In this episode, Kurt talks with Craig Keener, a New Testament scholar, on Bible verses that are frequently taken out of context.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So nice to be with you here in studio. We are coming to you live. It’s been a few weeks, but we are glad to be back in the saddle coming to you live right now and we’ve got a very special episode for you today. This is episode 101 and so we are very excited to be heading into the next century of episodes. If you haven’t had the chance yet, I really want to encourage you to go back and listen to our past few episodes. We’ve had on some wonderful guests. A few weeks back we had Dan Wallace and we were talking about that famous Mark fragment, some might think now it’s infamous, that Mark fragment, a second century possibly early third century Mark fragment, arguably the earliest fragment of Mark that we now have. Very exciting stuff to learn about and a couple of weeks ago we interviewed Abdu Murray from RZIM on his book Saving Truth which dealt more about cultural issues and then last week, boy, last week, what an episode. We had for our 100th episode N.T. Wright, what a blessing that was to be talking with him. I hope that you enjoyed the episode. We talked about a host of different topics. I would love to get your thoughts, your feedback on that show. Also, since I’m always forgetting to do this, I want to remind you, if you’ve been a long-time listener of the program, please take a moment and write a nice review for us on iTunes or the Google Play store. We would love for people to come across our program and then to get what other listeners have already found and discovered about the program.
On today’s program, we are joined by Craig Keener, a famous New Testament scholar and he’s a very humble man as well so he might not admit it as much. There’s Craig on the screen. Craig, Thanks so much for joining us on the program today.
Craig: Very great to be with you.
Kurt: Alright. For those that don’t know you, you are the F.M. and Ada Thompson professor of Biblical Studies. Before coming to Asbury Theological Seminary where you’re at now, you were over at the seminary at Eastern University if I remember correctly, and you have just a massive corpus of writings to your name and 22 books, I believe. I’m sure you’ve been in and edited numerous volumes. You’ve got these commentaries. These commentaries are so thick that it would take, I mean you’ve written more than the words in the Bible I’m sure.
Craig: The words are the Bible obviously take priority.
Kurt: Yes. Yes, they do, but your thoughts have been very helpful to those that have been trying to understand what the Bible is in fact saying, so when I contacted you to see if you wanted to come on the program, we were talking about topics, and if I’m remembering correctly, one of the things you wanted to do was to look at ways that people have taken verses out of context and so, for this program, while we could talk about so many issues, and towards the end of the program I do want to get your thoughts on some topics of recent interest to people, undesigned coincidences and literary devices, we’re going to save that for the back end of the program today, and instead we’re first going to talk about various different verses which have been taken out of context. You’ve listed a few here. I’m gonna start off with one and I’d love to get your thoughts on this okay. I’m going to mix in these Bible verses here as well with some questions about theory and how we should do interpretation. We’re sure to give it some good meaty stuff, but here, I’m gonna throw this verse at you and see what you think. Are you ready?
Kurt: For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and to give you hope.
Kurt: That verse is about me. Right? It’s about God’s special plan for what He’s going to do in my life.
Craig: God is letting Judah know that after the judgment, He still has plans for them. He’s going to restore them and He’s going to keep them in the meantime, but, yeah, they’re going to be in exile in the meantime.
Kurt: So you’re telling me that verse is not about me?
Craig: Well, if you want to apply it to yourself, you can extrapolate by thinking, this shows us the heart of God. God is faithful and that even if you’re under judgment now, or part of a nation that’s under corporate judgment, if you’re part of God’s people, God still has a plan.
Kurt: That’s right. Yeah.
Craig: You can learn about God’s faithfulness which does apply to all of us, so yeah.
Kurt: So you’re saying basically you’re breaking the hearts of everyone who takes that verse and applies it to themselves.
Craig: Before you apply it to yourself, figure out what it meant in it original context, and then you can make the application to yourself and your context appropriately.
Kurt: That’s a great introductory principle. We first have to understand what it meant to those people and then we can learn to apply and understand what it means for us.
Craig: Otherwise, what you end up doing is just whatever you think the verse means, you apply it to yourself, even if that’s not what it’s actually talking about. I believe all Scripture is for all time, but not all Scripture is for all circumstances. We need to understand the circumstances so we can make sure to apply it analogously.
Kurt: That’s good. Let’s hammer out a few of the verses you had that you wanted to talk about and I need to look them up or even find, I’ve got a Bible on the shelf I’ll probably run over there. John 10:10 was one. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it in full, or to the full. How is this verse often interpreted and why do you think it’s taken out of context?
