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Correctly Handling the Word of Truth: An interview with Craig S. Keener

Craig Keener: Wherever I teach in the world, and whether at a Sunday School or seminary level, I start my Bible interpretation classes by listing some verses that we regularly quote today, for example, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). Most students have heard (and some have preached) that the thief in the passage is the devil. Then I give them a few minutes to read the context, and ask them again who the thief is. Amazed, they virtually unanimously announce that the passage is referring to false teachers who come to lead us away from Jesus (in the particular setting in John 9—10, the Pharisees). Of course, it is true that the devil comes to lead us away from Jesus and that the principle may apply to him. But by focusing only on how we’ve always heard the verse quoted, instead of reading the passage carefully, we miss all the other “thieves” that we need to be watching out for. We do this with a rather large percentage of our Bible memory verses. Sometimes well-meaning Bible teachers can do this with word-studies, too—which in the worst cases come down to preaching from a dictionary or taking not just a verse but a word out of context. That’s just as bad when you do it from a Greek dictionary as when you do it from an English one. We dare not miss the forest—the big picture of the message—for the trees (compare e.g., Matthew 23:23).


As a charismatic are there particular concerns that you have about the Charismatic/Pentecostal church in this respect?

Craig Keener: I mentioned above that Bible readers today often take shortcuts by not paying attention to context. Charismatics are not the only Christians to take Scripture out of context, but when we do so we are unfortunately the ones most prone to blame it on the Holy Spirit. Please understand that I fully embrace the gift of prophecy and the importance of hearing God’s voice in prayer. I even accept that God can speak to us personally through a verse out of context—as He can speak to us through a poem or a song. But that personal message is not God’s canonical word for His church for all time. His purpose in giving us the Bible is to ground us in the message that apostles and prophets heard through the centuries, a message tested through its fulfillment through time.

One time I was praying hard about figuring out the meaning of the tabernacle in Exodus. What I felt was the Spirit’s direction where to go find the information that would help me understand it. I went and did research on ancient temples until I could see clearly how the tabernacle differed from these other temples, and the lessons that taught me about God’s ways. God’s Spirit can lead us to do research just as He can speak to us directly about some things.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2007

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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