In the April 2021 installment of RTS Jackson’s Online Discussion Forum, Dr. Benjamin Gladd and Dr. Ligon Duncan have a conversation about developing and improving exegetical skill.
Step Morgan: Well, friends, welcome back. We are so glad to have you on board for our April online discussion forum with Dr. Ligon Duncan. Our guest today is Associate Professor of New Testament, Dr. Ben Gladd. And Dr. Duncan will tell you a bit more about him in just a moment. But first, I would like to welcome you. My name is Step Morgan. I’m Director of Admissions here in Jackson, and want to remind you if you would, to please mute your mics while you’re on the call, and if you would, just leave your name in the chat box. No need for your address. We got that from you in the registration form, but we want you to be in the running for these. We’ve got 75 copies of these, that we’re giving away today. This is a book by our guest, Dr. Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church. And then we’ve got 10 copies, ten of you guys are going to get this, The Story Retold, which is a fantastic, massive work that Dr. Gladd undertook in recent years. He’ll tell you more about that in a bit. So leave your name in the chat box so that you’ll be entered in the drawing for those. If you’ve joined us for previous calls, you know this is something that we’ve been doing this year, and we had—several of the books we were planning to send you guys were on backorder. They’re all here now. So some of you guys are going to get a stack of books, because we owe you books from previous months. So watch the mail for those. Those are all in now. One other reminder, for the prospective students joining us today, participation in this call makes you eligible for a waiver of the application fee for the next few weeks. And so, if you can get your application finished before the end of the month, we would be delighted to waive your application fee and save you $75. OK, I don’t want to take up any more of your time. We have all been excited, looking forward to this conversation. So how about we pray, and we’ll hand it over to Dr. Duncan? Let’s pray. Father, we thank you so much for the ability to join one another in discussion via this technology. Thank you even more for your grace in giving us your word. And we thank you that we find in it that everything which is necessary for our salvation is easy to access, even for the unlearned. But we also recognize that all things in your word are not alike plain, and that there is a need for us to study. And so we thank you for men like Dr. Gladd, who can aid us in becoming better students of your word, that we may obey it, that we may hear its warnings, that we may embrace its promises. Father, we ask that you would bless this time, that even in this hour, we would grow in our appreciation for your word and in our ability to study. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
Ligon Duncan: Amen. Thanks, Step. Thanks for opening things up for us. And I do want to remind everyone, we want you to have your opportunity to ask Dr. Gladd questions, and so you can shoot those questions to Step in the chat, and then he’ll get them to me, and we’ll try and make sure that your questions get answered as well. But I’ve got my own list of questions, so I get to tackle those first! But I thought it might be helpful, actually, to introduce Ben to you. Even though Ben is young, he is a very heavily published author already, and chances are, there are a number of you on the call that have read Ben before, but you may not know much about him. And so Ben, tell folks a little bit about where you’re from. How did you get into biblical theology? How did you connect to Greg Beale? Because you’re one of the, you know—I don’t know what we could call them. The Beale-ies, or what? There are these Beale guys that you find all around the Reformed world. And you know, God bless them. May your tribe increase. But Ben has obviously had a close working relationship with Greg in academic publication over the years. We’re going to talk about a couple of those things today. The Story Retold, by the way—one of the books that we’re giving away—is a Beale-Gladd project, and I want to ask you some questions about that, but just tell folks a little bit about your background, Ben.
Ben Gladd: Yeah, thanks, Ligon. So, I grew up in a Christian home. My parents are very conservative. My dad even went to Bob Jones. That’s—it’s hard to find somebody more conservative than a person who goes to school there, maybe even Pensacola. Come on. So, I grew up in a very Christian home, and it was through taking Greek—I even spent my first two years at Bob Jones—through taking Greek at Bob Jones, where I’m like, “I really enjoy Greek.” And then I transferred to the Master’s College, which is associated with John MacArthur. And so it was through the Master’s College, majoring in Greek and Hebrew—I just loved the languages so much, I wanted to then go on and do more with the languages. And so at that time, Wheaton College had started an MA called the Masters in Biblical Exegesis. And Greg Beale and Doug Moo had a hand in that. So both of those guys were working on that degree. So I went there, and finished there in a couple of years, and then I eventually returned and did my Ph.D. under Dr. Beale on the use of “mystery” in 1 Corinthians. It’s kind of esoteric, but I enjoyed it. And so that was—I graduated in 2008, then I was associate pastor in L.A. for about two years. And that’s when Miles Van Pelt gave me the call and said, “Would you be interested in coming to Jackson?” I said, “Of course!” So that was almost—Ligon, it’s been, it’ll be 10 years this January, and it’s hard to believe. It’s hard to believe. I just told some Belhaven students yesterday, I said, “It’s probably felt like five or six. It hasn’t felt anywhere near 10, because when you have such a great time, the time just flies by.” So I’m living the dream. I wake up and I can’t—I have to pinch myself that I can come in here and hang out with these students and do what I do. It really is just an amazing thing that God has blessed me with.
