>Some Helpful Resources on the Psalms

>For the past couple of months, we have been attending Immanuel Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Norfolk, Va while waiting for a call. In the morning, the senior pastor is preaching through the Psalms. From listening to the sermons, I have been reminded of the deep riches that can be mined from the Psalms, as well as the importance and necessity of reading and applying them Christocentrically. So I recently decided to do my own study of the Psalms, including some work on the use of the Psalter in Reformed worship. Here are some resources I have found helpful so far.

First, a classic place to begin for any reader, but especially the Reformed reader is the “The Author’s Preface” in John Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms. This can be found in volume four of the Baker edition on pages xxxv-xlix.

Second, for any proper Christ-centered, redemptive-historical reading of the Psalms, one needs to begin with Geerharudus Vos, “Eschatology of the Psalter.” This article first appeared in the Princeton Theological Review back in 1920, but has also been republished as an appendix in The Pauline Eschatology. Now, this article is not for the faint of heart–it is challenging, but well worth great effort. When one comes to understand Vos, one will find that every Psalm, not just some of the Psalms, are “messianic.”

Third, for an updated case arguing for a Christ-centered, redemptive-historical reading of the Psalms in which all Psalms are understood to be “messianic,” I am reading Richard P. Belcher, Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms.


Fourth, for a handbook that is geared towards teaching the exegetical method for approaching a Psalm, I am reading Mark Futato, Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook. This book does a great job of starting with the most basic elements of Hebrew poetry and then moves you through the exegetical process, including understanding the Psalms redemptive-historically and theologically, including how to identify the type of Psalm, and how to teach or preach the Psalm. The book is equally practical and theological. The book may appear technical to those who have not had Hebrew, but lack of training in Hebrew will not cause anyone to miss anything.

Fifth, for an introduction and suggested guide for using the Psalms in worship, I have been reading John D. Witvliet, The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship. Although this book is not as Reformed as I was expecting (the author is the director for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship), it still has much to offer concerning the historic use of the Psalms and current ways to use them in worship and prayer.

Last, a book that I am not yet reading but plan to is Bruce Waltke and James Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship. This book combines exegetical insights from Waltke (who also believes that every psalm is messianic) with historical insights on how the Psalms have been interpreted and used throughout the history of the church. The only reason I’m not reading it yet is because it has not yet been released! But I will begin it as soon as I get it.

The plan is to provide more in-depth reviews of these resources as I am able, so check back for more info. But for now, pick one or two and get reading!

>Greg Beale – From Symbolism to Significance: The Book of Revelation

>Greg Beale has done much in shaping my understanding of hermeneutics, exegesis and Biblical Theology. Last year when I preached the the oracles to the seven churches in Revelation, Beale’s commentary was a primary source. Beale is the Chair of Biblical Studies and Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School and will soon be leaving to become Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Although I do not agree with everything that Beale says, I am indebted to his work.

A couple of years ago, Beale gave a five message series on Revelation looking specifically at how to understand the symbolism of Revelation while looking at some of its major biblical-theological themes:

This five message series is a very helpful introduction.Beale has an amazing ability to dig deep into the text and the scripture as a whole to unearth some large gold nuggets of insight, and yet, he is quite gifted to clearly communicate what he finds so that the average layperson can easily follow. If you are looking for help in learning how to approach the Book of Revelation correctly, then sit back and learn from Dr. Beale. It will change how you understand the Book of Revelation and the whole scripture.

If you like what you hear, then you can pursue the subjects further in some of Beale’s recent books:

If from listening to Beale you become interested in his approach to hermeneutics, exegesis an biblical theology, then you can read these books edited by Beale:

If you are interested in further resources by Beale, then you must see the list compiled by my friend James Grant over at his blog In Light of the Gospel. His is the most complete compilation I have seen so far.

[HT: Monergism]

>Reading Revelation Literally – Which Means Symbolically

>In a previous post and in my first sermon on Revelation, I advocate for reading Revelation as an apocalyptic, prophetic, letter to the Church throughout the period between the advents of Christ, since the opening verses of Revelation indicates this. This perspective believes that Revelation should be read symbolically.

In my class on the book of Revelation at the Dispensational Bible college I attended, I was taught that if you did not read Revelation “literally” then you had a liberal view of the Bible. Only the literal reading of Revelation maintains the evangelical doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy. I was also taught that reading Revelation symbolically was to read it allegorically.

