Biblical Interpretation

Biblical Interpretation Class Notes Andrew Fountain, October 2011

See here for notes on the "Big Story"

1 - Introduction

Class Introduction

  • 2 Parts:
    • Part A: Getting the Most from a Passage
      • This class
    • Part B: Richness in Variety
      • Understanding different parts of the Bible
      • How we got the Bible, different translations etc.
      • Lots of other good stuff
  • There will be four assignments
    • they are all linked together and based on a passage of Scripture
    • You will each be given a passage of Scripture to study
    • You will write a paper on the passage, in four parts, as separate assignments
    • When I have taught this course in the past, everybody has got a real blessing from studying the passage
      • This is not just an intellectual exercise, but a Holy Spirit activity
    • There will be a short test on the last day
  • Notes on everything I teach will be on my website:
    • Please everyone fill in your email address on the sheet
    • I will create an account for each of you and email the link to you in the break
  • This morning we are going to
    • ask why the need for this course?
    • talk about the basic method we are going to follow and why
    • Look at how to do a word study

Updated 2009-10-06 (build:2) by Andrew Fountain

Why do we need to study Biblical Interpretation?

Isn’t it obvious how to understand the Bible?

  • Just about ALL the differences between Christians today hinge on this topic
  • Wrong interpretation is behind
    • legalism
    • denial of the gifts of the Holy Spirit
    • unhealthy church structures
    • abusive churches
    • cults
    • weirdness
    • or just getting unbalanced and sidetracked into emphasizing odd things and losing the main plot

It is not just about being “theologically correct”

  • it is about hearing God accurately
  • it is about submission to him
  • it is about being set free by the truth he speaks into our hearts
  • it is about a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit, since he wrote the Bible

I don’t like the phrase “Word and Spirit”, although I agree totally with the idea

  • it’s just that the Spirit wrote the Word, so it is “Spirit and Spirit”
  • This is how I like to think of it;
    • In the New Testament, the Spirit works in three kinds of ways
    • He is called “the Spirit of Love[Rom 15:13, 5:5; Gal 5:22-23]
    • He is called “the Spirit of Truth[John 14:17, 15:26, 16:12-14; 1 John 4:6, 5:6]
    • He is called “the Spirit of Power[Zech 4:6; Luke 4:14; Acts 10:38; Rom 1:4, 15:19; 1Cor 2:4-5]
    • we find all three together in 2 Tim 1:7: [For God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.]
  • There is a sequence:
    • God pours his love into our hearts by the Spirit ([we love him because he first loved us])
      • [the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. -Rom 5:5]
    • He sets us free by the truth: [The words that I speak to you are Spirit, and they are life -John 6:63]
    • When we speak the truth, he backs it up with supernatural power
      • [Acts 14:3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.]
      • in [Heb 2:4] God [confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit]
  • So if we want more of the power of the Spirit, we must have love and good teaching
  • we can’t demand the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of power but not be interested in him as the Spirit of love or truth
    • He does not like us to try to divide him up
  • So, what this means is:
    • If you want more of his Power in your life,
    • then this course is for you!
    • (although it is only part of the picture)

Updated 2009-10-06 (build:3) by Andrew Fountain

The History of Interpretation

1. Ancient Jewish Hermeneutics

Ancient Jewish hermeneutics is best described as an attempt by those who were passionately committed to the inspiration of Scripture to make God’s word relevant to the current context. In their zeal, they often took an overly literal and legalistic approach in which every detail of the Scriptures had out-of-context meaning and significance for their current situation.

“The rabbis presupposed that since God is the author of Scripture, (1) the interpreter could expect numerous meanings in a given text, and (2) every incidental detail of the text possessed significance. ...eventually extended this to maintain that ...even the shapes of letters had hidden meaning.” Henry Virkler, Hermeneutics, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 49

Abusive Characteristics of Midrash:

  • Often gave meaning to texts, phrases, and words without regard to the context in which they were meant to apply.
  • Combined texts that contained similar words or phrases whether or not such texts were referring to the same idea.
  • Took incidental and obscure aspects of grammar and gave them interpretive significance.

Letterism: Interpretation that ignores context, historical and cultural setting, and even grammatical structure, taking each word, letter, and number as an isolated truth.

Deut 21:18–19: “If a person has a stubborn, rebellious son who pays no attention to his father or mother, and they discipline him to no avail, his father and mother must seize him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his city.”

Misshnah Sanhedrin 8.4: “If either of them [the parents] was maimed in the hand, or lame or blind or dumb or deaf, he cannot be condemned as a stubborn and rebellious son, for it is written, ‘so the father and mother shall lay hold of him’—so they were not maimed in the hand; ‘and bring him out’—-so they were not lame; ‘and they shall say’—so they were not dumb; ‘this is our son’—so they were not blind; ‘he will not obey our voice’—so they were not deaf.”

Matt. 23:23: “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others.”

  • Matt 15:1-9 is a good example...
  • Jesus didn’t leave the disciples with no idea of how they should interpret the Old Testament, but in Luke 24 we read of how the risen Jesus met two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
    • We read [And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. v27]
    • afterwards we read [They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? v.32]
    • In other words, the key to opening the O.T. Scriptures was to show them that their main theme was himself.

2. The Church Fathers: Allegory

  • This period immediately follows the New Testament times
  • It is important to distinguish allegory from typology
Allegory (bad) Typology (good)
Finding hidden meaning in characters, places, events, numbers, and other details that would not otherwise be found Finding a foreshadowing of present and future events in historical events and people of the past.
e.g. “oil” in Elisha = Holy Spirit? e.g. Ark-->Christ
brass serpent-->Christ
  • Types cannot be used personally (“The ark is a type of me”) but is Christ-centred.
  • Must be historical event
  • The N.T. never uses allegory, only typology
  • Approximately ten percent of the New Testament is quotations, paraphrases, or allusions to the Old Testament.
  • All but nine Old Testament books are referred to in the New Testament.
  • Example from Augustine, the wedding at Cana:
    • John 2:6 “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding two or three firkins each.”
    • 2 or 3 = Trinity
    • 6 pots = the six ages of men
  • every detail has an underlying meaning
    • our goal is to find it
  • The idea came from Greek mythology
    • how to re-interpret the immorality of the behaviour of the gods to make it something more noble.
    • Plato’s idea of material things being evil led to the literal meaning being denigrated.

The chaos in interpretation that resulted meant that all kinds of weird teaching confronted the church.

  • The rise of Gnostics who claimed to have the “secret” teachings of Christ handed down to them from the Apostles
    • the Church increasingly appealed to Church tradition as the authority
    • Thus early Church tradition became the basis for all interpretation
  • So the result was that the Creed became an “umbrella” to protect the Scriptures
  • They really didn’t mind what allegory you got from the text as long as it
    • fitted in with the creeds
    • was Christ centred
  • They meant well!
  • What is the problem with this?
    • {There was no way to correct false ideas, such as “salvation by baptism”}
    • {People lost interest in trying to understand the Bible for themselves}
  • We may think we are free from this, but we are not!!

Three levels of meaning were developed

  • Literal: Actually happened.
  • Moral: Lot represents the rational human mind. Lot’s wife represents the flesh. Lot’s daughters are vainglory and pride.
  • Spiritual: Lot represents the OT Law. Lot’s wife represents the Israelites’

rebellion in the wilderness. Lot’s daughters represent Jerusalem and Samaria.

3. The Medieval fourfold method of interpretation

The use of the Medieval fourfold method was firmly established from the fourth until the sixteenth century. Each text was examined for 4 meanings: literal, moral (tropologic), mystical (allegorical), and future-prophetic (anagogic). Here is sermon from Origen, who although he was earlier (third century) showed a disinterest in the literal meaning:

We make our selection from the homily on Abraham’s marriage with Keturah (Hom. vi. in Genes). Origen does not expressly disavow his belief in the fact of such a marriage having actually taken place between the parties in question, though his language seems to point in that direction; but he intimates that this, in common with the other marriages of the patriarchs, contained a sacramental mystery. And what might this be? Nothing less than the sublime truth, “that there is no end to wisdom, and that old age sets no bounds to improvement in knowledge. The death of Sarah (he says) is to be understood as the perfecting of virtue... Abraham, therefore, when an old man, and his body in a manner dead, took Keturah to wife... Then Keturah, whom he married in his old age, is by interpretation incense, or sweet odor. For he said, even as Paul said, ‘We are a sweet savor of Christ.’ Sin is a foul and putrid thing; but if any of you in whom this no longer dwells, have the fragrance of righteousness, the sweetness of mercy, and by prayer continually offer up incense to God, ye also have taken Keturah to wife.” And forthwith he proceeds to show, how many such wives may be taken: hospitality is one, the care of the poor another, patience a third, - each Christian excellence, in short, a wife; and hence it was, that the patriarchs are reported to have had so many wives, and that Solomon is said to have possessed them even by hundreds, he having received plentitude of wisdom like the sand on the seashore, and consequently grace to exercise the largest number of virtues (p. 4).
  • “During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, dense ignorance prevailed concerning the content of Scripture: there were some doctors of divinity who had never read the Bible through its entirety.” Henry Virkler, p.65
  • Ordinary people were prevented from reading the Bible for themselves
    • Pope Pius VII (1800-1823) “It is evident from experience, that the Holy Scriptures, when circulated in the vulgar tongue, have, through the temerity of men, produced more harm than benefit... eminently dangerous to souls... undermining the very foundations of religion.”


  • Medieval scholars, such as Thomas Aquinas, became preoccupied with abstract questions, like
    • “is a angel in a place, can he be in several places at once”
    • “does an angel moving from A to B pass through the points in between”
    • “can several angels be in the same place at once”
    • there is a story that they even held a debate on “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”

4. The Reformation

  • People realized that the actual message of the Bible had be lost in centuries of fanciful interpretation
  • The cry was “back to the sources”
  • Scholars learned Hebrew and Greek and began to read the Bible in the original
    • Story of Byzantine monks, fleeing from the Turks, carrying ancient manuscripts and the knowledge of Greek
    • They discovered God’s grace and love and the free gift of salvation and were saved
    • They focussed on the most clear and straightforward meaning when read in context
    • The emphasis was to allow the Bible to speak for itself rather than impose a meaning from outside
  • Luther did something unheard of: he read Romans for himself and discovered that salvation was by faith and not by works.
    • He called the allegorical interpretation, “dirt,” “scum,” and “obsolete loose rags.”
  • “It is the first business of an interpreter to let the author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say.” -John Calvin
  • Their principles were very good, but they didn’t always get it right because they still had a lot of theological baggage (e.g. church and state being connected)
  • In general we still follow Reformation principles today, except we
    • are more sensitive to the culture of the N.T.
    • know more about their language and literature
    • have the benefit of several centuries of Christian writers, and their Spirit-given gifts
    • have less wrong theological baggage (we hope!) because of the “hermeneutical spiral”
    • as a result of these things, there is real progress in how well Christians can understand the Bible

5. Modern Critical Scholarship (Also known as Modernism, Liberalism or Higher Criticism) this is a very rough sketch

  • During the 1800’s there was an growing idea among scholars that we should study the Bible just like any other book.
  • The key question this came down to was whether it is inspired by God or not and what this means.
  • The result was devastating, with everything supernatural in the Bible being questioned and the Scriptures essentially being relegated to quaint myths of a bygone age
  • There was a huge split at the end of the 1800’s between “liberals” and “conservatives” (fundamentalists)
  • By the middle of the 1900’s Evangelical scholarship was beginning to recover and once again there were good scholars who truly believed in an inspired Bible

Some material taken from The Theology Notebook 2005,

Updated 2009-10-12 (build:16) by Andrew Fountain

Principles of Interpretation

1. Objectivity

The truths of the Scriptures are not innate in man. They are distinct from him. Their source is God. The Bible contains truths about the world and about ourselves that we need to know, but we cannot know them by looking within ourselves. Because the Bible is an objective body of literature, we need an objective approach when interpreting it.

2. Subjectivity

Truth does have a subjective element in that it speaks to us and involves us. We respond to what the Scriptures are saying and ask ourselves what significance the truths have for own lives.

