The Monster Within


My wife loves to observe a day many love to hate: All Hallows’ Eve, the night folks traditionally prepared for All Saints Day by scaring the spit out of demons. For several weeks she’s been taking me to look at costumes, hoping to make trick-or-treating memorable. I, on the other hand, am a Halloween Scrooge—I’d rather stay inside and turn off the light. But by the third shop, I got the hint. And after combing the aisles I finally found a disguise that made me feel holy: a monk’s cowl. When I pointed it out to her, she didn’t smile.

Honestly, I often feel I need a disguise. I’m planting a church and desire to see a community rise in which souls connect, shame weakens, sins surface, failures meet grace, irritations soften, and holy desires grow. I’m convinced that such a special spiritual place can only exist where a community feeds on the gospel of free grace.

Pithy sermons on “Four Ways to Be a Better Father” or “How to Think Rightly about Homosexuality” won’t create such a community. Christian preaching ought to be an extended paraphrase of the gospel, in which the Lord Jesus is explored, rehearsed, and explained out of every clause of holy writ. Isn’t this how Jesus himself caused his disciples’ hearts to burn along the road to Emmaus?

I’m visiting other churches these days as research, and sadly my heart hasn’t once been set ablaze. Instead I’ve become so demoralized by easy moralizing that recently I declared that I didn’t want to go to church anymore—again, my wife didn’t smile. When I texted this declaration to a friend who I was sure would share my sentiments, he responded: “You should’ve been with me last Sunday. We could have been self-righteous together.” Ouch!

There’s a story about a man shipwrecked on a desert island. After several years a boat came past, saw his signal fire, and rescued him. When the man saw the boat, he ran across the beach, and those on the boat noticed three buildings behind him and asked what they were for. The castaway responded, “That’s my house, that’s the church I go to every Sunday, and the one next to it is the church I’ll never go to, ever!”

I can be so self-righteous, so right about a particular issue, that I’m dead wrong. And in that moment of realizing my self-righteousness, I feel like I need a disguise: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:25 ESV).

In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther said:

As long as a person is not a murderer, adulterer, thief, he would swear that he is righteous. How is God going to humble such a person except by the Law? The Law is the hammer of death, the thunder of hell, and the lightning of God’s wrath to bring down the proud and shameless hypocrites. When the Law was instituted on Mount Sinai it was accompanied by lightning, by storms, by the sound of trumpets, to tear to pieces that monster called self-righteousness. As long as the person thinks he is right he is going to be incomprehensibly proud and presumptuous. He is going to hate God, despise his grace and mercy, and ignore the promises of Christ. The gospel of the free forgiveness of sins through Christ will never appeal to the self-righteous. This monster of self-righteousness, this stiff-necked beast, needs a big axe. And that’s what the Law is, a big axe. Accordingly, the proper use and function of the Law is to threaten until the conscience is scared-stiff.

I was proud and presumptuous. My wife and friend brought the big axe, which didn’t feel good—but it was.

Seeing the monster within—a monster I’ve tried to slay without success—led me to remember Jesus. I like how the Living Bible puts Romans 5:20–21: “The Ten Commandments were given so that all could see the extent of their failure to obey God’s laws. But the more we see our sinfulness, the more we see God’s abounding grace forgiving us. Before, sin ruled over all men and brought them to death, but now God’s kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jesus brings to an end the deadly reign of sin not by granting me the power to defeat the monster within, but by giving me himself. That is, he becomes for me a covering under which the very real reality of sin is a finished reality. The monster of my self-righteousness is a defeated reality, not in me, but in the indestructible life of Jesus, which is the “free gift of righteousness”—or, better, the free gift of my acquittal (Rom 5:17 ESV).

The very thing I had hoped to disguise by donning a monk’s cowl for Halloween is the very thing covered with forgiveness. Jesus’ life is the final word. Christian growth is simply growth in seeing that the gospel is true.

My wife and I decided to dress as royalty for Halloween, displaying our true positions in the family of God.

The Reverend Doctor Daniel Bush is a Presbyterian minister, adjunct associate professor, and author of Live in Liberty: The Spiritual Message of Galatians (Lexham Press) and Embracing God as Father: Christian Identity in the Family of God (Lexham Press). His newest book is Undefended: Discovering God When Your Guard Is Down (Kirkdale Press). Dan and his wife, Brittany, have two children and are planting a nondenominational congregation in northern Kentucky, NorthPointe Church.

