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The Interpretive JourneyNew Testament
Unit 4
  1. Letters
  2. Gospels
  3. Acts
  4. Revelation

NT Letters
  • Introduction
  • As in the ancient world, letters play an
    important role in our lives today

New Testament Letters Pauline General Romans Hebr
ews 1, 2 Corinthians James Galatians 1, 2
Peter Ephesians 1, 2, 3 John Philippians Jude Colo
ssians 1, 2 Thessalonians 1, 2 Timothy Titus
  • Characteristics of NT letters
  • Comparable to other ancient letters

Pauls letters are quite long by ancient
standards, averaging 2,495 words. (R.
Richards) Why did Paul need the extra space?
NT includes more informal, personal letters
(like Philemon) as well as more formal letters
(like Romans)
  • Authoritative substitutes for the author's
    personal presence
  • Substitute for personal presence
  • Authoritative substitute
  • (Christs representatives)
  • Situational written to address specific
    situations or problems in the churches
  • To clarify an issue (Thessalonians)
  • To address a doctrinal problem (Colossians)
  • To confront the ethical behavior of readers

  • Implications of the occasional nature of letters
  • Never meant to be read as exhaustive dictionaries
    of doctrine
  • Be careful not to conclude too much from any one
  • Galatians freedom
  • 1 Corinthians obedience
  • Reconstruction the original situation that called
    for the letter in the first place

  • Carefully written and delivered
  • The actual job of writing down a letter was
    normally assigned to a trained scribe or
    secretary (amanuensis).
  • I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet
    you in the Lord. (Rom. 1622)
  • Customary for the author to add a final greeting
    in his own handwriting
  • I Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.
    (1 Cor. 1621)
  • Cosenders played a significant role
  • Paul, Silas and Timothy, (1 Thess. 11)
  • Delivery depended on trusted letter carriers
  • Tychichus will tell you all the news about me.
    (Col. 47)

  • Intended for the Christian community
  • Meant to be read aloud again and again to the
  • Meant to be exchanged with other churches

  • Form of NT letters
  • Standard form of a contemporary letter

Standard form of a NT letter
Introduction Writer
Recipients Greeting Body of the
letter (largest section focusing on the
specific situation) Conclusion (a variety of
elements normally ending in a grace
Date Name Address Greeting, Body
of the letter Closing signature
  • How to interpret a NT letter
  • Step 1 Grasp the text in their town
  • Read the letter from beginning to end, the way
    letters are meant to be read. This will give you
    a sense of the big picture.
  • Reconstruct the historical-cultural context of
    the biblical writer and his audience.
  • Identify the literary context of your particular
  • Determine the meaning of the text for the
    biblical audience (observe, observe, observe!)

  • Historical/Cultural Questions
  • Commentaries and Dictionaries will help
  • Who was the author?
  • What was his background?
  • When did he write?
  • What was the nature of his ministry?
  • What kind of relationship did he have with the
  • Why was he writing?
  • Who was the biblical audience?
  • What were their circumstances?
  • How was their relationship to God?
  • What their relationship to the author and to each
  • What was happening at the time the letter was
  • Are there unique historical-cultural factors that
    need to be considered?

  • Step 2 Measure the width of the river
  • For NT letters the river is usually not very
    wide, but there are exceptions.
  • Step 3 Cross the principlizing bridge
  • Look for the broader theological message
    reflected in the text. To find theological
    principles in letters ask yourself the following
  • Does the author state a principle?
  • Do you see a principle in the surrounding
  • Do you see a reason behind a particular command
    or instruction?

  • Does your theological principle satisfy the
    following criteria
  • It should be reflected in the biblical text
  • It should be timeless and not tied to a specific
  • It should not be culturally bound
  • It should be consistent with the teaching of the
    rest of Scripture
  • It should be both relevant to both the biblical
    audience and the contemporary audience
  • Step 4 Grasp the text in our town

  • Conclusion
  • Provide a window into the struggles and victories
    of the early church
  • Serve as authoritative substitutes for church
    leaders who could not always minister in person
  • Written to address specific situations and meet
    the practical needs of believers
  • Meant to be read from beginning to end, the same
    way you would read a personal letter today
  • Use the Interpretive Journey to help you hear God
    speak to you through NT letters.

