Posts Tagged ‘hermeneutics’

Jeremiah Was A Dragon Man: Context, Not Proof Text

September 8, 2012 2 comments

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed the importance of reading New Testament quotes of the Old Testament with an understanding of the context of the OT quotes (this statement will become more clear in this post. If you’re interested, I believe I first did this in a brief note on OT quotes in the beginning of Matthew, extensively throughout a series on the somewhat frightening Romans 9, and in the last few posts in stories about water. If you’re interested in reading the New Testament well, I don’t think the process of contextualizing OT quotes can be overdone.

In Luke’s gospel, when Jesus is making a scene in the Temple, he says to those selling in the Temple, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of robbers'” (19:46 ESV, also Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17). Jesus quotes both Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (the current chapter of Jeremiah I’m writing on). By quoting these Scriptures, Jesus isn’t using Scripture to justify his actions or prove his point that they should be praying instead of selling. Jesus’ message is partially in his word choice, but the full thrust of the message is only felt with an understanding of the context of the verses he quotes.

Isaiah 56:7

“these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”

The context of Isaiah 56:7 is pretty awesome. Isaiah is describing the world as it will be when the Messianic Servant of Isaiah 52-53 ushers in the redemption and restoration of Israel; the reigning of the presence, peace, and love of YHWH; and the rectification and rejoicing of creation (read Isaiah 50-end… if you want a deeper understanding of the kingdom of God Jesus established). The words of Isaiah and other prophets about redemption are what Israel has been hoping in and waiting for since the Exile.

The redemption of Israel involves YHWH bringing them out of their exile, he “gathers the outcasts,” and after that, he gathers “yet others to him besides those already gathered” (Is 56:8). These others are the outsiders to Israel, the foreigners, the unclean eunuchs, and everyone who would honor God, He will make his people in the same way the people of Israel are His people. In YHWH’s kingdom, religious divisions (which are often ethnic and racial) are thrown aside and all are welcome in his house, the “house of prayer for all peoples” (Is 56:7; Mark 11:17 makes the “all peoples” part more explicit).

In the Temple scene Jesus is doing far more than declaring the Temple is not functioning as it should. Jesus’ criticism, based on Isaiah, is that the Temple is not functioning as a “house of prayer for all nations.” This criticism only makes sense if Israel is living in the age where YHWH is acting to redeem his people and rule over the world. Jesus is not just criticizing, but by implication, Jesus is declaring that the Kingdom of God is here. Jesus’ actions in the Temple are representative of God bringing justice to the Temple, making the Temple the way it should be in the age of redemption, open to all peoples.

Jeremiah 7:11

“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”

Prior to this verse are exhortations for the people of Judah to amend their ways (repent) and stop putting their trust in their status as God’s people who have been given the place where YHWH’s presence dwells (3&4). What matters for Israel is treating the outsiders and underprivileged with dignity and everyone with justice (5-7), not that they also happen to be offering sacrifices in the Temple (21). Jeremiah equates Israel’s continued mistreatment of God and others while claiming their deliverance in the house of YHWH with thinking His house is a “den of robbers” (10-11).

After the the verse quoted above, YHWH warns of the repercussions that will follow if the people of Judah do not amend their ways. For their treatment of His house like a den of robbers, YHWH says He will destroy the place of His dwelling as He has done in the past (12-14). The destruction of His dwelling in Jerusalem is a symbolic abandoning of Israel to their own “abominations” and a removal from Israel the very thing which distinguishes it from other nations, the dwelling of YHWH. Following this, God states the obvious: without the dwelling of God in their midst, they are just like the descendants of Esau (15), blood related to Abraham but not his true offspring (see Romans 9 above).

Jesus’ use of this text gives extensive meaning to his brief statement. He is accusing those selling in the Temple area of “swearing falsely,” mistreating the sojourner and the underprivileged, and putting their trust in offerings and the Temple while living in a manner incongruent with the kingdom of heaven. Contained within Jesus’ words is a warning that Israel is in danger of being cast out of the people of God despite blood descent from Abraham. Jesus’ citation of Jeremiah are one of the many places in the gospels (implicitly and explicitly) where Jesus prophesies the destruction of the Temple. Like Jeremiah, Jesus is a prophet warning the people of God about exile. While Jeremiah warns Israel if they do not accept YHWH’s words and repent they will be exiled from their land, Jesus warns Israel that if they do not accept His words and repent they will not experience the freedom from exile their Redeemer has come to enact.

