Iorg: Embrace the difficult work of biblical interpretation
By Tyler Sanders/Gateway Seminary
ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) – Interpreting the Bible can be a challenging task said Gateway Seminary President Jeff Iorg during convocation Aug. 26. Exegesis is a duty “undertaken by sober-minded people with full understanding of the gravity” of their work, he said, adding, “While that seems ominous, we take on the task with joy – knowing God has revealed Himself and wants us to know Him.”
Iorg’s sermon was on 2 Peter 3:14-16 and introduced listeners to the theme of Gateway’s fall chapel series: Difficult Passages. It also was the first chapel service held on campus since COVID-related restrictions prevented on-site gatherings in March 2020.
“We have chosen about a dozen troubling texts and asked careful scholars and capable preachers to help us understand them,” Iorg said.
“And not only to understand them, but to model for us methods and principles for interpreting difficult passages so we might better fulfill our biblical mandate of ‘correctly teaching the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
In his introduction, Iorg said “the Bible itself acknowledges this dilemma,” as Peter, in the text, refers to some elements of Paul’s writings as “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16]).
Iorg said it is important to realize Peter regarded Paul’s writings as Scripture. He described three qualifiers that confirm Peter’s perspective on Paul’s letters. First, Peter warned about people who twist Paul’s words as they already do with the rest of Scripture. Second, Peter referred to Paul’s work as deriving from “wisdom given to him” (2 Peter 3:15). Third, Peter referenced Paul’s other letters, indicating he had some level of access to a set of circulating copies and underscoring the value Peter placed on them.
“In summary, Peter viewed Paul’s collected letters – by their origin, content, and efficacy – as Scripture,” he said.
Then Iorg described what Peter meant when he said Paul’s letters contain perplexing elements.
“The word translated [as] ‘hard to understand’ is used only in this instance in the New Testament,” he said.
“It’s meaning is relatively straightforward – something hard to understand. It does not mean impossible to understand.”
This is an important distinction Iorg said.
“The Bible may have some difficult passages but they are not unsolvable riddles,” he said. “God wants us to obey His Word, therefore we must be able to understand it.”
However, Peter’s description leads to two important questions according to Iorg: Why were some of Paul’s writings difficult to understand in the first century? What passages was Peter referring to?
Iorg offered possible answers to the first question. It is likely most churches had only one or two of Paul’s letters and therefore no comprehensive understanding of Pauline literature. Additionally, some of the letters specifically address issues potentially known only by the writer himself and the original recipients. Iorg also said early believers read Paul’s letters in their own cultural contexts.
“The ancient world was not monolithic,” he said.
“People in different cities, from diverse backgrounds, representing various cultures, and at various levels of faith development would have interpreted Paul’s letters in their context – just like we do today.”
Finally, he said, early believers were “sin-tainted with flawed reasoning,” as modern readers are today. He asked listeners to compare their own cultural contexts with that of a Saudi Christian woman when reading passages limiting women’s participation in public worship services like 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 and 14:34-35.
“In American culture, steeped in feminist ideology and liberation theology, these statements evoke strong responses ranging from outrage to reasoned workarounds to soften the edges,” Iorg said.
“But consider how these verses might be heard by a Saudi Christian woman living in a culture which severely restricts women – prohibiting them from driving a car, traveling without a male chaperone, or being in mixed-gender social settings.
“The Bible assures a Saudi Christian woman she can go to church with her husband, sit in a social gathering with other men and women, feel valued as a sister in Christ in community with women and men, and discuss spiritual issues on equal terms with her husband. These are liberating breakthroughs in her context, not onerous restrictions.”
For the second question, Iorg described his observations as reasonable, but not definitive. He reminded listeners of Peter’s struggles with the “practical and cultural tensions” of the Gospel being for all people, even though he himself had experienced a vision of a large sheet filled with animals (Acts 10:34-35). Peter’s own interpretation of this vision was that the Gospel is for all people.
However, Iorg said, “Peter later struggled to resist peer pressure from Jewish Christians to maintain legal and cultural practices as part of establishing early Christian communities.”
Paul sharply confronted Peter about this behavior, as recounted in Galatians 2:11-14.
