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How Does Theology Help Us Read the Bible? Dr. Bobby Jamieson

Home » How Does Theology Help Us Read the Bible? Dr. Bobby Jamieson

Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Jamieson on how good theology helps us to better read the Bible.

Topics of conversation include:

  • A description of this circular process: allowing theology to guide our Scriptural interpretation and using Scripture to inform our theology
  • How rules and principles for interpretation emerge from Scripture itself
  • A response to the recent emphasis on theological interpretation of Scripture
  • How a theological concept, such as the Trinity, affects how we understand and interpret Scripture
  • Encouragement for pastors to preach expositionally, while also incorporating doctrinal depth

Dr. Bobby Jamieson is an associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is the author of several books, including Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God (Crossway, 2013), The Paradox of Sonship: Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews (IVP Academic, 2021), and Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis (Baker Academic, 2022).

 


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Intro (00:00):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary

 

Brian Arnold (00:17):

In Luke 24, Jesus had just been raised from the dead, and he was on the road to Emmaus and he revealed himself to two of his followers. And in Luke 24:27 we read this—”And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Jesus told his followers that he is the key to understanding the Old Testament. It’s all about him. He is the key that unlocks the theological depths of Scripture. Well, the Bible is primarily a book about God. It is written so that we might know him, love him, obey him, and enjoy him. And because it’s about God, it’s a theological book. We want to know God rightly, but what is the relationship between the Bible and theology? Don’t we read the Bible to know theology? Well, yes. But can it also be true that our theology helps us read and understand the Bible? Well, today to help us with this understanding of the Bible and theology, we have Dr. Bobby Jamieson, who’s just written a book with Tyler Wittman called Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis, which is set to release on June 14th of 2022. Dr. Jamieson serves as associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. And he’s written several other books, including Sound Doctrine with 9Marks and The Paradox of Sonship, Dr. Jamieson, welcome to the podcast.

 

Bobby Jamieson (01:37):

Good to be with you.

 

Brian Arnold (01:38):

Or I should say, “welcome back.” For those who maybe didn’t catch the first episode, he’s got a great book on the call to pastoral ministry, and we talked to him about that. But today we want to talk about this big question, and that is—how does theology help us read the Bible? So let’s just start off with the objective that you guys set forth in your book, where you say this—”Our goal in this book is to assemble a toolkit for biblical reasoning. The toolkit’s goal is to enable better exegesis. The gospel of that exegesis is ultimately to see God.” Well, that is a lofty goal. So kind of unpack that for us a bit.

 

Bobby Jamieson (02:13):

Yeah, that’s right. We are trying to take account of the overall purpose that God has put into the Scriptures. The overall reason for which he’s given the Scriptures, which is to enable us to come to know him. And ultimately that knowledge will result in us seeing him face to face. And it’ll be a complete and full knowledge, when we see him face to face. But until then, we see his glory in the pages of Scripture. And so, in a sense, we take our bearings in how to read Scripture from its greatest goal, it’s overall purpose, which is to enable fellowship with God. And, as a means to that end, one of the ways that a right understanding of theology serves our reading of Scripture is that by pursuing the overall theological vision that the whole Bible teaches us, it gives us eyes to see deep and mysterious realities that are attested to us in Scripture. And it helps us to penetrate deeper into the mysteries of what Scripture teaches about our God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. About our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God and became man. And so, because there’s a theological depth and mystery to what Scripture bears witness to, we want to have a toolkit for reading Scripture that is calibrated, that is developed, according to the ultimate concerns of Scripture, and the ultimate subject matter it teaches us about.

 

Brian Arnold (03:30):

Well, that’s a great segue into all these pieces that we’re going to need to talk about today, starting with some of the theological terms that you’re using that I think might be really helpful for our listeners to get some definitions of. So you use the word exegesis, that’s kind of a seminary kind-of-feeling-word. How would you define that?

 

Bobby Jamieson (03:48):

It is. It just means the interpretation of texts. And particularly, trying to pay careful and patient attention to the details of any given passage of Scripture that we’re reading

 

Brian Arnold (03:59):

And then words like dogma or doctrine. Do you define those pretty similarly? Or do you find some shades of difference in those?

 

Bobby Jamieson (04:07):

That’s a good question. We don’t necessarily rely on any kind of special definition of a word like dogma. We’re more concerned with doctrine as teaching. That is, you know—what is Scripture teaching us about God? What is it teaching us to believe about him? There’s a kind of specific material content—what Scripture teaches about God, about us, about the shape of our redemption, and so on. And so one of our key points is that the right reading of Scripture leads to the formulation of doctrine we can distill and crystallize. We can kind of summarize and penetrate to its essential subject matter. And then what happens is each of those truths that we perceive in Scripture has certain implications for how we read the whole Bible. So we spend a lot of the book distilling theological principles that then become exegetical rules.

