Hermeneutics of the History of Redemption

On the many who claim to be prophets today, and dreamers of dreams

Jeremiah in Sistene ChapelFor one who teaches biblical hermeneutics, I am cautious to pull a text like this into our contemporary context, since it is from the end of the pre-exilic context of ancient Judah when Jeremiah wrote dire warnings against them for their idolatries and against the scores of people who then claimed to be prophets sent from God. Nevertheless, can we not ask if there is any similarity with our own generation in regards to the countless claims from people of God revealing, speaking, giving further revelation, visions, and prophecies, so many of which have been widely shown as both false and often misleading? (An example that “there is nothing new under the sun.”)

(left)Jeremiah by Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel) 

Does not the principle stand that for anyone to claim a revelation or prophecy from God, and who did not actually receive such (but only imagined or hoped to have received such), they would most certainly be considered a false prophet. In biblical terms, that is. Even if they prophesied something concrete, in a predictive fashion, that happens to occur, and it did not come directly from God, it still makes them a false prophet. Yet, consider the many thousands of people today claiming prophecies, dreams, visions, etc., who have made themselves a laughing-stock with their oftentimes outrageous and patently false claims. At best they are mostly ignored, but at worst they frequently manage to point people away from the actual canon of revelation in the Old and New Testaments to themselves and their seemingly benign imaginings. Many people have even started movements and organizations on the basis of such spurious revelations, but even if they have many followers it does not make them a prophet from God.

In sum, take heed from Jeremiah to all who claim, “The Lord said to me” or “The Lord gave me this dream  . . . or vision.” And, to all who listen to these many self-proclaimed prophets of our times, take heed lest you too are taken captive by all sorts of vanity and delusions that may appear marvelous, but are nothing more than “the visions of their[the prophets’] own minds.”

Jeremiah 23

16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

   25 “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My n, me, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’ 26 “How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, 27 who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? 28“The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares the LORD. 29“Is not My word like fire?” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock? 30“Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who steal My words from each other. 31“Behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who use their tongues and declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ 32“Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the LORD, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah was not alone in confronting those who claimed to receive prophecy from God.  Ezekiel, as well as a number of other OT prophets, also confronted those who claimed to be prophets:

Ezekiel 13:1-3
“The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy from their own inspiration, ‘Listen to the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe to the foolish prophets who are following theory own spirit and have seen nothing.”

Also, Ezekiel continues this exhortation against false claims of prophecy in  in 13:4-10

“O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes among ruins. 5“You have not gone up into the breaches, nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel to stand in the battle on the day of the LORD. 6“They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, ‘The LORD declares,’ when the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word. 7“Did you not see a false vision and speak a lying divination when you said, ‘The LORD declares,’ but it is not I who have spoken?”’”

8Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “Because you have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against you,” declares the Lord GOD. 9“So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord GOD



Revelation from God and the limits of the canon of Scripture (and the question of continuing revelation)

Does revelation communicated from God continue today? If so, is it inspired? And, if it is inspired, should we consider it infallible (since God cannot lie)? And, if it is infallible revelation from God should we not have it written down and included in the canon as inerrant Scripture?

To consider an answer to these questions, see illustration and brief discussion here:

Revelation and the limits of the canon of Scripture










The metaphysics of meaning, part II: theology, the disappearance of definitions, and Rob Bell on blasphemy

Why Words Mean: why ducks do not bark and dogs do not quack.

For pdf, The metaphysics of meaning part II by S.Hague


Must we mean what we say and define what we mean when we say?
Must we define what we mean when we say so that we say what we mean?

š›1. Theological language means something

“Language determines the realities we attend to.”[1]

Since so much of our daily language, not just that of the theologians, conveys important theological and philosophical assumptions and concepts in profoundly obvious and oftentimes not-so-obvious ways, it could be proposed that the term “theological language” could apply to much of our human language. Though that could be the subject of an entire essay, that is not my primary focus here. My concern is that if it be true that our language contains profoundly vital information for our lives at all levels, how important is it that we understand the definitions and implications of our terms used? Does it really matter in any very serious sense how we define our terms and the words we choose to communicate? More to the point, does it matter with regard to our expressions of faith and concepts about it? After all, is it not more important that people see our heart, our compassion and sincerity, not so much how we define and use our terms? After all, isn’t wrangling over words a sin? The same could be asked about historical accuracy in our discourse: is it all that important we discuss the past in terms and definitions that are in agreement with the facts, since it could be said that historical facts are rather difficult to ascertain with certainty? Isn’t it more important to just get the gist, or spirit, of the events and characters and choices, and not worry about the details? Depending on how we answer such questions, we must also consider whether legal documents like deeds and mortgages and contracts and constitutions depend on accuracy of language and historical fact? Do government, the economy, the scientific enterprise, architecture and art, medicine, and the diagnosis of illness in heart, mind, and body, depend on accuracy in definition of terms and agreement regarding the use of each distinct discipline of discourse? Does not even the weather broadcaster communicate life and death information that depends upon factuality and truthfulness?

Indeed, it could be argued that our very existence depends upon our God-given ability and task to name things,[2] and with accurate consistency. If this task of naming (taxonomy) could be understand to relate to the biblical principle of having dominion, and that it continues in every generation, would it not therefore especially include the theological endeavor, as well? When we speak of “technical terms” in the various disciplines we mean that in order for communication-events to occur there must of necessity be some collocation and consistency of received, and agreed upon, terms and definitions for the purposes of achieving meaningful discourse. Particularly, therefore, we can assert that when speaking of God and the eternal concerns of theological ideas, beliefs, doctrines, and formulations for faith, the need for clarity and accuracy must be accompanied with the zeal for carefulness in definitions. Sloppiness will not work in building bridges and high rise buildings, nor in programing computers that can fly humans to the moon. It might be countered that theological language is not a scientific enterprise, and not as much depends upon it for human safety and survival as does the science of geometry and calculus in constructing the wonders of civilization upon which we have built our modern world. Yet, to counter this objection to my claim to the contrary, the world and its civilizations depend upon the ideas that define their identity, character, morals and visions for what constitutes a just and honorable society that lead to human flourishing for all, and therefore human beliefs (theological ideas) about origins, God, human nature, the relationships between all created things, people, and creatures. In sum, we can therefore conclude that all knowledge in every sphere is theologically potent, in the sense that even mathematics and quantum physics are rooted in theological and metaphysical frameworks. Yes, not just contextually, but that they originate from theological conceptions.

Despite all this, there are endless examples in our world of disregard for definitions and received terms. In fact, entire industries (as advertising and politicking) depend upon distortion, and sometimes obfuscation, of meaning in order to achieve objectives. Dictators and totalitarian regimes also depend upon their power to control the meaning, definitions, and use of terms. Empires sometimes have been able to extend their dominions through controlling the lexicon; but we can be thankful that such tyranny is always tenuous, since humans are inclined to resist in their need to communicate truthfully, in spite of all efforts to hinder and prevent it, and of course of necessity must do so for their survival. Even in our free society, there are many who would take total control to rewrite our lexicons for their political purposes, financial gain, or for ideological agendas. For example, in recent history, the Postmodern movement sought in language (theory) to unhinge (called slippage) referents (signifiers) from their objects (signified), creating widespread “hermeneutical suspicion” and epistemological atheism, rooted in a total indeterminacy of meaning in language. Nevertheless, in the nature of human language and communication, meaning and the necessity for meaning to be determinate and not indeterminate, requires that words consistently correspond sufficiently with reality to be meaningful. Engineers, scientists, architects, doctors, and astronauts have not generally followed the Postmodernists in practice, if even in theory, for which are most grateful.

In the pendulum swings (in linguistics and politics) from totalitarianism to anarchy, humans will always gravitate towards what will allow them to be free, but also necessarily towards what requires them to be responsible. A great danger with freedom is whenever it is not accompanied by responsibility. History has taught us this at least: freedom must be followed by responsibility to remain free. This is profoundly true especially with our language, the greatest gift of God besides life, to communicate meaningfully. Therefore, we have the supreme responsibility to employ it rightly and faithfully. Interpretation of every/any particular thing in reality requires language responsibly defined in terms and principles of interpretation, wherein each aspect of the process itself depends entirely upon language.

Identifying and classifying is the fundamental function of human language, differentiating things (so we establish in regards to everything that A is not non A in the law of non-contradiction). Language enables us to see the unity and distinctions of all things which are absolutely essential for human society to be possible. This naming, and the interpretative role of language in gathering knowledge of the created world, its proper interpretation and the discovery of new insights, is the foundation of all science, art, literature, philosophy, architecture, and theology.

Most significantly, theological language is the source and ongoing context of the meaning of all else, since it originates in revelation from God in order for us to have the interpretative matrix upon which to construct an accurate interpretive narrative for all of known reality. Therefore, as all of our language must correspond to reality in a coherent and comprehensible way, it is critical that we attend to our theological language with the utmost zeal and care. This is consistent with our belief in the triune nature of God the Creator of all reality, in which there is an absolute and necessary selfconsistency and coherence (since a perfect God can have no inconsistencies or contradictions), there is also logical consistency and coherence in his creation, since it is always contingent upon God who is the Logos.

Inconsideration of God, or misrepresentation of his nature, are as agreeable to corrupt nature, as the disowning the being of a God is contrary to common reason.[3]

2. Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis declaration on blasphemy means something, too, but it does not ring true
                           “The fate of hermeneutics and humanity alike stand or fall together.”[4]

There are a seeming infinite number of possible examples to illustrate how easy it is to mislead others through a lack of care in language use, and the confusing misuse of terms poorly defined and re-employed for some purpose. We are all daily inclined to this, our motives and reasoning being so corrupted. All-the-same, we are in Scripture held to the high standards of truth and justice, honesty and faithfulness, consistency and integrity, in all of our words and our actions. This is the moral nature of our discourse, requiring proper definitions, exposition, and interpretations of reality; this is the life and death nature of our words and our lexicons. This is why we “guard the gospel” (2 Tim 1:14) entrusted to us, the orthodox tradition of the Apostles, not to be revised, since it is the bedrock of the people of God, the foundation of Christ’s church. This is just one of many important reasons to avoid confusion in our language, especially when speaking of God and matters of the faith.

One example of confusing theological language came to my attention recently in a post from a friend on Facebook of a popular quote from Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis:

“Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted In humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know.”

This quote at first surprised me, but then with alarm to see how many people both “liked” and “loved” the quote. The proper netiquette in this case perhaps eluded me, but I had to respond with a “Huh?” that was apparently not happily received.

