Category Archives: Women in the Word

New Talk: “Seeing a Tree and Remembering the Forest”

It took a while to hammer this one out, but I’m excited to finally share this 26-minute talk on Bible study strategies with you.  Originally commissioned for a Bible study conference in October of 2016, this is my whimsical way of getting people up to speed on the difference between “doing our devotions” and studying a passage of Scripture.  I walk through Isaiah 61 to demonstrate different detailed and big-picture study strategies, illustrating everything with lots of gorgeous shots of TREES (mainly thanks to our local photographer extraordinaire, Missy Herr!).

If you’re a Bible teacher working with teens or others who are new to a “studied” reading of Scripture, or if you would like to brush up on your own Bible reading practices, or if you are my good friend and you want to make my day, please listen along and share this!  (The video slides just supplement the audio, but they aren’t important if you just want to listen to it.)

The page of Paige’s Quirky Symbols mentioned in this talk can be found here.

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Follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

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Filed under Biblical Genres, Biblical Literacy, Body of Christ, Instructing the Body, Isaiah, Jesus, Messiah, Old Testament, Prophets, Redemptive History, Talks, Women in the Word

New Talk: Traces of the Christ

I’m excited to share with you the final product of a lot of research, writing, and talking to the furniture in my office!  This is a 36-minute talk that offers a sense of the historical continuity of the Christian Scriptures, observed through the lens of “the Lord’s Christ.”  The talk was originally commissioned by and delivered to participants in the 2015 Women in the Word Workshop, a Bible study conference held in Willow Grove, PA in October of this year.  (Please note that while the context was a women’s Bible conference, the content is not gender-specific!)  It’s on YouTube not because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made some snazzy slides to illustrate it.  Enjoy!

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Filed under Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Gospel of John, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Messiah, Prophets, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels, Talks, Women in the Word

Christ in the New Testament

[Texts: Gospels, Acts, Epistles]

Having accomplished my recent speaking assignment on this subject, I can now spill more beans about what I discovered about the word Christ in the NT without stealing my own thunder.  I wrote earlier about the surprising significance of the name Christ Jesus in its appearance in the Epistles; now here’s some further insight into the progressive development of this figure and this idea through the three main sections of the New Testament, the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles.

Let’s start by taking a look at a few select verses from the NT that involve the word “Christ.”  I’m assuming that you know this is not Jesus’ last name; there’s a specific meaning to it (which I’ll explore in a future post); but have you ever really noticed the variety of uses it’s put to, in the Gospels, and in Acts, and in the Epistles?  See what you can observe here:

Gospel:  All were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ.

Acts:  Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Epistle (Paul):  But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Epistle (Peter):  Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Do you notice a difference in the way this word Christ is used in these examples?* Think you could explain what you’re seeing?

As you’ve probably figured out, two of the verses include the article (that’s the label we give to little words like the and a), and two of them don’t.*  There’s a difference in reference in each case, isn’t there?  When someone is thinking about THE Christ, they have in mind what we’ve learned to call the Jewish Messiah, an anticipated figure who will somehow spectacularly set the whole world to rights.  It’s an ambiguous reference, because at this point in these particular narratives (Luke and Acts) the actual identity of this Expected One is as yet undetermined for at least somebody in the scene.

But when Peter and Paul use the word Christ in their letters, they’re referring to a specific man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is now designated by this name, Christ. It’s really the title of a particular role, and somehow it has come to be used as a name when the NT writers refer to Jesus in the Epistles.  So there’s a suggestion here, just among these four verses, that there’s something different going on between the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles regarding this word Christ.

This apparent difference sparked my curiosity, which is why I did a detailed survey of the NT books to find out how the writers employed this word Christ.* Here’s what I noticed.  First of all, the word Christ appears in four different forms: sometimes it’s used alone, sometimes with the article, and sometimes with Jesus’ name – Jesus Christ, or Christ Jesus.  You can see on this graph, where I’ve set out the percentage of the time that Christ is used in any of these ways in these three different sections in the NT.*

Christ Graph

What I found was that in the Gospels, it’s almost always the case that people are wondering about the Expected Figure –THE Christ – while in the Epistles it’s almost always the case that the writer is using the word to express truth about the specific God-man, Jesus.  So that’s where we’re more likely to see Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, or just plain Christ. In fact, when we get to the Epistles, Christ MEANS Jesus for these writers and readers.

