John Piper’s Look at the Book Preview

John Piper is preparing to launch his “Look at the Book” initiative to teach people how to study the Bible. If this first video is an accurate sign of what’s to come, then we’re in for quite a treat.

If you have any question about what it looks like to sit down with nothing but the text of Scripture and simply observe, interpret, and apply—I could not recommend this 10-minute video any more highly.

Wisdom’s Credentials

Rowan WickEven if you like baseball, you probably haven’t heard of Rowan Wick, but someday you might. He rocked our town earlier this summer, but now he’s gone.

The State College Spikes are a Single-A short season minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. Our family goes to enough games that we feel like we get to know the players. This season, Rowan Wick needed only 19 games to break the Spikes’ single-season home run record. After Wick’s 14 homers, 38 RBIs, and a .378 batting average, the Cardinals decided it was time to move him up the chain, and they relocated him to the Peoria Chiefs in Illinois.

We miss Wick and the high-strung energy that rippled through the stadium when he was at the plate. But he was well-qualified for the next level of baseball, and his credentials earned him a place of honor and advancement in the Cardinals franchise.

Similarly, Proverbs 8:22-31 describes wisdom’s qualifications for honor and advancement. In this chapter, Solomon has already promised wisdom’s surprising availability and unimaginable fruit. Now he backs up his assertions with some particular credentials.

Wisdom is the Lord’s Possession

The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old. (Prov 8:22, ESV)

Wisdom is an affiliate, not an independent. Because wisdom belongs to the Lord, those who find wisdom find God’s favor (Prov 8:35). And because godly wisdom provides a pipeline to the God of wisdom, becoming wise and drawing near to God are the same. You can’t know God without receiving his instruction and becoming more like him.

The point is this: Seeking wisdom is seeking the Lord.

Wisdom was brought forth before God made the world

Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first dust of the world. (Prov 8:23-26)

Observe the fourfold “before” and the double repetition of “I was brought forth.” There’s a sense in which wisdom is passive; it exists because God chose to bring it out. Before the Lord made anything tangible—before his work of shaping the earth—he brought forth wisdom and paraded it around.

In other words, wisdom is more fundamental and central to existence than any other created thing. That’s why wisdom is better than jewels (Prov 8:11) and gold (Prov 8:19). Wisdom is more intimate and satisfying than sexual activity (Prov 7:4-5). Nothing we desire compares with wisdom (Prov 3:15). If we get anything at all on earth, it should be wisdom and insight (Prov 4:7).

The point is this: Life without wisdom isn’t truly life.

Wisdom was present when God made the world

When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him,
like a master workman. (Prov 8:27-30a)

Notice how “I was brought forth” in the previous stanza (Prov 8:24-25) has shifted to “I was there” (Prov 8:27) and “I was beside him” (Prov 8:30). Wisdom was present in the world from Day 1. When God created the heavens and the earth, wisdom saw what God did and how he did it. Wisdom saw what worked and gained experience as a “master workman” (Prov 8:30).

The point is this: The way of wisdom is tried and true. God’s wisdom makes the most sense of how the world works.

Wisdom delights

I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man. (Prov 8:30b-31)

In this stanza, wisdom finally gets active. It goes from being possessed, being brought forth, and being present to delighting and rejoicing.

Wisdom delights in two ways: It is both delightful to God and delighting in others. Note the progression:

  1. God delights in wisdom.
  2. Wisdom rejoices before God.
  3. Wisdom rejoices in the world.
  4. Wisdom delights in humanity.

God didn’t implant the world with wisdom because it would kill joy. No, quite the opposite. He knew wisdom’s delight would go viral. He understood that his world would be dull without wisdom. What use would sex and money and music and sports and hiking and productivity all be if we couldn’t know the fear of the Lord, receive instruction about how life works best, find satisfaction in God’s ways, and have hope that anything can change? “Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness (Eccl 2:13-14).

And joy will be joyful only when we know the joy God has in us.

The point is this: Wisdom gives you eyes to see who alone can make you happy.

