Summer SBJT: Parts of Scripture must be interpreted in light of the whole

Communications Staff — August 14, 2006

Every verse of Scripture must be read in light of the context of the entire Bible if God’s Word is to be accurately understood and applied, essayists assert in the summer edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT).

Evangelicals succeed in teaching moral lessons through the individual stories of the Bible, but often fail to understand where the stories fit within “the overall plan of God centered in the Gospel,” journal editor Stephen J. Wellum writes. “Biblical Theology,” the topic of the new SBJT, provides the antidote, Wellum argues.

“Biblical theology seeks to remedy this failure by helping us to think in terms of a ‘whole-Bible’ theology,” Wellum writes. “It seeks to counter the growing biblical illiteracy in our day by returning us to the Scripture in all of its beauty, depth, and breadth. It seeks to help us read all of Scripture in light of the ‘big picture’ in order that we may better preach, teach, and live out God’s Word in our daily lives.”

A failure to understand the Bible’s “big picture” often leads to misinterpretation and misapplication of individual texts, argues Wellum, who serves as associate professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary.

“In a day in which pluralism and postmodernism encourage us to find our own meaning in Scripture, [Biblical Theology] is absolutely necessary to return us to the Scripture in order to discover God’s intent as he has graciously revealed himself to us across the ages and now consummated in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In his essay “Preaching and Biblical Theology,” Thomas R. Schreiner argues that a faithful minister must center his message on the Gospel because it is the fulfillment of all of Scripture. Sermons on marriage, raising children, depression, and conquering fears have their place, he writes, but all must be understood in terms of Christ, who is the central focus of Scripture.

Schreiner is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament and associate dean for Scripture and interpretation at Southern Seminary.

“In many conservative churches pastors almost always preach on the horizontal level,” Schreiner writes.

“…Many congregations do not realize what is happening because the moral life that is commended accords, at least in part, with Scripture and speaks to the felt needs of both believers and unbelievers. Pastors believe they must fill their sermons with stories and illustrations, so that the anecdotes flesh out the moral point enunciated. Every good preacher, naturally, illustrates the points being made. But sermons can become so chock full of stories and illustrations that they are bereft of any theology.

“…Our task as preachers is to proclaim the whole counsel of God. We will not fulfill our calling if as preachers we fail to do biblical theology…we are not faithfully serving our congregations if they do not understand how the whole of Scripture points to Christ, and if they do not gain a better understanding from us of the storyline of the Bible.”

In his essay “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth,” Mark A. Seifrid examines the crucial distinction a Bible teacher must make between law and Gospel. The moral law of God (as expressed in the 10 Commandments) shows a sinner that he is under the condemnation of God and in need of a redeemer, and the Gospel provides the remedy in Christ, Seifrid points out. Seifrid serves as the Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Seminary.

Seifrid unpacks the views of the major figures of the Protestant Reformation—Martin Luther and John Calvin—on law and Gospel. If a minister is to teach the whole counsel of God, he must preach both law and Gospel, Seifrid asserts. The law, for example, exposes sin in the heart of the Christian, he writes.

“Those who gather as a church for worship often (but not always!) already know and confess that they are ‘sinners’ in need of grace,” Seifrid writes.

“What they need, and what those need who do not feel themselves to be sinners need, is the careful, gentle, yet direct exposure of their sins, corporately and individually: not merely the faults of our society or problems in our culture, not merely sinful activities…but finally the root sins of self-seeking, pride, lust, envy, [and] greed by which we deny God and mistreat one another.”

In his essay, “Speaking the Truth in Love: Life in the New Covenant Community,” Peter J. Gentry shows readers how to approach biblical theology by examining Paul’s writing in Ephesians 4-6 in light of its Old Testament background. Gentry serves as professor of Old Testament and director of the Hexapla Institute at Southern Seminary.

“The meaning of the phrase ‘speaking the truth in love’ cannot be uncovered by simply cracking a Greek lexicon or even performing an exhaustive lexical study,” Gentry writes. “The biblical theological background and framework must first be understood. In the new covenant community, loyalty to Jesus has replaced the command to love God in the old covenant, and speaking the truth in love sums up the social justice of our relationships in the new humanity.”

The SBJT also includes essays from renowned author and biblical theologian Graeme Goldsworthy and New Testament scholar James Hamilton. Scholars D.A. Carson, Stephen G. Dempster, A.B. Caneday, and Robert Yarbrough participate in the SBJT forum on “Biblical Theology for the Church.” The journal also includes a number of book reviews.

To subscribe to the SBJT, please e-mail or call 502-897-4413.

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