Mastered By the Book

The ongoing discussion over biblical authority and interpretation between Don Carson, John Piper, and Tim Keller becomes pointed in the third of four clips from their roundtable interview.

Carson and Piper push each other on the merits of studying hermeneutics. Then they use the example of Corinth to debate how much time teachers should spend studying extrabiblical sources on the cultural and social milieu versus mastering the book itself to deduce the most important social and linguistic points.

You can also watch the first two installments of this roundtable to trace the background of their conversation.

  • Mike

    I can’t wait for the next one.

  • Don Sartain

    I have absolutely loved this series! Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  • Anthony

    I cannot but add another “footnote” … I’m so grateful to the Lord of these three faithful brothers and servants of the Word! Thanks for this roundtable series.

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  • Richard

    I found this quite interesting; though I do think that conservative evangelicals have a general tendency to downplay the importance of extrabiblical sources in understanding the biblical text. Understanding the historical context of the biblical text safeguards its being used as a pretext for something that was temporary and culturally specific. Now it is not the pastor’s job to do the research but it is the duty of scholars who write biblical commentaries to include a section setting out the historical context in which the biblical text arose, so that this can then be used by the pastor to inform his exegesis.

    Moreover the uncertainty is helpful in that it makes sure we check that what we are saying the text says is actually what it means now. In that, if we change the story from which the text arose then its meaning and application can change, hence we need to be sure that our understanding of the historical context is correct.

  • Anthony

    I cannot but add another “footnote” … I’m so grateful to the Lord for these three faithful brothers and servants of the Word! Thanks for this roundtable series.

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  • Olavo Ribeiro

    Thanks for posting those videos. Great stuff. I suggest you put subtitles in English for those who can read English but cannot understand it spoken.

  • John Veazey

    I was just watching the latest video and wishing that it were subtitled so I came down here to comment. I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only one who would appreciate subtitles. Thank you, Olavo. I’m deaf with a cochlear implant. While I can understand the spoken word fairly well in person, movies and videos do prove to be tough for me. I don’t know what it would take to subtitle these videos but if it can be done with reasonable cost and effort, that would be so incredibly helpful to those of us who have difficulties!

  • Matt Capps

    I love Keller’s contribution….



  • steve

    It is striking that Piper’s excitement is drawn from confidence in an argument built up from propositions. It is telling too, that he believes that argument finds its basis in Romans. Obviously, that is not the basis of his faith, but his position presents a remarkable contrast between the ‘evangelical assurance’ model of what Wesley et al was on about in the 17th and continued through later generations. Though Piper mentions Matthew, I think he would find it a lot more difficult to build up a network of such propositional truths based upon what Jesus does and says in that particular Gospel.

    • DinRL

      Propositions are to be found all throughout the book of Matthew, even while it is historiographic narrative and is connected together differently than a diatribe or epistle.

      Even narrative has its propositions: “Then Jesus said …”; “then Jesus healed …”; etc. Either He did and said what is attested, or He didn’t. Either His actions and teachings were situated in the contexts assigned by the gospel writers, or they weren’t. Either the gospel authors’ interpretations of His teachings and actions are accurate, or they aren’t (i.e., “in this way He declared all foods clean”). Very propositional.

      There is also discourse that includes propositions.

      Matt 5.17-20: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

      Jesus’s arguments with Pharisees are filled with propositional truths (“You understand neither the Scriptures nor the power of God … God is the God of the living, not of the dead”; etc.).

      Matt 19.3-9: “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

      Matt 23-25 contains some very long discourses — almost reminiscent of Johannine discourse length — filled with many propositions.

      Granted, Piper’s emphasis on propositions doesn’t encompass all that is found in Scripture; however, neither is it accurate to try to draw such ironclast distinctions between Matthew’s gospel — or any gospel for that matter — and the Pauline corpus. As though propositions are applicable to (or dominant features in) the one corpus but not the others.

  • steve

    …err 18th

  • Nick

    I wish I could hang out with these guys. Sounds like Keller was about to give his two cents as it cut off. Perhaps the next installment will have it? Awesome series this is.

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  • andrew

    i can’t help but notice the complete lack of mentioning the “presence of the Holy Spirit” with the preacher when they preach. it seems there was a good opportunity to at least mention him as Piper challenged Carson with the idea that he would want to see someone spend 10 hours in the Scriptures vs. 10 hours doing historical/contextual work. is there not a kind of infusion of authority, meaning and clarity that can be experienced regardless of a person’s means and access to hermeneutical/expositional tools when a person’s preaching is dependent on the Holy Spirit? Not to say that the person who is doing historical/contextual work is any less dependent, but my point is that anyone who is taking on the task of preaching God’s word must rely on the Holy Spirit, and it is the same Holy Spirit who empowers both the person who does the background work and the person who doesn’t. i doubt very much that the preachers of the ‘global south’ (who are in many ways dealing with circumstances outside of my/our experience base in the US) always have the latest and most up-to-date commentaries, etc…yet they do not allow themselves to be curtailed by that. ultimately their confidence is in the perpescuity, sufficiency, and infallibility of the the Scriptures themselves, the will of God that they preach with authority, clarity and effectiveness, and in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. They must believe Jesus’ promise that “he will be with us” as we “go therefore” and that “all authority in heaven and on earth” belongs to him. this may seem simplistic, and i am sure this point may be rejected by many, but i simply point it out as a reality oft overlooked.

  • Maim

    Higher criticism–trying to understand the socio-historical and cultural context–is crucial, and I’ll dance with Piper on this one and call him out on his reluctance. God has given us tools to understand why Paul talks about head coverings and all sorts of stuff we would never be able to authoritatively discern, and for us to dismiss them as irrelevant will not bring us closer to what the author meant.

    That’s not saying higher criticism is perfect, nor that God doesn’t work actively and powerfully calling people to repentance through the preaching of those who use the grammatical method or those who pray for hours in preparation for a sermon. I’m just saying that for all one’s own conviction and even spiritual authority, it does not equate to hard intellectual truth. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t change lives for the glory of God, but He has given us seminaries and Biblical scholarship to learn everything we can about the Scriptures.

    And if it turns out centuries of traditional interpretation have been wrong on certain passages of Scripture, that’s not God’s fault. After all, if what we believe is true, then solid Biblical scholarship should only affirm that, right? But if it doesn’t, we should suck it up and ask the Lord for guidance.

    “In coming to understand anything we are rejecting the facts as they are for us in favour of the facts as they are.”
    –C.S. Lewis

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