Category Archives: Reading the Old Testament

How to Change Your Mind

From The Gospel Coalition Blog: How to Change Your Mind.

JOE CARTER|1:41 PM CT

How to Change Your Mind

The beginning of a New Year is an an excellent time to try something new. As you make your list of resolutions and goals I want to recommend adding a simple four step process that could transform your life by, quite literally, changing your mind.

change-your-mindAfter reading the entire post the vast majority of readers will snicker at such a hyperbolic claim and never implement the method I outline. A smaller number will consider the advice intriguing, my assertion only a slight exaggeration, but will also never implement the method. A tiny minority, however, will recognize the genius behind the process and apply it to their own life. This group will later say that my claim was an understatement.

This post is written for those people.

A few years ago I stumbled across a variation of the four steps in an article by theologian Fred Sanders and implemented his recommendation that day. I later had the pleasure of meeting Sanders in person and telling him how his post had transformed my life. My hope is that at least one other person will follow this advice and experience the same transformative effect.

Before I reveal the four steps I want to reiterate that while the advice could transform your life, it likely will not. As with most life-altering advice, it is simple, easy to implement, and even easier to ignore. Statistically speaking, the odds are great that you’ll ignore this advice. But a handful of you will try it so for the one or two people who will find this useful, the four steps that will transform your worldview are:

1. Choose a book of the Bible.

2. Read it in its entirety.

3. Repeat step #2 twenty times.

4. Repeat this process for all books of the Bible.

Christians often talk about having a Biblical worldview yet most have only a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible. They attempt to build a framework without first gathering the lumber and cement needed to create a solid foundation. The benefits of following this process should therefore be obvious. By fully immersing yourself into the text you’ll come to truly know the text. You’ll deepen your understanding of each book and knowledge of the Bible as a whole.

Since this method is adapted from a book by James M. Gray (1851-1935), How to Master the English Bible I’ll let him explain in his own words:

The first practical help I ever received in the mastery of the English Bible was from a layman. We were fellow-attendants at a certain Christian conference or convention and thrown together a good deal for several days, and I saw something in his Christian life to which I was a comparative stranger—peace, a rest, a joy, a kind of spiritual poise I knew little about. One day I ventured to ask him how he had become possessed of the experience, when he replied, “By reading the epistle to the Ephesians.” I was surprised, for I had read it without such results, and therefore asked him to explain the manner of his reading, when he related the following: He had gone into the country to spend the Sabbath with his family on one occasion, taking with him a pocket copy of Ephesians, and in the afternoon, going out into the woods and lying down under a tree, he began to read it; he read it through at a single reading, and finding his interest aroused, read it through again in the same way, and, his interest increasing, again and again. I think he added that he read it some twelve or fifteen times, “and when I arose to go into the house,” said he, “I was in possession of Ephesians, or better yet, it was in possession of me, and I had been ‘lifted up to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus‚’ in an experimental sense in which that had not been true in me before, and will never cease to be true in me again.”

I confess that as I listened to this simple recital my heart was going up in thanksgiving to God for answered prayer, the prayer really of months, if not years, that I might come to know how to master His Word. And yet, side by side with the thanksgiving was humiliation that I had not discovered so simple a principle before, which a boy of ten or twelve might have known. And to think that an “ordained” minister must sit at the feet of a layman to learn the most important secret of his trade!

Rather than wasting time attempting to defend the wisdom of applying this method, I’ll close with a few helpful suggestions for putting it into practice:

1. Choose shorter books and work up to longer ones. Since you’ll be reading an entire book of the Bible and not just a chapter or two, you’ll want to work your way up to more extensive readings. When beginning this program you may want to start with a short book that has only a few chapters that can be read several times in one sitting. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and help develop the reading habit. For example, a short book like John or Jude can be read four or five times in one sitting allowing you to finish the entire twenty readings in less than a week. [NT books, shortest to longest: 3 John, 2 John, Phlm, Jude, Titus, 2Thess, Rev, 2 Peter, 2 Tim, 1Thess, Col, 1 Tim, Phil, 1 Peter, James, 1 John, Gal, Eph, 2 Cor, Heb, 1 Cor, Rom, Mark, John, Matt, Acts, Luke; OT books, shortest to longest: See this chart.]

2. Read at your normal pace. Treating the material reverently does not require reading at a slower than normal speed. Read for comprehension, ignoring the division of chapters and verses and treating each book as one coherent unit.

3. Skip the commentaries (for now). Don’t get bogged down by referring to commentaries or other outside sources. Commentaries are for your Bible study, rather than for this synthetic reading. Read each book in its entirety and then attempt to summarize in your own words its theme and major points.

