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1 – The Interpretive Journey

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					                   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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