Saturday, May 30, 2015

History and Dispensationalism

What is this world coming to? Ever hear that question? It is mostly asked with the sense of confusion and frustration as to the reason events happen. Something happens that throws our sense of direction and morality off, and in confusion or frustration we ask, “What is this world coming to?” But in reality that is a fair question to ask. The answer is what can be defined as our philosophy of history and our answer to the quest for meaning. Every generation faces that question and search, not only as a society, but as a individual.

What is a philosophy of history? It is a systematic interpretation of universal history in accordance with a principle by which historical events and successions are unified and directed toward ultimate meaning.[1]

By this definition, we can see that the Bible gives a philosophy of history, although it is not a textbook on the philosophy of history. However it meets the requirements that are necessary for a philosophy of history.
  1. It explains the why of historic events in an organized way.
  2. It covers the whole scope of history from beginning to end.
  3. It has a unifying principle which ties history together.
  4. It assigns ultimate meaning to history.

The Bible fulfills these requirements. Briefly, the Bible shows that history is controlled by God in the outworking of His purpose. The events of history are really a struggle between rebellion, redemption, and restoration. It covers the beginning and ending of history (Genesis to Revelation). The ultimate meaning or goal of history is the redemption of man for the glory of God.

Dispensationalism has a direct relationship to the Biblical philosophy of history. Dispensationalism or the study of dispensations aimed at developing the Bible’s philosophy of history on the basis of God’s eternal purpose. That eternal purpose is expressed in Ephesians 3:11, “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.” While there is much that could be said about this verse, the one thing it clearly does is tell us that God has a plan and purpose. It climaxed (but did not end) with the work of Christ Jesus our Lord on the cross. Notice the verse does not say that this was God’s plan in its entirety. But it was in accordance with His purpose. His purpose is still being worked out. “That in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace…” (Eph. 2:7). What dispensations do are identify the stages of the outworking of God’s purpose and plan in history as revealed in the Bible.

[1] Karl Lowith, MEANING IN HISTORY (University of Chicago Press, 1949), 1.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review: Enjoy Reading Your Bible

Review: HOW TO ENJOY READING YOUR BIBLE, Keith Ferrin, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, 2015

This is a delightful little book to read. It is reader friendly, brief but not in content, and very practical guide. He divides the content into 10 tips and guides the reader through each. Each is clearly and concisely explained, and leads the reader though how to practically work through each tip. The book could be used by an individual or a group study. You are given a guide on how to use each tip.

There are three things I especially like about this book:
  1. Its emphasis on reading to enhance your relationship to God. It is so easy to fall into what I call the academic trap and center our reading on content and overlook or downgrade the relationship thinking it comes from being content center. We must realize that content is to lead us to the person of Christ and enhance our relationship with Him. One of his tips is to pray for your reading.
  2. His emphasis on daily Bible reading, not study. There is a difference. He advises us to read the word, not the commentaries. Let the Bible speak for itself. He does not want you to ignore the commentaries, but first grasp what the Bible says for itself before the commentaries. I had a man in one of my churches who always said that he found the Bible shed a lot of light on the commentaries.
  3. It advocates reading the passage repeatedly, silently and out loud, alone and with someone. It will keep you focused and aid your memory.

His last two tips are really challenges and guides to aid in reading. There is a 60 days challenge (which he calls adventure), then two 4 month challenges. He suggests keeping a journal of observations of your reading. The book reminds me of an old friend who use to say—Read it out, pray it in, and write it down. This is a aid for all for the beginner it will lead him into good habits when reading the Word and the older saint will be reminded of things and help restore the enjoyment of reading.

Thanks to the publisher Bethany House for providing a copy of this free of charge for my review. This did not influence my review.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review: Interpreting the Prophetic Book


This is another volume of the “Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis” series. Like the earlier works in the series we find the same helpful layout is found. It has the same basic features:
  1. Each chapter begins with an overview and ends with a summary of the chapter.  This aids the reader in knowing where the chapter is going.
  2. There are very usable charts within the chapters that are understandable.
  3. A selected bibliography at the end.
  4. He also has a glossary at the end for terms an average reader may not understand.
  5. Indexes of scriptures and subjects.

The author states his purpose is to help with “the proper interpretation of biblical texts from the prophets based on an appreciation of their historical setting and an understanding of the characteristics of prophetic literature” (p. 18). He fulfills this by 6 main chapters that guide the reader from the nature of prophetic literature; major themes; preparing for interpretation; proclaiming prophetic texts; and test to application. He does well in fulfilling his purposed, and gives us a very satisfactory handbook.

