J.S. Park


Posts tagged with "hermeneutics"

Oct 2

Hi, I have a question about forgiveness. In the Lord's Prayer, there's the part that says "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". Also, in Matthew 6, Jesus says "if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins". To me it looks like the verse says that God's forgiveness is conditional on our own acts of forgiveness, but I don't think that's the case. Could you help me better understand this passage? Thanks

Hey my friend, the passage you mentioned definitely scares me too.  There are also other similar ones.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. — Mark 11:25

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. — Luke 6:37

In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” — Matthew 18:34-35

At first glance, all these passages seem conditional, as if God will only forgive when we forgive others.

But as with any Bible passage, we must always balance out singular verses with the rest of the Bible in theme, intent, and the GospelOtherwise, end up with a lopsided theology that might be half-right, but is therefore all wrong.

In one of my favorite Bible stories in Luke 7, a “sinful woman” anoints the feet of Jesus with her tears.  Jesus then says,

"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

In other words, “Those who know how much they’re forgiven will also forgive.  Those who have been loved much will also love much.”

Where did the idea of forgiveness come from?  Is it natural to our human flesh?  No.  We perpetuate cycles of retaliation and vengeance because we believe in justice.  Forgiveness is paying off the debt that a wound incurs, and it means we absorb the hurt that was dealt to us.  And the original forgiveness comes from God Himself, through His Son, and that forgiveness is a gift for us that we can give to others.  It starts with Him and does not originate with us.

As far as I can tell, the Bible languages are suggesting that when we forgive, we are showing we understand the forgiveness we’ve first been given.  We are showing we know that it costs something; it cost God the life of His Son.  This sort of divine complete forgiveness is not only unconditional, but counter-conditional.  Our debt has been wiped clean, which compels us to wipe the debt of others.

— J.S.

May 1

There seems to be a marked difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. How do we reconcile as Christians the Old Testament God with the New Testament God?

Hey my friend, please allow me to point to some old posts here:

- God Seems A Little Crazy In The Old Testament — A Mega-Post on the OT

- The Down-Low on The Old Testament Commands

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau


It definitely feels like the God of the OT is different than the NT, and like everyone, I’m still learning about that.  Here are a few things to consider.


- It seems like God struck people dead all the time in the OT, while only three times in the NT (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, and King Herod in Acts 12).  But the NT covers a much shorter period than the OT (a hundred years versus thousands/millions).  So without even going over the whole “struck-dead” thing (which is a different topic for another day), I think it works out proportionately.


- The OT is full of God’s grace, but the OT is a bit harder to read between the lines because there is less “theologizing” and more narrative.  Where as the NT pauses a lot to explain the theology, especially in the gospel of John and all of Paul’s letters, the OT was an oral retelling that would express its theology in facial expressions and well-known cultural norms. 

So any time God’s grace would show up in the OT, the storyteller would rarely say, “And there was our great God of grace!”  Everyone would just nod, knowing that grace had happened.  All of God’s grace in the OT is conveyed by God’s initiative hand that worked first for His people.  Cases in point: God’s covenant with Abraham, Noah being saved with his family, God rescuing the Israelites through the Red Sea, all the coincidences in Esther, all the coincidences in Ruth, God slaying Goliath, Solomon’s temple, Elijah blowing up Mount Carmel, Hosea marrying a whore, and so on.  None of these Bible characters were particularly awesome: God worked through them first, by His grace.


- The easiest way to read the OT is to see it as The Coming of the King.  All the OT people were imperfect under God’s law, and every mediator — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, the prophets, etc. — all pointed to the great mediator Jesus. 

So when God punished the mediators and Israelites for their disobedience, He was displaying the perfection of His law.  Sure, it seems extreme.  But the ultimate consequences of our disobedience were laid upon Jesus.  The most extreme punishment fell upon him, for our behalf.  The OT and NT meet at the Servant King.  The OT God was still displaying His perfect law, and the NT married this with His costly grace — and so despite the often graphic nature of the OT, we see it even more so in the cross of Christ, not less.  We see it in the cost he paid to redeem us.

