A Guide to Biblical Theology - Lesson 2
The Purpose-Driven Bible
How to explain in 30 seconds the contents and message of the Bible in a way that is meaningful and informative.
The Purpose-Driven Bible
I. The Purpose of the Bible
a. Books have a Purpose
b. Does the Bible have a Purpose?
c. What is the Bible About?
d. Some Suggested Answers
e. Does the Bible have a Unified Message?
II. A Three-Dimensional Model
a. The Thematic Framework: the Kingdom of God
b. The Theological Center: Jesus
c. The Canonical Structure: the Law and the Prophets
How to think about and interpret the Old Testament
How to explain in 30 seconds the contents and message of the Bible in a way that is meaningful and informative.
The order of the books in Hebrew Bibles is different from the English Old Testament because of the criteria used when putting them together.
The order of the books in the Hebrew Bible helps us understand God's covenant.
The twelve books in the Writings are divided into two groups of six. The first six books are about covenant life. The latter six books are about life in exile.
When the books of the Old Testament are ordered according to canon and covenant, they also correspond to the order of the books in the New Testament.
There is thematic organization through the Old Testament canon and massive correspondence to the arrangement of the books in the New Testament.
Common themes in the synoptic Gospels are the "kingdom of God," and a shift from the "old covenant" to the "new covenant." The ultimate question Jesus asks is will we choose to be a part of his kingdom?
A description of the teachings of Jesus, showing they were in contrast to what was promoted in the culture, as well as how there was continuity to the teachings of the Torah.
Jesus claimed to be God by the titles he used to refer to himself, by what he said and did, and by dying and then coming back to life. The Gospels record that the evidence for the divinity of Jesus was so overwhelming, that even Jews who had a strong tradition in worshiping one God who is a spirit, were compelled to worship Jesus as God, even though he was a man.
The Gospel of Mark focuses on Jesus as miracle worker, prophet and suffering servant. Matthew focuses on Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. The Gospel of Matthew includes much of Mark's material as well as some accounts that are unique to Matthew.
The Gospel of Luke has much in common with the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Luke emphasizes Jesus' compassion for people who were outcasts and writes as a historian, with attention to detail.
John is the most unique of the four Gospels. He emphasizes that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. "Belief" is a key word for John because it means more to him than just mental assent.
Two of the themes Paul emphasizes throughout his epistles are the glory of God in Christ and God being magnified in Christ. Paul preaches to both Jews and Gentiles and emphasizes these truths in a way that each group can understand. He also explains God's call on his life and the authority God has given him to preach the gospel.
The core idea of sin is refusing to honor and praise God. This is in contrast to the central theme in Paul's theology, which is knowing God in Christ. Jesus calls us to acknowledge him as Lord by our words and actions.
The resurrection and ascension of Jesus demonstrated that Jesus is Lord. Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20 are passages that teach that Jesus is both fully man and fully God. Justification means that God declares the wicked to be righteous. God provides salvation as a free gift so He is exalted because of what He has done.
Election excludes works as a reason for God choosing you. God's calling always results in salvation. God's calling is a tremendous example of his love for you. Paul encourages people to live the Christian life by being filled with the Holy Spirit and to act out of a motivation of love. He addresses baptism, the Lord's Supper, leaders in the church, church discipline and the resurrection. He also emphasizes the importance of persevering to the end.
As opposed the Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology asks the question of what a particular book, or group of books, teach on different topics, showing emphases of the different parts of Scripture.
Please click on the Charts link under Downloads to access the chart that Dr. Van Pelt refers to in his lectures.
Dr. Miles Van Pelt
A Guide to Biblical Theology
The Purpose-Driven Bible
I. The Purpose of the Bible
a. Books have a Purpose
Every book has a purpose. Think of a book that you have read. Think of Hebrew text books. They have a purpose: to teach you Hebrew. If they do not do that well, they are not good. Greek text books want to teach you Greek. If they do not do that, they are not good. Books like the Harry Potter books, that are so popular now, if they do not entertain you, they are not good and you will not read them. Or the Grisham novels. Things like that. Books have purposes. Some books teach you how to program html language and stuff like that. Books have purposes: some are to entertain, some are to instruct.
Determining the purpose of the book will help you to read that book. You would not go to the bookstore in a desire to learn and get resources for doing art and then buy a Hebrew grammar text book. You just would not. Well, you may, but it would not be a good idea. The reason is that book is not going to teach you art. It does not have the purpose to teach you art.
b. Does the Bible have a Purpose?
The question is: "Does the Bible have a purpose? Is it purpose-driven? That is the million-dollar question I want to ask you. It is really two questions, so maybe it is two million dollars, maybe five-hundred thousand each. What is the Bible about? And how is that message communicated to us? Now there is your elevator speech. That is the deal. What is the Bible about? And how is that message communicated? This is the thing. If you had fifteen to thirty seconds on an elevator with a person – a trapped, captive audience – during which time you are supposed to or are enticed to explain the Bible, could you adequately explain both the contents and the message of the Bible in thirty seconds in a way that was meaningful and informative? Well, what would you say? That is a tough question.
