“Take Up and Read!” Helpful Thoughts for Reading Your Bible

St. Augustine (354–430) is commonly considered the greatest of the Church Fathers.  He was certainly the most influential. He not only summed up the excellent teachers before him, but also cultivated new theological ground out of which the burgeoning medieval theology would grow.  The Reformation (over 1,000 years after his death!) has been described as a battle over his theology. Both Protestants and Catholics wanted to claim him as their own (for different reasons). And to this day, his books The City of God, On the Trinity, and The Confessions are still read for their theological and devotional value. There is not a Christian alive today has not been influenced—directly or otherwise—by this North African bishop of Hippo.

Perhaps his conversion has something to do with why he left such a permanent mark on Christian history. Before his Christ called him he was a philosopher and philanderer. But one day, while sitting in his garden, he heard a voice from beyondthe hedge. It said “Tolle lege, tolle lege!” which means “Take up and read!” Was it a child playing a game? Was it an angel? He didn’t know. Regardless, he had a Bible with him in which he turned to Romans 13:13–14. Why? No one knows. That’s just where he turned and read these words: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” In these words he perceived that moral transformation is only accomplished through the power of the risen Christ. The rest is history.

Among his many areas of influence include his impact on hermeneutics, the science and art of how we read the Bible. It makes sense that hearing the voice of God from the Scriptures that Augustine would be interested in helping others do the same. He laid down several “rules” for interpretation. I will mention only a few of them. For one, he said the historical meaning of a BibleReadingpassage greatly matters; it is not to be neglected. The goal is to understand the meaning of the text in its original historical and social context. The reader is not to import any later or foreign meanings. Second, the literary setting of any verse or passage is crucial; verses are not to be plucked out of context. Read before and after; read large sections. Third, if the meaning of a text is unclear, it cannot be made a matter of orthodoxy. Instead, the more clearly understood passages take precedent over the obscure. Fourth, the reader should be aware that revelation is progressive, meaning God did not tell us everything at once, but over time. Thus, the reader should attend to the relationship between earlier and later parts of the Bible. Finally, the reader should not defer to the Holy Spirit as a substitute for the necessary study and hard work necessary for interpreting the Scriptures. This prevents people from using the “I was led by the Spirit” trump card. It is easy to say the Spirit laid something on your heart or that the Spirit spoke to you. The problem is this: How do you know? And how should anyone else know if you do not show them the meaning from the text? Thus the text must be carefully studied, not evaded through intuitions. Plus, it is the text that the Spirit inspired and the text through which risen Christ is pleased to speak.

The task of reading the Bible is, therefore, never simple. But it is a joyous task. It is a worthwhile task. So, I say to you “Tolle lege, Tolle lege!” Take up and read! Read carefully. Read diligently. Read thoughtfully. For in the Bible we encounter the risen Christ who can change us, and glorify himself through us.

This post was written by Dr. Nicholas Piotrowski. He is the Associate Dean of Academics and Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and serves as Associate Pastor of Theological Development with Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Note: This article was originally posted on Northside Baptist Church’s blog.

Photo Source: http://www.churchnewspaper.com/39826/archives

Inspiration and the Bible

Note: This article was originally posted on Northside Baptist Church’s blog.

Is systematic theology really that important? Well, everyone has a theology whether they think about it or not (even atheists!). And the alternative to systematic theology is disorganized theology, chaotic theology. So in an attempt to be consistent and cogent in our thinking I hope you will take in what I am about to say.

In thinking about the study of systematic theology, let’s look specifically at the doctrine of “inspiration.” This is what I want to drill down on right now: the work of the Holy Spirit to “inspire” the prophets and apostles to write the Scriptures.

Here is what we don’t mean when we talk about “inspiration”. Occasionally someone will say they were inspired to do this or that. They might say, “That sunset was so beautiful that I was inspired to write this poem.” Or, “What you said inspired me to try harder.” Something like that. They mean that something happened or they saw/heard something and they were so moved in their soul that a reaction just came out of them. The event they experienced drew the artistic expression or newfound effort out of them. It was always there, but the event tapped that reservoir.

It’s quite alright if you use the word “inspired” to talk like that. But when it comes to describing the origins of the Scriptures, that is not what we mean. In this theological discourse we use the word “inspired” to mean something far more precise. When we say that the Bible has been inspired we actually mean it has been expired. Or better, exhaled. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that “all scripture is breathed out by God…”, and in 2 Peter 1:21 we are told that “no prophecy ever came by human will, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Do you see that? Scripture did not come “by human will”; it did not well up inside the authors’ own minds and come out in response to the great things they saw God do. Rather the origin of the Scriptures is with God himself. He in fact breathed them out. Specifically, the Holy Spirit led the authors along so that the final product that they wrote—what we today call the Bible—is what the Holy Spirit wanted written. He used men and women to do that. But he never left them to themselves. He sovereignly superintended their writing. And this is what we mean when we say that the “scriptures are inspired.”

