Feed My Sheep: 3 Exhortations for our Pastors

Dear Pastors of Christ’s True Church:

We felt the urgency to write to you and detail some things that we as a congregation and holy assembly of God’s people feel the need to bring to your attention. We know life has been different since the whole COVID thing. We understand “regular” services have been a thing of the past for well over a year, now. And we certainly get that you are constantly under pressure from within and without the congregation, juggling life’s responsibilities and pastoral duties.

But truthfully, we’ve been feeling a little malnourished as of late. To be honest, it’s been going on for sometime, even well before the lockdowns started. We are simply asking you to fulfill the oath which you swore to our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd, to shepherd us until that Day when we will all be with Him. Here are three things we would like to see you begin to include in our time of worship together:


preach the Word

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Norfolk VA

Please let us clarify what exactly we mean when we say, “Preach the Word.” Many pastors feel they can reach their congregations a little easier if they ignore Scripture and talk about relevant issues of today. This always leads to ignoring large parts of the Bible in favor of a more Ted Talk style of sermons. But isn’t Scripture the very God-breathed words given to us? Doesn’t Scripture contain all the answers to the “relevant” issues they are so craving? Yes! It is the very foundation upon which the true Christian lives his life. We are seeing our services turned into an entertainment venue that looks oddly like a rock concert or a Times Square ball drop. We are supposed to be different, holy, set apart; it is our calling. Much of the service seems to be spent in pep talks rather than actual preaching. In short, we would like the Word to be front and center! Here is our plan for making it happen:

  • Be expository. Topical sermons are useful and sometimes necessary. But this should not come at the sacrifice of a verse-by-verse sermon. Exegete the passage and tell us what it means. Explain some of the harder things in it so that we understand. Don’t treat us as if we are dumb because we may not have the same theological training that you received. Be gentle with our lack of understanding and give us the Word. Give it to us until we are full.
  • Be Law/Gospel oriented. It is extremely important that you learn to divide the Scripture properly into its two distinct sections of Law & Gospel. When you confuse and commingle the two, we become confused, especially in our own minds. Many pastors will say something like, “If you believe that Christ has died for your sins and trust in His perfect work, you have the assurance of Eternal life. BUT…”

    When conditional emphasis is placed upon a text that already states a simplistic truth, it is confusing to our souls. Is faith all that is required for salvation? If so, why is there a “but” thrown in there? Many of us are keenly aware of our sin and it terrifies us that God, at any moment could bring down His hand of wrath upon us. Please take extra care to properly give us the Law when the Law is needed. But when the Gospel is clear and present within the passage, preach it without any other conditions.

Incorporate the liturgy

The assembling of the local Body of Christ is the place where we are supposed to be nourished each and every week. It is a place we are to be participants in worship. Unfortunately, it usually consists of a couple of congregational songs, special music, and a sermon by the pastor. We rarely, if ever, truly participate in the service alongside you. The early church participated in the services through the reading of the Scriptures, recitation of pivotal creeds and the giving and receiving of blessings. They were catechized, a fancy way of saying they were taught the elemental doctrines of Scripture through recitation and repetition. In fact, did you know that catechesis in the early Church lasted for three years! This was to ensure that the catechumen would be prepared for the coming persecutions. This is certainly a far cry from the way we receive church members today. We would love for you to begin to teach us our catechisms and creeds.

Lectionary of John’s gospel. No date given

It is also in this liturgy where we may receive the sacraments, Christ’s gifts to us for the forgiveness of sins through baptism and the Eucharist. These means of grace strengthen us from week to week and do two things for us: (1) they are reminders that we need forgiveness of sins daily, and (2) they are real, physical elements that show us Christ’s compassion on His Church and impart to our consciences the assurance of forgiveness of sin. It may sound strange in your ears and there has been debate over the efficacy of these sacraments since the time of the Reformation. Many have taken these to be mere symbols or figurative language to represent something. But those in the early Church certainly took them as literal.


Teach us to study

There is nothing quite like the joy of reading a passage of Scripture and seeing something there we had never noticed! We know this is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in us, guiding us into all truth. And while we understand the Holy Spirit is our teacher, we still would like to understand how we can gain knowledge through study. The only way this can be achieved is for you to begin teaching us the method of feeding ourselves. We certainly do not expect seminary-level classes. We only want to understand the methods of objective Bible study known as Observation, Interpretation and Application.

We know this is asking more work of you, but what is more important than investing in the eternal aspects of the congregation? We desire to understand God’s word better. We want to follow along with you as you preach. This is not only a way for us to be prepared but also a way that we may hold you accountable for what you are teaching. Our souls are more valuable than anything else and we do not wish to be led astray by slick-sounding arguments or doctrine.

