Tag Archives: biblical interpretation

Introducing Biblical Interpretation Part 3: Logos Mobile Ed

Introducing Biblical Interpretation Part 3: Logos Mobile Ed

Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.
Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation.

“Introducing Biblical Interpretation” is a video-based course on hermenuetics (how to study and interpret the Bible) by Logos Bible Software. In my first post I looked at the layout and overall format of the Logos Mobile Ed courses, as well as giving a brief overview of the purpose and content of this particular course (You can read that review by clicking here). My second post on “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” focused on the content of the first half of this course, noting its strengths and weaknesses (You can read that review by clicking here). This post, my third and final review of this product, will focus on the content of the second half of this course.

In the last half of “Introducing Biblical Interpretation,” Dr. Michael S. Heiser focuses on three important areas: literary context; linguistic context; and application.  The discussion of literary context is by far the longest section of the course, comprising 53 videos. Dr. Heiser divides his teaching on literary context into two broad categories: 1) a discussion on genre, and the various genres that can be found in Scripture; and, 2) a discussion of literary devices or techniques used by biblical authors.

The Importance of Genre in Biblical Intepretation

Because of the length of this section, it is not possible to summarize everything it contains. I will simply note a few of the literary genres and devices that Dr. Heiser talks about and what can be learned from these insights. Heiser argues that it is impossible to know what words mean without an understanding of genre. He illustrates this by the word “descent.” “Descent” has multiple meanings and only by knowing the genre can we discern what is meant by it. For example, the meaning of “descent” differs depending on whether the genre is a genealogy, a landscape plan, or a flight manual. Heiser follows his discussion of knowing the genre by introducing the controversial topic of what it means to interpret the Bible literally. This is an important topic that he returns to later in the course. I will reserve further comment on this idea because I wish to devote a future post to exploring this subject. The discussion of what is literal versus what is figurative, or even, what do we mean by a “literal interpretation” of Scripture, is a key hermeneutical issue and I am glad to see Heiser tackle it.

Knowing the genre is important!
Knowing the genre is important!

Some of the various genres explored include, Old and New Testament Narrative, genealogies, various types of psalms, genres peculiar to prophetic literature such as the lawsuit or funeral dirge, epistles, and apocalyptic. Heiser spends a lot of time examining prophecy and apocalyptic in both the Old and New Testaments and explaining the differences between the two. This is helpful because these two genres are often confused or, at least, conflated. He differentiates between predictive prophecy and preaching using the usual categories of “forthtelling” (preaching) and “foretelling” (prediction). Heiser emphasizes that about 80% of prophecy is preaching to the contemporary situation the prophet finds himself in. He also discourages placing our own meaning on symbols used by the prophets. It is important that the ancient meaning of the symbols and what it would have meant to the writer, audience, or prophet be the determining factor. Heiser also argues that prophecy can have more than a “one to one fulfillment.” This means that, although a passage might be applied to Jesus, or the new covenant, within the New Testament, it might also have a more immediate fulfillment in the prophet’s own time. He uses Amos 9:10-12 as an example, noting its Old Testament context and its use in Acts 15:12-17 where James (the speaker) and Luke (the author) put a different spin on it. He argues for “Sensus Plenior” which means that although a passage might have a certain meaning within its original Old Testament context, it can take on a “fuller meaning.” This is because God may see something that we in our finiteness may not. Other possible uses of Old Testament passages include analogical (a situation is similar to a past event), or typological (when a person, event, or thing foreshadows something in the future). Although I am in agreement with Heiser, some theological traditions would disagree with some of his conclusions (e.g., some would argue there is only one fulfillment of a prophecy). However, he does an admirable job illustrating his conclusions from Scripture.

Biblical Interpretation: Understanding the Use of Literary Devices

This section of the course includes discussions on such devices as chiasm (mirror imaging), gematria (the use of numbers to communicate a message), hyperbole, metaphor, poetic parallelism, typology, as well as others. For those who are not familiar with these ideas, this section will prove to be very informative. For example, Heiser gives two examples of chiastic structures and explains the significance of this literary device. He shows how the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) is laid out in a mirror image, and also how the Book of Matthew can be similarly viewed. The picture below illustrates the chiastic structure of the story of the Tower of Babel. Notice how the ends of the story use similar wording, all working toward the middle of the story where “the Lord comes down” which is the turning point of the story.

