Biblical Psychology

I’m reading Oswald Chamber’s “Biblical Psychology”, a book I read perhaps 25 years ago with little understanding then.  It is a compilation of his lectures and is not an easy book to read.  However I have found it easier this time around – so much of what he says rings true in my experience.  Here are few excerpts expressing things that I have found to be true:

On humility (chapter 15, section 2 (b))

“What is a little child?  We all know what a child is until we are asked, and then we find we do not know.  We can mention his extra goodness or his extra badness, but none of this is the child himself.  We know implicitly what a child is, and we know implicitly what Jesus Christ means, but as soon as we try to put it into words it escapes.”

On the heart, memory and thinking (chapter 11, section 2 (e) and (f)):

“The brain is not a spiritual thing, the brain is a physical thing.  Memory is a spiritual thing and exists in the heart; the brain recalls more or less clearly what the heart remembers.  In our Lord’s parable (see Luke 16:25) when Abraham said to the rich man, “Son, remember,” He was not referring to a man with a physical brain in this order of things at all….. We never forget save by the sovereign grace of God; the problem is that we do not recall easily.  Recalling depends on the state of our physical brain and when people say they have a bad memory, they mean that they have a bad power of recalling.”

“Thinking takes place in the heart not in the brain. … The expression of thinking is referred to the brain and the lips because through these organs thinking becomes articulate… We may take it as a general rule that Jesus Christ never answers any questions that spring from a man’s head, because the questions which spring from our brains are always borrowed from some book we have read, or from someone we have heard speak; but the questions that spring from our hearts, the real problems that vex us, Jesus Christ answers those.”

And my favourite so far (chapter 15, section 2(b)):

“the Holy Ghost is the only Lover of God, and immediately He comes in, He will make our hearts the centre of love for God, the centre of personal, passionate, over-whelming devotion to Jesus Christ…..until we become incandescent with the very love of God.  “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21).  That does not mean keep on trying to love God, it means something infinitely profounder, i.e., ‘Keep the windows of the your soul open to the fact that God loves you’; then His love will continually flow through you to others.”


The Relationship between the Four Wisdom Books in Scripture

There is no substitute for a personal relationship with the Author when reading His Scriptures.  However in the mystery of the interaction of the Holy Spirit and our minds the guidance of others is always welcome.  We can get His gentle whisperings or the mind of Christ wrong at times.  So God has given us the collective mind of Christ in our brothers and sisters.

Well, anyway, I thought this* was so good that I had to write out chunks of it again here:

The Big Picture

four squares

“Each of the four wisdom books (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs) is different in its contribution to our education in wise living. … The four books balance each other theologically, and any one of them read out of the context of the others can be easily misunderstood.  Basically, Proverbs presents the rational, ordered norms of life, while the other three books present the exceptions and limitations to the rational, ordered approach to life.”

The Basic Approach to Life (Proverbs)

“Proverbs presents the rational, ordered norms of life.  The many proverbs in the book are not universals (i.e. things that are always true), but rather norms of life (i.e. things that are normally true).  …”

Exception 1:  The Suffering of the Righteous (Job)

“The book of Job demonstrates that there are often events in life that humans cannot grasp or understand through the wisdom approach delineated in Proverbs.  Sometimes tragedy strikes those who are wise, righteous and hard working, and God does not disclose the reasons behind such tragedy.  Proverbs teaches us that life is rational and that the wise person can understand it.  Job qualifies this with some real-world experience….. Our wisdom approach of Proverbs fails us in these situations, and we are forced to rely on faith in the Creator.  This is what we learn from Job.”


Exception 2:  The Failure of the Rational, Ordered Approach to Provide Ultimate Meaning to Life (Ecclesiastes)

“The book of Echardworkingclesiastes is an intellectual search for meaning in life.  While the author acknowledges that being wise is better than being stupid, he concludes that wisdom does not by itself provide meaning to life.  Also, while Job told the story of one exception to the norms of Proverbs, the cynical analysis in Ecclesiastes chronicles numerous exceptions to the thesis of an ordered, rational universe.  The ultimate conclusion in Ecclesiastes, not disclosed until the final verses, is that the only way to find meaning in life is to be in relationship with God.  Logic and rational thought (wisdom) can help you on a day-to-day basis, but ultimate meaning in life requires relationship with God.”