Craig: It’s often applied to Satan and if you just view the Earth by itself, the first part of the verse is often applied to Satan, and it makes sense, but actually that’s not the context of it. Jesus has been talking about thieves and robbers since the beginning of the chapter. Those who come before Him. Those who try to get in some other way are thieves and robbers. In the broader context, Jesus has just healed the blind man. Some Pharisaic leaders of the synagogue have put him out and said you don’t belong to us, you don’t belong to our people. Jesus is still talking with them at the end of chapter 9:40-41, basically, He goes on to compare them with thieves and robbers who are exploiting His people, and the blind man is an example of one of His sheep who does hear His voice. In the Old Testament, God’s sheep, that was Israel, that was His people. Jesus is saying they may have put you out of the synagogue, but you still belong to my people, and of course, the chief shepherd in the Old Testament is God Himself, and Jesus is in that role, but Jesus also in the immediate context is talking about thieves and robbers and then in verse 12 He’s talking about wolves. Now the predators who obviously don’t have the best interests of His sheep at heart, those who exploit the sheep like in Ezekiel 34 and so on. Jesus lays down His life protecting the sheep, defending the sheep from the oppressors of the sheep, those who exploit them.
Kurt: Nice. Before we continue, we’ve got a viewer here, Jonathan, he’s already writing very fondly of you. He’s saying “I think Keener should write a specific commentary on the pastorals,” that is the pastoral epistles. He says, “I would buy it.” As would many!
Craig: Writing as fast as I can. I haven’t gotten there.
Kurt: Tell our audience, you’ve written a number of commentaries. What have you written on thus far?
Craig: I started with a commentary on Matthew. When I started, I didn’t have a computer so this was pre-computer days. I was keeping everything on index cards. I had about 100,000 index cards.
Kurt: Which would explain all the filing cabinets behind you.
Craig: Those aren’t the index cards. I did Matthew first. I did John, had all the research forward into Acts, four-volume Acts commentary. I just did a little one on Romans, a little one on 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, a little one on Galatians and Revelation. I have a bigger one with Galatians coming out with Baker Academic. The smaller one that just came out is with Cambridge. I’m planning to write a bigger one on Romans and then start working my way through Paul, but I can’t write as fast….
Kurt: There’s a lot. Let’s keep moving along here with the verses you wanted to talk about. There’s John 12:32. I had a chance to run over to my shelf, get my Bible. Here we are.
Craig: Sample verses.
Kurt: Sample verses. And I’m sure there are plenty, and for those that are watching along, we’ve already had a couple of people ask about some verses, although I don’t know if that means you have to look it up or if you have the whole Bible memorized.
Craig: No, but this one, Jesus says “If I be lifted up from the Earth, I’ll draw everybody to me.” Of course, we sing songs about that, but if you read the context, all you have to do is read the next verse. John explains, “This He said concerning the manner of death that He was going to die.” Basically, when you sing that you’re singing, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” You’re not really because God knows our hearts, what we mean, but if you’re a songwriter, look your verses up in context please.
Kurt: So what you’re saying here, and not only is this used in our songs, but some people in theological discussions also cite this verse about lifting people up, so what He’s literally saying here is when He’s lifted up from the Earth, so it’s about His death, it’s not about this sort of spiritual lifting. It’s not about a supposed rapture or anything like that. This is as John says, he clarifies right here, all you have to do is read the next verse. Jesus is talking about His death.
Craig: These examples may be too simplistic. You can skip some of the examples that I gave you, but this is, part of the way I started paying attention to this, first when I started reading forty chapters a day because I had been a recent convert from atheism and I didn’t know anything about the Bible. After doing that awhile, I’d hear a verse and start thinking about the context, and that helped me when preachers would quote verses out of context, but when I would be dialoguing with Jehovah’s Witnesses or somebody and they would give their verses for why Jesus was not God, and I would be responding to them based on the context, after awhile, I realized my church sometimes does this too. We have to be honest with how we handle the Scriptures. It’s important.
Kurt: Absolutely. Going to the first Gospel. Matthew 3:11. Tell us. What does the verse say? How do people normally understand it, and how ought we to understand it?
Craig: I don’t know how people normally understand it, but how often understand it, John the Baptist is speaking about being baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire, and if you want to know what the fire is, it symbolizes a lot of different things in Scripture. It can be most often judgment or Jeremiah speaks of fire shut up in his bones or purification or so on. People often apply it to holiness, which is a good thing to be holy, and again what is said about John 10:10, we know the devil is bad. I’m not arguing against those theological points, but the use of these verses. Matthew 3:11, if you start back in 3:10, actually back in 3:7, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Luke has the crowds. Matthew zeroes in on a particular part of the crowds, and John calls them offspring of vipers, which doesn’t set the one as a very positive godly people, he’s talking to. He speaks of every tree that does not bear good fruit, the fruit of repentance in this context, will be cut down and thrown into the fire. The fire there is we don’t normally see as a positive fire. We normally see it as a negative fire. That’s verse 10. In verse 12, the one is coming, His winnowing fork is in His hand. He’s going to thoroughly clear out His threshing floor. What they would do with the winnowing forks. They’d throw the wheat into the air. The wind would blow out the lighter chaff and the heavier wheat would fall back down so he says He’s going to gather the wheat into His barn, but He’s going to burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. Chaff was a symbol of judgment even in the Old Testament. It’s worthless. It doesn’t even make good fuel because it burns so quickly. This is going to burn with unquenchable fire. This is not happy fire. This is sad fire, angry fire, whatever. If it’s bad fire in verse 10, bad fire in verse 12, chances are that’s what it is in verse 11. He’s addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees. He says He’s going to baptize you, plural, in the Holy Spirit and fire, he’s speaking of the eschatological coming time when the Messiah comes. Some people are going to get the Holy Spirit, those who repent and bear good fruit and become the wheat, but those who don’t repent and stay the chaff are going to get the fire.