Subjectivism “takes place when we distort the objective meaning of terms to suit our own interests” (Sproul p.39). We choose what we want to believe. We interpret passages to suit ourselves rather than applying objective methods. We defend ourselves by saying, “Well, that’s the way I understand it,” and we are not prepared to think seriously about anything that somebody else has to say. We do not want to be corrected because we believe that we already have the truth.

3. Eisogesis and Exegesis

(i) eis = into

Eisogesis involves reading into the text something that isn’t there at all. For example, somebody might use Acts 16:33 to support the baptism of babies because it says that “all his [the jailer’s] family were baptized.” We don’t know the ages of those who were in his family. To say definitely that this family had a baby is to put something into the text that is not stated explicitly. Besides, other parts of Scripture make it clear that only those who are old enough to profess belief in Jesus Christ are baptized.

(ii) ex = from or out of

Exegesis means to get out of the text the meaning that is there. When we exegete a passage, we do our utmost to determine what the passage is saying, not adding anything to it and not taking anything from it.

4. The Inductive and Deductive Approach

If you use the deductive approach when studying the Bible, you begin with generalizations and then move to particular verses for support. For example, you might use as your topic for study, “Riches are always a hindrance to spiritual prosperity.” You would not have difficulty finding verses that spoke about the danger of trusting in riches, but you would most likely neglect any passages that indicated that riches could be a blessing if used properly. Lydia was a wealthy woman who used her home for hospitality and no doubt later for church meetings (although church meetings are not mentioned explicitly so we cannot be dogmatic about this) (Acts 16:14,15, 40). If your initial generalization is flawed, then all your following study will be weakened. The deductive approach can be useful, but it may encourage subjectivism and bias. Use it with care.

Those using the inductive approach begin with the text itself. First they examine the particulars such as key words, the grammatical structure, and the context. Then they may use study aids to fill in the background and to verify the way words were used at that time. From this intensive personal study of the text they draw conclusions. This approach when practiced properly is impartial and objective.

All of us are somewhat subjective in our interpretation of Scripture because we bring our background with us. As Mickelsen says in his book Interpreting the Bible,

“. . . we must try to be so molded by God that the distortion brought about by our subjectivity will be at a minimum. In this molding, the believer is not passive but very active. If intellectual development is part of our salvation, then the believer works out his intellectual growth ‘with fear and trembling’. . . Failing to be open to self-correction is like a man’s having 20/200 vision and steadfastly refusing to wear glasses” (66ff.).
  • It is frightening how easily we can be affected by peer pressure and our upbringing
    • Christians in Hitler’s Germany
    • The Dutch Reformed church in South Africa during apartheit

Question: One Meaning?

Reading an allegorical interpretation of Origen shows how far it is possible to go if we do not apply firm principles. Are there hidden meanings in Scripture? If there are, who decides what they are? The interpreter ends up exercising authority over Scripture. If there is a hidden meaning, God and the inspired human author are the only ones who know and can tell us the hidden meaning. N.T. authors will sometimes tell us (under inspiration) of such a meaning.

Multiple Applications!

Every passage of Scipture can have a unique interpretation for each individual. The work of the Holy Spirit is to communicate this to us. For example, the verse from Joshua 1, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” may mean something very special to me in the situation that I am facing right now, and the Spirit may impress on my heart this word of comfort.

Updated 2009-10-07 (build:7) by Andrew Fountain

Daily Bible Reading

The first assignment we will do is rather different to the others, and is about daily Bible reading.
See the article on Daily Bible Reading for the content of this section.

2 - A model for Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the name that theologians use for the principles for Biblical Interpretation. In many Bible schools, courses on Biblical Interpretation are called hermeneutics. It is just a shorter word for the same thing (however it is also used in a wider sense for any kind of interpretation of a piece of art or literature).

What is Hermeneutics? Part A

The Goal of this course:

  • “To understand the Scriptures better in our times.”*


to understand There should be no distinction between the head and the heart (in the Bible the heart is the place of deep thoughts, not emotions)
the Scriptures i.e. “written”, by men and by God. We need to understand both in order to perceive the message. If we are not in fellowship with God, we will never understand it properly
Better If we think that our theological systems are perfect, then we are never going to learn. Humility is one of the main prerequisites for understanding
in our time Obviously the truth of God does not change, but we do not apply it in the same way as in Calvin’s time. They did not encounter abortion, evolution or pluralistic societies.

Hermeneutics is Necessary

  1. Because of the authority of the Bible. (How can it exercise authority unless it is understood?)
  2. God does not “zap” us with instant understanding of all he wants us to know
  3. The Scriptures come in a earthly languages, with all the grammar & syntax that entails. In his wisdom, God chose Hebrew & Greek!!
  4. There are large differences in belief between Christians who believe the same Bible.

Hermeneutics is Possible

  • Some have said that it is not possible for even two humans to have real communications. They write papers to prove this!!!
  • Post-modernism, reader-response hermeneutic etc.
  • Although there is a large historical and cultural distance between us and the original authors, we can bridge it because:
    1. Of the unity of mankind—we are one
    2. Human nature does not change
    3. God is still sovereign in history, even as he was then.
  • The linguistics insights of Noam Chomsky (that all humans have a built-in “organ” in their brains, designed for the express purpose of communicating with each other by language) have strongly supported this position.

Interpreting and understanding.

Two models of Hermeneutics:

  1. Understanding the text: scientific analysis

There is a danger that the text can become autonomous and cut loose from the intentions of the author, especially the divine author. The focus is on a study of the text itself. People talk of “creative interaction with the text”. Even evangelicals can be guilty of this. They can be more interested in being “blessed” by a devotional reading than in finding out what God has said.

  1. Understanding the author: communication

There is a subtle but profound shift. The goal is to receive a message that has been communicated to us. The text is reduced to a medium, and not exalted above the author.

The transmission

  • We do not have the original autographs in our possession.

  • Textual criticism is a very complex subject, but
    • No important doctrine is in any doubt
    • The amount of textual evidence is astounding (compared with other ancient books)
    • The level of agreement is remarkable

The Code

All communication has to be encoded in some form, (unless we are telepathic).

  • Humans usually use a form called “language”
  • This is not the only code we can use
  • Most societies have developed a written version of the code
  • Sometimes it is unrelated to the spoken sounds (Ancient Egyptian, Chinese)
  • A language has some kind of:
    • vocabulary
    • grammar
    • syntax
  • There have also developed meta-structures such as
    • paragraph
    • subheading / subsection
    • work
    • document structuring (e.g. introduction / body / conclusion)
  • Another development is genre, such as:
    • narrative
    • poetry
    • letter
  • Each genre has meta-structures appropriate to it
Very important: The privilege of defining the code is the privilege of the writer

Lewis Carol was making a very serious point.

  • So, when you come to read a parable, or the book of revelation, you are not free to interpret the symbols how you wish. The human & divine authors have the privilege of defining what the terms mean. You can’t say “I like this idea.”
  • Preachers sometimes say “I like the way this translation says it”. What they like is irrelevant—it is the translation that captures the intention of the author which should interest us.

*(with thanks to Dr. Amar Djaballah)

Updated 2009-10-12 (build:16) by Andrew Fountain

What is Hermeneutics? Part B

Models of Hermeneutics cont’d

  • Now we add in some more levels of complexity
  • context
    • culture
    • occasion
    • theological system within which the writer is operating
  • personhood
    • the human author (whom we cannot know, but can learn to appreciate)
    • the ultimate divine author

It is really important to see that the Scriptures are fully human and fully divine at the same time.

If we leave out one of these, it will distort our interpretation

Questions to ponder?

  • are the two kinds of message ultimately different? What is the difference between them?
  • are they both limited to propositional truth?
  • is there a need to study the culture / occasion etc. of the reader?
  • are the boxes necessarily within one another?
    {theological content of a book often transcends the occasion, but must be studied in its context}
  • to what extent can the writer transcend the boxes?
    {human cannot, but divine can}
  • is there truth in the literary form, or only in propositions?
    • Short Defn of Biblical Theology
      “Biblical Theology allows the Scriptures to provide not only the content but also the structure of our theology.”
    • it does this by looking for structure and organization already there within God’s revelation, such as development through time, collections of writings from a single author, structured presentations of truth within a book, and literary features.

Updated 2009-10-09 (build:9) by Andrew Fountain

Overview of Assignments: Studying a passage of Scripture

Part 1: Language and Culture

  • 1.1 Select An English translation
  • 1.2 Two word studies using words taken from your passage
  • 1.3 (Grammatical & Literary Study)
  • 1.4 (Cultural/Historical Insights to Passage)

Part 2: Larger Context (Background and Purpose of Book)

  • 2.1 Occasion (circumstances) of writing
  • 2.2 Purpose of the book
  • 2.3 Outline of book
  • 2.4 Purpose for this passage within the book

Part 3: The Message

  • 3.1 Statement of the basic steps of reasoning within the passage
  • 3.2 Which covenant period is the passage under?
  • 3.3 Verse by verse explanation/interpretation
    • Use Biblical Theology (e.g. compare with parallel passages)
    • Use Systematic Theology (e.g. similar or contrasting teachings in Scripture)
    • Point out any quotations of the Old Testament in the New
    • Discuss alternative interpretations and give your preferred interpretation
  • 3.4 Conclusions regarding the teachings of the passage

Part 4: Response

  • 4.1 The Response Required from the Original Hearers
          and The Response Required Today
  • 4.2 Personal Response

Updated 2009-10-07 (build:7) by Andrew Fountain

3 - Word study


Some Principles of Linguistics

1. It is not necessary to study the history of a word to understand its meaning.

Linguists use two terms for types of study:

  • Synchronic: one given point in time, e.g. English spoken in 2003
  • Diachronic: historical study of the change and development of the language

Originally it was thought that to study the language at a given point you had to examine its history up to that point. This has been shown to be totally false. You need to study how it was used at that point in time.

This means that for studying a word in the New Testament, the most important help we can get is from studying how people used the word at that time, i.e. in the rest of the N.T.

2. Language is a system

  • Language is not a bag of bits and pieces.
  • A word does not have a meaning that is absolute, but only in relationship to other words.
  • If one word disappears, the others shift to cover the meaning
  • Fear can be horror, reverence, awe—how do you determine which? —by the words around it.
  • Two types of relationships:
    1. The horizontal relationship within a sentence.
      e.g. “The love of God is manifested in Christ”
      • The word love has precise meaning only in the context of the sentence.
      • The sentence makes it specific.
    2. The choice to use one word excludes others
      e.g. saying “the love of God” excludes saying “the mercy of God”
      • Choosing the word love automatically excludes other words that could have been chosen. If the author had wanted to choose another word, they could have.
      • If Paul had meant to include the love and mercy of God he would have said both.

3. Distinction between a language and an individual’s use of that language

  • A language is a complex system of verbs, nouns etc.
  • Every individual uses their language in a unique way
  • We need to read them in terms of their own ways of expressing themselves
    • e.g. John uses very black & white terms, you are either “of the truth” or “a liar”
    • James uses “faith” a little differently to Paul
    • When John says “abide in Christ’, it is virtually identical to Paul’s “in Christ”

I. What is a word?

A word is a unit of language which has meaning. Thoughts are expressed when words are put together in a certain relationship. Many words do not have an identical meaning in all contexts.

  • Example: trunk
    • box to put clothes in
    • long nose of an elephant
    • luggage space in a car
  • Example: light
    • opposite of darkness
    • pale in colour
    • minimal in weight
    • object which gives light

It is particularly important to notice the way the word was used at the time it was spoken or written. A word used in the 1600’s will not necessarily have the same meaning as the word has in the year 2000.