That is really a tough question. Think about all the stuff we have in the Bible. We have the account of the creation of the world. We have stuff in there about the sons of God sleeping with the daughters of man (whatever that may mean) which is very different from creation. We have stuff about giants and about people living until they are 900. We have stories about patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We have a long section about what Joseph (one of the sons of the patriarchs) did in his life. We have things about Moses and David and Solomon. We are told how many horses Solomon had and how many wives Solomon had. We have instructions about what type of undergarments the Levites are supposed to wear and what kind of scabs or afflictions you can and cannot come into the temple with and who you can and cannot marry and what you should do with the ground-markers or boundary-markers. We have stuff about kings, and not just kings of Israel, but of Ammon and Moab and Edom. We have stuff about battles and gore and people getting chopped up and swallowed by the earth. We have praise and lament and wisdom. We have love poetry in the Song of Songs. We have daily wisdom on how to live in the book of Proverbs. We have Ecclesiastes where everything seems to be vain and meaningless. There are all kinds of things. How do you adequately explain all of that in fifteen to twenty seconds? That is just the Old Testament.
Then we also have Jesus and all that He said and did and what He means. Then there are the apostles. Then you have the Apocalypse: different colored horses, different colored riders, dragons and beasts. It would take you at least fifteen seconds to describe all the different dragons and beasts in the book of Revelation. So what controls all of that? How do you think about that in such a way that you can glue it all together? And when you give someone a description, will it help them to understand red horses and Levitical underwear all at the same time? If you can do that, you may have something. If you have something that can describe that level of diversity and unify it and give it a purpose, then you may have a place to start. That is what I hope to do with you.
c. What is the Bible About?
Now, in terms of what the Bible is about and capturing the central message of the Bible, is there one thing the Bible is about? A number of different people have given a number of different attempted answers to this question. So we kind of have two parts going here. We are going to talk about (a) "what is the Bible about?", and then (b) "how is that message communicated?". Those are the two questions that are going to drive us for a little while today. Now in terms of what the Bible is about – (a) what is the Bible about? – some people have proposed answers. I am going to give you some academic names here – people working in the field, kind of like Biblical rock stars. I am going to tell you what they say the Bible is about or what they say controls its arrangement and stuff like that. I am going to let you kind of hear that to see the diversity.
d. Some Suggested Answers
One of my former professors, G. K. Beale from Gordon-Conwell, now at Wheaton, uses the theme of creation to tie the Bible together. Why? In Genesis 1 and 2, there is the creation of heaven and earth. In Revelation 21 and 22, there is the creation of the new heavens and the new earth, or its coming down. If that brackets the Bible – and there are enough major themes and continuity running through the Scriptures that tie it all together – that is a pretty good theme to put it all together with. In some sense, he is right. Creation is a major theme. We can learn a lot from that. Creation is important. When a book like the Bible begins with creation and ends with the new creation, there is something massively important about creation. So we must heed that. But I am not so certain or convinced that that is the central theme. That is, it may be a bracketing theme or a major theme, but not the central theme.
Another scholar G. Ernest Wright, or Gerhard von Rad, a German, describe the acts of God as the major rubric which, in some sense, presents to us the arrangement and structure of the Bible in the Old Testament. God created. God acted at the tower of Babel. Before that, He acted in the flood. Then there was the exodus. So, the Bible is about the acts of God and our confession of those acts. It is what God has done in history. This is what we in reformed circles often call redemptive history. (I do not like the term redemptive history – and perhaps we will talk about that later – covenantal history is perhaps better).
Paul House, in his Biblical Theology, and in another article, argues essentially that monotheism, in its Trinitarian form, is the center of the Bible. That may or may not be true. Certainly, monotheism is there. I do not know if it is the center because, if that were the case, then any religion that held monotheism would have the same center. There is something unique about our monotheism, especially as it pertains to the incarnation. That is unique. It is there. It is major like creation, but I am not sure it is the one.
Walt Kaiser, a professor of mine and a respected Old Testament scholar, organizes the Scriptures according to this theme: the promised plan of God. He has got a book, Toward an Old Testament Theology, that does a great job describing that. He argues that basically we are looking at a promise-fulfillment scheme: the promise of God and the fulfillments of that promise along the way until they reach their prophetic and ultimate climax in Jesus. He is the ultimate fulfillment of the promised plan. It is a great book. It is well worth reading. I am going to offer a different model that is related to that, but not exactly the same.
Then there are others. The revelation of God is something that Vos picks up on as a major theme. So here, now listen to this. We have some folks talking about the acts of God and some folks talking about the revelation of God and in some sense those two are the same. In the Bible we have two things going on: the work of God in history in the acts of God and the interpretation of those works in Scripture. Both of them are recorded for us. It is the recording of the redemptive event and the redemptive interpretation of that event that creates the authoritative bulk of Scripture around the event. There is both word and event. And so the splitting up of those two things, for me, is not a good thing. You have to keep the word and the event together – or the event and the word.
