Hosted by Pastor Scott Ardavanis
Grace Church of the Valley
I am indebted to blogger Fred Sanders for directing me to an intriguing testimony (and at the same time a mild philippic, though the latter is perhaps an oxymoronic phrase) with reference to the importance of training ministry candidates in the English Bible. Though this emphasis is much neglected in some quarters of the evangelical academic world, it is a primary commitment of Shepherds Seminary. The essence of the focus is simply this: the ministry student must be trained to know the Bible broadly as well as deeply; he must feel intuitively at home in any portion or section of the Bible; he must see that body of revelation not only in its many parts but in the themes and rhythms and connections that permeate and define the whole. At STS, that goal is addressed most directly in the Bible Exposition department, but it is consciously pursued across the curriculum – which must be the case if the goal is to be achieved.English Bible
In the interest of making the case for such a focus as an essential element of the seminary curriculum, I invite the reader to ponder the words of James M. Gray (1851-1935), a stalwart of the faith helpfully characterized by Sanders in his blog-post as “one of the most famous Bible teachers of the early 20th century….a key player in the generation that established the Bible institute movement, serving as dean/president of Moody Bible Institute for more than two decades.”
Gray’s testimony: “For the first eight or ten years of my ministry I did not know my English Bible as I should have known it, a fact to which my own spiritual life and the character of my pulpit ministrations bore depressing witness. Nor was I so fortunate as to meet with more than one or two brethren in the ministry who knew their English Bible very much better than I knew mine. They all declared that the theological seminaries did not profess to teach the English Bible. They taught much about the Bible of great importance for ministers to know, such as the Hebrew and Greek tongues, the principles of exegesis and interpretation, the history of the text, and the proofs and illustrations of Christian doctrine; but, in the words of one of the ministers referred to (which have appeared in print), ‘while we had some special lessons in one or two of the epistles, several of the psalms, in some of the prophecies, and in a few select portions of the gospels, other and vastly important parts of the Bible were left out altogether. We had nothing on the book of Revelation, no elaborate study of the Mosaic ritual and its profound system of types, and especially were we left uninitiated into the minute and wonderful coordination of parts in the various books of the Old and New Testaments, which disclose a stupendous divine plan running through the whole, linking them all together as an indissoluble unit and carrying with them an amazing power of conviction.’” Gray then cites a contemporary churchman as bemoaning the fact that “to indicate the line of thought and chief ideas of a particular prophet, or the argument of an epistle, or to state even the most important events in the life of our Lord, would be impossible for the average college graduate.” Would anyone contend that that liability has been ameliorated since 1904 with respect to the general college public? But more to the point, is it a fair assessment of the liabilities of the “average” graduate of an evangelical seminary?
All the quotations above were borrowed from Gray’s 1904 work Mastering the English Bible as cited in the blog post by Fred Sanders. That blog goes on to focus on Gray’s appeal to the Christian to truly master the English Bible by giving him/herself to the reading of one book of the Scriptures exclusively (“as though there were no other”) and repeatedly (“over and over and over and over and over”) and continuously (that is, at one sitting if at all possible) and independently (no study notes or commentaries) and prayerfully – and that for days and weeks. A bold and noble strategy to be sure, certainly worthy of consideration by any believer eager to master the English Bible. What struck me – and thus impelled this brief discussion – is the simple fact that, given the title and impact of the book being discussed, there was evidently a day when mastering the English Bible was accepted a priori as a noble goal for any deliberate Christian – a day, perhaps, when learning and embracing a theological construct was considered dependent upon and thus logically subsequent to developing a mastery of the whole body of revealed truth out of which such a construct must emerge. The legitimacy and nobility of such a set of priorities in biblical study seems self-evident. But the reminder is nonetheless timely, as even truisms can be neglected and thus functionally denied.
1 Samuel is – as much as anything else – a polemic in defense of David’s right to the throne of Israel. To that end, it is negatively a legal brief making the point that David is not a usurper (a sensitive issue, because superficially considered that possibility could suggest itself, given David’s history with the court of Saul). One section of the book in which that focus is stunningly apparent is 1 Sam 24 and 26 – two remarkably similar narratives, each told in full, with almost identical literary frameworks: King Saul is on the hunt for David with the intent to kill him and rescue the throne for his dynasty; David is afforded the opportunity to neatly and quietly and safely assassinate the derelict monarch; but the young fugitive not only spares the king’s life, but rescues him as well.
The two outlines below are intended to make clear the similarity between the two narratives.
One of the most notable features of these two stories is their similarity to one another. This point is the more dramatically made given the fact that Bible writers had the sense that their space was limited, and each of these two accounts is told in full detail. The intended and unmistakable two-fold impression upon the reader: Saul is an inveterate scoundrel and his rejection is justifiable; David consistently shows himself a loyal and protective subject even when faced with startling temptation to what might be regarded as justifiable revenge. In short: David did not usurp the throne of Israel.