Chiastic structures occur frequently in Scripture and recognizing them can aid biblical interpretation.
To purchase this course click on this link.

Most of us who have read Revelation are familiar with the use of gematria in Revelation 13 where the number 666 stands for the anti-Christ. Heiser points out another possible use of gematria in John 1:32 where the Spirit descends as a dove at Jesus’ baptism. In Greek the numerical value of the word “dove” is 801 which is the total numerical value of the Greek alphabet. It is suggested that the use of “dove” here may be a way of referring to Jesus as “the Alpha and Omega” (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet). Another, more controversial proposal by Heiser, is that gematria may explain some of the large numbers used in the Old Testament regarding populations and armies. While some maintain the numbers should be taken literally, others argue that geography, ancient sociology, and archaeology do not support some of the large numbers (e.g., 2-3 million Israelites leaving Egypt and wandering in the wilderness) used in the Old Testament. The argument does not dispute inspiration, but suggests that the numbers must have another significance other than just literal, and Heiser suggests that gematria may perhaps be one possible explanation.

The Linguistic Context and Biblical Interpretation

Understanding language, including syntax and grammar is essential to biblical interpretation.
Understanding language, including syntax and grammar is essential to biblical interpretation.

Unit 5 of “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” concerns understanding words and syntax. Heiser mentions this is where some often begin their Bible study. Using concordances or Lexicons to do word studies is important, but he maintains that a word, in and of itself, has no meaning. He argues, and rightly so in my opinion, that without knowledge of the social context (Unit 3 in this course) and the literary context (Unit 4, just discussed), it is impossible to know what a word means. Heiser states,  “If you can’t understand what a person thinks, how can you understand what they wrote?” He illustrates this by using the word “run.” By itself the word “run” has no meaning. “Context is King” as Heiser says. Is “run” a noun or verb? Actually it is both, but only context will tell you which. Furthermore, the word “run” when used as a noun has 12 different meanings, while “run” used as a verb has 50 meanings! Although this unit addresses a very important subject for Bible study, its primary value is for the Logos owner and user. I found this unit extremely helpful in teaching me things about doing word studies, or syntax studies in Logos that I never knew before. I will certainly return to the videos in this section again and again. However, if a teacher wanted to use the videos in this unit to teach a class about linguistics and they were not Logos users, then most of the instruction here would not be very helpful (but see my comments in the next paragraph below). Among the topics covered (again there are too many to mention them all) are: detecting the form of a word (in the original language); determining relationships between words; detecting the semantic range; and understanding and analyzing at the word level.

Heiser ends unit 5 with a helpful discussion on the differences between manuscripts of the Bible.

There are, however, some videos in this section that anyone would find helpful, including those without Logos. One brief segnment contains a further discussion on the use of scholarly commentaries. Here Heiser returns to a subject explored earlier in the course (the use and value of commentaries) and demonstrates how scholarly commentaries are helpful in providing word and syntax insights.  Heiser also ends this section with a very helpful discussion about differences in ancient manuscripts. For the person who struggles with why there are so many English versions, or which one is the best, or asks, why they differ, or why some English translations have footnotes that give an alternate reading or leave out a passage entirely, these 4 videos provide a helpful foundation for answering such questions.


The final unit (#6) concerns application on both a personal level, and suggestions for those who are preparing sermons or Bible studies in order to instruct others. Regarding the individual and application, Heiser suggests we should always ask what a passage teaches us about God, his character, and how he carries out his plans and goals,  what we learn about other people (does it illuminate something in our own lives?), and how the passage helps us apply the two greatest commandments of loving God and others. Heiser continues with some practical advice for preachers. Some of his suggestions include: being real with people (open not guarded), speaking to several groups of people (families, singles, old, young, etc.), and making application that is rooted in daily life (real events as opposed to mystical or unlikely situations)