You can find this perspective represented in the work of Robert L. Thomas. Thomas has argued that reading Revelation primarily as apocalyptic renders one guilty of utilizing a non-literal approach. For Thomas, this non-literal approach is not biblical and leads people to subjective interpretations instead of the true meaning of the text.

For instance, he argues that the apocalyptic genre is not a biblical genre, but has come about because of scholars utilizing extrabiblical literature. Scholars are forcing an extrabiblical model onto the scripture of Revelation. And what is worse, is that according to Thomas, is that this approach is like the contextualizaton interpretive approach of the liberals of the World Council of Churches. For Thomas, reading Revelation as apocalytpic leads you into a subjective reading of Revelation, substituting personal preferences for the one correct interpretation, which is a careless regard to the book’s meaning and is an abuse of the text, and is not evangelical– “Allowing this liberty for subjective opinion cannot satisfy the criteria of a grammatical-historical system of hermeneutics such as characterized an evangelical Christian understanding of Scripture” (emphasis mine).

Thomas argues instead for a literal approach to reading Revelation according “normal principles of grammar and facts of history.” This literal approach says that the default reading of Revelation and its symbols and visions is to be literal unless otherwise indicated by the text. Check first to see if the symbol or vision can respond to a normal, physical reality, if not, then it is figurative and concerned with the future. In other words, you are to interpret literally until you are forced conceptually to interpret figuratively/symbollically. He concludes that Revelation should be read like the rest of the Bible–it should be read as a prophecy and treated like all other prophecies. For Thomas, if you read it apocalyptically, then you are not reading it literally, but allegorically.

So are these charges true? Does reading Revelation apocalyptically mean that you are not reading it literally? Does it mean that your approach is dependent on extrabiblical literature (coming from outside the Bible)? Does it mean that you are engaging in liberal theology? Is Thomas right?

When we look at the opening verses of Revelation 1, we find at the very beginning an allusion to Daniel 2. In fact what we find is that the opening of Revelation is structured in accordance with Daniel 2. In Daniel 2 we find the narrative of where King Nebuchadnezzar is troubled by a dream that he does not understand. He calls in his magicians, enchanters and sorcerers to have them interpret his dream for him. When they arrive, they are surprised to hear that Nebuchadnezzar is not going to tell them the dream so they can interpret it; they have to tell him the dream and then interpret it.



They are unable to do so, so Nebuchadnezzar issues a decree for all the wise men to be killed. In steps Daniel. He approaches the king and arranges a time to tell the king his dream and its interpretation. Daniel then prays to God and God makes known to Daniel the dream and its meaning—through a vision. In 2.18-19, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which is the thing that needs to be made known, is called a “mystery.” Daniel then praises God in for “revealing” this mystery to him and “making it known.” In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Greek words behind “reveal” and “make known” are the same words used in the Greek NT in Revelation 1.1 for “revelation” and “made known.” Later in 1.20, the vision of Christ and the seven stars and seven lampstands is called a “mystery,” and the Greek word for mystery is the same as used in the Septuagint in Daniel 2 for the “mystery” of the king’s dream. Daniel, then, is sent by God as his servant to reveal and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.



Next, we find that the content of the vision concerns a large statue that consists of four parts. The head is fine gold, the chest and arms are silver, the middle and thighs are bronze, its legs were iron with its feet a mixture of iron and clay. This large statue is then shattered and destroyed by a rock that then grows into a great mountain that fills the earth. Daniel informs Nebuchadnezzar that the dream is God’s means of revealing the future of human history. The four parts represent different human kingdoms. After these four kingdoms, there will be a final kingdom that is established by God, God’s kingdom, which will be eternal and victorious and will bring an end to human kingdoms. God is letting the king know what will come after his kingdom, which consists of the coming eternal victorious kingdom of the one true God, which will bring human history to its close.



Now, obviously, this communication is prophetic—God is revealing what is going to come to pass. But how does he reveal this prophesy? How was this prophecy understood? God revealed his plans for history through a vision, which could only be understood symbolically. If Daniel had interpreted the vision “literally” he would have gotten it wrong. The statue, the rock, the mountain, these were all symbols being used by God, and only when understood as God intended could it be rightly interpreted. The “mystery” of God’s plan for history, which will reach its goal with the establishment of God’s victorious and eternal kingdom, was “revealed” symbolically and “made known” symbolically through a mediator sent by him.