Exception 3:  The Irrationality of Romantic Love between a Husband and Wife (Song of Songs)

“Proverbs gives good, practical, wise advice about marriage.  It advises men not to marry women who are irrational love Piquarrelsome or ill-tempered (21:9, 19) and it depicts clearly for women the fate of lazy fools and drunkards, thus implicitly warning against marrying such men.  ….. All this advice is good and rational.

“However it is difficult to build a great love relationship in marriage with only logic and rational thought.  The Song of Songs celebrates the wild, irrational, mushy, and corny aspects of true love.  This book  suggests that in the marketplace husbands and wives may need to be the quiet, discerning, hard working people of Proverbs, but that once the lights go out in the privacy of their home, they need to be the crazy, madly-in-love, slightly irrational couple in Song of Songs.”

Amen to that.

*All quotes are taken from “Grasping God’s Word” 3rd Edition, by Duvall & Hays, Chapter 22.

“All Scripture” and the Significance of the Preached Word

As I have been reading and re-reading this post I can’t help but think it doesn’t do justice to the importance of the canon as we have received it.  I can’t see anything specifically wrong with it but I am concerned that it could be picked up as somehow denigrating or making little of the bible.  Anyone who knows me and who reads my other posts will know that I consider the Scripture/ canon/ bible as being of great importance.  Please feel free to comment.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 in Context

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 14:2


The statement by Paul that “all Scripture is inspired by God” has been a significant pillar in popular evangelical doctrine to emphasise the importance of the canon – the bible as we know it.  However what was meant by the word “Scripture” in Paul’s time and what mainline evangelical Christianity means by it now are very different.  Not even the OT was the same as the references to Jannes & Jambre in 3:8 make clear.

This lack of certainty about what exactly is meant by “all Scriptures” is not limited to the fact that Paul and Timothy’s versions were so significantly different from what we recognise as the canon today.  There are significant differences in translations of the canon and even the underlying Greek texts.  It is also clear that there are many schisms in Evangelical Christianity that have arisen because of different interpretations of the texts that most people agree are in the canon (e.g. the Baptism in the Spirit to name just one obvious example).

The conclusion that this study comes to is that God never intended the canon or whatever we interpret by the words “All Scriptures” to be used as the ultimate basis for our faith.  That basis is Jesus Christ in us and a living relationship with Him.  However once that is clearly understood the canon does have a significant role to play.  It is the main source of the anointed words that Paul so encourages Timothy to preach.

Therefore preaching is very significant, perhaps more than we realise.  It is the preached word that creates faith in the person hearing and that is the main means God uses to save people (Romans 10:4-18, 1 Cor. 1:21-25).  We need to pay more attention….

Step 1: What did it mean to the original readers?

Context Summary

2 Timothy is written from Paul to his “dear son” Timothy towards the end of Paul’s life.  Despite his innocence Paul is in prison chained like a criminal.  He has many enemies and many of his disciples have left him, most not for good reasons.  Despite this he is encouraged and looking forward to the reward that he now feels sure is awaiting him.  He writes to Timothy to encourage him with the encouragement that he feels and to remind him of the principles of how to stay encouraged in the face of similar adversities.  Things are not going to get any easier but there are things Timothy can do:

  • Keep focussed on Jesus, strengthen himself in Him, remember Him
  • Remember the gospel
  • Remind himself of how Paul lived
  • Stay preaching the word

In other words: “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures..” (3:14-15).

Who is Timothy?

Timothy was a “son in the faith” to Paul, his true disciple and someone with oversight over churches in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3).  He was Paul’s disciple and, along with Titus and possibly others, was Paul’s next generation, his legacy, of preachers and apostles.

What Scripture is and what to do with it

In this context Paul reminds Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (v. 16,17).  Since this is the nature of Scripture, Timothy is then strongly encouraged to preach the Word i.e. use the Scriptures in the way they were meant to be used, for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training others in righteousness.  All of this is summed up by Paul in his exhortation and command to Timothy to preach the Word (see also 1 Timothy 4:13).  It seems Timothy had a gift which, given the context of 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6, was probably preaching.  The time will come, Paul warns Timothy, when men will not put up with sound doctrine.

