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February 19, 2020

Does the Bible have a Purpose?

Curious Christian Blog, at BiblicalTraining.org

What is the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?  Did things go wrong and break in the Old Testament and God had to come, in Jesus, and fix that?  Or is the Old Testament plan A and the New Testament is the consummation of plan A?  Was the fall – Adam and Eve's big goof – in the Garden wrong? It was clearly wrong – but did it catch God with his guard down?  Was it unexpected?  Did He not plan for that?  Or was that the original purpose from before the foundations of the earth?  How does the New Testament address that issue? 

Click here to watch a short video introduction by Dr. Miles Van Pelt.

What is the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?  Did things go wrong and break in the Old Testament and God had to come, in Jesus, and fix that?  Or is the Old Testament plan A and the New Testament is the consummation of plan A?  We have to think about some of those issues.  Was the fall – Adam and Eve's big goof – in the Garden wrong? It was clearly wrong – but did it catch God with his guard down?  Was it unexpected?  Did He not plan for that?  Or was that the original purpose from before the foundations of the earth?  How does the New Testament address that issue? 

Continuity & Discontinuity

These are some big questions. One of the things that I hope very much to give you [in this excerpt from the course, Understanding Biblical Theology], is a strong sense of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.  That is, I think, one of the things that I can do for you that perhaps is not covered in most Old Testament introductions.  I want to show you the relationship between the Old and New Testaments in a way that is unified, organically related and that leaves room both for things that are apparently diverse and also for a good level of continuity.  I am a big continuity guy.  I believe there is massive continuity between the Old and New Testaments.  But I also believe there is important discontinuity.  When we get to those sections in the Old Testament where we may perceive continuity, I will also say: "Hey, look, there is also discontinuity in that."  Discontinuity is just as important for us.  These are important things to consider.

A Three-Dimensional Look

I will argue eventually for something, but I will be different from [others] and I will show you.  [Other] people focus on one theme – creation, monotheism, promised plan of God – that kind of thing.  I am going to come at it with a three-dimensional outlook.  I am going to have three things and the three things are not going to be the same things.  It won't be that we have three centers or three main themes, or four main themes like some do.  I am going to say there are themes and there are frames and there are structures, just like you would have in the building of a house.  You have got a foundation.  Without that, you cannot have anything else.  And you have got a structure.  Without the structure, there is no form.  And then you have got other things in there that determine the basic outlook and the workings of each room.  It is very important to think that you do not have just one thing.  Maybe there are several ways in which we can appropriate this thing.

Think about your body.  Your body has a skeletal system that gives it structure.  It has a heart that gives it life.  It has skin that kind of holds it together.  If you got rid of the skin, it would be kind of messy.  We would all be "the blob" – just kind of moving around.  If you did not have bones, I do not know how you would get around.  You would just have to roll in this kind of sack that you are in.  If you did not have blood, it would not matter because you would not be alive.  If you did not have the heart to pump it around, you would not be alive.  You would not need bone or skin anyway.   So there are parts that work together.  Without just one of them, the whole could not work.  That is how I am going to try to describe my approach.

But before I do, I mention this.  Not only do people talk about the content in terms of a big center – that is certainly one of the big discussions in Biblical Theology today.  Is there a center for Biblical Theology?  Is it about one thing?  That is what I have been talking about.  Some say the center is monotheism or creation or the kingdom of God or the promised plan of God.  They say that is the theological center.  But there is also a lot of discussion about the mode of revelation.  There is the question: What is it about?  There is also the question: How does God communicate that message?

How has God communicated His message to us?  Sometimes He acts in history: He creates, He redeems, He throws fiery hailstones on Sodom and Gomorrah.  Sometimes, He speaks to us in the Old Testament.  There are actual instances where God is speaking - with Moses or with Abraham.  Sometimes it is by visions or dreams.  Sometimes it is through a mediator like a prophet or a priest.  We can also talk about the different modes in which Scripture has come to us.  For example, there are poetry and prose and narrative.  There are law and gospel.  There are Old Testament genres of literature like history, law, wisdom, praise, prophecy, apocalyptic literature, dreams and visions.  We also have the New Testament.  We have the gospels, certain history.  We have epistles, letters, and sermons.  We also have apocalyptic literature and even dreams and visions again.  So there are all these things that the Bible does in terms of the events and the modes of their communication.