We see this same structure once again in Revelation 1. As was mentioned above, all of these same key words are found in Revelation 1—but more importantly than just the presence of the words is the form in which those words are found. God once again is portrayed as the revealer of human history that will conclude with the consummation of his eternal and victorious kingdom. This revelation once again comes by way of a mediator sent to “reveal” it and “make it known.” And the mode of revelation is a vision that consists of highly symbolic imagery. Dare we say that God has purposely repeated himself here on purpose, or is this mere coincidence? Are we to interpret Revelation as the vision in Daniel 2, since they have been communicated the same way, or are we to do something different? If we read Daniel’s vision according to Thomas’ hermeneutic, do we run that risk again?



John’s allusion to Daniel 2 suggests that Revelation 1 should be read not just as a prophecy—but an apocalyptic prophesy and therefore the apocalyptic/symbolic methodology is the proper method for reading Revelation. Greg Beale suggests that in this allusion between Daniel 2 and Revelation 1, what we find is that Daniel 2 is programmatic for Revelation. Thomas’ idea that Revelation should be read literally unless forced to read it symbolically, is then on the one hand wrong, while at the other hand he is right and just doesn’t realize it.



With Revelation being an apocalyptic prophesy, it should be read primarily symbolically unless forced to read it literally. The irony here, however, is that we come to this conclusion by reading Revelation 1 literally! It is the literal reading of Revelation 1 that helps us to see the allusion to Daniel 2 and hence, the fact that it is apocalyptic literature that should be understood symbolically. This is how God has designed it and intended it to be read and understood. The true meaning of a literal hermeneutic is to allow the original intent of the author establish the meaning of the text, and God (the author) communicates to us that it is to be read symbolically.

The literal reading of Revelation necessitates a symbolic reading.


Well, it is interesting to me that Thomas states that if the book could be shown to be apocalyptic, then maybe it should be read in a way different from his way. The irony is that it is when one utilizes his hermeneutic, that the apocalyptic nature of Revelation is established. Reading Revelation symbolically is not the product of liberal scholarship, it is not the product of utilizing extrabiblical material, it is not allegorical and it does not lead to an abuse of the text–it is God’s intended method for reading his intended message.


>Preparations for Revelation Series

>This past Lord’s Day I finished my series in the ritual law of Leviticus 1-7. After spending the last several months steeped in rituals, types and shadows, and symbolism, I thought it would be nice to take a break and go to an easier, more clear portion of scripture, so for the next several months I will be studying the book of Revelation.

I will not be going through the whole book, but I am about to begin a series looking at the oracles to the seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2-3. To set up the study, I will preach an introductory sermon from the first chapter.

In preparing for the series I have really enjoyed Richard Bauckham’s little Theology of the Book of Revelation. The opening chapter “Reading the Book of Revelation” is particularly helpful in that from the outset, he sets forth a clear hermeneutical approach for reading Revelation and interpreting it correctly. Given the flights of fancy and wild speculations of many interpreters, it is important to do the necessary work to guard ourselves from our own imaginations and idolatrous inclinations. We cannot do this perfectly, yet, if we approach the book correctly, we have a better shot of understanding it.

What is the proper hermeneutical approach, then? From where does this approach derive?

One of the hallmarks of Reformed theology is the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture–but often many don’t practice that as consistently as they should. The scripture is so sufficient that it even provides its own hermeneutical key. Revelation is no different, in fact, as one looks at the opening verses of the first chapter one finds that the book of Revelation provides the correct hermeneutical method. What Bauchkham does is show that one does not have to bring a hermeneutical method to the scripture, but that the book of Revelation provides the correct method in the opening verses of the first chapter.

Bauckham asserts that misinterpretations of Revelation often begin by having a misconception of its genre of literature. All meaning is found not only in the words and groupings of words, but also in the way those words are presented, i.e., poetry vs. prose. One of the things that makes Revelation unique and difficult is that it is not just one genre of literature, but three!

First, as the first word (in the Greek) of the book indicates, Revelation is apocalyptic. But the apocalyptic character of the book is not established by the one word, but in the way that Revelation describes itself. Revelation has its origins in heaven, not on earth. It says in the first verse that God gave it to Jesus Christ, who in turn mediated it to an angel, who in turn mediated it to John, who wrote it down. What we find here is that Revelation is a heavenly message that is mediated by ana otherworldly being to a human recepient. As one continues to read one finds that this otherworldly message is concerned with history, for he reveals what is about to come to pass. This tells us that this heavenly message is concerned with providing a heavenly commentary about the history that is about to transpire. And the perspective provided is that of salvation. The heavenly message concerns the Christ who has already freed his people from their sins and is coming again to bring judgment. But the revelation does not come in bare propositions, but instead, provides a series of visions that communicate that history in the form of narrative. A story is being told–the story of history as seen and understood in light of the ministry of Christ in his first advent and the certainty of his second advent. “John’s apocalypse, however, is exclusively concerned with eschatology: with eschatological judgment and salvation, and with the impact of these on the present situation in which he writes,” (6). So, when one puts together these different clues, one finds that Revelation asserts itself as revelatory literature within a narrative framework, mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a heavenly perspective of history that brings eschatological salvation to bear on reality so that God’s people are enabled to discern his divine purpose in history and their participation in it. This description of Revelation matches up with the literary genre of apocalyptic literary as defined by J.J. Collins.