Let me just give you an example. We have the exodus event culminating in Exodus 14. Then, in Exodus 15, there is this big, long poem interpreting the significance of that event. You can really only understand, or begin to understand, the significance of the exodus event in Exodus 14 by its divine and inspired and authoritative interpretation in Exodus 15. You have got to have them both together. You cannot separate them. So it is both event and word together for me. We will talk more about that.
People like Bright and Ladd suggest the kingdom of God. Terrien suggests the presence of God. Reconciliation and righteousness are major themes for someone like Peter Stuhlmacher.
e. Does the Bible have a Unified Message?
Then we must not only think about the Old Testament, but additionally the message of the New Testament must somehow be related to that. You just cannot have an Old Testament with one group of themes and a New Testament with another group of themes. You have to keep the two together. So must the message of the New Testament be the same as that of the Old Testament? Are there two different, but unrelated messages? Or is there one unified message?
That is a big, big discussion. 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? These are some big questions.
One of the things that I hope very much to give you in this course 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. So that is important to think about. These are important things to consider.
II. A Three-Dimensional Model
So I will argue eventually for something. But I will be different from these folks and I will show you. These people focus on one thing – 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. And it has a skin that kind of holds it together. If you got rid of the skin, it would be kind of a messy. We would all be "the blob" – just kind of moving around campus here. 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 a 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 hail stones on Sodom and Gomorrah. Sometimes He speaks to us in the Old Testament. There are actual instances where God is speaking: for example, 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 talk about that. We can also talk about the different modes in which Scripture has come to us. For example, there is poetry and prose and narrative. There is 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? That is the real 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, 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.
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 on it. For example, 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 reformation principle applies.
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." Rarely are we taught to think that way anymore. We are heirs to a higher critical approach to the Bible that likes to take things apart. It take things apart and take things apart and take 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.
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 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.
If we read the text of Acts 28:23 in the New American Standard version (It is just a good literal version. You may have another version. That is fine. But here is the NAS.). "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 our second question that is part of our million dollar question: How is that message communicated to us? 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."
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. How is that message communicated to us? It is communicated to us as the Law of Moses and the prophets.
What I want to do at this point is to talk to you just about the significance of Acts 28:23 for understanding the Old Testament. Let me just read this paragraph I have here in my notes because I have structured it carefully. With reference to Paul's message, 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. At this point let me borrow from Rick Warren's well-known book titles and state that Acts 28:23 describes for us a purpose-driven Bible in three basic categories. I think we can all jive with that. We know what Rick Warren is doing. He has really done us a service in the church by saying that the church has got purpose and our lives have purpose. He is trying to describe that purpose for us. Guess what? Our Bible has purpose and it is good to know about that purpose. There are three things going on here.
a. The Thematic Framework: the Kingdom of God
First, is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is an important label for me. I am going to give you three labels for these three things. The kingdom of God is the thematic framework for the entire Christian Bible. It is the thematic framework. If you are thinking about a person's body as a metaphor for how the Bible is put together, this is the skin. It holds everything together. Nothing exists outside of the skin. The moment you put a hole in the skin, the insides start coming out. The skin holds it all together. If we are thinking about a wheel, a wheel has three basic parts. There is the hub, the spokes and the outer part, the wheel. The kingdom of God is the thematic framework. It is the outside wheel. Nothing exists outside of that wheel. The spokes occur within it. The hub occurs within it. It is all connected to that. Nothing exists outside of the wheel. So it is either the skin of the body or the wheel of the tire. It is the skin of the body or the wheel of the tire. We are going to work with those metaphors just for a moment.
This theme, the kingdom of God, is the thematic framework or the theme within which all other themes, motifs and theologies exist. It is the realm of the prophet, the priest and the king. It is the world of the judge, the scribe, the psalmist and the warrior. Nothing exists in the Old Testament or even the New Testament outside of this all-encompassing theme. Nothing. The Levitical underwear is an important part of the kingdom of God because it was showing for us the way in which a person must cover themselves to have access to this King. The King is holy and we are not. We have to cover ourselves to get there. The red horses in the book of the Apocalypse are describing the fiery wrath that is due to the people who do not submit to that King. It describes all kinds of fury. The kingdom of God encompasses everything.
That is why we can talk about creation because that is the realm of the kingdom. We can talk about wars because that is the wars of the kingdom. We can talk about the law because that is the law of the kingdom. We can talk about the priest because that is the mediator in the kingdom. Everything exists within the kingdom of God. And so it is the one theme that will encompass everything for you. When someone says: "Hey, what is the Bible about in all of its weird diversity?", you say: "Kingdom of God". It fits.
