Category Archives: Bible Bites [Exegesis]

This category includes all posts that are primarily about exegesis (biblical interpretation), except for posts already included in the Church Chat category.

A Story in Greek

In December I had the opportunity to take a two-week Greek immersion class in Pennsylvania. There were about seventeen students and five teachers, depending on how you count. We had lots of fun, with over 4 hours a day of stories, role playing, and dialogue in New Testament Greek!

Joseph Neill telling a story about a man who made a great feast. Here he is inviting the class to identify (in Greek) the food that was served at the feast.

Since New Years we have been continuing studies with weekly three-hour video conference classes. The main teacher of the course is Joseph Neill. He exhibits considerable knowledge and patience and enhances our learning through good use of technology (Google classroom, Google docs assignments, video recordings of our classes on Zoom, audio excerpts, etc.). I’m really enjoying this opportunity to dig into NT Greek, especially since this program uses some of the same materials that I had selected for self-study several years ago.

For more information about the Biblical Greek Program, including a chance to sign up for the next class, go here:  https://biblicalgreekprogram.org/

And to learn more about the “living languages” approach taken by this program, go here:  https://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com/why-works/

One of our homework assignments this week is to record ourselves reading part of a story in Greek. We discussed the beginning of the story together in class, then we were each asked to write our own endings.

Here is a video of me reading the entire short story—the first half written by Joseph Neill, and the second half written by me. I must credit the Gospel writers for a couple lines I adapted!

You may notice that the pronunciation sounds different than you expect. The first reason is that, unlike most seminaries, we are following a pronunciation scheme developed by Randall Buth. This scheme is designed to more closely mirror the actual pronunciation of Koine Greek that was used in the time of Jesus. The second reason why my pronunciation may sound different is that my pronunciation, even by this scheme, is still amateur.

Here is the text of the story:

ὁ παῖς ὁ πτωχὸς ἐπείνασεν σφόδρα.
ᾔτησεν οὖν τὸν πλούσιον ἄνθρωπον ἄρτον.
ἐγέλασεν ὁ πλούσιος καὶ προβὰς ὀλίγον ἐξέβαλεν τὸν ἄρτον.
ἰδοῦσα τὸν παῖδα λυπούμενον ἀπέστειλεν γυνὴ δοῦλον αὐτῷ.
Πῶς ἔχεις; εἶπεν ὁ δοῦλος τῷ παιδί.
Κακῶς ἔχω, εἶπεν ὁ παῖς. ἐγώ πεινῶ. θέλω ἰχθύας. ἰχθύας ἔχεις;
Οὐ, ἀλλἀ ὑπάγω ἁλιεύειν, εἶπεν ὁ δοῦλος. Ἀκολούθει μοι καἰ ποιήσω σὲ ἀλιεῦς.

Here’s a rough translation:

A poor child was very hungry.
So he asked a rich man for bread.
The rich man laughed and, going on a little farther, threw away the bread.
Seeing the sad child, a woman sent her servant to him.
“How are you?” [Literally, “How do you have?”] said the servant to the child.
“Not good” [Literally, “I have bad”], said the child. “I am hungry. I want fish. Do you have fish?”
“No, but I am going fishing,” said the servant. “Follow me and I will make you a fisherman.”

Thanks for listening! If you have any questions about the Biblical Greek Program, or any stories about learning biblical languages, share them in the comments below. Blessings!


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“All Things Work Together for…” What?

In Romans 8:28 Paul famously assures us that “all things work together for good.” This is a much-quoted and much-misunderstood verse. Here it is in full:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

One way this verse is misunderstood is to turn it into an indefinite assurance that “everything that happens has a purpose”; things will work out well for everyone, eventually. But this promise is given only to “those who love God.” Those who do not love God have no such assurance.

But this still leaves a question: What is the “good” that will come to those who love God? Expanding on what I shared in my sermon opening today, I’d like to share three answers.

All Things Work Together for What?

First, there is the “prosperity gospel good.” Many professing Christians—perhaps even most in places as diverse as America and Africa—believe that if a Christian has enough faith God will eventually shower them with material blessings. For example, consider this:

God takes pleasure in blessing you, and it’s His will for you to be prosperous… It’s His plan for your life to have enough to take care of all your needs and be a blessing to others, too! To be able to take your family out for a nice meal, to live in a good home, to drive a great car, to go on a nice vacation, and to be able to bless others as you have been blessed… Believe God for a little extra to give, and a little extra to enjoy, and speak His promises of abundance over your life. As time passes, your faith will increase as well as your ability to receive abundance in your finances… Declare that He supplies all of your needs according to his riches in glory, expect His prosperity in your life, and thank Him before you see any change because you know it’s coming!

