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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Learning Context, Part 1, by Craig S. Keener

The adornment of precious stones (28:13) alludes to Tyre’s great wealth, elsewhere described in terms of gorgeous array (27:4-7, 24) and trade in diverse merchandise including precious stones (27:16, 22). The wickedness of 28:15 is the wickedness of Tyre’s merchant interests (28:16), her “dishonest trade” (28:18 NIV) elsewhere referred to in the context (27:2-36; 28:4-5; cf. 26:17). The king’s pride on account of his beauty (28:17) recalls the pride of the ruler of Tyre who claims to be a god yet is merely a man (28:2), proud because of the wealth Tyre had amassed through trading (28:5). That fire would come forth from the ruler of Tyre (28:18), just as ancient cities were normally destroyed by burning in their midst (cf. e.g., Amos 1:4, 7, 12; 2:2, 5—especially Amos 1:10, against Tyre).

Ezekiel refers to an arrogant human ruler. The ruler in this passage exalts himself in pride and is cast down; the casting down is more explicit in the oracle earlier in the chapter (28:2-10). He claimed to be a god, enthroned in the heart of the seas (28:2; Tyre was off the seacoast of Phoenicia). God has Ezekiel mock this ruler: You think that you are as wise as a god (28:6), but God would bring judgment on this ruler by other nations (28:7); then would he still pretend to be a god in front of those who would kill him (28:9)? He was a “man,” not a god, and he would die a horrible and violent death (28:8-10). This is hardly a description of the devil, an immortal spirit; this is an earthly ruler who claimed to be a god, who would learn his mortality at the time of God’s judgment on Tyre.

Yet even if these two passages referred to the devil as well as to earthly rulers—though in context they do not—why do defenders of this view often apply these passages to the devil yet never apply them also to earthly rulers judged by God for their arrogance? Wouldn’t examples of human arrogance make even more useful passages for preaching or teaching matters relevant to our hearers? I suspect that many believers simply assume these passages refer to the devil because that is the way we have always heard them interpreted, but many of us never closely examined them in context. Whatever their views, I do not believe any reader can miss our point: this passage has a broad context in the surrounding chapters, and our short-cuts to learning the Bible have failed to study the books of the Bible the way God inspired them to be written.


12. Strengthened for Contentment in Philippians 4:13

I heard of a football player at a Christian college who approached a Bible professor, greatly troubled. His coach had encouraged the team that they could “do all things through Christ who strengthens” them, citing Philippians 4:13. Yet the team had lost a few games, and the student was unable to fathom why his team was not always winning. The problem, of course, is not with the text, but with the view that the player and apparently his coach had read into the verse; Paul actually was referring to something other than winning football games in his letter. Thanking the Philippians for sending him a love-gift (4:10, 14), Paul noted that he had learned contentment with both little and with much (4:12); he could do all things through Christ (4:13). In this context, he is saying that by Christ’s strength he could rejoice whether he had much or little. Today we should learn to rejoice in whatever our situation, knowing that Christ strengthens us to endure (whether persecution, ridicule, or even losing a football game).




Next Issue:  Part 2 of Chapter 2 has the 14 remaining examples of reading in context to better understand God’s Word, including: A Newborn Son in Isaiah 7:14, the cessation of the charismata in the context of 1 Cor. 13:8-10, and Knocking at the Door in Revelation 3:20.


Editor’s Note
Professor Craig S. Keener originally designed this course on Hermeneutics for use in Nigeria and not for traditional publication. Desiring to make it available to a wider audience, he has granted permission to publish this course in the Pneuma Review. Dr. Keener grants permission for others to make use of this material as long as it is offered without cost or obligation and that users acknowledge the source.

Portions of this course follow these recommended works: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (Zondervan). Revelation, NIV Application Commentary by Craig S. Keener (Zondervan, 1999).


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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2003

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.

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