  • Example: nice
    • In the 1300’s it meant ignorant and foolish.
    • In the 1800’s it could be used with the meaning of “precisely.”
      • “nicely done” = “precisely” or “carefully” done.
    • In the 2000’s it usually has the meaning of generally pleasant
  • Misunderstandings arise
    • when words are misused or are used imprecisely or ambiguously.
    • E.g. someone misunderstood the statement of Abraham’s servant “I being in the way the Lord led me . . .”
  • Sometimes biblical words are given a new distorted meaning.
    • We may read in the newspaper of a salesman who has been “born again.”
    • The writer does not mean that he has been saved, that he now has God’s life in him. He means that he has taken on a new career!
    • Apple computers employs “evangelists”
      • (to spread the Gospel according to Steve Jobs)
  • Sometimes we inflate the meaning of a word.
    • We say that a meal was fantastic when we mean that it was a good meal.
  • What does awesome mean?
    • “If you would put your empty water bottles in the garbage, that would be awesome”

II. What should we consider when we are determining the meaning of a word in a biblical passage?

1. The context is of great importance.

  • Example: a lion
    • “ . . . your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). In what way is the devil like a lion? What qualities of a lion are being emphasized? In this verse the devil is compared to a hungry lion: he wants to destroy for his own satisfaction. (a simile)
    • “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). Here Jesus Christ is the Lion. We are presented with the lion as king of the beasts. We see Jesus Christ in His kingly role with power and authority. (a metaphor)

2. A word may have a range of meanings.

  • Example: the word sleep in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10
    • v 7, “those who sleep, sleep at night” - refers to physical sleep
    • v 6, “let us not sleep as others do, but let us watch . . .” - warns believers against being “sleepy” or unaware. Sleep is opposed to alertness.
    • v 10, “. . . who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him” - refers to death
  • The technical word for this is “semantic field” (=range of meanings)
    • e.g. to love: agapeo has an overlapping field with phileo

3. Different words may have the same or similar meanings.

Some say that the meaning of two words is never exactly the same, but often the difference is not of major significance. Synonyms, words that are close in meaning, enable an author to vary his expression.

  • Example:
    • Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
    • Mark 1:14-15 …Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
    • Which did Jesus say?
    • There would be no profit in trying to distinguish between the meaning of these two phrases. Essentially, they have the same meaning.

Synonyms give expression to different shades of meaning. They make a language capable of expressing more precisely, and more comprehensively, the different nuances and aspects of any particular idea.

  • Example: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil.4:6).
    • Prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and requests are all prayer terms. Together they give a full picture of the activity of prayer.

4. Words change their meaning over a period of time.

  • Note the word conversation in James 3:13 (KJV):
    • “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”
    • You might think that “conversation” is referring to the way he speaks to other people, but in the 1600’s conversation meant your daily conduct, your total behaviour, your whole way of acting.
    • Modern translations usually adjust to this situation:
      • James 3:13 (NKJ): “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.”
  • Examples:
    1. prevent - In the 1600’s, this word meant “go before.” Now its common meaning is to “hinder” or “stop.” “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep” (1 Thess. 4:15 KJV).
      • If we use the contemporary meaning, we would think that it meant, “We won’t stop them.” It actually means, “We won’t go before them.” (Note: Have you come across the term “prevenient grace”: grace that comes before salvation? Prevenient comes from the same root.)
    2. play - “And Abner said to Joab ‘Let the young men arise and play before us!’’’ (2 Samuel 2:14 KJV).
      • In verse 16, we read that they kill each other. This action does not fit with our idea of play. In the New King James translation, “compete” is used instead of play.
  • The meaning must be based on the way that the word was being used at the time.

5. Translation Challenges

  1. Different words in the original language may be translated by the same English word.
    • For example, in John 21, verses 15 to 19, the English word “love” has two different Greek words behind it.
      Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agapao) me more than these?” (v.15).
      Peter: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You” (v.15).
      Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agapao) Me?” (v.16).
      Peter: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You” (v.16).
      Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (phileo) Me?” (v.17).
      Peter: “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You” (v.17).
    • The English language has only one word to describe the concept of love. The Greek language has several words associated with this concept.
    • Agapao has the general meaning of “love or cherish”, not necessarily for any benefit in return
    • phileo means “love, have affection for, like.” —we get something back in return, we enjoy the person!-eros is sexual love “erotic”
    • So why does Jesus choose to use different words?
  2. A word in the original may be translated by different English words.
    • Matt. 4:21 “mending their nets”
    • Luke 6:40 “everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher”
    • Rom. 9:22 “the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”
    • Gal. 6:1 “restore such a one”

The same Greek word (katartizo) is behind the bolded words.

6. Note those words whose meanings become doctrinal concepts such as sin, atonement, justification, and sanctification.

  • Example: save, salvation
    • In the biblical world, a person is “saved” if he experiences deliverance from any kind of trouble or calamity. It is sometimes used for healing.
    • The ultimate salvation is to be rescued from sin and death, to escape the anger of God. This is the Doctrine of Salvation. We must not use this sense of salvation in every text (Sproul, p.84).
    • 1 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) - [“she will be saved in childbearing”]
      • Does this mean that women will be brought into the kingdom of God by having children?

7. Word Study Fallacies

  1. The “Root Meaning” Fallacy
    • “Automobile” —auto = self so the word has the root idea of being selfish?
    • “Prophecy” = “bubble up”?? (I have no idea where that comes from!!)
  2. Pulling a word apart
    • Butterfly means... ?
    • Ekklesia = assembly (not “called out and gathered together”) see Acts 19:32, 39, 31
  3. Anachronism (wrong time)
    • dunamis really means dynamite?
    • a giver who is hilaron is hilarious?
  4. Appeal to very rare and unusual usages

Updated 2009-10-06 (build:3) by Andrew Fountain

How to do a word study with eSword

  • You can download eSword for free from
    • don’t forget to load up with some Bibles (I recommend the ESV and NET bibles as well as The Message)
    • get some commentaries and dictionaries as well

1. How to do a Greek word study without knowing any Greek

  • Find the verse in the KJV+ translation (e.g. 1 Cor 12:8 —knowledge)
    • Note that the KJV+ translation is one of the few that contain “Strong’s Numbers” which are the key to using Greek tools without having to know any Greek.
    • All Greek words have been assigned a number which can be used to look them up or search for them
  • right click on the “Strong’s number” (in this case interpretation G1108) and chose “quicksearch” -> New Testament
    • This will give you a list of all the verses in the N.T. that contain that same Greek word
  • Click on the small maroon Bible-icon to save results in a “search list”
  • eSword suggests a name for the search (such as G’1108’ search results).
    • Add the word to make it easier to remember (e.g. knowledge ‘G1108’ search results)
    • press [OK] and [Cancel] to close the search
  • switch to your version of preference (such as the ESV)
  • press the maroon Bible-icon at the top of the screen
    • select your verse list from the drop-down
  • Now you can either
    • look at the verses one at a time on the screen
    • press the print icon to print them
    • or the copy button copy buttonto the left of the list to paste them into your word-processor

2. How to see all the different Greek words for which we use the same English word

  • Once again you have to start with the KJV+ (with Strong’s numbers)
  • search for the word you are interested in (e.g.“perfect”) and check the (o) New Testement only
    • there should be over 40 found, e.g:
Verse Numerical Code
Matthew 5:48 5046
Luke 1:3 199*
Luke 6:40 2675*

  • How many different Greek words have been translated “perfect” in the King James Version of the New Testament?
    • e.g.:
Verse Numerical Code Transliterated Word and Meaning
Luke 6:40 2675 katartizo - to complete thoroughly, i.e. repair (lit. or fig.) or adjust
Acts 3:16 3647 holokleria - integrity, i.e. physical wholeness
  • See example of a word study
    • work through Ephesians example
  • A word study of the word behind “burden” in Matt 11:30 is very helpful
  • Response: Ask the Holy Spirit to show you who you need to “bear with”!

Updated 2009-10-09 (build:9) by Andrew Fountain

Assignment 1 - Word Study

Due date: upload to by the start of Wednesday’s class

Part 1: Language and Culture

1.1 Select An English translation

Select an English translation of the passage that has been assigned to you, taken from a modern version that is fairly literal (Three suitable translations would be ESV, NKJV or NASB). This translation will be the basis for the work you do later in your paper. (It should not be a photocopy, but should be pasted from eSword or re-typed so that it can be part of your final paper.)

1.2 Two word studies using words taken from your passage:

Choose words which are significant in the passage. Use the format and method presented in the lecture and in the example handed out, taking care to ensure that the study is based, not on the English word, but on the Greek word which underlies the English. This should be done with a computer Bible such as eSword.

  • You must chose a word that occurs at least five times in the New Testament. Extra marks will be given for dividing occurrences of the word into different usages.
  • If you don’t have space for all the references, give the total number of references and how many fall into each catagory of meaning.
  • Each word study should be no more than 1½ pages in length (three pages max. for the both studies). No marks will be given if just the raw concordance information is presented. Some attempt must be made to categorize the meanings.

Instructions for uploading your assignment

  • Go to
    • Make sure you are logged in with your username and password
    • Click on Assignment 1
      • Click on Post new forum topic (at the top)
    • Type your name as the Subject
    • You don’t have to change the Forums: box
      • Put the date in the body (you can add any comments here)
    • Click on File Attachments
      • Press the [Browse] button and select the assignment on your computer
      • Press [Attach]
    • Don’t Forget to press [Submit] at the very bottom of the page
    • Your name will now be listed under “topic”
  • If it is your own computer, don’t log out, just close the browser

If you have any questions, you may email me at [email protected]

Updated 2009-10-11 (build:14) by Andrew Fountain

4 - Culture and Context


A. What is culture?

  • The word “culture” is a somewhat fluid term that is difficult to define precisely.
    • Specifically, it includes the elements that make up everyday life: food, clothing, housing, customs, habits, creative activities (art, music, literature), products, institutions, education, tools, etiquette - and anything else that is part of daily living.
  • We speak about these areas separately, but culture is the totality that arises out of the individual elements.
    • The cultural setting reveals how people lived, the values they stressed, and why they did or did not prosper.
    • We study the culture to discover why people thought and acted the way that they did.

1. Environmental Factors

  • When we enter the world of the Bible, we encounter a culture that is not familiar to us, particularly if we come from a western country.
  • In Mark 2:1-12, we read of four men who carried a paralysed man on a bed to where Jesus was.
    • When they could not come near to Jesus because of the crowd, the Bible tells us that “they uncovered the roof where He was” and “when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.”
    • Homes in colder countries with pointed roofs so that the snow will not pile up on the roof would not be accessible to these men, although undoubtedly men of such persistence would find another way.
    • Still we might wonder how these men accomplished their task even with a flat-roofed house.
    • Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah discusses Palestinian homes (pp.501, 502). He suggests that Jesus was standing in the covered gallery that would run around the courtyard of the house of a middle class family and would open into various apartments.
    • The men may have ascended to the roof by stairs, or they may have passed from roof to roof of the adjoining houses.
    • The roof of the house itself would be very hard to break through, but the roof of the covered gallery would be relatively easy to “unroof.” -Edersheim’s information gives us insight into this amazing event.
  • Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper,” shows Jesus and the disciples sitting upright along the table, an effective artistic arrangement, but not very realistic.
    • In the time of Jesus, the Jews usually ate in a reclining position.
    • The table was most likely u-shaped.
    • This explains how John could lean back on Jesus’ breast and ask him who it was that was going to betray Him (John 13:25).
    • It also explains how the woman could wash Jesus’ feet with her tears while he was at the meal.

2. Socio-Religious Situation

  • When we read about the birth of Jesus Christ in Luke 2, we are aware that Jesus was born into a Jewish culture that had its foundation in the laws given to Moses and the Israelites in the Pentateuch (the first 5 Books of the Bible).
    • Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21; Lev.12:3).
    • When the days of Mary’s purification were completed, they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (Luke 2:22-24; Lev. 12:4-8).
    • Mary and Joseph were careful to perform everything according to the Law of the Lord (Luke 2:39).
  • The Scribes and Pharisees tried to keep standards of ritual cleanliness only required for the priets in the temple
    • For this reason they regarded people who worked with animals as unclean
    • In our culture, we have a romantic view of shepherds, but they regarded them as disgusting
    • This gives us a new insights into why God announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds
    • It shows the increased stigma of Jesus being born in an animal house

3. Economic Factors

  • Employment
    • Most people worked in “family businesses”, e.g. fishing or farming
    • Farming was extremely hard work and they would usually have to work 7 days a week in the summer months
      • so to take a Sabbath day of rest required real faith in God the provider
    • There was very little to stop wealthy men exploiting the poor
    • There was absolutely no welfare system, so if you were too sick to work then you starved
      • except of course for the extended family, which might be able to help
  • Retirement
    • The more children you had, the more care and honour you would receive in your old age
    • Generally the old were given respect by their children
    • But you would never actually stop working
    • This sheds light on the man who wanted to follow Jesus, but first “bury his father”
      • not literally—it means fulfill his obligation as a son and look after him till he died
  • Women and children
    • We would be shocked and horrified by societies valuation of women and children
    • The Pharisees would sometimes see them as almost worthless
    • Jesus and Christians were radically counter-cultural in their attitudes to women
    • e.g. Jesus and the woman of Sameria broke several taboos at once.