4. Stick with the process. After the eighth or ninth reading you’ll hit a wall that is similar to what runners face in marathons. The text will become dry and lose its flavor. You’ll want to move on to the next book or abandon the program altogether. Stick with it. Persevere and you’ll discover the treasures that repeated readings can provide. Keep in mind that not every book will be equally rewarding. It doesn’t mean that you’re a heretic if during one of your readings you find 2 John a bit redundant or Jude just plain boring. Keep in mind the words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Stick with it and you’ll fully understand the truth of that verse.

5. Choose an appropriate version. A modern language paraphrase is not an appropriate version for synthetic reading. Likewise, the familiar rhythms and cadences of the KJV can, upon repeated readings, get in the way of comprehension. I personally recommend the ESV, though the NIV can be a suitable alternative.

6. Pray. Ask God to open your heart to his Word. Trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text and provide guidance and understanding.

7. Begin today. Don’t put it off another day. Don’t say you’ll start tomorrow, or next week, or next New Year’s. You won’t. Start with the only time that you are guaranteed — today. Use some of the time you’d normally spend  reading blogs to begin this program. Start now and then tomorrow, next week, or next New Year’s Day — after your mind has become saturated with God’s Holy Word — you can tell me my claim was an understatement.

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. You can follow him onTwitter.

When You Are Wronged – Psalm 26

Today christianity.com posted my, “When You Are Wronged,” a brief look at Psalm 26. I am grateful for their ministry and graciousness toward me.

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Vindication is something we all desire, because injustices are committed toward us in this life. On a lesser scale it could be a simple spat between spouses in which the one accuses the other of moving an item, when the other has evidence of things being very different. On a larger scale it could be that family promises were not kept, or lies and cover-ups had the wrong person thrown out of school, found innocent a criminal who harmed your loved one, or cost you an unwarranted demotion at work.

In Psalm 26, one reads, “Vindicate Me, O Lord.” The word translated as “vindication” has judgmentat its core. David is praying, “Judge me, O Lord. Look at the wicked and me, see that I have lived a life of integrity and depended on you without wavering.” David’s prayer reveals three things:

1.      When you call for vindication, make sure integrity is your foundation (1-3).

The basis by which David cries for vindication makes no reference to the wrongdoing of anyone else. David starts (and he will end) in the mirror. “Lord, I have integrity; I am wholly dependent on you.”

The Hebrew terms behind “heart” and “mind” are words for “kidneys” and “heart.” In the Hebrew mind, the kidneys (or innards) were the organ driving us in the way we would describe the “heart” of emotions and motive, and the “heart” was more what we would describe as the place of thinking and will. David says in effect, “Look at my heart and mind with your all-penetrating eyes and see that I am whole and holy.”

Typically, when we pray for vindication, we act like children on the schoolyard who have been hurt and run to the teacher: “He hit me! Get him!” “She called me a bad name! Take her recess away! Do it in front of me so I can have the satisfaction of seeing her humbled!”

In that cry to the authority we want three things: Judgment that sets the scales right, vengeance against the enemy, and a public display that we are right. David wants a fourth thing: Judgment of the one requesting vindication. To make that call of vindication, you must know that you yourself are a person of integrity before God and not just correct in the current situation.

2.      When you claim your own justification, you should be prepared to meet strict standards of Divine evaluation (4-8).

David offers four areas of life for God to judge. First he offers truth (26:4). Men of falsehood (vanity) are not part of his company. Neither does he keep company with “hypocrites”—people who keep their activities covered so others cannot see what they are doing. David is saying that he keeps the 9th Commandment’s prohibition against false witness.

Second, David offers righteousness (26:5). When evildoers gathered for their form of “worship” (for “assembly” is a cultic term related to worship), David had complete disdain for their dishonoring authority, murdering, adultery, and stealing. He keeps the 5th-8th and 10th Commandments.

Third, David offers purity in worship (26:6). David thinks of integrity in terms of the 1st through 4thCommandments—those that deal with loving God with one’s whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. He understands that love for our neighbor flows from our love for God. You cannot be a person of integrity – wholeness before God, and not simply before men – if you treat everyone decently but do not acknowledge God’s standards for coming to God. No idolater or atheist could pray, “Vindicate me” to God and hope for anything short of his wrath for all eternity, for the judgment would reveal wickedness even in the motives of his service toward humanity.

Fourth, David offers himself as a devoted worshipper (26:8). David is a Sabbath-keeper who loves God! It is not the house of the Lord that David loves, but the resident of the house—God and his glory! “Measure me by this,” says David!