Link Love for the NIV Faithlife Study Bible

Last week, the NIV Faithlife Study Bible made its debut in print. This new study Bible has generated a ton of buzz and we’d like to share a couple of links where it’s being discussed.

In an interview on Tim Challies’s blog, Dr. Michael Bird discusses the importance of staying curious in Bible study:

It’s important because you don’t want to study the Bible living in an echo chamber where all you hear said to you and taught to you is what you hear all the time. It’s good to bring, I daresay, a little bit of diversity to the gene pool of your own exegesis and Bible study. 

On the blog, Melinda Bouma discusses some of the background of this exciting project:

Partnering with Faithlife—the creators of Logos Bible Software—to bring the content from their robust study Bible app into a fresh, innovative print edition in the bestselling NIV translation was a natural fit.

Also on the blog, John D. Barry, General Editor of the Faithlife Study Bible, examines the importance of studying multiple points of view:

When we examine multiple views, we move beyond merely acquiring information; we learn how to think about that information. Critical thinking is a skill that’s honed through closely examining various views for their merits. And it’s a skill we should bring to our Bible study.

In his review of the NIV Faithlife Study Bible on, Randy Brown praises both the robust study notes and the innovative graphics:

The Faithlife Study Bible makes the Bible more visual with infographics and charts. It has over 100 full-color infographics, timelines, and tables. The graphics often show objects (such as houses, temples, boats, etc.) in a break-away or exploded view. For example, Noah’s Ark shows the insides so you can get an idea of how the animals could have been placed within. It also shows graphics of archaeological finds such as steles and tablets. The graphics use a minimal art style and look great. I love the visuals in this Bible.

Both Michael Boling and Elizabeth Garn address benefits and challenges of daily Scripture reading.

Stay curious. There’s more to explore. Pick up the NIV Faithlife Study Bible today!

Unity through Diversity in the Church

When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian church, he was writing to an audience living in a metropolitan city. Since Ephesus was a major port city and trade center, the cultural milieu within the city was ethnically and religiously diverse. Though Paul didn’t speak to any specific local issues within the Ephesian church, he does address some concrete problems related to the the tensions felt by the church in its particular location.

The ecclesiastical comments found within Ephesians are rich and unmatched elsewhere in Paul’s writings. The reconciling work of Christ has created a new community of believers made up of diverse people groups. This unity should surpass all worldly barriers, but in reality, we often fall short. In a modern society that is marked by stark division between people groups, Paul’s message of unity is more critical than ever.

In Ephesians: Verse by Verse, Grant Osborne unpacks Paul’s doctrine of the church and shows us what is means for us today. Here’s an excerpt from the section on 2:11–22:

Reconciliation is the social side of the salvation process, describing how two estranged parties could be brought together and peace between them achieved. Paul stresses often that the act of God in Christ has made this possible. The generating force is God, who brought us to himself by sending his Son to die on the cross in our stead, redeeming us so that our sins could be forgiven. The primary barrier to reconciliation is not social but religious, as sin has estranged both Jew and Gentile from God. While Ephesians 2:1–3 describes the sin of the Gentiles, the Jewish people were equally separated from God: They had rejected their Messiah, and their sins were if anything more egregious (see Rom 2:1–3:8). The death of Christ as an atoning sacrifice made reconciliation equally possible for the two groups.
Here Paul extends this image to the reconciliation of all groups with one another. Since they are reconciled to God, Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to each other “in one body”—another way of saying that Christ has created “in himself one new humanity”(Eph 2:15b). The unity between enemy people groups has been accomplished only in Christ and by Christ, who has “put to death their hostility” toward one another. By being killed Christ has killed the differences between us. His blood sacrifice has removed the terrible product of sin: human hatred. All barriers, both religious and social, have been set aside, and peace can finally come, first between ourselves and God and then among ourselves. This hardly means that all Christians are immune from racial hostility. We have all seen too much of it in the church, as well as in society. However, it does mean that God especially intends for us to become models of racial and ethnic harmony, and that Christ and the Spirit are at work in God’s people to achieve just that.

In Ephesians: Verse by Verse, Grant R. Osborne offers a clear exposition of this complex book, explaining what it meant in its first-century setting and how it applies to us today. Throughout he focuses on the exalted Christ who is lord of all, and the unity of the church as the new creation in Christ.

Ephesians: Verse by Verse is now available in all formats.

Modern Idol Worship and the Book of Judges

This guest post was written by David Beldman, author of Deserting the King: The Book of Judges. 