Do not take this letter as berating you. It is actually written out of humility and necessity. As the people of God, we desire to follow Him in every holy way, with every ounce of strength, and in all purity until the time as He sees fit to come for us or call us individually into His presence.

Thank you kindly for taking the time to read and consider our petition.

Sincerely,

the Laity.

The Objective Work of Christ Is Your Surety

Struggling with assurance of salvation seems to be a common thing. Like the Israelites in the book of Judges, we sin, experience God’s chastising hand, repent, return to God, and sin once again.

It is a depressing cycle. It is the constant battle of the spirit and the flesh. Through your Christian walk, you have certainly come to realize that truly the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). These emotions are powerful and run deep within our souls. If we let them, they will paralyze us in fear and keep us from serving our God.

What can we do then, to get us through these difficult moments? We turn to the Word of God! Here are three things that we can remeber during these weak moments:

Firstly, remember that God knows our weaknesses

Psalm 103:14 declares, For he knows our frame;  he remembers that we are dust. This is a beautiful Psalm about the goodness and care of God over His people. It begins with the Psalmist praising God for His goodness and benefits, which include:

  • forgiveness of sin (verse 3)
  • redemption (verse 4)
  • earthly gifts (verse 5)

He then moves to the theme of God’s compassion. Verses 6-9 tells us that though God could deal with us according to our sin, He is merciful and instead chooses to show us love and compassion. By the time we reach verses 13 and 14, we get a clear understanding of how David views God: God, like an earthly father, shows compassion on us because of our frailty. He knows and understands our weaknesses. Let this thought be a comfort when you are in doubt because of your sin.

Secondly, remember your baptism

Modern Evangelicalism has duped many into believing that baptism is nothing more than a mere symbol or act of obedience. Scripture proclaims our baptism as so much more. It depicts baptism as our entrance into Christ’s death. In Romans 6, Paul demonstrates that just as we were buried with Christ through baptism, we also will be raised to live a life of righteousness to the glory of God the Father.

Baptism is our “anchor” into Christ’s atoning work. Peter tells us that baptism saves as an appeal to God for a good conscience. We must daily drown the old Adam in our baptism and allow the new Adam to come forth. It is a daily thing. We will fail. We will give in to our flesh. We will sin. But we have the promise of our baptism, that through Christ’s work and resurrection, we are forgiven and washed (Eph 5:26, Titus 3:5, 1Pe 3:21).

For more info on the efficacy of baptism, download the PDF article, New Life Through Baptism from the Lutheran Study Bible.

Lastly, remember Christ’s atoning work

Of the many verses that capture the reason behind the Son’s incarnation into our world, this verse says it the best. It is simplistic yet profound. Lutheran scholar R.H. Lenski said of John 3:16, “The “must,” the compulsion, lies in the wonder of God’s love and purpose. By telling Nicodemus this in such lucid, simple language Jesus sums up the entire gospel in one lovely sentence, so rich in content that, if a man had only these words and nothing of the rest of the Bible, he could by truly apprehending them be saved”. (Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, p.258, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.)

It is indeed one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. It matters not whether you “feel” saved or if you’ve sinned greatly, or you think there is no returning because this time you really blew it. Stop using subjectivity to ascertain your standing before God! Your surety lies in the objective work of Christ alone. It is the promise of forgiveness through His death and resurrection and His word does not change, regardless of your feelings.

Take comfort in this and understand that your assurance rests with Him, not your feelings.

My soul hath naught a reason for despairing/in times of doubt mine eyes will look above/for Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/secures me fast with mercy and with love

The Law revealing, self-merit dare not stand/its accusations doth my conscience sting/But Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/Thy perfect work, my guilty conscience pleads

Salvation wrought, my weary soul rejoices/The Law, with all its power o’er me hath lost/This Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/His love, His blood, hath nailed it to the cross

In desert drought or valley lows descending/even death as its last breath shall groan/My Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/with joy and laude I’ll worship at Thy throne

Be Still–Considering the Context of Psalm 46:10

I was honored to join my brother, Danny, on the Messed Up Church podcast yesterday. We discussed the ever popular Psalm 46:10–Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. The verse is misused by being toted as a verse of a quiet, meditative peace during the midst of life’s chaotic moments. But as you will see, it goes way beyond this interpretation. We will seek to put this verse back in the proper context of its authorial intent.

Below is the PDF that was mentioned in the video and the video of the podcast itself.