This poses a dilemma for all of us: Not one of us perfectly keeps the Commandments. We stand without hope of vindication before our enemies, because we cannot say, “Lord, get them but ignore me,” for this would not be just for a holy God.

What hope is there for we who need both vindication and the righteousness that God requires?

3.      When you cry out for separation, remember that it is the Lord’s grace that brings redemption (9-12).

God will sweep away the souls of sinners, including the bloodthirsty, who can be manipulated by bribes and have evil devices to carry out their schemes. They can threaten your life, but their own lives are at stake before the Almighty Judge and King.

David, even as one claiming to have absolute integrity, still knows that he will be found short and could be swept away into the torrents of eternal damnation. So he makes pleas to avoid the judgment of the wicked: “Redeem me and be gracious to me”

God is not under obligation to rescue David, and he ultimately cannot present his integrity as sufficient to avoid the wrath of a perfect God. So what is David’s hope? God, by your grace, redeem me! This is exactly what God does for us in Christ.

Christ comes in the perfect righteousness of God: Complete in truth, righteousness, purity in worship, and devotion in worship to God. God condemned Christ in place of our condemnation, crucifying him to his death on the Cross.

God offers us eternal life through Christ’s righteousness as the only one righteous enough to beat death, as demonstrated in his resurrection from the dead. God offers to redeem us by grace—a gift to us, not something we earn. We receive this gift by believing in Christ. When, therefore, we are in need of vindication, we keep trusting this same Christ.

Eric C. Redmond is Executive Pastoral Assistant and Bible Professor in Residence at New Canaan Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @EricCRedmond

We Serve a Great and Mighty God!

 Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard,who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. (Psalm 66:8-9 ESV)

Yesterday afternoon (4:00 PM), at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Washington, DC, my pastor, Rev. Gregory Sims, preached a message entitled, “We Serve a Great and Mighty God,” from Psalm 66:8-9. Here is a summary of some of the significant items in the sermon:

1. People crave attention, which is especially notable among sports figures and entertainment personalities. The latter group reveals this in their concert call-and-response, “What’s my name?” Such glory seeking, unfortunately, has infiltrated houses of worship. However, God is the one person who always should be the center of everyone’s attention—who is always worthy of praise.

2. Complaining about our troubles could provide opportunities to limit one’s praise. The amount of trouble we perceive ourselves to have is a matter of perspective. Pastor illustrated this by speaking of a time when he had a terrible pain in his foot while walking through a mall, but as he was leaving the mall he passed by a U.S. veteran who was an amputee and also had obvious discomforts in his remaining leg. At this point, Pastor said that his perspective on his pain changed and he felt very little pain. (He gave a second illustration too long for me to summarize.)

3. “If Israel could call on the [people] to praise the Lord, certainly, having been grafted into [the plan of God], the saints should have no problem praising the mighty God we serve.”

4. Point #1: My praise [of the great and mighty God] should be personal (v. 8a). “Praise occurs when we are saturated with humility. We should consider the majesty of God all [around] us [like the moon above].” Also, “If the nations are but a drop in the bucket, where does that leave you and I?”

5. Point #2: My praise ought to be public (v. 8b). “Some people never [intend to] come to church, so we need to publish our praise [in the world].”

6. Point #3: My praise ought to have purpose (v. 9). He delineated two purposes: My praise ought to exalt the Lord’s preservation, and my praise ought to exalt the Lord’s protection. “Some times we have caused our own pain. How refreshing it is for the Lord to [yet] restore our souls.”

Within the message, Pastor Sims inserted lines from several musical pieces that exalt the greatness of the Lord. He introduced the message with the first stanza and the refrain from, “How Great Thou Art.” He began the first main point of the exposition with the first stanza and refrain of, “Blessed Assurance,” emphasizing the personal nature of the assurance expressed in the hymn: “This is my story.” Before finishing the couplet of v. 8a, he inserted the first stanza and the refrain from, “Oh, How I Love Jesus.” While exalting the Lord for preserving us, he drew from William Cowper’s, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774), and James Cleveland’s, “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” (1991).

Also, Pastor Sims drew from verses from several additional psalms. As fast as I could remember and write, I caught verses from Psalms 8, 103, 121, 124. However, I think I missed verses from at least three other psalms.