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Second Half of “Introducing Biblical Interpretation”

weakling_thumb[3]I found two minor errors in the second half of this course. The first occurs when Heiser is discussing the New Testament’s use of the Old. As noted above, he argues for “Sensus Plenior” (a passage may be shown to have a “fuller” meaning in the NT). When discussing Acts 13:34-35 he notes that this is a quote from Psalm 16:10. Throughout the rest of the discussion, however, he constantly refers to this reference as Psalm 22. The screen has the correct reference and the written copy also has the correct reference, so hopefully the listener will realize that Heiser keeps accidentally mentioning the wrong Psalm. A second error occurs when Heiser is talking about ancient biblical manuscripts. As he is informing his listeners about the oldest complete copies of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), he notes that they are from the 4th century. This is correct, but he then states that they date to around 550 A.D. which is incorrect. In fact, the 4th century refers to the 300s not the 500s, and the correct date is around 350 A.D. for these manuscripts. This mistake of 200 years is also found in the written copy. These are minor issues, but they are inaccuracies worth noting in case Logos is able to correct these mistakes in the future.

There are many strengths to the second half of the course. Perhaps the greatest is the indepth treatment of various biblical genres and literary devices. In my opinion, there is a wealth of information here that acts as a great introduction for someone beginning more serious Bible study. I am also happy to report that a majority of the Logos resources recommended under “Further reading,” were also available to me. In my review of the first half of this course (review #2 in this series), I noted that I did not have access to a lot of the recommended reading material. The reverse was true for the second half of the course, so this was a welcome change. Again, the availability of the recommended reading material will depend on what version of Logos you have. Overall this is a very fine course on biblical interpretation. Heiser knows his subject well and presents it in a clear but relaxed style. I know that I will come back again and again to some of the videos in this series and I heartily recommend it to others.

To or the Logos Mobile Ed course, “Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Contexts and Resources,” click on this link.

For reviews on similar Logos Mobile Ed courses, see my colleague Lindsay Kennedy’s reviews at: mydigitalseminary.com

(Thanks to Logos who provided a copy of this course in exchange for an unbiased review)

Introducing Biblical Interpretation Part 2: Logos Mobile Ed

Introducing Biblical Interpretation Part 2: Logos Mobile Ed

Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.
Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.

If you would like expert guidance on how to study the Bible, then you should consider the Mobile Ed course by Logos entitled, “Introducing Biblical Interpretation.” In my first post on “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” (which can be found here), I looked at the overall format of Logos’s Mobile Ed courses and provided an overview of what this course has to offer. In this review I will look more specifically at the first half of the course, detailing its strengths and weaknesses. Before proceeding, however, I would like to point out some exciting new developments with Logos. In my previous post, I noted how Logos Bible Study software has taken Bible study to a whole new level with Logos 5. No sooner were my comments “hot off the press” when Logos introduced its newest and latest version Logos 6! Logos 6 makes some gigantic leaps in Bible study and I can’t wait to procure a copy of it. For an introduction to Logos 6 click here (Now Logos 8!). Now on to the review!

In a brief introduction to the course, Michael S. Heiser announces that his task is threefold: 1) to alert the student to various obstacles interpreters face (hence why there are different interpretations of a biblical text); 2) to train the student to “see things in the text.” As Heiser states, “Bible study, Bible research is a lot more than Bible reading;” and 3) to act as a guide by showing how to analyze the text, as well as, introducing various resources that are available to help with Bible study.

Heiser begins unit 1 with 10 obstacles to interpretation. Here is his list:

Obstacle #1: Presuppositions
Obstacle #2: The Author
Obstacle #3: The Reader
Obstacle #4: The Medium
Obstacle #5: The Meaning
Obstacle #6: Translation
Obstacle #7: Precedent
Obstacle #8: Context
Obstacle #9: Relevance
Obstacle #10: Validation

In order to conserve space, I will not take the time to go through each of these. Some are obvious. For example, “presuppositions” (#1). This involves being aware of our own experience and background and being careful about reading things into the text. Translation (# 6) is another obvious obstacle. I will focus on a few less obvious obstacles (or at least attempt to explain how Heiser sees certain things as obstacles). By “The Author” (#2) Heiser means that since we don’t know who wrote some of the books of the Bible and since we can’t get into the ancient author’s head, finding the author’s meaning is not always a fruitful approach. While it is true that we don’t know who wrote some of the books of the Bible, some of the methods that Heiser introduces later in the course are a reliable way of getting at the meaning of the text. Heiser himself will encourage us to find the author’s meaning and not substitute our own (in unit 2 under biblical context, he makes a point about the perspective of the author and the audience). Therefore, I must admit to a little confusion here. Perhaps he means we should not get side-tracked by pursuing a portrait of the author, but focus on the text itself.