Second, but verse 3 shows us that it is not only apocalyptic, but it is also prohetic, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy.” Revelation is an authoritative word from God to his people that is to be read and obeyed. This word comes to his servant John through visionary and oracular means. John communicates to his people what he sees and hears. The visionary nature of the writing then, must be properly understood as being symbolic and not literal. But symbols are not provided merely to be creative or for intellectual curiosity–they are purposed to provide the heavenly commentary of earthly history that God’s people are to embrace by faith and obey. The message of Revelation is inherently pastoral! It tells his people how to rightly interpret and understand their situation, so that they might be assured of the work of Christ on their behalf and walk in faithfulness before him–no matter what things look like around them. But in addition to the authoritatve and pastoral message of the prophecy, there is also a predictive element. As was noted already, the message communicates the second coming of Christ, and as one reads through Revelation, it becomes clear that the visions include this eschatological element. The heavenly perspective provided, then, concerns itself with all of history between the first and second coming of Christ–it is not only for the time of John’s writing.

Third, verses 4-11 show us that in addition to being apocalyptic and prophetic, it is also epistolary–it is a letter. We are told that this prophetic apocalypse is to be addressed to the churches of the Roman province of Asia. The epistolary nature can be seen in the conventional format that is used: the writer is identified, the addressees are identified and there is a greeting in the form of “grace to you and peace.” One of the unique feature of this greeting, however, is that unlike the others in the New Testament that mention God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, this greeting is trinitarian! However, the epistolary character of the book is not just the portions of chatpers two and three that specifically mention the seven churces–the entire book is epistolary. All of the different visions combined are being provided to the churches. Yet we must also understand that it is not only for these specific churches mentioned. For there is a blessing attached to reading of Revelation for all who read it and obey it. And as we noted above that there is a predictive element to the book, the message of Revelation is for the Church throughout the entire Church age (between the two advents of Christ) for all Christians in every historical context.

Implications:

  1. The book of Revelation is not just about future events just prior to the return of Christ.
  2. The book of Revelation is not just about the historical situation surrounding the first century Church.
  3. The book is not about very specific historical events in history, but about history in general.

Revelation is an apocalyptic, prophetic, letter written to us to bless us with the heavenly interpretation and purpose for our lives in this world until the world to come, and to console and comfort us in our affliction, and to warn and encourage us to faithfulness. We are not distant from this book, nor are we to read it as mere spectators; rather, we are to find ourselves smack dab in the middle of it! And just as Christ is portrayed as living in the midst of the seven lampstands which is the Church, so he continues to live in our midst and we have nothing to fear.

>Index to Kline’s Kingdom Prologue Lectures

>“RubeRad” over at the Confessional Outhouse has provided an excellent and invaluable resource for anyone who enjoys studying the scripture from a redemptive-historical perspective. For quite some time now Meredith Kline’s lectures on Kingdom Prologue have been available by Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) at their website here. But what RubeRad has done is provide a detailed index of the lectures that include topics and times per lecture! I listened to these years ago and have often wanted to go back and listen to specific portions but would get frustrated in finding what I was looking for because I did not specify lecture and time in my notes. RubeRad has eliminated this problem.

These lectures are foundational for not only understanding the redemptive-historical and covenantal content, but for learning how to read the Bible as the Bible structures itself to be read. I will say, however, that these lectures are not for the faint of heart, and if you are new to Biblical Theology and in general, but Meredith Kline in particular, then you may want to start with Lee Iron’s lectures on the same material, which I would call Kline for dummies.

Because the index is so long, I have decided to provide it in .pdf format here.

>Images of the Savior from Leviticus 1-7 (Introduction)

>For the past couple of months I have been preaching through the first seven chapters of Leviticus. It has been an amazing study; I have enjoyed it and been blessed by it immensely. I have decided to put together a series of posts that will summarize the highlights of my study.