It was this interchange that precipitated my reflections here, since I think it is very mistaken not to understand Bell’s total reversal of the meaning of biblical categories and terms as a good example of the all-too-common carelessness and sloppiness in theological discussions these days. Even if not intentional, it is in any case seriously problematic. Bell has done this on a number of theological issues, and has generated Much Controversy among Christians with his slippery use of, and misuse of, theological language.[5] Some might object to my concern and say that his use of language is not so important, but rather his motives, his intentions to communicate the gospel in a refashioned way to this generation. Yet, we really have no idea what his motives were, nor whether his heart is right with God despite his poorly worded verbiage. We cannot say what Bell’s intention was, but I can say that his use of English tortures biblical categories in this statement, as he often does in his interviews and public statements flowing from the ideas in his publications. I would like to hope that he was just being careless, even if seriously, but this kind of loose theological affirmation, even if for the sake of a perceived effort to point others to a more intimate relationship with God, is deeply concerning.

It could have been intended to make the gospel message more palatable to unbelievers who find many aspects of biblical history and faith distasteful (but I wrongly digress into unknown motives). Even so, if we attempt to redefine biblical doctrine, and language, in order to make it more acceptable to people who sincerely believe they are on a higher moral plane than God, and that we must justify the God of Scripture to them, since they find many things in the Bible morally indefensible, then our motives become entirely irrelevant to the question of whether we are being faithful to the gospel of Jesus and the Scripture in our definitions and use of theological terms.

Bell does not say in this statement, as someone might suppose, that he is speaking of questions that seem to be blasphemous; he says plainly that blasphemous questions “are rooted in humility.” As an academic, I accept the criticism that I may be over analyzing and over-critical in such a case as this. Even so, biblically speaking, we are called to “bring every thought captive,” and to wisely discern all pronouncements and assertions, regardless of their source. As an academic, I also understand, and always fully support, the idea of having and allowing for others the freedom to ask questions of God, the deepest questions that concern us. But biblically, there is a universe of difference between lament, painfully crying out to God for answers to those questions, and blasphemy and arrogance. In Bell’s convoluted declaration, even arrogance is somehow equated with humility, when in any lexicon arrogance has historically been an antonym of humility. And, historically (and biblically), blasphemy meant God-hating arrogance and rebellion against God; it is not rooted in a humble heart nor in humility; it is shaking the fist at God in foolish anger and arrogant stupidity. It is the condition of our hearts when God, or the god we imagine is God, is despised and rejected.

I strongly believe that those in Christian churches who say (or have the attitude), “don’t ask questions, just believe,” have done great harm to many people. So, hopefully, I will not be misunderstood when I object to the plain meaning of Bell’s convolution of words that can lead to some rather serious conclusions and rationalizations. As stated, I zealously agree with the conviction that we must encourage questions, but it is because we know with certitude that God has given us answers, and sufficient answers, in the revelation of the canon of Scripture. These are what we must live for and work for through study, reflection, prayer, and teaching, to learn of God and his ways and to share in fellowship and rejoicing with the body of Christ in the glories of the gospel. Questions themselves are not blasphemy, but neither is blaspheming simply asking questions.

And, I would add, the gospel makes very good logical sense. Indeed, the gospel is the only theological system in the world that makes perfect logical sense, because it is entirely true. In fact, the gospel is the key to all of reality, since Jesus is the one who is the LOGOS by whom, through whom, and for whom the universe was made. This is particularly the reason we must strive to accurately define all of our terms in discussing God and matters of our faith, and to be consistent when using those terms. Our language matters immensely, because what we think we may be meaning in discourse could be a serious misconstrual and miscommunication of colossal proportions. The problem of communication and understanding derives from us (not from Scripture), because of the noetic effect of sins on our minds/hearts, when we do not understand things in Scripture. We are slow of heart/mind to believe and understand; it is not that Scripture is insufficiently perspicuous (understandable). In the Gospel of Christ, the mysteries of God are made known (Col 1:27; 1 Cor 15:51; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 6:19).

In conclusion therefore, we are responsible to properly and fully define all of the terms of that Gospel, based solely on the canon of Scripture. This does not mean we have comprehension of God and all things, since he is infinite and eternal, but we can have sufficient and reasonable faith and understanding. We can also grow daily in fuller understanding, as we will for all eternity increase in our knowledge of Him, never ceasing. In sum, ignorance of, distortion of, and unbelief in the gospel of Christ are not a result of its incomprehensibility, but rather the hardness of the human heart, and the inclination to mis-represent, mis-define, and mis-interpret. Missing the mark, we then speak past one another and reality itself, properly defined. Mis-representing the terms of the gospel is therefore to by-pass its reality for fantasies and fairy tales of our own imagining.

And, this is why ducks do not bark and dogs do not quack,
and why Rob Bell’s revision on blasphemy and arrogance does not ring true.0000501_531

Some biblical texts on blasphemy

Ex 22:28 “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.”

Mk 7:22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

Col 3:8 But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy talk out of your mouth.

James 2:7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

2 Peter 2:12 But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.

Jude 1:8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.

Rev 13:5 (NASB) There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him.

Some biblical texts on arrogance

Lk 1:51 He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud [arrogant] in the thoughts of their heart.

Ja 4.16(NASB) But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

1 Jn 2:16 (ISV) For everything that is in the world—the desire for fleshly gratification,d the desire for possessions, and worldly arrogance—is not from the Father but is from the world.

Col 2:18 (GWT) Such a person, whose sinful mind fills him with arrogance, gives endless details of the visions he has seen.

Jude 1:16 (NASB) These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

Thank God that our sins of arrogance and blasphemy are also forgivable!

Quotes on words and language

Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings differently arranged have different effects. Blaise. Pascal (Pensées, 23)

“At the point of divergence between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood, is not a chasm but a razor’s edge.” John Murray, Principles of Conduct, p.

“Objective falsity cannot be the source of subjective truth.” Phillip Hughes, The True Image, 367.

“The very act of naming things presupposes a faith in their existence and thus in a true world, whatever Nietzsche might say.” Czeslaw Milosz, The Witness of Poetry, Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1983, p. 57

“In the matter of Christian doctrine, a great part of the nation subsists in an ignorance more barbarous than that of the dark ages, owing to a slatternly habit of illiterate reading. Words are understood in a wholly mistaken sense, statements of fact and opinion are misread and distorted in repetition, arguments founded in misapprehension are accepted without examination, expressions of individual preference are construed as ecumenical doctrine, disciplinary regulations founded on consent are confused with claims to interpret universal law, and vice versa;  with the result that the logical and historical structure of Christian philosophy is transformed in the popular mind to a confused jumble of mythological and pathological absurdity.”  Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker pp. xi-xii

Metaphors are locomotives of meaning; they bear the freight of insight from place to place. . . . The arrival of a powerful metaphor alters the geography of our thoughts and forces us to redraw our conceptual maps.  Terrence W. Tilley, Story Theology, Wilmington DE:  Michael Glazier, 1985, p. 1.

“If correct behavior depends on right thinking, and right thinking on the right use of language, then we may say that, in terms of active influence, the sequence actually proceeds the other way: Language4 thought4behavior.” Chilton Williamson, Jr. Chronicles, Feb 2006, p. 17.

“After the Fall, the worst violence done himself by man is to deny the Truth of the Word—and by implication and descent, all words and their inherently divine relationship with one another. This is because man cannot, through his abuse of words, distort the concept of the divine Nature without distorting his understanding of human nature along with it, as Orwell and other critics of the human language have understood.” Chilton Williamson, Jr. Chronicles, Feb 2006, p. 17.

“This is because man cannot, through his abuse of words, dis­tort the concept of the divine Nature without distorting his un­derstanding of human nature along with it, as Orwell and other critics of the enemies of language have understood. ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .’    Ac­cording to the Word, man is a kind of copy, however faint and imperfect, of God. But if the Word does not exist, then God does not exist, and what, then, is man a copy of, in God’s ab­sence? The problem is, all language is constructed according to a logic that assumes the existence of God and a divine relation­ship with man: God, in other words, is structured into human language, because He is encoded in the human mind and in human thought. To refuse to know Who God is, is to refuse to accept what we are and how we are meant to act in the world, how we are intended to comport ourselves, how we are expect­ed to behave, in respect of ourselves as well as of others. In the degree that men deny the reality and integrity of language, they reject the idea of Model-Modeler and Modeled, and with it the possibility for the coherent and respectful human activity and behavior they once called decency and manners.” Chilton Williamson, Jr. Chronicles, Feb 2006, p. 18.

Stephen T. Hague, March 2017

[1] William Kirk Kilpatrick, The Psychological Seduction, New York:  Thomas Nelson, 1983, p. 127.

[2] See Stephen Hague, ‘The metaphysics of meaning, part I: taxonomy The disappearance of the author, and the death of God”: https://stephenhague.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/the-life-and-death-matter-of-language-and-hermeneutics/

[3] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996, two volumes in one, vol. 1, p. 90.

[4] Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text: the Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), p. 22.

[5] Many have written on the various theological statements and directions of Rob Bell, so this is not meant to be such an extended critique. Suffice it to say that Rob Bell has shifted from some fundamental biblical perspectives over the years, and has taught theological concepts at odds with traditional orthodoxy. His notoriety and influence also has increased after being endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, of whom he has reportedly said that “She has taught me more about what Jesus has for all of us, and what kind of life Jesus wants us to live, more than almost anybody in my life” (https://spectator.org/61174_defense-religious-mediocrityAmerican Spectator, accessed 3/7/2017 Yet, for all she expresses about “spirituality,” Oprah is not even remotely Christian in her views and convictions.

Blasphemy in the Bible as defined by various lexicons


5829  ] נֶאָצָה5830) [Hebrew) (page 611) (Strong 5007( † נֶאָצָה] n. f. contempt )toward (י׳, blasphemy;—pl. נֶאָצוֹת Ne 9:18, 9:26 c. עָשָׂה of Isr.; נָאָצוֹתֶיךָ Ez 35:12 of Mt. Seir, spoken against הרי ישׂראל.