It is like saying: "Hey, what are all of those fifty states about? How do you explain California and Nevada and Arizona and Mississippi? How do you explain that place? You say: "United States of America. The United States of America encompasses all of the different states." That is how you explain their unity even though, having lived in three or four or five myself, there is great diversity between states. California, for example, where I was born, is not like Massachusetts where I did some schooling. It is not like Kentucky. It is especially it is not like Mississippi, even though we are the United States. That is the unifying theme. There is great diversity within that. Some states get a lot of snow; some states get no snow. Some states are terribly humid all the time; some states get no humidity. Some states get a lot of rain; some states get little rain. Some states are densely populated, like in the northeast; some states, like in the southwest, are more sporadically populated. There is diversity, but there is something that unifies them.
For the Bible the unifying theme is the kingdom of God. This is the overarching theme of the Christian Bible. This theme is explicitly stated as such 98 times in the New Testament. Of these 98 occurrences, 84 of them (that is, 85% of them) occur in the gospels, right where you would expect. The center of Biblical history is the life of Jesus. And right at that center is the kingdom of God, kingdom of God, kingdom of God – over and over and over again, the kingdom of God. In the book of Matthew, by the way, it is the kingdom of heaven. He did not want to offend overly his Jewish audience. "Kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" are interchangeable.
Now listen to Matthew 4:17. This is describing the very first time Jesus goes out and preaches and after his baptism and what He did. This is what Jesus did. "From that time on, Jesus began to preach: 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven or God is near'." Mark 10:7. "Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel and, as you go, preach this message: 'the kingdom of God is near, or the kingdom of heaven is near'." Acts 1:3 is another great verse. "After His suffering (that is, Jesus), "He showed Himself (Jesus again) to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and He spoke about the kingdom of God." Forty days. Now I want you to think carefully about this event in history. I would have given anything to be there at those moments. Those are my favorite forty days of church history. Of all the days in church history I wished I could have been at, Jesus' forty days of post-resurrection life on this earth teaching heads the list. That would have been spectacular for me. You always get those questions about, if you had a time machine and you could go back in time, where would you go? For me, this is it. Do you think Jesus just sat around for forty days saying kingdom of God, kingdom of God, kingdom of God, kingdom of God? No. What the author is doing here in the book of Acts is summarizing Jesus' message as the kingdom of God.
Notice here in the book of Acts, the kingdom of God is in Acts 1. Then again, it is in Acts 28, the very last chapter. It refers to the kingdom of God. Reference to the teaching and exposition of the kingdom of God frames the book of Acts. That is remarkable. The book of Acts is about the kingdom of God breaking loose on earth at Pentecost in a way that had never ever happened before. The kingdom of God. For me, this is what we could call – can we borrow from Rick Warren again and just have a little bit of fun here? – this is Jesus' forty days of purpose. You have seen it, haven't you? You can laugh a little bit. I understand. All of these churches around the country are having forty days of purpose, forty days of purpose. You know what? It is a Biblical idea. Jesus, when He came back after He was resurrected, had forty days of purpose. Think of this. Jesus knew He was leaving in forty days. It was not a surprise to Him when He ascended. He knew He was leaving and He decided: "Hey if I have forty days with these people I love, these people I have died for, these people I have lived with. Remember when Lazarus died? It was not a casual event in His life – Ho-hum, I will see him later in heaven. He wept. He loved these people. When He taught them, He taught them one thing: the kingdom of God. That embraced everything they needed to know. That is a remarkable thing to think about it that way and to exegete these statements and not just quickly to pass over them.
John Bright has written a book helpfully titled The Kingdom of God. You should get it. He has put it this way: "For the concept of the kingdom of God involves in a real sense the total message of the Bible." That is helpful thing, because sometimes people like me can stand up here and be like a crackpot and say things. And you say: "Good thing that he is done because that was a little weird for me." I am using this other scholar to falsely bolster my authority so you will believe me. Here it is. "In a very real sense," he says, "the total message of the Bible. Not only does it loom large in the teaching of Jesus, it is to be found in one form or another through the length and breadth of the Bible. At least, if we may view it through the lens of the New Testament faith – from Abraham who set out to seek the city whose builder and maker is God, until the New Testament closes with the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God – to grasp what is meant by the kingdom of God is to come very close to the heart of the Bible's gospel of salvation." Let me read that last part again. "To grasp what is meant by the kingdom of God is to come very close to the heart of the Bible's gospel of salvation." That is a big statement. So, in essence, when you are saying the Bible is about the kingdom of God, you are summarizing the gospel. To use Walt Kaiser's expression, you are summarizing the promised plan of God. The promised plan of God. That is from John Bright, The Kingdom of God: the Biblical Concept and its Meaning for the Church. It is a good book to have. I actually got that from Paul Wegner's book, The Journey From Texts to Translations: the Origin and Development of the Bible, Baker Books, 1999, page 69. Give credit where credit is due.