Jesus Did Not Die to Fulfill God’s Plan for Your Life

I listen to Christian radio sometimes while I’m driving. I’m not too big a fan of Contemporary Christian Music but I do enjoy some of the worship and praise songs that my local station plays on occasion. Most times, I hear self-absorbed, self-centered music with a few God and Jesus lyrics thrown in for good measure.

Our culture seems to be on an ever-spiraling decline of selfishness and it is no wonder the church has followed suit. With a large majority of churches now catering sermons about improving your life in general, it didn’t take too long for Christian music to pick up the mantle. I’m certainly not accusing all Christian artists of being plagued with the self-help mentality but by and large, a good number of songs reflect the current trend of that culture.

Just on the way home today I heard a song with the lyrics (I’m paraphrasing) that talked about trusting God because what else do you have to lose? You were made for something more.

There is nothing maniacal at all with the concept. But I still have a problem with it. A HUGE problem! The main problem is that the gospel seems to have been reduced to a Savior that died for the sake of fulfilling God’s plan for your life. The majority of songs that I hear reflect this same thing. It is no surprise that many Christians have bought into this lie. I am sorry to inform you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, but Jesus did not die to fulfill God’s wonderful plan for your life. Jesus did not die to heal your broken heart because your boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with you. Jesus did not die to give you a second shot at fulfilling your dreams. Jesus did not die to give you better self-esteem. Jesus did not die so that you could pursue a dream of becoming the next American idol. Scripture gives us many reasons why Jesus did die. Here are a few of them:

  1. Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of God (Isa 53:5, 10, 1John 2:2)
  2. Jesus died to demonstrate the justice of God in punishing sin and imputing righteousness to the undeserving (Rom 3:21-26)
  3. Jesus died to save His own people from their sin (Mt 1:21)
  4. Jesus died to fulfill the Law for sinners because it was impossible for us to meet the demands ourselves (Gal 3:10-14)
  5. Jesus died to show His incomparable love to humanity (Eph 2:1-10)
  6. Jesus died to make His people His workmanship (Eph 2:10)
  7. Jesus died to reconcile sinners to God (Rom 5:10)
  8. Jesus died to present His people as holy and blameless unto the Father (Jude 24-25)

I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. The most important thing to remember is that Jesus died for the glory of God! So the next time you’re sharing the gospel with someone please, please, please, do not tell them that Jesus died so that He could fulfill God’s wonderful plan for their life. Just tell them that Christ died to save sinners. 

I’ll Take Hermeneutics for $1,000, Alex: 5 Bible Study Principles for Interpretation

Bible reading is profitable for the soul. Cracking open your Bible every day is essential and necessary to understand and hear God’s word. But let us not confuse it with Bible study. Study is much different than reading. Studying a passage forces us to slow down and ask questions of the text, whereas reading simply informs us of general things in the text. Over the next several weeks I hope to present some Bible study tips to help you get the most out of your study. Note that I said study–not reading! There are five general principles I believe can aid your study of the word. They will be presented below and over the next several posts will be dealt with in a more comprehensive fashion.

bow to your king, King context

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Context is king,” on more than one occasion. It is absolutely true and vital for both the interpretation and the application of Scripture. In our post dealing with context, we will explore three main areas of context: (1) the immediate context – this is the surrounding verses of the passage you are studying. (2) the book context – this deals with the reason behind the author’s writing of the book. It speaks volumes on interpretation. (3) other author writings – authors had particular phrases, words, and concepts that they used in their writings. Most New Testament authors wrote more than one book and so their language may have spilled over in these other writings. It is important to look at these other writings when determining how certain words are used.

the background information station

Like context, background information is vital for correctly understanding Scripture. As Westerners, we have the habit of reading Scripture through our cultural lenses. This tends to be a great travesty in the area of hermeneutics and yields false interpretations. In our post dealing with background, we will consider the cultural nuances that help us interpret Scripture accurately, particularly in the Gospels and parables.

Discover Diagramming joys

They’re hard, they’re a lot of work, and no one likes to diagram—ever! But diagramming a passage will help you understand the syntax like nobody’s business. When you understand the main subjects and verbs of a clause you will have a better overall understanding of the structure of a passage. And seeing a visual representation takes a step further, especially as you are dealing with multiple sentences. In our post on diagramming, we will examine three different types of visuals that will help understand the syntax of a passage: line diagramming, text flow diagramming, tracing (AKA, arcing, or bracketing).

