Unit 4 The Interpretive Journey New Testament 14. Letters 15. Gospels 16. Acts 17. Revelation NT – Letters • Introduction – As in the ancient world, letters play an important role in our lives today Business Personal Medical Legal New Testament Letters Pauline General Romans Hebrews 1, 2 Corinthians James Galatians 1, 2 Peter Name Ephesians 1, 2, 3 John Name from Philippians Jude from Colossians recipients writer 1, 2 Thessalonians 1, 2 Timothy Titus Philemon • Characteristics of NT letters – Comparable to other ancient letters Paul’s letters are quite long by ancient standards, averaging 2,495 words. (R. Richards) Why did Paul need the extra space? NT includes more informal, personal letters (like Philemon) as well as more formal letters (like Romans) – Authoritative substitutes for the author's personal presence • Substitute for personal presence • Authoritative substitute (Christ’s representatives) – Situational – written to address specific situations or problems in the churches • To clarify an issue (Thessalonians) • To address a doctrinal problem (Colossians) • To confront the ethical behavior of readers (James) • Implications of the occasional nature of letters – Never meant to be read as exhaustive dictionaries of doctrine – Be careful not to conclude too much from any one letter Galatians – freedom 1 Corinthians – obedience – Reconstruction the original situation that called for the Reading a NT letter is a lot like listening to one end of letter in the first place a phone conversation. – Carefully written and delivered • The actual job of writing down a letter was normally assigned to a trained scribe or secretary (amanuensis). “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.” (Rom. 16:22) • Customary for the author to add a final greeting in his own handwriting “I Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.” (1 Cor. 16:21) • Cosenders played a significant role “Paul, Silas and Timothy, …” (1 Thess. 1:1) • Delivery depended on trusted letter carriers “Tychichus will tell you all the news about me.” (Col. 4:7) – Intended for the Christian community • Meant to be read aloud again and again to the church “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” —Revelation 1:3 • Meant to be exchanged with other churches “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” —Colossians 4:16 • Form of NT letters Standard form of a Standard form of a contemporary letter NT letter Date Introduction Writer Recipients Name Greeting Address Body of the letter (largest Greeting, section focusing on the specific situation) Body of the letter Conclusion (a variety of elements normally Closing & signature ending in a grace benediction) • How to interpret a NT letter – Step 1 Grasp the text in their town • Read the letter from beginning to end, the way letters are meant to be read. This will give you a sense of the big picture. • Reconstruct the historical-cultural context of the biblical writer and his audience. • Identify the literary context of your particular passage. • Determine the meaning of the text for the biblical audience (observe, observe, observe!) • Historical/Cultural Questions – Commentaries and Dictionaries will help • Who was the author? • What was his background? • When did he write? • What was the nature of his ministry? • What kind of relationship did he have with the audience? • Why was he writing? • Who was the biblical audience? • What were their circumstances? • How was their relationship to God? • What their relationship to the author and to each other? • What was happening at the time the letter was written? • Are there unique historical-cultural factors that need to be considered? – Step 2 – Measure the width of the river For NT letters the river is usually not very wide, but there are exceptions. – Step 3 – Cross the principlizing bridge • Look for the broader theological message reflected in the text. To find theological principles in letters ask yourself the following questions: – Does the author state a principle? – Do you see a principle in the surrounding context? – Do you see a reason behind a particular command or instruction? • Does your theological principle satisfy the following criteria: – It should be reflected in the biblical text – It should be timeless and not tied to a specific situation – It should not be culturally bound – It should be consistent with the teaching of the rest of Scripture – It should be both relevant to both the biblical audience and the contemporary audience – Step 4 – Grasp the text in our town • Conclusion – Provide a window into the struggles and victories of the early church – Serve as authoritative substitutes for church leaders who could not always minister in person – Written to address specific situations and meet the practical needs of believers – Meant to be read from beginning to end, the same way you would read a personal letter today – Use the Interpretive Journey to help you hear God speak to you through NT letters. NT – Gospels • Introduction – Gospel g “good news” – Four Gospels g four different versions of the one story of Jesus Matthew Synoptic Gospels Mark “see together” Luke John – Gospels in the NT Gospels 47% Acts 13% Paul’s Letters 23% General Letters 10% Revelation 7% – Two main concerns: 1. What are the Gospels? (literary genre) 2. How should we read the Gospels? • What are the Gospels? – Stories – Stories of Jesus drawn from the personal experience of his followers, especially his apostles – But different from modern biographies • Do not cover the whole life of Jesus • Often arrange events and sayings topically rather than chronologically • Give a lot of attention to the last week of Jesus’ life • Do not include a detailed psychological analysis of Jesus – Gospels are ancient biographies rather than modern biographies • Not obsessed with strict chronological sequencing • Variation in wording • Variation in order of events – Christ-centered or Christological biography – Two purposes of the Gospel writers: 1. To tell individual stories of Jesus 2. Through the individual stories of Jesus, to say something important to their readers • How should we read the Gospels? – Our method of reading the Gospels must match the means God used to inspire them. – Here we turn the two purposes of the Gospel writers into two interpretive questions: 1. What is the main message of this particular story? 