Let me read you another quote about the kingdom of God from a German scholar named Walter Eichrodt. He has a massive two-volume theology of the Old Testament from the 1960s. He writes this about the kingdom of the God. I should remark, he said it in German. This is the translation. "That which binds together indivisibly the two realms of the Old and New Testaments is the eruption of the kingdom of God into this world and its establishment here." Now, you may quibble with a couple of things in that statement. Fine and dandy. But what he is saying is that understanding the kingdom of God helps me unify my Old and New Testament. Whatever can unify those two diverse bodies of literature may provide a helpful interpretive key for it.
For my money, in the church, we have not adequately comprehended the significance of the message of the kingdom of God for understanding our entire Bible. It is the skin that holds the body together. It is the wheel upon which the tire rolls. Without the wheel for that tire, there is no rolling. Without the skin, there is no comprehension. There is no putting it together. In fact, when I look at you, I see basically your skin. Your skin identifies you as unique from anyone else in this class. Some of you have lighter skin, darker skin. Some of you have skin that is redder and oranger or browner. Some of you have skin with dark hair and lighter hair associated with it. Your skin and the structure of that skin is very informative to me. It tells me something. It could tell me about your country of origin. It could tell me that you like to hang out in the sun or you do not like to hang out in the sun. For some of you, I can tell if you are a teenager, because your skin will have certain blemishes erupting on your face. You could tell, not only about the person, but about their age. You can tell that kind of thing. So the skin can tell you a lot about the person. It is good to get to know the skin, because it is going to tell you something about the content.
That is the first thing: the kingdom of God. Now again, let me apologize. I have given you a couple of Bible verses and some scholars who can back me up and then resources for you to go and read more there. Look at Wright's book and Eichrodt's book. Both of them are available in English to you. We do not want to spend much time there, because I think those volumes really get at some good stuff. They cover way more than ten or so hours of lecture could comprehend. We are not primarily about that theme at this point.
b. The Theological Center: Jesus
The second thing that Paul talks about in Acts 28:23 is Jesus. That is number two. For me, Jesus is the theological center. Let me say that again. Jesus is the theological center of Biblical revelation. This is different from a thematic framework. The thematic framework is the encompassing matrix of interpretation. The theological center is the heart, the point, the bull's eye of Bible revelation. I say it this way. Jesus is the heart of all Biblical revelation. He is the point, goal, fullness and purpose of the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ is the King of the kingdom. Jesus Christ represents the heart of the canonical body.
We are going to use that body metaphor. If the kingdom of God is the skin (the thematic framework), Jesus (the theological center) is the heart. He is the heart. He gives life to the whole of the body. The living force of the canonical word is the incarnate word. If you remove the heart, the body is dead. The canonical structure and the thematic framework would represent severed and lifeless body parts without the living force of the theological center, Jesus Christ. You take away Jesus out of the Bible and you are done. Throw it in the trash can. It makes no sense. I have no time for it. It is all about Him, for Him and by Him. If it is not, I quit.
We know that, in terms of Jesus' relationship to the word of God, He Himself claims to be the incarnate word. He is the source, subject and significance of every word found on every page. Prove that. I will in so many words. Here I apologize again because for being brief. First, let's listen to Isaiah 44:6. It says: "This is what Yahweh says (or the Lord says): 'Israel's king and redeemer, Yahweh of hosts, the Lord almighty, I am the first and I am the last and apart from Me there is no God'." So if Jesus is the first and the last, He is the hermeneutical key to everything because He exists before it and after it. There is nothing in between that cannot be explained by it. He is the bracketed ending. Proverbs 8:23 says, "I (that is, wisdom) was appointed from eternity, from beginning, from before the world began." So again, this whole idea of this preincarnate word of God interpreting all of reality exists there. 2 Corinthians 1:20. I love this one. It does not get any clearer than this. "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'yes' in Christ and so, through Him, the 'amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God." This works well with Walt Kaiser's view on, for example, the promised plan of God. The climax, the fulfillment, of that promise is Jesus Christ. He is what it is all about. There are other great verses about this. There are lots of them. Listen to John 1:1 and 4. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." So there is this intimate relationship between Jesus and the Word. He is the hermeneutical key for understanding that Word. "And in Him was life and that life was the light of men." That is that whole heart metaphor coming back. John 5:39. Here is one of my favorite ones. These next three are very clear. John 5:39 says this: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me." I want to remind you that Jesus' Bible did not have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Corinthians and all that stuff. Jesus' Bible was the Old Testament. He is saying here: "These are the Scriptures that testify about me."