Kurt: There seem to be so many verses out there where folks have just really, in a sense they’ve misread what’s going on here, but they haven’t even just paid attention to even just a few more verses. Sometimes there are debates over what a broader context might mean and in this case though, it could just be a couple verses and folks have already kind of skewed away from what’s happening. This morning, I was just looking at the Gospel of John and an issue there about what day exactly did Jesus die, that was something I was studying myself. I know, that’s a difficult one, I know, but this I think leads to a very important point, perhaps for today’s discussion too. Where is that boundary between sort of the obvious misinterpretations, the obvious taking out of context, and the more difficult ones? For me, I’m not a Calvinist and so on Romans 9, I think Calvinists misinterpret Romans 9. I think they’ve missed the broader picture. They usually don’t read the first and end parts of chapter 9. They don’t get the corporate sense going, but I wouldn’t say in the same sense that I might poke someone for interpreting Jeremiah 29:11 the wrong way. Where is the line between “That’s kind of a silly interpretation” versus, “There are more serious interpretations. They’re still mistaken.” How does someone go through and understand or find that scope?
Craig: That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a line that can be drawn, and where we do have disagreements on some of those other issues, we really have to be gracious. We should be gracious even with a verse out of its immediate context, but when it comes to issues like Romans 9 or a number of other issues that people debate about, where you can actually marshall texts on both sides, another one is people will cite 1 Timothy 2 or 1 Cor. 14:34-35 on one side of the debate. They’ll site Romans 16:1-7 and Philippians 4 and…
Kurt: My verses vs. your verses.
Craig: On those kind of things we need to be gracious and recognize there are reasons why people hold this and we can at least understand where the other person’s coming from. It’s not necessarily a bad hermeneutic even if it’s not…
Kurt: An accurate one.
Kurt: That’s a good point. We could say that there is robust thinking behind it, that there are laid out reasons. We could say that they’re thoughtful reasons, maybe some might say they’re good reasons, but not greater or in some cases, depends on how you’re using that term good, but nevertheless, that there’s some serious thought here that we should consider something, but we might still think nevertheless, it’s still taking a verse or passages out of context, missing the big picture. Bible backgrounds really plays an important point in understanding Scripture and not misinterpeting it, doesn’t it?
Craig: Yeah. It’s another level of context. Obviously, you start with the literary context, but when I was reading 40 chapters of the Bible a day, eventually I noticed that the first thing I noticed was on my Bible memory verses there’s not just a bunch of blank space in between. These verses make sense in a broader context, but after awhile I noticed, like Paul says in Romans 1:7, he’s writing this to those who have been set apart from Christ in Rome. I said, “Whoa. I’m not taking that part seriously. This is actually a letter to God’s people in Rome, therefore I need to try to do my best to hear this as a letter to the Romans first of all.” Once I started taking that into account it was like I need to go back and learn more about the ancient world. I’d already studied some aspects of the ancient world. I hadn’t studied the Jewish context enough. When I went back and studied it, the first book I found, I was delighted. It answered some of my questions, but then I did something terrible. I read a second book and contradicted the first book on 20 or 30% and it should have actually contradicted it on more I know now, but anyway, I called one of my professors and I said, “What am I supposed to do? These books, they disagree.” He said, “Just keep studying.” So eventually I go through the primary sources. I spent ten years, though now it’s been like thirty years. There’s a lot of background that’s helpful.
Kurt: There’s a proverb that states that one man seems right until another man comes and examines him, and it seems that you very much experienced that proverb. It can be difficult when people present alternative theories and they provide their reasons and sometimes these debates really have to go all the way back to the assumptions that a person has about Bible backgrounds or the assumptions about what an author would or wouldn’t do and so the debate, and sometimes very sadly, it’s not where it has to be had, where you might be, these are my verses vs. your verses sort of debate, but really it should be let’s look at these assumptions. Was Paul really thinking that idea when he wrote that? What reasons would we have for thinking that? It can be a very deep debate, but important one if we want to seek out the truth. Let’s check out some other verses here. Psalm 50:10, and you’re going to have to help me on this one.
Craig: That’s the cattle on a thousand hills.