Original language blues

The Bible was written in three different languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek. The goal, therefore, is to get back to the original authorial intent. What did the author mean when he used this particular word? Why did he choose to use that particular structure? These are questions that good word studies can answer. But be careful not to fall into the pit of word study fallacies. All of this will be discussed in our post on word studies.

structural masonry

Applying the hermeneutical principles can often be a daunting task. As overwhelming as it can seem, there are rules, or a structure, if you will, that guide these principles. When the proper foundation is laid the rest of the rules are a bit easier to manage. In our microwave-instant generation, we have tendencies to skip straight to the results without actually preparing the ingredients. Imagine a construction company attempting to build a skyscraper without a blueprint! It would all be guesswork and disaster would certainly follow. Interpreting God’s word is a much more serious thing and skipping the instructions results in spiritual disaster. For more on bad hermeneutical principles, see my earlier post on ways you may be interpreting Scripture wrong. In the final post, we will see how this structure works and how each of the principles is built upon each other.

Bible study is work. No great Bible teacher got to be great or understand the things he understands without first putting in the work. As we embark on this journey together it will be important to keep in mind that the methods presented are not exhaustive. They are simply there to get you started and hopefully continue to spur you more and more towards deeper study.

Considering Context Podcast

Considering Context is already a written segment of this site. However, I wanted to do a podcast as not everyone would be able to sit and read for a long period of time. The podcast should not last more than fifteen minutes or so, with some hitting the half-hour mark if technical and structural considerations of the text have to be discussed. Below is the first very first episode. Enjoy!

The Messed Up Church Podcast

The Messed Up Church is a group of independent contributors who focus on some of the zany, whacky, ridiculous things going on in the mainstream Evangelical church. As of late, they began exploring the podcast arena. This episode is an interview with Robert M. Bowman, Jr., author of The Word of Faith Controversy. Take s listen to the podcast and jump over to the MUC site and relish in the resources that will help you avoid false teachers like COVID!

Stop That! 5 Ways You May Be Misinterpreting Scripture

The Bible contains many precious promises of God to the believer. They are and should be a great source of comfort to us. Promises of God’s presence with His people, His enduring strength in our weaknesses, and mostly, His covenant with His people through the perfect work of His Son, Jesus, are causes of rejoicing and celebration, and rightly so.

Problems arise, however, when we begin to misinterpret or misapply these promises. Do not fret. We all do it. We are all guilty of making these promises more than they were intended to be. The important thing is to recognize what we are doing wrong and readjusting so that we interpret and apply Scripture correctly. Here are five ways we may be misinterpreting Scripture.

it’s me! (allegorizing yourself into scripture)

Allegory is a useful way to teach theological truths. What else are Jesus’ parables but allegorical stories that demonstrate their spiritual meanings? The parable of the soils teaches us the condition of the human heart in response to the gospel. The prodigal son shows us God’s acceptance of a repentant sinner and a self-righteous person’s indignant attitude of the repentant person. And one of my favorite allegorical stories in the Bible is found in Judges 9:7-21. After Gideon’s death, his son, Abimeliech became the self-appointed king and murdered all of his brothers, save one. This youngest son, Jotham, confronted him and told him an allegorical tale that would be Abimilech’s downfall.

Allegory is not a problem in and of itself. Problems arise when we attempt to take a passage of Scripture, usually historical or narrative, and place ourselves as one of the main characters in the story. Perhaps the most famous type of this fallacy is that of David and Goliath. The common Evangelical pastor interprets this to mean that God will help you defeat your “giants” and that with His help you can overcome anything. Marshmallowy mush like this has caused many a Christian to wrongly interpret the story of David and Goliath and claim a promise of God not found in the narrative. How do we avoid such fallacies? Here are three simple rules on how not to misinterpret allegory.

  1. True allegory will be presented as such. Therefore, you will not find allegory in historical and narrative passages unless it is stated as allegory. Parables, hyperboles, Apocalyptic literature, and the like are introduced by specific phrases and keywords such as, “there was a man…”, “he told them a parable…”, “it was like…”, etc.
  2. Allegory is full of imagery. The passage in Judges, for example, depicts the enemies of Jotham as certain types of trees while the main character, Abimilech, is depicted as an olive tree. Since olive trees were viewed as good and safe, the imagery is useful and appropriate for the occasion. If the passage you are reading does not contain these types of elements, it is not an allegory. Don’t interpret them as such or place yourself as one of the characters. Narrative is written to inform us of something past and usually contains an over-bearing theme for the benefit of the reader. Hence, the entire book of Judges warns us of apostasy and the continual wavering between serving the Living God or dead idols.
  3. Allegory will always be tied to the lesson that the author is presenting. In other words, the author has a point to make and launches into a story that represents this. Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-18 exemplifies this type of allegory where the Pharisees represent the tenants, the prophets of old represent the king’s messengers, and Jesus represents the heir. The point of this allegory is that God has a vineyard, Israel, and expects fruit. He has placed the religious leaders over the people to care for them. They failed and so He sent prophets they ignored. The final person is the heir, Jesus. They will also reject Him and therefore be kicked out of the Kingdom of God. If your allegory is not indicative of the lesson the author is trying to make then it is not an allegory.