There is a lot of truth in those words, but also enough serious error that my employer, which sells Christian books, does not plan to order any more of this title for our shelves. I won’t unpack here all the problems with prosperity gospel thinking. Anyone who reads the New Testament carefully should see that for many of Jesus’ most faithful servants, faith in God meant “always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:11), not nice vacations!

Seeing the errors of the prosperity “gospel,” many Christians look closer at the context of Romans 8 to see what “good” Paul had in mind. They note verse 29, which comes next:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

This leads to a second option: the “character-development good.” What good does God want us to enjoy? He wants us to “be conformed to the image of his Son.” What does that look like? Quite naturally, many readers think of moral qualities. What is Jesus like (WIJL)? What would Jesus do (WWJD)?

In this reading, God uses every circumstance of our lives to deepen our character. Suffering is his special way of filling us with more of his Spirit-fruit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Suffering teaches “those who belong to Christ Jesus” to “crucif[y] the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:22-24). The end result is that, as we go through all the joys and especially all the sorrows of life, we look more and more like Jesus.

What earnest Christian would not rejoice at this news? This is indeed good! And, unlike the prosperity “gospel” interpretation above, it is also true, as many Bible passages prove.

But is this the “good” that Paul had in mind when he wrote Romans 8:28?

I don’t think so. A closer look at context suggests a third option, something we might call the “glorification good.” And I think it’s important to hear what Paul is saying.

Notice the final clause in verse 29. Why does God want to conform us to the image of his son? “In order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Elsewhere in the New Testament when “firstborn” language is used about Jesus, it consistently refers his exalted position–over angels, over creation, and especially over death (Col. 1:15, 18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5 and Luke 2:7 uses it to refer to Jesus’ natural birth order). That speaks of glory.

Similarly, in the one place where the same term is used to refer to Christians, we read of “the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). That, too, suggests glory.

Back to Romans 8. Does our linguistic clue fit with Paul’s flow of thought? Consider verse 29, which comes next:

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This verse brings Paul’s thoughts to a climax. In many modern translations it is the end of a paragraph, with the next paragraph transitioning to wide-angle reflection on all that has been said before (“What then shall we say to these things?”).  The “punch-line,” then, of Paul’s thought in this entire pericope (“puh-RICK-uh-pea,” fancy biblical studies language for “literary unit” or “section”) is the word “glorified.”

The ESV translation provides the heading “Future Glory” for verses 18 through 30. This is fitting, for the word “glory” is important in the entire pericope. Working backwards, this is what we find:

The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Rom. 8:21)

Notice here that the glory spoken of belongs to “the children of God.” Talk of “children” foreshadows the language of Jesus being “the firstborn among many brothers” that we found in verse 29.

The first sentence of this pericope also mentions our glory:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom. 8:18)

And, in the verses that lead into this entire pericope, we find this:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:16-17)

Notice here the focus on our position—like Jesus—as “children of God.” Again, this closely matches the language of Jesus being “the firstborn among many brothers” that we found in verse 29.

In fact, the whole pericope from verses 18 through 30 function as an elaboration and proof of the claims in verses 16 and 17, and glory is at the heart of it all:

  • Verses 16 and 17: Paul claims that we who have the Spirit are Jesus’ brothers and will someday inherit the glory that he has inherited, provided we are willing to first suffer with Jesus.
  • Verses 18 to 30: Paul moves from “groaning” to “glory,” detailing the suffering we experience, assuring us of the Spirit’s help, and promising that our glorification is as good as done (“glorified”—past tense).

In this context, there can be little doubt: When Paul told his amanuensis to write “all things work together for good,” the “good” he had in mind was the future glorification of God’s children.

Why does this matter?

First, if you believe the “prosperity gospel good” interpretation of Romans 8:28, you will be sadly disappointed. Your faith is likely to be crushed beneath the persistent sufferings of this life. “When tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word,” you may “fall away” (Matt. 13:21). Or, equally bad, if you actually do enjoy prosperity here and now and pin your hopes on it, you will lose your life when you inevitably die. Make no mistake; the prosperity “gospel” is deadly.

But second, if you believe the “character-development good” interpretation of this passage, you are also in danger. As “all things” that bring suffering into your life “work together” and unrelentingly bear down upon your soul, you may grow weary of God’s refining fire. Being good may pale in comparison to being comfortable. I know it does for me sometimes.