Beware Sanitized Hypocrisy

The third practice for preparing effective Bible studies is to allow the message to change you. The fact should be obvious, but so often it’s not: We can’t teach what we haven’t learned. Our words are just words if we can’t show them by our lives. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1, ESV), but his exhortation would have fallen flat if he hadn’t opened his life for them to see (1 Cor 9:1-7, 15-23; 10:32-33).

I’ve been really challenged by this point lately, especially when I feel pressed for time in my teaching preparation. It’s so hard to deal with the log in my eye before I try to remove the speck from others’ eyes!

But the biblical word for leaders who say one thing but do another is “hypocrite.” Of course, I might successfully avoid aggressive forms of hypocrisy: preaching integrity while robbing the church, promoting purity while secretly indulging immorality, etc. But how often do I sanitize my hypocrisy, justifying my sins of omission while passionately promoting their opposite? For example:

  • Do I exhort people to confess their sins, but I never confess mine?
  • Do I oppose pride and promote humility, but I’m afraid to let anyone see me when I’m weak?
  • Do I preach about how much people need the grace of Christ, but I don’t reveal an inch of my own need for the grace of Christ?
  • Do I urge people to love one another, but I believe my leadership position prevents me from having any close friends?
  • Do I want people to be open to feedback, but I never ask for it myself?

Shepherds shepherd, and leaders lead. This means they go out in front and don’t ask people to do anything they haven’t done first. So before Jesus asked Peter to feed his lambs and die (John 21:15-19), he was the Good Shepherd who laid down his own life for the sheep (John 10:11). So also Paul can beg the Corinthians to open wide their hearts to him after his heart was opened wide to them (2 Cor 6:11-13). And Jonathan can call his armor bearer to come up after him; Jonathan goes first to make them fall, and the armor bearer simply mops up after him (1 Sam 14:12-13).

This kind of leadership requires two kinds of vulnerability:

  1. When preparing to lead a study, we must allow the text to change us.
  2. When leading the study, we must explain how the text has changed us.
rikdom (2007), Creative Commons

rikdom (2007), Creative Commons

This means that I must apply the Scripture to myself before I try to apply it to anyone else. And when appropriate, I must be willing to share these lessons to give people a model for how the text can change them. After practicing these things, I’ll be in a position to suggest further applications for others.

Hear Jesus’ warning against those who wouldn’t do what they asked others to do:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt 23:2-12)

I have some ideas about why such vulnerability is so difficult, and I’ll write about them next week. But in the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think. Question: Why do you think it’s hard for us to be vulnerable in our leadership?

Why I Write

My goal on this site is to help ordinary people learn to study the Bible. I pursue that aim through a few practices:

  • On Mondays, I demonstrate Bible study skills on a particular text of Scripture.
  • On Wednesdays, I link to other pages on the Internet that either demonstrate good Bible study skills or lay the ground work for good Bible study skills.
  • On Fridays, I usually back away from the text to reflect on the skills themselves. Currently, I’m explaining methods for leading effective Bible studies.

All three practices fit into a larger model for teaching people how to study the Bible. But as each post comes and goes, and we focus on very specific skills, we can easily lose sight of the model.

That’s why I occasionally write brief posts like this by way of reminder.

And that’s also why I created a table of contents page for my series on Proverbs 1-9. It’s gone so long that the forest has been long since overgrown with trees. This table of contents will let you know all the main topics I’ve hit so far, and it will let you know what remains before the series finishes. I didn’t link to every post but only to the first post for each segment of text. From that post, you should be able to click through to the next post and the next if you’d like to read through a particular section.

I’ll activate the last few links as I finish those posts over the next few months. Please let me know if you have any ideas for making this page more useful!

5 Things the Wise Person Can Do

Because God implanted his wisdom in this world, wisdom empowers us for life in this world. It doesn’t take us out of this world into vague, ethereal, or escapist sentiments. Thus, true wisdom will never lead us into otherworldly practices like denying pain (Prov 3:11-12), forbidding pleasure (Prov 5:18-19), or romanticizing the past (Eccl 7:10).

In Proverbs 8:12-21, we saw 5 things wisdom won’t do in this life. The wise person will take these things to heart and apply them diligently.

