Written by Professor Steve Taylor Friday, 09 March 2012 00:00

Note to the reader: This is the fourth in a series of blogs on reading the Bible as a biblical theological unity. For context, readers should consult the prior posts.

A Practical Motive

In our last post on this topic we discovered how Origen of Alexandria rescued the third century church from its bafflement with the Bible.

Origen was hardly some ivory-tower theoretician in all this. His motives, on full display throughout his writings, were thoroughly pastoral. He was convinced that every scripture was inspired by God to bless his people. Moreover, Origen insisted that Scripture must interpret Scripture. As he put it in his Commentary on Matthew (2.18), "Every interpretation which is outside scripture is not holy.… No one can bring his own interpretations unless he shall have shown them to be holy, from that which is contained in the divine scriptures." Origen insisted that the unity of the Bible was to be found in Christ. Christ, he insisted, is "the spirit which was at work in the prophets…, who became man and said: 'It is I who speak; here am I'" (referring to Isa 52:6; PG 13:657-8  D) and Christ is "the prophesied gift toward which, in essence, all prophecy tends" (PG 13:659-60 C).

A Method Adopted

And even though parts of Origen’s theology and a large part of his interpretive approach were later questioned by some in the church (on the latter, look up “The Antiochene School” in any theological dictionary), the church in the western part of the Roman Empire followed, for the next 900 years and with minor variations, Origen’s grand solution: a strong Rule of Faith and an interpretive approach that went beyond the literal/historical meaning of Biblical texts to spiritual meanings supportive of Christian ethics and theology. Among Origen’s disciples were the great Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in the late 4thand early 5thcenturies and his contemporary, the Bible scholar and translator Jerome.

A “For Instance”

Perhaps a concise yet revealing instance of this three- or four-fold approach to biblical interpretation  is provided by Gregory the Great (540--604 CE), the last of the Latin Fathers and one of the notable popes of the Roman church. He was asked to write a commentary on the book of Job* which would, "not only shake loose from the words of the historical narrative their allegorical meaning, but … also direct the allegorical interpretation towards moral edification," all the while bringing other scriptural text to bear on his interpretations (Origen’s program precisely!). In his introduction, Gregory explains his aims and methods:

First we lay the foundations of historical fact; then we lift up the mind to the citadel of faith through allegory; finally through the exposition of the moral sense we dress the edifice in its colored raiment. The utterances of Truth are nothing but nourishment to refresh the soul. Expounding the text in various ways we offer dishes for the pallet of different kinds, so that we may banish the reader’s boredom…. Sometimes we neglect to expound the overt historical sense lest we be retarded getting to the deeper matters. Sometimes passages cannot be expounded literally because when they are taken in that superficial way they offer no instruction to the reader but only generate error. (Cited by Yarchin, p. 88; italics mine; note the practical purpose of scripture)

Gregory then proceeds to expound each section of the book of Job—sometimes verse by verse—according to the three different levels: the literal, the allegorical, and the tropological (or moral).

So Job 1:2 narrates: "Seven sons were born to him, and three daughters." Why does Scripture relate such apparently insignificant facts? How might the number of Job's offspring bear witness to Christian truth or provide moral guidance for the reader? As for the literal meaning, Gregory explains that the large number of Job's children is one measure of his true greatness: since "not even love for his many children could make him cling to his property." These facts are the first indications in the story of Job’s piety and humility.

More significant however is the allegorical meaning: Gregory notes that "holy scripture is in the habit of using the number seven as a symbol of perfection" (the Sabbath, the Jubilee year, etc.). Moreover, as a prime number, seven is comprised of the numbers four and three which, when multiplied together, equal the number twelve, a clear reference  to "the apostles going forth manfully to preach…, who were sent to preach the three persons of God to the four corners of the world." The three daughters (who cannot properly symbolize of the Trinity) either represent "the multitude of hearers" of the twelve apostles or the three different classes of believers within the church: pastors, the ascetics and celibates, and the married.

Finally, the tropological or moral meaning refers to the "seven virtues of the Holy Spirit" enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3 coupled with the three theological virtues enumerated by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 13, namely, hope, faith, and love. All these virtues together define the moral perfection of the number ten.

