If you could only keep five books of the Bible, which would you choose?

While slogging through some of the reading for my Greek Exegesis class, a point was made regarding the fact that parts of our Scripture are more useful or easily applicable to our lives and thought.

My mind quickly followed the rabbit down his trail and I eventually asked myself which five books of the Bible I would keep if I were in some hypothetical scenario in which I were presented with such a choice. As I ran through the options in my mind, I quickly came up with the five that I would not be without. It was interesting to realize how quickly I came up with them, and how I was not able to come up with any arguments that would overthrow my previous choices.

I’d be very interested to hear which five books of the Bible you would choose to keep if you were forced to make the decision, and why.

This thought experiment brings up the idea of a canon within the Canon. This phrase refers to the fact that, whether we are aware of it or not, we all tend to emphasize and attach more worth to certain books of the Bible than others. This is a natural thing based on the diversity within Scripture and the diversity of its readers, but it is also a very dangerous thing. If we do indeed believe that ALL Scripture is God-breathed, and useful, etc. we must fight the temptation to spend all our time in our favorite books and ignore those which are less exciting, less clear, or more convicting. Of course different books have different purposes and different strengths, and I’m not suggesting a wooden application such that each book of the Bible receive equal time in the pulpit or in personal study, but most of us tend to pay undue attention to some books at the expense of others (and our own knowledge and edification!).

By considering this question and how you answer it, I hope you’ll end up with some food for thought regarding the way you think about the Bible and the way you value its different books.

I think I will wait to share my list until a few of you have shared yours, if any of you do.

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Doctrinal Statement: God

What is God like, and what does he do? My second doctrinal statement looks at the Nature and Work of God. These are works in progress, but this is what I have thus far.

Nature of God

There is one true God who is eternal and exists in inherent relationship (Gen 1:26). God is a spirit (John 4:24) and exists in the three coeternal persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are personally distinct, but essentially united, comprising one “What” and three “Who’s” (Gen. 1:2, Matt. 3:16-17, John 14:11, 16-17, 1 Pet 1:2). They are equal in character and essence, and thus are equally qualified to receive worship (John 4:24, 20:28). The persons of the Godhead are all knowing, wise, and powerful, and present everywhere (Ps. 139:1-10, Jer. 32:17, Rom 16:27, Dan 4:35). The first person of the Trinity is fully God in essence and character and is specially working his purpose and plan, by which we are elected and adopted in love to the praise of the glory of his grace (John 6:37, Eph 1:3-14).

As a relational being, God is personal (Gen. 3:9) and has chosen to come near and reveal himself to us as YHWH, calling himself compassionate, gracious, loving, faithful, forgiving, patient, yet justly judging evil (Ex. 34:6-7). God is eternal, unchanging and infinite in his being, character, power, purposes, promises and knowledge (Num. 23:19, Mal. 3:6) but does change his attitudes and actions in response to our prayers, and resistance or repentance (Jeremiah 18:6-10, Jon. 3:10). He is loving, faithful, good, holy, just, and true (1 Jn. 4:8, Deut. 7:9, Ps. 34:8, Isa. 6:3, Deut 32:4, 1 Jn. 5:20). These attributes are objective characteristics of his nature and are rooted in his essence.

Work of God

God’s plan is eternally and sovereignly based on his gracious character, such as his infinite wisdom, knowledge, and power (Eph. 1:4, Rom. 11:33, Ps. 139:1-6, Rom.16:27, Jer. 32:17, Ps. 115:3, Dan. 4:35) and thus is not arbitrary or capricious. He is at work in all things, and is in control and will bring his purposes and plan to pass for the sake of his glory, in spite of many who make decisions which are contrary to and resist his will and desire (Ps. 33:10-11, 1 Chr. 29:11-12, Eph. 1:11). God hates sin, and is not its author, nor does he approve it (Jas. 1:13, Jer. 44:4, Zech. 8:17). God commands righteousness and forbids sin, even promising judgment as a result (Mic. 6:8, Ex. 20:1-17), but allows people limited, contrary choice for which they are always responsible (Isa. 1:18-20, Isa. 6:8, Rom. 2:6). To bring about his perfect plan in this broken world (Gen. 3:16-19), God limits and frustrates evil and is loving and powerful enough to do good even in the worst evil and suffering (Gen. 50:20, Jn. 18:28-30).

God chose, before the foundation of the world, to give every spiritual blessing to certain people, who are those in Christ (Eph 1:3-4). God chose some because he foreknew that they would respond to his calling in faith, and chose others purely on the basis of his sovereign purpose (1 Pet. 1:1-2, Rom. 8:29, Acts 13:48, Gal. 1:15). Some are in Christ as a result of God’s irresistible redemptive grace (Acts 9:4-7, Gen. 12:1-4) and others as a result of God’s resistible redemptive grace that he gives to all mankind (Tit. 2:11, Rom. 2:4-10). Those responding by faith to God’s gracious offer of salvation in Jesus Christ in no way merit salvation by their acceptance of the free gift, as the entire debt was paid by Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 3:22-28). God desires that all would be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4, 2 Pet. 3:9) and draws all people to himself, but his kindness is rejected by many (Jn. 12:32, Rom. 2:5, Rev. 20:12-15).