B. Purpose for Studying Cultural Elements

  • Sometimes a piece of information can significantly help us to understand a passage
  • e.g. Mat 22:18-22
    1. But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?
    2. Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.
    3. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
    4. They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
    5. When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
  • We can better understand the second half of v.21 if we know that the inscription would have suggested that Caesar was a god.

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans

Updated 2009-10-09 (build:9) by Andrew Fountain

Context & Structure

A. Context

1. How is the term “context” used?

  1. the entire historical and literary setting in which the author wrote
  2. the cultural context
  3. the text immediately surrounding the verse in question: what is with (con) the text

2. The Biblical Context

  1. The first context of any passage is the entire Scripture.
    • View the Bible as a whole unit with one overall theme: God’s great plan of salvation for sinful man through His Son, Jesus Christ. Each of the 66 books is there for a reason: we shouldn’t neglect any of them.
    • We need to know well the content of the whole Bible: we can understand a particular passage fully only if we know what the whole Scripture teaches, but we can know what the whole Scripture teaches only by knowing the meaning of its parts (the hermeneutical circle). This means that we need to be constantly reading and studying the Scriptures. This is a lifelong responsibility and delight.
    • A key hermeneutical principle is that “Scripture interprets Scripture” (the analogy of Scripture). This means that Scripture itself sets the limits of meaning. Scripture cannot contradict itself. We shall be talking more about this later in the course.
  2. The second context of any passage is the testament it is in: is it in the Old Testament or is it in the New Testament? Is it near the beginning of God’s revelation or near the end?
    • Because God’s revelation is progressive, we need to know what has gone before and what comes after. As Augustine said, “Truth shines brightest in the New Testament.” Doctrine is clearer in the pastoral epistles than in the prophecy of Ezekiel. In Genesis 3:15, we have God’s promise in a germinal form of a Saviour, a descendant of Eve, who would bring deliverance from Satan and his power; this promise was clearly fulfilled in the coming of the Saviour Jesus Christ to this earth.
  3. The third context is the book in which the passage occurs.
  4. The fourth context is the immediate context: what comes before or after the passage that you are studying?

3. Activities that may produce harmful effects because they don’t pay sufficient attention to the context.

  1. Memorizing individual verses or parts of verses.
    • Often we don’t realize (or we forget) that they form only part of a sentence or a thought.
    • You can prove almost anything from the Bible if you ignore the context, for example “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).
  2. Using only a concordance for word study.
    • It is easy to look up a number of verses on “patience.” It is more difficult to study each verse in context. Beware of “coat hanger” studies, messages, or sermons where verses are disconnected from a passage without considering the context and attached to the subject you are examining.
  3. Using “proof texts”
    • We quote a verse to support our position, but we neglect other verses on a topic which do not appear to support our position. To be fair, we have to consider all the main verses on a subject as much as possible.

B. Studying a Book of the Bible

1. The Purpose of the Book

  1. To determine the purpose of a book, read through the entire book quickly, at one sitting if possible.
    • With longer books like Genesis, read large portions; stop at logical stopping places (For example: Gen.1:1-11, 12-23, 24-36, 37-50). Concentrate on following the flow of thought. Note key words and phrases that are repeated or that control the thought in certain passages. This procedure will help you to see the book as a whole before you look at individual units. As the saying goes, “They cannot see the forest for the trees.” They cannot see the big ideas because they are too wound up in the details. In like manner we can get so involved with the details of the book that we miss the main ideas. Looking at the book as a whole will help to prevent this.
    • After you have read the book quickly, read it again more slowly. What is the main theme (or themes) of the book? Note the main theme and the key words and phrases. What do you learn about the author? about the recipients?
  2. Look specifically at the beginning and the ending of the book.
    • Sometimes these give a clear indication of what is happening in the book. In the first two chapters of Judges, we note the gradual deterioration of Israel: they did not drive out completely the inhabitants of the land; they worshipped other gods, and insisted on doing things their own way. Judges ends with the verse, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). After the tranquil interlude of Ruth which presents us with a community where God is honoured, we come to 1 Samuel and the choosing of a king for Israel.
  3. Sometimes the author indicates the occasion (reason) for writing.
    • We noticed this when we were looking at the Gospels of John and Luke (Luke 1:1-4; John 20:31). A book like 1 Corinthians seems to have several purposes.
  • You should read the book directly before consulting the opinions of others so that you can allow the Spirit to give you a fresh impact.
  • But it is also wise to consult others who can correct or expand your thinking.

2. The Plan of the Book

  1. There may be a great variety of relationships between the different passages in a book.
    1. a historic sequence of events ex. Genesis
    2. a historical sequence - not necessarily chronological ex. Matthew
    3. a poetic arrangement for beauty or emotional impact ex. the Psalms
    4. a closely reasoned theological discourse ex. Romans
    5. a collection of loosely related maxims ex. Proverbs
  2. The plan influences the interpretation.
    • The location of a passage in a book can have a strong influence on the interpretation.
  3. To discern the plan, you should make an outline of the book.
    1. Do not feel bound to use the existing chapter and verse divisions. They were not in the original: they came later. Often they are helpful, but they can be a hindrance in determining the units of thought. For example, 1 John 4:7 begins a passage on love that does not end until chapter 5, verse 3.
    2. Outline the flow of thought. Look for change: a change of event or a change of thought. Words like “if,” “for,” “but,” and “therefore” are significant indicators as to how a statement should be understood.
    3. Use main headings and subheadings.

3. The Immediate Context

  1. Observe what immediately precedes and follows the passage that you are examining.
  2. Observe parallel passages: in the same book, in other books.
    1. identical or similar language - Compare Eph. 5:22-6: 9 with Col. 3:18-4:1.
      • This is not always significant: the content or idea needs to be similar. Note that “leaven” is used in Matthew 13:33 in a different way than in Matthew 16:6.
    2. identical or similar ideas - not necesssarily use of common words
      • Ex. incarnation: Hebrews 2:9-18; Philippians 2:5-11
      • the last times: Matthew 24 & 25; 2 Thessalonians 2
    3. 2 or more books describing essentially the same events
      • Ex. Samuel, Kings, Chronicles
      • The Gospels
      • Paul in Acts and the Epistles
      • The Prophets - note where and when they were prophesying

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans

Updated 2009-10-07 (build:7) by Andrew Fountain

Assignment 2 - Larger Context

Due date: upload to by the start of Thursday’s class

Please add this assignment onto the end of the first assignment, so they are both in one document. Then I can see all your work together.

Part 2: Larger Context (Background and Purpose of Book)

2.1 Outline of book

You can develop an outline yourself, or copy one from a source such as a study bible or the internet, such as at the location mentioned below. If it is not yours then credit your source. The outline must fit on one page!

2.2 Occasion (circumstances) of writing

A paragraph that describes the situation surrounding the writing of the book, and the events that caused it to be written. (The external context.) You will probably want to consult a study bible, commentary or bible dictionary for this information, but put the paragraph in your own words. One of the best sources on the internet is, and they have introductions to all the New Testament books here at: A shorter introduction can be found in eSword in the ISBE dictionary.

Please footnote all sources used.

2.3 Purpose of the book

One or two paragraphs that explain what the author seems to be aiming to accomplish with the book. They may be seeking to prove or establish something, to influence the readers in some way, etc. Again, you may want to consult sources, but use your own words and footnote sources.

2.4 Purpose for this passage within the book

This is the most important part of this assignment. You should attempt to do this first without any help from sources such as commentaries (and even if you look at them you might not find them very helpful). Understanding how the passage functions as part of the overall purpose for the book is key to understanding what is going on within the passage. Ask yourself why the author has included this passage in the book?

Updated 2009-10-11 (build:10) by Andrew Fountain

5 - Frameworks

Frameworks for Understanding the Scriptures

There are five common ways of relating together the Old and New Testaments:

  1. Reformed Covenant Theology: The N.C. is an administration of the Old (infant baptism)
  2. Dispensationalism: History is divided into seven dispensations. The O.C. is now abrogated (or suspended) (beleivers’ baptism)
  3. New-Covenant Theology (beleivers’ baptism): The relationship between the O.C. and the N.C. is not flat, but typological. (beleivers’ baptism) The movement is
    • promise → fulfullment
    • shadow → reality
    • type → antitype
    • flesh → spirit
    • external written code → Jesus Christ (indwelling)
  4. No coherent framework: free to apply texts with no regard to historical epoch (most untrained evangelicals/charismatics)
  5. Modern-critical: no relationship between the Old and the New is necessary



Updated 2009-10-12 (build:16) by Andrew Fountain

Comparison between Dispensations & Covenants

Dispensational Reformed (paedobaptist) New Covenant
1. Innocence A. Covenant of Works Period of probation
2. Conscience B. Covenant of Grace
     (initiated with Eve)
1. Anti-diluvian administration
and then
full Mosaic
All are
the N.C.
to Eve
3. Government 2. Noahic administration
4. Promise 3. Abrahamic administration
5. Law 4. Mosaic administration
    (+Davidic covenant)
6a. Grace (Spirit) 5. New covenant:
Apostolic administration
O.C. fulfilled in N.C.
by the replacing of all
types with anti-types
and shadows with clarity
in Jesus Christ

(radical new beginning at Pentecost)
<return of Christ>
(differences of views re millennium)

6b. Church age (Word)

<completion of canon marks break>
6. New covenant:
Post-Apostolic administration
<return of Christ>
7. Kingdom
7. Christ's millennial administration
<return of Christ>


  • For the Paedobaptist, circumcision and baptism are parallel ceremonies in two administrations. Both are for believers and their children.
  • For the New Covenant, circumcision is a type, and therefore can only be fulfilled in an antitype (a new heart), not another symbol.
  • For the Paedobaptist, Israel and the Church are parallel names for the people of God in two administrations. Both are made up of believers and unbelievers, and should extend to the whole nation, including children. Force is appropriate.
  • For the New Covenant, Israel is a type of the church. The ideal local expression of a church is made up only of believers. We do not fight with the sword, but with spiritual weapons.