Ligon Duncan: A story I’m not sure I’ve told you, Ben, is a few weeks—maybe now a couple of months ago—I called Greg up, asking him about a text I was working on. Interestingly, I’ve preached about two-thirds of the books in the Bible, but I’ve never preached a sermon series on 1 Corinthians. And so, I was working on a text in 1 Corinthians, and I just called Greg up and I said, “Hey, you know, give me the best thing that I could read on this.” And he said, “Well, actually, it’s by Ben Gladd.” And so here you are, right under my nose—
Ben Gladd: Yeah, yeah.
Ligon Duncan: I’m calling up Greg, and he’s pointing me right back to you, Ben. And so, it was your dissertation, which has been published now as Revealing the Mysterion, right?
Ben Gladd: Right, that’s exactly correct.
Ligon Duncan: So that’s the published version of the dissertation. And it was helpful. So it was one of those things where I had a sneaking suspicion of what the meaning of the text was, but I didn’t want to goof, you know? And so I went back and I read you, and I said, “Okay, good. I didn’t miss the point.”
Ben Gladd: Oh, you’re too kind. You know, for those of you—I still think, for you Ligon, and for everybody else, if you’re looking for a 1 Corinthians commentary, David Garland in the—I have it right here on my shelf, if anybody’s interested in it—this is the best commentary on 1 Corinthians. And he just told me, he told me about a month ago that he’s revising again. It’w very good.
Ligon Duncan: And that’s the first one that pops up for me on my Logos for 1 Corinthians. And so I had read Garland, but I just wanted to check with Beale and see what he thought before I went off traipsing in the wrong direction. So now, Ben, we were just talking about the house—folks may not know that your house burned down a few months ago. So tell us how that happened, and how close are you to getting back into the house?
Ben Gladd: Yeah, good question. So on Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving Day—so some of you know this, my students may know this—but my wife is a professional this sounds goofy when I say it out loud, but it’s true—she’s a professional food blogger. She’s huge. She gets about four million pins on Pinterest. She gets about four million pins a month on that site. And so she was—it was Thanksgiving, which is the Super Bowl in the food blog world. It was Thanksgiving. She made an amazing spread, and we were cleaning up afterwards. My in-laws were in town and I was doing the dishes. She was drying off the cutting boards, and so she had a plastic cutting board. She dried it off and she put it on the burner in the kitchen, and the burner—so, it was a gas burner and it was on maybe a quarter of an inch. And you can’t see it. You can’t smell it when it’s that small. And so she just put the plastic burner [sic] right on top. We went to watch Croods 2 with my kids. They’re little kids, they’re only 11 and 8. So we went to see Croods 2 with my in-laws, and my wife, of course, was there. And so we’re there in the theater. We’re about 15 minutes into the movie, and my wife’s phone is just blowing up. And she knew something was wrong, like, when you—everybody’s texting her and calling her. So she picks up in the middle of the movie. She picks up and she hears a voice, and then she turns—I’ll never forget this—she looks at me. We’re sitting one seat apart. She looks at me and she says, “Our house is on fire. I left the cutting board on the stove.” She remembered—she knew exactly what she had done. Because we do—I mean, it’s easy to do that. So we go home. It was right out of a movie. I’m doing 70, 75 miles an hour on Highland Colony [Parkway] in my Honda Odyssey van, I’m flying. Like, this is Fast and the Furious dad-style, right? So I am flying down. We go into the neighborhood. We’re about a quarter of a mile from our house. I’ll never forget this. I mean, again, we’re far from my house. I can’t even see my house, but I see a plume of smoke just emerging into the air, and it was a lot of smoke. I knew then that this was not just, “The bush is on fire, my grill is on fire,” like, this is substantial. And so, the police had blocked off our entire street. There are four firefighters lined up, an ambulance. So I mean, it was chaos. And I’ll never forget it. They were there putting the fire out on our house. And so, everything—total loss. They don’t have to rebuild it, but it had to be completely gutted. So it’s a total loss, everything inside all of our contents, clothes. The only—you know, when people say that the only thing I had left was the clothes on my back, that’s exactly what it was like. We had to go to—my wife and I went to Target Friday morning at 7AM to buy toothpaste, undies—not whitey tighties—I mean, we’re buying like, we’re—I mean, it’s, where do you go? You’re trying to rebuild from the ground up. And so, Ligon, that’s really—this is month four or five now, and we’ll get back in it. It’s taken—it’s like a part-time job for me, to kind of piece it back together, but God’s good, and we’re thankful nobody was hurt or anything. So we’re thankful, and we’re excited to get back in there, hopefully at the end of summer.