But almost nobody has gotten to that truth in the Gospels yet; they’re all still trying to figure it out.  Who is THE Christ?  When is he coming?  What will he do? In fact this use of Christ (with the article) in the Gospels should reinforce to us that we’re still in an OT context when we read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The people in these narratives are still looking forward to a fulfillment, and we’re watching that fulfillment take place as we read these books.

In Acts, as you might expect, there’s a transition in the usage of the word.  That’s in keeping with this transitional part of biblical history, when Christians are actively engaging a culture that doesn’t know the gospel yet.  On the one hand, when Christ is used by itself, without Jesus’ name, it’s always in the context of somebody explaining to a Jewish audience about the Expected One, and we always see the article – it’s always “THE Christ”; but now that more people are versed in the Christian storyline, either Luke in his narration or the people in these scenes will sometimes refer to Jesus as “Jesus Christ.”

All this to say, there’s a historical development going on right there in the NT, visible in the way the word Christ is used.  We might say that the people in the narratives are progressing in their understanding of THE Christ, moving from wondering about that Expected Figure to embracing the specific identification of the Man who embodies that expectation.

We see those dots being connected in Acts as people learn about the Lord Jesus; and in the Epistles we find that the transition is complete, and writers can refer to Jesus with this shorthand name-title, Christ, because they’re writing to Christians who have made that transition in their minds, too.

Read more about the progressive development of the meaning of the word Christ in my next post!  Remember you can follow this Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

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*These verses come from Luke 3:15, Acts 9:22, Rom. 5:8, and 1 Pet. 3:18 (ESV), respectively.

*Fun fact:  What I noticed in my English translation about the article (“THE Christ”) is only visible in languages that typically use the article before nouns.  Some don’t.  For example, it has recently been brought to my attention that a Russian translation of the Greek doesn’t retain the articles from the original!  An interesting and somewhat rare instance of the English language paralleling the NT’s highly inflected koine Greek.  And another research moment where it’s handy to know some Greek.

*My research steps to discovering the use of Christ in the NT went like this:

  • I did a word search for the use of Christ in the ESV through https://www.biblegateway.com/, turning up 534 results.
  • I created a table to record the reference & the text of the verses, copying and pasting the texts from the search results (dismissing those that were counted because Christ was mentioned in the heading!).
  • I color-coded (using highlighter & font color) to show the different usages.
  • I double-checked the Greek text wherever Christ appeared in the ESV without the article (the), discovering that sometimes the word Christ was not in the original text at all (the editors just thought we needed it, I guess!), and sometimes the word actually DID have an article attached in the Greek. (See second note, below.*)
  • I tallied usage according to the different arrangements of the title, keeping separate tallies of the preferences of different NT authors & Paul’s usage by book.
  • Using my totals for the different main sections of the NT (Gospels, Acts, & Epistles), I calculated the percentage of time that each of the four forms of the word appeared in each of these sections, and created this graph.

*Pace Greek scholars:  I realize that there are a few anarthrous “Christs” scattered among Matthew, Luke, John and Acts; but since in context these are all ambiguous references to the Coming One, I have counted them with the Messianic collection (yellow bar).

*Our English translations hide a couple details, though.  For one, as I mentioned already, sometimes the translators add “Christ” to make sure we know who the writer is talking about (where the Greek just says “he” and leaves the identity ambiguous).  Also, there is sometimes a subtle distinction between “the Christ” and just plain “Christ.”  Although it’s not uncommon in Greek to add a definite article (the) before a proper noun (“the Jesus,” “the John,” etc.) without affecting the meaning, in the case of “the Christ” one of two things may be happening:  either the writer is merely referring to the Savior Jesus by this shorthand name-title, or he is referring to – or especially emphasizing Jesus’ fulfillment of – the specific Jewish Messiah figure.  Evidently the ESV translators voted in favor of the first option more often than the second in the Epistles (83 times vs. 7 times!).  But I think a few occurrences of “the Christ” in Greek, translated merely as “Christ” in the Epistles, could arguably have possessed that specific Messianic emphasis in the original.  Maybe I’ll write you a paper on this someday.