1033  βλασφημέω

βλασφημέω, βλασφήμω; imperfect ἐβλασφήμουν; 1 aorist ἐβλασφήμησα; passive (present βλασφημοῦμαι); 1 future βλασφημηθήσομαι; (βλάσφημος, which see); to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile, calumniate (Vulgate blasphemo); absolutely:  Luke 22:65 ; Acts 13:45; 18:6; 26:11; 1 Tim. 1:20; 1 Pet. 4:4; with accusative of person or thing (as in later Greek, Joseph, Plutarch, Appian, etc.): Matt. 27:39; Mark 3:28 L T Tr WH; 15:29; Luke 23:39; Titus 3:2; James 2:7; Jude 1:10; with the cognate noun βλασφημίαν, to utter blasphemy (Plato, legg. 7, p. 800 c.; see ἀγαπάω at the end), Mark 3:28 R G (where L T Tr WH ὅσα for ὅσας, see above); (followed by ἐν, 2 Pet. 2:12; cf. Alexander Buttmann (1873) as at end, and see ἀγνοέω, a.).  Passive βλασφημοῦμαι to be evil spoken of, reviled, railed at: Rom. 3:8; 14:16; 1 Cor. 4:13 (T WH Tr marginal reading δυσφημούμενοι); 1 Cor. 10:30; Titus 2:5; 2 Pet. 2:2; τό ὄνομα τίνος, Rom. 2:24; 1 Tim. 6:1.  Specifically, of those who by contemptuous speech intentionally come short of the reverence due to God or to sacred things )for גִּדֵּף, 2 Kings 19:6,22 cf. 2 Kings 19:4; cf. Grimm on 2 Macc. 10:34); absolutely:  Matt. 9:3; 26:65; Mark 2:7 L T Tr WH; (John 10:36); τόν Θεόν, Rev. 16:11,21; τήν θεάν, Acts 19:37 (G L T Tr WH τήν Θεόν); τό ὄνομα τοῦ Θεοῦ, Rev. 13:6; 16:9; τό πνεῦμα τοῦ Θεοῦ (βλασφημεῖται), 1 Pet. 4:14 Rec.; δόξας, Jude 1:8; 2 Pet. 2:10 (see δόξα, III. 3 b. γ.); εἰς τό πνεῦμα τό ἅγιον, Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 (εἰς θεούς, Plato, rep. 2, p. 381 e.).  The earlier Greeks say βλασφημαν εἰς τινα, περί or κατά τίνος; (on the N. T. constructions cf. Winer’s Grammar, 222 (208); 629 (584); Buttmann, 146 (128)).*

1034  βλασφημία

βλασφημία, βλασφημίας, ἡ, railing, reviling (Vulgate blasphemia); a. universally, slander, detraction, speech injurious to another’s good name:  Matt. 12:31; 15:19; Mark 3:28; 7:22; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Tim. 6:4; Jude 1:9 (κρίσις βλασφημίας, equivalent to κρίσις βλάσφημος in 2 Pet. 2:11, a judgment pronounced in reproachful terms); Rev. 2:9. b. specifically, impious and reproachful speech injurious to the divine majesty:  Matt. 26:65; Mark 2:7 (R G); 14:64; Luke 5:21; John 10:33; Rev. 13:5 (not Lachmann); ὄνομα or ὀνόματα βλασφημίας equivalent to βλάσφημα (cf. Winer’s Grammar, sec. 34, 3 b.; (Buttmann, sec. 132, 10)):  Rev. 13:1; 17:3 (R G Tr, see γέμω); τοῦ πνεύματος, genitive of the object, Matt. 12:31; πρός τόν Θεόν, Rev. 13:6.  (Euripides, Plato, Demosthenes, others; for נֶאָצָה Ezek. 35:12.(  )BB.  DD. under the word Blasphemy; Campbell, Diss. on the Gospels, diss. ix. part ii.)*

From the New Bible Dictionary


  1. In the Old Testament

Here the root meaning of the word is an act of effrontery in which the honour of God is insulted by man. The proper object of the verb is the name of God, which is cursed or reviled instead of being honoured. (Compare the common biblical and rabbinical phrase, ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord.’) The penalty of the outrage of blasphemy is death by stoning (Lv. 24:10–23; 1 Ki. 21:9ff.; Acts 6:11; 7:58).

In the first reference it is a half-caste Israelite who sins in this way; and, generally speaking, blasphemy is committed by pagans (2 Ki. 19:6, 22 = Is. 37:6, 23; Pss. 44:16; 74:10, 18; Is. 52:5), sometimes incited to it by the bad example and moral lapses of the Lord’s people (2 Sa. 12:14). It follows also that when God’s people fall into idolatry they are regarded as committing the blasphemy of the heathen (Is. 65:7; Ezk. 20:27). The name of Yahweh which it is Israel’s peculiar destiny to hallow (see G. F. Moore, Judaism, 2, 1927–30, p. 103) is profaned by the faithless and disobedient people.

  1. In the New Testament

Here there is an extension of the meaning. God is blasphemed also in his representatives. So the word is used of Moses (Acts 6:11); Paul (Rom. 3:8; 1 Cor. 4:12; 10:30); and especially the Lord Jesus, in his ministry of forgiveness (Mk. 2:7 and parallels), at his *trial (Mk. 14:61–64), and at Calvary (Mt. 27:39; Lk. 23:39). Because these representatives embody the truth of God himself (and our Lord in a unique way), an insulting word spoken against them and their teaching is really directed against the God in whose name they speak (so Mt. 10:40; Lk. 10:16). Saul of Tarsus fulminated against the early followers of Jesus and tried to compel them to blaspheme, i.e. to curse the saving name (Acts 24:11), and thereby to renounce their baptismal vow in which they confessed that ‘Jesus is Lord’ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3; Jas. 2:7). His misdirected zeal, however, was not simply against the church, but against the Lord himself (1 Tim. 1:13; cf. Acts 9:4).

The term is also used, in a weaker sense, of slanderous language addressed to men (e.g. Mk. 3:28; 7:22; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Tit. 3:2). Here the best translation is ‘slander, abuse’. These verses condemn a prevalent vice; but their warning may be grounded in a theological as well as an ethical context if we remember Jas. 3:9. Men are not to be cursed because on them, as men, the ‘formal’ image of God is stamped and the human person is, in some sense, God’s representative on earth (cf. Gn. 9:6).

There are two problem texts. 2 Pet. 2:10–11 speaks of blasphemy against ‘the glorious ones’ whom angels dare not revile. These are probably evil angelic powers against whom false teachers presumed to direct their insults (cf. Jude 8). The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:32; Mk. 3:29) carries with it the awful pronouncement that the sinner is ‘guilty of an eternal sin’ which cannot be forgiven. The verse is a solemn warning against persistent, deliberate rejection of the Spirit’s call to salvation in Christ. Human unresponsiveness inevitably leads to a state of moral insensibility and to a confusion of moral issues wherein evil is embraced as though it were good (‘Evil, be thou my Good’; cf. Is. 5:18–20; Jn. 3:19). The example of this attitude is that of the Pharisees, who attributed Jesus’ works of mercy to Satan. In such a frame of mind repentance is not possible to the hardened heart because the recognition of sin is no longer possible, and God’s offer of mercy is in effect peremptorily refused. To be in this perilous condition is to cut oneself off from the source of forgiveness. Hebert adds a helpful pastoral note: ‘People who are distressed in their souls for fear that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost should in most cases be told that their distress is proof that they have not committed that sin’ (TWBR, p. 32).

Bibliography. HDB, 1, p. 109; H. W. Beyer, TDNT 1, pp. 621–625; H. Währisch, C. Brown, W. Mundle in NIDNTT 3, pp. 340–347.

  1. P. Martin.[1]

From Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels


In both the Old and New Testaments blasphemy is, at its root, a word or act detracting from the power and glory* of God*.

  1. Background
  2. Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit
  3. Jesus Accused of Blasphemy
  4. Background

The Greek noun blasphēmia may be derived from phēmē (a “saying”) and a shortened form of blaptō (“injure”) or blax (“stupid”) or ballō (“throw” or “strike”) or blabos (“harm”).

1.1. Greek Usage. In Greek literature “to blaspheme” meant to speak ill or abusively rather than to speak well of someone (euphēmeō, Philo Migr. Abr. 117; euphēmia, Josephus Ant. 16.2.1 §14; 17.8.4 §200; 2 Cor 6:8). This meaning is also found in (e.g.) 2 Maccabees (10:34; 12:14), Philo (Spec. Leg. 4.197), Josephus (Life §232) as well as in the NT (Acts 13:34; 18:6; Rom 14:16; 1 Cor 10:30; Tit 3:2; 1 Pet 4:4). Someone can be said to blaspheme against an idol or false god (Diodorus 2.21.7; Philo Spec. Leg. 1.53; Josephus Ant. 4.8.10 §207; Acts 19:37). Blasphemy is also associated with “bad language” (2 Macc 12:14) or insulting a person (Mt 12:32) as shown by the synonyms ōneidizō (“revile,” Mt 27:44 par. Mk 15:32 and Lk 23:39) and loidoreō (“to abuse,” Jn 9:28; Acts 23:4; Josephus J.W. 2.14.8 §302).

1.2. Old Testament. In the canonical OT and Apocrypha blasphemy referred to contemptuous or dishonoring speech or actions against God through denying his ability (2 Kings 19:4, 6, 22; Ps 74:18; Is 37:6), oppressing his people (Is 52:5), gloating over their downfall (Ezek 35:12), killing Israelites (Tob 1:18 [S]), speaking directly against God (Dan 3:29), paying homage to an idol (Is 66:3; contrast Bel 9) or insulting his followers (2 Macc 12:14) or the Temple (1 Macc 7:38). However, the key passage is Leviticus 24:15–16: “Whoever curses God shall bear the sin. One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death” (NRSV, cf. Lev 24:11; Ex 20:7).

1.3. Philo and Josephus. Originally the two sentences of Leviticus 24:15–16 probably had identical meanings. But Philo, taking them separately, understood the first to be the lesser offense of cursing a false god, the penalty of death being reserved for naming the Name of the God of Israel (Vit. Mos. 2.203–5; also Josephus Ag. Ap. 2.34 §237; Ant. 4.207). On the greater offense Josephus says: “Let him that blasphemeth God be stoned, then hung for a day, and buried ignominiously and in obscurity” (Ant. 4.8.6 §202; cf. Deut 21:22–23). On the actual nature of the offense of blasphemy, Philo says that if anyone “even ventures to utter his name unreasonably, let him suffer the penalty of death” (Vit. Mos. 2.206). In turn Philo seems to understand the unreasonable utterance of the holy name of God to be treating it as a mere expletive (Vit. Mos. 2.208).

1.4. Rabbinic Judaism. For the rabbis there were also two sins referred to in Leviticus 24:15–16. They understood the first sentence to mean that for cursing God the only sentence necessary was excommunication, for God would exact the penalty (b. Ker. 7b). From its interpretation of the second sentence the Mishnah gives us the only rabbinic definition of blasphemy, and it is similar to that of Philo’s: “The blasphemer is not culpable unless he pronounces the Name itself” (m. Sanh. 7:5).