Because wisdom won’t run out (Prov 8:12), you can always draw on it. Wisdom is available to you, and it will always be available to you. You don’t have to rely on the experts to tell you what to think, and you don’t have to wait on authority figures to tell you what to do. Your questions are not beyond God’s concern, and your problems are not beyond God’s reach. And when same-sex marriage is universally legalized and religious freedom is broadly rejected, it won’t mean that divine wisdom has failed or gone on vacation. We shouldn’t get so uptight about increased hostility, lost opportunity, or apparently restricted liberty. Such things cannot thwart God’s kingdom and gospel from advancing. “And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us” (Martin Luther).Martin Luther

Because wisdom won’t pander to pride (Prov 8:13), you can relinquish your self-interest. You won’t get what you want by demanding it. And just because you don’t have to rely on experts or wait on authorities—it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from anyone. You’re not always the expert or the authority; God made you to function in community with others. If you don’t have to protect or defend yourself, you’re free to hate the evil within you as much as the Lord does. Only then will you find the wisdom you need to put it to death. Luther again: “No man can glory in thy sight; all must alike confess thy might and live alone by mercy.”

Because wisdom won’t let you down (Prov 8:14-16), you have every reason to execute your responsibility faithfully. You can move into your own place. You can buy that house; you can learn that skill. You can work hard, even under a harsh supervisor. You can love and respect your spouse, even if it’s not returned. You can discipline your children consistently, even if it feels like you’ll do nothing but spank them all day (the feeling isn’t true!). You can lead your own Bible study this year. You can tame your tongue. You can set aside sexual immorality. The Spirit of wisdom—the Spirit of God—can do all these things and more through you. More Luther: “Christ is himself the joy of all, the Sun that warms and lights us. By his grace he doth impart eternal sunshine to the heart; the night of sin is ended! Alleluia!”

Because wisdom won’t play hard to get (Prov 8:17), you have only to ask. There’s nothing to complain about. You don’t need to make more money or buy more books. You don’t need to go to seminary or Bible college. You don’t have to earn your way. You don’t have to prove yourself. You have not because you ask not. Everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. Those who knock are the ones who have all the open doors. There’s no mystery here; you can try it now: “God, please give me wisdom for _____________. My only hope is Christ. Amen.” Luther once again nails it: “Christ alone our souls will feed; he is our meat and drink indeed. Faith lives upon no other!”

Because wisdom won’t leave you empty-handed (Prov 8:18-21), you have everything to gain by seeking it! Sure, you might spend some money or sacrifice financial stability. You might give up some free time that could have been spent on amusement. You’ll risk misunderstanding or ridicule if you look too fanatical. But what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Guess who: “Happy the man who feareth God, whose feet his holy ways have trod; thine own good hand shall nourish thee, and well and happy shalt thou be.”

A Little Greek can be a Big Distraction

I’ve argued that you don’t have to reference Greek or Hebrew to study the Bible. You can observe, interpret, and apply just fine using a decent English translation (I use the ESV and NET the most).

In this post, I’d like to give an example of how knowing a bit of Greek can actually distract you from careful OIA of a passage.

Afghanistan Matters (2009), Creative Commons

Afghanistan Matters (2009), Creative Commons

In John 21:15-19, Jesus and Simon Peter eat breakfast and chat about love and lambs. Three times, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times, Peter affirms his love, and Jesus calls him to be a godly shepherd.

Those who dig into the Greek text of John 21 quickly discover that John uses two different words for “love.” Jesus’ first two questions use the word agape. Jesus’ third question and all three of Peter’s responses use the word philia.

“Do you love (agape) me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love (philia) you.”
“Do you love (agape) me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love (philia) you.”
“Do you love (philia) me?”
“You know that I love (philia) you.”

The question arises: What is the difference between agape and philia? What’s really going on in the conversation that doesn’t come across in English?

So the student reads commentaries and consults lexicons. Many blogs address this particular question in this particular passage (just Google “agape philia john 21,” and you’ll have no shortage of reading material). Some say that agape love is the higher form of love, and Jesus comes down to Peter’s level the third time. Others reverse it, saying that by the end Peter convinces Jesus that he has the right kind of love.

The problem with this approach is that it assumes that Greek words each have a focused, specialized meaning. It approaches lexicons as technical manuals, almost as if there’s a code to be broken, and the right tools offer the key.