Jesus’ interplay between the texts of Isaiah and Jeremiah is fascinating. Jesus says through Isaiah, “The time of the Redeemer has come, the exile of His people is ending, Israel is fulfilling its purpose (through Jesus Messiah) of being a light to all nations, and God’s reign over all creation is beginning.” Through Jeremiah Jesus says, “The exile is ending, but only for those who hear the word and amend their ways.” When we see Jesus’ Old Testament quotations and references in their proper context, we discover new insights into the meaning of what Jesus is doing and saying.


Simply Church: My Issues #3

December 25, 2011 Leave a comment

I have a lot of friends that give sermons regularly. They give sermons of varying length, in varying churches, to people of varying ages. One question that has been posed to me on numerous occasions goes something like this: “Can you think of a verse that says ________ or talks about issue ________ or confirms point A?” Asking about verses is fantastic, but they are not asking because they really want to read the passage, interpret it, and communicate that interpretation. They already know what they want to say and they want to back up what they say with Scripture.

I’ve heard hundreds of messages like this. I’ve heard hundreds of sermons where the preacher primarily is communicating his or her thoughts on a topic and then using Scripture to provide evidence for what he is saying. They are doing their best to preach topics that they think are the most relevant to their audience. They are teaching their own philosophy coming from their personal experience and Scripture becomes a way to try to prove that what they are saying is true.These teachers are trying to teach their audience something that will be helpful for them in their daily lives. The concern for the hearers is admirable. What they teach comes from a worldview influenced by the culture of Christianity that they have experienced. A lot of great things are said to the audience.

But, I think this is a crazy way to teach. It’s well intentioned. It probably has a lot of positive effects. I’m sure it often communicates a relatively biblical worldview. But it’s backwards. This manner of teaching involves the teacher using Scripture to teach what they think is true. The goal of the teacher, preacher, or sermoneer should be to teach Scripture, not to teach something that is backed up by Scripture. The starting point should be interpreting Scripture and a sermon should be constructed around that interpretation of Scripture, rather than starting at one’s own philosophy and including Scripture because its in church and should have some Bible verses that seem to agree. The Bible is not an author to quote to evidence a perspective, but it is the book should be the primary force shaping our perspective. The commonplace of proof-texting negatively affects this.

There’s a lot of other issues with teaching that have bothered me over the years, but the one discussed above has seemed the most prominent and the one that has done the most to undermine, manipulate, and neglect Scripture. As this complaining has been a cathartic process for me, I’m going to go ahead and mention other manners of teaching that have bothered me.

I don’t like it when people speak in absolutes about things that aren’t biblical absolutes. You’re just making assumptions dude to try to make your words sound more authoritative, dramatic, or meaningful. I don’t like it when people add to scripture or biblical stories things that the stories don’t say because they think they’re true. I’ve heard things about Joseph dying when Jesus was young, outcries before God that Scripture doesn’t talk about, etc. There is also a tendency to look at a text with the immediate goal of finding a life application without first finding what the author intended scripture to mean. The question posed to Scripture is “What do these verses mean to me?” or “What do these verses mean to the congregation?” instead of simply, “What are these verses trying to communicate?”

I think I’ve gotten most of it out. Thanks for listening.

Because I Like Reading Others’ Thoughts

March 30, 2011 3 comments

So, in our brief trek through the luscious landscape of looking at portions of Romans 9 through the Old Testament lenses Paul encourages us to put on we have two more stops. Hosea and Isaiah. I know that at least some of you have appreciated the way that I’ve approached the text (despite it’s candidly singular focus). I have found the exploration process more rich than the writing. What I would like is to only write about one more book and its impact on interpreting Romans 9. I want you to write about the other one.

What I want is for one of you, or all of you, to write about one portion of Romans 9 using either Paul’s quotes from Isaiah or Hosea, using a similar approach to what I have used. If anyone actually does it, I will post it on my blog. If multiple people do it, then I may post one, but I will probably post all of them. If you’d just like to send me something but don’t want me to publish it, that would be cool too. I really am just interested in how others see the relationships of the stories and words of the past to Paul’s argument in the “present.” If you need a more clear writing prompt, here: How does Paul’s quoting of Isaiah (or Hosea) add to, clarify, and effect the point he is making in Romans 9? Email it to me at

Categories: Romans 9 Tags: ,
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