Portions of this post are taken from my recent talk, Traces of the Christ.”

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Filed under Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Gospel of John, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Messiah, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels, Women in the Word

Redemptive-Historical Reading

[Text:  Bible]

As I’m looking forward to a speaking opportunity on this topic at the end of the week, I thought I’d offer some reflections on the challenge of keeping texts in context when we study God’s Word.  “Redemptive-historical” reading is an approach to biblical literacy that prompts us to consider each passage in its smaller and larger settings, both literary and historical.  How does this selection fit and function in its chapter? this book?  How does this book fit into the canon of Scripture, and how do these ideas and events that I’m encountering fit along the timeline of biblical history?

Admittedly, keeping things in their literary and historical context like this involves a bit of extra homework.  It would certainly be easier just to react to the text, explore how it makes us feel and think about our own lives, and keep our Bible reading devotional.  Without question, there’s a place for such dwelling and resonating in our Christian walk, as any frequent, faith-full reader of Scripture recognizes.  Yet anyone who desires to think God’s thoughts after him should value an emphasis on context as well, since without an awareness of a passage’s original setting and purpose we may miss the point of what we’re reading and risk smuggling into the text our own uninformed interpretations.

So what does a reader need to keep in mind, in order to do justice to these God-breathed words?  What skills should we develop, what background knowledge will help us navigate these passages from so long ago and far away?  Here are a few suggestions for Bible students who are ready to go the extra mile to understand texts in context.

  • Develop a grasp of the Big Picture.

Can you outline the general flow of events in biblical history from Genesis to Revelation?  Do you know the high points (and the low!) of God’s relationship with his chosen people, first the nation of Israel and then the church of Christ Jesus?  Can you keep biblical figures in chronological order in your mind?  Do you know the various positions of leadership in Israel and how they correspond to the different stages of history that Israel journeys through in the Old Testament?  Can you connect the dots from the Hebrew Scriptures to the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, and understand how he is proved the “Christ” of Jewish expectation by his messengers in Acts?  Are you aware that the Sovereign God interacts differently with his people under the Old Covenant as compared to his people under the New?  Do you have a sense of the world history that surrounds (and sometimes intersects) the biblical story?

A confident reaction to these prompts indicates that you do, indeed, have a good grasp of the “Big Picture” – but unless you have read the whole Bible for many years running or sat under good redemptive-historical teaching already, you’re likely at this point to find yourself swimming in a sea of questions you didn’t even know you should ask.  If the latter is the case, then patiently pace yourself to deepen your knowledge.  Obviously, there’s no substitute for reading the biblical texts for yourself; but don’t hesitate to avail yourself of resources that offer a bird’s-eye view of the whole thing, giving you a framework that you can fill in with details as you read through the biblical books.  (You’ll find many such supports at this website, including a couple of my previous talks that sketch the major lines of the Story in about a half an hour.)

  • Spend time with maps and timelines.

You can find examples of both on this website!  Timelines help us keep our chronology straight and teach us the major movements of the Story.  Maps should prompt us to ask questions about the many cultures and people groups involved in biblical history.  (Do you know, for example, much about the ancient Mesopotamians, Syrians, Samaritans, Egyptians, or Romans?)  The answers to such questions can often be found in Study Bible notes, the editors’ introductions to the books in our Bibles, Bible dictionaries, and even Wikipedia (though when using online resources, always keep in mind that secular sources will have different goals and agendas than Christian ones).

  • Understand how the books of our Bibles are arranged.