Ligon Duncan: Your attitude was a real testimony to me, Ben, you know, in the wake of that. And look, it’s been a hard several months for your families, too. You’ve lost your dear dad. You had a wonderful relationship with your dad. I was so thankful that you got to spend time with him before he went home to be with the Lord. But you know, you’re trusting God in the middle of all this, and still being able to have a smile on your face has meant a lot to me, Ben. So, I appreciate what you write, what you do. But a lot of times just seeing a person going through that can be a real encouragement to us.
Ben Gladd: Thanks. You know, we, it was—I’ll never forget this. I mean, I’m not going to forget a lot of things, but one—so, we went right from our home. It’s Thursday night. We had just lost our home. We go back to the hotel with our kids and with my in-laws there, and we sat down with our kids and we were—it was odd. I mean, it’s hard for me to even say without getting choked up, but we were joyful. We were thankful. We just reminded them like, you know, we don’t worship our stuff. Don’t worship things. Don’t. Because it’s going to go in the dumpster one of these days. Typically, Ligon, it’s on the back end, right? But for ours, it was on the front end, and it was—they’re not precious. They’re really not. They’re corruptible, as Paul would say, they’re corruptible. And so, it’s been just a healthy reminder that what is incorruptible is the new creation. That’s our identity in Christ. And so that’s really been reaffirmed. And I really believe it. So when my dad died just a month ago, I told Nikki, I told my wife, I said, “Yeah, I’m going to see him. We’re going to hang out for all of eternity and I’m 100 percent right.” Like, I stake, paul stakes—this is amazing. This is going to get back to what we’re going to talk about today—Paul stakes—this is amazing—at the beginning of chapter 15 in 1 Corinthians, he says that the entire Old Testament anticipated Christ’s resurrection. Then he goes on to say, “If Christ is not raised, we are not raised.” In other words, the entire Old Testament is broken if my dad is not bodily raised and I am not joined with him. Everything’s broken. So you reall— there is a massive—Paul stakes the very character of God and the character of scripture on a bodily resurrection in the new creation. And so that’s why I mourn for him, I’m sad, sad for my mom, but I’m going to see him and we’re going to hang out.
Ligon Duncan: Amen. So good, Ben. Well, let’s jump into our topic. I mean, you’ve just given us the perfect segue in, I mean, how reading that passage right, changes your life. You know, reading that passage right, changed your life. I think when I was a seminary student, there was not this plethora of books on how to read the Bible and hermeneutics that was out there. In fact, I think probably back in the 70s and 80s, it was still Louis Berkhoff, Principles of Biblical Interpretation. You know, the Fee and Stuart book, How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth, that didn’t exist. You know, all of that has been since then. Now, I was introduced to biblical theology while I was in seminary, because that’s a thing in the Reformed and evangelical world, and had been since the time of Geerhardus Vos, and only building momentum into the end of the 20th century. But we live in a time where there’s been a lot of attention given to the issue of reading your Bible well. And I’m going to ask you in a second about reading the Bible devotionally, but let’s just start with where you would want to help pastors, and seminary students, and serious Christians read the Bible better. What are some of the things that you would say to help people, and then maybe even resources to help people read the Bible better, Ben?
Ben Gladd: Right, thanks. That’s a great question. One is to—and this is going to sound mundane. It’s going to sound pedestrian, but it’s not—read the Bible prayerfully. I mean, you know, God has got to open our eyes and our hearts to the scriptures. It’s one of the dominant themes running through scripture is, God illuminates us. And it really is a big deal to read the Bible [prayerfully], sing the Psalms—so that’s not something that we just do, because we really do mean it, and it really does make a difference. That’s starting. Secondly—and I say this in most of my classes—reading well, this isn’t just reading the Bible well, this is just reading well in general, is that we have to read patiently, carefully. We need to learn how to—I call them, and I learned this from Greg Beale—making good observations. There are a lot of good books on making observations. Just, who’s talking? Where are they? Where are we? How many people are there? Are we on a hill? Are we on a mountain? Are we in a letter? Just learning to observe. I find that students—and especially, it’s the students who have been in the church the longest and I think who have read the most amount of books—they are the ones that miss good observations because familiarity with the text can actually be a problem, ironically, because we’re so used to the text that we insert and we impose meaning on it, instead of just looking and thinking and asking questions and just slowing down. I really—so I typically read with this Bible and I teach out of it. But this Bible is filled with all of my with all of my notes. So I read with a red pen. I don’t use a highlighter. I like to write in my Bible. I like to do diagrams. I’m just constantly writing, interacting, asking questions, looking at surprises. I document all of that, because the more I document it, I can come back and I can look at it. What’s bad, Ligon, is when I change my mind, then I gotta cross things out. It’s A little awkward. We got to be humble, too. But I like interacting with the Bible. I like asking questions, and underlining similar themes, or just—because it sticks in my heart, and I can come back to it. Some people don’t like that, so get a notepad and take notes. Be vigilant about it. Just praying, and taking notes, and reading carefully: that’s 90 percent of what—you know, there’s this great Howard Hendricks—I think it’s Howard Hendricks—he goes, the difference between a regular Christian, a layperson, and a scholar, a biblical scholar, is that the biblical scholar—they’re not smarter. They’re not smarter. They don’t have more mental horsepower. They can see more. They can observe more. It’s not your IQ. It is your—the trained guys, the guys who write the commentaries. They are patient with the text. They wrestle with it. They’re working. This is why I love reading guys like Greg Beale, Richard Bauckham, Doug Moo, Don Carson, because when you read them, they’re in a different category. O. P. Robertson. When I read him, this guy is on the inside of the Bible. The Bible is in his heart. He has struggled with, and he has worked through these things. It’s about—it really is about that sort of, cultivating that attitude in reading the Bible. The worst thing you could do, Ligon, is to just read a Bible for two seconds, close it, and then put it down. I mean, that’s not the worst thing. But it could be so much better. It could be so much better.