Some “Take-aways”

It will be helpful for our future posts on a Christotelic reading of scripture to underline some closing observations. This kind of manifold reading of the Bible recommended by Origen and adopted by the medieval church in the Latin West

  1. Was pursued under the conviction that every scripture is “inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16) and therefore invested with rich divine meaning—meaning discoverable for the rest of the church by the diligent and gifted.
  2. Was done in service of actualizingthe text of the Bible, i.e., of ensuring that every passage of the Bible is indeed “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (again 2 Tim 3:16) and thus capable of being lived out (actualized).
  3. Tended to treat biblical passages atomistically: the narrative or argumentative coherence of the text itself was frequently sacrificed (or at least de-emphasized)  as verses, phrases and even words were taken out of their immediate contexts and made to point to Christian truths or maxims above the passage being interpreted.
  4. Relied on the Rule of Faith to safeguard the coherence of the biblical message and to check the arbitrariness of the interpretive method. What seemed arbitrary or even fanciful at the textual level was actually justified and legitimated at the higher level of systematic and timeless truth.  Though in theory Christ was affirmed as the theme of scripture, in actuality he became a cipher for an increasingly complex set of theological propositions. The reading of scripture became a ruled reading governed by an external rule.

All of these developments tended to yield a flat Bible who’s deepest and most vital meaning coincided with a body of timeless and universal truths and principles rather than being found in the stark particularities a story climaxing in Jesus the Messiah. Within the constraints of the Rule of Faith and the resourcefulness of the interpreter, any unit or component of the Bible could refer directly to postulates already known to be true on other grounds. The Bible came to be a book of symbols and examples rather than the surprising record of God’s redemptive triumph.

What do you think? How much is this reading strategy still with us today?

* Conveniently excerpted in William Yarchin, History of Biblical Interpretation: A Reader (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), pp. 88-92.

Stephen Taylor is Associate Professor of New Testament at Biblical. He is a missionary kid fascinated with the question of the relationship between culture and understanding the Bible. Steve is married to Terri, and together they have five kids. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/stephen-taylor .



Written by Susan Disston Thursday, 08 March 2012 00:00

If you’ve ever been in a jam while at your computer, you’ve probably hit the Esc key or pounded it hoping for a quick fix to whatever the problem is. The Esc key is a shortcut that stops, quits, cancels, exits, or aborts the situation so that you can start over. Fresh.

Coincidentally, the word eschatology also begins with Esc. Eschatology in the Christian tradition is the study of the end times and of our ultimate destiny: a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65-66). A destiny where we start over. Fresh.

Christopher Wright wrote about this place from the Isaiah passage—“joyful, free from grief and tears, life-fulfilling, with guaranteed work satisfaction, free from the curse of frustrated labor, and environmentally safe” It is a vision that pus most New Age dreams in the shade.” The Mission of God, p. 408.

It is this vision that Wright says should propel the Christian toward creation care: that it is both humanity and the creation itself that will be caught up and made new by God. Wright added, “It follows then, from a creational and eschatological perspective, that ecological care and action is a dimension of our mission inasmuch as it is a dimension of restoring the proper status and responsibility of our humanity. It is to behave as we were originally created to and as we will one day be fully redeemed for.” p. 414.

Some Christians respond to creation care as “just another fad.” When they dismiss the so-called fad, they are metaphorically hitting the Esc key, the one that stops, quits, cancels,... rather than connecting the beginning of God’s story with the end and seeing the earth—creation—as a vital part of what God has provided to humanity for blessing.

For more of Christopher Wright on creation care,  go to CreationCare.org.

Susan Disston is the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. She teaches project courses in the doctor of ministry program and in ESLPLUS. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology



Written by Dr. Charles Zimmerman Wednesday, 07 March 2012 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now?  

I have been contacting founding faculty members to see what they are up these days and to then blog that information so that you can be updated. 

Thus far, we have heard from “Doc” Newman, Gary Cohen and Bob Vannoy.  If you missed those blog entries, scroll back and take a look.  I asked each to provide contact information, so feel free to drop them a note of encouragement and while you’re at it, attach a comment to the appropriate blog entry. 

Today we will hear from George Clark.  I think that at one time or another George held every job possible at Biblical – interim president, registrar, faculty member, admissions, supervisor of faculties, etc.  My fondest memories of George are from Homiletics class where he helped me stumble through the first sermon I ever preached.  In the follow up debrief, he corrected my grammar, provided lots of helpful hints, but more than anything else, encouraged me to keep preaching.   

What years did you teach at Biblical?