But before I begin the Levitical slide show, I think it would be helpful for me to put my “hermeneutical” cards on the table. Leviticus 1-7 contains ritual law. As such, it can be intimidating reading. In fact, how often have we known a friend (its always a friend and never ourselves!) who began a Bible reading program only to get thrown off and quit once he or she got into Leviticus! The strange and difficult details and rituals can be difficult to understand.

But let not your heart be troubled, for although “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them,” (WCF 1.7).

The scripture itself is so completely sufficient as “the only rule of faith and obedience,” (LC, 3) that it even provides us the proper interpretive method that is to be used in reading it, “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly,” (WCF 1.9).

So, how is Leviticus to be read? It is to be read in light of clearer portions of scripture that help us to understand it. The first clear text that I would suggest helps us to understand the ritual law of Lev 1-7 is Luke 24.27. In this section of Luke 24, Jesus is walking with a couple of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. The disciples are dejected and forlorn over the crucifixion of Jesus, their shattered hope for the redemption of Israel, and that Jesus’ body is missing from the tomb. Jesus then helps them to understand that the promise of the Kingdom has not failed, but has been achieved through the Messiah’s death and resurrection according to the promises of the Old Testament. He then began with Moses and all the prophets and interpreted the Old Testament scriptures to reveal that they speak about him. According to Jesus, correct interpretation of Moses’ literature must seek to understand that Moses is speaking about Christ. So in my look at the ritual law of Moses, I approach the text Christocentrically–it witnesses to us about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The writer of Hebrews has also provided Holy Spirit inspired interpretation and interpretive model for understanding the ritual law in Leviticus 1-7. Throughout Hebrews but especially in chapters 7-10, the writer interprets the ritual law in light of the Christocentric approach noted above. A good summary of his conclusion is found in 10.1, “the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities. The writer provides three central truths that help us understand the ritual law, and therefore must be utilized to correctly interpret the ritual law. For the sake of space, we will focus on Hebrews 9-10.1.

First, in chapter 9, the writer explains that the forms of worship of the ritual law are temporary, earthly and inadequate. He says in 9.9b-10, “the gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” The last portion of verse 10 can also be translated as, “imposed until the time of the new order.” From the rest of the chapter we find that this “reformation, or new order” arrived when Christ appeared. With his appearance, he has inaugurated a new covenant through his shed blood to accomplish what the old covenant could not. Now, because of Christ, the temporary, earthly and inadequate has given way to the eternal, heavenly and fulfilled. So, the shadows and types of the ritual law are anticipations of the person and work of Jesus Christ in history. The old points forward to the new.

Secondly, the writer of Hebrews helps us to understand that not only do the shadows and types of the ritual law direct us forward in redemptive-history as anticipations of the person and work of Jesus Christ, but they also direct us upwards to heaven itself. In 9.24, the writer tells us that the old covenant types and shadows were copies of the true things, which are in heaven. The Greek word behind “true” can also be translated as “real, genuine.” So the point is not that the old covenant types and shadows were false instead of true, but that they were representations on earth of what was real in heaven. The old also points upward to heaven.

Third, the writer tells us at the end of the chapter in 9.28 that with Christ’s accomplished work, it has not yet been consummated. What Christ accomplished in history through his death and resurrection in his first advent will be consummated in a second coming at the end of history. At the second coming, those who have believed in Christ by faith will receive their eschatological salvation. The new covenant, which was inaugurated with Christ’s work in history anticipates the consummation of that work when Christ returns with heaven with him. So, the new covenant is not only the fulfillment of the old covenant, but it is also an anticipation of a greater fulfillment to come. The new fulfills the old while also pointing us upward to heaven. So, the old and new point us forward and upward to heaven.

To summarize:

  1. The ritual law anticipates the future person and work of Jesus Christ in history at his first advent.
  2. The ritual law anticipates the consummation of Christ’s work in heaven.
  3. The New Testament fulfillment of the ritual law in the person and work of Jesus Christ anticipates the consummation of his work in heaven.

Therefore, as I have studied the ritual law in Lev 1-7, I have studied it Christocentrically, semi-eschatologically (already/not yet) and eschatologically. The ritual law teaches us about Christ and his work in history, and both old and new together teach us about the consummation of Christ’s work in heaven. My approach, then, has been nicely summarized by Andrew Bonar, “The one great principle of interpretation which we keep before us is apostolic method and practice,” (Leviticus, 8).

Hence, let us look at the ritual law of Lev 1-7 and gaze upon the images of the Savior it portrays.