Ligon Duncan: That’s good. Now let’s switch over to the devotional question, Ben. How could we read our Bibles better devotionally? What advice do you have for us on how to use the Bible in our personal devotions? What’s your counsel?
Ben Gladd: Yeah. So I like these little things called cross-references. Do you guys know what cross-references are? All of my Bibles have cross-references. All my students know that from me. It’s a no non-cross-reference Bible zone. You’ve got to have a cross-reference text in my class. Please use the Bible with cross-references, because it’s going to make your life so much easier. You know, Ligon—and I guess I can talk to Step, too, since he’s in this thing as well. The greatest problem in the world, in the evangelical, in the Reformed world today, is not understanding culture. It’s just Bible literacy. I think—and there’s some degree where it’s like, you know what? I think we understand too much of the culture. I think we understand it because we’re so constantly, we’re so much—we’re on social media so often, we know what the culture’s doing and how the culture works, and we can almost anticipate the next step. The problem is we just don’t—we aren’t devoted to scripture. How can we engage culture if we don’t know the Bible? And so, we really need to go back to reading well. And so, I say cross-references. When you’re reading a text, whether you’re Old Testament or New Testament, always look: what are the cross references? So if you’re in a New Testament text, you come across an Old Testament quotation or allusion, well, look that up. Write it down. Go back to—we were in 1 Peter today, and there are a number of quotations there, especially at the end of chapter 1 with the Isaiah 40:6-9 quotation. Peter cites Isaiah 40. OK, so he went back to—we went back to Isaiah 40. What’s going on here? And now what is Peter doing with that text? We have learned in the last 30 years, in a large part because of guys like Carson and Moo and Tom Schreiner, and especially Greg Beale and Richard Bauckham, guys like that, they keep coming back to quotations and allusions. Keep coming back, keep coming back. What are they doing? And that’s where biblical theology really is bearing much fruit, because it’s making sense of all these sorts of things. So use cross cross-references, write down observations, and do it prayerfully. And if you just do that, that is a lifelong journey. It will be amazing. God’s word will be living to you. It really wasn’t until I went to Wheaton, when I heard Greg Beale in the flesh, I had read him a little bit. I was a dispensationalist was at Bob Jones and at the Masters College, so it’s awkward to sort of—you don’t really know what to do with those who are not dispensationalist, there’s a dissonance, an eschatological dissonance, I guess. And so here, I remember listening to him for the first time and it struck me how well he knew the Bible. And he would—this is what he was doing in class. He’s like, “Look at this quotation in 1 Corinthians. Look at this quotation in 1 Peter. What’s it doing?” These are questions I had never thought about asking. So it really has opened up, in the last three or four decades, just an entire field. And it is amazing. It really is amazing.
Ligon Duncan: Ben, tell me about the book, The Story Retold, which you did with Greg Beale, and how it might help somebody teaching Bible at a school, or how it might help a Sunday school teacher teaching through the New Testament, or how it might help a pastor preaching through the New Testament books. Tell us what that book is, how it works, and how it might help.
