Sunday School with J. I. Packer, Part 1
Here are a few notes from the lesson, along with relevent quotes from it. The quotes are transcribed from the audio, so don't expect the text to be as grammatically perfect as if it were written and edited text. Usually, the ellipses in the quotes are used because a parenthetical phrase has been left out in the interest of conciseness. J. I. Packer uses many parentheticals when he speaks.
Some ideas from historical Christians on how one might see the Bible as a whole:
- William Tyndale
. . did you know that William Tyndale, first significant translator of the Bible into English, lived in the 1520s, wrote about the way to understand the text once you had it, and said that in the Bible there were two things to look for? . . . There's the law, which sets God's standards, and tells us of his holiness and of our sinfulness, which are things that we need to know about; there are promises which tell us of God's saving grace in Christ, which, again, we most certainly need to know about; and there are examples--we would say biographies--any number of Bible biographies constituting examples of the life of faith--what it means and what it leads to--and the life of unbelief and disobedience, and what that leads to. "Look for the law, the promises, and the examples," said Tyndale, "and you will find yourself taken straight away to the heart of all the scriptures." I wonder if we've ever got it as clear as that?
- John Owen
In the book titled Causes, Ways, and Means of Understanding the Mind of God in His Word, Owen raises the question: Wouldn't it have been more straightforward if God had given us, instead of these 66 books of spiritual all-sorts, a systematic theology textbook? (His words mean that, although that isn't the phraseology that he uses.) And his answer to his own question is, no, it wouldn't have been an improvement on the wide range of spiritual all-sorts that we that we have in the Bible. There is so much more that we can learn from the histories, the biographies, the narratives, the interactions between messengers of God and . . . folk who listened and folk who didn't, and all these things that are recorded for us in scripture. From going through these narratives we learn a great deal more than we would ever learn from a systematic theology textbook which simply taught us the verbal form of orthodox faith, which we must defend against it's critics. What you have in the Bible is a portrayal, from every standpoint, of spiritual life and spiritual death, and these are the things which we need to understand, and given the form in which we have it, the Bible is the ideal and supremely truthful source of that kind of learning and that sort of wisdom.
"The New Testament in the Old is concealed, and the Old Testament in the New is revealed." That is to say, the Old Testament really does point forward to the New Testament, and the New Testament really does give you the clue to understanding the Old Testament at deepest level, and the two bodies of material--Old and New Testament together--constitute the total, single, united, coherent revelation of God.
Themes that run throughout Bible:
- God (the central theme)
The central theme of both Old and New Testament is God--God in action. God in action as Creator, and as the God of providence, and as the God of grace; and God revealed in all of this . . . as being holy.
- The kingdom
The first thought, often expressed in scripture, both Testaments, is that God is already a king over his own creation in the sense that he is the sovereign Lord and nothing happens in his world apart from his will. He overrules everything. That's the kingship of God, the sovereignty of God, which is a given in all one's thinking about God's action. But the kingdom thought is that, one day, God is going to express his kingship by establishing a kingdom in which his will is done, his moral idea is acknowledged, and indeed embraced, and a condition of shalom. . . .
But the second thing, and of course as I say these things, your minds run immediately to the Christian claim that the Lord Jesus is the king in this kingdom, and that the kingdom of God, as foretold all through the Old Testament, is now revealed as the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners.
What is a covenant? Well, it's a Bible word, and what it means in the Bible . . . is something that we have to discover simply by doing an induction from the places where it's used and the things that are said about the covenant. There's a great deal, actually, said about the covenant in scripture. In the ordinary secular world, covenants are ordinarily matters of negotiated agreements. . . . But in the Bible, the covenant is a royal covenant and a conqueror's covenant. It's an imposed relationship, which a king, who is acknowledged as conqueror and lord, imposes on those who are from now on his subjects. The king is envisioned as a benevolent monarch. The covenant brings great benefit to those on whom it is imposed--those to whom it is given. It's an enormous privilege in itself to have the king commit himself to you in the way that his covenant says that he does commit himself to you; but he commits himself to you as your lord, and you commit yourself to him as his subject.
In the ancient world, royal covenants imposed on conquered nations were of quite frequent occurrence. It's a bit out of our world of thought, but that's the analogy for the covenant of God in scripture. That's the way we're to think of it. Covenant actually runs all the way through scripture--both testaments--as a slogan. And the slogan is, "I will be your God; you shall be my people," which is both a proclamation of sovereignty and of grace. . . .
. . . in the Old Testament, it's already made clear that the covenant of God with the seed of Abram, with Abram's family, which has become a nation, is a relationship shaped by the divine promise: I will be your God--your God to bless you, watch over you, lead you, guide you, and develop your ongoing life history into something more glorious than you have seen at the moment. And under God's covenant, Israel appears as a community of faith, and when you get to the New Testament, it's the disciples of Jesus Christ who are seen as the continuation of that community of faith.
[Christ is] anticipated in the Old Testament as the Davidic king, great David's greater son who is coming; and is proclaimed in the New Testament as the Davidic king who has come, and acknowledged within the frame of his kingship as the Saviour, and as God incarnate, and . . . as the prophet, priest and king--the threefold office of his ministry as the mediator of God's covenant.
- Holy living
. . . another theme which goes with all of these, and is so basic and so pervasive throughout the scripture that scholars often omit to mention it (You know, some things are too big to be seen!), but the fifth theme, which. . . runs through the whole of the Bible is the theme of God's people practicing godliness: the theme, that is, of holy living in communion with God.