God created from nothing and then formed that which he had made into the universe that exists by his word and for his glory (Gen. 1:1, 2:7, Ps. 33:6-7). God is transcendent and distinct from his creation, but his creation is entirely dependent on him and his immanent interaction with it. In his active providence he governs, preserves and upholds all things by his Word (Ps. 103:19, Col. 1:15-17, Heb. 1:3). He lovingly provides in order to bring about his redemptive end through the course of history and gives people a degree of partnership in ruling the world.

Your thoughts on God, or on what I’ve written?

Take a look at my first doctrinal statement which explores the doctrine of Revelation.

Doctrinal Statement: Revelation

My first doctrinal statement looks at the question of where and how God speaks. These are works in progress, but this is what I have thus far.

We know God as YHWH because he has chosen to reveal himself. Revelation is both possible and necessary because God created humans in his image (Gen. 1:26-27) and to live in relationship with him (Gen. 2:16). God did not stop speaking when man violated his trust (Gen. 3:9) but told the story of Messiah (Gen. 3:15).

 

 

General Revelation

This Revelation is General in that it is communicated to all people at all times (Ps. 19:4; Rom. 1:20). The means God used to speak to all people everywhere are creation (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1) and conscience (Rom. 1:32, 2:14-15).  In creation, God makes plain (Rom. 1:19) his glory and creativity (Ps. 19:1), his power and divinity (Rom. 1:20), and his goodness and kindness (Rom. 2:4; Acts 14:17). In conscience, God reveals his righteous standard and his justice towards the breaking of that standard (Rom. 2:14-15). God purposed that humans would seek him (Acts 17:27) as he made himself known to them in these varied ways, but most, though coming to real knowledge of God (Rom. 1:21) suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18) and reject him and are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Others are led towards repentance by God’s kindness (Rom.2:4; Acts 1:8).

Special Revelation

This Revelation is Special in that it is communicated to certain people at certain times. God’s purpose was to restore fellowship between humans and himself by revealing more fully his nature and plan. God spoke directly (Gen. 12:1-3), through angels (Matt. 1:20-21), through prophets, visions and dreams (Isa. 6:1-10; Gen. 37:5-7), and through the words and works of Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14, 13:49), as recorded in the Bible.

 

 

The Bible

God’s words and works in history are recorded in the Bible, made up of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, which claim to be from God (Deut. 18:17-18;1 Cor. 15:37), tell the same story (Lk. 24:25-27), and are recognized as Scripture by Jesus (Matt. 5:17-19), the apostles (2 Pet. 3:16) and the Church through the ages.

The Scriptures have their origin in the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21) whose work is confluent with the diverse human authors so that every word of Scripture (Gal. 3:16; Jn. 10:34-35), its entirety and its parts (2 Tim. 3:16), is God-breathed (inspired) and communicates truth about God while maintaining the individual characteristics, cultures, and languages of the human authors.

The Bible, as originally written, is inerrant (Ps. 19:7, Jn. 10:35), meaning that what the Holy Spirit intended to communicate is in every way trustworthy and true, when properly understood. As God’s true word to us today, the Bible is our supreme authority (Acts 4:18-20, 17:11) is sufficient for salvation and relationship with God (2 Tim. 3:15-17), and its central message is clear and simple for all to understand (Deut. 30:11-14, Ps. 19:7-8).

Our understanding and acceptance of the Bible’s teaching as revelation is made possible by the illumination of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26; 1 Jn. 2:27), through a consistent commitment to seeking authorial intent, accounting for genre, grammar, cultural, historical and literary context, and letting scripture interpret scripture.

 

Your thoughts on Revelation, or on what I’ve written?

Who Understood Jesus’ Parables?

Jesus was a master storyteller, and constantly used them to teach his hearers. In Matthew 13:10-17, following the Parable of the Sower, the disciples ask Jesus why he taught in parables.

10Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

via ebibleteacher.com

The common understanding of Matthew 13:10-17 is that the result of Jesus teaching in parables was understanding for some, but confusion and misunderstanding for many others. Some call this the result of the parables, whereas others go so far as to say that Jesus intended to teach in a way that would be unclear. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with this interpretation, since it seems to indicate that Jesus was less than concerned with his hearers understanding his message, which seems to run contrary to the desires of Jesus as portrayed elsewhere in the gospels (Luke 19:41-42).

In a recent Theology class, Gerry Breshears suggested essentially the opposite of this common understanding. He believes that Jesus taught in parables in order to make explicitly clear what it is that he was teaching. This is not to suggest that everyone had the same level of understanding, or that people accepted the message, but that Jesus’ parables communicated simple truths that would have been easy for his listeners to understand. There are complexities and nuances of meaning to be sure, but the core message of each parable was clear. The result of the parables was not a bunch of confused listeners, but rather people who understood the point Jesus was trying to get across in his story, and rejected it. I think this makes better sense of the quoted passage from Isaiah, and other similar passages. These were people whose hearts, for the most part, were already hard towards God. When Jesus, in his teaching and his parables, clearly drew a line in the sand, the choice was forced. Some were driven to respond to the radical message with repentance, others with rejection.

What do you think? Did Jesus tell parables in order to obfuscate, so that only those who dug through the murk would understand, or to make his message abundantly clear so that those who accepted the message would repent and those who spurned it would do so knowingly?

for an interesting read on how to read the parables, check out this post by Tim Gombis.