Comparison between Signs of the Covenants

  Noahic Abrahamic Mosiac New
sign/seal rainbow circumcision Sabbath the Spirit who regenerates / circumcises our hearts

—>Sabbath fulfilled by rest in Christ

feast     passover Lord’s supper
Image of death to life Saved from flood life from Sarah's "dead" body "Baptism" in Red Sea Baptism
inheritance all the earth & animals
(old creation)
land + nation
(types of the new creation)
promised land 1 Pet 1:4 an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven
not needed
(already realized)
nation -> a son
land -> burial plot
Sabbath was a foretaste of rest in Canaan,
+ physical blessing in wilderness: Manna, clothes not wear out, treasures from Egypt
The Spirit

The New Covenant

Terry Virgo: “Many many people in churches have not had a revelation of [the new covenant] to their hearts... Many have a mixture of Old covenant and New Covenant” (9-1:00,3:07)

I want to do three things in this presentation

  1. Describe what a covenant is
  2. Talk about the Old Covenant
  3. Explain the New Covenant

1. What is a covenant?

  • a relationship (usually friendship or family), not a legal contract.
    • today we have legal contracts, enforced by putting our signature on the bottom (e.g. story of DirectBuy)
    • the only things in our society which are like covenants are marriages and adoptions
    • even they are not quite the same as a covenant
  • Abram & the smoking torch Follow along in Genesis 15
    • Before we read this passage, it might seem strange to you, but this was the common way of doing things when you made a covenant.
    • [enact role-play by cutting up transparencies]
    • Pictures of animals used in the Genesis 15 covenant
    • Note that this was a special covenant with Moses, not what we call the Old Covenant or the New Covenant
    • read passage
    • why does only God go between the pieces (not dependent on Abraham)
  • so this is what a covenant is:
    • very serious affair: life and death
    • not just a legal agreement, but brings two people into a relationship

2 The Old Covenant

  • God made a covenant with the whole nation of Israel in Old Testament times
  • He gave them a lot of laws and commandments
    • If they kept them, then he would give them
      • financial blessing
      • health and long life
      • lots of children
    • If then broke them then
      • He would punish them
      • He would take away all the good things
      • Ultimately the nation would be destroyed
  • It was all based on their performance
  • It was mostly external
    • (this is an oversimplification because mixed in with these laws were promises of a new covenant)
  • What does it mean to be living under the Old Covenant?
    • They related to God as an authority figure
      • who would judge them if they failed
      • The Jews would never call God “Abba” (daddy)
    • Blessings and cursings: Deut 27, 28, 29, 30 (e.g. 28:1-2 & 28:15)
    • in fact, it was impossible for them to completely keep all the laws
    • God was actually very patient with them
    • but in the end the whole nation rebelled against God and all the curses came upon them

3 The New Covenant

A. God’s law written on our hearts

  • In Galatians Paul tells us that no matter how many laws you make, it can’t change the heart.
    • Just imagine that the government passed a law that everyone must love each other—no more hate!
  • But the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives: [Gal 5:22-23]
    • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
  • However, it is not just that we have a new heart, the old one has been removed
    • we have had a heart-transplant—we don’t have to carry on with our old lifestyle
      • [role-play]
    • we are free to serve Christ
    • Recently I saw a trapped butterfly, under a piece of glass on our deck.
      • If you throw a caterpillar up in the air and say “fly! fly!”, it won’t work
      • but a butterfly naturally flies (unless it is trapped, and there are things that can ensnare us but that is another subject)
  • relationship to the law
    • Moses brought the 10 commandments
    • Some teach that Jesus just gave us some more commands to add on to Moses, but that is a total misunderstanding
    • The replacement for the law is not a new law, but a person, Jesus himself!!!!
    • He says “follow me”, do what I do, think how I think, love others like I love others
    • Goes far beyond a written list of rules
    • Can we do it ?
      • Not in our own strength, but Jesus is actually living in us through the Spirit.
      • We are united with him
      • he has defeated the power of sin and he is living within us
    • e.g. girl who was recently saved. Her family started hostile, but stopped being antagonistic within days when they saw her change of life, and eventually were saved.
      • It wasn’t that she now had more laws to obey!!

B. We will belong to him and he will belong to us

  • The essence of the New Covenant:
    • brought into God’s family
    • we were enemies, in rebellion. Now we are brought into his family
    • He is “ours”, in a sense he belongs to us as a possession, and we belong to him
    • This is like love language, isn’t it:
      • “I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s mine” [SongSol 6:3]
    • secure!!!
  • Three pictures or aspects of this relationship in the New Testament:
    1. Servants (Paul calls himself a “bondslave of Jesus Christ”)
    2. Children / Father (Adopted as “sons”)
      • Jesus taught us to call the father “Abba”
      • The Spirit puts that cry into us [Rom 8:1]
    3. Bride / Bridegroom
    • A marriage is probably the closest thing we have today to a covenant (we don’t usually do the parts with the blood)
      • Our wedding rings are the seals (get Anne to hold her hand up)
      • What do they symbolize (all that is mine is yours)
      • What is the seal of the New Covenant? (The Spirit e.g. Eph. 4:30)
        • That is why it is so important that we experience being filled in a tangible way
  • How do we live?
    • lovers outperform servants

C. We can all hear God for ourselves and don’t need to be totally dependent on “priests”

  • God still gives teachers to his people, but they are to be listened to with discernment
  • Since we have the Spirit, we can discern truth from error
  • The Bible is our primary authority, but we can all read it for ourselves!
  • In O.T. times if someone wanted to know God’s will, they had to go to a prophet,
    • but in the New Covenant, Jesus says “my sheep hear my voice”

D. Our sins are all forgiven

  • In the Old Covenant you could never be sure that you had kept even the most basic laws
  • You could spend your life worried and anxious about whether God would accept you.
  • But many Christians today live lives full of
    • condemnation
    • guilt
    • anxiety over their failings
    • feelings of being inadequate and failing God all the time
    • A sense that God is angry with them and is judging them
  • The covenant God made with Abraham was a picture of the New Covenant in that it was unconditional
    • A free gift
    • We don’t have to do anything to earn it -> It was received by faith
  • But God says: “I will forgive their wickedness, and their sins I will remember no more.”
    • Don’t you get it? God is not counting your sins!!!!
    • If you mess up today, he will have chosen to forget it tomorrow!
      • (That doesn’t mean their are not consequences—if you get drunk and crash your car, you may find the police remember it.)
      • (Also, God is committed to helping us get out of sinful lifestyle, but he will not ultimately count it against us)
      • Once I was taking a course and just about to go into the exam when I added up my marks and realized I had already passed!
        • What a relief! I didn’t even need to take the exam!
        • You can imagine how it took the pressure off!
        • We have already passed—Jesus has earned us a 100% grade
    • Terry Virgo was preaching this once and a man at the back of the church interrupted him and shouted out:
    • “That is the most scandalous thing I have ever heard!”
    • “Then you very nearly understand it, Sir”
    • People are offended by this teaching (and were when the Apostle Paul taught it), saying it will lead us into more sin...
      • If it were not for the new heart and the relationship then it would!
      • But the New Covenant is a package
        • If someone does use it as an excuse for sinning freely, then they probably don’t actually have the new heart
  • Summary: if you are a member of the New Covenant:
    1. You have a new heart, that like a butterfly wants to soar
    2. You are God’s beloved and he is your beloved. You are secure in the relationship
    3. You relate to God directly, not through priests
    4. You are totally forgiven and God is never judging you or condemning you
  • We need to respond to this message!
    • Maybe you are feeling condemned and a failure and want to enter into these truths more.
      • “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus...” [Rom 8:1]

Updated 2009-10-12 (build:16) by Andrew Fountain

Genesis 15

  1. After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield and the one who will reward you in great abundance.”
  2. But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, what will you give me since I continue to be childless, and my heir is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3Abram added, “Since you have not given me a descendant, then look, one born in my house will be my heir!”
  1. But look, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but instead a son who comes from your own body will be your heir.” 5He took him outside and said, “Gaze into the sky and count the stars—if you are able to count them!” Then he said to him, “So will your descendants be.”
  1. Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted his response of faith as righteousness.
  2. The Lord said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, by what can I know that I am to possess it?
  1. The Lord said to him, “Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two and placed each half opposite the other, but he did not cut the birds in half. 11When birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
  1. When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep. Then great terror overwhelmed him. 13Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.”
  1. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts. 18That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River— 19the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”

adapted from NET Bible

Updated 2009-10-12 (build:15) by Andrew Fountain

Animals used in the Genesis 15 covenant






Updated 2009-10-12 (build:15) by Andrew Fountain

Hebrews 8:6-13

  1. But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is based on better promises.
  2. For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one.
  3. But showing its fault, God says to them,
    “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
  4. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord.
  5. For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord.
    A. God’s law written on our hearts I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts.
    B. We will belong to him and he will belong to us And I will be their God and they will be my people.
    C. No need for priests between us and God 11. And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest.
    D. Our sins are all forgiven 12. For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.”
  1. When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear.

quote from Jer 31:31-34

(Based on NET Bible)

Updated 2009-10-12 (build:15) by Andrew Fountain

Hermeneutical Frameworks 2

Overarching Theme of the Bible

  1. Covenant Theology: Redemption
    • Advantages:
      1. Takes Luke 24:27 seriously “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”
      2. Provides unity for whole Bible
    • Problems:
      1. Cannot do a good job in explaining Wisdom literature, esp Song of Solomon
      2. Man centered?
  2. Dispensationalism: The glory of God
    • Advantages:
      1. God centered
      2. Encompasses Wisdom literature
    • Problems:
      1. Too general
      2. Does not take Luke 24:27 seriously
      3. Does not provide a strong unity
  3. Suggested Principle: The Revelation of God in Jesus Christ
    • Advantages:
      1. God is primarily glorified in redemption, so includes the advantages of Covenant Theology
      2. Takes the Christ-centred nature of Luke 24:27 seriously
      3. Takes seriously other Christ-centered passages such as Col 1:15-20; John 1:1-18 which refer to the old creation
      4. God centered
      5. Encompasses Wisdom literature

Exegetical Principles of Dispensationalism

  • Pay careful attention to the dispensation DISCONTINUITY
  • Interpret literally unless the context demands metaphor
  • Theology cannot be derived from narrative (e.g. we are not to expect the miraculous events of Acts today)
  • Each dispensation (except the last) ends in failure. (Another argument for cessationism)

Exegetical Principles of Covenant Theology

  • Determine whether to interpret literally or spiritually according to how well each would fit within the system
  • God always deals with people in terms of covenants
  • Each administration of the covenant has parallels which can be inferred from other administrations
  • building up to final victory

Exegetical Principles of New Covenant Theology

  • Discontinuity of Covenants & Continuity of way of salvation
  • The superiority of Christ over Moses
  • Look carefully at how N.T. authors applied the type/fulfillment motif

Examples of issues that are answered differently depending on your view of covenants

  1. Distinction between priest and people in O.T. (including clothing)
  2. Praise and worship (cf. regulative principle)
    • music (+instruments, Psalms only?)
    • litergy or freedom in worship
    • leadership in worship (front led or participatory)
  3. Who is the covenant with? Children? whole families? individuals?
  4. Role of the Spirit in our times
    • gifts
    • the nature of the kingdom
  5. Wealth
  • Valuable resource: John S. Feinberg, Continuity and Discontinuity—Perspectives on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, (Weschester, IL: Crossway, 1988)
    • contains history of “Overarching Theme”
    • The danger of using the wrong controls on our exegesis
    • Training a church to discern

Updated 2009-10-11 (build:10) by Andrew Fountain

Assignment 3 - The Message

Due date: upload to by the start of Friday’s class

Please add this assignment onto the end of the other two assignments, so all three are in one document. Then I can see all your work together.

Part 3: The Message

3.1 Statement of the basic steps of reasoning within the passage

In brief point form, list the steps of reasoning the author uses to accomplish his purpose. (Do not do the same as in step 3.3)

3.2 Which covenant period is the passage under?

  • e.g. pre-Abraham / Abraham / Moses (Law) / N.T. before Pentecost / New Covenant

3.3 Verse by verse explanation/interpretation

For each verse in your passage, write a brief explanation. Sometimes you may prefer to take a couple of verses together. If a verse is particularly important, then write more about it. To help you understand the meaning, you may wish to:

  • Use Biblical Theology (e.g. compare with parallel passages)
  • Use Systematic Theology (e.g. similar or contrasting teachings in Scripture)
  • Point out any quotations of the Old Testament in the New
  • Discuss alternative interpretations and give your preferred interpretation

3.4 Conclusions regarding the teachings of the passage

Summarize one or two central points that the author is making. These must be points that the author is setting out to make, (not teachings that you might be able to infer from the passage but are really derived from another part of Scripture).

Updated 2009-10-11 (build:14) by Andrew Fountain

Assignment 4 - The Response

Due date: upload to by the end of Friday

Part 4: Response

4.1 The Response Required from the Original Hearers and Required Today

In order to answer this you must understand the kind of people to whom the book was written. Given all you have studied up till now—the purpose of the book, the purpose of this passage and the arguments and points that have been made, what response would the author have wanted to have seen in the original hearers?

If you were to preach from these verses, or teach them in a cell group, or explain them to another person, how would you apply them? Be as specific as you can with examples of how this might apply today. Is the primary application to believers or unbelievers?