Now again, I am presuppositional in this category. If Jesus says they are about Him, I believe Him. I am going to salute and move on. What I must do is this. I must say my own preconceived notion that the Old Testament is about weird stuff and the New Testament is about Jesus is wrong. The Bible clearly says – not just the Bible, but Jesus clearly says – that the Old Testament is about Him. If you do not believe that, you do not have problems with me; you have problems with Jesus. And let me point out that Jesus has a sword in His mouth when He is coming back. He is not the humble and meek Lamb anymore. So, if you have problems with that statement, watch out. He means what He says and He says what He means. And so, that is why Jesus can say: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." He is the hermeneutical key to it all. Similar to our John 5 passage is Luke 24:25-27. He said this: "Jesus said to them, 'How foolish you are (this is the road to Emmaus) and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken (the prophets are the Old Testament guys). Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?' Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." Would not you have loved to have been there? You may like or not like this introduction, but that introduction to the Old Testament would have been good. It would have been fully inspired. I wish we had that, but I think we get it later in the canon.
And then Luke 24:44-45. "Jesus said to them, 'This is what I told while I was still with you. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms.' Then He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures." Two things are important here. First, there is this whole idea about divine illumination necessary for the disciples of Christ. This continues now. We need this in order to be able to understand the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament, as being about God, about Jesus. The other thing is that here it says that the Old Testament is about Jesus.
That goes against almost every early Christian flannelgraph story you have ever seen in church, where they believe that the Bible is not about God, but about me. David is not a type of Christ; he is a type of me. If I can be courageous like David, I will be a better person, have a happier marriage, a bigger bank account and I will not be sad in life. But that is wrong. If you want to be more like Jesus, you are going to have suffering and be afflicted and have bad things happen to you in life. That is what happened to Jesus – if you want to dare to be Him. David was a man of extreme suffering and affliction. In fact, if you read the book of Psalms, the number one psalm he liked to sing was a lament. It was not a country-western song about how happy he was and about how wealthy he was and the hot chicks he was with. It was about suffering and persecution and enemy and famine and all of those things in life that were of no account to him because of his relationship with God.
There are some big differences here when you start talking about the Old Testament being about God. Now we can start learning about God again, instead of a psychological, self-help flannelgraph book. That is a big hermeneutical shift. Dare to be a David. Be like Solomon. Be like Elijah and Elisha. I do not have his mantle. I have not parted water yet. I am trying. I have not been fed by ravens yet, but it would be nice. I have not had the opportunity to kill a thousand Philistines with a jawbone of an ass, but I am still waiting for my day. There are some things we cannot do. I am going to argue that these peoples are not types of us, teaching us how we should live. Rather, they are types of Christ, showing us that God is faithful to keep His covenant and to save us and redeem us from the beginning to the end.
So I am going to encourage your faith with the gospel. I am not going to impose upon you the crushing weight of moralism that normally comes to us in our exposition of the Old Testament. There is a big difference. If we can make that shift in these ten hours together, we will do something good for the church. We will proclaim the gospel and stop proclaiming ourselves. In myself, I have got nothing for you. If you want to dare to be me, I will tell you where that is going to get you: it is going to be hot at the last day for you, it just will not work.
Let me put it this way. Let me read these two quotes for you that are kind of working against each other. There is a book called Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect. Scott Hafemann is the editor, a former professor of mine. I love that dude. He is a great teacher. I have massive respect for all the men writing in this book. They are dealing with this question here: What is the Bible about? Is there a center? The last two chapters are summarizing what is going on. Paul House says this. Paul House is one side and Graeme Goldsworthy is going to be another side. You will find quickly what side I fall on. Paul House says this (a provocative and encouraging quote): "We should give up arguing that one theme and one theme alone is the central theme of the Bible and highlight major themes that allow other ideas as sub-points." I am going to be in agreement with that a little bit, but not totally. "Of course we should never fail to assert that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are at the center of any unitary, Biblical theology. Nor should we ever fail to assert that the Bible unfolds God's redemptive history and the necessity of human response to God's gracious act."
Watch what Paul House is doing here. He is very tricky. He is saving his bacon on one side, but then he is also saying: "Well, really I believe it anyway." I think if he is like me, he is constantly conflicted about how to articulate himself without getting in trouble. He is saying there is no center, but God is the center (Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity) and as it occurs to us in these redemptive acts. He is really saying that God somehow – monotheism in the Trinity and redemptive history – holds everything together for him. That is his language here: Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the Bible unfold God's redemptive history. He is saying right here what is the Bible about: God the Father, God the Son and the God the Holy Spirit. And how is that message communicated to us? It is by redemptive history. So even though he says there is no center, he is arguing for one over here. And that is from Paul House, "Biblical Theology and the Wholeness of Scripture". Scott Hafemann is the editor, Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect, page 267. In some sense, I want to say I agree with what House is saying – that there is no one thing – because I have already given you two. I have given you Jesus and the kingdom of God. But I have also told you how they relate or work together in a unified fashion.
But I also do think there is one center. If you had to die on the cross, if you had to be martyred, you will be martyred for Jesus. You are not going to be martyred for Levitical underwear. And so you could say there is something weighty there. You are not going to be martyred for infant baptism verses believer baptism or sprinkling verses immersion. Those are not things worth being martyred for. The things you die for are those things that are central. Jesus would be that. So that is key.
