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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Context of Genre, Part 2, by Craig S. Keener

At the same time, some offenses always carried the death penalty in the Old Testament, suggesting that God took these quite seriously for all cultures: murder, sorcery, idolatry, adultery, premarital sex, homosexual intercourse, extreme rebellion against parents, and some other offenses. This does not mean that we should enforce the death penalty against all these sins today, but we should take all these offenses seriously.

We seek God to provide us contemporary songs in the music of our own cultures as well.

In interpreting Old Testament laws, we must take into account the difference in era as well as the difference in culture. Just as people in Moses’ day could not ignore God’s revelation to Moses by citing the earlier revelation to Abraham, so today some things are different because of the coming of Jesus. Human nature is largely the same; God’s ways of working have much in common with his ways of working in the Old Testament, but now he sometimes works in very different ways. In Moses’ day, God drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea; in Jesus’ day, God unleashed a spiritual revolution that within three centuries converted much of the Roman and Axumite (East African) empires. The old covenant was good but worked by death; the new covenant works by life (2 Cor 3:6).

The law remains good and useful for ethical teaching, provided we use it properly (Rom 3:27-31; 7:12; 1 Tim 1:8-11). But mere obedience to the law without faith has never brought salvation; God always saved people by grace through faith (Rom 4:3-12), and since the coming of Jesus he has saved people through faith in Jesus Christ. When we consider how to apply particular details of the law today, we should also take into account other factors. Some biblical patterns, like God’s command to us to rest, were given prior to the law (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:11), and God also gives us commands in the New Testament (Jn 13:34; Acts 2:38; 1 Jn 2:7-11). Also, the Spirit was quite active in the Old Testament era (1 Sam 19:20-24; 1 Chr 25:1-2), but has become active in a new way in Christ (Jn 7:39; Acts 1:7-8; 2:17-18).


Biblical Prayers and Songs, especially Psalms

Psalms on the whole may be meant less to be interpreted than to be prayed and sung.

In some cases we have the historical context for psalms (e.g., 2 Sam 22:1 for Ps 18; 2 Sam 23:1-7), but in more cases we do not. One can gather that some psalms reflect mourning after the exile (e.g., Psalm 89, especially 89:38-51), but the context of some other psalms, say Psalm 150, is obscure—and ultimately not as necessary as with some other parts of the Bible. God inspired the psalms not only for the immediate circumstances that generated them, but for use in liturgical worship in later times (2 Chron 29:30); most resonate with many kinds of circumstances. Worship was a primary activity in the biblical temple (1 Chron 6:31-32; 15:16, 28-29; 16:4-6, 41-42; 2 Chron 8:14; Ps 5:7; 18:6; 27:4; 28:2; 48:9; 63:2; 65:4; 68:24, 35; 73:17; 84:2, 10; 92:13; 96:6-8; 100:4; 115:19; 134:1-2; 135:2; 138:2; 150:1), and especially restored in periods of revival (2 Chron 20:20-24; 29:25-27; 31:2; 35:2; Ezra 3:10-11; Neh 12:24-47). The Levites praised God especially at the morning and evening sacrifices (1 Chron 23:27, 30), perhaps as part of the offering (Ps 141:2; cf. 5:3; 88:13). Such worship was usually not calm, but joyful, celebrating God’s mighty works (e.g., Neh 12:27, 36, 43-46; perhaps one hundred references in the Psalms).

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2005

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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