4.2 Personal Response

How should I respond to these verses now? If we never ask ourselves this question then we are doing a terrible thing—treating God’s Word as a textbook, or an object to be examined. We are not like some scientist examining God’s Word, but the Word is examining us. We should not approach it to judge and dissect it—but to let the Word judge and dissect us. So this final step is the climax and end point of exegesis: discovering and interpreting the message that God is communicating to ME, and obeying this message. Try and be as specific as you can here. (Your paper will not be shown to anyone else.) This should be answered in the first person (“God is saying to me...”).

Updated 2009-10-12 (build:15) by Andrew Fountain

6 - Typology

I. Definition

A type is a special kind of symbol, a prophetic symbol, where historic intention is important. Its fulfilment is in the future.

Ex. The animal sacrificial system in the Old Testament pointed to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ

  • animal sacrificial system = type
  • the sacrifice of Christ = anti-type (anti = instead)

Prophetic symbols are possible because history is divinely planned. A type often contains symbols. For example, the Tabernacle is a type of the redemption of Christ but the items of furniture in the Tabernacle are symbols of different aspects of redemption.

II. Justification for Typological Interpretation

1. Jesus’ use of the Old Testament

John 5:39-47

In verse 46 Jesus says that Moses wrote about Him. The writings of Moses looked to the future when Jesus Christ would come into this world to be our Saviour.

Luke 24:25-27, 44

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus opened up the understanding of two of his followers concerning the meaning of his crucifixion and resurrection by referring to Moses and the Prophets: “He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (verse 27). Note also verse 44 where Jesus clearly states that what was written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms pointed ahead to a fulfillment in the future.

2. Epistles’ use of the Old Testament

Romans 5:12-21

In verse 14, Paul says that Adam was “a type of him who was to come.” The following verses declare the superiority of Jesus Christ, the Second Adam.

1 Cor.10:1-11

In referring to the experiences of the Israelites in the Old Testament, Paul says specifically that these events happened as examples (Greek: tupoi) to us “for our admonition” (vv.6, 11). We need to learn from them. The history of the Israelites is typological in that it pictures the experience of the Christian in all ages. Their deliverance from the bondage of the Egyptians points ahead to the Christian’s deliverance from the bondage of sin.

Hebrews 9:6-15, 23, 24

This chapter points out the limitations of the Old Testament tabernacle and sacrificial system. Verse 9 says that they were “symbolic” for a later time. They pointed ahead to the perfect High Priest, Jesus Christ, who entered the Most Holy place once for all with his own blood (v.12). Verse 24 says that “the holy places made with hands” are “copies of the true,” they are representations of the true realities of heaven.

3. Harmony between the Old Testament and the New Testament

Typology presupposes that God has built patterns and structures into human history so that our history is not a series of detached fragments or random events. The Scriptures teach that history is moving towards a goal: the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Final Judgment, and the establishing of a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness reigns. The unity between the Old Testament and the New Testament is evident throughout the Scriptures.

Some Examples:

(a) Chapter 4 of Romans states clearly that the act of faith in the Old Testament is the same as the act of faith in the New Testament and that truth continues up to the present time. Abraham is called the “father of us all” (vv.11, 12, 16), the father of all believers.

(b) The life of faith in the Old Testament is a model for the New Testament saints and for us. Note Hebrews 11.

When liberal theologians attacked the unity of the Scriptures by putting a division between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and declaring that the God of the Old Testament was different than the God of the New, they had to set aside typology: it could not fit in with their ideas.

III. Characteristics of Typology

(Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp.228ff.)

1. It points to the future: usually it is an Old Testament type prefiguring something about redemption in the future.

2. It may be different in essence or it may be something similar or even the same. Ex. Death in the animal sacrificial system is the same as in the anti-type.

3. The resemblance must be designated, that is, stated to be one in the New Testament, or the New Testament may state the whole as being typical.

  • Ex. The reference to the wilderness wanderings in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11.

4. A type may parallel many points in the antitype.

  • Ex. The tabernacle—the Holy of Holies, the furniture, the altar (Hebrews 8-10).

5. Dissimilarity is to be expected. A one-to-one correspondence between type and anti-type is not necessary or usual.

  • Ex. Moses is a type of Christ
    • Points of pronounced similarity—Moses is a leader and a mediator.
    • Points of pronounced dissimilarity—Moses sinned and died.
    • The typical truth is at the point of similarity.

IV. Kinds of Types

1. Persons

Adam type of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:14)

David type of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:25-36)

Elijah type of John the Baptist (Matt.17:10-13)

2. Institutions

The Passover a type of Christ’s Redemption (1 Cor.5:7)

The Promised Land a type of heaven (Heb.3:7-4:10)

3. Roles

  • Moses, the prophet
  • Aaron, the high priest
  • David, the king
    They are all types of Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King.

4. Events

The crossing of the Israelites through the Red Sea a type of salvation, being baptized into the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.10:1, 2)

5. Things

The manna in the wilderness a type of Jesus Christ (John 6:30-35, 48-51)

6. Actions

The lifting up of the brazen serpent in the wilderness a type of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (John 3:14-16)

V. Guidelines for Interpreting Typology

(Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp.229ff.)

1. Note the typology of the New Testament and see how it treats the subject. The New Testament does not deal with all the details and incidentals. As Ramm says, “We should restrict our efforts to major doctrines, central truths, key spiritual lessons, and major moral principles”(p.230).

Example: (from Sterrett, p.109)

  • The Brazen Serpent
Numbers 21:4-9 John 3:14, 15
the people complained no mention
God sent fiery serpents no mention
many died no mention (but those who don’t put faith in Christ will die)
people confessed their sin no mention
Moses prayed for them no mention
God commanded Moses to make a serpent
Moses made a serpent of brass and put it on a pole
Christ was lifted up on a wooden pole—no mention of brass serpent
Anyone who looked was healed. Whosoever believes will have eternal life.

2. Locate in any given type the typical and the incidental. For example, much about the Tabernacle has no typical significance. Do not try to be clever, original, or shocking.

3. Note that the New Testament specifies the Tabernacle with its priesthood and offerings and the Wilderness Wanderings as the two major areas of typical materials.

4. Do not prove doctrine from types unless there is clear New Testament authority.

5. Note the difference between types and parallels.

  • Joseph is not identified in Scripture as a type of Christ. Therefore some people we shouldn’t call him a type although there are certainly many parallels to Christ in his life. Should we call him a type?
  • The Song of Solomon is nowhere identified as a type of Christ and the Church, but we do find parallels to and illustrations of the spiritual relationship between God and His people. (but see Psalm 45)

VI. Comparison of Types, Symbols, and Allegory

  • Types are based in real historical events or people and the history and literal meaning should be taken seriously
  • Symbols exist as something to see, touch, smell, taste, hear
    • but they usually represents something different in essence
    • e.g. prophecy of Eve’s descendent trampling on the snake
    • Peter’s vision of the unclean animals he was to eat
    • they are very common in prophecy
  • Allegory
    • uncontrolled symbolism where we try and find symbols in everything without any basis

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans

7 - Survey of Genres in the Bible

Old Testament

New Testament

8 - Inspiration and Translation


“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” (2 Tim.3:16).

Our word “inspiration” has been translated from the Greek word theopneustos which means God-breathed, out-breathed, rather than in-breathed, by God. God did not breathe into existing literature or people. He didn’t inspire John or Paul, but rather he breathed out the Scriptures.

I. The Human Element

“Since the Bible is written by human beings, it must be treated as any other human communication in determining the meaning intended by the writer.” (Basic Principle 1 - McQuilkin)

What evidence is there that the Bible was written by human beings?

  1. The Scriptures point to human authorship. Mark 12:9: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.”
  2. The author sometimes stated his purpose in writing: 1 John 5:13.
  3. Research was undertaken: Luke 1:1-4.
  4. Life’s experiences are revealed: Psalms, Hosea, Jonah.
  5. The writing styles vary. This is evident even in translation.

II. The Divine Element

“Since Scripture is God-breathed and true in all its parts, the unity of its teachings must be sought, and its supernatural elements recognized and understood.” (Basic Principle 2 - McQuilkin)

  1. Some Scripture was written by the finger of God: Exodus 32:16.
  2. The Scriptures include the revelation of that which was otherwise unknowable by man: 1 Peter 1:10-12.
  3. Detailed predictions were given centuries ahead of the time of fulfillment. In Psalm 22, the sufferings of the Messiah are described: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (See Matthew 27:46)
  4. Words and visions were given by God. Isaiah 8:1: “Moreover the Lord said to me, ‘Take a large scroll . . .’”
  5. We have the evidence of God’s providential preparation of the nation of Israel and of individuals: Moses, the prophets, Paul.

III. The Extent of Inspiration

1. Verbal

The original manuscripts were inspired by God. Even the very words of the original were given by divine inspiration. Jesus said to the Devil: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt.4:4).

Note also: Exod.4:12; Jer.1:9; Ezek.2:7; Matt.5:18; 1 Cor.2:13; Gal.3:16.

2. Complete

Inspiration extends to all parts of the Bible: all books, all chapters, and all verses, although divisions are often manmade.

3. Inspiration covers:

  1. revelation - a direct communication from God to man
  2. the selection of documents, records etc.
  3. an accurate record of history and teaching.

4. Unity of the Scriptures

The author is the Holy Spirit. There is one theme. Everything fits together.

5. Progressive revelation

Truth is clearest in the New Testament. What may be obscure and incomplete in the Old Testament is revealed more fully as God’s redemptive plan unfolds throughout man’s history.

IV. Inadequate Theories of Inspiration

1. Genius

The idea that Paul, the apostle, was “inspired” like Shakespeare to write is wrong. There is no basis of comparison between Shakespeare’s plays and Paul’s writings. Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to write what God wanted the people to hear.

2. Degrees of Inspiration

The Gospel of John is not more inspired than Ecclesiastes. All Scriptures are fully authorized by God although they differ in the purpose for which they were inspired and in their application.

3. Inspired Concepts

Some say that the ideas were divine, but men were left to express them in their own way. If this were true, we would not be able to depend on the infallibility of the Scriptures.

4. Partial Inspiration

Some say that the Bible contains the Word of God, not that it is the Word of God. They sit in judgment of the Bible and decide what is inspired. We need to let the Bible judge us.

5. Verbal Dictation

The writers of Scripture were not mere machines to whom God dictated what should be written down. God used the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen. The process is a mystery to us, but God does many things that we cannot understand with our limited human minds.

Jesus Christ gave a very high position to Scripture. He read the Scripture in the synagogues and quoted from the Old Testament frequently. He pointed out that the Scripture was authoritative and could not be broken (John 10:34-38).

V. Misunderstanding regarding Inspiration:

  • In normal speech, we use round numbers (army of 100,000 men). So does the Bible. Inspiration does not mean exact precision.
    • Num 11:21 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot
  • Today we have standardized grammar & spelling. This was not true in ancient times.
    • The Kings sometimes have their names spelt differently in different books.
  • Sometimes we report a falsehood that someone has said. The Bible reports false accounts and does not claim them to be true.
    • Psa 10:4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
  • Today we use the figure of speech called a hyperbole, so does the Bible
    • e.g. Rom 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
  • We normally use descriptive language, not scientific precision
    • Gen 15:12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram.
  • When we tell a story, we select the most important parts to tell. If several people describe the same even, they will probably select different events.
    • e.g. the gospel writers
  • We summarize
    • Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is longer than Luke’s
  • Nowadays we expect a narrative account to be in chronological order. In ancient times, material would often be arranged topically or to highlight some aspect of history.
    • e.g. the book of Judges is not in chronological order.
  • Nowadays when we include a quotation, we expect it to be an exact quote. In ancient time, it was acceptable to interpret the quotation as you quote it.
    • We still do this when we are speaking, “Helen said she didn’t like the picture very much.”
    • e.g. quotations of the O.T. in the New
      • John 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
      • It is not a direct quotation, but put together from several passages such as:
      • Isa 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

VI. Alleged Errors

Alleged Error #1:

2 Samuel 10:18 1 Chronicles 19:18
But the Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed 700 charioteers of the Arameans and 40,000 horsemen and struck down Shobach the commander of their army, and he died there.The Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed of the Arameans 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers, and put to death Shophach the commander of the army.