  1. Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

All three Synoptic Gospels record the twin sayings of Jesus that whoever blasphemes or speaks against the Son of man (Mark has “sons of men [i.e., people] will be forgiven”; see Son of Man) will be forgiven (see Forgiveness), but that the person who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit (see Holy Spirit) will never be forgiven (Mt 12:31–32 par. Mk 3:28–29 and Lk 12:10; cf. Did. 11.7; Gos. Thom. 44; Gos. Bar. 5:2). These sayings have caused much scholarly debate and anguish among Christians. The Aramaic original of the first saying was probably a broad statement saying that all sins and blasphemies on the part of or against persons (bar ʾenāšāʾ, a generic or collective term) will be forgiven, except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. By translating the generic singular of the Aramaic with the plurals “the sons of men,” Mark means that all people will be forgiven all sins and blasphemies—except blasphemies against the Holy Spirit (Mk 3:28–29). The Q* tradition, probably best represented by Luke 12:10, took the saying to refer to blaspheming against the Son of man, or Jesus, being forgiven. Matthew 12:31–32 is a conflation of Q* and Mark.

The origin of these sayings has been discussed at length. The “Amen, I say to you” sayings (see Amen), such as this one, have been thought to have arisen either from Hellenistic Christian prophets* within the context of worship* or from a Jewish apocalyptic* milieu. However, it is yet to be shown how this unparalleled formula came to be attributed exclusively to Jesus. Indeed, the use of amēn in the Gospels is without parallel. In Jewish literature (e.g., Num 5:22; Deut 27:15; Neh 5:13; y. Soṭa 18b; b. Šebu. 36a) and the remainder of the NT (Rom 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 15:33; 16:27; 1 Cor 14:16; 16:24; Gal 1:5; Rev 5:14; 7:12; 22:20) it was a response formula assenting to someone else’s blessing,* curse, oath,* word or prayer* (though see T. Abr. 8:7). Occasionally it was added to one’s own prayer as a concluding hope (Tob 8:8; m. Taʿan. 4:8). However, in all the strata of traditions in the Gospels it is used exclusively to introduce and confirm Jesus’ own words. This factor, along with the retention of “amen” in its Semitic form, the unusual Semitism of the phrase “the sons of men,” the accompanying sayings associating Jesus’ ministry with sinners, and the unprecedented scope of forgiveness, indicates the authenticity of the saying about all sins and blasphemies being forgiven.

The second saying, that of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, appears to contradict the previous saying. However this is an established OT idiom (Gen 2:16–17; Ex 12:10) and is also found elsewhere in the NT (Mt 15:24–32; 25:29; Mk 2:17; 9:37; Jn 1:11–12; 7:16). In this way the gravity of the sin that is excepted is emphasized. In light of the harshness and severity of the saying, its authenticity can hardly be doubted.

2.1. The Unforgivable Sin. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the nature of the unforgivable sin. For Jesus the ambiguous statement, as reconstructed above, would have meant that an attack on him was pardonable, perhaps because the public mystery of his true mission and identity could mean that it was done innocently (cf. Acts 3:17). However, an attack on the Spirit of God working in him was beyond forgiveness. That would be detracting from the power (see Authority and Power) and majesty of God. In turn, the saying shows that Jesus was conscious of unprecedented spiritual power at work through himself, which he considered to be self-evidently of God.

For Mark the two sayings meant that all sins are forgivable except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is, to have seen the power of his ministry, as in his exorcisms (see Demon, Devil, Satan), and then to say that Jesus had an unclean spirit was an attack on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s work was thereby attributed not to God but to Satan (Mk 3:22; cf. Is 5:20). There can be no greater sin.

Matthew has a similar perspective, but by deleting the reference to Jesus’ contemporaries (Mk 3:30) he makes the sayings more obviously applicable to the early church. Thus for Matthew it may have been forgivable not to recognize the identity of Jesus (cf. 21:32), but there was no excuse for the Christian who did not recognize the work of the Spirit. That would amount to apostasy.

In Luke the saying appears in the context of teaching about the followers of Jesus being called on to defend themselves and their ministries (Lk 12:8–12). To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit would be to deny God and the work of his Spirit in their lives, especially his ability to support them in trying times. In Acts 5:1–5 Luke gives an example of an unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit.

  1. Jesus Accused of Blasphemy

All the Gospels agree that Jesus claimed or admitted equality with God—or claimed to be the Son of God (see Son of God)—and that this was considered by the Jews to be blasphemous and worthy of the death penalty (Mt 26:63–66; Mk 14:61–65; Lk 22:66–71; Jn 10:31–39; 19:7).

3.1. Blasphemy and God’s Prerogative to Forgive. In Mark 2:5 Jesus is reported as saying, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (par. Mt 9:3 and Lk 5:21). This passive expression would probably have been understood as an attempt to avoid pronouncing God’s name: “God forgives you.” The ambiguity of the statement “your sins are forgiven,” which is consistent with Jesus’ self-disclosure, could mean that Jesus was merely providing the man with assurance (cf. Mt 9:2, tharsei, “take heart”), reporting to the man the forgiveness God was offering him (cf. 2 Sam 12:13). However, the Aramaic expression reflected in the present indicative passive, “they are forgiven” (aphientai) means, “your sins are at this moment forgiven.” Indeed, the scribes are said to interpret the saying as Jesus himself offering forgiveness: “Can it be that this fellow thus blasphemes? Who can forgive sins but God?” (Mk 2:7 par. Mt 9:3 and Lk 5:21). In turn Jesus affirms that he was forgiving sins; that is, he did what the scribes considered to be the prerogative of God (Mk 2:10 par. Mt 9:6 and Lk 5:24).

As was seen above, in Jesus’ time there was a wide understanding of the nature of blasphemy. On the one hand, according to the narrow rabbinic definition of blasphemy, Jesus would not be guilty before the Law. In the Qumran document known as the Prayer of Nabonidus (4QPrNab), an exorcist is said to pardon the sin of a sick person. On the other hand, a more general definition of blasphemy known to Philo (Vit. Mos. 2.206) would indicate that those who observed Jesus may have thought he had encroached on the prerogative of God. Furthermore, there is a strand of tradition in the OT (Ex 34:6–7; Ps 103:3; 130:4; Is 43:25; 44:22; Dan 9:9), as well as in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 2:9; CD 3:18; 20:34), in which God is clearly the one who forgives. Not even the Messiah (see Christ) was expected to forgive sins, only to be the means whereby God would forgive in the eschaton (Is 53; Jer 31; cf. Tg. Is 53:4–6). The offense, then, was the diminishing of God’s majesty and honor by usurping a role considered to be uniquely his alone.

3.2. Jesus Made Himself to be Equal with God. In John’s Gospel there are passages where statements by Jesus are said to provoke the Jews to accuse him of blasphemy or even attempt to carry out the death penalty for blasphemy.

3.2.1. John 5:16–18 provides the conclusion to the story of Jesus healing* a lame man at the Bethzatha pool and contains two accusations. The first is that “because he does these things” (hoti tauta epoiei) on the Sabbath* (cf. Jn 9:14; 20:30) the Jews persecute Jesus. The second accusation, of making himself equal to God, arises out of Jesus’ response to the first accusation. Jesus’ claim to be able to work on the Sabbath is based on his claiming the same right as his Father to work continually, including on the Sabbath (2 Macc 9:12; Ep. Arist. 210; Philo Leg. All. 1.5–6; Cher. 87–88; Corp. Herm. 11.5, 14; Exod. Rab. 30:6; Gen. Rab. 11:10). The Jews find fault in this not only because he claimed God to be his own Father (patera idion) but in claiming his capacity for common activity with God he also claimed to be equal with God. As in Mark 2:7 (see 3.1. above) the blasphemous act was in usurping the uniqueness or prerogative of God.

3.2.2. In John 8:58 Jesus says, “Before Abraham* was born (genesthai), I am (egō eimi).” In John’s Gospel egō eimi represents the name of God. So John portrays the Jews attempting to carry out the death sentence for blasphemy as set out in Leviticus 24:16. The historicity of this claim by Jesus has been brought into serious question by some NT scholars. Nevertheless, John is probably correct in indicating that, prior to trying him for blasphemy before the Sanhedrin,* the Jewish authorities perceived evidence of blasphemy in Jesus’ activity and his view of himself.

3.2.3. John 10:33 is the first time the official charge of blasphemy occurs in the Fourth Gospel. It would not be blasphemous for someone to describe Jesus as divine. According to Scripture God’s anointed would be called God’s Son (2 Sam 7:14; 1 Chron 17:13). What would be blasphemous, according to John, is Jesus himself claiming this divine status for himself; the blasphemy of self-deification. Jesus answers the charge by quoting from Psalm 82:6, thereby showing that it is not blasphemous to refer to people like judges as “gods” through whom the Word of God came. Jesus also says that as he has been given this status (hagiazein) and sent into the world by the Father, it cannot be blasphemous for him to say “I am the Son of God” (10:36). The Jews are not satisfied. Perhaps they feel his answer is beside the point since Jesus is claiming to be more than a son of God in a reduced sense, for John says that they attempted to arrest Jesus (Jn 10:39). Although they were initially unsuccessful, they eventually took him to trial (Jn 19:7).

3.3. Jesus Tried for Blasphemy. Matthew and Mark agree that the charge of blasphemy was involved in the trial of Jesus (Mt 26:57–75 par. Mk 14:53–72; cf. Lk 22:54–71; see Trial of Jesus). Jesus is asked if he is the Messiah (su ei ho Christos; Mt 26:63 par. Mk 14:61 and Lk 22:67). Jesus’ two-part answer provokes the charge of blasphemy. In Mark the first part of Jesus’ reply was probably “I am” (egō eimi, 14:62, cf. Codex Koridethi anus [Θ]; Mt 26:63). The fact that Jesus took on a messianic title or identity which only God could bestow and confirm by his blessing may, in itself, have been considered blasphemous (cf. Jn 19:7; Acts 5:34–39). This may have caused Matthew to place the responsibility for the direct answer back on the high priest by having Jesus say, “You have said so” (Mt 26:64), and for Luke to have Jesus evade the answer. In turn both Matthew and Luke have Jesus say, in effect, that God will confirm his messiahship. The second part of Jesus’ reply is about the Son of man being seated at the right hand of Power (Lk 22:69; cf. Ps 110:1), and is generally agreed to belong to the reliable traditions about Jesus. In its original Jewish setting this saying was probably meant to emphasize God’s approval. This would have compounded the earlier blasphemous act of taking on a messianic title. In Matthew and Mark Jesus’ answer concludes with an allusion to Daniel 7:13 which reinforces Jesus’ claims of a unique relationship with God. As related in the Mishnah, the appropriate response for the high priest having heard blasphemy is to tear his clothes (cf. m. Sanh. 7:5).