logo_logos_5Heiser is clearer on what he means by other obstacles. The Reader obstacle (#3), discusses an approach popular in some academic circles known as “reader response theory” which says the reader determines the meaning. In other words, “The text means what whatever I think it means.” Heiser rightly cautions the student against this view and offers a helpful critique. This particular obstacle is more likely to be encountered by the serious Bible student who is reading certain scholarly works (seminary students, pastors, etc.). While all can benefit from this course, an example like this points to the kind of audience that Heiser is addressing. Heiser refers to another obstacle as “Medium” (#4.) By “Medium” he means that the Bible is a written document and so we do not hear voice inflection, or experience body language when the text is being read. As a result, a written text is harder to interpret than a verbal communication where these things can be observed and heard.

The next section of the course (unit 2) is very short and acts as an introduction to what follows. Unit 2 consists of 2 parts. In part one Heiser discusses the importance of context. By context, Heiser does not simply mean the literary context of a passage, but rather, the social, cultural, and religious context in which a passage was written. It is important for us , as much as is possible, to get into the world and thinking patterns of the ancient biblical author (here again is where I find confusion with his obstacle #2 mentioned above). Heiser then goes on to introduce three contexts that the Bible student needs to be aware of. They are, the “Worldview context,” the Literary context,” and the “Linguistic context.” Each of these “contexts” are the focus of units 3, 4, and 5 respectively. We will proceed by looking at unit 3, the “Worldview context,” and save the others for our next review.

Unit 3, “Worldview Context” consists of the following subpoints:
The Historical Context
The Cultural Context
The Religious Context
Tools for Worldview Context
Primary Sources
Finding English Translations of Ancient Texts
Reference Works
Using Reference Works to Study Ancient Background Context
Academic Monographs
Monographs for Studying Ancient Background Context
Bible Commentaries
Devotional or Popular Commentaries
Expositional Commentaries
Scholarly Commentaries
Illustrating Different Types of Commentaries
Journal Articles
31. Finding Scholarly Journals in Logos
32. Software
33. Logos 5 Tools for Background Research
34. Online Resources
35. Using Online Resources for Biblical Interpretation

Logos Mobile Ed course, "Introduction to Biblical Interpretation."
Logos Mobile Ed course, “Introduction to Biblical Interpretation.”

Heiser begins unit 3 with a helpful breakdown of 3 subcategories that are important to understanding the “Worldview context”. These subcategories are: the historical context; the cultural context; and the religious context. Under the historical context Heiser discusses the importance of geography (knowing biblical places), knowing the broad historical context (history of the ancient Near East, especially Israel), and knowing the immediate context (the historical context in which the author wrote). Under the cultural context, Heiser lists 3 areas of importance: attitudes, morals, and daily living. Under religious context, Heiser (who likes to break things into 3 categories) talks about the importance of understanding cultural beliefs, supernatural and supersitious beliefs, and ritual purity.

But how does an average student gain some knowledge and competence in these areas? It can all seem a bit overwhelming. The rest of this unit is devoted to various tools and resources that are available to the student. Heiser acts as a guide (one of his purposes!) in showing the student not only the various types of sources, but the value, or lack thereof, of certain sources, and how to use them. For example, I found his discussion on the various kinds of commentaries to be a helpful guide to the lay person or beginning student. Heiser breaks commentaries down into (you guessed it) 3 kinds. Devotional or Popular (a one volume commentary with very general info),  Expositional (more specific, English based, dealing with some textual issues), and Scholarly (based on research in the original languages, with more indepth discussion of the various issues raised by a text). Another helpful discussion concerns Internet resources such as Google Books and Google Scholar, as well as online journals and the pros and cons of various wikis.

Problems With “Introducing Biblical Interpretation”

"Introducing Biblical Interpretation" is an excellent course. But everything has its problems!
“Introducing Biblical Interpretation” is an excellent course. But everything has its problems!

Before delving into a few problems that I have found with “Introducing Biblical Interpretation,” I want to state that Heiser has pulled together a vast amount of helpful material and has, for the most part, presented it in a clear and logical way. This course is well worth the few shortcomings that I mention here.