I served at Biblical from September, 1971 through May, 2000, following 11 years as a foreign and home missionary.

During my first year with BTS I helped set up the Academic Offices, performed additional administrative duties, and I endeavored to repair whatever mechanical or electrical devices broke down … For the remaining 28 years I served with the Administration and was a member of the Faculty.

 1.  Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days.

 Having served for 29 years at Biblical Seminary, I have many “special memories” of which I will share just three at this time.

 Student Joe Basile

Joe grew up as a Roman Catholic in Bayone, NJ, and then joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses, searching for eternal salvation.  He later heard the gospel and accepted Christ as his Savior, soon after which he came to study at Biblical.

In those days the Seminary had a faculty counselor for each student, and I was Joe’s counselor.  Joe’s greatest desire was to win people to Christ as Savior.  He was a good student, even though he spent most of his time witnessing for the Lord and working on his homiletics studies. 

We’ve had the joy of maintaining contact with Joe over the years, as he worked with Dr. Jack Murray’s Bible Evangelism for a while and then went on to plant a church in his own home town of Bayonne.  There he married a young widow with two young sons, who today serve part-time and full-time with him at the church, which has now grown to be one the largest and most effective evangelical churches in the area.  Joe and his wife Pat remain two of our dearest friends.

Student Gary Anderson

Gary came from a fine Christian home, and had a brother who was doing a good job as a minister and pastor.  Since Gary and I both loved to bow-hunt, we would make the time to hunt together during the Fall of each school year.  Gary was also a good student, whose passion was to learn how to preach.  He chose every opportunity he could to preach while at Biblical, and then upon graduation took the pastorate of a small church in northern PA.

Since we remained good friends, he would often invite me to come to preach at his church, AND to hunt with him during the week in the area nearby.  By God’s grace, Gary’s church grew to be quite large and effective … And he was invited to lake the leadership of one of the largest evangelical missions organizations, Baptist Mid-Missions.

Student Carl Martin

Carl grew up in central PA on a farm, where he learned to do just about anything that needed to be done – electrical, mechanical, construction-wise, gardening, and landscaping.  Upon his arrival for study at Biblical, he was quickly placed in charge of the School’s entire maintenance department.

The Seminary purchased a nearby property with a small residence, and Carl lived in the cottage and did all the mowing, as he continued the oversight of all the repair and upkeep at the BTS property.  I often wondered how Carl would develop as a student, since he worked for so many hours each day …  However he proved to be one of those individuals who needed only four or five hours of sleep each night!

He began to preach in various local churches, while at seminary, and upon graduation was called to pastor a local Bible Protestant Church.  He traveled on short-term mission trips to teach biblical courses, and eventually married a young lady who had grown up as an MK.

Sherie and I have had the privilege of following the ministry of Carl and Beth through the years, and have been invited to help them in the area of Family Life Conferences at the two churches where he served as pastor. He and Beth have raised a son (currently serving as an officer in the Navy) and four daughters (three of whom are presently ministering on Asian mission fields, while their fourth is finishing her college study).  

Following his seminary years, Carl went on to earn his D.Min. degree, and has currently nearly completed the work for his Ph.D.  He has been a full-time member of the faculty of Clearwater Christian College for a number of years now, and continues to preach in local churches and to minister in short-term mission field ministries.   It has been a great joy for us to watch Carl and Beth raise their family in Covenant relationship with the Lord, and to minister so effectively in Christ’s Kingdom.  It has been a great joy for Sherie and me to share in their ministry.

What have you been doing since then?  Be sure to include a brief update on your family.

After retiring from Biblical in 2000, we moved to Tampa Florida to be near our son and his family, since we were the only living grandparents.  Although we were not excited about moving to the heat and humidity of Florida summers, it has been a great joy to be a part of our growing family’s life and endeavors and has made it all worth the effort.

Our older son Phil, Vice President of Technology with Lightning Source, and wife Diane have home-schooled our two grand children (Nicolette, 13, and Christopher, 15) who are excellent students, very active in sports, enjoy playing piano, and are exceptionally sociable.

Our younger son Lauren and wife Lecersia met as senior engineers at Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth, TX, and minister as elder and elder’s wife in the local PCA church – where Lauren has taught the high school boys’ Sunday School class and many of the adult classes for years.

With our move to Florida, we became active in a local PCA church as I often preached, we both taught, and participated in music ministry.  I also had opportunities to perform baptisms, conduct wedding ceremonies, do some counseling, and to minister in other nearby churches as well.