stone skipping in the pond (skipping straight to the application)

One of the greatest temptations of Scripture reading is not understanding the full context. This tends to happen when we see a verse that stands out to us or affects us emotionally one way or another. Instead of examining the surrounding verses, we tear up and go with that “feeling.” We never consider whether the application that we think is correct is valid because it makes us feel good. Just as interpretation is dependent upon the context, so too our application must reflect the context. It is doubtful that a first-century audience would have understood Zepheniah 3:17 as God giving believers the feel-good assurance of His love. That is a purely modern application and stems from lazy Bible reading/study. It is a total disregard for the text and ignores the entirety of God’s judgment upon the leaders of Israel, of which the context of Zepheniah 3:17 speaks. Before jumping to an application ask these questions:

  1. What is the full context of this passage?
  2. What message is the author trying to convey?
  3. How would the original audience have understood it?
  4. What was the response the author was seeking?

verbs, tenses, & roots (word study fallacies)

“The Greek word for power is dunamis. It’s where we get our word ‘dynamite.’ This passage is saying that God’s power is dynamite!”

NOT!

How many times have you heard this or something similar? Enter, the word study fallacy. Word studies yield vital information when done properly. However, the saying, A little Greek is a dangerous thing, should always be minded carefully. Understanding syntax, not just basic definitions, goes a long way in proper interpretation. Most fallacies of the word study type occur in two areas:

  1. Tenses – verbs are packed with tenses which indicate time and Greek is no different. Most unskilled interpreters look at a specific tense, ascertain a basic definition, and conclude that this tense bears the same nuance every time it occurs. One of the most famous examples is John 1:1. The ‘to be’ verb in that passage is an imperfect tense. Imperfect, as given in many grammars is described as a past event that is not yet completed or an action that is yet ongoing. For this reason, I have heard pastors attempt to translate John 1:1 as, In the beginning, was being the word, and the word was being with God, and the word was being God. This kind of fallacy stems from a misunderstanding of how tenses work. Though the imperfect may bear this kind of action in some way, it is not always the case and should not always be assumed. Careful consultation of Greek scholars and grammarians will go a long way to aiding you in the syntax of word studies. One of the primary sources used is Dan Wallaces Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. It is an excellent resource that will help with understanding verbal aspects and how they work together.
  2. Root words – also called the Etymological Fallacy, it assumes the root meaning of the word must continue to mean the same thing throughout time. A wise person once said that language is dynamic rather than static. In other words, words change their meanings over time and it should not be assumed that the word you are now studying carries the same meaning as it once did. The Greek word διαθήκη, for instance, is translated as covenant in the New Testament. However, the original use of the word according to the LSJ Greek Lexicon is that of a will of property. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament further indicates that it was often used as coming to an agreement or a distribution of property. It would be improper to assume that it means this in every context simply because the root word initially indicated this usage. But one of the vilest misuses of this fallacy I have ever encountered came at the attempt to equate the same usage of the Greek preposition ἐν (in) in all contexts. The sermon was on Ephesians 2:2, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience. The pastor came to the conclusion that because the basic definition of ἐν is a place of location, and the text stated that lost people had the spirit of disobedience working ἐν them, then all lost people must be demon-possessed! This kind of reasoning is destructive and always leads to bad theology. Beware of the Root Fallacy.

For more information on these types of bad hermeneutical practices, D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies is an excellent resource.

unintended promises (is it for me or another group of people?)

Scripture is replete with promises. God’s word is written to assure us of His faithfulness and goodness towards us. But one thing that we need to reckon with is that not every promise in Scripture is individualistic. That is, many of the promises are corporate, or for a specific people group. When we take a corporate promise and make it individual, it often results in disappointment. Jeremiah 29:11 is perhaps the most misapplied promise in all of Scripture.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future

This verse has been hung on thousands of walls in homes, venerated in countless Bible studies, and passed around social media like wildfire. The promise is not a promise for God to fulfill a plan for your life, or even to bring you to a place where He can begin to shape your “destiny,” as has been so wrongly taught. God’s promise here is a corporate promise to the nation of Israel to restore them as His inheritance and to bring them back to the land of Israel after their time of punishment has ended. It is His assurance that even in the midst of their chastisement, He has not forgotten His promise to be their God and for them to be His people.