Ben Gladd: Sure, yeah. Well, first, let me tell you about the story of The Story Retold. So, after I graduated from Wheaton—this is 2008—I taught part-time at Wheaton College for a couple of years, and they had me teach freshman and sophomore New Testament Survey. And that’s really, the new guy always gets the survey courses, and that’s how it is anywhere. So here I am, teaching freshman and sophomore students at Wheaton, and I struggled to find a textbook. That really is how it came to be. There wasn’t a textbook out there that constantly brought the reader’s attention to the Old Testament, that constantly kept processing, what’s this quotation? What’s this illusion? What does justification look like in light of the Old Testament? What about “kingdom?” What about “temple?” What about “exodus,” “exile?” All these themes, how are all these themes brought in? And so, it was at that time when I said, “Hey, Doc,” said, “Dr. Beale, I got an idea. Would you be interested in doing it with me?” I remember this, we were playing golf. And he’s like, “Well, I would be interested if you wrote it, and then I read it over. So busy. I’m so busy.” So really, that’s kind of how it happened. He did a ton of work on it, no doubt about that. So really, I then took the next several years, and I started working on it, put it down for a while, pick it back up. And so I used his massive—Beale writes massive tomes. These tomes are huge, these massive commentaries. RTS is so excited now that he’s part of the family, and we’re not the mafia, though, we’re—but it’s so good that he’s part of the family. So here I am, kind of using all of his brilliance and all of his insight, and now just laying it out. And so that’s how the two of us really put it together, and I wrote it for college students. I use it here at RTS. I paired with Carson and Moo, with their excellent introduction. My students love it, so I use it on a seminary level, but I wrote it for college students. I even have people using it in the high school context. We’ve had people reach out to us, say that they’re training elders in the PCA and the OP Church, training elders. People use it in Sunday school. There are even—a couple of people even reached out and said that they’re reading it devotionally. That surprised me. I’m definitely not Oswald Chambers here. That’s not, you know—I guess that’s, you know, to each his own, but it really has been just an amazing thing. And so really, any of those things, any—it’s it’s really into Bible content. It is not into—we don’t spend pages and pages on authorship and dating. I mean, those are important things, but that’s not what this is. This is about the story of the Bible right here.
Ligon Duncan: That’s great. Do you have—somebody was asking, Step already has gotten this question, if you have any recommended resources from Beale about exegesis or interpreting the Bible.
Ben Gladd: Oh yeah, I do. Let me grab them off my shelf here. So the first one is the Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old. It’s published by Baker. This is his method that he just—that he’s been teaching for years, and he put it in a book form. It’s about 15, 20 bucks. This is just processing how the New Testament authors use the Old. It’s fantastic. Now, there’s a cheat sheet in that, chapter number two in this book, I condensed this and put it in chapter two.
Ligon Duncan: OK, every pastor and teacher on the call, you hear that?
Ben Gladd: It really is. And then the first chapter in this book is a—you’ll laugh here, too, Ligon. So he also wrote—this thing is massive. Twelve hundred pages or whatever. So I summarize this book in the first chapter. So, you know, come on. I mean, come on. That’s just the way—that’s how I really took Beale and I was able to migrate it over. So this is the one to get. And this is the Beale and Carson commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old. Oh, look, here you go. Keith, you like it?
Ligon Duncan: Keith has got it. It’s great. By the way, Greg is working on a dictionary of the Old Testament in the New right now, which is going to be massive as well, as a companion with that volume.
Ben Gladd: Oh, it’s amazing. Yeah, I’m doing it with Greg, Don Carson and Andy Naselli. The four of us are doing it together. It’s going to be, I think—I mean, if you like this one, you’re going to really enjoy the dictionary. But if you’re a preacher or a teacher, and you’re at all interested in how the Old Testament intersects with the New Testament, this is it. It’s all in one. They go through every quotation and all the major allusions, and they do the spade work. It’s a little—the only downside is that they do all the work for you. It’s kind of—they give you all the answers. You got to do it on your own. John Hunt—you know, I don’t let John look at this thing. Don’t look at this, John. You do your own work. Do your own work. So those are those are some reources.
Ligon Duncan: So you’re also editing a series, Ben, on biblical theology. I think it’s Essential Studies in Biblical Theology, ESBT, and your volume is one of the giveaways today From Adam and Israel to the Church is one of those volumes. Brandon Crowe’s new volume on covenant and the law, called The Path of Faith, is part of that series. Talk to us about that series and how that might help in interpretation.
Ben Gladd: Yes, so, I have—you see there you have all these beautiful colors. There are ten volumes total. I just saw the next two volumes, so we’ve got four volumes out now. The fifth volume is going to be Greg Beale and Mitch Kim’s volume on the temple. We’re repackaging and we’re adopting it into this series. The one after that is [Desmond] Alexander on priests and priesthood. So this series was just my desire to see more biblical theology in an accessible way. It’s called the ESBT, Essential Studies in Biblical Theology. Because its motto—so here’s Carson, some of you guys may recognize these volumes, you’ll see these—Bob Cara calls them “silverbacks.” Yeah, so these are the—they’re called NSBT, New Studies in Biblical Theology, but there are like 60 of these things, or almost 60 now. And so the idea was to kind of imitate Carson here, but to do something a little bit more accessible, more so that laypeople can understand. I really like—I mean, don’t forget Michael Morales. This thing has won a bunch of awards here, on Exodus and New Exodus. It is fantastic. I am so thrilled with Michael Morales’s work there. In the other ones, too, Brandon, this one just came out here on covenant and law. So I am just thrilled with how the series is shaping up.