We reconcile the OT and NT by the work of Jesus.  There we see both the law and love of God in perfect union.

— J

In line with your most recent post (or answered question), what would you recommend for those who do their devotions but couldn't understand the metaphors used by Jesus? I usually look up the interpretations online and go from there but I was wondering if there's a better way to go about it. Thank you for your help!

Hey there dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post.

One book I highly recommend is Henrietta Mears’ What The Bible Is All About.  It’s a very simple commentary with pictures (woo!) and practical explanations of every book in the Bible.  It’s not too specific on any one book, but gives just enough context to help us think through Scripture for ourselves. 

The wider we read, the more we’ll start fitting the pieces too.  I’ve probably read tons of Timothy Keller and C.S. Lewis, and they’ve helped formed my theology just enough to get a foothold in Jesus’s words.  While I don’t mean to make it only a matter of intellect, it does help to read broadly.  That means both diving into Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem or something light like Max Lucado.

I would also recommend a good huge Study Bible.  My personal favorite is the very classic Zondervan 1984 NIV Study Bible.  The best thing is to browse a few Study Bibles at a bookstore and see which you like.  I’ve seen some friends also like the Life Application and Quest Study Bibles.

May I add: Jesus did say some pretty tough things to figure out.  Scholars still dissect the particulars to this day.  If these really smart people are struggling with them, then a simple-minded person like me will too, and that’s okay.  I think there are probably very simple meanings to all of Jesus’s metaphors, and it would be best to receive the most obvious meaning, then apply it.  I’m sure there’s an infinite amount of wisdom we can receive from every parable, but they can also be easy enough for the five-year-old to understand.  So we want to look into them and always remain curious, but also don’t worry too much if you wrestle with them a bit too.  We can enjoy that process of lifelong discovery.

— J

Four Ways To Sell Out On The Bible

Preachers, teachers, and fellow Christians, from any tradition or background, from straight-up cessationist to Neo-Reformed Calvinist to unashamed Charismatic: please, please, please do not sell out on the Bible.

I know this will probably never be your intention.  You want to remain true to Scripture.  You are passionate for proclaiming God’s Word.  But by incremental degrees we can lose sight of the awesome glory of Jesus if we turn this into a man-centered, therapy-only, self-help manual. I understand how this happens and I’m not above it.  But more than ever in our up-and-down times, I want to remain faithful to God’s Word.

Four ways we can slip on this, and how to re-adjust.

We’ve sold out on the Bible when —

1) We turn storms, demons, disease, and death into metaphors and allegories.

I totally get how this happens, but the Bible is about as literal as it gets.  The Bible authors did not intend for real events to be turned into metaphorical therapy devices for a healthier you.  When Jesus told the storm to shut up, this is not a “storm of your life.”  Sorry, but Jesus had freaking power over a gale-force hurricane. 

If you can imagine Paul or Peter or Ezra or David or John sitting in the back of your church during a sermon or Bible study, then consider how they might hear you.  Goliath is not a metaphor for your financial issues or marriage problems or time management.  David killed Goliath with a real stone and then cut off his head.  This, you know, like actually happened.

And come on, no one wants to “be like David” anyway.  He was an adulterous murderer.  The Bible is not a glossy photoshopped album of muscular glistening heroes.  It’s full of fallen broken people that needed God’s grace: like you, like me.

Every miracle, story, and fallen Bible character points to Jesus.  If Jesus had power over demons, diseases, and death, then surely he has power over our daily lives.  But the point is always to worship him in gratitude, not simply re-arrange our psychology.  The name of Jesus is always the point of everything.

2) We flip the switch from redemption to righteous living.

Enough of lazy preacher tactics.  No more guilt, fear, shame, and stupid probing questions.  “When’s the last time you evangelized?  When’s the last time you sincerely worshiped Him?  How are you doing with accountability?  Are you committed or not?  Are you really following Jesus or just a faker?” 

How about I suck at all of these things and my hospital-bills/family-death/secret-addiction is killing me?

When we teach exclusively on behavioral externals, we run into wild guilt-driven legalism that boxes us into anxious panic mode.  The preacher might make you feel like you need to step up your game and “make it right with the Lord,” but that’s why Jesus came to die in the first place: because we couldn’t do it on our own. 

