Archives For Hermeneutics

With several new books out on the subject of the authorship of Hebrews, we thought it would be helpful to blog on the topic. Today, Josiah will argue that the authorship of Hebrews is unknown, and that Christians err when they ascribe it to others (like Paul or Luke). Tomorrow, Jesse will argue that Paul wrote Hebrews, and we should give credit where credit is due. Please note that no counter-arguments are given since the articles were written independently of each other.

There are four reasons why I think Hebrews should be left in anonymity:

  1. No one signed it.

Paul begins all thirteen of his letters with the same word — “Paul.” Every time. Without exception.

Hebrews is the exception you say? This is possible, but I find it even more noteworthy that Paul explicitly states that he wrote all of his letters in the same way, so as to weed out any impostors (2 Thes. 3:17). If Paul wrote Hebrews, it seems likely that the evidence from the early church would be as overwhelming as it is for his other letters, but alas, it is not. In fact, some argue that Pauline authorship was only ascribed to Hebrews to make sure it was included in the canon of Scripture (It was not included in the Muratorion canon, 170 A.D.). Continue Reading…

Did Jesus become the literal embodiment of sin, or take on a sin nature, or become a sinner when He died at Calvary? I was asked a variation of that question just last week, which prompted today’s post.


The heart of the question centers on Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

In what sense did Jesus become “sin on our behalf”? Does that phrase mean that Jesus literally became a sinner on the cross? Continue Reading…

Manuscript FragmentWhen reading Scripture, many Christians focus on the question, “What does this verse mean to me?” What the Bible means to a given individual, however, is completely irrelevant, for the true meaning of Scripture is found not in the subjective impression of the contemporary reader but in the objective intention of the original author. For this reason, we often speak of “authorial intent” as the proper goal of Bible interpretation, and rightly so.

But this only raises the question: exactly whose intent are we seeking to ascertain—the intent of the human author or the intent of the divine author? Or is it possible that there is actually no tangible difference between the two? Herein lies one of the key issues in hermeneutics today—the question of whether the human intention and divine intention of Scripture are one and the same.

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stack of biblesWhen talking about Bible translations, inevitably the expression “word-for-word” gets used. As in, “I really want a Bible translation that is word-for-word.” You will never hear me use that expression, and I want to succinctly explain why: word-for-word is a really bad approach to translating anything, particularly the scriptures.

Before getting to that though, here is a disclaimer: we live in an era of history where we have no shortage of Bible translations. Scores of English translations exist, and most of them are really good. But there are 1,967 languages in the world that don’t have any scripture, and another 1,275 languages that only have a New Testament—for a total of 3,467 languages where Bible translation either has not started or is not complete. Those statistics are important to keep in mind when talking about the differences between the ESV and the NAS.

Nevertheless, it is a good endeavor to compare Bible translations. It is not demeaning to God’s word to have a favorite translation, nor is it disrespectful to scripture to care strongly about translation principles. After all, it was Augustine who freaked out (NIV) about Jerome’s translation of the plant in Jonah as if it were a gourd instead of an ivy. Its important to remember that we should care about Bible translations, but not to the extent that we cause our comparisons to cast doubt on the power and authority of God’s word. You just have to come to terms with the fact that God breathed his word in Greek and Hebrew,and he also confused languages at Babel. The result is that we are reading a Bible that was not written in the languages we speak.

With that out of the way, “word-for-word” is a bad approach to translation.   Continue Reading…

Don't Miss the Forest for the TreesLast week I wrote an as-condensed-as-possible version of the great story of redemption, tracing God’s gracious promise to provide the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent through the Old Testament. We looked at how that promise narrowed from the seed of the woman, to the seed of Abraham, to the nation of Israel, and to the line of David. We saw how Israel’s repeated failure to be faithful to the covenants Yahweh established with them all pointed to the One who would exemplify covenant faithfulness and fulfill all righteousness on behalf of His people. To put it another way, contrary to what some believe about dispensationalists and the Old Testament, we observed how the whole of the Old Testament finds its climax and fulfillment in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Israelite par-excellence, and the Son of David. If you’ve not read that post, I’d encourage you to do so.

I mentioned in that post that a great help for interpreting the Bible properly consists in keeping that big picture in the front of our mind so that we can interpret the parts in light of the whole. We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. This is especially helpful in the Old Testament, where the increased historical, cultural, geographical, literary, and even covenantal gaps can make us raise our eyebrows at not a few passages, which just seem wholly unfamiliar.