Ligon Duncan: Ben, what are some common mistakes that Christians make in preparing for teaching and preaching God’s word?
Ben Gladd: You know, I should be asking you that. You know what, can I ask you that first? And then I’ll go. I’m interested to see. I know what I think. I want to see what you think. And then I’ll go after you.
Ligon Duncan: Yeah. One is simply, not—you’ve already said it actually, today—not reading the text over and over and over again, until, one, you are certain that you understand the context, and two, that you are certain you understand the main point and purpose of the passage. You know, invariably, once I get to that point, I’ll still have a list of thirty-three things that I don’t understand about the text. But once I know, OK, I know what he’s saying, I know what he means, and I know why this is important, everything else falls into place. But a lot of times, I have to read over and over and over and over until it yields. So, you know, for me, as a preacher, the main thing I have to be, Ben, is I have to be confident that I actually understand the text. I mean, that’s—the last thing that I want to do is stand up and say something that is not being said in the text. And I have to be reasonably confident that I am not misinterpreting the passage. So I like to do that. And that’s why I do like—I like to check, you know, talking about chek with Garland, check with Gladd, make sure that, OK, yeah, OK, I’m on the right track here. I’m not seeing things. I am understanding the flow of argument. That’s how commentaries help me. They let me know, “OK, I’m not barking up the wrong tree. I’m following the flow of argument. Other intelligent readers over the course of Christian history have seen these same things.” So for me, that’s the big thing. And I think a lot of a lot of Christians don’t pay attention to context, and they’re not patient enough to follow the flow of argument in the text. So those would be two things.
Ben Gladd: When do you know that you know? Is it Sunday morning, Ligon? Is it Saturday night? Does it change?
Ligon Duncan: There have been times when it’s been Sunday morning. But you know—
Ben Gladd: When you’re walking up to the pulpit?
Ligon Duncan: You know, I went through different phases in terms of sermon preparation. Some of you on the call will know that Jay Adams had a program where he tried to have all his sermons prepared six months ahead of time. And when I was a young pastor at First Presbyterian Church, I tried to get out to about three months ahead of time in preparation, and I realized that that really did not work for me because I want to be excited about the text that’s in front of me for that Sunday. So really, I constrained all of my sermon preparation to be between seven to 10 days because I didn’t want to get excited about next week’s text, when I needed to be excited about this week’s text. And I knew that if I let myself get into it, I’d get it excited about next week’s text. So I try to keep everything seven to 10 days. And and then I took my, you know, I copied commentaries, I took stuff with me everywhere I went. If you caught me at a stoplight in Jackson, I was probably, you know, reading commentary on the passage. And I just had to read the text, and read my helps and resources and commentaries, until it clicked for me. And I felt like, OK, I actually understand the passage. Once I did that, I immediately started thinking, “Hey, how do I explain this to people, and how do I get them excited about it the way I’m excited about it?” And so that for me is the thing. And sometimes texts are—they really won’t yield to you. I mean, you were saying earlier, pray. I mean, sometimes you have to pray and pray and pray and pray until a text will finally yield, and you’ll go, “Oh, that’s what it’s about.” So that’s my experience, Ben.
Ben Gladd: That’s amazing. I really couldn’t have said it better. The only thing I would want to iterate is, I notice—and I’ve seen a lot of preaching is called ‘expository,’ when it’s really just topical sermons embedded in a passage. So, the pastor will read the text and then, I call it the exegetical cherry picking. Like, they’ll focus—”Oh, I know that word, ‘grace.’ I could talk about grace.” And, “There’s that word, ‘sanctification.’ I can talk about sanctification.” So what comes out of it, is really like three topical sermons kind of jumbled together and not really an exposition of that text itself. And it’s across all—it’s not just in our circles, I think it’s just across the board. And I think the idea is, as you said, it’s because it takes a lot of work, Ligon. You know this more than I do. It’s really hard because pastors are counseling, and some of them are even having to clean toilets, some of them are doing so many different things, and they have to preach. And it’s hard. It takes a lot of work. And so, unless you’re really willing to put the time in, the sermons can slip away. You know, I think it’s harder for pastors that are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s because they’re exhausted, and it’s easy to let the sermon time slip, and they can just rest on their laurels, and they can rest on the stories and rest on application. I really think it could even be even hard on the back end of one’s ministry, to just keep working through the text. That’s just my sense. I’m not in that stage and in a different capacity, but I think what you said is fantastic.