“Introducing Biblical Interpretation,” like other Mobile Ed courses from Logos, contains recommendations for reading material. After each section, there is a link to various sources in Logos for further reading. Some of the material in the quiz sections (including Midterm and Final exams) are based on these readings. This is what you’d expect in any course. However, if you are taking a University course, you have access to all the books in the University library. The problem with Logos Mobile Ed courses is that, unless you have one of the top of the line packages in Logos, there are a number of resources that you won’t have access to. While it would be great to have the best Logos package available, sometimes that’s just not possible. My particular package is the Logos 5 Gold package, plus I have supplemented this with other resources over the years. In spite of that, I frequently found that I only had access to a small portion of the recommended reading material–usually 1 of 2 or 1 of 3 sources. This, of course, creates quite a handicap for passing the quizzes and exams. It is also very frustrating when you would like to do the recommended reading. What is the solution? Obviously being able to purchase the sources would be ideal, but what if you can’t? I’m wondering if there is a way that Logos could create access to a certain portion of the resource for the person who has purchased the Mobile Ed course? For example: there is an article in a Bible dictionary that is recommended reading. I don’t have the dictionary, or the money to purchase it. Could Logos give me access to that particular article without granting access to the entire dictionary? Is there a way to build that into the Mobile Ed course? I’m not a computer programmer and what I’m suggesting may be a technological nightmare, but I’m wondering if there isn’t some sort of compromise that would help the eager student. The upside for Logos is, if the student gets a lot out of a particular resource, it might provide the motivation to purchase that item.

I’ve discovered two other minor problems with “Introducing Biblical Interpretation.” The reason I call them minor is that they appear to be “one off” type problems.  The first example involves using a tool that provides the wrong definition for what the teacher (Heiser) is discussing. Following Objection #6 Translation, at the end of the discussion, there is a link under “Guides and Tools” to “Translation.” Clicking on the link, you expect to read a definition or article that deals with the translation of biblical languages. Instead, what you find is a definition that relates to one being taken to heaven (ala Enoch, Elijah, or the rapture!), or being translated into the kingdom (Col. 1:13), but nothing about Bible translation! Another minor quibble is making sure all reading materials assigned are relevant. Objection #10 in unit 1 discusses “Validation.” Heiser notes that none of us are perfect and, therefore, even if we are equipped with the right tools and approach, we need to continue to recognize our limitations. I couldn’t agree more. However, one of the assigned readings for this segment is a Bible Dictionary article on “humility.” While it is true we need a large dose of humility when interpreting the Scripture, it doesn’t seem that reading a definition from a Bible Dictionary is particularly helpful (maybe that’s just me though). If the reading assignment doesn’t further the student’s knowledge, then it’s superfluous. If humility needs to be emphasized further, then a teacher’s exhortation is more motivating than a dictionary article.

Again, the problems encountered in “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” are minimal compared to the many gains that one will receive from the course. I look forward to getting into the second half of the course and sharing what I find in a future post.

To order “Introducing Biblical Interpretation” from Logos click here.

(Many thanks to Logos Bible Software for providing the review copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review!)

Logos Mobile Ed Review: Introducing Biblical Interpretation (Part 1)

logo_logos_5 Logos Mobile Ed Review

Although I count myself among those who still enjoy pulling a book off of a shelf and reading through it, modern Bible software has taken Bible study to a whole new level. Among the Bible software programs available today, none is more comprehensive and powerful than Logos 5 (now Logos 8!). I have been a Logos user for over 11 years and whether I am doing personal devotions, preparing to teach a class, or writing a book, I have found it extremely helpful.

Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.
Logos Mobile Ed Course: Introducing Biblical Interpretation. For a look at this resource in Logos, click anywhere on this link.

Besides all of the great Bible study tools available, Logos has recently inaugurated a series of courses taught by knowledgeable and experienced instructors called “Logos Mobile Ed Courses.” These courses cover everything from Introductions to the Old and New Testaments, to various biblical books, as well as topical courses on apologetics, pastoral counselling, and many more. For a complete listing of available courses, click on this link (Logos Mobile Ed Courses). These courses can be downloaded to your Logos Bible study library and are then available for you to explore at your own pace.  I have recently received the Logos Mobile Ed course entitled: Introducing Biblical Interpretation taught by Dr. Michael S. Heiser, the academic editor of Logos Bible Software. In this review I will introduce you to the format of the Logos Mobile Ed courses, as well as provide an outline and critique of Introducing Biblical Interpretation. In future reviews, I will look at the course material in more depth.