But what unifies that big ragtag mess of stuff into a plan – into a book that is purpose-driven?  This is a really important question.  So, the million-dollar question or questions is this.  What is the Bible about?  How is that message communicated?  And so if there is a million-dollar question, we have to assume there is a million-dollar answer.  In this class, Understanding Biblical Theology, we will be trying to discover that million dollar answer, all for free.  Hopefully, we should all leave this place, Biblical millionaires.  That is what we are going to try and do.  That is what you can do.  What do millionaires do?  They are philanthropists.  They go around giving their money away.  That is what we are going to do.  We are going to be Biblical millionaires.  After these sessions, we can go around giving our millions and our wealth away to people.  That is what we want to do.  That is not a bad thing to do.

The Bible Interprets Itself

I adhere to a very important reformation principle.  It is this: The Bible does in fact interpret itself.  That is to say, the Bible will tell us itself what it is all about.  Normally, we think about that reformation principle in terms of a microscopic level.  That is, we will say something like this: "Whenever I come across a difficult passage, I try to go to a passage that is clearer, that talks about the same thing, to help me with it."  For example, [what do you do] when you come across the statements in the New Testament that there will be neither marriage nor the giving in marriage in heaven. That is a tough one for me to handle.  What does that mean?  You can go to Paul's epistles where he talks about marriage.  Perhaps you can go to the end of the book of Revelation where it talks about marriage in Revelation 21.  You can go maybe to Genesis Chapter 2 where it talks about marriage.  You can get this full Biblical Theology of marriage to see what in fact Jesus is trying to get at when He says that there will be neither marriage nor the giving in marriage.  There is a difficult text that perhaps I do not understand.  I need to understand the bigger text and get the bigger picture to understand.  That is one way that the reformation principle applies.

Heirs to a Higher Critical Approach to the Bible

The other way is this: at the bigger level, the Bible is just going to tell you clearly what it is about, without kidding around.  Wouldn't it be weird if God gave us in English these 66 books and never said: "Hey, this is really what it is all about."  [We are rarely] taught to think that way anymore.  We are heirs to a higher critical approach to the Bible that likes to take things apart.  It takes things apart and takes things apart and takes things apart until you cannot recognize it anymore.  But they are not interested at all in putting it back together.  What I want to do for us in this class is to put it all back together for us.  That is really the very simple thing that I have to do.  I want to put the Bible back together for you so that you can understand the Old Testament again.  I do believe that the Bible was meant to be understood.

But it is not an encyclopedia of self-help.  Some use it that way.  They think: "I am feeling depressed today so I am going to read a Psalm."  "I just lost a lot of money in this business deal so I am going to read Proverbs and hopefully I will get wise and will not ever do that again."  "I am thinking about marriage so I am going to read Paul's description in Ephesians on it and then I will read Genesis 2 and then if I get depressed about marriage, I will read the book of Revelation where there is the wedding ceremony with the bride and the Lamb and that will be really nice and good because that would be encouraging."  It is not like that – although you can do some of that with it.  It is not a manual or encyclopedia of self-help.  It is the word of God, about God, for God, by God.  It is written to us to understand Him.  So we need to approach Scripture that way – in a very important, important way.

The NT as the Authoritative Key for Understanding the OT

I am going to work at answering this question for you: What is the Bible about and how is that message communicated?  I am going to do that by simply quoting a verse for you.  I have two very important verses that this entire Old Testament Introduction is structured around.  They are from the New Testament because I believe that the New Testament is the authoritative key for understanding the Old Testament.