Therefore, the only feasible way to apply a modern application of this passage is the realization that when God now punishes His people, the Church, it is out of love. The Church should cling to the promise that despite their discipline, it is through the covenant of His Son that He will not forsake them. He does this because He knows the plans He has for [them] declares the LORD

It is truly sad when a person becomes depressed and begins to think that God is unfaithful. Knowing a little context goes a long way. When claiming promises from Scripture, be extra diligent that you understand the full extent and context of that promise.

hello, my name is context. You ripped me from my pages. prepare to die! (context–the over-arching theme)

You may have guessed by now that the main thing stressed throughout this post has been the importance of context. Context ripping is all too often a reality in the pulpit as well as in our personal studies. Misinformation, misinterpretation, and misapplication are all a result of destroying the context. Do not fret, Christian for we are all guilty of this at one time or another. The important thing is to recognize and correct our mistakes. There are guidelines that can help us avoid this pitfall and though we will not always be one hundred percent correct, we can be confident that we did not butcher God’s word to such a degree that it is irreparable. Here are some things to consider when interpreting and applying Scripture.

  1. Read the entire context. The entire context includes the verses before and after the passage you are reading. Sometimes it may include entire paragraphs depending upon the genre. A lot of heart misinterpretation is suddenly taken care of when the full context is taken into consideration.
  2. Understand the background of the book. Part of knowing the context consists of knowing the who, what, why, when, where, and how–the 5WH method–of what you are studying. Understanding the background is a tremendous help in interpreting the passage. For example, the book of Galatians was written for the purpose of debunking Judaizers. These were men that were teaching the young church that adherence to the Mosaic Law was required alongside of faith in Christ. When we realize what is at stake, we begin to understand some of the harsh and condemnatory language Paul uses towards his audience. The book of 1John serves as another example. Some people are baffled at the opening of this treatise. What does John mean by all of this talk? Simply stated, he was combating a form of Gnosticism that taught that Jesus did not have a real physical body because the flesh was evil and the spirit was good. At the outset, John makes it very clear that he and the other disciples physically touched, talked, and heard Jesus.
  3. Keep the book’s context in mind while reading. If you know the context of the book it should always be front and center while attempting to interpret. The New Testament authors wrote for specific purposes and this purpose is what drove them to engage their audience. Jude, for example, states that his brief epistle was written for his audience to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. He wanted to write to them concerning their common salvation but changed gears as he felt the necessity to address false teachers. The Gospel of John was written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. When you know the why of the book, it must be kept at the forefront to understand a correct interpretation. Grasping for an interpretation or application outside of this context will usually be wrong. No doubt there will be many topics addressed in a book or an epistle but the important thing to remember is that the authors usually had a specific audience in mind with a specific reason for writing to that audience.
  4. Know your genre & literary devices. Genre and literary devices are important when it comes to interpreting Scripture. You don’t interpret poetry the same way you would interpret a didactic (teaching) passage, for instance. Or you would not interpret apocalyptic literature the same way as an historical or narrative passage. How are hyperboles to be interpreted? What about some of the stranger sayings in Scripture? Though context is the guiding factor in all interpretation, different genres must be interpreted according to their rules. Let’s take, for example, Jesus’ statement in Luke 14:26: If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother… he cannot be My disciple. Are we to come to the conclusion that Jesus is commanding us to hate our parents or other family members? What of His own teaching on honoring your parents? This particular verse demonstrates hyperbole, a literary device used to exaggerate something in order to make a point. Here, Jesus is not advocating hate for family. He is using the extreme to make a point. Your love for family members should be of such degree that it pales in comparison to that of even your closest Jesus. And if those family members keep you from following Him, you are to forsake them instead of rejecting Him. I once knew a pastor who took this passage at face value and encouraged others who had family members that were unsaved to do the same. This is why great care should be taken when interpreting different genres and literary devices.
  5. Go with the plain meaning of the text. There is no reason to complicate things. Sometimes, it really is that simple. When the Bible states that we are all dead in sin (Eph 2:1) it really means that. When Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again of water and Spirit (John 3:5) that’s what it actually means. Sometimes there’s a deeper meaning like our example passage Luke 14:26 above, but most times it really is as simple as the text states. If the plain meaning of the text is the plain meaning of the text, then the plain meaning of the text is the plain meaning of the text. Let’s not complicate it.

It may be discouraging to realize that you have been guilty of any of these interpretive fallacies. When I began to understand how hermeneutics properly worked, I had many ooops moments of my own. Do not let it deter you from studying God’s word. We are all guilty of these methods and we must all learn how to correct our mistakes. Be sure to visit the Study Aids page for books and other tools that will be of help. Until then, God bless your study of His word!