 

Brian Arnold (04:59):

So I could imagine somebody already listening and thinking, is there some circularity to this kind of an argument, of—I need the right theology in order to read the Bible well, but at the same time, I get my theology from the Bible? So how does that process begin? How do you encourage people to start down that path of letting your theology kind of guide in reading Scripture, but understanding that Scripture is what builds our theology?

 

Bobby Jamieson (05:23):

That’s an excellent question. And you can kind of make a little mental picture of kind of—Bible, you know, you could picture an open book, something like that if you have a little graphic, you know, draw an arrow up toward theology, which would be a vision and understanding of who God is. You do get your theology from Scripture, and that’s absolutely crucial. And we try to model that. There’s a sense in which we are also especially concerned to then trace an arrow back from theology to Scripture. And to say that because the right theology comes from the Bible, it also sends you back into the Bible better equipped. So I appreciate the question about circularity, but my main answer would be—it would be a positive feedback loop. It would be a virtuous circle. It’s kind of like exercise. You know, if the more you do it, the better you get at it, the better you get at it, the more you enjoy it. That’s how you get into shape, maybe after a season of complacency.

 

Bobby Jamieson (06:14):

There’s a virtuous circle going on there. Similarly, like with appetite, right? You might be trying to control your diet and maybe you want to eat stuff that’s bad for you, but you start to eat healthier, eat salads and vegetables and all the rest, and then you start to develop an appetite for it. We would say, intellectually speaking, there’s a positive feedback loop, or virtuous circle, going on. You could even call it a spiral, where we’re penetrating deeper into the reality Scripture is bearing witness to. Scripture has inexhaustible depths. We never come to the end of it. We never fully exhaust it or explain it, because Scripture is bearing witness to the infinite life of our Triune God. And so another answer to the charge of circularity would be—everybody’s got theological presuppositions. Everybody’s got thoughts about God. Everybody’s got thoughts about what God is like. The question is—did you get those thoughts from the Bible? Or are you just making it up and saying—”Well, here’s what I think God is like”? And so, in a sense, it’s not a question of what theological understanding you’re going to bring to Scripture, but are you bringing one you got from Scripture, or that you got from somewhere else?

 

Brian Arnold (07:18):

And there’s this naivety that we can come to the Bible as a blank slate, and read it, and build our theology. Like you said, everybody who’s coming to the Bible is coming with some preconceived notions of what’s there. The question is—are they good ones? Have those been shaped and formed through historical theology, right? Is this the faith once for all, delivered to the saints that you’re bringing to the text? That’s helping shape the parameters of belief? Or are they really just ill-defined, not well-conceived ideas of who God is? And then the reading of Scripture could go awry.

 

Bobby Jamieson (07:50):

Yeah, that’s right. And you know, we are trying to learn from the history of the church, and kind of humbly…humbly, though also critically, engage with major teachers in the history of the church. For instance, the way Augustine teaches the Trinity, which was very influential for our whole book. One of the main things he does is lay out a series of exegetical rules, which is basically—when you get to passages like this, here’s what you should understand. Some passages simply teach Jesus is one with and equal to the Father. When you get to some other passages where Jesus talks about his humanity, his own lowliness, his humility and humiliation, well, you need to understand it’s speaking about him as he has become incarnate for us, and those passages don’t contradict the ones about his being God, they’re not conflicting with those.

 

Bobby Jamieson (08:31):

You need sort of two categories or two buckets. And Augustine has a few other really important rules, but it’s important to notice that he’s sort of laying down rules for our reading of Scripture, not that come from outside the Bible, but, as it were, that emerged from within. So you could think about a rule…you know, one kind of rule is like a speed limit on a road, where, you know, the road outside my office here probably has a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit. That’s kind of imposed. It’s arbitrary. The government could decide to change it. But another kind of rule would be internal. Like it’s a rule that apart from very borderline cases…if you’re a living human being, you’re breathing. Where you have breath, you have life. Where you have life, you have breath. That’s why if somebody’s injured and they’re not breathing, you’re in real serious trouble and you need to fix it immediately. And so what we’re trying to argue is that the kind of rules we are developing, they’re not rules that are imposed from outside of Scripture, but they’re rules that emerge from seeing the way Scripture talks, and trying to read Scripture consistently with Scripture.

