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Rightly Understanding God’s Word, by Craig S. Keener



In Josiah’s day the book of the law was found in the temple, and Josiah’s humble response to its demands changed his generation. Jesus later confronted religious teachers of His day who, for all their attention to the law, had often buried it beneath their religious traditions. Numerous monastic orders through the Middle Ages kept finding the church (or earlier orders) corrupt and far from the apostolic message, and summoned them back to it. John Wycliffe, a Bible professor at Oxford, challenged the church hierarchy of his day. After he lost his position, he began sending his students out with translations of Scripture to preach in the countryside. Although England suppressed his work, it lay under the surface, ready to blossom again in the English Reformation a century later. Luther was a Bible professor who challenged the church hierarchy’s exploitation of the peasants, calling the church back to the Scriptures (other Reformers had the same emphasis, some seeking to take the matter even further than Luther). When many Lutherans became complacent in their faith, Philipp Jakob Spener, a university professor, helped stir the Pietist movement with his Bible teaching, summoning people back to living the Scriptures.

Throughout history, many of the major revival movements came as people turned back to the Bible, allowing it to challenge them to hear God’s message afresh in their generation. The church in much of the world today needs to return to the Bible no less, seeking from God a fresh wind of the Spirit to challenge many of the claims made in the name of God, His word, or His Spirit. May we pray for such an awakening, search the Scriptures ourselves, and become God’s agents in spreading His message.

I arrange this course from the most basic principles to the more complex. Some students may find principles like “context” too basic and may wish to skip ahead. Before they do so, I encourage them to sample the context examples; many will be surprised how many songs, sermons, and popular sayings have taken texts out of their context. In other words, it is one thing to affirm that we believe in context; it is quite another to practice that skill consistently. I have supplied concrete examples to help us grapple with that reality and encourage us to apply our “belief” in context more rigorously. Context is essential because that is the way God inspired the Bible—not with random, isolated verses but with a continuous flow of thought to which those verses contribute.

Some issues of interpretation perhaps should go without saying, but I will treat them briefly in the introduction, because some Christians also fail to apply these in practice. The central goal of studying God’s Word is to know God better, and the better we know Him, the better we will understand His Word. Because God gave us the Bible as a written book that contains much history, He does expect us to use literary and historical principles when we study it. But it is also a record of the message of God’s heart to His people, so we dare not approach it as merely a matter of intellectual interest or curiosity. Those who become “experts” from a purely intellectual or even religious standpoint can become like the scribes who opposed our Lord Jesus. We must remember that this book, unlike normal books, has the right to make moral demands on our lives. We do not become “experts” who show off our knowledge. We must humble ourselves before the God of Scripture.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2015

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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