The definition of Scripture

But what did the term “All Scripture” mean to Timothy?  And what does Paul mean by “sound doctrine”?  As Paul says to Timothy he had known these holy Scriptures since his infancy, i.e. before any of the New Testament was written.  So all Scripture in this context is probably the Old Testament as the Jews of Timothy’s time knew it.  That that was not the same as the OT that we have in our canon is indicated by Paul’s references to two characters that are not mentioned by name in our OT i.e. Jannes and Jambres (3:8).

But there is also something related in Paul’s emphasis upon his own teachings to Timothy – what you have heard from me  – sound teaching (1:13) and his reference to sound doctrine in 4:3 – that would have meant that Timothy would have been as likely to give Paul’s utterances and writings as much importance as the Scriptures he had read.  See also verses 2:2, 7, 15; 3:10, 14.  In 1 Timothy the emphasis on sound doctrine as taught by Paul is even stronger.  If Timothy had also heard Peter’s opinion of Paul’s writings (as he expressed in 2 Peter 3:15) then he would have understood the relative importance of Paul’s teachings vis-à-vis the Scriptures he had been brought up on, i.e. that both were Scripture and both were therefore as useful as each other in the way described in 3:15.

This was towards the end of Paul’s life, i.e. about 67 AD[1] and some of the other NT books and letters had been written by this time.  Perhaps Timothy could recognise which of these were inspired, i.e. canon, and which were not but this is speculation.

Step 2: What are the differences between the original readers and us?

Not many of us personally know people that are significant leaders in the church and that are in prison for their faith.  But otherwise much of the same situations apply.  If it was the last days in Paul’s time (at least the writer to the Hebrews thought so – see Hebrews 1:2) then it certainly is for us.

The particular role of Paul as a writer of one of significant components of the canon  is not one that we have a counterpart to today.

We also know the NT canon, a lot of which was not written when Timothy got this letter.  So we have a bit more certainty perhaps than Timothy about the importance of the letters he got from Paul or which he had read himself.  But that is very much a “perhaps” – Timothy had a “gift of God” probably similar to what we have.  The Holy Spirit is well able to teach him and us and guide us all into all truth once we have received that same gift.

Step 3: What are the theological principles in the text?

  1. All Scripture is inspired by God
  2. As a result, all Scripture is useful for
    1. teaching
    2. rebuking
    3. correcting
    4. training in righteousness
  3. The result of using Scripture in this way is make a man of God thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Step 4: How do these principles fit in with the rest of the bible?

These principles are backed up by Peter in 2 Peter 3:15.  The word of truth and the Scriptures themselves are nothing but a set of statements that can be used in many ways if the person reading them is not filled with the Spirit and taught by God.  Ultimately Jesus is the Truth and the Word of God and unless you are being taught by His Holy Spirit in a real experiential way you will eventually be confused and unsure of what to believe.  No amount of reading of the bible or study will bring you to God, only faith in the preached word does that (see 1 Cor. 1:18-31).

Step 5:  How should we live out these theological principles?

Most Christians have not been exhorted by a godly Apostle to preach the word or use the Scriptures in the way Timothy was though there are those who have received that gift from Jesus.

But the biggest applications for my personal walk that I get from these verses is as follows:

  1.  Listen to godly, gifted preachers, who are preaching the Word of God in the way God intended.  Be prepared to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained by this preached Word.
  2. The Scriptures are not the same thing as the Word of God.  It takes the action of the Holy Spirit working His gift through a godly man to make Scriptures useful.
  3. Both Paul and Timothy’s versions of the Scriptures were different from ours as has been the case for many Christians even after the canon was decided.  Different translations and underlying texts can make significant differences even today.  We should not get too tied up by the fact that Scripture cannot be precisely pinned down to the last Greek letter. The Holy Spirit does not want us to make a fetish out of the words on the page. As Paul says elsewhere:  “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

[1] Zondervan NIV Study Bible

Different View Points

The role of the Holy Spirit

Grasping God’s Word Assignment 12-1

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)

A learned intellectual interprets John 3:16

A man with 2 Ph.Ds specialising in NT studies who has not believed and encountered God in the Spirit would have a cognitive understanding of the passage.  He might discuss it in this way:

“The passage says that “God” loved the world so much that he gave his “son” for it.  According to this passage by John the mechanism for living for eternity is to believe in “the son”, i.e. the man Jesus.  I would say that it is true that anyone who has the Christian faith can be deluded into thinking they will live forever and that that is not a bad thing.  For most people, having the hope that they will live forever should keep them happy through difficult times.  It is noticeable that the Christian gospel has a great effect in poor countries where the consolations of this life are far less and the hope for an eternal life of happiness most required.