When Christians look for instruction and inspiration, when we look for a deeper sense of our calling and mission, we typically turn to the more obvious Scripture passages: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commission, or the New Testament letters. We don’t often turn to the book of Judges for this sort of thing. Judges is chock-full of violence, warfare, and people behaving very badly. What’s more, the cultural and historical situation of God’s people in Judges seems so far removed from the experiences we face. What can the book of Judges possibly offer us today?

But stopping at this short-sighted—though understandable—view of Judges will prevent us from some vital teaching from God’s word. When Paul wrote to Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16 ESV), he was referring to the Old Testament—including Judges! And when we look closer, we’ll see that even the book of Judges act as a mirror, showing us aspects of our lives and culture that we’d rather overlook.

In the Old Testament, we see that Israel’s purpose—their mission—was to build a culture and society motivated by love for God, their Redeemer-King, and for their neighbor. The covenants (including the many laws and stipulations) made at Sinai and on the Plains of Moab (in Deuteronomy 5–31) provided the framework for that kind of culture and society. In Judges, when God’s people finally enter the land and start to settle in, the Canaanite religion and culture provide a constant allure and barrier to fulfilling their calling. Their worship of foreign gods not only diminished their allegiance to King Yahweh, it also influenced the kind of culture and society they were producing—often in ways they weren’t aware of. 

It might seem silly to us that the Israelites would turn again and again to worship the foreign gods, but according to the wider culture at that time, local deities were responsible for weather and crops, fertility and overall prosperity. When moving to a new location, it would have been natural to identify the local deity and offer appropriate homage in order to ensure success. And so the Israelites’ service to the Canaanite gods had implications for the culture and society that emerged among God’s people. As they worshiped the Canaanite gods, they in turn became like the Canaanites in their life, conduct, and culture.

But the truth that Jesus expressed so vividly is that no one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24; Luke 16:13). It’s an important lesson for Christians today. To what extent are the idols of our society influencing the culture we’re helping create? Do we confess Jesus with our lips but bow to the idols of our day? It can be extremely difficult to get the kind of perspective we need in order to perceive the ways that our culture influences us. What’s more, it can be painful and downright dangerous to identify and challenge the idols of our day. Gideon literally broke down the idols in his community and was nearly killed for it (see Judg 6–8). But Gideon’s story also teaches us that it is all too easy to tear dowin idols only to construct other idols in their place.

When we split our allegiance in this way, we effectively desert our divine King with devastating results—not only for ourselves, but also for our communities and the larger culture that we are called to bless. Judges is a sobering warning about the dangers of idol worship—a warning just as relevant today as it was for its original hearers.

Abraham Kuyper's Unique Ecclesiology

Abraham Kuyper's On the Church is our featured book during the month of February. Below is an excerpt from the volume's introduction by Ad de Bruijne.

Kuyper’s concept of the church as a colony of heaven and his careful contextualization shed new light on well-known emphases in his ecclesiology. Particularly notable are his distinction between the church as institute and as organism. 

Institute and Organism

Many interpreters of Kuyper’s ecclesiology consider his emphasis on the church as organism as the core of his contribution to the doctrine of the church. He went beyond the conventional vision of the church as merely an institution and further depicted the church as forming Christian communities in all spheres of life. Through this doctrine, he was able to both meet the liberal demand for the church’s withdrawal into the private sphere and also regain public impact for the church in the post-Enlightenment world.

As we have seen, Kuyper’s emphasis on Christian organizations in all areas of life was a deliberate contextual choice because of the transition he saw in Dutch society. Looking both to the past and future, he could see times when this specific application of the church as organism would be inadequate. In these times, the organic church would be conflated either with the nation or with a marginalized institute. We must also mention a second oft-repeated and equally inadequate evaluation of Kuyper’s ecclesiology—namely, viewing the organic church as substantially different than the institutional church. For Kuyper, the institute was the primary structure from which the church as organism emerged.

It is clear that Kuyper’s foundational concept of the church as a colony of heaven was meant to adjust to changing circumstances in his own time and even in his own works. This deliberate contextuality makes Kuyper’s view a challenging voice in ecclesiological debates in the modern age. His emphasis on the coexistent organic and the institutional dimensions of the church challenges both sides in current discussions. New, experimental church forms and new proposals for the relation between church and society are often met with suspicion or are even simply rejected. Because of their habituation to already-existing institutional forms, conservatives equate their institutions with the core reality of the church itself; they are unable to imagine the possibility that the church’s true nature could be expressed in other forms.

