The Tapestry of Scripture

That list of biblical references running down the gutter of each page the ESV Study Bible is a compilation of thousands of cross-references that point to other thematically related parts of Scripture. All told the ESVSB has 80,000 of those cross-references.

There’s a history to who actually made those connections. The references found in the ESVSB were compiled by a team of Bible scholars from Oxford and Cambridge Universities over 100 years ago. Their work was first used in the English Revised Version (RV), a version that appeared in 1881.

A few years back Lutheran pastor Christoph Römhild wondered if an infographic could capture cross-references like these for the purpose of visualizing the tapestry of Scripture. He contacted Chris Harrison, who said yes, and together they created this:

Each bar along the bottom represents a chapter from Genesis (left) to Revelation (right). The length of the bar correspond to the length of the chapter (Psalm 119 is easy to find in the middle). The cross-references are arched and colored by arch length. In all this graphic represents 63,779 colorful cross-references (I’m unsure how they arrived at this number, cross-referencing being something of an art — the Thompson’s Chain-Reference Bible has over 100,000, for example).

Beautiful graphic, isn’t it? This is a wonderful visual reminder of the thematic unity of Scripture, and it serves as a great personal reminder to read every verse in light of the bigger biblical storyline.

You can find a large version of the graphic and more information here.

Milk, Meat, and Biblical Theology

This week at work I have the privilege to sit in on Dr. D.A. Carson’s lectures on Hebrews. Carson is a brilliant theologian and a very capable exegete for a tricky book like Hebrews. With all of its complex Old Testament quotations it does require a competent biblical theologian who understands the sweep of the biblical narrative to make sense of the book. Dr. Carson is known for this type of thing.

I was particularly interested in his treatment of Hebrews 5:11–6:2:

About this [the connection between Christ and the OT figure of Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

Up until this point many themes in the OT have been tied to Christ including the themes of the Davidic King and God’s rest. The writer of Hebrews has been pulling quotes from several OT sources. Here in this text the writer of Hebrews begins to explain now how Melchizedek in the OT is related to Christ, but due to a lack of maturity the OT connections may be lost on the readers. In Carson’s view the milk here is not the A, B, Cs of the Christian faith, but the elemental themes of the OT, which would have been familiar to the Jewish audience. Thus, Carson says, the writer of Hebrews mandates that Christians are so maturing that they can put their Bibles together and grow from elementary ‘givens’ of the Bible and press on to see how the OT points forward to Jesus. And that is exactly what the writer has been doing up to this point, working out OT texts to show how thematic strands culminate in the Savior. And thus the Melchizedek context fits what we read in 5:11–6:2. Hebrews really makes it clear just how important the salvation-historical self-consciousness was to the early Christians.

In Carson’s view, the writer of Hebrews is not only encouraging Christians to deepen their biblical knowledge of Scripture in general, but to read the OT carefully and to trace out the many ways in which the OT trajectories find their fulfillment in the Savior. This is, at least in part, what it means to feast on steak. Today we call this biblical theology, the discipline that seeks to restore this awareness of progress along the salvation-historical line. Carson seems to prove the value of biblical theology exegetically from this passage.

So where does one begin the study of biblical theology? There is no replacement for reading and re-reading the text of the Bible, listening for the themes that echo throughout the Bible. For me one of the most helpful supplementary books is the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Carson recommended the book in class). Also, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology by Charles H. H. Scobie is very useful, but not for its depth or for its reliability on all exegetical points. I like Scobie as an introduction to the broad sweep of OT themes that find their fulfillment in the NT.  I commend these books to you, especially if you find your diet lacking in protein.

Mercy Magnified By Justice

James M. Hamilton, Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Crossway, 2010), 512–­513:

Is there a theme that dominates Paul’s thought? Is there a big idea that organizes all the other themes and ideas that are so powerfully and flexibly deployed in pursuit of the Great Commission task of making disciples by building churches? With so many unique situations addressed by these letters from the apostle, does the theology reflected in these letters have a center? …

I am in basic agreement with [Thomas] Schreiner’s proposal that God’s glory in Christ is central to Paul’s theology. As will be clear from my analysis of Paul’s letters, it seems to me that at the very heart of God’s glory in Christ, the big muscle that pumps the blood through the living body of his thought, is the manifestation of the mercy and justice of God, with mercy magnified by justice.

Old Testament Theology

Paul House is the author of Old Testament Theology (IVP, 1998), one of my favorite biblical theology texts (also available in Logos). I highly recommend it for understanding the theological purpose driving each block of the OT text. This weekend I discovered 20 lectures Dr. House delivered at Beeson Divinity School in 2002 on OT theology. Those lectures are available online from where users can stream the lectures online and—after a free registration and login—download the mp3s for free. For the lectures click here.

New Testament Theology

In his biblical theology of the New Testament lectures Gordon Fee proposes a unifying principle that must include at least four items:

  1. The church as an eschatological community, who form the new covenant people of God.
  2. The eschatological framework of their existence and thinking.
  3. Their being constituted by God’s eschatological salvation effected through the death and resurrection of Christ.
  4. Their focus on Jesus as Messiah, Lord, Son of God.

Or to put in another way:

  • Foundation: A gracious and merciful God, who is full of love toward all.
  • Framework: Eschatological existence as already/not yet.
  • Focus: Jesus, the Son of God, who as God’s suffering servant Messiah effected eschatological salvation for humanity through his death and resurrection, and is now the exalted Lord and coming King.
  • Fruit: The church as an eschatological community, who, constituted by Christ’s death and the gift of the Spirit, and thus restored into God’s likeness, form His new covenant people.

Fee puts this together in a condensed summary:

Through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus, our Lord, a gracious and loving God has effected eschatological salvation for his new covenant people, the church, who now, as they await Christ’s coming, live the life of the future by the power of the Spirit.