Craig: Sometimes people will claim that, not trying to hurt anybody’s faith here, but sometimes I like to be careful with my students because some of them are paying their tuition on that verse. The cattle on a 1,000 hills belong to God. Since He has so many extra He can sell a few and pay my tuition. But the context is God is saying, Israel, the problem with you is you don’t offer me enough sacrifices. The problem is you’re not keeping my covenant. Look. Don’t think that I’m dependent on you for your sacrifices like peoples in the Ancient Near East thought their gods were, they’d get hungry if you didn’t sacrifice enough. That’s not the issue because, look, the cattle on a 1,000 hills belong to me. If I want one. I just take it. That’s the point. Again, I’m not saying God doesn’t supply our needs for what He’s called us to do. I’m just saying the direct point of that verse is that God isn’t dependent on us.
Kurt: The theological doctrine of divine aseity. I’m an aspiring theologian and there’s a fine dance between theology and Biblical interpretation. Sometimes the Biblical scholars, they don’t get along with the theologians, but I’m one that certainly appreciates the work of Biblical scholarship, and try to really understand the text and from there, let’s get our theology. I think that’s really important. We’ve got Peter here watching online. He says, “This is beautiful. I always like to know the background of what the original readers are hearing. This was fascinatingly true going through the seven churches of Asia in Revelation. Definitely Bible background’s important, perhaps the most famous passage of all from those letters would be Jesus says that He’d rather you be hot or cold or else He’ll vomit you out and so Bible backgrounds. Tell us Craig, why are Bible backgrounds important to that specific passage.
Craig: Because sometimes we think that Jesus is saying I want you to be hot, fired up, for me, or just be cold, just be spiritually dead, just don’t be in-between, and that’s how they take lukewarm, but there’s some background that has to do with Laodicea specifically, but most important here is just the general background, that people drank and used both hot water and cold water, but water that’s just warm, I was actually in Greece a couple weeks ago and…..
Kurt: No big deal.
Craig: I’m up to Delphi and the water I was carrying with me, I was so thirsty, and my water bottle was warm, and I understood this verse much better based on my experience. It was so gross, but I was very thirsty so I drank it anyway. Lukewarm water is just unpleasant. The point is not He wants you to be fired up for Jesus or spiritually dead. The point is He wants you to be useful to Him, not disgusting to Him. In the context of Laodicea, the church in Laodicea had very much absorbed the values of its culture. It was a prosperous banking community. They had their own textile industry there with black wool. They had pretty much everything going for them except their water supply. They had to pipe in their water from far away. Their water supply was very vulnerable, stone barrel pipes above ground. Any procedure could break the pipes and that’d be the end of their water supply. The water, you can look at the waterfall right across from Laodicea. The calcium deposits, the lime deposits, not the lime you put in your drink, gross stuff. The one thing that Laodicea complained about, and we know this from the geographer Strabo. The geographer Strabo writes that the only thing nice he could say about Laodicea’s water supply was that the water in Hierapolis was even worse, so in other words….
Kurt: What you’re saying is when people drank the water that was piped in, it tasted nasty.
Craig: It was nasty. Jesus is saying, “You think you’re prosperous. You think you’ve got all this going for you, but actually you’re like that water you’re always complaining about. You make me sick.” But then He says, whom I love I discipline, be zealous therefore and repent.
Kurt: Wow. What a different interpretation that is when you understand Bible backgrounds vs. what many youth pastors take and teach their students. It’s almost as if a lot of these ideas, they don’t even begin in the pulpit. They begin in the student youth center and some people, they just remember those things that their youth pastor taught them.
Craig: I do want you to be fired up for Jesus, but that’s not what that verse is saying. Jesus has all these verses about forsake all and follow me. Those are pretty explicit.
Kurt: Yeah. Let’s turn to Psalm 118:24 and let me read it here. I’ve got to find it. Correct me if I’m wrong. “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”W hat’s so wrong about that verse?
Craig: There’s nothing wrong with the verse.
Kurt: Of course.
Craig: But it helps to know what the verse is about. Go back two verses. Start with verse 22 and read forward.
Kurt: Okay. Here I go. “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Craig: It’s not talking about everyday, although we could celebrate it everyday.
Kurt: It’s talking about a momentous occasion.
Craig: A particular momentous occasion. Of course, we know that however you connect the Psalm to Jesus, we know that at least one ultimate fulfillment of that is when Jesus is exalted after He’s been rejected. We can celebrate that all the time, but it’s not just randomly, this is the day the Lord has made today, if you want to have a verse about let’s rejoice today. Try Philippians 4 rejoice in the Lord always or something.
Kurt: So it’s not necessarily that the idea or the principle is not found in Scripture, say if God has a plan for your life, a plan that is to say, He’s laid out the ways He wants you to live, and that’s a plan, or that here as in this example you’ve said, it’s not that we shouldn’t always rejoice. We should, but this specific verse wouldn’t lend to that conclusion. This verse has a context, it has a scope upon which it applies. For this verse we should use it for those momentous occasions, in our culture, our history perhaps, maybe even our own lives, but to use it every day would be not quite what the author was thinking. Is that right?