The Bible is foremost a historical event of redemption, not a guidebook on righteous living.  There’s definitely practical wisdom in there, but we need the Living Redeemer to empower us with daily grace.  As I’ve said before, we are works in progress looking towards the work finished, Jesus.

3) We turn God’s Promises into reward-based principles.

I don’t just mean Prosperity Theology, where enough faith makes you rich or cures your cancer.  I also mean when a preacher yells at you to avoid consequences and run after God because then you’ll always have “peace” and “blessing” and “strength.” That if you follow His rules, then rewards must follow.

Life does not work this way. When we invest an hour of work, we don’t always get back an hour’s return. The problem of “linear thinking” with God is we assume God is angry when life goes wrong, we presume God will bless us if we work hard enough; we feel we can’t pray to Him if we haven’t prayed in a while, as if God is keeping score.

If we read the Bible with a results/rewards orientation, we can easily abuse it to control everything around us.  At best, we’ll be disappointed when God doesn’t deliver on promises that He never made anyway. 

When people say, “God you owe me,” I don’t think they know what they’re asking.  God is not fair: otherwise He would explode you out of your seat right now.  God works on grace and mercy, which none of us deserve.  God gave you His Son; anything else is bonus blessing.

4) We use the Bible as scaffolding for inspirational, pick-me-up, pep talk. 

I struggle the most with this one. I can easily lose the bigger picture of the Bible.

I forget that when David faced Goliath, it was not merely a story of God-given strength, but a narrative of God being glorified through his chosen people in an impossible situation where only the supernatural would work. 

I forget that Ruth isn’t just about godly romance, but a picture of God’s eternal love for us through His providence and the foreshadowing of His Son.

I once preached a sermon on insecurity when in the middle of it, I realized God isn’t just here to remove our insecurity.  Certainly He can do that and I’ve experienced victory over it through Him.  But that’s only a microcosm of God’s power. 

The greater story of the Bible is so exponentially glorious that real problems like insecurity lose their momentum in the light of the Gospel.  The bigger we know God is, the smaller we are, and we won’t have to resort to emotionally-driven, eloquently constructed, rally charges to have daily victory. 

If we’re only teaching practical wisdom for inspirational living, this is pretty much just good advice competing with not-good-advice.  Essentially it doesn’t take us anywhere or have any purpose by itself except to make you feel better, which a hot bath or a box of chocolates or a counselor can do any day of the week.  You wouldn’t need the Bible for that. 

But God’s Word transplants you into the Good News, a story beyond your life that is bigger than your feelings and your dreams and your ambitions.  When God’s Word is seen as the overarching narrative of God’s Story —not yours or mine — you can breathe out.  It’s not about you “keeping up” or self-maintaining.  It’s about the God who keeps you.  It’s about the God who keeps reigning when your life is a mess, which is a truth bigger than what we feel.

Our God is the same God who was sovereign over the Exodus, over the Babylonian Captivity, the Roman Rule, and is sovereign today over your homework and career choice and panic attacks and depression and rough relationships.  God has put us in the middle of this continuing narrative called the Bible, and if we can start there, then the daily grace for practical wisdom will make that much more sense. 

I Want To Read My Bible — But How?

Full post here.

You cracked open your journal, busted out your favorite pen, and finally opened your Bible.

Five sentences later, you have no idea what you just read.

Confusion, frustration, resignation: But the pastor made it so easy. It was better when he told it.

And the final excuse: At least I tried.

It’s happened to all of us, from rookies to veterans, when we catch the excitement of digging into Scripture and come out cold. Most of us will conclude the Bible is too hard, that we’re not mature enough, that we need to be spoon-fed, that something’s wrong with me, that we’ll try it again later. And with each pass at reading, we grow more bewildered.

Every pastor with the best of intentions is yelling at you to read your Bible, but they forget to tell you how

Of course the simplest way would be to turn to Genesis and just rip right through it. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little help in reading Scripture. If you genuinely want to read the Bible but have had some false starts, here are some ways to dig into the Greatest Truth in the universe.

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