 

Brian Arnold (09:27):

And that’s an important, I think, lesson for people who are listening. That it’s not arbitrary. It’s not something that’s found, even outside of Scripture. But Scripture kind of starts to lay those groundwork principles that are then built upon. And then we can look at texts and say—well, here’s why we read these texts in certain ways. And I think Augustine’s a great guide on that. I mean, it’s a pretty dense book, but it is a masterpiece in Christian history, Augustine’s work on the Trinity. He also lays out—

 

Bobby Jamieson (09:51):

In some ways,

 

Brian Arnold (09:52):

Go ahead.

 

Bobby Jamieson (09:52):

In some ways, we’re giving cliff notes to Augustine’s On the Trinity in our book.

 

Brian Arnold (09:56):

Which is really important. If people have not taken the dive into the deep end of the theological pool, it might be good to get some guidance and guide rails to enter into that book. He also, On Christian Doctrine, he lays out his rules for exegesis and how to read Scripture, but it’s really neat to see him actually in the practice of it, more primarily, in On the Trinity. Well, let’s talk about that, because it’s been pretty common in recent years for people to retrieve theological interpretation of Scripture, even as they see it, through the church fathers. How have you understood that movement, and how does your book even kind of play into that? Or does it?

 

Bobby Jamieson (10:38):

That’s a great question. It’s a shame Tyler can’t be here, because as we talked about the book, and we talked about how it relates to that movement, we had sort of a gag prepared, which is basically…I don’t know if you’ve seen the Muppet’s show? I don’t know if you’ve seen their very first ever sketch, which is this beautiful musical number called Mahna Mahna. And at the end, there’s those two critic guys, Statler and something or other, you know, the two old dudes who sit up in the balcony?

 

Brian Arnold (11:01):

Yep.

 

Bobby Jamieson (11:02):

And one of them says, “The question is—what is Mahna Mahna? And the other one says, “The question is—who cares?” And I think on one level, we certainly appreciate theological interpretation of Scripture as a movement. We’ve learned a lot from it. Many people who are engaged in that movement are our teachers, mentors, friends—influential figures for us.

 

Bobby Jamieson (11:25):

And so we do think there’s a lot that’s been gained through that movement, or helpfully added. You know, the theologian Mike Allen has a recent article where he talks about theological interpretation as a movement as somewhat of a crisis measure. Like there’s certain aspects of interpretation of Scripture that, especially in the academy, and even to some extent in evangelical churches, are neglected. And so there’s kind of a renewal, or recovery, or trying to kind of right the balance. And I suppose in that sense, you could say our book is contributing to this overall movement of theological interpretation of Scripture. In some ways, what we’re trying to do is really say—well, good exegesis should be theological. You shouldn’t have to sort of have a special tag or label to kind of justify it as sort of so-called theological interpretation.

 

Bobby Jamieson (12:12):

So on the one hand, I suppose you could put this into that conversation, and say it’s downstream from some of those resources. On the other hand, we don’t…we’re not really concerned about that term or that movement per se. Certainly one of the things we have in common with those who are self-consciously doing theological interpretation of Scripture is…yeah, that we are especially trying to read the Bible in a way that gets us to and is aiming at theological vision and understanding. And, you know, some of the most influential voices for us are church fathers, but we also draw heavily on Reformation, post-Reformation scholastics, all kinds of people.

 

Brian Arnold (12:52):

Well, I think there’s a certain professor that both of us were impacted by, at our time in seminary. And I think part of that retrieval…because I was in a class of his in 2008, and this is when a lot of this stuff was happening, and it felt like exegesis was cold, was disconnected, was really focused on background issues. And what TIS or theological interpretation of Scripture seemed to do was remind people, if nothing else, then to say—the Bible is primarily a theological book, and should be read that way. And so you and Tyler have kind of at least brought back some of this paradigm. And I want to go back to the Trinity piece to say—how does the understanding of the Trinity shape our reading of the text? Give us some examples of why a Trinitarian, or even Christological reading of the text is beneficial.

 

Bobby Jamieson (13:41):

Sure. Let me think about that for just a moment. You know, one category of text where a Trinitarian understanding is going to be helpful would be any prophecy of the Messiah, or the pouring out of the Spirit in the Old Testament. Where at the very least, retrospectively, we can understand that this is…you know, in the case of the Messiah, it’s not just sending a human figure, but God himself come to redeem us. And then we can understand some of these, you know, hints of—well, how is it that, you know, according to Ezekiel 34, it’s going to be my servant David who becomes their shepherd, but also the Lord says he himself is going to be their shepherd? Or Isaiah chapter nine, where there is a prophecy of the Messiah, but this Messiah is also called “Mighty God”?