Text Flow Diagramming – Clauses & Phrases

In this step, we will begin to put things together. But first, let’s have a little review to refresh our memories.


Review

Subjects, Verbs, Direct & Indirect Objects

Subjects are the nouns or pronouns that perform the action or that which the action is performed upon. We find the subject by first locating the verb and asking who or what of the verb.

Verbs are words that show action or a state of being. They are either transitive (transfer their action to an object) or intransitive (stays “stagnant”). Verbs also have two voices: active and passive. Active voice verbs perform the action. Bob hit the ball. Bob is the doer of the verb hit. Passive voice verbs are when the subject of the sentence is being acted upon. Bob was hit by the ball flips the action around. When the subject is being acted upon you know you have a passive verb.

Direct objects are a noun or another part of speech to which the action of the verb is transferred to. Jesus taught his disciples. The noun ‘disciples’ is having the verb ‘taught’ transferred to it and is acting as the verb’s object. We find the direct objects by asking who or what of the subject.

Indirect objects are the nouns and pronouns that the subject performs for or on behalf of. Jesus taught His words to the disciples. The phrase ‘to the disciples’ tells us whom Jesus did the verb of teaching for. We find the indirect object by asking to whom or for whom the verb was done.


Clauses and Phrases

We are now beginning the step that will allow us to split our passages into propositions. The previous posts was setting up this step. You need to understand how to identify subjects and verbs in order to find clauses and phrases. Each step builds upon each other and are important to learn. Now comes the task of pulling out chunks of the text in order to further your Bible study.

Grammatically, a clause is a group of words that always contains a subject and a verb. Without either, it could not be a true clause. A phrase, on the other hand, is a group of words that contains either a subject or a verbal word form but never both. The following illustration points out the difference between a clause and a phrase:

Galatians 1:6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel

The words in red color indicate the main clause. Blue text indicates another clause but is not the main clause. Notice that both clauses contain both a subject and a verb. The word ‘I’ is the subject with ‘marvel’ being the verb and the second clause has ‘who’ as its subject, ‘called’ as the verb, and ‘you’ as the direct object. The brown text indicates the different phrases within the text. Did you notice anything significant in the brown text? None of the phrases contain a subject or a verb. As we talk about the different kinds of phrases and clauses, they will be much easier to identify.

two kinds of clauses

Clauses are also independent or dependent. A dependent clause can stand alone and make a complete sentence while a dependent clause needs other clauses and phrases to complete the meaning. The sentence, Jesus died on the cross to save sinners, contains two clauses. The first could stand alone and be a complete sentence. If I say, “Jesus died on the cross,” you understand completely what I mean. But if I just blurt out, “to save sinners,” you will have to ask for more information in order to find out what I mean.

Typically, there will be “landmarks” to tip you off to a subordinate clause. Words an phrases such as “in order that/so that,” “because,” “when,” and others will help you determine subordinate clauses. You will find that most of the time you naturally spot these subordinate clauses provided you are working from a translation that is in your first language.

Types of clauses

Finite Clauses (independent, dependent) – These clauses will be the only types of clauses that will be the main clause. They will contain a finite verb rather than other types such as participles or infinitives. Be aware, though, that not all finite clauses will be the main clause, though they are the only ones qualified to be so. The book of 1Peter is a prime example of this. Verse 8 contains the finite verb ‘you love’ but is subordinate to verse 6 because it is contained within a relative clauses.

Relative Clauses (dependent) – These begin with a relative pronoun, who, whom, whose, which, and sometimes, that. Be careful not to confuse these with interrogative clauses, which can sometimes be a main clause. “There are some who trouble you…”

Interrogative Clauses (dependent/independent) – Interrogatives are clauses that contain a question. “Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Many times they will start with an interrogative pronoun. Who is it that shall bring a charge against God’s elect?”

Infinitive Clauses (dependent) – You may remember infinitives from the verbs part. They usually start with our English word, to and add another verb to complete the meaning. “There are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel.”

Substantival Clauses (dependent) – These are the hardest of all the clauses to identify. The entire substantival clauses will function as a noun. Matthew 1:22 is an example of a substantival: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken.” The last part of this verse is acting as the direct object to the infinitive ‘to fulfill.’

Participle Clauses (dependent) – In the English language, participles usually end in ing and are relatively easy to spot. Participle clauses are very diverse and often indicate the way an action is carried out, and imperatival nuances, or complemental completion.

phrases

Prepositional Phrases (dependent) – The most typical type of phrase you will encounter are prepositional phrases. Prepositions show the relationship of the noun to the preposition, usually some kind of location or motion. “Jesus died on the cross.” In the sentence, the noun preposition shows the relationship between Jesus and the noun cross.