Logos Mobile Ed: Introducing Biblical Interpretation

The format of the Logos Mobile Ed courses splits your computer screen into two panels. The right panel consists of the textual information which includes, title, table of contents, and a word for word account of everything the instructor says. The left panel consists of short video clips covering the subject material. The advantage of this design is that you can click on the video in the left panel and follow the text in the right if you choose. Conversely, if you don’t want to follow along with the text, you can enlarge the video and just listen to the instructor. Below is a sample page of what a typical Logos Mobile Ed course looks like:

A typical view of the Logos Mobile Ed course screens with video on the left and text on the right.
A typical view of the Logos Mobile Ed course screens with video on the left and text on the right.

Looking at the photo above, you can recognize two features about the video. First, each video clip is very short, lasting anywhere from 1 1/2 minutes to 4 or 5 minutes. This is very helpful, as the instructor breaks the material down into small bite-sized chunks. It also makes it easier for you to go at your own pace. If you want to cover an hour’s worth of material, you can; but if you only have a few minutes, you can still sit down and go through a couple of videos. Short videos also provide motivation. If I realize that I have to block out a longer period of time, I’m less likely to open the resource, and consequently, it will take me longer to make it through the course.  A longer video also makes it more difficult to find the place you’re looking for. For example, if you only have time to watch about 10 minutes worth of material but the video is 30 minutes long, you will have to click through the video to find your place later on. Similarly, as a teacher, if I am wanting to use a particular video to show my class, it is much nicer to have a concise presentation of a particular point, rather than having to search through the video for the exact beginning and ending point. Speaking of finding your place, another helpful feature of the Logos Mobile Ed courses is that they reopen in the same place that you close them. So you can watch several videos, close the program and when you return it will open to the exact same spot.

A second feature of the video is the plain white background. My initial reaction was that this seemed a bit Spartan. Why not spruce up the background with a plant or something? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Logos has chosen a more productive approach. First, it allows plenty of space for putting up main ideas, which is another nice feature of the video lectures. Second, it makes for a nice clean presentation without a lot of clutter to distract. Third, background tastes change over time. The simpler, the better. Having come around to Logos’s way of thinking on this, I would still offer one suggestion: People who struggle with dyslexia and other learning disabilities frequently have more trouble with black type on white backgrounds. Logos should keep the background plain, but I would suggest using a different color to make reading easier.

While we are talking about the videos, I have had one problem with this particular course. Every video I watch jumps about, similar to the effect of someone poorly editing a piece of film. I thought this might be my internet connection (even though the program is loaded on my hard drive), so I have tried watching the videos both at home, and at the office. However the result was the same. Next, I downloaded all of the videos to a separate folder (not an easy task!) so that I could pull them up apart from the program. This time the videos seemed to work perfectly. This has left me a bit confused as to where the problem lies. My colleague, who has another Logos Mobile Ed course, has had no such problem with his program. So I don’t know whether the problem is with this particular course, or my particular download of this course, or some other factor.  I would be interested to know if other Logos users have experienced a similar problem with this course.

Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Purpose and Content

Here is the purpose and objectives of the course in Michael Heiser’s own words:

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to the science and art of Bible interpretation, focusing on the importance of interpreting the Bible in its original ancient contexts. These contexts include the biblical writers’ ancient worldview, their historical circumstances, cultural and religious beliefs, the attitudes of their day, literary genre, and the original languages of the Bible. The course aims to foster an awareness of these contexts, all of which require competence for correct interpretation. Students are introduced to tools for developing competence in all these areas.