Graeme Goldsworthy, an Australian scholar, writes this: "The hub of the church (we will come back to that common use of the wheel metaphor) and of the life of the believer is Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. He is not only the hermeneutical center of the whole Bible but, according to the Biblical testimony He gives, ultimate meaning to every fact in the universe." Let's just say he is not neutral about this idea. Jesus is thus the hermeneutical principle of all reality. He provides the center that holds it all together. Graeme Goldsworthy, "Biblical Theology as the Heartbeat of Effective Ministry", Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect, edited by Scott Hafemann, page 284. Get the article. Read it. Your life will never be the same. He is saying hub and heart.
Those are my two metaphors I am going to work with. In the body metaphor, Jesus is the heart. In the wheel, He is the hub. Let me show you how this works. A tire for me is going to be the entire compliment of parts. In a tire, you have the wheel out here. You have the hub, the very center part, that connects it to the vehicle. You have the spokes that support and give structure and so on. I am arguing that this outer portion – the tire or the exterior rubber component that actually moves on the road – that is the kingdom of God. That is the thematic framework. Nothing exists outside of that. Then I am arguing that this hub is Jesus Christ. It is all about Him. It is what is connected to the car. The wheel is motionless and meaningless without that connection. Then later I am going to argue that the spokes, this structure right here, is the Law of Moses and the prophets. That is really going to be the provocative part of this class that I think will change your Biblical worldview in terms of how you view the Bible. It is not heresy or anything. I am just saying the reason that is there and the structure of the Old Testament is going to say something to you. It is going to speak to you and it is going to mean something.
But before I do that. Many people who are here and many people who will listen to this are going to be pastors or teachers. If you are not pastors or teachers, by and large, you will listen to a pastor or teacher sometime in life. Or you will have to make a decision about whether to sit under that pastor or teacher and submit to their ministry. So this is applicable to anyone. This is a quote from a book by a gentleman named Stuart Olyott (if I pronounced that correctly). He is a Welshman, I think. He is a pastor and the director of the evangelical movement in Wales. He writes this wonderful little book called Preaching Pure and Simple. He talks about keys to preaching and stuff like that. Listen to what he says. "The third key feature of preaching is Christ-centeredness." We are on this Jesus Christ thing again. "It has to be. This is because preachers are heralds of the Scriptures and all of the Scriptures are about Christ, explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly. Every single part of the Bible points us to Him. There is no passage in the whole book which is an exception. It was the Spirit of Christ that moved every Old Testament author to write what he or she wrote (1 Peter 1:10-12). It was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who opened the Old Testament to His disciples and explained to them that He was in it everywhere (Luke 24, in certain passages). The four gospels and Acts, all the Epistles and the Revelation also have Him as their great subject. So what shall we say about a preacher who opens the Bible and does not preach Christ from the passage in front of him? Such a preacher has not understood the book and if he has not understood the book he should not be preaching."
Now that is very strong language, in certain academic circles you could not get away with that. Since this is not necessarily a formal academic setting, especially since I am here, we can probably get away with that. Let me go on to say – he is saying this, so I can hide behind Stewart Olyott here – "the Lord Jesus Christ is the sum and center of all that God has revealed in his word. He is the focus of the Bible's storyline. He is the heart of every writer, unveiling Himself to their minds and so guiding their pen. He reveals Himself through the Bible's pages to every person that he has personally commissioned to preach. Where He is not preached, there has been no preaching at all." Those are very strong words. If you are in here or listening to this because you are preparing to be a minister of God's word and you do not resonate with that reality, you had better get a vocational checkup. Pastoral ministry is not about administration, small groups, session meetings, programs and the like, even though that may be included in some ways, greater or lesser, in the life of a pastor. The pastor's primary job, I believe, is to preach the word of God. To preach adequately the word of God is to preach Christ and Him crucified as the gospel.
So that is very important for me and that means I have to do it when I am preaching from Genesis or Exodus or Song of Songs or Lamentations or Leviticus and that priestly underwear again. How can you go wrong talking about priestly underwear? Everyone is interested. It is especially interesting to ten-year-old boys. If you are in youth ministry and need something good to talk about, Leviticus has scabs and sores and underwear. This is all the stuff that grosses them out or makes them laugh. So Leviticus was written for modern-day youth ministry. That is my thought there. That is my two cents on youth ministry. Isaiah. All of these guys. Malachi. I know I am going to teeter on the edge of insanity here when I say when you preach from Chronicles you must preach Christ. I am going to try to demonstrate that to you later in the course. There is a way to think about, study, read and preach Chronicles that is Christ-centered. There are also ways not to – which are most of the ways I hear incessantly. So we are going to consider those options. It is very, very important.