I found it helpful in three ways:
  1. It helps in understanding and clarifying the nature of prophecy or prophetic literature. This is important in light the popular understanding of prophecy simply as foretelling the future. Smith does a good job of showing the different aspects of prophecy. However, in chapter 4 he deals with interpretive issues within prophetic text that should be considered in conjunction of understanding prophecy.
  2. One of the best features is on the major themes of the prophetic books. In it he gives the overall theme of each prophetic book. Included in some areas he gives the overall purpose of the themes.
  3. From taking it from text to application will be helpful to any preacher or teacher that is planning to tackle the subject. It gives sound practical advice on how to teach and preach this complicated subject. I especially like his principles of application—find the timeless aspects of the prophecy; go beyond the cultural limitations; be consistent with other scriptures; and be relevant to your audience. He points out that application “should include a challenge for people to move from where they are now to where God wants them to be” (p. 162).

Overall, this is a good handbook for the exegesis of Prophecy. I found it an insightful and helpful guide. It is designed for Bible students, Pastors, and teachers. It would make a good textbook on the subject. It is must reading for those who desire an overall grasp of the subject. It is concise and reader friendly. It is a worthwhile addition for your library.

I received this book free from Kregel Academic in exchange for the review. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions are my own.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


From my 7th grade literature class that I taught at our local charter school.

WRITING hard, but rewarding
...helps you organize your thinking
...helps you persuade others
...makes you a better reader
...Makes you wiser
...helps you to get into college
...prepares you for the world of work.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


The Signs in the Gospel of John (1)

John 2:1-11

The Gospel of John centers around seven miracles or signs. John calls them signs the Greek word (semeion) which means a sign, mark, token, wonder, a miraculous operation with meaning and intent.  The intent is to produce faith, manifest His glory and power by these miraculous narratives (John 2:11). Keener notes that these signs “signified something beyond itself, and functioned as a proof or attestation[1] of Jesus’ person and his call to faith. They are not an end to themselves. The seven signs in John are:
  1. Water into wine (2:1-11)
  2. Healing of the Nobleman’s son (4: 46-54)
  3. Healing of the lame man (5:1-17)
  4. Feeding of the 5000 (6:1-14)
  5. Walking on the Water (6:16-25).
  6. Healing the blind man (9:1-12)
  7. Raising of Lazarus (11:1-45)

John 1-11 has been called the sign book. While each miracle is not unique to John (i.e., Feeding of the 5000) his interpretation of them is distinctive. In the other gospels the miracles are related to the kingdom of God, or eschatology in nature; in John they are related primarily to Christology, who Jesus is and as evidence to believe in Him.[2] I chart the differences in approach between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel this way:

Historical and Miraculous events
Historical and Miraculous events
Eschatological in nature
Christological in nature
Signs of Christ’s mission
Signs of Christ’s person
Indicates His Messiahship
Indicates His Deity

The signs in John present a focal point to call one to faith (cf. 7:31; 12:37). Likewise, the lack of faith after seeing the signs caused by the stubbornness of disbelieving is also possible and seen (John 10:25; 12:37). They are intended to challenge the readers turn to God in faith. Thus the signs are linked with the responses they evoke: either to faith or unbelief.

It also must be observed that these seven signs are given before the passion of Christ, which begins immediately after the seventh sign (John 12-20). These signs present who Christ is, once these signs were completed (John 1-11) the passion begins which begins His redemptive work. Like in the synoptic gospels, once the person or office of Christ is confirmed with the confession of Peter, from this point on he says “he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things...” (Matt. 16:13-21; Mark 8:27-31; Luke 9:18-22). In John the seven signs being given is the turning point to begin His passion. In all the gospels is presented the revelation of who Jesus is, before it turns to what He did in His passion.

The first sign is given at the marriage in Cana. The name of the village brackets the event (2:1, 11). There has been some debate as to its exact location and two possible sites frame the debate: Kefar-Kenna or Khirbet-Qanah. Most scholars prefer Khirbet-Qanah, which is located 9 miles north of Nazareth. This debate is really a sidebar to the event itself and does not affect either the record of the event, nor its historical reliability. The text of the miracle can be divided into three parts: The Setting, the Sign, and the Summation.  