But then in 2004, our world “tilted” as I endured a “small” stroke, due to an atrial-fibrillation heart problem.   We were visiting with our son and wife in Texas, at the time, and received good care at their local hospital.  After returning to Tampa, I went through several months of therapy which helped me regain some of my memory loss.  However, there remain residual problems with what is called “retrieval of proper nouns” and the “processing in series”, whether of events, directives, lists, etc.; and therefore I can no longer enjoy the preaching and teaching I once did. 

However, I do continue to do some mentoring with families at our church and in our neighborhood, and I head our community’s Home-Owner Association Board’s Budget Committee.  We enjoy opening our home in hospitality and outreach to our friends and neighbors, and Sherie continues to minister in music, teaching, and the mentoring of women.

Contact Information

Our home address:            The Rev. & Mrs. George S. Clark; 4701 Corsage Drive;  Lutz, FL  33558

Our email address:            This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Charles Zimmerman is the Thomas V. Taylor Professor of Practical Theology.  He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton.  He is married to Kim and they have two daughters, Ashley and Megan.  See alsohttp://biblical.edu/index.php/charles-zimmerman


Written by Dr. David Dunbar Tuesday, 06 March 2012 00:00

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic study of Christian community provides the title for this post. Bonhoeffer makes it clear that true community is not an easy thing.  In fact, it is not a human possibility, for only the Holy Spirit can produce a community that actually functions as the body of Christ. 

One of the principal obstacles to embodying a biblical vision of life together in the American context is the prevailing culture of therapeutic individualism. Most of us see ourselves first as individuals rather than as members of family, church, nation, etc.  We have imbibed deeply at the river of self-care and self-fulfillment.  Indeed, we have difficulty imagining any approach other than “me first” even in the spiritual realm. 

I am struck by this repeatedly when I listen to much of the music we sing in our churches. How often the lyrics abound with first person singulars!  “I” and “me” appear with dreary monotony as we reinforce the idea that Christian faith is basically about me and Jesus.  Why don’t we sing about “we” and “us”?  Sometimes I purposely change the words to plural just to resist the tide of Christian Narcissism. 

In his recent book Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? Daniel Kirk discusses how this same cultural filter leads to a misunderstanding of the apostle’s teaching regarding spiritual gifts: 

In one of the most profound ironies of my own experience, talk of such gifts has usually been part of a larger vision of self-discovery. We take inventories to see what gifts each one of us has. We sit down with a list of tasks wherein we might find ourselves well employed within our gifting. In the process, what for Paul was an inherent part of life in community is co-opted by our individualistic Christianity as a means to self-fulfillment (p. 67). 

In spite of all the communitarian talk we hear today, Bonhoeffer is right:  true community is not a human possibility. May the Spirit of God awaken his people to be the church!

Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six grand children.



Written by Dr. Bryan Maier Monday, 05 March 2012 00:00

I am writing this on President’s Day.

I admit that this is not one of the big holidays but in the Maier house it tends to get more recognition. You see, my boys and I really love American History. When I left for work today, they were watching the history channel about the various presidents who have served our country (“Dad, who was Millard Fillmore?”). 

I enjoy American history so much that ten years ago I started reading biographies of the Presidents. I am currently on Eisenhower but I keep getting side tracked. This year my boys and I had a unique way to celebrate, for this was the 100thanniversary of the Boy Scouts camping at Valley Forge on President’s Day weekend. My oldest spent two nights in a tent with over 4, 000 other Boy Scouts from all over the country, while I marched (and marched) around with my younger two on Saturday. In addition to all the explosions and re-enactments, it was a wonderful time reflecting again on the sacrifices of those early days of our nation.

One presentation was about George Washington and gave reminders on how, despite the nations desire to make him emperor for life, he refused to serve more than two terms as president. He actually relinquished power (how many of us would do that?).

One of the books I read about the presidents claimed that every single American president has been a power-hungry narcissist (even the “good” ones) – with one exception. You guessed it, the exception was George Washington. Power can be so addictive. How many of us are satisfied with the relatively little amount of power we have? Don’t we all want more? And what happens when we get it? We usually want even more.  Most of us will never be president of the United States but we will serve as pastors, teachers, counselors, church planters, and even seminary professors.

Before we end up too enamored with power, may we remember and reflect on the words of Peter in 1 Peter 5:1-4.