Solution: The occasional tiny error in copying the text

Alleged Error #2:

Matthew 27:5 Acts 1:18
“So Judas threw the silver coins into the temple and left. Then he went out and hanged himself.” (later the chief priests used the money to buy the field)“Now this man Judas acquired a field with the reward of his unjust deed, and falling headfirst he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.”

Solution: Faulty Assumption

Two writers can include different details of the same event for their own purposes. Judas could have hanged himself and then fallen. Peter was emphasizing the fulfillment of prophecy through the death of Judas, while this was not a concern of Matthew.

Alleged Error #3

Matthew 26:34 Mark 14:30
“Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’” “And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny me three times.’”

Solution: Faulty Assumption

One writer can be more detailed than another.

Alleged Error #4

The Bible claims that the moon is a light. But we know that the moon simply reflects light, but is not a light itself.
Isaiah 13:10 “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light;
the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light.”

Solution: Over-emphasis on scientific preciseness does not take into account normal human language (i.e., language that speaks from the perspective of the subject).

Alleged Error #5

Proverbs 12:21 Lk. 16:19–22
“The righteous do not encounter any harm, but the wicked are filled with calamity.” The rich man and Lazarus: The unrighteous rich man is unharmed, while the righteous poor man is experiencing calamity.

Solution: Faulty understanding concerning the nature of a proverb. A proverb is a general truth that does not necessarily apply in every situation. Here is a misunderstanding of the ultimate end of both men. The poor man, Lazarus, was the one who ultimately experienced peace, while the rich man experienced calamity after death.

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans and also “The Theology Program” at


Old Testament

  • Centuries before Christ, the Jews had determined what consitituted the Scriptures
  • Transmission by faithful copying
    • Septuagint (LXX) translation into Greek, around 300 BC
    • Masoretes

The Apocrypha

  • Extra books that the Jews never accepted as part of Scripture and are never found in the Hebrew Old Testament
  • There are at least 295 quotations of the O.T. in the new by Jesus and the other writers
    • But there is not a single quotation from the apocrapha.
  • Some apocryphal books, like the books of Maccabees, have historical value, but others are just religious novels
  • Some of the Apocryphal books specifically state that they are not inspired (e.g. Wisdom of Jesus; II Macabees)
    • Maccabes states in several places that there have been no prophets around for a long time, e.g.
    • I Macc 9:27 “There was a great distress in Israel shuch as had not been since the time that the prophets ceased to appear”
  • Some of them have definite error:
    • In Tobit 12:8f. we read: “Good is prayer with fasting and alms and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with unrighteousness. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold: alms doth deliver from death, and it shall purge away all sins.”
    • Such passages clearly teach justification by works rather than by grace.
  • the Roman Catholic church didn’t put these books in their Bibles until 1546 when the reformers challenged them about salvation by faith or by works and about paying money to have prayers said for the dead to get them out of purgatory.
    • some teachings like “praying to the saints” are not found in the Scriptures but are found in the Apocrypha

New Testament

  • Very soon after the N.T. books were written, they were accepted by the church as Scripture
    • 2Pe 3:15-16 “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
    • Paul’s 13 letters are always in the same order, no matter where they are found
    • Almost certainly Paul himself organized the collection

Extra “Epistles” that are not part of Scripture

  • Just try reading them and you will not be in any doubt.
  • Quote from “Gospel according to Thomas” (114)
    1. Simon Peter said to them: “Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life.”
    2. Jesus said: “Look, I will draw her in so as to make her male,
      so that she too may become a living male spirit, similar to you.”
    3. (But I say to you): “Every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Transmission of N.T. text


The biblical manuscripts were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek (means common Greek of 2000 years ago).

Hebrew is a language that is about 4000 years old. It died as a spoken language about 350 B.C. It has been revived in Modern Israel but with many changes.

Aramaic is a language that has been dead for many centuries. Translators must depend on ancient secular manuscripts to reveal the grammar and vocabulary of Aramaic. Parts of Daniel and Nehemiah are written in Aramaic.

Koine Greek is 1800 years old. It was the language of the common people when Jesus lived on this earth. Modern Greek is quite different but related.

Hebrew and Greek are rich languages that have an extensive vocabulary and a grammar and syntax that are capable of expressing fine differences in meaning. Sometimes the English language does not express all that the biblical languages expressed.

Moreover, early copies of the Scriptures were written in the ancient style with no space between words, no punctuation, no paragraphs, and with everything written in the equivalent of capital letters. A division by chapters and verses was not added until the Middle Ages.

The translator has to make choices: How is he or she going to move from one language to the other? What will the criteria be?

It needs to be emphasized that God has given us a dependable copy of his Word. Even though there are differences in the underlying manuscripts as well as a different approach to translation, the differences between the reliable translations are few and minor. None of them affects a major doctrine.

1. Types of translations

  1. Literal Translation
    • The translator(s) keeps as close as possible to the exact words and phrasing in the original language.
      • King James Version (1611)
      • New King James
      • Amplified
      • NASB (New American Standard Bible)
      • ESV
  2. Dynamic Equivalent
    • The translator(s) attempts to translate words, idioms, and grammatical constructions of the original language into the precise equivalent in the receptor language. They update the language, grammar, and style.
      • New International Version
      • NET Bible
  3. Paraphrase
    • The translator(s) attempts to translate the “ideas” from one language to another. There is less concern about using the exact words of the original.
      • Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English
      • The Living Bible
      • The Message

2. Samples of Translations

  • Psalm 119:105
    • NIV: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
    • Living Word: “Your words are a flashlight to light the path ahead of me . . .”
  • 1 Peter 5:14
    • KJV: kiss of charity
    • NKJ: kiss of love
    • NIV: kiss of love
    • Phillips: Give each other a handshake all around as a sign of love.
    • The Message: Give holy embraces all around.
  • Romans 12:1,2
    • KJV: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Note that words in italics do not have a Greek word behind them. The translators have added English words to make the meaning clear.)
    • NIV: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
    • Phillips: “With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves toward the goal of true maturity.”
    • The Message: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

More Sample Translations

3. Which translation should you use for Bible Study?

  1. For reading, basic Bible study, and memorization, use the literal or dynamic equivalent category.
  2. Use several translations for more extensive Bible study.
  3. Note that a paraphrase can be used to stimulate your thinking when other translations become so familiar that they just slide through your mind without making any kind of impression, but a paraphrase is not an adequate study Bible since it strays from the original text.
  4. If you can read another language, then also use a Bible written in that language.

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans

Comparing translations of Ephesians 4:11-12

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
And He gave some {as} apostles, and some {as} prophets, and some {as} evangelists, and some {as} pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,
Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God's people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. Why is it that he gives us these special abilities to do certain things best? It is that God's people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity;
Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong.
He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church,


John 3:5-6

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Jesus said, "You're not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation--the 'wind hovering over the water' creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life--it's not possible to enter God's kingdom.
When you look at a baby, it's just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can't see and touch--the Spirit--and becomes a living spirit.

9 - Literary Structure

Interpreting Parables

“Interpret parables strictly according to the special principles required by this type of literature” (McQuilkin’s Guideline #6 under Principle 1)

1. What is a parable?

Definition: A parable is “a true-to-life short story designed to teach a truth or to answer a question” (McQ 153).

The true- to- life story is not the record of an historic event, but it is something that could have happened. Some have said that the parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”

Example: The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Not all passages which have been designated a parable fit this definition. For example, Matthew 13:33 is designated a parable but there is no story: “Another parable He spoke to them: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened’” (Matt.13:33).

2. Kinds of Parables

A. The Story Parable

The story parable has a beginning, middle, and an end. It is not legitimate to treat each detail as having a spiritual application. Many of the details are there to build up the story. It is a realistic story usually making one main point

Example: The Lost Son & Loving Father (Luke 15:11-32)

B. Similitude

The similitude is more like an illustration taken from everyday life. When the text says “The kingdom of heaven is like,” it is saying that the kingdom of heaven is illustrated by the following situation.

Example: Matthew 13:44 (note Matt.13:31 - “Another parable he put forth to them”), “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

C. Allegory, Metaphor

In John 10:1-16, Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd. Some would say that this is not a parable but an allegory (an extended metaphor) because there are many points of comparison (See McQuilkin, bottom of page 192 and the top of page 193). In verse 6, the Greek word paramia is translated “parable” in the KJV, “illustration” in the NKJV, and “figure of speech” in the NIV.

3. Comparison of Parables and Allegories

A few story parables are very close to allegory. Many of the details in the story are intended to represent something else. For example, in the parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), Jesus explains the details in verses 36-43:

  • The One who sows the seed = the Son of Man
  • The field = the world
  • The good seeds = the sons of the kingdom
  • The tares = the sons of the wicked one
  • The enemy = the devil
  • The harvest = the end of the age
  • The reapers = the angels

Ordinarily we should not interpret the details of a parable in this way, but in this case we have the authority of Jesus Christ Himself to do so.

1. A parable is realistic but an allegory might not be.

2. Both the parable and the allegory will have a central theme but the parable was created to make one central point while the allegory might be created to teach several related truths.

4. Characteristics of Parables

  1. They are clear, concise, and simple in detail. This means that they are easily understood by everybody
  2. They speak of familiar experience, the experience of everyday life
  3. The parables are kingdom-centred; they point to the Kingdom of God.
  4. The ending of the parable is significant. Often it is surprising, a reversal of what was expected.
  5. Usually the parable has a single main point that Jesus wants to drive home. It is often found in the ending.

5. Why did Jesus use parables?

1. Jesus used the parables to stir up thinking. His goal was not to entertain the people, but rather to make the truth clear and to show how it should influence daily life. The parables did not encourage passive listening. They demanded a response.

2. The parables obscured the truth for those who refused to respond.

The Parable of the Sower can be found in three Gospels. All the accounts include a small section on the reason Jesus used parables followed by an explanation of the parable: Mark 4:10-12; Matthew 13:10-17; Luke 8:9, 10.

Note Mark 4:10-12, “And He said to them, ‘To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that

‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’”

This saying is followed by Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower which He interpreted in a semi-allegorical way (vv.13-20). In the past this passage was used to open the way to allegorical interpretations. As Fee says in How to Read the Bible . . ., “The parables were considered to be simple stories for those on the outside, to whom the ‘real meanings,’ the ‘mysteries’, were hidden; these belonged only to the church and could be uncovered by means of allegory” (pp.123, 124).

  • Augustine’s interpretation of The Good Samaritan presented in How to Read the Bible . . . (p.124) is an example of this approach.
    • A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho = Adam
    • Jerusalem = the heavenly city of peace, from which Adam fell
    • Jericho = the moon, and thereby signifies Adam’s mortality
    • thieves = the devil and his angels
    • stripped him = namely, of his immortality
    • beat him = by persuading him to sin
    • and left him half-dead = as a man he lives, but he died spiritually, therefore he is half-dead
    • The priest and Levite = the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament
    • The Samaritan = is said to mean Guardian; therefore Christ himself is meant
    • bound his wounds = means binding the restraint of sin
    • oil = comfort of good hope
    • wine = exhortation to work with a fervent spirit
    • beast = the flesh of Christ’s incarnation
    • inn = the church
    • the morrow = after the Resurrection
    • two-pence = promise of this life and the life to come
    • innkeeper = Paul

There is an obvious meaning to this parable. The lawyer certainly understood what it meant (Luke 10:37), but Augustine thought there must be some hidden meaning that was hidden from the average listener. That thinking took him far from the purpose of Jesus in telling the parable.

  • The usual reason that people didn’t receive a parable is that they didn’t like the teaching
    • Luke 20:9-18 (The parable of the tenants)
    • Did they understand?
    • see v.19!
    • so what was hidden from them?

6. Interpreting Parables

The parables were originally spoken by Jesus. Usually the listeners would understand the main teaching because they were there, knew the situation, and could identify easily with the characters described.

The parables come to us in written form. We were not there when they were originally spoken. We may not fully understand the situation, and may not be able to identify with the characters. Therefore there is some need of interpretation.