Jesus was a man, an extraordinary man, but simply believing in him could not make someone live forever and, obviously, doesn’t since all people die.  Though I can see how people who do believe in him must be consoled in difficulty, I cannot see how doing so could possibly make people live forever.

Anyway the idea that God, if he exists in the form described in the NT, would have a son is foolishness and the whole idea expressed in this passage is also foolishness if interpreted in a literal sense.  But the message in this passage is one of the best means there is for pacifying and comforting people in trouble with no other hope, as so many are in this world,.”

A mature believer interprets John 3:16

This is how a mature believer (like me) might interpret it:

“When I met God on the back of a bus travelling from Mullingar to Galway on May 7th 1980, one of the first things He did was convict me of the truth of all the Scriptures including this one.  I believe that God is and that He is good.  I believe He has a Son, Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour, whom He sent to earth, who came of His own volition and who died a horrible death so that my sins might be taken out of the way and so I can have eternal life.

The life to come is not an extension of the time frame of this present body I am in but a new life in a new eternal body which is maintained by the Spirit of God Himself.

I continue to believe and act accordingly since I have the Spirit of God in me leading me into all truth.

I continually remember Jesus’ death and resurrection and continue to believe and receive eternal life, the deposit of which starts in this life with the Holy Spirit within me.  I don’t just have a cognitive understanding of this passage but a fully engaged, continuing life experience with the author of it.”

A 9 year old child interprets John 3:16 having just given her life to Jesus

“Daddy, Jesus died for me!”

Word Study – “Sick”

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 9-5

14           Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

(James 5:14)

Sick-leaveThe Greek word for sick in this context is transliterated: Astheneo

Strong’s number: 770

It is used 33 times in the NT:

  • Sick (19 times): Matthew 10:8, 25:36, 39; Mark 6:56; Luke 4:40; John 4:46, 5:3, 7, 11:1-3, 6; Acts 9:37, 19:12, 20:35; Phil. 2:26-27; 2 Timothy 4:20; James 5:14
  • Weak (14 times): Romans 4:19, 8:3, 14:1-2; 1 Cor. 8:11-12; 2 Cor. 11:21, 29, 12:10, 13:3-4,9;

From the contexts in other passages it would appear that this word could as easily be translated “weak” as “sick”.  In English these two words are quite related but our understanding of the microbes that cause sickness make us more inclined to separate the meanings than would have been the case for people in James’ time.  If we use “weak” instead of “sick” in James 5:14 we have:

“Is anyone among you weak? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;”

When we take the overall context of James 5:13 -16 we can see there is a connection between being weak, or sick, and sin – the effect of the elders anointing is not just to make the person well physically but also spiritually – his sins will be forgiven.  In verse 16 the key to healing is that you confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.  In verse 15 the word translated “sick” is actually a very different word which is only used one other time, in Hebrews, and there it is translated “weary”.  So if you feel weary confess your sins to each other and pray for each other and you will be healed.

Nowadays we are inclined to view disease and sickness differently from James.  For us there is only a tenuous connection, if any, between our personal actions and sin.  Sickness is caused usually by viruses or bacteria which seem separated from our moral actions.  As a Christian in the 21st Century the connection is less personal, more related to the general fallen condition of the world than anything that we personally may have done.  But if you think in terms of sickness being weakness and put yourself in the context of a 1st Century Christian who knows nothing about viruses and bacteria then you might see the connection between personal sin and weakness or sickness more easily.

Things can come around though.  The bible’s wisdom does not seem so archaic in this regard if you are into holistic medicine.  Lifestyle and a tendency to sickness go together.  If your lifestyle is one of abusing the body through excessive alcohol or smoking or immorality then it is easy to see how those sins can affect your health also.

In this passage though the emphasis is not on the sin causing the illness.  The Lord is gracious and he heals first and, then, forgives your sins also.  He doesn’t place the emphasis on the sin but rather on the healing of the sickness or weakness.

Which is just like Him, isn’t it?