See also Holy Spirit; “I AM” Sayings; Son of God; Son of Man; Trial of Jesus.

Bibliography. E. Bammel, ed., The Trial of Jesus (SBT, 2d ser., 13; 2d ed.; London: SCM, 1971); J. Blinzler, The Trial of Jesus (3d ed.; Cork: Mercier, 1961); M. E. Boring, “The Unforgiveable Sin Logion Mark III 28–29/ Matt XII 31–32/Luke XII 10,” NovT 18 (1976) 258–79; D. R. Catchpole, The Trial of Jesus (SPB 18; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1971); J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979); O. E. Evans, “The Unforgivable Sin,” ExpT 68 (1957) 240–44; D. Juel, Messiah and Temple (SBLDS 31; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1977); O. Linton, “The Trial of Jesus and the Interpretation of Psalm CX,” NTS 7 (1960–61) 265–62; E. Lövestam, Spiritus Blasphemia (Lund; Gleerup, 1968); Str-B I.1006–20.

  1. H. Twelftree[2]

From Vines Expository Dictionary

  1. Verb.

blasphēmeō (βλασφημέω , (987)), to blaspheme, rail at or revile, is used (a) in a general way, of any contumelious speech, reviling, calumniating, railing at etc., as of those who railed at Christ, e.g., Matt. 27:39; Mark 15:29; Luke 22:65 (R.V., “reviling”); 23:39; (b) of those who speak contemptuously of God or of sacred things, e.g., Matt. 9:3; Mark 3:28; Rom. 2:24; 1 Tim. 1:20; 6:1; Rev. 13:6; 16:9, 11, 21; “hath spoken blasphemy,” Matt. 26:65; “rail at,” 2 Pet. 2:10; Jude 8, Jude 10; “railing,” 2 Pet. 2:12; “slanderously reported,” Rom. 3:8; “be evil spoken of,” Rom. 14:16; 1 Cor. 10:30; 2 Pet. 2:2; “speak evil of,” Tit. 3:2; 1 Pet. 4:4; “being defamed,” 1 Cor. 4:13. The verb (in the present participial form) is translated “blasphemers” in Acts 19:37; in Mark 2:7, “blasphemeth,” R.V., for A.V., “speaketh blasphemies.”

There is no noun in the original representing the English “blasphemer.”This is expressed either by the verb, or by the adjective blasphemos. See Defame, Rail, Report, Revile.

  1. Adjective.

blasphēmos (βλάσφημος , (989)), abusive, speaking evil, is translated “blasphemous,” in Acts 6:11, 13; “a blasphemer,” 1 Tim. 1:13; “railers,” 2 Tim. 3:2, R.V.; “railing,” 2 Pet. 2:11. See Rail.¶

Note: As to Christ’s teaching concerning blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, e.g., Matt. 12:32, that anyone, with the evidence of the Lord’s power before His eyes, should declare it to be Satanic, exhibited a condition of heart beyond Divine illumination and therefore hopeless. Divine forgiveness would be inconsistent with the moral nature of God. As to the Son of Man, in his state of humiliation, there might be misunderstanding, but not so with the Holy Spirit’s power demonstrated.[3]

[1] Martin, R. P. (1996). Blasphemy. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 142). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Twelftree, G. H. (1992). Blasphemy. In J. B. Green & S. McKnight (Eds.), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (pp. 75–77). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[3] Vine, W. E., & Bruce, F. F. (1981). Vine’s Expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (Vol. 2, pp. 131–132). Old Tappan NJ: Revell.

New Testament Use of the Old Testament Exegesis and Interpretation by Beale

Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation

  1. Identify the OT reference
  2. Analyze the broad NT context
  3. Survey the OT context, broadly and immediately
  4. Survey the use of the OT text in early Judaism
  5. Compare the texts (LXX, MT, etc)
  6. Analyze the author’s use of the OT
  7. Analyze the hermeneutical use of the OT Text
  8. Analyze the theological use of the OT Text
  9. Analyze the rhetorical use of the OT text.

Who is This Man? Reading Biblical Narratives

See the whole essay at Who is this Man and the Whole Story of Redemption

 Who is This Man?
How To Read Biblical Narratives

Stephen Hague
June, 2016

Table of contents

I.___ The fragmentation of the biblical text by liberals and conservatives 2

II.__ The antidote to fragmentation: Biblical Theology_ 2

  1. To illustrate this definition of Biblical Theology, consider an analogy in music 3
  2. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the analogies found in art 5
  3. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the analogies found in  literature_ 8
  4. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the story of Elijah, a prophet of God: 1 Ki 17:1-24_ 9
  5. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the story the Storm on the Sea of Galilee:  “What kind of man is this?_ 14

III.                   In conclusion, some of the problems with exemplorizing and spiritualizing biblical narratives: 15

IV.___ Biblical Theology bibliography_ 16

V.__ Illustrations 18

See the whole essay at Who is this Man and the Whole Story of Redemption


The metaphysics of meaning, part I: taxonomy, the disappearance of the author, and the death of God

 The life and death matter of language and hermeneutics

“Society is endangered to the extent that any of us loses faith in meaning, consequence.”
Robert Adams, Beauty in Photography, p. 70.

“ . . . It is worth pointing out that that one of the implications of Jesus as representative reality is that every thing or fact in reality has some point of unity with, and some point of distinction
from, every other thing or fact in reality.”
                             Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel Centered Hermeneutics, p. 302.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam’s primary hermeneutical task was to name the creatures (Gen 2:20) over which he was to also have dominion-care. This task of taxonomy involved the use of language signs to identify by naming, so that the names he assigned to them would be their markers of identification. That is, the naming-words would correspond to the reality of the creatures’ identity in a very real way. This is not to say that the sign-words themselves could involve only one corresponding sign to their referent, but rather that Adam used what language God had given him to assign names that would create a correlation for identification and differentiation. In other words, we are not supposing a necessarily ontological correlation between the names and their referents, but rather that of a personal identification. For my purpose, nevertheless, what is of hermeneutical interest here is that Adam’s role in taxonomy was something of an interpretive one, and it was really the beginning of all human knowledge in all of its many diverse branches, and especially the sciences. Therefore, it can be said that this hermeneutical task was also prophetic in that it would include the gathering and interpreting of the boundless information available to him in the unfallen universe. This interpretative role of identifying and classifying involved the need for understanding language, gathering knowledge of the created world, proper interpretation, discovery and new insights that would have presumably lead to ever increasing science, art, literature, theology, philosophy, architecture, and all avenues of human life.

The simple truth is that all of that was, and is, entirely dependent upon the greatest gift given to humankind (besides life itself) and that is language and the ability to communicate. This is the basis of all meaning, all knowledge, and all of life: that language corresponds with reality in a coherent and comprehensible way. The reason for this foundational necessity for all of life is that the One who created this universe is a Triune communicating Godhead: God the Logos spoke and created all that is by his infinite power. The Logos is the reason, the rationale, the source of all meaning for the created and named universe, which includes all that is in it.  Therefore, the creating and sustaining of reality is logical and orderly, since God must be consistent with himself as the one who ordered all reality according to his reasons and purposes. His rationale is absolute and perfect since it comes from his perfect person who is true in all that he is. Since there is an absolute, and necessary (since a perfect God can have no inconsistencies or contradictions), selfconsistency and coherence in the Triune God, there is also logical consistency and coherence in his creation, though it is always contingent upon God who is the Logos.

In light of these considerations, therefore, to remove the possibility of all certitude for meaning in language, communication, and interpretation would be to strike at the very foundations of all reality and human existence. In response, it is quite important to confront the “hermeneutical suspicion” that is preached from every roof-top and in every sophomoric classroom in the universities today. If language itself can be shown to represent nothing more than suspect power-plays, prejudices, and abuses of power, then all communication truly cannot be trusted to convey any certain truth. In fact, even truthful communications become unbelievable in such a “universe of discourse.” If this temptation to disbelieve all communications, resulting from such a deep “hermeneutical incredulity,” then practically anything becomes believable. When Adam and Eve were lured into the hermeneutical quandary of questioning the very words of God, what began was the suspicion that language signs and their meanings are arbitrary and altogether unreliable, while casting doubt on the Author himself.

“The fate of hermeneutics and humanity alike stand or fall together.”[1]

In one sense, therefore, we can say that the “Fall” of humanity began with incredulity towards the meaning of God’s words, redefinitions of absolutes as relative, and reassigning meaning arbitrarily towards disbelief, as continued today quite precisely in the Post-modern world of the “hermeneutics of suspicion.” In that world, words are understood as arbitrary systems of conventions that are indeterminate in meaning, but more seriously they are all suspect of ulterior agendas of power and abuse, and thus logically and “morally” untrustworthy.  Within this view, all language contains bias and communicates them necessarily, making it impossible to have any certitude that there is true, or truthful, meaning and communication. Indeed, the situation today is even worse than the latter, in that it is widely assumed that since words cannot correspond with true meaning, interpretations of reality do not. And further, since there can be no certain meaning communicated then it is the interpreter who determines the meaning. In that hermeneutic, there is no correct interpretation, only preferences. With such a semantical, hermeneutical shift, removing language from meaning results in the disappearance of the author. In our understanding, it removes the Author of all reason and rationality, the meaning and the giver of meaning, the Logos. If there is “no meaning in the text,” the very fabric of all reality and human life in it can have no integration point for significance, for meaning, for any “correct interpretation” of anything at all. Without any epistemological possibility, or certitude, for meaning, then there can be no metaphysical affirmation of anything that transcends human reality (as God does), nor true knowledge of anything in created reality, nor true moral knowledge, and certainly not true theological knowledge.  It comes as no surprise then to find that many modern philosophers cherish this idea of total indeterminacy, since God is in conclusion no longer a necessity, nor even within the realm of possible knowledge.