NT Gospels
  • Introduction
  • Gospel g good news
  • Four Gospels g four different versions of the

    one story of Jesus

  • Gospels in the NT
  • Two main concerns
  • What are the Gospels? (literary genre)
  • How should we read the Gospels?

  • What are the Gospels?
  • Stories
  • Stories of Jesus drawn from the personal
    experience of his followers, especially his
  • But different from modern biographies
  • Do not cover the whole life of Jesus
  • Often arrange events and sayings topically rather
    than chronologically
  • Give a lot of attention to the last week of
    Jesus life
  • Do not include a detailed psychological analysis
    of Jesus

  • Gospels are ancient biographies rather than
    modern biographies
  • Not obsessed with strict chronological sequencing
  • Variation in wording
  • Variation in order of events
  • Christ-centered or Christological biography
  • Two purposes of the Gospel writers

1. To tell individual stories of Jesus 2.
Through the individual stories of Jesus, to say
something important to their readers
  • How should we read the Gospels?
  • Our method of reading the Gospels must match the
    means God used to inspire them.
  • Here we turn the two purposes of the Gospel
    writers into two interpretive questions
  • What is the main message of this particular
  • 2. What is the Gospel writer trying to say to
    his readers by the way he connects the smaller

Episode 1 Episode 2 Episode 3
What is this episode telling us about Jesus? What is this episode telling us about Jesus? What is this episode telling us about Jesus?
Episodes 1, 2, and 3 Episodes 1, 2, and 3 Episodes 1, 2, and 3
What is the Gospel writer trying to communicate to his readers by the way he connects these stories together? What is the Gospel writer trying to communicate to his readers by the way he connects these stories together? What is the Gospel writer trying to communicate to his readers by the way he connects these stories together?
Luke 1025-27 Luke 1038-42 Luke 111-13
Love should transcend all human barriers. Doing good things for God can sometimes cause us to miss God. Jesus teaches us how to communicate with God through prayer.
Luke 1025-37 38-42 111-13 Luke 1025-37 38-42 111-13 Luke 1025-37 38-42 111-13
Common theme of relationships. Followers of Jesus need to relate rightly to their neighbors (service), to their Lord (devotion), and to their Father (prayer). Common theme of relationships. Followers of Jesus need to relate rightly to their neighbors (service), to their Lord (devotion), and to their Father (prayer). Common theme of relationships. Followers of Jesus need to relate rightly to their neighbors (service), to their Lord (devotion), and to their Father (prayer).
  • Question 1 How do we read individual stories?
  • Ask the standard story questions
  • Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
  • Look for interpretive clues from the author
  • Take note of anything that is repeated in the
  • Pay careful attention to direct discourse.
  • Question 2 How do we read a series of stories?

Look for Connections
  • Common themes or patterns
  • Logical connections (e.g., cause and effect)
  • How stories are joined to together (transitions,
  • Role of key characters

  • Special literary forms in the Gospels?
  • a truth is overstated
    for effect
  • If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it
    out and throw it away. It is better for you to
    lose one part of your body than for your whole
    body to be thrown into hell.
    Matthew 529

implicit or
implicit comparison You are the salt of the
earth. Matthew 513 You are like whitewashed
tombs Matthew 2327
Metaphor Simile
  • contrast between what
    is expected and what actually happens
  • And I'll say to myself, You have
    plenty of good things laid up for many years.
    Take life easy eat, drink and be merry. But
    God said to him, You fool! This very night your
    life will be demanded from you.
    Luke 1219-20

Narrative Irony
designed to make a point rather than retrieve
an answer Who of you by worrying can add a
single hour to his life? Matthew 627
Rhetorical Questions
  • two or more lines of
    text that are intended to be read together
  • Synonymous lines say basically the same thing
  • Contrastive second line contrasts with the
    first line
  • Developmental second line advances thought of
  • What kind of parallelism is the verse below?
  • Ask and it will be given to you seek and
    you will find knock and the door will be
    opened to you. Matthew 77

  • Conclusion
  • Gospels g good news of Jesus Christ
  • Four versions of the one story of Jesus
  • Christological biography
  • Two interpretive questions
  • What is the main message of each story?
  • What is the Gospel writer trying to say to his
    readers (and to us) by the way he connects the
    smaller stories?