2. What is the Gospel writer trying to say to his readers by the way he connects the smaller stories? Episode 1 Episode 2 Episode 3 What is this episode What is this episode What is this episode telling us about Jesus? telling us about Jesus? telling us about Jesus? Episodes 1, 2, and 3 What is the Gospel writer trying to communicate to his readers by the way he connects these stories together? Luke 10:25-27 Luke 10:38-42 Luke 11:1-13 Love should transcend Doing good things for Jesus teaches us how all human barriers. God can sometimes to communicate with cause us to miss God. God through prayer. Luke 10:25-37; 38-42; 11:1-13 Common theme of relationships. Followers of Jesus need to relate rightly to their neighbors (service), to their Lord (devotion), and to their Father (prayer). – Question 1 – How do we read individual stories? • Ask the standard story questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? • Look for interpretive clues from the author himself. • Take note of anything that is repeated in the story. • Pay careful attention to direct discourse. – Question 2 – How do we read a series of stories? • Common themes or patterns • Logical connections (e.g., cause and effect) • How stories are joined to together (transitions, conjunctions) • Role of key characters • Special literary forms in the Gospels? – a truth is overstated for effect “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” – Matthew 5:29 – implicit or implicit comparison “You are the salt of the earth.” – Matthew 5:13 “You are like whitewashed tombs” – Matthew 23:27 – contrast between what is expected and what actually happens “And I'll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.’” – Luke 12:19-20 – questions designed to make a point rather than retrieve an answer “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” – Matthew 6:27 – two or more lines of text that are intended to be read together • Synonymous – lines say basically the same thing • Contrastive – second line contrasts with the first line • Developmental – second line advances thought of first • What kind of parallelism is the verse below? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7 • Conclusion – Gospels g good news of Jesus Christ – Four versions of the one story of Jesus – Christological biography – Two interpretive questions: • What is the main message of each story? • What is the Gospel writer trying to say to his readers (and to us) by the way he connects the smaller stories? – a story with two levels of meaning, where certain details in the story stand for other things • A story where every detail stands for something else? • A story with only one point? • A story with one main point for each main character? Rebellious son Sinners may confess their sins and turn to God in repentance Forgiving father God offers forgiveness for undeserving people Resentful brother Those who claim to be God’s people should not be resentful when God extends his grace to the undeserving. • More on Parables and their Interpretation 1. Two well-entrenched principles are: (a) at least for the most part, the parables of Jesus are not allegories, and (b) each parable makes only one main point. 2. When compared to earliest Rabbinic parables and in light of developments in literary criticism, these principles are more misleading than helpful. 3. A better approach distinguishes among various degrees of allegorical interpretation recognizing every parable of Jesus contains certain elements which point to a second level of meaning and others which do not. • More on Parables and their Interpretation 4. To avoid allegorical abuse, we must assign meanings to the details which Jesus’ original audiences could have been expected to discern. 5. Key details in them are surprisingly unrealistic and serve to point out an allegorical level of meaning. 6. Main characters of a parable are the most common candidates for allegorical interpretation and main points mostly likely should be associated with them. 7. Triadic structure of most of Jesus’ narrative parables suggest that most parables may make three points, though some will probably make only one or two. NT – Acts • Introduction – Four versions of the life and ministry of Jesus, one story of the birth and growth of the early church – Title? • “The continuing acts of Jesus by his Spirit through the apostles and other early Christian leaders” • “Acts” for short – Acts presents unique interpretive challenges • Normative – the church in every age should imitate the early church • Descriptive – early church valuable and inspiring, but not necessarily binding on us • Acts: a sequel to Luke – Luke produced a single work in two parts: Luke- Acts. – Luke intended to link these two books together • Compare Luke 1:1-4 with Acts 1:1-2 • Thematic and structural parallels between the two books • Definite overlap between the ending of Luke and the beginning of Acts – What Jesus began to do during his earthly ministry he now continues to do through his Spirit- empowered followers. • What kind of book is Acts? – Acts is a story that focuses on key church leaders. – Acts is theological history. • As a historian Luke composes a reliable record of what happened in the move of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. • As a theologian, Luke tells the story for