The upshot is that we can have such great confidence that the Bible is the word of God. The Holy Spirit is God, and the Spirit inspired the Bible you have in your hand. There are a lot of holy books in the world. How do we know the Bible is the true word of God? Well, because the Spirit is God and the Spirit was sent by the resurrected Jesus, we can say, in a sense, that Jesus wrote the Bible!  The second person of the eternal Trinity (Jesus) sent the third person of the eternal Trinity (Holy Spirit), in fulfillment of the promises of the first person of the eternal Trinity (Father), to give you this book. Thus, without such a Trinitarian dynamic, confidence in the scriptures erodes. For how can you know it is the word of God, unless God wrote it? And he did; and this is how we understand that! So when you read the Bible, dearly beloved, you are reading the very voice of God still breathing into your life. Read it! Read it with confidence! Read it with fear and trembling. For when the living God speaks the dead come to life.

I have to conclude with this question: Do you see the value of systematic theology? In this article we tied together several things: the Trinity, the doctrine of revelation, and inspiration (and even nodded toward the importance of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension). And bringing them together like this has resulted in an apologetic for how we know the Bible is the true word of God, and therefore also have confidence in its content. Without such a system of interconnected doctrines, what is left? I fear some people believe the Bible simply because they choose to, not because they are convinced by any reflection like this. Well, in that case, how do you know your Bible is truer than the Quran, or the Book of Mormon, or the Vedas, or the Upanishads, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or The Origin of Species? We need systematic theology because we need to think clearly.  And we need to think clearly because so much is on the line. We dare not tell ourselves and the world, “We believe the Bible, well, because we just like it more than the rest.” We need to tell ourselves and the world that we believe the Bible because it is the word of God. And we know this because the only resurrected man, Jesus Christ, has guaranteed its divine origins and trustworthiness by sending his Holy Spirit (see John 16:13–15). And because Jesus is God and the Spirit is God we know the Bible is the word of God.

This post was written by Dr. Nicholas Piotrowski. He is the Associate Dean of Academics and Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and serves as Associate Pastor of Theological Development with Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Way of God More Accurately

Word of GodIs it possible to be competent in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, and accurately teaching the things concerning Jesus, and yet still be wrong? It seems so. In Acts 18:24–25, Apollos is said to be “competent in the Scriptures,” “instructed in the way of the Lord,” and was known to have “taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” But in verse 26 it says, “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” That’s amazing to me that someone could be as gifted a teacher as Apollos, and yet still come up short.

What was it that Apollos was teaching that was so “accurate” while still so wanting? I think the answer is as follows. It says in 18:24 that Apollos was in Ephesus at this time, and, according to 18:25, that “he knew only the baptism of John.” When Paul later came to Ephesus (19:1), he found disciples and asked them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed (19:2). They responded, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” These are, presumably, Apollos’ converts in Ephesus (cf. 19:3). These are the ones who heard Apollos “accurately teach,” but, as Priscilla and Aquila knew, the message was still lacking.

So what was missing? Think chronologically with me. There are essentially four stages in Jesus’ ministry:

  1. The preparation by John
  2. Jesus’ life and teaching
  3. Jesus’ death and resurrection
  4. Jesus’ ascension and outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Apollos obviously knew #1 (cf. 18:25). He had to have known something of #2 as well, thus, he could teach something about Jesus (also 18:25). But he clearly didn’t know about #4 (cf. 19:2). He may have also been unclear on #3, because after he met Priscilla and Aquila, and after Paul further educated his converts, the point of clarity still revolved around Jesus (cf. 18:28 and 19:4). Somewhere between points 2 and 4 Apollos went off track. The point here is that someone can be “correct” in some general religious instruction—even pertaining to Jesus—but actually be of no help to one’s audience if crucial teachings are neglected.

Okay, if you’ve persevered in reading this so far, here’s the payoff! Apollos was teaching things concerning Jesus’ life and ethics. But he neglected Jesus’ ascension to the throne of David whereby he rules the nations and pours out the Holy Spirit (very important points for Peter in Acts 2:24–36), and quite possibly something of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thus he was correct in what he taught insofar as it goes. But he was terribly wrong to leave out crucial components of the Christian message: that Jesus is raised, that Jesus rules the nations, and that Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to his people. These are awesome truths! Sad that he neglected them. Praise God that he was so teachable when approached by Priscilla and Aquila!

This is helpful for us in many ways. It should challenge us all to orient our thought-lives, practical lives, and ministries around the gospel. We cannot merely teach general truths about God, or Jesus, or the Bible if they are not organized around the gospel and emanate from the gospel. The gospel is that God became man in Jesus Christ, that he lived a sinless life, that his death atoned for sins, that we was resurrected to life, and that now he rules heaven and earth, giving the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who repent and put their trust in him. If we teach otherwise-true things, but leave out the gospel then we are not truly Christian in our instruction and our ministries! For a lot of those general truths of Christianity (God is love, God hears prayer, God can help me through my struggles, etc.) are affirmed by nearly every other theistic religion on earth. But what is distinctive about Christianity? The gospel! That is what makes Christianity what it is. Without the gospel God is not revealed. Without the gospel we are not reconciled to God. Without the gospel our religion is reduced to a psychological balm, a new moralism for religiously minded folks. But with the gospel—the full gospel—we are truly Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8).

So, let’s be a people who understand the full counsel of God. Let’s be a people who revel in the gospel, grounding and orienting everything we do therein.

This post was written by Dr. Nicholas Piotrowski. He is the Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and serves as Discipleship and Leadership Ministries Director with his church family, Northside Baptist Church.

Photo Source: http://providenceswfl.com/blog/read-the-bible-through-in-2014/