 

Bobby Jamieson (14:38):

Or again, some of the Psalms, where you have a very exalted role given to this son of David, especially Psalm 110, verse one—the most-cited verse in the New Testament. “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Understanding the fullness of the revelation of the Trinity allows us to understand in a way that was just not available at the time, at the revelation of those prophecies, at the original singing of those Psalms. We can understand this is the one true God—a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who’s come to save us. So I do think it can shed some retrospective light on the Old Testament, particularly where we have explicit prophecies looking forward to the coming of the Son and the Spirit.

 

Bobby Jamieson (15:20):

I think also, there’s a sense in which to simply—and this would be an example of an explicitly Trinitarian category—to understand the fullness of who Jesus is, we need to understand that he is both God and man. So that’ll get us into a sort of a Christological or incarnational category in a moment. But to understand that that is not in any way competing with Israel’s Scriptural confession that there is one and only one true God, we already need a grammar for divinity, a way of speaking about the one true God that can accommodate plurality within the Godhead. So somehow, if we’re going to say Jesus is both God and man—and really everything Scripture and the Gospels and the Epistles and Acts witnesses to about Christ fits into one of those two categories—well, we need a way of talking about God that is able to include who Jesus is, and of course ultimately, the Spirit as well.

 

Bobby Jamieson (16:15):

So even passages, like, you know—what is Jesus claiming for himself in the Gospels when he calms the storm? When he walks on water, when he extends forgiveness, when he raises the dead, all these kind of things? Well, to the extent that these are divine attributes, that these are divine actions, we need a concept of God that’s big enough to include Jesus. So in that sense, we need a Trinitarian category, even for reading the Gospels. And just since you asked about a Christological one as well, you know, here’s an example. Something like 1 Corinthians 15:28, which we discuss in detail in the book. Paul says, “when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” Now, a lot of people read this passage and wonder—does this mean the Son is ever after, always after that point subjected to the Father? Does that mean he’s permanently subjected to the Father?

 

Bobby Jamieson (17:16):

Does that mean he’s eternally subjected to the Father? Does this, in any way, sort of give us a window back into eternity past? And so on. And I would say that all those questions actually would constitute somewhat of a misreading of the text, because this…first of all, this passage is speaking about Jesus as a human being. It’s in his incarnate state, ascended, reigning in heaven, completing his Messianic rule, and then handing over that rule to the Father when it is fully complete and we’re in the new heavens and earth. And even when you dig into the context of the passage, there’s all sorts of indications that Jesus is fulfilling the human destiny here. He is the true and better Adam, who’s actually subduing creation. He is the one who Psalm eight speaks about, that “all things are put in subjection under his feet.” Earlier in the passage, he’s referred to in terms that go back to the Son of Man of Daniel seven, who’s a human figure. Who’s given divine authority.

 

Bobby Jamieson (18:07):

So I think in order to understand a passage like this, 1 Corinthians 15:28, we need to see that it’s speaking about Christ as man. And those two words “as man”—they’re sort of a bracket, or kind of an umbrella, where we realize Jesus is also divine, but this is speaking about what is true of him because of his humanity. It’s speaking with reference to humanity. Jesus isn’t only human, but he is truly human. And this act of delivering up the kingdom to the Father is one that he performs as a human being. And so we shouldn’t see this as somehow speaking about his intrinsic divine relationship to the Father. So a category like distinguishing between what Scripture says about Jesus as God, or as man, number one, it can help us read a passage rightly. Number two, it can help prevent us from drawing some wrong theological inferences that would sort of lead us away from an understanding of the Father and the Son’s full unity and equality.

 

Brian Arnold (19:05):

Well, and that doctrine there, I think, is one of the most complex of all Scripture. I mean, people often go to the Trinity. I think the understanding of what we call the hypostatic union, that Jesus is one person with two natures, and then how does that play out, has gotten some theologians recently in some pretty difficult places. I mean, for those listening who don’t know, Bobby is kind of dancing on some landmine kind of areas right now in current theological debates. But this is critically important for understanding who Jesus is, the relationship in the Trinity, and how we understand some of these Christological passages. And I think you’re right. I mean, a lot of these are talking about Christ as man in his incarnate form, right? And so knowing those rightly help provide some of those exegetical principles I think you’re talking about at large in the book, and how we bring those to bear in our reading of Scripture.