Because I teach homiletics, I try to be aware of the means by which preachers get their audiences to listen to their messages. Over the last several years, I have become more appreciative of how African American preaching, in the traditional cultural sense, in terms of style, follows closely Aristotle’s dictates on rhetoric as a whole. Aristotle’s teaching amounts to manipulation, not simply good audience analysis and anthropological observations. However, as Bryan Chapell notes in Christ-Centered Preaching, Biblical preaching must consider logos (content), pathos (passion) and ethos (character) (p. 34). So the God-fearing preacher must exercise caution in his use of words to manipulate the minds and hearts of his hearers, only stirring our affections toward God (as John Piper is fond of saying).

From Pastor Sims every Sunday I get this God-exalting manipulation of heart and mind toward the glory of Christ, his work in the plan of God for us, and the implications for our daily living in the world. I saw it on full display last evening as Pastor reminded us – in a string of things the Lord has done for us in redemption that was far too long and moving for me to write (!) – that God does everything good for us that we experience. Thus, He is great and mighty, and worthy of all our praise.

It has been many years since I have enjoyed the singing of a mass choir. Yesterday, hearing New Canaan Baptist Church’s mass choir exalt Christ in song also brought great joy to my soul.

A Necessary Tweak of Greg’s Beale Thoughts on Exegesis of the Old Testament

Recently WTSBOOKS interviewed Dr. Greg Beale in conjunction with the release of Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. The interview asks Dr. Beale a few questions related to the interpretation of the text.

I appreciate Dr. Greg Beale’s grounding of interpretation in the inspiration of the words of the writers of Scripture. However, he conflates two ideas that should remain separate in order for us to interpret the text faithfully.

1.  Divine Inspiration – by which Beale means revelation, for he is speaking of the broadening of what the author and the Lord are saying through the speaker – and understanding the interpretation of what has been spoken are vastly different concepts. Even knowing that one is speaking, “Thus saith the Lord,” would not necessarily mean that the author would have known his words would go beyond the immediate historical context. One can see this if one appeals to a text like the death of the man of God in 1 Kings 13 rather than a more obviously prophetic passage like the construction of the Tabernacle Exodus 25. The passage on the man of God warned the generation reading 1 and 2 Kings of the authority of the word of the Lord even in the life of one called by God. One does not immediately think that this passage typifies Jesus always doing his Father’s will (cf. Jn. 8:28; 12:49; 14:10) and yet being brought to death by the word of the Lord (Jn. 17:4; cf. Isa. 53:10), does he? Yet with the Tabernacle passage, one has a textual clue that there is more to the instructions than simply earthly blueprints because there is a “pattern” involved (Ex 25:9, 40; cf. Heb. 8:5; 9:23; 10:1).

2.  “Context” for spoken words is different than for written words. That is, the words on a page are limited by all of the words around them. The additional, unexpressed mental thoughts of the author that were not communicated in the words do not matter to our task as exegetes, for as readers we have no access to them. We only have access to what is written on the page. If Beale, by intention, means more than “the author’s central idea in the narrow historical context and additional later revelation unknown but suspected by the author,” then I cannot know this, for this is all Beale’s words reveal to the readers of the interview. If he also means by intention, “the author’s effectual hope in the life of the believer and the purposes for which he wrote in response to a historical catalyst,” I cannot know this for it does not come through in the interview. It would be unfair (and illogical) to say that I missed Beale’s “central idea expressed in the text” because I missed Beale’s “effectual hope for the believer.” When E. D. Hirsch spoke of author’s intention, he meant “the author’s central idea in the narrow historical context as able to be discerned by willed verbal meaning and literary clues.” But Beale speaks of a different intention when he says “larger than even he understood,” for he is then speaking of “additional later revelation unknown but suspected on the basis of inspiration.” The two are not the same and should not be confused even though they both fly under a banner of “intention.”