Kuyper, however, would admonish both sides to use caution. As long as this world lasts, institutionality will be necessary. At the same time, as in Kuyper’s day, the church as institution may have to put on new creative forms that reflect the direction of society’s movement. Kuyper proposes an inescapable, defining reality for any new institutional church form. In his view, the function of the church is to bring new, heavenly life into God’s fallen creation. The regular proclamation of God’s Word, which is the seed of that life, must be central to any new church form. This proclamation itself always comes embedded in what the Bible names “calling upon the name of the Lord,” that is, liturgy. New forms of Christian community life must always have this institutional aspect, no matter how organic they may strive to be.

A Brave New Literary World for Biblical Studies

In a few short decades in the latter half of the twentieth century, the interpretation of the Bible underwent a notable shift such as has happened only occasionally over the last few thousand years. During this time the focus in biblical interpretation began to shift from what the text can teach us about the past to also include what the text can teach us about the text (and ourselves). Increasingly, the Bible began to be viewed and read not just as a religious or historical document but also as a literary text. 

This shift in biblical interpretation correlates strongly with the sea change that took place in the Western world during the twentieth century. Two world wars, the end of colonialism, and a sexual revolution formed the backdrop for the “narrative turn” in the study of world literature. There were many more factors than we can possibly mention here. Yet, few have anything to do with the Bible itself. By acknowledging this up front, we can gain a positive perspective on the literary approach to the Bible. It is just one philosophical approach. If we can recognize that the various historical and literary approaches, with their respective methods, are simply tools in an interpreter’s toolbox, we can faithfully use those tools without fear or blame.

The confusion over these literary foundations has led to the rise of a number of inaccurate assumptions about the literary approach to the Bible. Here we mention the most frequent objections to the literary approach to the Bible:

  • The Bible is not literature. The problem with this statement is what one means by “literature.” Usually this statement implies that literature is a specific group of fictional works that range from Milton to Hemingway. However, the term “literature,” while traditionally used to mean “to designate fictional and imaginative writings—poetry, prose fiction, and drama,” now means “any other writings (including philosophy, history, and even scientific works addressed to a general audience) that are especially distinguished in form, expression, and emotional power.” The former definition is closer to what literary critics mean when they use the term “(literary) canon.” As we rely on current definitions of the word “literature,” the Bible is literature.
  • The literary approach is new and therefore anachronistic. The first known occurrence of literary criticism in the West dates back to the production of Aristophanes’ Frogs in 405 bc. After this, Aristotle (384–322 bc), Longinus (fl. late first century ad), and Dionysius of Halicarnassus (fl. late first century bc) produced works on literary theory and criticism that are still extant today, not to mention that the Teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes mentions at least one aspect of literary criticism (Eccl 12:9–10). While some of the individual methods within the broad umbrella of the literary approach to the Bible are new and could be used anachronistically, the approach itself is not new and actually predates the nt (and some parts of the ot as well). Further, some methods within other approaches (such as the historical-critical approach, the most notable predecessor to the literary approach) are also new and can also be used anachronistically. Therefore, anachronism is always a concern for interpreters of ancient texts, regardless of approach and method.
  • The literary approach has no final “answer” in interpretation or endpoint—many different interpretations are equally valid. This claim is partly true and partly false, but it only has a little to do with the literary approach itself.  Differences in interpretation have existed from the moment of creation of any biblical text. In past generations, it was not the method that provided an end to interpretive discussion but rather an authority (such as a council, a church, a church leader, or a consensus). It is true that one of the results of recent literary theory is a proliferation of different methods (and as a result, interpretations), but this is more a result of the proliferation of ideologies in the Western world in the last century than it is of any movement or expectation in the field of biblical studies.
  • The literary approach is not scientific or rigorous (as the historical approach is). This argument depends a great deal on who the interpreter is and whether an appropriate tool is selected. Every approach to Scripture will have less rigorous examples and more rigorous examples, regardless of the approach. Further, “scientific” and “rigorous” are modern ideals that earlier interpreters of Scripture may not have held to be extremely important (as they were not influenced by the modern worldview).
  • The literary approach is not historical/avoids historical concerns. This last objection is the most frequently noted by those critical of the literary approach. It is true that many literary approaches to Scripture avoid or ignore historical questions and concerns. But it is not true in all cases. Furthermore, applications of the literary approach to the Bible are often ahistorical, but rarely anti-historical. In other words, when an interpreter takes a tool from a literary method out of their toolbox, they are letting the reader know that they are focusing on literary concerns more than historical concerns. The same is true when an interpreter decides to employ the historical approach—that interpreter typically is not trying to avoid literary questions; rather, it is just not their focus in this situation. Currently, biblical scholars are using the literary approach to focus on the text, but increasingly they are not shunning historical concerns and questions when appropriate for their interpretive goals.