The Setting (John 2:1-5)

This miracle took place “on the third day” after leaving Bethany (John 1:28). This makes sense because the distance to Cana from there was about 75 miles. Travelers walking often made 25 miles or so per day. Thus, it would be the third day when they arrived, probably in the late afternoon or early evening hours. It does not refer to the third day of the week for standard customs were that virgins were married on the fourth day of the week and widows on the fifth.[3] It also may well refer to the third day of the wedding feast, since weddings lasted seven days. The text seems to imply that the wedding feast had been well underway by the time that Jesus and the disciples arrived. The mother of Jesus[4] was already in attendance[5] when Jesus and the disciples arrived, being invited guests.  

When the wine ran out, Mary came to Jesus with their situation. To run out of wine on such an occasion was a social no-no in Mid-eastern culture. At the least she is bringing to him the need. It would look bad in the eyes of the guest, and in a village like Cana. Most of the village would be in attendance. That this happened may indicate that they were poor and tried to get by with the minimum provision hoping it would last. Whatever the case, it could result in two things: (1) the slur of not fully fulfilling the duties of hospitality; (2) opening up the bridegroom’s family to a possibly a lawsuit.[6]

At this point the question that is often asked is “was the real wine?” There are two things that should be pointed out here. First, the word for wine is oinos, used three times in this scripture (2:3 [2x], 10), and is the only word use for wine in the New Testament. In the New Testament world three types of wine were in use:
(1) fermented wines, which usually were mixed in the proportion of two or three parts of water to one of wine; (2) new wine, made of grape juice, and, similar to cider, not fermented; and (3) wines in which, by boiling the unfermented grape juice, the process of fermentation had been stopped and the formation of alcohol prevented.[7]
Keener brings out two points, however: (1) It was difficult before hermetic sealing and refrigeration, to prevent some fermentation, and impossible over time; (2) Wine was a standard part of life in Palestine, pointing out that winemaking was a major part of the economy of Galilee.[8] Since all three were called wine, it is impossible to tell which was used at this wedding. However, it appears that the most common wine in use was the wines mixed with water. The use of water turning into wine may indicate the first type of wine. Second, drunkenness was seen as a sin and was severely reprobated. Scripture may not directly teach total abstinence, but clearly prohibits the sin of drunkenness (Hab 2:15; Luke 21:34; Rom 13:13; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18).

It is not clear, nor stated when Mary told Jesus of the situation, what she had in mind. The statement indicates she had some type of expectation, and seems to carry an implied request, although some scholars deny it. This implication is reinforced by her statement in John 2:5. Jesus responds to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come” (2:4). This is one of the most unusual sayings of Jesus found in Scripture. There are three things in this response demands our attention.
  • First, the use of the word Woman (Gk: gynai) indicating normally a married women. Although this use of this word sounds disrespectful to our western ears, it is not to be taken as such.[9] John uses the same word at the cross in committing Mary to his care (19:26). In the time of Jesus, it was a term that can be used to express great affection and respect.[10] In its use in the gospels, Jesus uses it as a polite term for addressing women (cf. Matt 15:28; Luke 13:12; John 4:21; 8:10; 20:13).
  • Second, is the question: “what does that have to do with us?” (2:4). Literally it is “what to me and to you?” It is a Semitic idiom which distance the two parties and has an abrupt tone, but not necessarily rude.[11] It has been pointed out that in the Old Testament it has two basic meanings:[12] (1) It was used when one person was unjustly bothering another (cf. Judges 11:12; 2 Chron. 35:21). (2) When someone is asked to be involved in a matter they felt they had no business to get involved (cf. 2 Kings 3:13; Hosea 14:8). The first implies hostility; the second disengagement. The context seems to uphold the second meaning as the most likely in John. The exact phrase is used in Matthew 28:29.[13] The phrase marks a separation of some type in a relationship. In John it marks a change of relationship between mother and son. It is now necessary to break the apron strings (sort of speak), in that it expresses Jesus’ freedom from the family and establishes distance between them (cf. Matt. 12:46-50). He is now going about to doing the will of the Father, which now becomes the controlling factor of his actions. Carson remarks: “now that he had entered into the purpose of his coming, everything, even family ties, had to be subordinated to his divine mission.[14]
  • Third, his hour had not yet come. John views the “hour” as the hour of suffering and sacrifice. He uses it seven times in two different ways: First, to indicate that the time of his suffering and sacrifice was still future (2:4; 7:30; 8:20). It is clear that these statements are given for the reader’s anticipation of its arrival in a later point in the life of Jesus.[15]  Second, to acknowledge that the hour had come, the events associated in the hour are part of his passion and sacrifice (12:23, 27; 16:32; 17:1). Thus the word “hour” has an anticipation/realization tension in the life of Jesus.  