For example, in the modern movement of Deconstruction there is what is called slippage between the signified and the signifier that leads to total skepticism about the possibility of language to communicate. This slippage in meaning is characterized as the function of absence not presence, as in the absence of the “transcendental signified” (i.e., God). Kevin Vanhoozer notes, “Deconstruction undoes logocentrism by unraveling the texture of every logos (e.g., consciousness, authorial intention, ideas, revelation.”[2] This is found in such famous writers like Jacques Derrida who concluded that there is no objectivity in anything. In fact, there is no object to consider, only oppositions that need to be deconstructed by the interpreter. Thus the moniker “deconstruction,” to take apart and undo traditional distinctions and definitions until there is nothing there at all to discuss, except the comments of the observer. Unsurprisingly, Derrida’s conclusion was that there is no truth available about anything in any text or event in life. Vanhoozer notes that for Derrida this also meant a repudiation of all concepts of the “Word of God” as nothing but a privileged, logocentric, hermeneutical bluff that must be deconstructed.[3] Similarly, Frederic Nietzsche’s famous cynical contributions to this hermeneutical agnosticism and atheism included the conclusion that “god is dead,” and primarily since there can be no absolute God’s eye point-of-view, humans must impose their own meaning as a fiction on reality. Quoting Mark Taylor and Roland Barthes, Vanhoozer summarizes well this movement towards deconstruction as follows:

“’The death of God was the disappearance of the Author who had ascribed absolute truth and univocal meaning in world history and human experience.’[4] The death of God is linked to the disappearance of the human author too: Roland Barthes writes that the refusal to assign a fixed meaning either to the world or to texts ‘liberates an activity we may call countertheological, properly revolutionary, for to refuse to halt meaning is finally to refuse God.”[5]

With great irony, often unnoted, many Postmodern Deconstructionists use biblical categories when they consider all traditionalist assertions of epistemic certitude as idolatrous. To deconstruct the text of all meaning in their view is to tear down all traditions of authority, interpretation, and truth so that there is no constraint leftover to obstruct the individual. Honestly considered, nevertheless, this total freedom presumably would also apply to the deconstruction of the Deconstructionists. As in all systems of total relativism, it collapses by force of its own anarchism upon itself, since it is self-contradicting in its absolute claim of absolutely no determinate meaning. If all truth is relative, then so is this sentence, along with the unsound edifice of Deconstructionism.

In seeking a response to these matters, I found that Graeme Goldsworthy makes a profound observation for Christian theology that may guide us towards a resolution: that is, there is unity and distinction in the universe because of the Trinity.[6] In the biblical view of all total reality is this profoundly important, yet simple, truth that there is unity and distinction between every single created thing, since there is unity and distinction within the triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (unity without fusion). The fundamental and irrevocable truth this conveys is, as logicians posit it, that A is not non A. Foundational to all understanding, of anything, it is a fact that there is both unity and differentiation between everything that is.

As Goldsworthy states it very well: “. . . it is worth pointing out that that one of the implications of Jesus as representative reality is that every thing or fact in reality has some point of unity with, and some point of distinction from, every other thing or fact on reality. To put it another way, the doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, creation and the distinction between God and creation establish the unity/distinction of all things.”[7]

There is a unity, yet also an absolute differentiation-distinction, between God the Creator and all of his creation. As there is a unity and distinction between God and humanity, there is a unity and distinction between humans, and animals, and plants, as well as inanimate creation. Importantly, there is the unity and distinction between male and female, as God created them with unity yet with absolute differentiation. There is this law of identification and differentiation at all levels of reality, and therefore it applies to all things in reality, including space and time, signs and the signified, literal and symbolic, and it allows us to know and understand why there is something rather than nothing. In Biblical Theology, it also gives us unity and differentiation in regards to Adam and humanity, Adam and Christ, the representative one and the many, creation and redemption, promise and fulfillment, types and antitypes, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the signs of the promise and their realities, prefigurations and their antecedents, the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the transcendence and immanence of God, the human and divine authors of scripture, the unity and differentiation between the Old Testament and the New Testament, their continuities and discontinuities, the enscripturated Word and the Incarnate Word, the Word of God and the Spirit of God, as well as the relationship of the original creation to the coming new creation. This latter example would include our present earthly life with sinful bodies and souls, and our future earthly life of resurrected bodies and souls, as this is assured from the necessary resurrection and ascension and glorification of Jesus.  This is expressed in our understanding that the Kingdom of God has come but is still coming, Christ is now Victor, yet someday all the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever . . . (Rev 11:15).

This truth of unity and distinction obliterates the assumptions of monism, pantheism, animism, dualism, humanism, Deconstructionism, PostModernism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen, and every other ism that blurs, negates, exaggerates, or denies the unity and distinctions created into the universal order of reality. This would also apply to those who would collapse all of reality into the fusion of yin and yang, or those who collapse male and female distinctions, or the Postmodern attempt to collapse signs and what they signify in all of human language that leads naturally from a “hermeneutics of suspicion” to “epistemological atheism.”

In conclusion, the reason that total indeterminacy in meaning is itself really quite impossible is that every effort to articulate such a philosophy itself depends at every turn upon the intrinsic fact of unity and differentiation in all of reality. And this is why it is a life and death matter, since all knowledge and interpretation and meaning in this life depend upon unity and distinction. If we can no longer name or be named, we can no longer know or be known. If there is no Logos, no possibility of identification, unity nor differentiation, nor coherence, there can be no universe in which we can find and know any meaning or significance. Most seriously, there can be no true relationship to God, his universe, and to one another. It would mean not only the “death of God,” it would necessarily mean the end of humanity and all of its endeavors, as well as the collapse of reality itself. Fortunately, we can rest assured that this cannot in fact happen, since the world was indeed created by the infinite triune God, the Logos, by his naming-creating words, who also sustains it by his infinite power, and who wove into its every atom and molecule the principles of unity and distinction, and who gave us who are made in his image the task of naming and interpreting all things to his eternal glory.

Something Rather Than Nothing
& the Answer to Everything

“All people in this world are made to give evidence or to signify something.”
Robert Adams, Beauty in Photography, p. 60.

Why is there something
rather than nothing?
Why is A not non A?
Unity and distinction,
differentiation and similarity,
freedom and responsibility,
one and the many,
promise and fulfillment,
signs and symbols,
something and nothing,
divine and human,
man and woman,
Creator and creature,
created and uncreated,
animate and inanimate,
humans and animals,
animals and plants,
comets, asteroids, planets,
names of unity
and distinction,
naming the names of all things,
animate and inanimate,
the Father, Son, Holy Spirit,
unity and differentiation,
without fusion,
without separation,
immanence and transcendence,
Name and Glory,
the Father from whom
all are named
by Adam as distinct man
from Eve,
in unity and distinction,
each one someone,
rather than no-one,
different, yet similar,
free, yet responsible,
human, not divine,
naming all, rather than nothing,
with freedom and identification,
identity, not non-identity,
persons, not non-persons?
This is unity and distinction,
the key to the universe
of all names, knowledge,
and reality, not non-reality,
stars, quarks, neutrinos
are something,
and why A is not non A,
and why something is not just anything.

This is the answer to everything.

As trust is to construct
so sign is to consign
as signify is to entrust
so name is to design
as consider is to know
so compose is to specify
as find is to consider
so testify is to indicate
as acknowledge is to witness
so investigate is to concede
as speak is to designate
so declare is to unveil
as certitude is to signatories
so to allocate is to identify
as to regard one
as well as the other.

As to entitle is to envision
so to uname is to dismantle
as to deconstruct
is to names, signs, and symbols
metaphors, motifs, and allusions,
figures that direct and represent
as one against the other
as not the other.

As to assign is to find
so to unsignify is to disassemble
the one and the other,
as to mask is to obfuscate
so to classify is to unmask
the other
as to see is to discover
the names of all others
so to know is to love
as the apprised true beauty
of those identified
as truly signified.

Names to remember: all.

Precepts on the theory of everything:

The definite article
definitely identifies
the thing it articulates.

The indefinite article is inarticulate,
but definitely identifies the thing as

There is no “thing in itself”
but the thing in relation to others,
in unity and distinction with each other.

The image is a sign
of the thing in relation,
and is not a thing in itself.

The sign is the significance
of the thing itself,
in unity and distinction from all other things.

The whole is not just One
but the unity of the many,
unique in themselves as one.

See poem also at https://stephenhague.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/something-rather-than-nothing-the-answer-to-everything/

[1] Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text: the Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), p. 22.

[2] Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, p. 111.

[3] Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, p. 22.

[4] Mark C. Taylor, Deconstructing Theology (AAR Studies in Religion 28; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982), p. 35.

[5] Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, p. 30, quoting Roland Barthes, “Death of the Author,” in The Rustle of Language, translated by Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), p. 54.

[6] See Graeme Goldsworthy’s excellent discussion of this in Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016), chapter 19.

[7] Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, p. 302.

For pdf, see The life and death matter of language and hermeneutics

The Marvelous Unity of the Bible

For printable pdf file, click The Marvelous Unity of the Bible by Stephen Hague

The Marvelous Unity of the Bible
Stephen Hague

chainbckJesus says in Jn 10:35 that “the scripture cannot be broken” which means that the OT is completely trustworthy (and by implication, it is a unity). Similarly, in 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” By implication, its multifaceted parts from many authors and centuries is a textual and theological unity trustworthy in every aspect, and therefore it cannot err.

Considering the increase of contemporary interest in the many spurious texts such as the so-called, “gospel” of Judas, questions are often raised about the independent unity, uniqueness, and veracity of the Bible.[1]  Such texts, nevertheless, do not pose any worthy challenge to the authenticity or unity of the Bible whatsoever, since these texts arose in Gnostic circles that were a counter-community to the Christian church in its early history. These texts are not from the Christian church, and indeed were often penned to contradict the NT gospels and epistles. In fact, Gnosticism has frequently posed similar challenges to the church’s historical claim of only one unified revelation, the canon of the Bible.

Indeed, there has also been a significant increase of Gnostic views in recent years in the USA.[2] Gnosticism is a reinterpretation of the Christian faith in terms of pagan philosophy and religion. This essay is not, nevertheless, a lesson in Gnosticism, but in the unity of the biblical text which can be illustrated by briefly contrasting it with those who advocate disunity, such as the Gnostics.

Ancient and modern advocates of disunity: Marcion Sinope (70AD-150AD) was a Gnostic who believed in a sharp dualism between the NT God of mercy in Christ and the OT God of justice. This meant a total disunity between the OT and the NT, Israel and the church: he considered the God of the OT a vindictive God of law, inferior to the NT God of grace, love, and mercy. Marcion was excommunicated from the Roman church c.144 AD, but he succeeded in establishing churches of his own to rival the Christian church for some two centuries. Marcion’s Bible rejected the Mosaic Law and the three NT Gospels, but accepted ten epistles of Paul and some Gnostic texts. Though the church fathers condemned Marcion as a blaspheming heretic, he is praised widely in modern times: Adolf Von Harnack called Marcion “the first Protestant.” Nevertheless, Polycarp, who knew the Apostle John, called Marcion “the first-born of Satan.”