But no language works that way. Not English or German, Greek or Hebrew. Words certainly have histories. They have ranges of meaning. Lexicons help us to understand their range of usage.

But literature is as much an art as it is a science. Writers have agendas, but they advance their agendas by making them beautiful. So they use synonyms, turns of phrase, metaphors, and other such devices.

Referring to John 21;15-19, D.A. Carson explains:

Some expositions of these verses turn on the distribution of the two different verbs for “love” that appear…This will not do, for at least the following reasons…The two verbs are used interchangeably in this Gospel…The Evangelist constantly uses minor variations for stylistic reasons of his own. This is confirmed in the present passage. In addition to the two words for “love,” John resorts to three other pairs: bosko and poimano (“feed” and “take care of” the sheep), arnia and probata (“lambs” and “sheep”), and oida and ginosko (both rendered “you know” in v. 17). These have not stirred homiletical imaginations; it is difficult to see why the first pair should (The Gospel According to John, pp. 676-677).

If we hadn’t gotten distracted by Greek expeditions, what treasure might we mine from this passage? Note the following observations, which could easily be made from the English text.

  1. The setting: the scene takes place at a charcoal fire (John 21:9), the same setting where Peter denied Jesus three times (John 18:18). Charcoal fires appear in only these two scenes in the Gospel of John. It’s not an accident.
  2. The flow: Peter begins the chapter chasing his former vocation as a fisherman (John 21:3). Jesus wants to turn him into a shepherd (John 21:15-17). Peter gets it. Later, when he instructs church elders, he doesn’t call them to be fishers of men. He commands them to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-2).
  3. The model: Jesus wants Peter to follow him (John 21:19b). This means Peter should be a shepherd like Jesus was (John 21:15-17). This means dying for the good of the sheep, just like Jesus did (John 21:18-19, 10:11-15).

John 21 shows Jesus restoring and commissioning Peter for sacrificial leadership in the church. This much is clear even in translation.

Sure, the Greek (or Hebrew) text often reveals wordplay that doesn’t translate well. Sometimes the structure of a passage or argument is more clear in the original language than in translation. And Greek and Hebrew are simply beautiful and fun.

But the main point of a passage rarely depends on intimate knowledge of the original languages.

The New Testament Uses the Old Testament

scrollThe apostle Paul provoked an uproar up and down the Roman empire with a simple, two-point message:

  1. The Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead

  2. The Messiah is Jesus

He staked these claims in the soil of Scripture.  Luke tells of his stint in Thessalonica:

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’ (Acts 17:2-3, ESV)

The citizens of Berea wouldn’t take it on Paul’s word alone.  They had to see it for themselves:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica [who ended up attacking both Paul and his message]; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Paul wasn’t the only one to use this method of reasoning.  Every apostle used the Old Testament to explain this great message about Jesus, and many of them wrote it down for us in the New Testament.  Some authors were more explicit in their use of the Old Testament than others.  And we can learn much from them about how to read the Old Testament ourselves.

To that end, I’ve compiled a few lists to help launch you into the delightful world of intertestamental hermeneutics (a big phrase that simply means “how the New Testament authors understood the Old Testament”).

These lists won’t give you a complete understanding of the Old Testament and how it speaks of Jesus.  But they will direct you to the passages that most explicitly influenced the apostles’ thinking.  May they help you see Jesus more clearly.

Top 10 OT books quoted in NT

10 OT books never quoted in NT

Top 13 OT chapters quoted in NT

Top 11 OT verses quoted in NT

Top 10 NT books that quote OT passages

11 NT books that don’t quote the OT

Now go, you Berean, and see if these things are so. Check out the Resources page for an exhaustive list of NT quotations of the OT.

Question: What do you think about how the NT authors used the OT?

Who is Buried in Abraham’s Tomb?

rp_Image-Empty-Tomb-300x160.jpgGenesis 23:1-20 tells a strange episode in the life of Abraham: the negotiation and purchase of a grave site – the cave of Machpelah – for his wife, Sarah.  Coming between the climactic tale of (almost) sacrificing Isaac on Mount Moriah (Gen 22:1-24) and the procuring of a wife for Isaac (Gen 24:1-67), the narrative of Genesis 23 seems out-of-place and awkward.  It can be difficult to see any point to this chapter beyond Abraham’s bereavement of his dear wife.