The detailed analysis of biblical books and passages as written texts has benefited from the study of literature in classical philology, ancient rhetoric, and modern literary criticism. Literary Approaches to the Bible introduces the various ways the study of literature has been used in biblical studies.

Deepen your biblical education with the Lexham Methods Series. All four volumes are available now.

The Benefit of Drawing on Linguistics for Biblical Study

Biblical scholars have been slowly integrating the findings of modern linguistics into their biblical scholarship beginning in the second half of the twentieth century. The following is just one example of how linguistics has advanced our knowledge of biblical Hebrew and provided a plausible explanation for a long running debate.

One of the first vocabulary words students of biblical Hebrew learn is the particle הִנֵּה (hinnē). English translations typically translate הִנֵּה (hinnē) with the interjections “behold!” or “lo!” or “look!” (see, e.g., Gen 1:29; Exod 7:17; 1 Sam 26:24). However, the simplicity of these translations is misleading. In fact, a great deal of uncertainty has long surrounded the meaning and function of the word. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) explains that הִנֵּה (hinnē) is a “deictic and interrupting interjection,” but the 10 glosses that follow this explanation highlight the difficulty of explaining the meaning of הִנֵּה (hinnē) in its wide variety of contexts.

However, a recent study by biblical Hebrew linguists incorporates linguistic methodology to offer a clearer perspective on the meaning and function of הִנֵּה (hinnē). In their 2011 study, Cynthia Miller-Naudé and Christo van der Merwe draw on a linguistic idea, mirativity, that appears in many other languages, and they hypothesize that this same idea can explain the function of הִנֵּה (hinnē) in biblical Hebrew. Mirativity “refers to the linguistic marking for indicating that the information conveyed is new or unexpected to the speaker.”

Some languages indicate mirativity grammatically, but it can be expressed in other ways, too. For example, English can express surprise lexically (e.g., the English expressions “I’m really surprised that” or “Surprisingly”) or even intonationally. Miller-Naudé and van der Merwe illustrate the concept with two examples of English speech patterns that indicate the speaker’s surprise. The first “involves stressing and lengthening the relevant word in the sentence in order to express surprise as a compliment,” as in “Your daughter plays really well.” The second speech strategy uses what they call “question intonation,” as in “You’re not coming? (meaning ‘I’m surprised that you’re not coming, because I thought you were’).

Miller-Naudé and van der Merwe concluded in their exhaustive study of הִנֵּה (hinnē) that the “most typical and central use” of the biblical Hebrew particle is indicating mirativity, and in cases where it does not, their study explains how the word functions instead. By using a characteristic of other language systems, they have been able to offer a better explanation for a difficult feature of biblical Hebrew than what has been previously available.

* * *

Language is remarkably simple and extraordinarily complex at the same time. Children learn to speak and use their native language simply by hearing it spoken. However, anyone who has tried to master another language, especially as an adult, realizes how complicated languages are. Learning an overwhelming list of vocabulary is the first step, followed by mastery of paradigms and learning to decode the syntax of full sentences and paragraphs. At every turn one encounters idiomatic language, connotations the dictionary does not include, and endless cultural elements that affect meaning. Learning vocabulary is the easy part.  

Linguistics is a broad discipline. We are not able—nor is it necessary—to cover all facets of the field in Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis. Neither do we intend to teach readers to do linguistic analysis for themselves, since it is a field that requires expertise in the languages of the Bible as well as in at least one area of formal linguistics. Rather, we will introduce you to the aspects of linguistics that most apply to biblical study so that you can better understand commentaries and other resources that include linguistic discussions. Further, a working knowledge of the field will help you appreciate the complexity of language study and the rigor required of scholars to understand biblical Hebrew and Greek.

In Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis, you will get a basic introduction to the field of linguistics—its history, its key concepts, its major schools of thought, and how its insights can shed light on various problems in biblical Hebrew and Greek. Learn how the study of language can enhance your Bible study.

Deepen your biblical education with the Lexham Methods Series. All four volumes are available now.