Craig: Yeah. I think he has maybe the more momentous, but in any case, it’s like Matthew 25, whatever you’ve done to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you’ve done to me. I don’t think in the larger context of Matthew, that’s talking about just caring for the poor and so on and that the Lord would reward you, but it is a biblical principle because Proverbs say, “Whoever gives to the poor lends to the Lord. The Lord will repay them.” But in Matthew 25, you look through the rest of Matthew, you take Matthew in its context, this is what the original hearers of Matthew, the original audience of Matthew would have had in mind when they heard this passage read, because they didn’t hear it read just as a verse or as a paragraph. They hear the whole Gospel of Mathew being read through. So who are Jesus’s brothers and sisters elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew? You think the end of Matthew 12, whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister or mother. You think of Matthew 23. You have one rabbi, one teacher, one father, and you’re all brothers and sisters, or Matthew 28 when He says to the women at the tomb, go tell my brothers, and then Matthew 10 when He sends His disciples out, He says depend on local hospitality and if they give just a cup of cold water in my name, however they receive you, they receive me. Matthew 25 in the larger context of Matthew is talking about the agents of the kingdom and messengers of the kingdom and nations will be judged based on how they responded to the good news and we just said in the chapter before, 24:14, that the good news of the kingdom must be preached in all the nations before the end will come. Anyway, I’m talking too much.
Kurt: Quite alright. It gives us an insight into, also I would say, your writing style. There’s just so much to be said and noted and carefully observed that these factors are so important to understanding the text in an important way. We’ve got to take a short break here, but when we come back I want to ask you some questions about the prosperity gospel which is very popular here in the United States. It’s huge over in Africa. Also then, towards the end of the program, I’ve got just a couple questions about undesigned coincidences and literary devices as part of some recent theological and biblical discussions on that and with some of your folks that you’re associated with as well. Stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. Today, we are talking about verses out of context and our guest is Dr. Craig Keener, but before we get back into the main portion of today’s program, I want to take an opportunity to share with you about the work of apologetics315. Apologetics315 is this wonderful resource website providing daily apologetics resources including audio debates, podcasts, book reviews, and more and so if you haven’t had the opportunity to check out that website, apologetics315.com, I want to encourage you to do so and you can check here, we’ve got our weekly bonus links that went up yesterday, all sorts of different links to videos and audio files, some articles and talks that really I think can be edifying to your faith. You can learn more about what it is that you believe so let me just give you one fine example here. We’ve got a video here of Peter Leithart of the Theopolis Institute and we’ve got this video here that we’ve linked to which explains the synoptic problem. You might be wondering, “What’s the synoptic problem?” This issue pertains to the ordering of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and who wrote each one and where did the content come from and those sorts of questions, so if you have a chance to go and check out that fifteen-minute video, go to apologetics315.com, find that link on our weekly apologetics bonus links, and hope that this website can be a great resource to you, your friends, and your family members.
Back to today’s program, again episode 101, joined as guest today, Dr. Craig Keener. Craig. Thank you. Before we get back to talking about verses out of context and specifically I want to ask you about prosperity verses. We do a segment on the show called Rapid Questions and I didn’t tell you about this and that’s intentional and I’ve got to find my questions now here. They’re lying around here somewhere. Here we are. This is a sixty-second segment of the program. We ask all sorts of fun, goofy questions so we can really get to know you a little bit more and things about your life and if you are ready I’ll start the game clock and I’ll get rolling. The idea is to answer as many questions as fast as you can. Are you ready?
Craig: I wrote a four-volume commentary on Acts, but I have to be concise here. Right?
Kurt: Does Craig Keener know how to be concise? That’s the question. Okay. We’ll start the game clock, that’s hilarious by the way. We’ll start the game clock here and I’ll ask the first question.
What is your clothing store of choice?
Craig: My wife shops for me.
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Craig: Actually, I don’t eat either one. They’re too greasy for me.
Kurt: What’s your favorite
Craig: I jog.
Kurt: What’s Medine’s favorite holiday?
Craig: Maybe her birthday?
Kurt: What’s your favorite movie?
Craig: Probably A.D., not the more recent one, but the one that came out in the seventies?
Kurt: Who’s one person you’d like to have dinner with to discuss a topic you disagree on?
Craig: If it wasn’t disagree, I would say Jesus from Revelation 3:20, but disagree with, maybe some of my recent critics.
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Craig: No. Never Dr. Salt.
Kurt: Last question, if you were a baseball pitch, which one would you be?
Craig: I have no idea. This is how I get my writing done.
Kurt: If you want to be like Craig Keener, stop watching sports.
Craig: Don’t watch TV in general. Just do your work.
Kurt: Just do your work. That’s right. Read. Read lots of books and write. That’s great.
Craig: I do do Facebook.
Kurt: I would like to learn, your wife, Medine, you consider her birthday a holiday.
Craig: I actually, we do have to work on it, but she was born November 11 and Martin Luther was born on November 10 so I like to remind her that she’s born just after the 480th birthday of Martin Luther.