Paul claimed that “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Taking up your cross and denying yourself is no fun. That’s why Paul said what he did. I don’t care how much you end up sharing Christ’s character, cross-bearing is a really, really bad deal for you unless you believe the incentive of eternal reward. In fact, it is such a bad deal that you probably won’t be able to psych yourself into keeping it for long.

Not even Jesus could bear his cross without focusing on “the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2).  Thus Peter urges you, too, to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).

In short, you need to set your hope on being “glorified,” not merely on being “good.” 

When you read Romans 8, never stop at verse 28. But never stop at verse 29, either. It sounds super spiritual to focus on suffering to become like Jesus. And you will indeed need to suffer if you are going to become like Jesus. But don’t try to be more spiritual than Jesus. Just aim to be with him and like him—good, yes, but also glorified!

For, one day, the two will be perfectly one, with suffering no more.

I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready for some glory. And yes, in another “moment” or two (2 Cor. 4:17), it will come. There is indeed “Such a Thing as Glory”!

May you catch a glimpse of glory to come as you walk through the “all things” of this week. And share your thoughts, glorious or otherwise, in the comments below. Thanks for reading.


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Naked and Exposed Before the Living God (Sermon)

The word of God reveals our hearts, leaving us naked and exposed before God. When God’s word comes to us, we are forced to respond, and how we respond reveals what is in our hearts.

First, we respond by our actions, which reveal either faith or unbelief in God’s word. Second, on the Last Day we will be called to give a word of response to God’s word, a word about the condition of our own hearts. On that day—as already now—it will be pointless to make our word deviate from God’s word, for the thoughts and intentions of our hearts are open before God.

Thus God’s word exposes us,  leaving us defenseless. It demands faith, and it demands a word in response—a word that matches God’s word.

These sobering thoughts come from Hebrews 4:12-13:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (ESV)

This passage was the central text in a sermon I recently preached on the danger of secret sin. I am generally more of a teacher than a preacher, but this was preaching. It was definitely more of a message of warning than I have ever shared before. I felt God’s grace as I shared. You can download the sermon or listen to it here:

Here is a summary of what I shared:

  • God tested Israel in the wilderness, between Egypt and the Promised Land of rest, revealing what was in their hearts. (Ex. 17:1-7; Num. 13-14; Deut. 8:2; 31:20-21; etc.)
  • God spoke to Israel “today” in the Promised Land, testing whether they would believe and enter eternal rest. (Ps. 95)
  • God is also speaking to us “today” in the wilderness, between our initial salvation and our eternal rest, testing our hearts. (Heb. 3:5–4:13; etc.)
  • God’s knows every secret of our hearts. (Many Scriptures, including Lk 8:17.)
  • “Are You in the Dangerous Time In Between?” —Tim Challies.
  • What should you do if you have hidden sin? Confess it, own it, repent of it, forsake it, replace evil desires with good desires, rely on divine help, seek human help. (Plead for the gift of repentance, which will not always be possible: Heb 6:4-8; 12:17. “Six Signs of Genuine Repentance”—Bryce Klabunde.)
  • Faithful response to God’s word is a community effort. We must exhort each other and sometimes even act urgently to “remove the evil from our midst.” (Heb. 3:12-13; 12:15; Deut. 29:18; 13:1-18; 1 Cor. 5; etc.)
  • “The Damning Devastation of a Single Coddled Sin”—Tim Challies.
  • Final warning from Hebrews—from the passage that is set in literary parallel to the sermon’s main text (Heb. 4:11-13):

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb. 10:26-31 ESV)

  • Comfort: Your love for God is also “naked and exposed” before him, and he will not overlook it. (Heb. 6:9-12)

Here was the final exhortation we heard, summarizing God’s word to us:

Brothers and sisters! God has rescued you from Egypt! He is leading you to the Promised Land of eternal rest! But you are in danger of missing that rest! Today God is speaking to you! Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts!

God is speaking to you, and his word will reveal the secret thoughts and intentions of your heart! There is no hiding from God! You lie naked and helplessly exposed before him! “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

Confess your sin to God! Own it! Repent of it! Forsake it! Replace your evil desires with good desires! Rely on divine help to live a holy life! Seek the help of your brothers and sisters!

Do not let your brothers and sisters coddle secret sins! Urge them to repentance! Don’t play around with fire that could burn the whole community! Don’t ignore any bitter root that will spring up and defile many! Purge the evil from your midst!

Determine today that you will no longer coddle a single persistent, deliberate, knowing sin! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!

May the God who knows our hearts turn our hearts anew to him in faith and obedience each day.

And may we help each other, for faithfulness is a community effort! What do you have to share that will help the rest of us live with pure hearts before God? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you!


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