Despite rejection of Gnosticism by the majority of Christendom over the centuries, today there is a prevailing Marcionite viewpoint on the Bible.[3]  This is seen in a widespread, bifurcated overemphasis on the NT and an under emphasis on the OT (indeed, frequent avoidance). This is seen in the widely noted fact that the majority of teaching and preaching and Christian devotion concentrates on the NT. This is characterized in diverse ways:

  • Some assume a radical discontinuity between the OT and the NT, a permanent “antithetical tension.”
  • Others, such as R. Bultmann, believe the OT is a miscarriage of history, and assume a complete discontinuity between the two testaments. (Some of this derives from the Lutheran law/gospel polarity between the OT and the NT.)
  • Other, such as A. Harnack, completely dismiss the OT, and some like F. Delitzsch say the OT is an unchristian book!
  • Many others today accept mistaken, radical dualities between OT law and NT grace, OT holiness and NT love, OT judgment and NT mercy.

In contrast, in the early church, such leaders as Irenaeus (A.D. 180), a pupil of Polycarp (pupil of John), emphasized “the unity of God’s progressive revelation.” And, this has been the orthodox view from that time, although not always held to universally. In support of the orthodox view, it can be demonstrated that the canon of the Scripture has an unmatched continuity and a textual and topical/theological unity that displays a coherence and cohesion of both the individual books and the diverse texts as a whole.

In another fragmenting way, Saint Augustine’s (b.354) latter influence up into the medieval era analyzed the OT on the basis of five distinct historical periods and encouraged the use of the allegorical method. The allegorical method prevailed for centuries, and prevented a proper historical understanding of the Bible’s unity and coherence. Although, in response to this, Martin Luther wanted to return to more biblical hermeneutics and biblical theology, he unfortunately placed a strong emphasis on the discontinuity between law and grace, assuming the law was from the OT and grace from the NT. This polarity prevails in many circles today, and is quite contrary to the gospel of grace revealed in both the OT and the NT, as well as the ongoing relevance of the law for believers in all ages. Such supposed dualities as holiness and love, judgment and mercy, cannot be found in a careful study of the relationship of the two Testaments.

The later Protestant Reformation did eventually bring a major shift away from the medieval allegorization of the Scripture, and also Luther’s polarization of law and grace. In this sense, the Reformation was a hermeneutical return to what we now call grammatical-historical exegesis. This perspective stresses the covenantal unity of the Bible, non-allegorical, literal-historical interpretation, and avoidance of spiritualizing and exemplorizing the text that fragments the whole into disconnected moral lessons: it is essentially a CONTEXTUAL interpretation.

As noted already, modern historical-critics (a.k.a.,“liberals”), sharply distinguished OT Theology from NT theology (B. Gabler) and have held a rationalist distrust/denial of the supernatural in the Bible (L. Baur). They have also generally held to a total fragmentation of the unity of the Bible due to the supposed conflicting theologies of the Bible. This is an indisputable doctrine of faith for most modern critics. Practically speaking, this results in treating the Bible as a hodge-podge collection of ancient tales and fables with occasional moral lessons worth considering.

Similarly, and ironically, in conservative and Evangelical circles, Dispensational hermeneutics has often sacrificed the unity of scripture and plan of salvation and obscured the one people of God with one destiny, which the scripture teaches. Dispensationalism rejects both the unity of God’s revelation and the fact that God’s purpose is “held forth with more fullness” (Confession of Faith, Ch. VII, Sec. 6) in the NT than it is in the Old. Dispensationalism holds that large portions even of the New Testament are for the Jewish Nation, not for the Church. In speaking of the Scriptures for the Church, L. Chafer says, “The Scrip­tures addressed specifically to this company are the Gospel by John—especially the upper room discourse,—the Acts and the Epistles.”[4] Dispensationalism declares that the Sermon on the Mount is for the Jews of the Kingdom period, and is “law not grace.”[5] The Lord’s Prayer and the Great Commission are as­signed by some to the Jews of the “tribulation” period, and not to the Church.[6]

There is also another common interpretive approach taken in conservative contexts that largely reads and teaches the Scripture from a moralizing perspective that considers the many stories, characters, institutions, and events of the Bible as primarily a source-book for moral behavior. This too fragments the unified metanarrative of the redemption-story of the Scripture, reducing the parts to the equivalent of Aesop’s Fables. Even more concerning in this approach, than failing to understand the contexts of the text in its redemptive-historical context, is that recipients receive a “gospel” of works and “sin management” (as Dallas Willard calls it). Graeme Goldsworthy describes this present problem in this way:

Countering the deliberate attacks on the unity of the Bible mounted by humanistic criticism is one task that we must undertake. In addition, we must also recognize that the unity of the Bible has suffered by default in the evangelical camp. This is nowhere more clearly evident than in the way the Bible is preached by many evangelicals. Texts are taken out of context; and applications are made without due concern for what the biblical author, which is ultimately the Holy Spirit, is seeking to convey by the text. Problem-centered and topical preaching becomes the norm, and character studies treat the heroes and heroines of the Bible as isolated examples of how to live.[7]

The logic of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) involves the unity and diversity intrinsic to God’s nature and revelation (one divine author, many human authors of the text), as well as the disunity and diversity intrinsic to human interpreters. Redemption-history has a diversity of forms, and thus adequate principles must be applied to interpret properly both form and content. The logic of biblical theology is the history of redemption itself  which follows the broad scheme of CreationFallRedemption. And which also will include final Judgment.

The logic of biblical interpretation also involves the function of the Bible in the life of believers and the church. There is an intrinsic need for our hermeneutics to correlate with life lived and the need for it to transform our logic and thinking through accurate interpretation of revelation and life. That is, hermeneutics must enable us to interpret God’s revelation for the church – a divine necessity – to bring the Word of God to God’s people with clarity and conviction. In order for this to occur, we must have full confidence in the textual and theological unity of the whole of the Scripture in order to honestly apply it in that way. This will also include showing the unity and complementarity of the many themes of the two Testaments (especially those that are often understood dualistically: e.g., law and grace, holiness and love, judgment and mercy).

An important final question regarding biblical unity: does the word of God have a center (Mitte)?

This must be asked, considering that many claim (emphatically) that there is no unifying theological center for the Bible, as already stated in modern biblical criticism’s view of total textual and theological fragmentation of the biblical canon. Such a view is an entirely unsatisfactory consideration of the biblical text and does not stand up to the evidence. The same can be said of all moralistic exemplorizing of the Scripture that fails to grasp the unity of the text and thus completely fails to interpret it contextually.

There have been numerous suggestions for a unifying center of biblical theology, arising naturally out of the unified nature of the Bible. Even from those who would not hold to a “high view” of the Bible as inspired and inerrant, there have often been suggestions of a central thread or theological spine for biblical theology. Some suggested “centers” of OT theology include: Covenant, Holiness of God, God is Lord, the Election of Israel, Rulership of God, Kingdom of God, Universal dominion of Yahweh, Communion of God and Man, Yahweh the God of Israel, Israel the people of God, the dialectal theme of the Presence and Absence of God, God’s promise and blessing first stated in Gen 12, the Christian gospel, and the Biblical notion of community.

As interesting as this search is for a unifying center for the Bible (in light of the general consensus that there is no unity whatsoever), I would suggest that these proposed “centers” do not suffice because they are more properly defined as major and minor themes that serve the overarching main theme of the Bible which is the revelation in deed and word of God’s redemption of sinful humankind. Redemption of sinful humanity involves the restoration of communion with God who is holy. That is, it is a restoration to the presence of God, a “re-creation” of the Edenic relationship of God with his creation, and also of eternal glorification in the kingdom of God in the new heavens and the new earth. This does not mean that every single verse and word of the OT has as its “center” this theme, but that every single verse and word has its significant place within the larger context of God’s redemption, and that redemption is indeed the center of all human history. The backdrop to that redemption theme in Scripture is the complimenting concepts of creation and covenant: God the covenanting Creator is God the covenanting Redeemer. It can be said that all of the themes in biblical history, from Gen 3 onward, are an exposition of the relationship of creation theology to the promise and fulfillment of redemption and the new creation.

Intrinsically, and centrally related to the theme of redemption, is the Kingdom of God theme. The redemption of humanity is brought about in the process of the establishment of God’s kingdom that will never pass away. Redemption is the restoration of humans to God’s kingdom. Indeed, most all of the “centers” mentioned correspond in some way to the purposes of God in redeeming his people and establishing his kingdom, but taken as isolated themes they do not do justice to the unified revelation of the Old and New Testaments and their comprehensive relationship.

In terms of the comprehensive relationship between the two Testaments, some summary considerations for their unity and continuity:

  • The OT offers the key to the right interpretation of the NT.
  • The NT is an extensive commentary on the OT.
  • Therefore, the interpreter should beware of minimizing the OT, while also the interpreter should guard against reading into the OT that which is unwarranted and unfounded.
  • There is very extensive NT reliance on the OT, directly and by allusion, confirming their complementarities and unity.
  • All key theological NT words have their derivation from OT words, although often enriched.
  • All NT themes are rooted in, or derive from, OT themes.
  • Biblical typology has both horizontal and vertical correspondences, yet must be rigidly controlled on the basis of direct relationships the counterparts of prototype and antitype. NT antitypes go beyond their OT types. We should rely on NT indications instead of subjective fancies: typology is not
  • The common pattern of continuity between the testaments is promise-fulfillment, yet this is not the sum total of the multiplex relation of the testaments. The OT always “leads forward” to the NT: That is, a unity of eschatological perspective unites the testaments. Both OT and NT believers stand between promise and fulfillment. The NT completes the OT, while moving to the eschaton of the Day of the Lord. And both testaments point to the final consummation. In a consistently unified interpretive approach, we will always consider that each biblical text points in three primary directions: past, present, and future, unifying the whole of the canon.
  • Further, that in the continuous history of God’s people, the central theme is the redemption of God’s people and creation with the eventual consummation of his Kingdom among his people on the renewed earth. This purpose of God (past, present, and future) unites the historical process for both testaments.
  • There is a single divine plan of salvation in Jesus the Messiah: the doctrine of redemption was essentially the same for those who lived under in the OT era as it is for those in the NT era. This is especially so if we understand that the gospel promise and its reality, the new covenant of redemption, began in Gen 3:15.
  • If the canon of Scripture is a unified whole, it can be affirmed that it is entirely sufficient and trustworthy (since inspired by God) as one whole canon of the one whole gospel for the one people of God. If not unified, but disjointed and fragmented and contradictory in any way, then it is not to be counted as sufficient or trustworthy.