Kurt: How about that? Very nice. So tell me, you and your wife have really been seeking to bring about racial reconciliation. For those who may not know, your wife is African. Please tell me about the history of how you guys met and her history and the work that you guys are doing towards racial reconciliation?
Craig: The short version, it’s all in a book called Impossible Love, but the long version would take a book, but we met at Duke University. I was doing my PhD in New Testament. She was an exchange student doing her PhD in Paris, she was studying African-American history, and so she was in the U.S. and she was studying this and she got one, and she went back to Congo where she’s from. She was caught up in the civil war. We were separated, no contact for eighteen months, I didn’t know if she was alive or dead. I’m not real quick at making decisions, but that sped things up a bit afterwards. We’ve been happily married, and then, of course, there were other complications. Just when we were getting ready to file the papers for the fiance visa, 9/11 happened, and that influenced the immigration system. It was a mess.
Kurt: What a headache. Oh my. Okay. For those that are interested to learn more about your story, you can check out the book, Impossible Love, and learn more about that and the work you guys are doing as well.
Craig: If you don’t like heavy academic works, that’s my least academic work.
Kurt: Very nice. I do want to ask about prosperity verses, but John brought[NP1] up a great one that we should cover here. Matthew 18. Where two or more gathered. God’s only going to be there if two people are there, is that right?
Craig: No. The two or three in the context, it’s referring back to the two or three witnesses. 18:15-17, it’s talking about church discipline. That’s where the binding and loosing comes in which background will be helpful for, but just to say two or three witnesses in church discipline. This is talking about where two or three are gathered, the witnesses should be the first two to pray. The principle is not that you need two or three. The principle is not that you can’t have more than two or three. The principle is just, He’s dealing with the two or three within the context and He goes on to say where two or three are gathered in my name, there I’m among them, which fits a theme that runs through Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew 1:23, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Matthew 28:20. I’ll be with you until the end of the age and so in 18:20. Also, it’s interesting, there was a Jewish saying that was circulating probably this early, and the saying goes like this. Where two or three are gathered for the study of the Torah, there’s my Shekinah, presence among them. Jesus is claiming to be the very presence of the living God.
Kurt: It’s fascinating when some people do use that phrase where two or more are gathered. It’s really an important point. No. If you’re alone, God is still with you, and so don’t be disheartened. That verse sort of has this unintended consequences when misinterpreted.
Craig: One person was using it in the King James, at least one person, in saying and they’re agreeing as touching anything, so they said touch your TV set and pray with me. That was a translation issue.
Kurt: Right. Let’s take that and move along to a number of verses which can be misinterpreted to mean that if you pray for God to give you a Corvette, God’s going to give you a Corvette. If you name it and claim it in Jesus’s name, you’ll have it. That in a nutshell is what’s called the prosperity gospel, that God is out to make you richer and wealthier as part of being His disciple, but Jesus kind of also teaches that the world’s going to hate His disciples and that there will be persecution, so how do we fit those verses about the supposed prosperity gospel or that are misinterpreted as supporting that, how should we understand those verses?
Craig: They’re all out of context. I went through a phase as a young Christian where I accepted a lot of ideas of that. I didn’t really accept the prosperity part so much because I didn’t see it in Scripture, but some of the things about confessing and so on, with the prosperity part, it’s always good to keep in mind the Psalm that says delight yourself in the Lord and He’ll give yourself the desires of your heart, in other words, your desires need to be in the right direction. Also, people were using verses like Romans 10:9-10, talking about confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and they were using that for confessing other things. In the New Testament, when it talks about confessing, it talks about confessing sin, it talks about confessing Christ as Lord, and the one other thing place I found where it talks about confessing something is Hebrews 11 where they confess that they were strangers and pilgrims on the Earth as an act of faith that God had this promise in the future for them and they were therefore willing to suffer in the present as they were awaiting that. You don’t have them confessing anything like I’m going to get this or that. It’s usually about confessing Christ, sometimes in the face of persecution.
Kurt: What are some others verses that people use to justify their idea that God’s here to make me wealthier?
Craig: One of them was Psalm 50 we mentioned earlier. 3 John. People often will quote the thing, “I want you to prosper and be in health as your soul prospers.” That was a standard greeting in the ancient world. There were a couple kinds of greetings. One was Chairo[NP2] , which was a greeting you have in Acts 15, you have in James 1. Chairo just means greetings. It’s usually adapted in the New Testament to Charis, grace, and the added Jewish greeting, peace, and so it could sound like a good Jewish greeting in a Greek letter. I think you have something like that in 2 Maccabees, grace and peace to you. It’s a blessing from God. It’s a prayer, may God bless you. The difference in the New Testament is not just may God the Father bless you, but grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus, implying His deity right upfront in all these letters. This other thing is also like that. It’s legitimate to pray for somebody, to bless them like in a sense may God bless you with this. It’s a prayer. It’s legitimate to pray like that, but it’s not a guarantee we’re going to have. My God will supply all your needs according to His riches and glory. The context of that is they’ve been taking care of Paul in his need and even beyond his need and so Paul is trusting God to bless them, but you’ve got all these texts about sacrificing financially, the idea that we could trust God to supply all needs for what He’s called us to do and so we can bless others. Ephesians 4, about not stealing but rather working with your hands to give to others. That one often gets quoted out of context about seek first the kingdom and all these things will be added to you. The context is don’t seek the things the pagans seek and He’s talking about food and clothing, basics, but rather seek first God’s kingdom and all these things will be added to you. The things He’s talking about are basics. It’s not like, anyway.