“Peter may have struggled with Pauline passages which demand an inclusive Gospel like Galatians 3:28, ‘there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus,’ or Ephesians 3:6, ‘the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,’” Iorg said.
Allen emphasizes urgency of redeeming the time at MBTS convocation
By Mike Brooks/MBTS
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) – An air of anticipation and excitement filled the Daniel Lee Chapel at Midwestern Seminary as President Jason Allen formally opened the new academic year during the call convocation Aug. 31.
In addition to Allen’s formal address, preached from Ephesians 5:15-17, the Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College community welcomed 10 new trustees to campus for the group’s annual orientation.
During his convocation message, Allen encouraged new and returning students, staff, faculty, and guests to take the upcoming semester and God’s call upon their lives seriously in a message titled “Redeem the Time.”
Allen explained that the Bible often depicts Christians’ status in the world in terms of contrast. He focused his address on the distinction noted in Ephesians 5 between those who live according to godly wisdom compared to those who walk according to the foolishness of the world.
“Biblical wisdom is counterintuitive,” Allen said. “This is especially true in the year 2021. Nonetheless, with confidence, we are presented with the fact that the Gospel is indeed God’s perfect plan. To follow Christ, to live for Him and to obey His word is, indeed, the wisest course of action any of us can take.”
Throughout Scripture, he said, we are reminded that the mark of one following God’s course of wisdom in the present age is that he is redeeming the time. In contrast to the world’s offer of more “life hacks” and its encouragement to live for the moment, Allen suggested an alternate, more biblical approach to redeeming one’s time.
The first appeal of the Ephesians passage, according to Allen, is to think soberly. In the passage, Paul encourages hearers to walk carefully.
“Each one of us is in danger, day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment, of walking foolishly,” Allen said. “We have seen lives wrecked in recent years, some at a distance through news stories, some closer to home through families, churches, and other ministries.
“We know where people have taken steps toward foolishness. We tend to think of foolishness as a category as those great moral blunders and, yes, those are foolish, but here in this passage, there is a reminder that a great act of foolishness is not redeeming one’s time for the Lord.”
The word “redeem” in the passage means to “buy back,” he said. Believers are to “buy back” the time they are given in order to serve the Lord. In the passage, Paul is not referring to the everyday tasks and responsibilities one carries, and he is not commending a hurried lifestyle. Instead, he encourages believers to “set their minds on things above” and to be strategic and wise about present circumstances and opportunities. The motivating factor behind Paul’s message is not simply that time is short, Allen said. Instead, Paul encourages believers to walk wisely and strategically because “the days are evil.”
Allen explained that the encouragement to redeem one’s time is not an exhortation to utilize more “life hacks” or productivity tools. Redeeming the time has little to do with refining one’s “bucket list” or strategically maneuvering in terms of one’s career advancement or progress in life. Instead, four primary realizations characterize the believer who is redeeming the time.
First, redeeming the time means recognizing and honoring biblical stewardship.
“Think about who you are in Christ,” Allen said. “Think about the roles God has given you: husband, wife, young man, young woman, teammate, student, professor, administrator. These are the roles and responsibilities God has given you. God has given you those primary categories of kingdom stewardship in light of the fact that the days are evil, and we must redeem our time.”
Second, redeeming the time means making sure one’s life counts for Christ. Citing John Piper’s famous sermon entitled “Don’t Waste Your Life,” Allen encouraged those gathered toward a meaningful existence in service to Christ: “We want to focus our lives on what counts for Christ. As the old couplet goes: ‘Only one life will soon be past; only what is done for Christ will last.’”
Third, redeeming the time means acknowledging that our time is not our own; it is God’s time. The time we have is not ours, to do with it whatever we wish. We are not on a quest for more “me time.” Rather, our time is God’s time, and we are to make the most of it by seeking to do His will.
Fourth, redeeming the time brings sharper ministry focus. Allen noted frequent conversations with those training for ministry who sense a call to ministry yet do not know what to do next.
“God is not looking for hypothetical ministers,” he said. “If that is settled, if you are indeed in Christ and called by Christ, then get on with ministry service. Don’t spend your life saying, ‘One day, I will do it,’ only to look back decades later with regret.”