Now, we need to be sure that we interpret each passage on its own terms, according to its context, always in search of the intent of the original author. But keeping this grand narrative of redemptive history in mind and locating at what point in the story of redemption that a particular passage finds itself, can often help us understand why some more obscure (or at least, seemingly-removed) passages are in the Bible. Passages that look like road blocks or obstacles in our Bible-reading plans can be transformed (at least in our perception, anyway) by relating them to the larger story of redemptive history.

Today I’d like to just share a few examples.

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Recently I had the opportunity to teach a condensed class on an introduction to hermeneutics, or basic principles of Bible interpretation. One of the things we mentioned was the importance of understanding the parts in light of the whole—of keeping the big picture in mind as we seek to understand the scenes frame by frame. Today I’d like to share with you what I celebrated with them.

Greatest StoryGod’s goal in all of His creative and redemptive work is to bring glory to Himself (Isa 43:7; cf. Eph 1:6, 12, 14).

This is expressed in His creation mandate to Adam and Eve, in which He commissions man, as those uniquely made in His image, to rule over the earth in righteousness (Gen 1:28). Man is to bring glory to God by their manifesting His presence as His vice-regent throughout all creation.

But immediately Adam and Eve fail in their commission. The serpent deceives Eve, Adam eats of the forbidden tree, and in that moment the human race is catapulted into spiritual death and damnation (Gen 3:1–7).

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LawGospelCupAt the center of covenantal hermeneutics is the distinction between Law and Gospel. If a dispensationalist cannot explain his hermeneutics without using the phrase “literal, historical, and grammatical,” a covenentalist cannot explain his hermeneutics without describing the Law/Gospel distinction.

These two hermeneutical grids are not mutually exclusive. Obviously, both are largely true. This post is not going to pit them against each other, as much as it will explain what is meant by the Law/Gospel hermeneutic. Understanding this approach to scripture is extremely beneficial, because at its core is a constant reminder about the power of the gospel. When the Law/Gospel distinction is appreciated, it is a powerful aide to sanctification.     Continue Reading…

Road to EmmausIn Luke 24, the resurrected Jesus engaged in a fascinating conversation with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. During this dialogue, “beginning with Moses, and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Later, Jesus told the Eleven that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

For many today who believe that the Old Testament must be read in light of the New Testament, Luke 24 justifies a “Christological Hermeneutic” for interpreting the Hebrew Bible. For some, this means an allegorical method of interpretation which sees pictures of Jesus and His work of redemption hidden throughout the Old Testament. For example:    Continue Reading…

Who wants to quibble with the “Gospel-Centered” movement? Certainly, the deck is already stacked in favor of the guy whose position is described as being centered on the Gospel! Yet, with all the real and true good coming from many organizations, conferences, teachers, pastors, and churches who might be aligned with this more recent call to be centered on the Gospel, I nonetheless remain charitably concerned. Concerned, that is, that “Gospel-centered” really means “Gospel-reductionist.”

gospel-centeredKevin DeYoung hit the nail on the head, for me, in his rejoinder to a recent (and somewhat disconcerting review) to his new book, The Hole in Our Holiness:      Continue Reading…

Besides the banally predictable objections–undead, demonic, murderous cannibalism–there are hermeneutical considerations for not being a vampire that are worthy of investigation. The reason, for example, that there are no Jewish vampires is entirely different from the objection Jehovah’s Witnesses harbor. They both claim the same verse of the OT (Gen 9:4, Lev 17:11 inter alia) but for vastly disparate reasons.jewish vampire

Why there are no bloodsucking JWs.

In November 2007, a fourteen year old boy, Dennis Lindberg refused the blood transfusion needed to save his life. After chemotherapy for leukemia had destroyed his red blood cells, the available blood transfusion from a donor was the simple, and only way to save the boy’s life.

Doctors explained to him that with the transfusion he had a 70% chance of living to age of 19, but without it he would be dead within days. Dennis was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. This religious group does not normally refuse medical treatment, but in the case of blood transfusions they typically teach that it is against Jehovah’s will to allow another person’s blood into your body. Since the blood is believed to contain the soul of the human, mixing blood would leave the person unclean and unacceptable to God.

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