Ligon Duncan: Why do you think the Bible is difficult to understand at times? I mean, some things are pretty clear and obvious, but what makes it hard to understand at times, Ben?
Ben Gladd: Yes, so the Bible, it’s amazing. So it’s simple in that an elementary student can read it and can understand the basic idea of it. On the other hand, it can baffle scholars that are in their 80s and 90s, and that are experts. So you’re going to have, right, so you have both of those operating, sometimes simultaneously in the same text. I think it’s because the Bible was written over a period of roughly 1500 years and over 40 authors, and in different times. You know, when Israel was in captivity or when Israel was at different periods, and then even in the Gospels, and Paul and Revelation, all these different types of literature at different times, different authors, different personalities, not all scripture was written the same way. Sometimes it’s through Baruch, the scribe. Other times it’s, Paul’s in prison or under house arrest, and he’s using a secretary, so all these different mediums in different—in fact, the author of Hebrews talks about this, that God revealed himself, you know, many times and through many different mediums. And so, that can make it difficult, because you’ve got to kind of have a sense about that. And then there’s obviously, it’s written in three languages, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. And so, that’s another layer of complexity that’s introduced into the text, and culture, and so. So all of that said, it can sound like, oh my gosh, well, nobody can read it, nobody can learn it, but you know what? There’s a little doctrine called the perspicuity of scripture. That is, the clarity of scripture. You do not have to have a Ph.D. to read the Bible well. You don’t have to have an M.Div or an M.A. or a B.A. You can just read the Bible and not have any degree. If you know language, any language, and the Bible is available in your language, you can be amazing. You can be amazing. One of the ways, Ligon, that we can avoid making bad mistakes is to look at how scripture talks about itself. So, in Reformed theology, one of the mantras is, “Let scripture interpret scripture.” What’s so fascinating about the Bible is that it talks to itself. It talks to itself, and it talks about itself. So I can go into—this is amazing—I can go into the New Testament and I can see how they’re reading the Old Testament. I can see it. I can watch the connections that they’re making. You know, my opinion—this is debated—but my opinion is that not only can I determine that, but I think that I should imitate that. So I need to read like the Apostle Paul reads the Old Testament. And I would argue, where do you think the Apostles learned how to read the Old Testament like that? They got it from Jesus. They got it from Jesus.
Ligon Duncan: And the Old Testament does the same thing. I was just preaching in Exodus 6 this last Sunday, and Exodus 6 talks to Genesis 17. You can’t understand Exodus 6:2-8 without looking at Genesis 17:1. The passage is talking to itself, you know. There’s inter-Torah dialog going on in that passage.
Ben Gladd: Right. You know, if you could read—this is amazing, this would—if everybody wants homework, I’ll give it to you right here. Welcome to RTS. Welcome to RTS, amen, Step? Read Genesis 1-3, every day, for two months, three months. You will be an amazing theologian, because that’s where this—those are all the major—all the major parts of the story are all embedded in those first three chapters. Then, you want to be even more amazing? Read the Pentateuch. Read Genesis through Deuteronomy, for the next three months. Just read it over and over again. And you are 80 percent of the way there, because the rest of the Old Testament just flows from Genesis 1-3, flows from the Pentateuch. And this is why when you get to Jesus, it’s amazing because you’re seeing him interact with the Pentateuch, interact with the prophets. You’re seeing these little pictures, these little episodes, these patterns of what—so if you know the Old Testament, you can understand what Jesus is doing. If you don’t understand the Old Testament, well, you’re going to have a hard time figuring out what he is doing precisely at moments.
Ligon Duncan: You know, I know how studying and preaching through Leviticus totally transformed my teaching of the Book of Hebrews. I have preached through Hebrews four times, but the first three times I preached through it, I had not preached through Leviticus. And I almost felt like I needed to go back to my previous congregations and give their money back after I worked through Leviticus, because it just totally changed the way I read Hebrews, so point well taken. And by the way, Ben, on your point on just reading and reading and reading, one of the theologians from the early church that Calvin quoted most frequently was John Chrysostom, the great preacher in Constantinople. He would have the Book of Romans read aloud to him once every week. So, you know, there’s a theologian just listening to the book of Romans over and over and over again. So I think, yeah, you’re right, we don’t try hard enough by letting the Bible just speak to us. Just read it, read it, read it. Now, you can have little apps that’ll read it to you. You know, he had to have a guy standing somewhere in the office to read it to him. But you can put it on your iPhone and listen to it be read to you. Point well taken. Go ahead.