3.  In his illustration of enjoying Bach, the listening student, when asked, “Does he like other composers like Vivaldi,” would have been correct to say, “I do not know, for Dr. Beale did not say anything about other composers, neither did he speak of enjoying classic compositions as a whole or of other composers while speaking of enjoying Bach.” The student has no clues in the context to indicate that Beale’s verbal meaning goes beyond “Bach” to “other composers.” No one could fault the student for not knowing Beale’s unexpressed idea(s).  However, imagine if the student were reading a paragraph by Dr. Beale that said, “Summer is great! I get uninterrupted time to enjoy my downloads of the Westminster Brass, London Symphony Orchestra, and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra playing the great masters of history. Ah, there’s nothing I enjoy more in the summer than sitting on the patio, sipping lemonade, and listening to Bach. Listening to the grand symphonies of the Western musical canon rescues my mind from the torture of having to hear Carl Trueman play his rock music around the WTS campus.” Then if someone asked, “Does Dr. Beale also like Vivaldi, or only Bach,” the student could have said, “I suspect he does like Vivaldi, for he likes Bach and ‘the great masters.’” If Beale does not express his intention, it cannot be interpreted, even if it is in his head. He wants the intention in his head to be something that we access in the process of exegesis. However, we cannot because exegesis focuses on ideas expressed (which are limited by the words around them), not unexpressed mental ruminations (which could go on forever). The only ideas upon which we can do exegesis are those expressed by the words in the text, not unexpressed ideas. The resurrection of Christ in Psalm 16 is an expressed idea because “not see corruption” is something that could not refer to David (as Peter notes in Acts 2:29-31, of which Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. provides good exegesis). However, the equal access of Gentiles and Jews as fellow heirs in Christ is not an expressed idea in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:6). It cannot be gained by exegesis, even though it is the Lord’s express purpose (intention) throughout Old Testament Redemptive History to include the Gentiles in redemption with the Jews as one new man.

In the full interview, WTSBOOKS asks Beale,

You express your own position as situated “on the side of those who affirm that the NT uses the OT in line with the original contextual meaning.” (Handbook, p. 13). What do you mean when you speak of “original contextual meaning”? How does this differ—if at all—from strict adherence to a grammatical-historical approach?

If Beale’s answer to the interview questions means something other than, “One’s exegesis of the Old Testament text must factor in that – as the Old Testament authors understood – the spoken/written revelation, as divinely inspired, has thicker intentions that go beyond narrow historical context of the original speaking author, as illustrated by a modern example related to listening to ‘Bach,’” he did not adequately express that as his intended meaning so as to give us access to it.

It is not that intentions are “thicker” and need to be unpacked. Instead, the definitions of “intention” are many, and they need to be expressed. I would recommend Elliott E. Johnson’s Expository Hermeneutics for more on how the written paragraph is the smallest context of interpretation for willed verbal meaning in a text.

Learning to Live and Read the Word of God at the Same Time

This past Sunday, Rev. Gregory M. Sims, Pastor of New Canaan Baptist Church – my pastor – preached two great messages from Gal. 5:22-23 (at 11:00 AM) and Gal. 5:16-18 (at 7:30 AM). In the second message, entitled, “Flowing in Fruitfulness, Part 5: Patience, Kindness, and Goodness,” he made three points related to the definitions of “patience,” “kindness,” and “goodness.” Other important points in the message included these:

  1. “Patience is available to every believer at any moment and in any situation.”
  2. “God develops patience in us;” (he made a an appeal to Ja. 1:2-3 and contrasted peirasmois with hupomonen).
  3. “Kindness is benevolence in action and moral goodness.”
  4. On kindness: “I am blessed today because someone has been kind to me.”
  5. “Goodness is uprightness of heart… it often is difficult to display when [people] are not good to us.”

I was particularly blessed by his typological use of four Old Testament passages to illustrate the failure or obedience of saints with respect to these products of the Spirit:

  1. On patience, he cited Saul’s impatience with Samuel’s coming when the Philistines threatened the Israelites (1 Samuel 13). Being patient would have been the difference between sure victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 13:13-14) rather than oppression (1 Sam. 13:17-23).
  2. On kindness, he used the example of David’s kindness toward Mephibosheth – that he looked to be kind to his enemy’s offspring, provided in abundance for one crippled, and that his place at David’s table would be secure (2 Samuel 9). In the same way Christ, in the kindness of God (cf. Ex. 34:6), has rescued his enemies from God’s wrath [in justification] (Rom. 5:1, 6-11), provided abundantly for his own [in sanctification] (Mt. 6:25-34; 2 Pet 1:3-4), and made our hope secure [in glorification] so that we are assured to eat at his table throughout all eternity (Lk. 13:29; 14:15; 22:15-17, 30; Heb. 6:18-19; 1 Pet. 1:3, 13)
  3. On goodness, he demonstrated it to be characteristic of God by appealing to Job’s encounters with Satan (Job 1-2)—that the Lord would not allow Satan to take Job’s life even though he granted him authority to destroy Job’s family, goods, and body. Thus, goodness exists alongside of evil and suffering in God’s plan for his own. Similarly, David demonstrated goodness toward Saul when he had opportunity to kill him (1 Sam. 24:4; 1 Sam. 26:12).

Thus, through the one message, Pastor Sims both exhorted us to walking with the Spirit, and he showed us how to read the Old Testament. I am enjoying messages like this each week; I am thankful for my pastor’s labor in the word of God.