#GodsStory ft. Clarrise Ng: Not What I Want to Hear, But What I Need to Know
#GodsStory ft. Clarrise Ng: Not What I Want to Hear, But What I Need to Know
We can read the Bible wrongly. I certainly have. But how does one improve?
Enter biblical theology.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand what “biblical theology” meant at first glance, but it has certainly transformed how I read the Bible and understand God, myself and humanity through His grand narrative. So what does biblical theology really mean? Are there different types of theology? What is theology? What makes biblical theology different or important?
I’ve gotten to know that theology basically means the study of God, and biblical theology (BT for short) includes the study of God through His written Word — the Bible. Now “studying God” might sound really boring, but how else would I come to know God well, if I do not understand His revealed Word? Now, BT provides the basis for interpretation of any part of the Bible as God’s Word to us. Since words are written, it implies that there are writers — divinely inspired authors, which is why BT has to stem from understanding the author’s intention — how their words were intended to inform us readers about who God is in a process of continuous revelation through time. Here are a few things that BT has taught me:
Biblical theology helps me read the Bible for what it is trying to say, and not what I want to hear
Many a time, I have come to the Bible with a preconceived understanding about what it must mean. To some of us, the mention of the Bible brings certain things to mind: fairy tales, old men, a baby born in a manger, and absurdities about the dead coming back to life. But hey, those are just our ideas; they are not what the Bible really is trying to say. The Bible’s stories do have many elements of human drama, conflict, and supernatural events but they are not written simply to entertain or horrify. They are vehicles of truth about God and ourselves. They are narratives that tell us who our Creator, Lord and Saviour is; why sinful humans need saving at all, and who we are under Him. While what I want to hear might be tips on how to live life peacefully and how to be a good person, what I might not want to hear is my own complicity in rebellion against a loving and just God.
While what I want to hear might be tips on how to live life peacefully and how to be a good person, what I might not want to hear is my own complicity in rebellion against a loving and just God.
I might not want to hear about how this complicity has permeated the entire human race such that we refuse to acknowledge God as creator and ruler, and are all helplessly in need of undeserved redemption by God from our state of sin.
Let’s think about what the Bible is. For any Christian or contemplating person, we want to know that our faith and commitment to Christ is soundly based. We want to know the truth about life and death, the past, the present and the future. What should we believe, how should we live, and why? The Bible is, for Christians the ultimate source of our knowledge of truth. This truth has to be interpreted through God’s lenses (also known as Christian theism), as opposed to man’s lenses without God. If God is the source of every fact in the universe, then He alone interprets all things and events. We, as sinners suppress this truth on the assumption that we, not God, give things their meaning.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21)
Biblical theology helps me to see the Bible as integrated, consistent and complete, and not disjointed and containing irrelevant messages
I first read Genesis as an unbelieving 15-year-old, only understanding it as a really interesting origin story for mankind, but nothing more than a mythological tale. When I encountered the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) in my 20s, it seemed like they were completely detached from the book of Genesis, never mind several centuries apart. What does God casting Adam and Eve out from the garden have to do with the life of Jesus Christ? What does it have to do with me?
Perhaps, I could read Psalms and Proverbs and wonder why there are poems in the Bible that seem to me like an Old English version of the dreaded Pendidikan Moral.
But is that all the Bible really is? A book about moral teachings and sayings? Old wives tales and disjointed passages written by old men from a different age and time?
Biblical theology is the means of looking at one particular event in the Bible in relation to the total picture. This total picture includes where we are now, between the ascension of Jesus and His return at the end of time. It helps us to see ourselves in relation to the events of long long ago whilst uncovering its meaning for us. The story in Genesis is our story too, because we are descendants of Adam and Eve, darkened in sin, but God promised to the Abrahamic patriarchs the arrival of a redeeming saviour and king who would defeat the curse of sin and emerge triumphant — Jesus Christ of the gospels. BT has allowed me to see how stories, characters and books of the Bible are part of an unfolding narrative that point to its climax in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Such stories begin in the Old Testament, and through it, I can see how God has been progressively revealing His plan involving the anticipated Christ for centuries, concluding with its final revelation in the New Testament.
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.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Lk 24:44-45)
Biblical theology helps me to understand passages I perceive as problematic
The Bible has many texts like “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go” (Exodus 10:20). At first glance, this brings up a harrowing picture of God actually being the one who dooms the Israelites to an abusive fate! In fact, mention the Bible to some of us and what comes to mind? Patriarchy and horrible laws denigrating women and children that have no place in our day and age, seemingly outdated moral traditions…we can go on and on. But is there a point to all this? Yes!
Christ Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC)’s BT sermon series this year, God’s Story (link: https://www.cerc.com.my/sermons/) recently covered the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It helped me to understand how the plight of the Israelites in the land of Egypt was really God’s good plan all along to show them His redemptive pattern, by rescuing them from their slavery to Pharaoh. It was also to show His sovereign might and will over both the incredible rise, and desolate fall, of the Egyptians, their mighty gods, magicians, and ultimately the hand of God which was present all along in the life and work of Moses. It showed me how the Israelites really didn’t deserve to be rescued at all, in fact, after being rescued, they complained about God and were terribly ungrateful. It pretty much points us to our own state of sin, and how much we need redemption from God, which has been effectively accomplished for his chosen people by Christ Jesus. The sermons also clarified the meaning of the myriad of laws in the book of Leviticus as a means for a holy God to dwell among sinful people, and how these laws are to function today in light of how Christ has fulfilled the law.
So he [Joseph] got up, took the child [Jesus] and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Mt 2:14-15)
I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. (Lev 11:44-45. See also Lev 19:34-36; 22:31-33; 23:43; 25:38, 42, 55; 26:12-13, 45)
Many passages in the Bible may seem problematic. Yet, God never condones evil deeds in the Bible, but instead works His good and gracious will despite humanity’s evil. He also exercises righteous judgement and punishment for sin, through which He graciously provides the means for salvation. Sometimes the problem is what the text actually means to point out; and sometimes the problem is issues of our own personal interpretation. These problems ought to be looked at in light of how the Bible is a unified book with one message, and not taken at face-value without understanding. Biblical theology, therefore, gives us the means of dealing with problematic passages in the Bible by contextualising them in light of the central message of the Bible.
All in all, my friends, read the Bible, and be enlightened and challenged by its truths. If you ever get confused about what it’s trying to say, or find something very hard to agree with, you aren’t alone. Christians grapple with the Word every day, and we do that consistently with each other, including in our Growth Groups at CERC.
If you aren’t part of a Growth Group, join us for our weekly meetups here! If you’ve missed out on sermons in our God’s Story series which approaches the Bible from a biblical theological perspective, catch up here.
If you’d like to learn more about biblical theology, there’s a great introductory book on the subject by Graeme Goldsworthy titled According to Plan, and another great book by James Hamilton titled God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.
Posted on 20th May 2020