tree in Mark and Matthew

3. Narrative flow:

  • the ancient biographer’s style was to link together events into a narrative, even if they are slightly out of order
  • This means that the ordering matters less to ancient biographers than forming a coherent narrative
  • For example, the prediction by Jesus that Peter would deny him

Significant differences:

1. Biography allows for portrait painting

  • When people paint portraits, they sometimes use illustrations or imagery to convey the person’s character
  • For example, Shakespeare adds things to his history of Julius Caesar to make it more dramatic
  • For example, the genealogies in Matthew, the portrait of Jesus in the garden in John

2. Even if there are contradictions in an account it doesn’t mean that the basic facts are undermined

  • For example, even if we don’t know for sure if one thief or two thieves cursed Jesus, no one doubts that he was crucified
  • The basic details of the story are not affected by apparent contradictions

Then there is a period of Questions and Answers.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Historian Michael F. Bird assesses the historicity of Matthew 27

Australian historian Michael F. Bird responds to the Geisler/Licona dust-up on the Euangelion blog, a blog that “exists for the purpose of promoting the gospel by commenting on issues relating to the Christian Scriptures and evangelical faith in contexts of the academy and the church”. (H/T Near Emmaus)

Excerpt:

But people need to evaluate the debate for themselves. Here is the text in question, Matt. 27.51-53:

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split
52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
(NIV)

What is the fuss? Well, Lincona calls Matt. 27.52-53 a “strange little text” (p. 548). Many strange phenomena like earthquakes and cosmic portents were said to accompany the death of great leaders in ancient sources. Licona writes: “[I]t seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as ’special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible. There is further support for this interpretation. If the tombs were opened and the saints being raised upon Jesus’ death was not strange enough, Matthew adds that they did not come out of their tombs until after Jesus’ resurrection. What were they doing between Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning? Were they standing in the now open doorways of their tombs and waiting?” Lincona then regards “this difficult text in Mathew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that the impending judgment awaited Israel” (pp. 552-53).

In my chapter about the resurrection in How Did Christianity Begin: A Believer and Non-Believer Examine the Evidence, co-authored with James Crossley (London: SPCK, 2008/ Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), I said in a footnote about Matt. 27.51-53: “My understanding of this text is that it is not historical and it blends the present and the future together so that Matthew provides a cameo of the future resurrection at the point of Jesus’ death to underscore its living-giving power” (p. 69, n. 30). That was my off-the-cuff thought, but I stand by it, since Matt. 27.51-53 is a strange story that is reported nowhere else in Christian or non-Christian literature.

I don’t see any reason why Licona’s or my interpretation of Matt. 27.51-53 does not conform to a view of scripture as infallible, inspired, and authoritative. I think it explains the text and it explains why you don’t hear Josephus or Tacitus talking about the day that many Jewish holy men came back to life.

But I see further problems with Licona’s critics. If I can give another example, is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16.19-31 a “true” story or a “parable”? Now the word parable does not occur! What if I said that it was a true, literal, and factual story about the afterlife in Hades and everyone who called it a parable about riches and possessions was using ancient genres to dehistoricize the Bible and deny the existence of the intermediate state? Does believing that Luke 16 is a parable violate inerrancy? To employ the logic of Geisler and Mohler, I’d have to say, “yes”. But is it hermeneutically responsible to rule certain literary genres out of bounds based on theological prolegomena, rather than discern them based on the phenomenon of the text and its relationship to extant biblical and non-biblical literature? Moreover, Geisler and Mohler are systematicians, not New Testament scholars, and most of those who came to Licona’s aid in his open letter are New Testament scholars. I think there’s a big lesson to be learned in that!

About Michael F. Bird:

Biography:

Dr. Michael Bird (Ph.D University of Queensland) is Lecturer in Theology and New Testament at Crossway College in Brisbane, Australia. He is the author of several books including Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission (2006), The Saving Righteousness of God (2007), A Bird’s-Eye View of Paul (2008), Colossians and Philemon (2009), Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period (2009), and Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (2009). He attends Acacia Ridge Presbyterian Church where he preaches regularly. He is married to Naomi and has four children.

Michael F. Bird is an evangelical historian, and has debated atheist James Crossley on the Unbelievable show (part 1, part 2). I have the book he mentions, which is a debate with Crossley, but haven’t had a chance to dig into it, yet. I really enjoyed the Bird/Crossley debates though. Sometimes, Unbelievable picks a bad defender of the Christian side, but Bird was solid. If I recall correctly, the Matthew 27 passage came up in that debate, and it came up in Crossley’s debate with William Lane Craig as well.

By the way, the other passage that is disputed a lot in the New Testament is the guard at the tomb in Matthew. I wrote a post about it before, featuring a clip from William Lane Craig. William Lane Craig wrote an essay about the guard at the tomb story. My take on that one is that the guard is historical, although I would not want to defend that tradition as a minimal fact in a debate, because it fails all the tests. However, the genre there is clearly historical, not apocalyptic imagery. I do understand the case against the guard story being an apologetics response to the Jewish accusation that the disciples stole the body.

New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham has debated Crossley as well, and you can find the shows here.

 

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wintery Tweets

Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 3,944,214 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,729 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,729 other followers

%d bloggers like this: