Let’s be Sensible: Original Insights [Titus 2]

Being Sensible

Most people arrive at Bible College dreading the prospect of  Greek and Hebrew – nerdy as I am, I relished it. Not because I expected to have original insights on any given text but because I could have insight based on any given the original text. In general, to be perfectly honest, our translations do a fantastic job of conveying just what the original is trying to say because English is a wonderfully diverse and expressive language. Sometimes, however, English fails us and something exciting happens in Greek that is totally unseen in our English translations.

In Bible study we are working our way through Titus and we’ve just hit Titus 2:1-10. Already we’ve noticed that Paul is concerned about the mental activity of the Cretans. In his introduction, Paul says that it is “knowledge of the truth” that “leads to godliness” (1v1) and his response to bad behaviour on the part of the church in Crete is “instruction in sound doctrine” (1v9).

In my preparation I always like to read through the Greek and jot down my own thoughts before looking at commentaries or other translations simply so that I approach the text with some kind of freshness of mind. As I worked through 2v1-10 I was struck by the prevalence of σώφρων and its cognates (see vv2, 4, 5, 6 and outside 2v1-10 there’s 1v8 and 2v12).

The word “σώφρων” means something like “of a sound mind” and the idea is that living sensibly (sound mindedly) will result in curbing of one’s desires. The words “temperate” or “self-controlled” are, therefore, sometimes used in translation. In this instance “sensible” (HCSB, RSV, NET) seems like a good translation because it communicates the sound-mindedness of the behaviour. “Self-controlled” is certainly the more common option though (ESV, LEB, NLT, NIV – the ESV has actually reworked this section from the RSV). The trouble is that “self-controlled” lacks the link to thought life. Then there is also the annoying cognate “σωφρονίζω” which means to make someone be “σώφρων” – a concept that English cannot express in a word and so we have “encourage” (HCSB), “train” (ESV, NLT) and “urge” (NIV) but nothing that shows the link Paul is making between a sensible mind and good behaviour (“make the young women sensibly minded so that they love their husbands and love their children”).

No translation I have found picks up on all these occurrences and their cognates. But then, it’s not good English style to repeat words, English prefers synonyms. The unfortunate result is that as English translations alternate between “self-controlled” and “sensible” and even “train”, we lose the emphasis that Paul places on “sensibility” by his repetition.

This is a good example of why I am grateful of the little knowledge I have of Greek: as I read Titus 2, I automatically see a broader theme of Titus, how Paul believes that right thinking leads to right living.

Coming and Going: Idiom Observations

come-in-go-away-doormatSome time ago I preached from Mark 6 and thought verse 31b a little weird, “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat”. Of course eating introduces a major theme in the narrative but what on earth are people coming and going for? Surely they come and sit down?

When I preached the passage I looked up the line from verse 34 “they were like sheep without a shepherd” which comes up in Isaiah and Kings (as well as a parallel passage in Chronicles) but also in Numbers 27:17 which caught my eye because of what else Numbers 27:17 says. Moses is asking God to appoint a new leader for Israel, “who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd”. This as a delightful discovery because if Mark is picking up this text, his comment is that Jesus is the new Joshua of Israel; Jesus comes to go out and come in before the people so that they will not be like sheep without a shepherd.

I have still wondered about the expression though and as I’ve been reading the Bible this year it’s jumped out at me a few times. In 1 Samuel 18:13, Saul makes David the commander of a group of soldiers and David, “went out and came in before the people” and in verse 16, “all Israel and Judah loved David [in contrast to Saul], for he went out and came in before them.” Then later in 1 Samuel 29:6, Achish trusts David but the rest of the Philistines don’t (probably a wisely so) but Achish bemoans them saying, “to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign.”

What’s the point of all this? Well really that’s pretty much it: I just thought it was an interesting expression and one that is not immediately intuitive; “going out and coming in” seems to be a Semitism (i.e. an idiom that has Near Eastern roots) meaning “to lead”. Have you noticed it anywhere else?

Scripture’s Doctrine And Theology’s Bible: A Bilateral Hermeneutic

Circular hermeneuticsI recently wrote a post on what I labeled, The Dangerous Evangelical Assumption. In it I asked if we are in danger of limiting the work of the Holy Spirit to good exegesis. The comments made on the post helped me give some precision, which was originally lacking, and you can read the exchanges there. One comment raised the issue of the theological convictions with which we approach Scriptures. Scientific exegesis of a biblical text will not always bring us to the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ but instead gives us the author’s intent or original meaning. Our understanding of Scripture means we interpret texts within their wider salvation context and therefore Christian exegesis asks how the author’s intent – attained through careful exegesis – fits within the message of Scripture as a whole, the gospel of our Lord. I want to repeat my response below with supplementation.

The Evangelical approach to Scripture is both presuppositional and a result of perspicuity. In other words, the Christian worldview presupposes that God is the single author behind Scripture, therefore Scripture is read with that view; and exegesis of Scripture has lead to the understanding that Scripture contains a single, unified and coherent message. Our doctrine of Scripture is founded on and flows from Scripture. How do these two characteristics of the Evangelical approach fit?

Firstly, Christians presuppose revelation is coherent because God is the author behind it. So, in our age of narratives, Scripture is viewed as a metanarrative scripted by God. During the Reformation, and in protestation to the Catholic claims of exclusive interpretive rights, the analogia fidei was introduced as a corollary to non-contingent divine revelation. We can only use the clearer parts of Scripture to interpret the murky bits because of this presupposition. Furthermore, if God is the cause of Scripture in its entirety we can ask the bigger question of authorial intent for the work as a whole.

Secondly, studied exegesis of Scripture has and does yield its perspicuous message: the gospel of grace. Though our interpretation of Scripture is based on a theological conviction, outlined above, that theological conviction is proven by exegesis. As we study Scripture we see that the parts contribute to and are enmeshed with the whole, the grand unifying theme of salvation in the gospel. I have already noted that our theology is a fruit of exegesis and I believe that careful exegesis of Scripture results in us being confronted with the summons to salvation, as well as proving the presupposition that God is the single author. Perspicuity is, as the Reformers emphasised, an objective attribute of Scripture.

9780567083777_p0_v1_s260x420If this post argues for anything then it is this: there is a dialogue in hermeneutics between theology and exegesis. And we must hold that it is a dialogue and not a monologue. The latter would have us advance no further than Anselm’s fides quarens intellectum or Augustine’s ‘believing in order to understand’. There is no denying that we work from a presuppositional doctrine of Scripture yet, as John Webster reminds us, in his essay On The Clarity Of Holy Scripture, all dogmatic confessions are “wholly subordinate to the primary work of the church’s theology, which is exegesis.”

To close I will adapt something Karl Barth wrote in the introduction to the fourth edition of his commentary on Romans. We are never compelled to choose between strictly scientific exegesis and our doctrine of Scripture, for they enjoy an established and healthy bilateral relationship. And so, like Barth, we can expend all of our energy in endeavoring “to see through and beyond history into the spirit of the Bible, which is the Eternal Spirit. What was once of grave importance, is so still.”

(PS: the title of this post is stolen from the collection of essays edited by M. Bockmuehl and A. J. Torrance, which is sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read.)

Doodle: The Dangerous Evangelical Assumption

Preaching committed to exegesis of the Bible

It was as a teenager that I first encountered exegetical preaching. And it is significant, though not paramount, that I was converted under that model of preaching, as the Holy Spirit helped me to understand the gospel of free grace in Christ Jesus. Within a year I was teaching the youth myself, but relying heavily on commentaries and sermons preached by others. But that too would change as I received training in bible handing. I was endowed with tools to exegete biblical texts (these can be studied in painful simplicity in Dig Deeper, or the classic How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth). I was taught the methods for ascertaining what the authors meant when they wrote a particular piece of literature (Schreiner, p7 in Interpreting The Pauline Epistles). I am inexplicably and immensely grateful for the people who practiced and modeled proper exegesis for it was their efforts of interpretation – illuminated by the Spirit – that caused me to faithfully repent. But my path has undoubtedly led me to a dangerous assumption regarding biblical exegesis, made by Evangelicals.

Gospel preached by Paul at AthenThis year I have been placed in a few primary schools where I have the opportunity to preach at break times. Our church is part of a larger schools work which means I have been forced to rub shoulders with brothers and sisters of a more charismatic persuasion. These fellow servants may have never had the privilege of sitting under preaching that makes the main point of the text the main message for hearers today; they have probably never sat through classes where exegetical tools are explained and honed for working on passages; I do not think any of them have even heard of Dig Deeper, let alone the discipline known as hermeneutics. But for all that, these men and women give hours of their day to proclaim the gospel, the free grace of our Lord. And I have been shown my arrogance as a proud Evangelical. More than that, the Evangelical assumption that I inherited as a young Christian is being uprooted.

Glasses on open BibleWhat is this “assumption”, you ask, having patiently waded through two reflective paragraphs? It is this: if we work hard at our exegesis and get the passage right, the Spirit will work. I fear that this makes the Spirit a slave to our abilities of exegesis. He ceases to be the sovereign God who acts freely and despite us; and becomes bound to work as we do. Does that sound right? It doesn’t to me. Our experiences of preaching attests to the fact that God works as he pleases. The best sermons fall on deaf ears while the worst sometimes give new life and produce spiritual fruit. Praise God. Our task as preachers is first and foremost to proclaim the God’s grace, on offer in the gospel. Too many Evangelicals assume that faithfully exegeting texts will enable the work of the Spirit. Our task is to faithfully preach the gospel, praying that the Spirit will do his work of regeneration and conviction in the lives of our hearers. He does, after all, enable us to understand the Scriptures. As Evangelicals we need to relinquish our (erroneously assumed) control over the Spirit’s work, for he is not tied to our abilities and exegesis.