Kurt: Yeah. It’s not all these high-end cars or big mansions or anything like that.
Craig: Hebrews 11:1. Some people I think still use this. People used to it a lot. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. They say it’s now faith. They make it an adjective describing faith even though in English, now is an adverb, but that’s not the worst part of it. In Greek there, the word is not nun, it’s de, which means but and and, and even if they didn’t follow it up and look it up in Greek, if they’d read it in context, the context of it is persevering faith. There is the kind of faith where you’re believing God right now in the present. I’m not trying to reduce the importance of faith by any means, but the importance of faith, faith is only as good as its object, so if you’re believing God based on what God has actually said, that’s great. If you’re believing God based on verses out of context…
Kurt: Not so great. Alright. I want to move us since we’re here at the back end of the program, to some of the more recent issues in the blogosphere and in some published works as well. You wrote the foreword to Lydia McGrew’s book, Hidden In Plain View. That book is about undesigned coincidences, where these, at least, what might appear to be unplanned confirmations of events or instances or things a person said or where they were from can help to really enhance the reliability of the Gospels, so I was curious to ask you what your thoughts were on undesigned coincidences and I had a specific question as well, but first let’s see what do you think is one of the beneficial things, one of the most beneficial things to these undesigned coincidences in the Scriptures.
Craig: I think it is helpful. It lets us know that the authors had additional information and there were things that they were taken for granted and there are other places where we can see that and even when you don’t have what is called[NP3] , but just where the writer speaks as if he expects his audience to know about the story as well, like in John 12, Jesus or John 11-12 where John says this is the Mary who washed Jesus’s feet. It’s in 12 where she washes His feet and 11 where it mentions it. His audience already knows the story and already knows the name of the person who did it. They’re taken for granted a much wider repertoire of information. Luke tells us, “I’m confirming these things Theophilus that you already know.” I think it’s helpful in those ways.
Kurt: Yeah. One of the questions I had as I’ve been thinking about this. I know that it’s debated whether John had the source material in front of him, that is of the written works, so did John have the Gospel of Mark in front of him or Matthew or Luke and he was writing based off of that. I’m curious to know if he had the material, would that make it an undesigned coincidence?
Craig: I don’t think John had that material in front of him. I don’t see how he could not have known Mark was in circulation for example, but if John is an eyewitness, why would he need to depend on something else[NP4] ? It’s not because he’s dependent on them.
Kurt: Yeah. I guess I could see, and this is very contingent upon whether he did have the material in front of him, but say if he’s looking at a passage, he might add a detail that helps to corroborate the story, but I guess it wouldn’t be like an unplanned or undesigned coincidence. It would just be a design corroboration. Nevertheless, I think there are still other good examples of undesigned coincidences in the Scriptures. Let me ask you this and this has been a perhaps more controversial topic regarding the work of…
Craig: And about John being a witness, sometimes people think that if you don’t say there are other views, you don’t know there are other views. I know I’m in the minority among Biblical scholars, but I do think John was a witness, but so you know that I was speaking for myself.
Kurt: Sure. Yes. Moving to the work of Mike Licona, he has recently, was it last year, he put out a book, Why Are There Differences In The Gospels? Therein, he tries to draw from the works of Plutarch. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read his book.
Craig: I haven’t.
Kurt: Mike argues that there are these sort of literary devices that the Gospel authors used in their biographical work, but this has led to the concern by some that if the authors had such liberties, that the Gospels become in the eyes of these critics, the Gospels become less reliable because we don’t really know what was happening. What’s your take on those literary devices?
Craig: Anybody who’s worked their way through synopsis of the Gospels, knows very well that you have certain kinds of issues, certain kinds of differences there. What Mike has done is just shown that nobody would worry about that because you’ve got these kinds of differences elsewhere in ancient literature. People just took for granted that you could write that way. It’s part of the genre. In terms of the synopsis of the Gospels, I think what it also shows us, depending on which configuration of Gospel sources you use. Take the standard one which is also pretty much my default one. Matthew and Luke are using Mark. If they make these changes, obviously they don’t see a problem with it. If they don’t see a problem with it, why should we see a problem with it. When they’re seeing changes like in Matthew 21, Jesus cleanses the temple. A little while later, He curses a fig tree, it withers at once, Jesus gives a lesson on faith. Mark 11, Jesus curses the fig tree, goes in and cleanses the temple, they come back, they find the fig tree withered, and the disciples say, “Whoa. Look at that.” Jesus gives the same lesson on faith. Are you going to say He cursed two fig trees? One before He cleansed the temple and one afterwards, when each Gospel only mentions one fig tree, I think that we can show more respect to the biblical text, not by imposing our a prioris on it, but about how it should have been written based on how we expect people on our culture to write, that’s imposing an a priori on Scripture. That’s not approaching Scripture as authoritative enough that we’re willing to learn inductively from it how the authors felt they were being inspired to write. I think it’s more respectful to allow for those things. I don’t see undesigned coincidences and literary devices as incompatible.