My first verse is Acts 28:23.  Luke is the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.  Both my quotes come from Luke (that is the author).  One is at the end of Acts and one is at the end of Luke.  So these two verses are important for me.  The first one is Acts 28:23.  Let me just give you the context of Acts 28.  Here, Paul has finally arrived in Rome.  He has been working to get to Rome to spread the gospel and that is in verses 11-16.  Then in verses 17-22, Paul is described as under arrest and bringing his appeal.  He is under arrest as a Roman citizen.  He is going to make his appeal to the officials in Rome.

Then in verse 23-28, it is recorded that Paul is meeting with Jewish leaders and many others on a certain day, all day and all night, to talk about the Bible.  He gives a defense of what he is doing.  That is what is happening.  The guy is in trouble.  He is in Rome.  It is like he has gone to Washington DC and he has got to make his appeal to the president and during that time his friends and other people who are interested in his case are around him and so he is talking about it.  All night and all day, he is there teaching and preaching or proclaiming or whatever Paul does in his frenzied way.  The text concludes by recording the fact that Paul stayed in Rome for two years at his own expense, proclaiming the same message over and over again.

What is that message?

Listen to Acts 28:30-31.  It says, "And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness unhindered."  So here, at the end of Acts 28 – we are going to back up and do verse 23 in a second – we get two basic theological themes or items to center around.  He does this for two years – not just ten or twelve hours of course literature.  For two years he does one thing: teach about the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ.

Now let me ask you this question – this may be a shock to you – but during Paul's day he did not have a New Testament.  His Bible was the Old Testament.  When he defended himself and described his ministry and the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ, guess what he was using?  The Old Testament.  We must not read our modern sense of what Paul had available to him as resources into this text.  Paul had only those books (what we consider the 39 books of the Old Testament) available to him.  And most of us, I think, in terms of our own context, would be shocked that you could talk about Jesus and the kingdom of God from the Old Testament.  I was never raised in a church in a context that would regularly describe the Old Testament as being about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.  But that is exactly what Paul is doing here.

[In] Acts 28:23, [it says] "When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers, and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the law of Moses and from the prophets from morning until evening."  Let me put it up here this way.  We have got these two questions we are working on: What is the Bible about?  Then we have the second question that is part of our million-dollar question: How is that message communicated to us? 

Our Fifteen-Second Elevator Speech

This text in Acts 28:23 provides us with our fifteen-second elevator speech.  It is a great thing.  This verse answers one of the biggest questions I have always had in my Christian life growing up: What is the Bible about and how is that message being communicated to me?  Here is the answer. 

The Bible is about, according to Paul right here, the kingdom of God and it is about Jesus – who, in my book, is the King of the kingdom.  And how is that message communicated to us or provided to us or set forth to us?  Well, he says here – and this is a little more enigmatic and so we are going to have to back up and exegete this text right here, this idiom, where it says: "the law of Moses and the prophets.

What is the Bible About?

I am going to quickly cover this first issue: What is the Bible about?  I am going to quickly cover the first question: What is the Bible about?  I am just going to proclaim to you that it is about the kingdom of God and Jesus.  I will give you some Bible verses as a kind of quick artillery to shoot people down with if they deny that.   I will finish this today.  Then I am going to spend eight hours exegeting this: "the Law of Moses and the prophets".  Why is that in there?  What is it doing?  Who cares?  Is this description of any significance to you and me?  The Bible could have been huge.  The Bible could have been multi-volumed.  What is said in the Bible about the acts and words of Jesus?  The whole world could not have contained them if they would have been written down.  But now we have just one book and so it is highly selective.  So why would this be in here to describe the Bible?  We are going to talk about that.

Method of Communication

How is that message communicated to us?  It is communicated to us as the Law of Moses and the prophets. With reference to Paul's message, [these] three important expressions appear in this text that will shape our understanding of the Old Testament.  In fact, you could say that this entire set of lectures constitutes an extended exegetical discussion of the implications or significance of Acts 28:23 for our understanding of the Old Testament. 

Want to learn more about a new undergraduate level Old Testament Survey class by Dr. Miles Van Pelt coming soon?

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