The road to Emmaus and all the things concerning Christ…

emmaus-lThe adventures of leaving theological training to starting in full time church ministry present to me familiar challenges that my three years of training could not solve. And one such challenge is the question of how to preach the gospel from the Old Testament. As Christians we believe that the Old Testament is Gospel literature. And this is warranted by the fact that the Apostles preached about Christ by quoting the Old Testament (OT). Not only did they quote from it but it was the only inspired scripture of the early apostolic church. Such that Paul could say to Timothy that the Scriptures he was taught from childhood (i.e. OT) are profitable for training in Salvation. And there’s plenty more evidence of the fact that the OT is a Gospel literature. But the question that poses a challenge to me whenever I encounter the difficult passages is: How is does this passage teach the Gospel?

My intention is not to answer the question but to explore some of the grounds which we build our foundations on. The fresh and popular approach to interpreting the OT is called Biblical Theology. As a theological discipline, Biblical Theology looks at the Bible as one big story that ultimately points to Christ. The framework is normally “creation-fall-redemption-new creation” (or something along those lines). So the story of the Bible, according to Biblical theology, should be seen through the lens of God’s redemptive plan. And because the redemptive plan of God culminates in the revelation of Christ (as Hebrews 1:1 suggests), then every passage is interpreted with Jesus in view. So, whenever a difficulty arises on terms of understanding a particular passage, the answer is of course Jesus. As a general framework this is helpful, but my question is: does every OT detail point specifically to Christ?

road-to-emmaus1The famous passage that is often used to prove this is at the end of The Gospel of Luke: the encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. In one interview, Graeme Goldsworthy (one of the proponents of Biblical Theology) says that when he shows people the unity of the bible he normally starts them off with “Luke 24, where he [Jesus] points out that the whole of the Old Testament is about him” (see here). This is primarily based on the word of Luke: “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures”. But I want to challenge this as a foundation to conclude that the whole of the Old Testament is about Jesus.

I might be misrepresenting Goldsworthy’s argument but I do know that what Luke 24 says is not that it all points to Christ (whether that’s true or not). The key to understanding Luke 24 is obviously in its context (the Conversation with Cleopas).  The death of Jesus left people without a hope that he was the chosen messiah who would redeem Israel. So beginning with Moses (the first five books) and the rest of the Bible, Jesus proved to them that the OT did speak about the death and suffering of the Messiah; meaning that Jesus pointed out specific places in the OT that pointed to him. So, Jesus is not saying that the whole OT is all about him, but that there are things written about his death and suffering as Messiah in the OT; and that the people should not loose heart as if his death was a defeat in God’s plan. The scriptures from Moses to the prophets speak about the suffering and glory of the Messiah.

So I think that the phrases “everything written about Me” (24:44) and “the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (24:27) refer to specific OT passages that speak distinctively about Jesus. However, this does not disprove the fact that the OT is a grand narrative about God’s salvation. But it dispels the false foundations on which we built some of our frameworks of BT. Therefore Jesus on the road to Emmaus was not giving a lesson in how every bit of the OT points to him. Rather, to restate the point, he was showing them how specific passages in OT testified about how the promised Messiah would suffer and be raised to bring salvation.

The question of how the OT is Gospel literature still remains a challenge. But from the perspective of Luke 24 we can at least conclude that Luke was not teaching that our interpretation of the OT is a simple formula of “what does this teach us about Christ”. And obviously we can’t draw general conclusions about the framework of BT. But Luke does not teach an “all points to Jesus” framework.
This needs to be qualified but I’ll leave room for comments…

Mark’s Ending: From Apologetics to Application

Turn Your Fear to Faith by BrittlebearAt Friday youth we have been doing a course called Christianity Explored (the youth version though – called Soul). The course runs for seven weeks with each week teaching something different from the book of Mark. In the fourth week the topic was the resurrection and because the course is an introduction to Christianity, we encourage questions. The question that came was not particularly surprising – especially given Mark’s surprising ending:

Mark ends in verse 8 of chapter 16 as follows:
Mark 16:8 “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
and actually, verse 7 says, “But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” ”

Imagine the reader’s confusion when s/he reads any of the other Gospel accounts:

Matthew 28:8 “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

Luke 24:9 “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.”

John 20:2 “So she [Mary Magdalene] came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said …”

What do we do with Mark’s mistake here? Doesn’t this disprove the Bible?

My response, which I am hoping exemplifies a helpful response, was the following: I began with the assumption that Mark was not a complete idiot – a reasonable assumption I think. Based on that, I asked whether – considering Mark had obviously heard about the resurrection – he actually thought that the women said nothing to anyone. Clearly they said something to someone or Mark himself wouldn’t know about the it. We still don’t know what he means by it but we can be confident that he wouldn’t disagree with the other gospel writers.

The difficulty then moves from the realm of “contradictions in the Bible” to that of interpretation. By simply assuming that the writer is not stupid we don’t have to worry about losing Scripture. The question lingers though – what did Mark mean?

To answer this I would point the reader to the rest of Mark’s gospel where we find fear and faith juxtaposed (for example 4:40, 5:36). Here, I think, Mark is directing his readers to respond not by fleeing in fear but by in following in faith. His readers, in case you hadn’t caught on, are me and you; we’re the ones he’s challenging to “run from the tomb and tell everyone because we are filled with faith.”