When Jesus came to Jerusalem for the last time, He arrived to the adulation of many and the cheering approval of the crowd. The Triumphal Entry, as it is called, served a deeper purpose than simply a parade in His honor, however.
His coming in this manner had been revealed clearly in the Old Testament: the method, the timing, and the meaning. Zechariah 9:9 had told of the King’s coming on the colt of a donkey so that Israel would recognize Him. From Daniel 9:25-26 the exact time of the Messiah’s arrival can be calculated. Psalms 118:21-29 had announced the meaning of Christ’s arrival, which the crowd realized in their shouts.
This event also fulfilled Jesus’s promise. Several weeks earlier, some Pharisees came to lure Him back to Judea. Jesus said that He would not return until such time as the citizens of Jerusalem would say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:31-35). Perhaps He intended this to further establish His credentials as the promised Messiah.
The Triumphal Entry accomplished two major goals. Because of the heightened excitement caused by the resurrection of Lazarus and then the public entrance into Jerusalem, He piqued the curiosity of the people there—important because of the many pilgrims who had come to the city for Passover. In addition, the approbation of the crowd protected Him, at least initially, from the murderous desires of the spiritual leaders in Jerusalem. The delay allowed the prophecies of the Old Testament to be fulfilled.
In a way, His entrance established a test for the people in Jerusalem. While many cheered His arrival, their faith would be challenged when He did not live up to the conquering Messiah of popular imagination. Instead, He effectively took over the Temple and called the people to the Kingdom of God. After several days, the shouts of praise turned into shouts for crucifixion.
Jesus remained a wildly popular folk-hero–the object of almost universal popular fascination–until the last week of His mortal life. Indeed, that popularity crescendoed until it imploded climatically on Tuesday of the Passion Week.
This enduring and increasing popular fascination impacted Jesus’ ministry in three very important ways:
It deceived the apostles and disciples of Jesus, persuading them that in fact Jesus’ claims were being broadly accepted, and thus making it difficult for those disciples to accept His prediction that He would die at the hands of the leaders of Israel.
It enabled Jesus to escape the murderous hatred of His official enemies; they longed to take Him, but they could not because they “feared the multitude” (Mt 26:5; Mk 14:5; Lk 22:2). The dynamic here is somewhat distinctive to the Roman Empire and thus demands some explanation. Every Roman governor had two basic duties: collect the taxes and keep the peace. Although the Romans did not allow the Jews to exercise capital punishment [Jn 18:31], the officers in Judea had learned to look the other way if the Jews were to spirit away some inconsequential offender and put him to death [a la Stephen, Ac 6, 7]. Because Jesus was so wildly popular, the Jewish authorities could not simply seize him and stone Him. They were fearful that if they were to do so there would be riots; if there were riots the Romans would find and severely punish those responsible. Thus …
It forced Jesus’ enemies to involve the Romans in the execution of Jesus. Further, those enemies worked hard to get Him on the cross before the town woke up on Friday. (Remember that what Jesus’ enemies, as well as the Romans, had ringing in their ears was Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of the passion week.) However, when the town did awake, the Sanhedrinists were amazed and delighted that the populace had suddenly turned against Jesus (see a. above).
Although Jesus came to die, He never spoke explicitly of His death until almost three years into His three and one half year ministry.
He hinted at the idea obliquely just once – the reference to the temple to be rebuilt in three days; but John states that His disciples did not understand this until after Jesus’ resurrection (Jn 2:19-21).
Indeed, Jesus claimed to be Messiah, and according to the Hebrew Scriptures the Kingdom to be established by the Messiah is an eternal kingdom (Dan 2:44); it seemed to those who accepted Jesus’ claims that there is no room for a dying Messiah in that. When Jesus finally contrived to get the twelve to a place called Caesarea Philippi and for the first time told them that He was going to die (Mt 16:21), those disciples were scandalized (:22).
Although Jesus foretold His death and resurrection at least four more times after Caesarea Philippi, nobody was willing to believe those words, especially the apostles (Lk 18:31-33, cf. :34). (The one possible exception: Mary, sister of Lazarus; cf Jn 12:7.)
This unwillingness to accept Jesus’ plain and oft-repeated predictions of His death and resurrection seems to have been a function of two influences: first, the apostles were crippled by the popular rabbinic misperception of the Messianic hope, which had little or no room for a suffering or dying Messiah; second, the apostles were greedy for the chief places in the kingdom which Jesus had promised them, and they didn’t want to hear about suffering by Him or by them.