But does all this concern with the unity of the biblical text really matter? After all, someone might argue that they believe the kernel of the message of the Bible, and whether it is unified or not is irrelevant to their faith. In response, I suggest that the very gospel of redemption itself depends on it. That is, if we consider the Bible as God’s unique revelation inscripturated to us, then we must consider it inspired by God, and thus its message must of necessity have a coherent unity. This is especially so, in light of our belief that God himself is a Triune unity. His words to us should naturally communicate unity and coherence. This is not to say that everything is entirely clear at every given stage in the progression of revelation, for the revelation of redemption is given in unfolding stages of development. Rather, it means that the coherent unity of its many themes, motifs, prefigurations, typologies, images, symbols, prophecies, promises, allusions,  etc., are evidence of its sufficient and trustworthy testimony to the truth. It would also be very confusingly contradictory to believe that the message of the text is coherent even though it is based on a contradictory and disunified text, as many people try to sustain today. The theological message of the text depends upon the historical and textual trustworthiness of its coherence and unity.

This is observed particularly in several major biblical themes already mentioned:

The creation theme: unifies the entire bible a history about God who creates and about God who re-recreates through redemption. The promise of redemption is based on the fact of creation, since only God who created this universe could be the one to redeem his creation.

The covenant theme: unifies the various people and periods with the assurance that the promise of redemption will be fulfilled, because God the Creator and Redeemer promised. His word is faithful and true and will come to pass since he bound himself to his promise. The covenant is the grounds (and context) for God’s binding relation. His covenant is the guarantee of his promises. His promises are to redeem, to resolve the problem of our alienation from God.

The redemption theme: unifies the period following the creation and fall of humanity. This redemption theme is the central meaning of the entire Bible. The fall into sin and rebellion against God resulted in a loss of God’s presence. Sin broke the unmediated presence of God in the Garden of Eden. The promise of redemption was the promise of restoration to God and his presence.

The OT and the NT display a supernatural unity here, since both testaments are intrinsically about this restoration, and the means to that restoration. There are so many interwoven themes that correlate to this redemption-restoration that I can only mention a few here, but they all testify to the wondrous unity of the Bible:

  • In Eden, the first Adam was given to have kingly, priestly, prophetic dominion over creation, yet he sinned against God’s commands, and since then all born of Adam have sinned in Adam: “For as in Adam all die . . .” (1 Cor 15:22a).
  • In Israel, the Last Adam, Jesus Christ was given to fulfill the mandate of obedience given to the first Adam, and Jesus succeeded. All who are born anew in him have been given his righteousness: “Even so all who are in Christ Jesus will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22b).
  • Hundreds of times the OT predicted and foreshadowed a Messiah, a redeemer, a deliverer, as Prophet, Priest, and King. This trifold expectation was fully realized in Jesus, the true Prophet, true High Priest, and true King.
  • This hope of redemption is patterned also on the exodus from Egyptian slavery theme that integrates the OT with the NT. The people of God will be delivered by God from the slavery to sin.
  • The OT established the need for atonement for sin, redemption from alienation. The entire sanctuary-life of ritual and sacrifice represented this restoration to God’s holy presence. There could be no redemption without atonement. The NT shows us that ultimately only a Messiah would be able to satisfy this need for atonement (and he did just that on the Cross of his death). As the Bible begins in the paradise of God’s presence it ends with the future hope of paradise in God’s presence. This hope is made possible by the death of Jesus Christ. It is also made possible by his resurrection unto life, bodily. The resurrection of the dead is another major theme that unites the OT and the NT, for God will restore his creation through redemption. Final redemption will bring life everlasting. Redemption is a new creation and a final exodus from sin.
  • The hope of the Messiah is at the heart of the entire Bible. In a real sense, the promise of Gen 3:15 is the seed promise that all the rest of biblical history unpacks/unveils progressively.

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel”(NAS)

  • This is the gospel hope that One would come and restore, to provide the requisite means to crush the Liar, to reverse the curse on creation, to re-enter the Eden of God’s presence, the one to justify unrighteous sinners, the one to fulfill all the promises of an eternal seed, an eternal home-land, and God’s eternal presence. These three were represented throughout the OT in the promises of progeny, prosperity, and sanctuarypresence and are realized in the work of Messiah in the NT. The restoration to God’s presence would require the grace of God, this is the gospel of justification by faith that Abraham knew as well as the apostle Paul knew.
  • This is the very gospel of God which unites the OT and the NT. James 2:23-24 tells us, “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”b and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
  • Jesus clearly proclaimed the monumental importance of the unity of revelation in

Lu 24:25-27 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:44-45 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

This is why the unity of the Bible matters: the gospel of Jesus depends on it. May God open our minds to understand this unity between his testaments so that we might more clearly understand and embrace his gift of redemption and then share together his kingdom of glorious life everlasting.chainbck

Some quotes on the unity of the Bible:

In response to the many contemporary assaults on the unity of the Bible, a group of conservative scholars, pastors, and teachers wrote the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. It has an important affirmation regarding the unity of the Bible:

  • WE AFFIRM the unity, harmony and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.
  • WE DENY that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another. We deny that later writers of Scripture misinterpreted earlier passages of Scripture when quoting from or referring to them.

Readers too often project some moral or spiritual truth over a biblical character or event, paying more attention to the moral lesson they see in the narrative than to the actual story itself. The underlying objection to interpreting the Bible in a moralistic, exemplary fashion for every narrative passage is that it destroys the unity of the message of the Bible. Under this method of handling the text, each narrative tends to be cut off from the redemptive history of Christ and results in a severe fragmentation of the message of the Bible. Rather than considering the whole event, character, and episode for what it contributes to the context in which it is set, a subjective process of analogy too often takes over, along with an individualistic isolation of selected details that happen to fit the fancy of the interpreter’s purposes. Such a selection process tends to be arbitrary, subjective, and usually unrelated to the whole context of the narrative, much less to the total message of the Bible.[8]

UNITY The Bible is inextricably mingled with all that is greatest in human history, national literature, and individual life. Its influence on literature has been invaluable and supreme. Dante and Milton are wholly based on the words and truths of Scripture; Shakespeare is full of them, and Wordsworth and Tennyson and Browning. George Eliot and Victor Hugo borrowed from them their best ideals; Carlyle, Newman, and Ruskin were saturated with them from childhood. The laws of Alfred and Charlemagne were inspired by them. Judas Maccabaeus caught from them the fire of his patriotism; Gustavus Adolphus pored over them before he charged at Luetzen; Cromwell was found absorbed in them on the eve of Naseby. They have been on the lips of warriors and statesmen and martyrs at the sublimest moments of their lives, and so entirely have they decided the destinies of nations that but for them the civilization of Europe might still have been as cruel as that of Egypt and as corrupt as that of Rome.

Yet the essential unity of the writings is hardly less remarkable than their infinite variety, and in spite of its manifold elements the Bible may be regarded, under certain limitations, as an organic whole.

It has the unity of the nationality from the bosom of which it mainly sprang. It has the unity of Monotheism. It has the unity which rises from the fact that it deals exclusively with religious ends, or with ends which were regarded as bearing upon religion. It has, lastly, the unity which rises from its being the history of the dealings of God with one chosen nation; with all other nations; with individual men; and with the whole race of mankind. It describes the gradual education of the Hebrews, of the heathen, and of many separate souls, in the knowledge of the Will of the Supreme. The deepest principle of spiritual life, which consists in the sense of man’s communion with the living God, runs through all its diversities, and elevates even its rudimentary morality.[9]

Lints writes, “The Bible, in its form and its content, records the dramatic story of God reaching into human history and redeeming a people for himself. The form and content of our theology must reflect this.”[10]

“Our interpretation of the Bible ought to take into account the progress present in the ongoing unfolding of the redemptive plan of God through marked stages. It ought also to take into account the unity of the redemptive plan ensured by the divine authorship and governance of that plan.”[11]

“The structural unity-in-diversity of the theological framework does not originate with the reader or with any system imposed on the text but with the unity-in-diversity of the divine and human authors of the biblical text. There is unity because there is one divine author. There is diversity because the divine plan (story) unfolds in and through history.”[12]

“God’s redemptive history moves with a purpose, and the consummation of that history is fundamental to the proper interpretation of each of its individual episodes. This serves to underscore the point that the Christian theological framework must be grounded in the entire canon of Scripture. This is true not only with respect to the content of theology but also with respect to its form. Too frequently the evangelical theological framework has lacked a sense of movement toward a consummation. It has tended to emphasize specific doctrines rather than the entire ‘doctrinal package.’”[13]

“The epochs of redemptive revelation are knit together because there is one God who holds redemptive history together.”[14]

“It is the totality of redemptive history and revelation that inform each portion of Scripture and bind the whole together. And since the accomplishment of redemption was the fundamental reason why the books were written in the first place, it provides the fundamental key to interpreting the texts as a whole. It is the revelation of redemption that underscores every biblical text and therefore ought to underscore every exegetical and theological enterprise that seeks to be faithful to the biblical text.” p. 274   [see more on redemptive history from Lints in his ch 7]

It is important to see that both biblical parts and biblical patterns are necessary to the construction of a theological framework. Theologians should not be content with simply bringing to their readers’ attention individual pieces of the text in isolation from the patterns into which those pieces fit. This means that it is important to convey something of the original context of passages but also something of both the “epochal fit” of the text and the “canonical fit” of the passage. A passage in this sense may be said to have three contexts: its immediate setting, its setting in a particular epoch, and its setting in the entirety of God’s redemptive revelation. There is a general awareness that theologians cannot do justice to the meaning of a given passage if they try to explain (or use) it without reference to its immediate context, but we should realize that they may do equal exegetical damage if they seek to explain (or use) it without reference to the epochal and canonical contexts.[15]

[1] There have been quite a number of such texts of dubious value for the study of the Bible, such as the famous gospel of Thomas.)

[2] See Peter Jones’ The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back and Spirit Wars: Pagan Revival in Christian America.

[3] Derived from G. Hasel, NT Theology, ch. IV.

[4] Chafer, Dispensationalism, pp. 406-07.

[5] Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 989, 1230; Chafer, Dispensationalism, p. 443

[6] Chafer, Grace, pp. 176, 179, 181.

[7] Goldsworthy, Preaching, pp. 15-16.

 b Gen. 15:6

 b Or Messiah; also in verse 46

[8] Kaiser, Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 70.

[9] F. W. Farrar, The Bible (London-Bombay), 1897, p. 3. Quoted in Solomon Goldman, The Book of Books: An Introduction. Philadelphia (The Jewish Publication Society of America), 1948, p. 329.

[10] Lints, The Fabric, p. 64.

[11] Lints, The Fabric, p. 78.

[12] Lints, The Fabric, p. 78.

[13] Lints, The Fabric, p. 79.

[14] Lints, The Fabric, p. 267.

[15] Lints, The Fabric, p. 285.