Let me back up and summarize here. I have, according to Acts 28:23, three things that help me to understand the Bible. You can think of them as the points on a triangle, if you like to have three things that way. You can think of three things in a grocery list: (a), (b) and (c) if you like it that way. You can think of it as components to a body. I will talk about the full nature of that later in terms of the heart, the skin and the bones. You can think of it as the components of a wheel, where you have the wheel, the spokes and the hub – the tire, the spokes and the hub. And there are these three things. The kingdom of God is the thematic framework. Nothing exists outside of that. Nothing exists outside of the thematic framework – the kingdom of God. I cannot tell you how important that is, because that tells you essentially what everything is about and what everything is for. Then to drive it home even harder, to hit the bull's eye, Jesus Christ is the theological center. The incarnate word is the sum and substance of the revealed inscripturated word.
c. The Canonical Structure: the Law and the Prophets
And then my third point is going to be, number three here, that we have this thing, the law and the prophets. For me, that is going to be my canonical structure. The kingdom of God is my thematic framework. Jesus is my theological center. The law and the prophets are my canonical structure. We are done here with the kingdom of God and Jesus in less than two hours together today. The remaining six or eight hours or whatever we can eke out together are all going to be about this. This is going to be the lens through which we really work hard to study. It is going to take me at least six more hours to explain this to you, because you have never heard it. It is going to shock your socks off. You are, by and large, going to feel ripped off by the modern-day Sunday school curriculum and what you have had to learn in the church.
What I am going to teach you is out there by evangelical reformed scholars. But it has not been appropriated for the church yet. I am going to try and get that to you. I am going to try and put all of the pieces together again. You know the old nursery rhyme:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
That is currently the consensus of modern Old Testament scholarship encompassing all brands of the community. They think the Old Testament cannot be put back together again. If the Old Testament cannot be put back together again, then we cannot even think about getting to the New Testament. God can make straight that which is crooked. He can restore that which has been broken. I am going to try to let the Bible be put back together again for you. So that is what we will do in our next lecture when we get together. We will talk about the law and the prophets as the canonical structure.
If you are thinking about the body metaphor, the law and the prophets are going to be the bones. It is going to be that which gives visible representation to the body. I think of someone's face. Everyone's face here has a different bone structure. That bone structure makes you unique. Then you add the skin to that. The combination of your bone structure and your skin, for me, is the point at which I can identify you. That is really true. It is the same way for the Bible in some sense. The combination of the bone structure and the skin is a way in which we can identify the Bible that allows us to understand it a little bit. A dog has a different kind of skin and bone structure than we do. A dinosaur, if you go to your museum, has a different kind of bone structure. You can tell the difference between a dinosaur and a human and an ape and a dog by their bone structures. So the bone structure tells you, for example, was it a carnivore or herbivore. If it has big, massive, sharp teeth, it was probably carnivore. If it has flat grinders, it was probably herbivore. Those kinds of things that have big, massive, muscly legs were probably for running fast. If, like an elephant, it had short, stumpy legs, that was probably to support a massive amount of weight. The structure in that kind of stuff tells you about its function.
What I am going to tell you and what I am going to propose to you is that the structure of the Bible is going to tell you about the function of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. It is not just the Old Testament. In some sense, in this first part of the class, you get more than you bargained for. You do not get just Old Testament, but you get the New Testament thrown in also. Since the New Testament is the answer key, it is important to know all that stuff.
If you are looking at the hub here or the tire or our wheel, the law and the prophets, as our canonical structure, represents these spokes. I do not know if you have every gotten into a bike accident or something like that and had all of your spokes bent. It is really hard to ride that bike anymore. There is no support. You kind of roll it around and roll around and finally you have got to get off and either put new spokes in or bend them back or whatever. Without the spokes that wheel is not going to work. So the spokes give structure. If you have got unequal spokes – if you have got spokes that are eighteen inches long and spokes that are twenty-four inches long and spokes that are twelve inches long – you are going to have a really weird wheel. You are going to be riding up and down, up and down, up and down. You are going to get a headache after about a mile. So these things are important.
Now the thing is we think they are important for a wheel. We think they are important for a body. It is important that you understand the bones. Think about a person who was in an accident. Let us just say he happened to get his arm and his leg severed and the doctors did not know much about the body. The doctors put the arm where the leg should go and the leg where the arm should go. The guy woke up and it was probably hard for him to move. I think that is what we have done to our Old Testaments to some degree. We have rearranged them in such way that we have got arms where legs should go and legs where arms should go. Now we really don't know. It just looks like kind of a crippled book. We do not know what to do with it anymore. So here is what we do: we make it about us. That is really what we do. We have to get away from that.
That is what we are going to do tomorrow. We are going to talk about the law and the prophets. In terms of hour lectures, that will probably be four or five more lectures. But it is at this point that I think you will begin to understand that these anecdotal references to the law and the prophets or to the law and the prophets and psalms id Luke 24 are very important for us to understand. I want to exegete that reality for you.