Because the Jewish nation was weary of her Roman overlord, and because Jesus claimed to be Messiah and demonstrated that He was able to do miracles, His countrymen again and again insisted that they were willing to have Him as their Messiah/Deliverer. But they wanted Him on their terms rather than His; they were willing to acknowledge that they needed someone to deliver them from Rome, but they denied that they needed anyone to deliver them from sin.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus employed a remarkable strategy to unmask the superficial and hypocritical nature of this public adulation paid Him by the multitudes: when confronted by shallow and self-serving proffers of acceptance, He would speak hard words–words which demanded a choice, the morally right choice being indicative of obedience/belief, but also involving a serious price to be paid by the one making that choice.
In thus driving His listeners to a difficult decision, Jesus often employed as a foil those Pharisees who had set themselves against Him, and this for two reasons.
First, those Pharisees had established themselves as the purveyors of a doctrine of works righteousness (i.e. law-keeping); thus Jesus’ demand that men accept His claim to be the Messiah (most seminally, the God-given Deliverer from sin, Gen 3:16) necessarily entailed the demand that they reject the prevailing pharisaic doctrine.
Second, to reject the counsel of the Pharisees could bring awful reprisal (“out of the synagogue,” Jn 9:22, 34-35); thus in making that demand Jesus was testing the genuineness of the very facile offer of the multitudes to accept Him as Messiah. Jesus uses this strategy in challenging the great multitudes following Him in Galilee when He preaches the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:20, cf. 7:13-15), in challenging those who after the feeding of the 5000 would “take Him by force and make Him king” (Jn 6:15, cf. :53-58), and in challenging the willingness of the city of Jerusalem to have Him as king as they had begged when He entered the city of Jerusalem in His triumphal entry (Mt 23:1-39)
The rejection of Jesus’ claims was not a matter of confusion, but of rebellion (John 2:11).
Official rejection came early and grew steadily until it exploded in the crucifixion.The two great moments of rejection – the two events which function as the turning point in Jesus’ ministry – were the episode of the unpardonable sin (Mt 12:22-37, cf. :23) and later the feeding of the 5000 (Jn 6, cf. :66).
On the other hand, popular rejection, though just as real, was much more difficult to discern. This was primarily because even though the mass of those to whom Jesus offered Himself as Messiah did not believe in His claims, He continued to be the wildly popular folk-hero of those masses; they were fascinated with Him, even if unwilling to bow the knee to His claims concerning Himself. As a result of that wild-eyed excitement over Jesus that prevailed until the middle of the Passion Week, it was Jesus alone who discerned the true heart of the multitudes (see #8 to come).
The purpose of Jesus’ many miracles was to prove true His astoundingly difficult claims concerning Himself (cf. John 3:2; Ac 2:22). Thus, miracles were the most frequent during the period of Jesus’ ministry when His intent was to present Himself to Israel as her Messiah (i.e., the first 2½ years).
During the first half of the final year of His ministry (i.e., during that time when He was seeking solitude with His disciples in order to reveal to them the unsettling and startling fact that He was going to die and rise again), Jesus was reluctant to do miracles and anxious to escape the local notoriety which always accompanied the doing of miracles. On the other hand, when it once again became strategically important to do so, Jesus again worked many miracles.
The greatest of the miracles wrought by Jesus, and thus the miracle with the most dramatic and important vindicating force, was His own bodily resurrection from the grave on the third day after His death and burial (Rom 1:4).
Throughout His public ministry, Jesus made two explicit claims concerning Himself: He claimed to be the Messiah of Israel (the Christ), and He claimed to be God come in the flesh (Mt 16:16; Jn 11:27; Mk 14:61).This two-fold claim is the essence of the message which Jesus challenged men to believe concerning Himself (Jn 20:31).
It is difficult for us to imagine how difficult it was to accept these claims: the claim to Messiahship was difficult because in so many ways Jesus disappointed the self-serving but rabinically endorsed messianic ideals cherished by His contemporaries; and the claim that He was God come in the flesh was at once incongruous and scandalous.
On the other hand, because Jesus lived out perfectly His command to His disciples to be “as wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mt 10:16, see #9 to come), His claim to Messiahship (i.e., to be King of Israel) was cleverly encoded in Old Testament figures and passages so that the claim would be unmistakable and compelling to Jews but appear innocuous to the Roman overlords. (This because had Jesus more explicitly claimed Messiahship/Kingship, He would have enabled His enemies to be rid of Him easily; Rome had no patience for pretender Kings in her domain.)
Likewise, the claim to deity – scandalous to the Jews but to the Romans less incendiary than the claim to be king – was couched in ways especially telling to Jewish hearers. For instance, the Scriptures insist that only God is eternal; thus when Jesus claimed pre-existence (Jn 8:56) He was understood by His Jewish auditors to be claiming deity.
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