Unmarked Phrases (dependent) – Sometimes phrases are not clearly marked and you must look carefully to separate them out. In our verse above, Galatians 1:6, the phrase “so soon” is not so easily seen. It contains two adverbs and grammatically could be an adverbial phrase. I prefer to don them as unmarked so as not to confuse them with participial clauses, as they are often adverbial in nature.

Genitive Phrases (dependent) – Genitive phrases do not exist in English. In Greek, Genitives are extremely versatile and “genitive limits as to kind” (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 76). The closest English comes to translating the Genitive is with the word “of.” The Son of God. The Genitive limits the noun Son to that of which Son. It is God’s Son. Although Genitives do often show possession, they do much more than that. The easiest way to deal with Genitive phrases is to look for the word “of” and its noun. The main precaution is to carefully distinguish between it and a true prepositional phrase.

Everything we have learned up to this point will be used in our next post. We will be learning about propositions and how to separate them from the text. Continue to read Scripture and try to recognize the different types of clauses and phrases. Until next time, God bless your study of His Word.

Saturday Evening Meditations -Deuteronomy 32

Deuteronomy is Moses’ final address to Israel before they enter the Promised Land. He recounts the nation’s wanderings in the wilderness, the result of their unbelief. Now on the edge of entering, Moses recounts God’s faithfulness despite Israel’s continual rebellion and delivers the curses and blessings upon them; curses for disobedience, blessings for obedience.

Textual notes on Deuteronomy 32

Chapter 32 is somewhat the finalé of Moses’ life. This portion was written as a song, as songs were used to aid memory. It is sung as a series of blessings and curses, a summary of what had been previously recorded. One thing stood apart as I read it this morning. It is the name Moses ascribes to God. We first encounter this name is verse 4:

Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.(NKJV)

This name for God is repeated a total of five times in this chapter alone. Verses 4, 15, 18, 30, and 31 use the metaphorical name. As I pondered upon this for a time I went to my Hebrew lexicons and commentaries to find the meaning of Moses’ use of Rock. Two resources in particular resonated. The first entry is from the Lexham Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible and the second is from the IVP Bible Background Commentary.

5. God⟺Rock — the God of Israel understood metaphorically as a rock or stone; perhaps with emphasis on strength and permanence. (Emphasis mine)


(2020). The Lexham Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

rock metaphor. Used in 2 Samuel 22:3 as a divine epithet, rock could also carry the meaning “mountain” or “fortress.” It is used in Israelite names both as a metaphor for God (Zuriel, Num 3:35, “God is my Rock”) and as a divine name (Pedahzur, Num 2:20, “Rock is my redeemer”). It is used of other deities in Aramaic and Amorite personal names, and its application to other gods is hinted at here in verses 31 and 37. As a metaphor it speaks of safety and deliverance (Emphasis mine)


Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

God was the strength of Israel. He was meant to be their permanent Divine, the only God that should be worshiped. This would soon be a bygone concept once Israel conquered their enemies and settled down in the land. They would forget their Rock and seek to be acquiesced into the culture surrounding them. Later in the chapter (verses 10-15) God accuses them of their future idolatry, or rather the way He will rebuke them when they fail to obey His Law. He harshly condemns their offerings and sacrifices to other “rocks.” They are vain, and deaf, and powerless. God’s rebuke was justified and needed.

Law & Gospel in Deuteronomy 32

The Sorrowful Mother by James Tissot

Just as Israel sought after empty things to satisfy them, we too, often run after rocks instead of the Rock. We find solace in the temporal pleasures of this life instead of the Eternal God. In spite of God’s punishment of His chosen people, He was gracious and compassionate toward them. In the same chapter that He pronounced His judgment, He would also pronounce His mercy. Verse 36, along with verse 43 is this chapter’s pinnacle of the gospel in the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 32:36 (NKJV) — 36 “For the Lord will judge His people And have compassion on His servants, When He sees that their power is gone, And there is no one remaining, bond or free… 43 “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”

O, what mercy and grace! Yahweh would redeem His people despite their rebellion. He would redeem them and bring them back as His very own possession, and with the promise to circumcise their hearts so that they would love Him.

It is this same great mercy that has been extended to us through the perfect work of Jesus. His sacrificial and vicarious death has covered our sins; it has covered our idolatry, our greed, our sexual perversions, and every other sin that the Law continues to bring to remembrance. As the children of Israel gazed upon the bronze serpent to be healed of their fiery bites, so must we fix our gaze by faith on the One who took sin’s bite in our stead.

Rejoice in Christ’s work. Be joyful in His merciful offer of His invitation to come to Him and live.