Consider, however, who ends up buried in this tomb: both Sarah (Gen 23:19) and Abraham himself (Gen 25:9-10).  Also, Isaac, Isaac’s beloved wife Rebekah, Jacob, and Jacob’s unloved wife Leah (Gen 49:29-30, 49: 31-32, 50:12-13).

Notice specifically that Rachel, the wife whom Jacob loved most, was not buried there (Gen 35:19-20).

Why is this tomb given such emphasis in the narratives of Genesis?  I have some suggestions:

  1. It was the only piece of land Abraham ever owned, even though he was promised all of Canaan (Gen 17:8).  Thus, it was a bit of a deposit or foretaste on the promise.
  2. Abraham refused to receive it as a gift from any man (just read how extensive the negotiations were in Gen 23:6-16).  He was fully committed to owning it legally, publicly, and personally.
  3. This foretaste of the promise for Abraham and the next few generations came only as each person died.  They did not enjoy it in their lives; only in their deaths.
  4. As they died in faith, these men and women received part, but not all, of what was promised to them (Heb 11:13-14).
  5. They would only receive the full promise along with us (Heb 11:39-40).
  6. Those buried in this tomb were those who were to become ancestors of the son of promise.  Remember that it was Leah, not Rachel, buried in the cave.  Leah was the woman who gave birth to Judah, from whom came David and Jesus.

In short, knowing who would be buried in the tomb at Machpelah is the key to understanding why it gets so much press in Genesis 23.  Abraham’s investment in the tomb represents his faith in God’s promise to send a Son who would crush Satan (Gen 3:15) and enable God’s people to live with him forever in close companionship (the point of the “Promised Land” of Canaan – see Gen 17:7-8, overturning the fall in Gen 3:23-24).

The only real estate Abraham ever owned was that tomb.  His descendant Jesus didn’t even own his own tomb (Matt 27:59-60), but he fulfilled every promise (2 Cor 1:20) and brought us into eternal fellowship with God (Eph 2:13-16).

Knowable Word Unplugged

Announcement: I need to unplug from blogging for a week so I don’t go bonkers. I promise I’ll spend the time in quiet rest and reflection on my life’s purpose.

What does man gain by all the toil
    at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains forever. (Eccl 1:3-4, ESV)

In the meantime, I have some lovely content from the blog archives that I’ll re-post this week. Enjoy!

Dependence vs. Diligence

I’m sitting in a Bible study, digging into a psalm with a group of people, when a woman bursts out, “Why are we wasting our time with all this study? Why can’t we just read—instead of studying—and depend on the Lord?”

I’ve never read a well-reasoned defense of this perspective, so I don’t want to caricature it unfairly. But I’ve bumped into its proponents with regularity. Usually, there’s a claim that Bible study is too academic and disengaged from character and obedience. And that relating with God should be natural and full of chemistry and compatibility.

Thus, the reasoning goes, working hard at Bible study is like reading a manual about sex. It deflates the personal, relational component by replacing the beloved with mere information about the beloved.

But the illustration (and the perspective, I daresay) misses the fact that this “manual” wasn’t written by a disinterested third party but by the Beloved himself. The book explains how he wants to be known. Is it an act of dependence to disregard diligence in understanding it?

Jess Sand (2009), Creative Commons

Jess Sand (2009), Creative Commons

For example, my wife occasionally sends me text messages with to-do reminders. Could I possibly express my love for her by failing to observe and interpret them well? If she asks me to buy milk, would she be delighted with buffalo wings? When she has a book on reserve at the library, does she want me to read it there and return it to the shelf?

I have much agreement with the people I describe in this post. I want to depend on the Lord. I don’t think knowledge about God should ever replace knowledge of God. I think we misread the book if we don’t know the person behind it.

But couldn’t it be the case that diligence is a sign of dependence? When building a bunk bed, couldn’t one express dependence by diligently following the assembly directions? And isn’t rejection of the manual tantamount to dependence on oneself?