Bryan Maier, Psy. D.  is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates.


Written by Mrs. Pam Smith Friday, 02 March 2012 14:13

Chris Drager earned his Master of Divinity from Biblical Seminary in 2004. On his LinkedIn account, he summarized his vocation as teaching Upper School World History from a Christian Worldview and with a Classical Methodology.  Doesn’t that sound like a great job?

Chris was also a husband, a father, and an artist. In fact we have one of his artistic creations in the hallway at Biblical. The path God had for him was not one that any of us would ask for. His cancer that started while he was a student here at Biblical returned five times, yet his love for his savior never left him.

In 2005 I had the privilege of hearing Chris talk about living a life when the path isn’t so great.  I saved a portion of his presentation and I share it in honor of his passing to glory on March 1, 2012.

But, if the Lord chooses a different path for us - one of great difficulty, He is still good. He promises that for those who love Him and are called by His grace, all things (even great suffering) are for an ultimate good. The Lord is too kind and loving to harm His children. Although He may allow difficulty and pain and suffering, He promises that it is for our growth and maturity and for our witness to the world around us.

He is not content to save us and let us be immature Christians. He wants to build our faith and trust in Him. He wants to make us strong in our reliance on His grace. So He calls us to take up the way of suffering as Christ did. We are to follow Christ's path. By His grace, we will, knowing that Christ's path ultimately leads to glory in the next life.

For now, we all, as true believers in Christ, walk down pathways of various sufferings. Though they are different, they all are designed by a sovereign and loving heavenly Father who is too wise to make a mistake and too kind to bring us harm.

Thank God for His unsearchable wisdom. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. O, the depths of His love and mercy toward us in Christ. In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we have all the demonstration of God's goodness toward us that we need to trust Him in times of difficulty. If He has done the greater deed of sacrificing His only Son for the forgiveness of our sins, He will certainly do all the lesser things that will bring us to glory with Him. Thus we should continually praise the Lord for His many kindnesses to us in Christ.

Pam Smith is the Vice President for Student Advancement at Biblical Seminary and also instructs in our counseling program in the areas of career and coaching. Email Pam at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  


Written by Dan LaValla Thursday, 01 March 2012 00:00

Did you ever wonder why the Bible teaches that anger grieves the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian (Eph. 4:30-32)?

The answer lies at the root of anger in the human heart. Anger often arises from personal experiences during which one feels threatened or mistreated. In actual life-threatening situations, anger can initiate an adrenaline release that prompts the body to help a person react in self-defense and preservation. However, in situations where one’s life is not being threatened, anger comes from a prideful demand that life’s events should unfold according to one’s desired plans or that people should treat one in a desired manner or response. At its most basic level, this anger wells up when one does not get his or her own way; it is an egotistical demand to desire control where one does not actually have control, to be a god.

People typically do not desire to feel prolonged anger, but do so when they are not able to accept or adjust to undesirable circumstances or consequences.  Before joining the faculty and staff at Biblical Seminary, I had a 17-year career counseling trauma victims and their families. Anger resulting from a traumatic event is usually considered a normal response and is understandable in such situations. However, prolonged anger is destructive and even innocent victims of traumatic events want to move beyond the anger. Therefore, a recurrent theme in trauma counseling addresses how to help counselees deal with the anger that often accompanies the instability and vulnerability one experiences with a traumatic event.

When counselees desire to cease their angry outbursts, but continue to act out in anger, it is helpful to start with the old adage, “whatever or whoever angers you controls you.” By keeping a log of a counselee’s angry outbursts, written shortly after the anger subsides, patterns will emerge as to who or what caused the anger to well up. The root of anger that usually emerges from the patterns in the record often points to misdirected blame or a hypersensitivity to the realization that there is little in life that one can control and the fear that traumatic events can randomly occur at any moment (because something very bad happened to me once, it is more likely something very bad is going to happen to me again).

Therefore, if you are a person who struggles with anger, try keeping your own log of the people and events in your life that have evoked an angry outburst. Identify the false reasoning you are using to “justify” the cause of your unrighteous anger. Yield to God’s sovereignty and rest in the comfort that God does love and care for you even when unrighteous circumstances or events harm you in this life; as it is written in James 1:19-21 teaches that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Instead, “in humility we are to receive God’s word, which is able to save us.”

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate for Institutional Advancement at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.


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