Course Outcomes

Upon successful completion you should be able to:

 • Understand a variety of difficulties inherent to biblical interpretation

• Grasp the crucial role of context for biblical interpretation

• Comprehend the need for competence in various contexts—worldview, history, religion, literary—for accuracy in biblical interpretation

• Be aware of academic resources for recovering the contexts of the biblical writers

• Understand the differences in types of biblical commentaries

• Be acquainted with a range of biblical genres and literary devices

• Appreciate the role of literary genre in discovering the meaning of a biblical text

• Comprehend how word form and word relationships contribute to word meaning

To accomplish these goals, Heiser’s course is broken down into 6 sections. These are: 1. Obstacles to Interpretation; 2. Seeing the Bible in Context; 3. Worldview Context (by which he means background material such as history, culture, etc.); 4. Literary Context (examining the different types of literary material in the Bible. E.g., narrative, poetry, apocalyptic, etc.); 5. Linguistic Context; and 6. Application

Units 3 and 4 contain the largest amount of material. These units are interrupted by quizzes and a midterm and final exam. Thus, you have an opportunity to test yourself and see what you have learned.

Next time I will take a closer look at the contents of this course.

To order the Logos Mobile Ed course, Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Contexts and Resources, click this link.

For reviews on similar Logos Mobile Ed courses, see my colleague Lindsay Kennedy’s review at: mydigitalseminary.com

(Thanks to Logos who provided a copy of this course in exchange for an unbiased review)


Words and the Word: Book Review

Words and the Word: Book Review

Words and the Word, available at amazon!
Words and the Word, available at amazon USA / UK

Words and the Word: Explorations in Biblical Interpretation and Literary Theory, eds. David G. Firth, and Jamie A. Grant, (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008). Available at IVP

Words and the Word, as the subtitle suggests is a book about “Explorations in biblical interpretation and literary theory.” This book seeks to explain and demonstrate the significance of different literary approaches to the Bible. It argues for a well-rounded, in-depth approach to bible study from an evangelical point of view and engages with some of the techniques employed by practitioners of literary theory. If all of this sounds a little “heady,” it is, so be forewarned. However, there is much of practical insight as well.

Words and the Word is divided into two parts. Part 1 is entitled “General issues,” and consists of two articles that provide an overall introduction to the subject from slightly different perspectives. They are entitled: “Literary theory and biblical interpretation,” and “A structural-historical approach to exegesis of the Old Testament.” Part 2 takes a look at some of the “specific approaches” utilized in literary studies. These include: “Speech-act theory,” “Genre criticism,” “Ambiguity,” “Poetics,” “Rhetoric,” and “Discourse analysis.”

Can We Discover the Meaning of the Word by its Words?

In the introductory article to Part 1, Grant R. Osborne argues that “Every aspect of the hermeneutical process is immersed in literary theory because every part of Scripture is literature” (p. 48). Osborne states that the goal of literary interpretation is the meaning of the text. However, modern literary approaches have suggested different means by which that meaning is derived. Osborne argues against the post-structuralist approach which contends that meaning resides in the reader, rather than in what the author intended. The danger with this approach is that the text has no inherent meaning, but it means whatever a particular reader thinks it means. Osborne advocates a 3-pronged approach which includes the author who produced the text, the text itself as a historical document which is open to historical analysis, and the reader who studies and interprets the text using historical and grammatical methods to arrive at the meaning. Through this approach Osborne believes that “the most likely meaning of a text can be discovered” (p. 48). This might seem like an argument that only concerns scholars and intellectuals, and therefore irrelevant to the average person studying the Bible, but actually there is a point here for everyone.  At times many Bible students are guilty of the approach “I think this passage means X,” without doing a proper study of the passage. The practical result of this approach (“this is what it means to me”) is no different from the intellectual who uses complex arguments to justify such an approach. Therefore, Osborne’s arguments need to be heard by evangelicals.

Beyond the theoretical issues, Osborne gives some practical examples of the value of a literary approach, focusing his examples on the Gospels. For example, Osborne notes that the Gospel of John “is well known for using synonyms theologically.” We have all heard the interpretation that Peter’s use of phileo (brotherly love) as opposed to Jesus’ use of agape (divine love) is significant. But Osborne argues the significance does not lie in the change of verbs because this is something that John frequently does in the Gospel. Therefore, one who makes this the point of the story actually misses John’s real message (pp. 32-33).

In the second article of Part 1 S. N. Snyman insists that in a literary approach to Scripture, one cannot ignore the historical dimension, but must include it in any analysis of the text. Basically, Snyman focuses on exegesis: what it is; why it is important; and how to do it.