In spite of those statements, the change of mission and relationship, Mary displays full confidence and faith in her son. The undertone and expectancy of faith cannot be missed, as seen in her instruction to the servants: “Whatever He says to you, do it” (2:5). The servants were put into submission to Jesus. It has been observed that although the disciples were present, they had no part in the miracle.[16] The reasons for this may be: (1) to center the reader’s attention on Jesus; (2) to display His glory to the disciples as well as those who were in attendance; (3) since the disciples had just been called, it was too early for them to display such power. 

The Sign (John 2:6-10).

There are three elements to the miracle:
  • The order (2:6-7). At the scene there are six waterpots. We should erase from our minds that these were simple pot for drawing water from a well (cf. 4:28). These were a certain type of waterpots—those used for the Jewish custom of purification. These were large containers, made out of stone, and held “twenty to thirty gallons each” (2:6). These were large enough to fill an immersion pool used for Jewish purification ceremonies.[17] He orders them to be filled with water and they were filled to the brim (2:7). Being filled to the brim left no room for additional solutions. “There was no way, humanly speaking, in which the water could have been made to taste like wine” observes Toussaint.[18] That is no less than 120 gallons and could be up to 150 gallons of wine.[19]
  • The Obedience (2:7-8). They were obedient not only to fill the waterpots, but also to draw out the contents of the waterpots and take it to the headwaiter. The word translated headwaiter is the Greek word architriklinos, used only in John 2, and is one who is more than a headwaiter; it means ruler of the table, thus the director of a feast. He was the man in charge. Toussaint points out that “This person who was the first to taste the wine had the combined responsibilities of head waiter and master of ceremonies.[20] It is interesting that the text never identifies what is drawn from the waterpots, or when the water became wine. However, it is safe to assume that the water became wine while in the waterpots. Ryle is reported to comment: “Duties are ours. Events are God’s. It is ours to fill the water-pots. It is Christ’s to make the water wine.[21]
  • The Opinion (2:9-10).  It is clear that “when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine...” (2:9). The Greek word is ginomai, is a passive participle, indication that the miracle of water turned to wine before it was tasted. The servant did not draw water to give to the headwaiter, but wine. When he drank it, he was a shocked. The wine was excellent, but better than the wine that was served earlier. He was confused not knowing where it came from. He called the bridegroom and said, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when [the people] have drunk freely, [then he serves] the poorer [wine]; but you have kept the good wine until now” (2:10). This confirms two things: First, it was a miracle, the water had become wine. Second, the wine was better than what preceded it.

The Summary[22] of this Sign (John 2:11)

As John points out clearly, this is the first miracle (or sign) that Jesus performed. The word beginning (arche) may be translated as the first or primary. It implies other signs are to follow. The account is closed by an inclusio—“Cana of Galilee” (2:1, 11). The purposes that Jesus did the sign are twofold:[23]
  • To manifest His glory. John uses the word glory to bracket these signs in John (2:11; 11:40), thus the signs begin and end with glory. These signs reflect Exodus 16:7, where God’s glory is seen by Israel in the signs He performs[24] (cf. 1 Cor 1:22). In these signs we see the heart of John’s Christology to Israel as Jesus being the one who is greater than Moses (John 14:1). This was his first manifestation of His glory, or self-revelation in public (cf. John 1:14). However, Kostenberger makes an interesting and valid point: this manifestation was lost on the general public. “Though benefiting from Jesus’ physical provision, the wedding guests were untouched by Jesus’ messianic self-revelation.”[25] His manifested glory is limited to His own, not the guests. This reinforces the idea presented earlier in John 1:11-12: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” The unwanted Savior is a common theme present in the gospels.
  • To bring about and strengthen belief. This is seen in “His disciples believed in Him” (2:11). This is in unison of John’s overall purpose (John 20:30-31). The text is that this messianic self-revelation affected only the disciples. There is no reaction from the people at the wedding at all. There is no notice among even the groom or headmaster as to why or where the wine came from. The point of John is that this behind-the-scenes miracle and sign was directed toward his disciples, not the crowd.