  • a story with two
    levels of meaning, where certain details in the
    story stand for other things
  • A story where every detail stands for something
  • A story with only one point?
  • A story with one main point for each main

Rebellious son Sinners may confess their sins and turn to God in repentance
Forgiving father God offers forgiveness for undeserving people
Resentful brother Those who claim to be Gods people should not be resentful when God extends his grace to the undeserving.
  • More on Parables and their Interpretation
  • Two well-entrenched principles are (a) at least
    for the most part, the parables of Jesus are not
    allegories, and (b) each parable makes only one
    main point.
  • When compared to earliest Rabbinic parables and
    in light of developments in literary criticism,
    these principles are more misleading than
  • A better approach distinguishes among various
    degrees of allegorical interpretation recognizing
    every parable of Jesus contains certain elements
    which point to a second level of meaning and
    others which do not.

  • More on Parables and their Interpretation
  • To avoid allegorical abuse, we must assign
    meanings to the details which Jesus original
    audiences could have been expected to discern.
  • Key details in them are surprisingly unrealistic
    and serve to point out an allegorical level of
  • Main characters of a parable are the most common
    candidates for allegorical interpretation and
    main points mostly likely should be associated
    with them.
  • Triadic structure of most of Jesus narrative
    parables suggest that most parables may make
    three points, though some will probably make only
    one or two.

NT Acts
  • Introduction
  • Four versions of the life and ministry of Jesus,
    one story of the birth and growth of the early
  • Title?
  • The continuing acts of Jesus by his Spirit
    through the apostles and other early Christian
  • Acts for short
  • Acts presents unique interpretive challenges
  • Normative the church in every age should
    imitate the early church
  • Descriptive early church valuable and
    inspiring, but not necessarily
    binding on us

  • Acts a sequel to Luke
  • Luke produced a single work in two parts
  • Luke intended to link these two books together
  • Compare Luke 11-4 with Acts 11-2
  • Thematic and structural parallels between the two
  • Definite overlap between the ending of Luke and
    the beginning of Acts
  • What Jesus began to do during his earthly
    ministry he now continues to do through his
    Spirit-empowered followers.

  • What kind of book is Acts?
  • Acts is a story that focuses on key church
  • Acts is theological history.
  • As a historian Luke composes a reliable record of
    what happened in the move of the gospel from
    Jerusalem to Rome.
  • As a theologian, Luke tells the story for the
    purpose of advancing the Christian faith.
  • Both historian and theologian?

  • Luke shapes his story for theological purposes.
    How do we find theology in a story?
  • Ask the standard story questions
  • Pay attention to clues and instructions from the
  • Look carefully at direct discourse
  • Single most helpful guideline g look for
    repeated themes and patterns.

  • Why did Luke write Acts?
  • Many have undertaken to draw up an account of
    the things that have been fulfilled among us,
    just as they were handed down to us by those who
    from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of
    the word. Therefore, since I myself have
    carefully investigated everything from the
    beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an
    orderly account for you, most excellent
    Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of
    the things you have been taught.
    Luke 11-4
  • Acts as a comprehensive discipleship manual?

  • Luke shows believers that what God promised in
    the OT and fulfilled in Jesus, he now continues
    to work out through his church.
  • Lukes purposes/themes
  • Holy Spirit
  • Gods sovereignty
  • Church
  • Prayer
  • Suffering
  • Gentiles
  • Witness

  • How is Acts organized?
  • Acts 18 holds the key to understanding how
    Luke organizes his story of the triumphant
    expansion of the gospel from Jerusalem (heart of
    Israel) to Rome (heart of the empire).