 

Bobby Jamieson (19:53):

Yeah. And I think one thing that understanding the hypostatic union also helps us do is see that it’s really true that this human being Jesus does divine things, because this human being Jesus really is God the Son, incarnate. We don’t need to sort of try to resolve this tension by saying—well, there’s kind of a God-person acting over here, doing divine stuff. And there’s sort of a human-person acting over here, doing human stuff. That would fall into the Nestorian heresy, which is condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and the Council of Ephesus before that in 431. But really understanding…the hypostatic union, it simply means that the divine Son truly united a human nature to himself, such that this divine person really is human. All of its capacities belong to him, all of its actions and suffering belongs to him. So it really is that he got hungry. It really is that he got tired and slept at the bottom, you know, in the stern of the ship, and so on. So the hypostatic union might sound very complicated, or like it’s a kind of abstract concept, but the point is simply to underscore the reality of how Christ is human, truly and really, and so all of its attributes, characteristics, predicates belong to him.

 

Brian Arnold (21:13):

So Bobby, you’re obviously a first-rate theologian, but you’re also a pastor. And some pastors like to listen in, and what would you say to them in terms of encouraging their flocks with what you’re talking about today? Like how have you put this through kind of the lens of pastoral ministry, in the ways that you encourage people in your church to read Scripture?

 

Bobby Jamieson (21:37):

Sure. A couple of things. I mean, I would hope that reading straight through the book could equip a pastor to feel more comfortable and confident in handling passages that do have deeper or trickier theological issues. So for instance, in the first half of the book, which Tyler was the main drafter of, you know, he engages in detail with passages that talk about God relenting, or even in some translations, repenting or regretting an action he undertook in the human realm. You know, God regretted that he made Saul king, that type of thing. Well, how does that fit with God’s sovereignty? How does that fit with God’s freedom? How does that fit with God being the one ruler over all things? So there are passages when you’re just trying to teach through the Bible that present theological challenges.

 

Bobby Jamieson (22:19):

And we’re trying to equip pastors with a kind of grammar for understanding a lot of those things. And then especially concentrated in the New Testament, passages surrounding Christ’s divinity, or the Trinity. I think sometimes those doctrines can seem like you have to kind of climb up 50 stairs to get to them. And by the time you get to them, you’re out of breath, and it feels like your brain has kind of fallen apart. We’re trying to help actually make them exegetical tools you can bring with you into your sermon prep work, into looking at an individual passage. So I hope it would…you know, in a sense, we’re trying to beef up the theological horsepower under the hood to help pastors cover more territory in Scripture, and do it more confidently. Not so much that it would always come to the surface, right?

 

Bobby Jamieson (23:03):

Not the technical terms, necessarily, not the theological terms, but the content, that we’re trying to model how you can present some of this, even with a certain simplicity in the exegesis, but it’s informed by this theological grammar. I think another encouragement I would have for pastors, and I did a brief article on this for 9Marks about how to preach expositionally in a way that teaches the Trinity, which I guess if listeners want to follow up on that, this would be one way to do that. But we would also encourage pastors to, at least from time to time, where it’s appropriate in the text, to include some thicker doctrinal instruction as part of the application of a passage. So I’m preaching through Philippians right now, so that’s included some teaching on perseverance of the saints, like out of chapter one, verse six, some deeper teaching on the incarnation, Christ’s incarnation in chapter two, verses six through 11, you know, some deeper teaching about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our efforts, our responsibility, and the Christian life in chapter two, verses 12 and 13.

 

Bobby Jamieson (24:07):

We’re not encouraging people to turn sermons into doctrinal treatises, but we’re trying to help pastors gain some doctrinal depth and specificity, that can then enrich and enliven preaching through the Bible, section by section, paragraph by paragraph.

 

Brian Arnold (24:21):

Well, there is, it seems like, an epidemic of Christianity-lite in the Western world these days. And one of the things I think that’s helped the church, even in periods of revival, is taking people deeper into the things of God, to understand those complex passages, to have what you said—that framework underneath. I heard David Alan Black in one of his books, actually, had said one time—the pastor should be like an iceberg, where people see the 10% above, but they sense the 90% beneath. And that pastors would have that toolkit available, ready, accessible, and able to then proclaim God’s truth to people in a way that brings the depth that it so richly deserves. Well, Bobby, this has been a great conversation. I’m excited for this book to come out. I think it’ll be helpful for me, for our students at the seminary, and for pastors and churches. And for those who just want to know some of these theological complexities that can come into their reading of Scripture.

 

Bobby Jamieson (25:11):

Thank you so much.

 

Outro (24:13):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we’ve been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you’re called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can’t join us on campus, I’d like you to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you’ve heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at ps.edu/online.

 

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