Realize that the books of the OT and the NT do not follow a neatly chronological order.  Notice, for example, that genre will trump chronology in the arrangement – so some of the events described in historical books (like Ezra and Nehemiah) actually occur after the time of many of the prophets who follow them in the table of contents, and some of Paul’s letters were written after the epistles included past the tail of the Pauline collection.  Use study guides and a timeline to keep track of where these ideas and events fall in biblical history, don’t just rely on book order.

  • Chase down references.

If a psalmist mentions an event or figure from Israel’s past, or if a NT writer makes a passing comment about the Hebrew sacrificial system or Jewish holidays, stop and look it up if you don’t already recognize it.  Check the footnotes, study notes, and cross-references in your Bible.  Take time to look up OT quotations when you find them in the NT, and get a sense of the context of the snippets that the writer or speaker is highlighting.  You may not understand all of the connections right away, and you may end up with more questions than you started with; but have faith that a frequent rehearsal of the details will gradually fill in blanks and connect dots in your mind.  Your task at the start of this learning project is to collect the puzzle pieces.  Stay stubborn about it, and eventually the jigsaw will start to snap together.

  • Avoid Anachronisms.

An anachronism is a thing or an idea that is out of place in time.  If you spot an extra in a movie about ancient Rome who forgot to take off his digital watch, you’ve noticed an anachronism.  In Bible reading, pernicious anachronisms* occur when we think we see ideas that simply cannot be present in the text because certain events or explanations haven’t happened yet in biblical history.  If we come away from a text with an interpretation that has no business being attached to those particular words, we’re in danger of crafting rules of conduct for ourselves or others that have no biblical justification.  Avoid this pitfall by weighing any interpretation that suggests itself against the biblical timeline (one more reason to become familiar with it!).  If you are teaching the Bible to others, double check any innovative readings with a good commentary before disseminating possible anachronisms.  A big source of such errors is the assumption that OT words have the same prescriptive force for Christians as directives given in the Epistles . . . another is the assumption that narratives are implicitly prescriptive.  And sometimes we just forget that the people we’re reading about (in OT & Gospels) were living prior to the cross and resurrection.

These thoughts are just a start.  One of my main goals in creating the Grass Roots Theological Library is to assist other Bible students with the task of filling in the blanks, connecting the dots, and grasping the Big Picture.  If you’re game to improve your knowledge of the historical and literary contexts of the things you are reading in God’s Word, then this site was made particularly for you.  Enjoy exploring!

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*Benign anachronisms, on the other hand, usually involve importing a true idea that later biblical passages confirm as relevant for Christians, though the idea actually has nothing to do with this particular text.  The lesser danger here is that we’ll just miss the point and the purpose of the text we’re reading, and also maybe (if we habitually teach or preach such anachronisms) that we’ll inadvertently train other Bible students to play fast and loose with the chronology of concepts in Scripture.

Follow the Grass Roots Theological Library on Twitter! — @GrassRootsTheo

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Filed under Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Redemptive History, Women in the Word

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology

Three talks that introduce the “big-picture” of biblical history…

 “Beginning With Moses:  Jesus’ Story from Genesis to Revelation”  — MP3– (Oct. 2012, Women in the Word:  A Workshop)

“Connecting the Dots: Preaching the Big Picture in Acts 13” –MP3– (Oct. 2013, Women in the Word: A Workshop)

“God’s Blessing to the Nations:  Connecting the Dots in redemptive History” –MP3– (Oct. 2014, Women in the Word: A Workshop)

I’m pleased to be able to share these resources with those of you who are involved in Christian instruction at your churches.  In October 2012, 2013, and 2014 I had the privilege of giving a thirty-minute overview of biblical theology as a plenary speaker for World Reformed Fellowship’s Women in the Word Workshop, held at Calvary PCA in Willow Grove, PA.  (Note that though the context was a women’s conference, the content of my talks was not gender-specific!)  These little talks, and the pages I created to go with them, might be useful to someone you know who is not familiar with the redemptive-historical approach to reading the Bible, but is ready to learn more.  Give one or more a listen and see what you think, and then please pass it along.

These are the handouts that I reference in the first talk:

Soli Deo Gloria!

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