Archives For Hermeneutics

What are believers today to think about the gift of tongues?

D. A. Carson asks that question in his book, Showing the Spirit. On pages 84–85, he writes:

How … may tongues be perceived? There are three possibilities: [1] disconnected sounds, ejaculations, and the like that are not confused with human language; [2] connected sequences of sounds that appear to be real languages unknown to the hearer not trained in linguistics, even though they are not; [3] and real language known by one or more of the potential hearers, even if unknown to the speaker. . . . Our problem so far is that the biblical descriptions of tongues seem to demand the third category, but the contemporary phenomena seem to fit better in the second category; and never the twain shall meet.

Storms_GuideAs Carson helpfully articulates, contemporary tongues “appear to be real languages . . . even though they are not.” By contrast, biblical tongues consisted of “real language known by one or more of the potential hearers, even if unknown to the speaker.”

But if biblical tongues consisted of real human languages (i.e. a real language known by one or more of the potential hearers), then how can modern continuationists advocate tongues-speech that produces nothing more than the appearance of language? (Those interested in Carson’s unique solution to this dilemma can find it here.)

In his book The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, author Sam Storms — like most continuationists — attempts to answer that dilemma by giving a list of reasons why he believes the New Testament gift of tongues did not necessarily produce real human languages. If he can show that biblical tongues were not always actual languages, he can demonstrate a precedent for the modern gift of tongues. We addressed his first reason in last week’s post. Today we will consider his second argument. Continue Reading…

In last week’s post, we introduced a series about the gift of tongues. Cessationists generally define the gift of tongues as the supernatural ability to speak authentic foreign languages that the speaker had not previously learned. Continuationists, by contrast, generally allow for the possibility that the gift produces speech that does not correspond to any human language. The question we are asking in this series is whether or not that possibility is biblically warranted.Pentecost_Acts_2

Does the Gift of Tongues Produce Non-Human Languages?

Most continuationists acknowledge that modern tongues-speech predominately consists of something other than human foreign languages.

Of course, some continuationists point to anecdotal evidence to claim that modern glossolalia (tongues-speaking) can sometimes consist of human languages. But even supporters of modern tongues, like George P. Wood of the Assemblies of God, admit the infrequency of such reported occurrences. After commenting on alleged accounts “where one person spoke in a tongue that a second person recognized as a human language,” Wood is quick to state: “Admittedly, such occurrences are rare” (from his review of Strange Fire, published Jan. 13, 2014).

Such occurrences are so rare, in fact, that continuationist claims about modern glossolalia producing real human languages remain unconvincing to everyone outside the charismatic movement (including both Christians and non-Christians). As we saw in the previous post, professional linguists (like William Samarin of the University of Toronto) who study glossolalia have concluded that it “fundamentally is not language.” D. A. Carson, himself a non-cessationist, represents an objective assessment of the evidence when he writes: “Modern tongues are lexically uncommunicative and the few instances of reported modern xenoglossia [speaking foreign languages] are so poorly attested that no weight can be laid on them” (Showing the Spirit, 84). Continue Reading…

Authentic_FireIn his new book, Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, charismatic radio show host Michael Brown points to his commitment to sola scriptura as the main reason he is a continuationist. Not only does Brown reject cessationism “because of the definite and clear testimony of the Word” (AF, 166), but he also finds the position “exegetically impossible” (AF, 165).

In chapter six of Authentic Fire, Brown presents the primary biblical arguments for the continuation of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In one of these arguments, Brown appeals to the words of Jesus in John 14:12. In this verse, Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).

According to Brown, John 14:12a — “he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also” — contains a universal promise to the church of Jesus Christ that “whoever believes in the Son will also perform miraculous signs” (AF, 189). To support his conclusion, Brown notes that the immediate context emphasizes miracles as the works done by Jesus and that the phrase “he who believes in Me” (ho pisteuon eis eme) is universal in its scope when used elsewhere in the Gospel of John (6:35; 7:38; 11:25; 12:44, 46) (AF, 189). According to Brown, then, everyone who believes in Christ will perform miraculous signs. Continue Reading…

With several new books out on the subject of the authorship of Hebrews, we thought it would be helpful to blog on the topic. Yesterday Josiah argued that the authorship of Hebrews is unknown, and that Christians err when they ascribe it to others (like Paul or Luke). Today, Jesse argues 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.

When I was in seminary, I tried to buy into the standard text-book arguments about the unknown authorship of Hebrews—I really did. I enumerated them, I memorized them, and then on my New Testament Introduction final I reproduced them for my professor. But I couldn’t resist—even then I understood that the arguments against Pauline authorship were so vague, and that the characteristics of the supposed anonymous author so broad, that it could be anyone. So I turned my NTI blue book into a treatise about how the author must certainly either be Paul, or Barnabas’ wife. My professor, the venerable and much feared Dr. Thomas, simply scrawled in the margin “NOT AMUSED.”

Amusement notwithstanding, the arguments for Pauline authorship of Hebrews are impressive. Here are four reasons I hold that the Apostle Paul was the author of Hebrews:   Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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).

Continue Reading…