Craig: I don’t see why they have to be incompatible.
Kurt: Yeah. There could be instances where there’s some overlap. There might be alternative ways, but they certainly don’t strike me as mutually exclusive. I’ll have to think more about that and all those issues. It seems there’s a lot going on in the blogosphere.
Craig: That’s how I get my writing done. I don’t keep up with the blogs either. I write some Bible studies and put them on my blog and my comics.
Kurt: You’re all the better probably just for ignoring it and pressing on with your work.
Craig: I try. I’m not trying to, how do I put this, I think we can learn from both approaches.
Kurt: Yeah. Nice. One of the issues that I had been writing about, I was actually blogging a few weeks ago was the temple cleansings. There are debates even amongst evangelicals about whether there’s one temple cleansing or two because in the Synoptics, the cleansing of the temple occurs later in Jesus’s ministry, but in John’s Gospel, it appears very early on. This has led some to think Jesus cleansed the temple twice. There are others that think perhaps John has moved the event for different reasons as you mentioned, the genre, there weren’t necessarily hard and fast rules about how to write a biography. Perhaps John moved the event to convey some sense of Jesus, a theological message, so what’s your take on the temple cleansing example?
Craig: People can hold different views on whether it was at the beginning or the end or both, but it isn’t legitimate to say that it has to be in chronological order because, again, it was about seven years about my conversion, I took a synopsis of the Gospels, and spent a few weeks, whatever, working my way through it passage by passage figuring out how these passages relate to one another, and it is simply not possible to, you can’t force the Gospels into this saying they have to be in chronological order. If you do that really I don’t think you’re not really respecting the text. I think most people that do that, it’s not that they’re not intending to not respect the text, I think they simply never worked through a synopsis of the Gospels. If they haven’t, then before they can really talk about it they need to go back and do that and see if they can still maintain their position.
Kurt: I know towards the beginning of the program we talked about these assumptions and how the debate can often be had at these assumptions about the text or even the assumptions about a genre and how this can even apply in these contemporary debates that are being had over issues of the Bible and yeah, it seems like you mentioned, the genres here, that there were just different conventions of that day and we need to understand those conventions, and if we just reject those conventions it’s going to lead us to some stretched interpretations of passages and difficulties.
Craig: We impose on the Gospels our own a prioris that are based on our own cultural assumptions. We’re imposing on them rules of genres that did not yet exist in their current form rather than understanding them the way that they present themselves to be understood, and then if you go back and you study ancient literature. Hey. The Gospels are among the most reliable. It’s very few cases where we have an ancient figure where you have biographies of the figure written within living memory of that figure. Multiple biographies with multiple eyewitness sources. You’ve got Socrates. You’ve got Jesus. You’ve got a couple Roman emperors, but you really don’t have very much like that. It’s one of our best sources, but you go imposing these modern grids on it and somebody like Bart Ehrman comes along, points to all the holes in your argument, and you say, “Oh no! Maybe the Gospels aren’t reliable!” Well they’re not reliable only according to an a priori standard by which they were not meant to be judged. It’s an utterly unfair standard. It’s anachronistic and culturally imperialistic.
Kurt: I’ve often told people that Bart Ehrman is still a fundamentalist. Right.
Craig: He argues that way in popular literature.
Kurt: That’s right. That’s the way he argues, even though he doesn’t actually himself believe that, but he used to. Right? He used to think that of the text. He held it to such a wooden standard, and when these issues of difficulties arose in his study, faith went out the window. For him, it wasn’t even reevaluating the way he viewed the Gospels. I think that in conjunction, with he said the problem of evil I think led him away from the faith.
Craig: A few philosophers and theologians take care of that one.
Kurt: Great. We’ve taken up your time here, Craig. Thank you so much. This has been wonderful. We’ll have to bring you on the program again. You let me know whatever you want to cover and we’ll have a fun time again.
Craig: Thanks so much, Kurt.
Kurt: Great. God bless you and all the work that you’re doing.
Craig: God bless you and your work too.
Kurt: Thank you. That does it for today’s program. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our technical producer today, Robb, that’s Robb Emmett, one r, one o, two of everything else. Thank you for coming in. To our guest today, Craig Keener. If you are unfamiliar with his work, please. Do a Google search. Check out all that’s there. Watch some of his videos. He does these vlogs on his own YouTube page. You can check those out, and last but not least, and certainly not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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