The Academy for Christian Thought seeks to equip Christians to draw nearer to God through a more accurate understanding of the Bible, a library of different writings by different sources during different periods in history. As a biblical faith, learning is an inescapable part of what it means to be a Christian. But the true mark of theological scholarship is the proper application of the Bible for us today (hermeneutics). Such application is often misguided without an understanding and knowledge of a texts’ original message set in its original circumstances (exegesis). This recognizes that the Christian Bible consists of both the Hebrew Bible (HB) and the Christian Testament (CT) – neither of which on its own truly represents Christian belief as it evolves through the ages.

Read the HB/OT in anticipation of its influence in CT/NT times and read the NT with reference to its OT roots. Thus the NT story of the woman with a 12-year issue of blood who was healed by her faith in Jesus makes more sense if you knew that every element mentioned by the writers of the Gospels made references to the Levitical laws that most first century Jews would have been familiar with. Similarly, the OT theme of miraculous male births by barren women who saw themselves as having been denied society’s approval can mislead the reader into thinking that the lesson was about the value of mothers in the Bible rather than the writers mirroring cultural norms.

These stories were used to convey deeper teachings than what seems ostensibly so on the surface. Many sayings attributed to Jesus have specific references to OT accounts of God’s dealings with the Israelites. A working knowledge of the OT and NT geohistory will explain (i) the significance of the iron swords of the Philistines (c.1200 BC), (ii) that the reason Paul identified Jesus as holding all things together in Colossians has nothing to do with particle physics, (iii) the symbolic meaning of the number 666 as Emperor Nero’s number rather than some mythical creature, and (iv) the absence of the term antichrist in Revelation. A good geohistorical foundation of the biblical times will minimize hasty conclusions that may be dead wrong.

PT2

The 39 books of the Protestant OT began as oral teachings that were later committed to writing over several centuries, edited and rephrased in different versions. The ones that we inherited today are called the final forms. In the modern arrangement, the OT begins with a theological account of this world’s biophysical beginning as intentional creation. It describes the emergence of a unique moral creature – humans, down to Abram, whose descendants joined other clans to become Israel. Abram had moved from Mesopotamia via Syria into Canaan or Palestine[1]. His grandson settled in Egypt for generations until they escaped to Sinai, had a covenant and laws with their deity as ruler, and moved back into Canaan. A checkered phase of settlement culminated in a local monarchy of Saul. David and Solomon subdued their neighbors, holding a brief nation in the 11th century BC, until this was lost and the realm split into two rival petty kingdoms called Israel (Ephraim) and Judah. Assyria destroyed Israel in 722 BC and Neo-Babylonia destroyed Judah in 586 BC, with much of their population exiled into Mesopotamia (the land of Abraham’s birth). Later on, Persia replaced Babylonia. Some captive Judeans (henceforth called Jews) were allowed to go back to Canaan to renew their community in the 6th century BC, while others stayed on in Babylonia and in Egypt. The library of writings that contains this theological narrative (not chronological history) includes versions of laws and covenants enacted at Mount Sinai, and renewed in Moab and Canaan. Writings in the names of various spokesmen or prophets were added to the scripture. They called the people back to YHWH. The Psalms or Hebrew hymns and prayers, and various forms of wisdom literature, were also added. Jesus read a Greek version of the Hebrew Scripture known as the Septuagint (LXX). In Matthew 23:35, when Jesus reviewed the legacy of sin in His Bible, He began with the murder of Abel in Genesis 4:8 and ended with the murder of Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24:21. The prophets were never fortune-tellers – not everything they announced were future predictions.[2]

[1] The word Palestine never occurs in the Bible. It was a name officially introduced in the 2nd century AD and borrows from the Greek historian Herodotus, who coined the term Philistine-Syria to refer to southern Syria. What we call Israel today was in fact known as southern Syria.

[2] When John the Baptist preached that the people should “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” in Matthew 3:2, he offered a prediction (the kingdom of heaven will happen soon), a present instruction (repent now), as well as a theology (God is bringing his kingdom to us). This sums up the prophetic ministry of the OT – revealing the Lord as Jesus, ministering to the people now and declaring the future.