Dream – Lessons in Creativity from the Creator

Knock, knock, knock!  I had heard that sharp sound before in middle of the night, and it had woken me up before, on at least two occasions.  The last two times I initially thought it was someone knocking on the door downstairs but then realised it had just been a dream, turned over and went back to sleep.  But a bit like the young Samuel in the bible, this third time I realised that this was actually God trying to get my attention.

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20).

So I went to open the door and there Jesus was, all white and shining and making the inside of my head house look positively disgraceful.  I stood awkwardly at the door, saying that the place wasn’t tidy and, actually, it was quite dirty in places and I didn’t think it was ready for him to come in.


But he countered by saying that he was friends with sinners and quite used to that kind of condition and could he come in anyway?

He came in and sat down on the other side of the rough wooden table that seemed to be the main piece of furniture in my head room.  It was no great shakes, in fact all the artefacts that I had in the room looked rough and unfinished.

I had “stumbled upon” a site on creativity before I went to bed.  In it Scott Berkun makes the profound observation that “an idea is a combination of other ideas”.

Jesus sat at the table and I talked to him about that.  He said to make him a meal, it seemed that he had a cake in mind in particular.  I went to my cupboards and started looking for ingredients.  I was quite happy because I seemed to have some really good ingredients in the cupboards.

And then the dream stopped or I woke up or something.

By “God-incidence” my daughter was making a cake the next morning.

Now a cake is not an intuitive thing.  Mixing a combination of raw eggs, sugar, flour and margarine together in a bowl (in the right order) and then putting it into an oven for a certain time at the right temperature is not something that is easy to think up.  It is hard to imagine that those ingredients put together would make something that, in combination, is so different from its constituent parts.

But of course that is what God does all the time.  He is the only original thinker.  He came up with the basic building blocks and put them together in different combinations so that we would get the idea.  A soft metal (sodium) combined in the right way with a poisonous gas (chloride) give us a flavour enhancer and preserver (common table salt).  Two gases combined together in the right way give us water.  And so it goes on.  God has about 90 ingredients that he combines in the most creative ways imaginable.  His favourite ingredient is carbon and his favourite combination is water.   Its another study altogether to look into why that might be so.

So now I’m going to bring out my ingredients and ask God for a recipe that pleases him.

The Heavens declare the glory of God

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

There is so much to be learnt from a study of the physical heavens that everyone can see.  A wonderful example is the true story about the Star of Bethlehem which is quite astonishing and easily verifiable by anyone with a program that shows planetary positions 2 millennia ago.

Even simpler examples of what God wants to say to man abound in the way He created the heavens.  We have a song that we sing in Open Arms which says “Jesus at the centre of it all” and indeed He is.  And as a picture in this physical world He has put a representation of God, i.e. the Sun, at the centre of all the planets which revolve around it.  These planets include our own.   Before Copernicus said otherwise people used to think that the earth was the centre of the universe and that everything revolved around us. But God had made it so that the centre would represent Him not us and in fact everything revolves around Him.  Jesus at the centre.

Another similar example is to be found in the rotation of the earth.  As the earth turns on its axis we revolve towards the sun and then away from it and so night comes followed by day.  

It is a daily reminder that if we turn away from God we will be in darkness, as we turn towards him we are in the light.

Similarly the moon often is seen as representing the devil.  It is barren and lifeless, but even it can reflect the glory of God when turned to His purposes.  Its courses are set and sometimes it even obscures the sun, sometimes partially, more rarely totally and only ever to a limited number of observers.  Likewise evil can sometimes arise and seem to obscure all that is good but that is a rare event.  Even in a total eclipse there is light around the edges, the moon can never completely shut out the light of the sun and neither can evil ever completely block out all good.  Even at its worse it is actually just an illusion, the sun still shines as strong as ever behind the moon, just as God’s power and glory is not lessened in any degree by the worst evil of men.

Some people say that before the Old Testament began to be written by Moses that some of the descendent’s of Shem, Noah’s son, could tell you the story of redemption from the patterns God wrote into the stars.  This may have been what David meant when he said: “Day unto day utters speech,  And night unto night reveals knowledge.”   Then again it doesn’t have to, there is enough out there that reveals knowledge without having to dig very deeply at all.

Today must have been one of the most gloriously bright days I have experienced out here in the countryside of Kildare.  It was all light without much heat…hmm.. I’m sure there is more knowledge to be revealed in there somewhere.