In their book How to Read the Bible (p.133), Fee and Stuart present a modern version of the Good Samaritan to help us experience the impact of the first telling. “As an audience it assumes a typical, well-dressed, middle-American Protestant congregation.”

A family of disheveled, unkempt individuals was stranded by the side of a major road on a Sunday morning. They were in obvious distress. The mother was sitting on a tattered suitcase, hair uncombed, clothes in disarray, with a glazed look to her eyes, holding a smelly, poorly clad, crying baby. The father was unshaved, dressed in coveralls, the look of despair as he tried to corral two other youngsters. Beside them was a run-down old car that had obviously just given up the ghost.

Down the road came a car driven by the local bishop; he was on his way to church. And though the father of the family waved frantically, the bishop could not hold up his parishioners, so he acted as if he didn’t see them.

Soon came another car, and again the father waved furiously. But the car was driven by the president of the local Kiwanis Club and he was late for a statewide meeting of Kiwanis presidents in a nearby city. He too acted as if he did not see them, and kept his eyes straight on the road ahead of him.

The next car that came by was driven by an outspoken local atheist, who had never been to church in his life. When he saw the family’s distress, he took them into his own car. After inquiring as to their need, he took them to a local motel, where he paid for a week’s lodging while the father found work. He also paid for the father to rent a car so that he could look for work and gave the mother cash for food and new clothes.

Obviously, this version does not present a completely equivalent situation, but it does shock us somewhat, reminding us of how the lawyer must have felt when he was confronted with a “good’ Samaritan who for him would be virtually the same as an atheist for us.

The parables were not comfortable, “nice” stories. They were intended to provoke a reaction; they should provoke a reaction in us also.

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans

Hebrew Poetry

A. Poetry in general

  • Poetic form—there are lots of standard forms (Allen p.28)

There was a young lady from Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger
  They came back from the ride
  With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger

  • The nature of poetry: not a “pretty rhyme” but intensified language Allen p.41–50
    • The Eagle by Alfred Tenneyson
      He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
      close to the sun in lonely lands,
      Ringed with the azure world he stands.
      The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
      He watches from his mountain walls,
      And like a thunderbold he falls.
    • unfortunate that some Bible paraphrases remove much of the poetry
  • Misconceptions in poetry
    1. The idea that literal meaning and poetic meaning are somehow opposed
      • We use poetic language all the time in everyday speech, even something as mundane as a sports commentary
      • “the bases are loaded”, “It’s not over till the fat lady sings”
    2. The notion that poetry is always imprecise and ambiguous

Where do we find poetry in the Bible?

  • Old Testament: almost 1/2 of the Old Testament is poetry.
    • Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Psalms
    • Large parts of the Prophets: Hosea (entire), Micah, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Isaiah, Jeremiah
    • Songs in narrative books: Genesis 49, Exodus 15:1–18, Deuteronomy 32 and 33, Judges 5, 1 Samuel 2:1–10, 2 Samuel 1:19–27, 1 Kings 12:16, 2 Kings 19: 21–34
  • New Testament: we do not find as much poetry in the New Testament as in the Old Testament.
    • However there is some
      • Quotation from O.T. poetry
      • Songs are included in several places (e.g. Col 1:15–20)

B. Parallelism

(Much of this section is borrowed from Ross)

  • The basic feature of biblical poetry is the recurrent use of a relatively short sentence-form that consists of two (or more) brief clauses:
    By day the Lord sends forth his love
    and at night his song is with me. (Psalm 42:9)
  • The clauses are regularly separated by a slight pause, for the second part is a continuation of the first and not a completely new beginning.
  • On occasion, four parts may form the line.
  • The relationship between the parts of a line is called “parallelism”.

C. Types of Parallelism

  • Robert Lowthe is the man credited with the “discovery” of biblical parallelism (in 1753).
  • He distinguished three types: synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic.
  • The third category, “synthetic,” became sort of a catch-all for what would not fit the others.

1. Complete Parallelism

  • Every single term or thought unit in one line is parallel to an equivalent term or unit in the other line.
    • Find an example in Psalm 6
  • Complete parallelism can be subdivided into:
  1. Synonymous Parallelism
    • where the thought is repeated by the second line in different but synonymous words.
      Then Israel / came / to Egypt;
      Jacob / sojourned / in the land of Ham. (Ps. 105:23)
    • another example (Isaiah 1:3).
      The ox knows his master
        the donkey his owner’s manger,
      but Israel does not know
        my people do not understand
    • The order of the parallel terms need not be the same in both lines;
    • Find another example in Psalm 6
  2. Antithetical Parallelism
    • balances the parallel lines through the opposition or contrast of thought, as in 90:6:
      In the morning / it flourishes / and is renewed;
      in the evening / it fades / and withers.
    • Any in Psalm 126 ? What about Proverbs 10
  3. Emblematic Parallelism
    • one of the parallels is literal, the other a simile or a metaphor
      As the deer pants for the waterbrooks, literal
      So pants my soul for you, O God” figurative (Psalm 42:1)
      As a father / has compassion on / his children,
      so the Lord / has compassion on / those who fear Him. (Ps. 103:13)
    • see also Psalm 18:16
  4. Inverted or Chiastic Parallelism
    • strictly speaking a form of synonymous parallelism;
    • the main difference is that the order of the terms is inverted, like a mirror image
    • A clear example is found in Isaiah 11:13b:
      Ephraim / shall not be jealous of / Judah,
      and Judah / shall not harass / Ephraim.
    • These are not always complete or perfectly balanced
    • Another example from Isaiah 1:18
Though be your sins
as scarlet
as snow they shall be as white
Though they         be        red
as crimson,
as wool
they shall be.

2. Incomplete Parallelism

  • This type of parallelism is very frequent with many variations.
  • Only some of the terms are parallel
  1. Incomplete Parallelism with Compensation
    • only some of the terms are parallel e.g. Psalm 6:1
    • but each line has the same number of units (usually clear in English, but clearer in Hebrew).
      You will destroy / their offspring / from the earth,
      and their children/from among the sons of/men. (21:11)
  2. Incomplete Parallelism
    • one line is longer than the other, as in 6:2 (MT 6:3):
      O Lord, / rebuke me / not in your anger,
      nor chasten me / in your wrath.
    • On occasion Lowthe’s old category of synthetic parallelism may be helpful.
    • In that type the second part further develops the first:
      For the Lord is a great God,
      and a great King above all gods (Ps. 95:3).

3. Formal Parallelism

  • Not really parallelism
  • the second colon simply continues the thought of the first
    I have set / my king
    on Zion / my holy hill. (Ps. 2:6)

4. External parallelism

  • the correspondence occurs between successive verses, as in Isaiah 53:5:
    But he was pierced / for our transgressions;
        he was crushed / for our iniquities;
    upon him was the punishment / that brought us peace,
        and with his wounds / we are healed.
  • see also Psalm 6:1,2

5. Climactic (Staircase) parallelism

  • A type of synthetic parallelism. A part of the first line is repeated, and then newer elements are added to build up to a climax.
  • Example: Psalm 29:1, 2a
    Give unto the Lord,
        O you mighty ones,
    Give unto the Lord
            Glory and strength.
    Give unto the Lord
                the glory due to his name;
    Worship the Lord
                    in the beauty of holiness.

Understanding parallelism helps in interpretation.

  • When we know that lines of poetry are related, then we can look for the relationship, and that will help us to understand the meaning.
  • Example (Psalm 22:16):
    For dogs have surrounded me;
    The congregation of the wicked has enclosed me,
    They pierced my hands and my feet.
  • Understanding the Psalm:
    • It is possible that the psalmist was surrounded by a pack of real dogs, but it is unlikely. If this is an example of emblematic parallelism, then we realize that “dogs” is a figurative way of speaking about the “wicked” in the second line.
    • When we read the rest of the psalm, the context of this verse, we notice references to several other animals: “worm” (v.6), “bulls” (v.12), “lions” (v.21), and “oxen” (v.21).
    • Rational thinking would tell us that they are not literal animals. This lends support to our interpretation.
    • The third line reinforces it further.
    • This psalm is typological: although rooted in history, it points ahead to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The animal imagery emphasizes the horror of that terrible event.

Praise! A matter of life and breath by Ronald Barclay Allen (Nashville:Nelsons, 1980)

Literary Structures

  • All large documents contain some kind of structuring
  • Ancient ways of structuring are very different to modern practices
    • Modern: chapters, subtitles, paragraphs, introduction & conclusion
    • Ancient: narrative techniques, inclusio, parallelism, inverse parallel structures, etc.
  • Logic:
    1. Context is one of the most vital factors in determining meaning
    2. The most important aspect of the context of a passage is its role in the argument of the book.
    3. The structure of a book gives great help in determining the flow of argument:
      • both at the level of the whole book
      • and within smaller sections
    4. Therefore structure is of great exegetical importance.
  • Structure of the book of Judges
  • Colossians 3:1-6
  • Structure of the book of Acts
  • Structure of Galatians 5:13-6:5 (pdf document)
  • Handout on structure of Luke 18:18-30

Two valuable papers:

  • C. A. Smith, The Leaning Tower—Foundational Weaknesses if Contemporary Chiastic Studies, (Toronto: ETS, 2002)
  • A. Boyd Luter And Richard O. Rigsby An Adjusted Symmetrical Structuring Of Ruth, JETS 39:1 (March 1996) p. 16

Structure of the book of Judges

Prologue [1:1-2:5]
Israel fails to purge the land
The Pattern of rebellion & salvation
Example of the pattern: Othniel
Ehud—the lone hero from Benjamin/Dan
  Deborah—woman (looked down on by men but valued by God) from Joseph’s tribes
    Gideon and Abimelech—the ideal judge and his son, the worst judge
  Jephthah—(social outcast by men, but valued by God) from Joseph’s tribes
Samson—lone hero from Benjamin/Dan
Micah & the Danites: Israel just as idolatrous as the Canaanites
Gibeah: Israel just as immoral as the Canaanites

The Pattern

  1. [2:10-13] They forget about God’s goodness and forsake him
  2. [2:14] God allows them to be defeated and oppressed
  3. [2:15] They are very distressed
  4.         and eventually cry out to God for help
  5. [2:18a] God had compassion on them and sent them a deliverer (judge)
  6. [2:18b] They served God as long as the judge lived

The pattern can be seen clearly with Othniel

Colossians 3:1-6

1. If then you were raised with Christ,

          the things above seek, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

2.       the things above set your mind on, not on things on the earth.

3. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.


4. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

5.      Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth:

          fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

6. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience

Structure of the book of Acts




Spirit’s Action


Concluding statement of growth




Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Jerusalem (no persecu­tion)

Acts 2:46-47 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.




Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."

Jerusalem and the towns around (5:16)

Acts 6:7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.




Acts 6:10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. (Moved Stephen into controversy, leading directly to persecution)

Judea including Samaritans

Acts 9:31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.




Acts 10:19 While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are seeking you.

Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.

Gentiles in Judea

Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.





Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."


Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.





Acts 16:6-9 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."


Acts 19:20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.





Acts 19:21 When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome."

Journey to Rome

Acts 28:30-31 Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

Andrew Fountain (2004)

Inverted Parallel Structure in Galatians 5:13-6:5

Structure of Galatians 5:13-6:5 (pdf document)

Suggested Procedure for doing a Bible Study

  1. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you, and to prepare your heart to be open and obedient
    • Keep on doing this as you are studying
  2. Decide on your main study version (best to use a fairly literal one like ESV, NKJ, NASB, NET)
    • Ideally, print out the passage or book, with plenty of space to write
    • Keep reading it through, highlighting and writing notes on it.
    • Find the divisions, how the book breaks down into sections
    • Do word studies wherever it could help
    • Be sure to read it in another translation
      • It is not a bad idea to use a paraphrase like The Message
  3. The Message
    • Figure out the line of reasoning
    • Be honest with the things you don’t understand
    • Major on the majors: Ask what the main theme (or themes) is.
    • At this point, look at what other people have learned, e.g.
      • NIV Study Bible (excellent for explaining difficulties in the text)
      • commentaries on eSword
      • other commentaries (e.g. Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
  4. Spend time soaking, asking for the Spirit to show you how to apply it
    • Apply it seriously to your life and live it!!