Acts 1-6 in Jerusalem Peter
Acts 7-12 in Judea and Samaria Peter
Acts 13-28 to the ends of the earth Paul
In the very last verse of Acts, we find Paul in
a Roman prison, but the gospel of Jesus Christ
marches on without hindrance (last word in
the Greek text).
  • Grasping the message of Acts
  • We read Acts in the much the same way that we
    read the Gospels
  • One major interpretive challenge

Normative Descriptive
Acts is normative so that the church in every age should imitate the experiences and practices of the early church. Acts is merely descriptive of what was valuable and inspiring in the early church, but not necessarily binding on us today.
  • We suggest that we interpret Acts as both
    normative and descriptive. Difficulty is knowing
    what is normative and what is merely descriptive.
  • Guidelines for discerning what is normative.
  • Look for what Luke intended to communicate.
  • Look for positive and negative examples in the
    characters of the story.
  • Read individual episodes in light of the overall
  • Look to other parts of Acts for clarification.
  • Look for repeated patterns and themes.

NT Revelation
  • Introduction
  • Your initial response to reading Revelation?
  • revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev. 11)
  • revelation unveiling or open display
  • of Jesus Christ both about Jesus and from
  • In this final chapter of the Bible, God pulls
    back the curtain to give his people a glimpse of
    his plans for human historyplans that center
    around Jesus.

  • Historical context
  • Persecution of Christians is becoming more
    intense and widespread.
  • 19 23, 9-10, 13 38 69
  • Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96)

  • But some Christians are turning away from Christ
    and compromising with the world system.
  • Revelation has a double-edged message

Comfort for those suffering persecution
Warning for the complacent and compromising
  • Literary genre?
  • A letter
  • Opens and closes like a NT letter (14-5 2221)
  • Whole book is a letter, not just chapters 2-3
  • Like other NT letters, Revelation is situational
  • The central theme may be overcoming

  • A prophetic letter (13 226-7, 10, 18-19)
  • Includes both prediction and proclamation with an
    emphasis on proclamation.
  • Revelation is not just about the future it is
    about what God wants in the here and now.
  • An unsealed or open book (2210)

  • A prophetic-apocalyptic letter
  • Apocalyptic
  • Literature in which God promises to intervene in
    human history to overthrow evil and establish his
  • Intensified form of Hebrew prophecy written
    during time of crisis
  • Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah in the OT
  • Abundance of strange and bizarre images (picture

  • What is the purpose of Revelation?
  • Readers enter the symbolic world created by the
    images of Revelation to get heavenly perspective
    on their own world.
  • Revelation uses prophetic counter-images to
    answer the question Who is Lord?
  • Main message God will win!

  • Interpreting Revelation
  • Traditional approaches
  • Preterist
  • Historicist
  • Futurist
  • Idealist

combines strengths of others
  • Guidelines for reading Revelation
  • Read Revelation with humility.
  • Try to discover the message to the original
  • Dont try to detect a strict chronological map of
    future events.
  • Take Revelation seriously, but dont always take
    it literally.
  • Pay attention when John identifies an image.
  • Look to the OT and historical-cultural context
    when interpreting images and symbols.
  • Above all, focus on the main idea and dont press
    all the details.

  • How does Revelation unfold?
  • Introduction (11-322)
  • Vision of God and the Lamb (41-514)
  • Opening of the Seven Seals (61-81)
  • Sounding of the Seven Trumpets (82-1119)
  • People of God vs. Powers of Evil (121-1420)
  • Pouring out of the Seven Bowls (151-1621)
  • Judgment of Babylon (171-195)
  • Gods Ultimate Victory (196-225)
  • Conclusion (226-21)

  • Conclusion
  • A prophetic-apocalyptic letter
  • Using powerful picture language
  • To comfort the suffering and warn the complacent.
  • Revelation answers the question Who is Lord?
  • Revelation gives us the heavenly perspective we
    need to overcome.
  • God will win!
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