Significance of the First Sign

While many see the significance of this passage for the church, but I do not think that is the primary significance. I see the significance as threefold:
  • First, as the renewal of Israel by means of the remnant of true believers. During this gospel period, Jesus acts as a reformer within Judaism.[26] His mission is to the lost house of Israel, not to start a church apart from the nation (cf. Matthew 15:24; 5:13). To make the significance as for the church (which was not in existence at the time) is to take the event out of the historical situation. The first step in his revelation as would naturally be to his own disciples as a confirmation of his messianic mission.

  • Second, the significance of the miracle speaks of his messianic character and purpose. It has been noted that “this revelation culminates prophetic symbolism and prediction and lending Jesus’ work an end-time, definitive dimension that sets it apart from previous figures, servants, and spokesperson of God.”[27] Both ideas of glory and joy are aspects and features of the messianic hope and kingdom. Joy is present in the picture of wine. Wine is a symbol of joy (Psa. 104:15). The coming of the Messianic kingdom is pictured in the water being turned into wine with great abundance bringing great joy.

  • Third, that this sign takes place at a wedding, pictures the future wedding when Israel is married unto Jehovah (Isa. 62:4-5; Rev. 19:7-9).

Of course, that is not to say that there is no secondary significance or application to the church. C.F. Baker observes: “While the primary interpretation of these signs concern Israel in the Kingdom dispensation, they also show forth, secondarily, the riches of God’s grace in this dispensation. One is reminded of Paul’s statement... [in] Ephesians 3:20-21.”[28]

[1]  Keener, Craig S., THE GOSPEL OF JOHN: A COMMENTARY, Volume 1 [Hendrickson, Peabody MA, 2003], 251.
[2]  Wenham, David & Steve Walton, EXPLORING THE NEW TESTAMENT: A GUIDE TO THE GOSPELS & ACTS, [IVP, Downers Grove, 2001], 247-248.
[3]  Keener, JOHN, 1:496.
[4]  John always refers to her as the mother of Jesus, never using her name.
[5]  It is unstated that the rest of Jesus’ earthly family was present, although that could be inferred from John 2:12.
[6]  John Morris, NICNT: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, [Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1971], 179.
[7]  Andreas J. Kostenberger, BECNT: JOHN, [Baker, Grand Rapids, 2004], 93.
[8]  Keener, JOHN, 1:500-501.
[9]  Arthur W. Pink, EXPOSITION OF THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, Volume 1 [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1971] 80, makes too much of the idea of a rebuke here. It is unwarranted.
[10]  See Josephus, Ant. Xvii. 74. Abbott-Smith, A MANUAL GREEK LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, [T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1053]. 96 says the vocative case (as is the case here) is not a term of reproach, but respect.  
[11]  D.A. Carson, PNTC: JOHN,  [Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1991], 170.
[12]  W. Hall Harris, AN EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY OF JOHN, 2:4 [, 2004]. We will give the biblical reference since this version has no page numbers.
[13]  Matthew 8:29—‘Ti hmsi kai woi” / John 2:4—“Ti emoi kai soi” (Majority text).
[14]  Carson, PNTC: JOHN, 171.
[15]  Kostenberger, BECNT: JOHN, 95.
[16]  J. Ramsey Michaels, NICNT: THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, [Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2010], 147.
[17]  Keener, Craig S., IVP BIBLE BACKGROUND COMMNTARY: NEW TESTAMENT (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, 1993], 268.
[18]  Stanley D. Toussaint, “The Significance of the First Sign of John’s Gospel,” Bibliotheca Sacra, January 1977, 48.
[19]  Various commentators have different estimates.
[20]  Toussaint, “The Significance of the First Sign”, 49.
[21]  Quoted by Morris, NICTN: JOHN, 183 fn 183.
[22]  Michaels, NICNT: JOHN, 153. He points out that summaries are frequent in John, normally beginning with the demonstrative pronoun “this” (4:54; 21:14) or “these” (1:28; 6:59; 8:20; 12:16; 13:21: 17:1; 18:1; 20:31).
[23]  Merrill C. Tenney, EBC: JOHN, (Zondervan Grand Rapids, 1981), 9:43 states that purpose of the sign is not stated. I disagree. The summary statement clearly indicates purpose. 
[24]  Keener, JOHN, 1:516.
[25]  Kostenberger, BECNT: JOHN, 99.
[26]  Keener, JOHN, 1:498.
[27]  Kostenberger, BECNT: JOHN, 99.
[28]  C.F. Baker, UNDERSTANDING THE GOSPELS: A DIFFERENT APPROACH, [Grace Publications, Grand Rapids MI, 1978], 41.