the purpose of advancing the Christian faith. • Both historian and theologian? – Luke shapes his story for theological purposes. How do we find theology in a story? • Ask the standard story questions • Pay attention to clues and instructions from the author • Look carefully at direct discourse – Single most helpful guideline g look for repeated themes and patterns. • Why did Luke write Acts? “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” – Luke 1:1-4 – Acts as a comprehensive discipleship manual? – Luke shows believers that what God promised in the OT and fulfilled in Jesus, he now continues to work out through his church. Spirit Church Gospel World – Luke’s purposes/themes: • Holy Spirit • God’s sovereignty • Church • Prayer • Suffering • Gentiles • Witness • How is Acts organized? Acts 1:8 holds the key to understanding how Luke organizes his story of the triumphant expansion of the gospel from Jerusalem (heart of Israel) to Rome (heart of the empire). Acts 1-6 “in Jerusalem” Peter Acts 7-12 “in Judea and Samaria” Acts 13-28 “to the ends of the earth” Paul In the very last verse of Acts, we find Paul in a Roman prison, but the gospel of Jesus Christ marches on … “without hindrance” (last word in the Greek text). • Grasping the message of Acts – We read Acts in the much the same way that we read the Gospels – One major interpretive challenge: Normative Descriptive Acts is normative so Acts is merely that the church in descriptive of what every age should was valuable and imitate the inspiring in the experiences and early church, but practices of the early not necessarily church. binding on us today. – We suggest that we interpret Acts as both normative and descriptive. Difficulty is knowing what is normative and what is merely descriptive. – Guidelines for discerning what is normative. • Look for what Luke intended to communicate. • Look for positive and negative examples in the characters of the story. • Read individual episodes in light of the overall story. • Look to other parts of Acts for clarification. • Look for repeated patterns and themes. NT – Revelation • Introduction – Your initial response to reading Revelation? – “revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1) • “revelation” – unveiling or open display • “of Jesus Christ” – both about Jesus and from Jesus – In this “final chapter” of the Bible, God pulls back the curtain to give his people a glimpse of his plans for human history—plans that center around Jesus. • Historical context – Persecution of Christians is becoming more intense and widespread. • 1:9; 2:3, 9-10, 13; 3:8; 6:9 • Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96) or “Caesar is Lord” “Jesus is Lord” – But some Christians are turning away from Christ and compromising with the world system. – Revelation has a double-edged message Comfort for Warning for the those suffering complacent and persecution compromising • Literary genre? – A letter • Opens and closes like a NT letter (1:4-5; 22:21) • Whole book is a letter, not just chapters 2-3 • Like other NT letters, Revelation is situational • The central theme may be overcoming Revelation 2-3 Revelation 12:11 Revelation 21:7 Promise to those Believers “overcame “He who overcomes who “overcome” him [Satan] by the will inherit all this, at end of the blood of the Lamb and I will be his seven messages and by the word of God and he will be in chapters 2-3 their testimony; they my son” did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” – A prophetic letter (1:3; 22:6-7, 10, 18-19) “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” —Revelation 1:3 • Includes both prediction and proclamation with an emphasis on proclamation. • Revelation is not just about the future; it is about what God wants in the here and now. • An “unsealed” or open book (22:10) – A prophetic-apocalyptic letter “The revelation [apocalypsis] of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John. —Revelation 1:3 • “Apocalyptic” – Literature in which God promises to intervene in human history to overthrow evil and establish his kingdom – Intensified form of Hebrew prophecy written during time of crisis – Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah in the OT – Abundance of strange and bizarre images (picture language) • What is the purpose of Revelation? – Readers enter the symbolic world created by the images of Revelation to get heavenly perspective on their own world. – Revelation uses prophetic counter-images to answer the question: “Who is Lord?” – Main message: “God will win!” • Interpreting Revelation – Traditional approaches: • Preterist • Historicist • Futurist • Idealist – Guidelines for reading Revelation: • Read Revelation with humility. • Try to discover the message to the original readers. • Don’t try to detect a strict chronological map of future events. • Take Revelation seriously, but don’t always take it literally. • Pay attention when John identifies an image. • Look to the OT and historical-cultural context when interpreting images and symbols. • Above all, focus on the main idea and don’t press all the details. • How does Revelation unfold? – Introduction (1:1-3:22) – Vision of God and the Lamb (4:1-5:14) – Opening of the Seven Seals (6:1-8:1) – Sounding of the Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:19) – People of God vs. Powers of Evil (12:1-14:20) – Pouring out of the Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21) – Judgment of Babylon (17:1-19:5) – God’s Ultimate Victory (19:6-22:5) – Conclusion (22:6-21) • Conclusion – A prophetic-apocalyptic letter … – Using powerful picture language … – To comfort the suffering and warn the complacent. – Revelation answers the question: “Who is Lord?” – Revelation gives us the heavenly perspective we need to overcome. – God will win!
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