Investigating and Illustrating Various Types of Literary Approaches

Rather than summarize each chapter of Part 2, I will comment on a few of the methods and what I found particularly helpful. Firth’s chapter on “Ambiguity” in Scripture is very insightful. . Firth identifies 3 different ways in which we may encounter ambiguity. First, is ambiguity that is intended by the author. Second is what I would call “accidental ambiguity.” This is when a word or phrase might have more than one interpretation in a context, but the ambiguity was not intended by the author. For example, it is not clear in 1 Samuel 16:21 whether Saul loves David or David loves Saul. The third kind concerns ambiguity on the reader’s part, which may be caused by a number of factors, including historical distance from the event being described, lack of understanding the culture, etc. Firth clarifies that the type of ambiguity he is focusing on is the first kind which involves an author’s intentional use of ambiguity. Next Firth discusses the theory and definition of ambiguity as found in the work of William Empson and refines Empson’s 7 types of ambiguity to 5. These types include: 1) Details effective in multiple ways; 2) Multiple possibilities with a single resolution; 3) Simultaneous use of unconnected meanings; 4) Alternative meanings combine to clarify author’s intention; and 5) Apparent contradictions. A list of these types of ambiguity is indeed vague so Firth pursues a definition and seeks to illustrate each type from Scripture. He concludes with a marvelous example from 1 Samuel demonstrating how the author uses ambiguity to highlight Saul’s character flaws. This was my favorite chapter in the book and was extremely helpful in demonstrating how biblical authors might use ambiguity as a literary technique in communicating a message.

The chapter entitled “Poetics” takes a look at the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, particularly the Book of Psalms (a brief paragraph at the end of the chapter is also dedicated to poetry in the NT). In this chapter author, Jamie A. Grant. looks at some of the new developments in the study of the poetic literature of the Bible. In particular, he advocates taking a more holistic approach to the Book of Psalms by noting how the book is structured. We have tended to interpret each psalm individually, but Grant notes that the Book of Psalms is broken down into 5 different “books” by the biblical editors. He also points out that certain psalms are grouped together by themes (such as the Songs of Ascent–Ps. 120-134). Becoming aware of these groupings can enable one to see how these psalms interact with each other. Furthermore, noticing the structure of a section of psalms may also reveal insights that otherwise go unnoticed. For example, Grant points out that Psalms 15-24 are arranged chiastically. Psalm 19, a psalm about the Law, is the center point of the chiasm which suggests its significance.

The last chapter of Words and the Word, looks at “Discourse Analysis.” Discourse analysis involves using all of the techniques and approaches discussed in this book, plus more. Therefore, this forms a fitting conclusion to the book. The author, Terrance R. Wardlaw Jr., provides two examples of discourse analysis; one from the OT (Exodus 15:22-27) and the other from the NT (Matt. 5:1-12), illustrating the value of various approaches. Wardlaw’s examples are very helpful in illuminating the process of discourse analysis, and they also provide an insightful look at these two texts.

Evaluation of Words and the Word

There is a lot to learn from Words and the Word. However, one of the shortcomings of the articles that comprise this book is that the discussion of theory can often be very abstract. To one who is not familiar with these approaches, or who has problems thinking abstractly, this can be a challenge. Illustrations of the various approaches are the saving grace of this book. However, some authors achieve this success better than others in my opinion. I found a few of the chapters to be difficult wading, nearly drowning me in theory without practical application. This book is definitely not for the average Bible reader. It is suited more for the advanced student or scholar. I would not even recommend it for most pastors. Although there are many valuable insights, and even some sermon fodder here, the average pastor is probably too busy to wade through all of the abstract discussion to benefit much. Although Words and the Word seeks to fill the gap between more indepth discussions of literary theory and introductory Bible study, it strongly leans in the direction of the more advanced student. Therefore I would recommend it to those who have a basic familiarity with literary approaches and want to go deeper, but not to the average student of the Bible. These approaches are important and yield valuable insights, but a book is still needed that can communicate these ideas in a less complicated more “learner friendly” manner.

Words and the Word is available at Amazon USA / UK

(I would like to thank IVP for this copy of Words and the Word, in exchange for an unbiased review.)