Ben Gladd: So, do you got—I bet most people here know the app, YouVersion, you know, the Bible app, YouVersion? So on YouVersion—and I do this all the time, I just did it. So I listen to the Old Testament—I like to just listen to particular books—and I listen to, like the NLV, I was listening to the NLT, and there’s an audio book. The audio is built into the app. You don’t have to buy anything. It’s free. All you have to do—I mean, we can’t get lazier, right? All you got to do is hit the play button. And you have the Bible read to you. You can listen to the entire Pentateuch in just a few hours. Do that. I love listening to the Bible, ’cause things strike me—there’s a chord in my heart that struck differently when I hear it, rather than when I read it. So really, in a best-case scenario, we would be reading the Bible and we would be listening to the Bible. And that’s—for as as the Baptists like to say, that’s full immersion.
Ligon Duncan: Ben, OK, we’re to the lightning round, now. Step has given me a bunch of questions from the audience. So let me start firing into their questions here. Here’s one. How would you respond to people who find it hard to accept biblical theology and view it as an exercise in eisegesis, reading into the text? So, somebody who’s skeptical of biblical theology, and thinks that it’s reading into the text. How would you respond to that?
Ben Gladd: Yeah. So, I’ll just give you some stats. So, there are about 350 Old Testament quotations in the New Testament. There are about 55 just in the book of Matthew alone. So those are just quotations. There are—it’s hard for us to calculate because it depends on how you read it, but at least, you’re probably at between three and eight thousand allusions in the New Testament. In other words—I’ll just put it to you like this. It’s very hard to find a passage that does not refer to the Old Testament. Even—let’s think about this, Ligon—even the word God, when a New Testament author invokes God’s name, well, of course he’s talking about the God of the Old Testament. Of course he has the story of Israel in mind, even by invoking that name, or just that concept. So really, the question is—it’s a very good question in that, how can you discern eisegesis from exegesis? I think that’s what the question is getting at. And I think the answer is, by reading the New Testament so well that you start to watch the patterns. When you read it over and over again and you’re watching how the Bible is, or how the New Testament authors are interacting with the Old, you sort of pick up on patterns.
Ligon Duncan: Yeah.
Ben Gladd: When you come across a text that may apparently break the pattern, you’ve got to ask, “Why?” Maybe I’m misreading the text. Like, you’ve never seen that connection before. That’s what I would say. That’s probably eisegesis. You’re reading in. So you’re just discovering patterns, you’re discovering techniques, and you get so good at that, that when something doesn’t fall in line, I think you can then spot artificial readings.
Ligon Duncan: That’s good. What Greek resources do you recommend, grammars, et cetera? Anything in particular?
Ben Gladd: So yeah, I like—I have it up here, I’ll get it. Sorry for pulling everything out. So I got—this is Mounce’s fourth edition. We use it at RTS. It works well. Miles is over there, his textbooks for Hebrew. They’re great. I like using Accordance. I use Accordance most of the time. Sometimes I use Logos, too. But I use Accordance for the diagramming tool, and I can see structurally how the sentence flows. I really like—I’ll give you these two. So, Broadman and Holman, they published this little—it’s a Greek grammar, commentary, basically. These are very good. This is by my friend Chris Vlachos. This is a fine work right here. And then Baylor, as in, you know, Baylor University, they have their own press and they have their own—I tend to find this one more insightful. This is a little bit more penetrating than the other series, but both of them are great. If a pastor had, just really, both of these series and the text in front of them, that will take you to the right place 99 percent of the time. You will be in good hands.
Ligon Duncan: Ben, can you give us a quick and dirty discourse analysis for dummies? What’s discourse analysis? Give us a brief explanation, and explain why it’s helpful.
Ben Gladd: So, discourse analysis. That means many things to many people. The way that I use it is just another way of saying, the logical flow of the text. Now Ligon, you’ve mentioned that several times. I just tell my students, “Look, I’m trying to understand how the text is logically built.” Whenever we communicate, this is just part of communication. When you text your spouse, when you text your kids, there is logic in that communication. When we speak to each other at any level, there’s always logic that holds those words together. All I’m trying to do with discourse analysis, is unpack the logic of a text, whether it’s in the Old Testament with Hebrew, whether it’s in the New Testament with Greek. I’m just trying to see how the pieces—Ligon, you talked about, how does the passage fit together? If I could—watch this—if I can pull the passage apart and see how it fits together, then I can explain it. If I can’t, if I don’t know how a passage is built, I’m going to do a poor job of explaining it, which is precisely what you and I are trained and paid to do, and that’s our calling. We are called to explain texts, not to make people more confused.
Ligon Duncan: So discourse analysis helps you analyze the arguments of a text and identify the flow of argument, the center of the text’s assertion?
Ben Gladd: The main point, the main point of the text. So, you guys know John Piper, of course you do. So John Piper, up in Bethlehem, they do what’s called arcing. Arcing is almost identical to what I do. I learned it from Greg Beale and Scott Hafemann, and that actually originated all the way back at Fuller Seminary. So guys like Tom Schreiner teach it. He learned it out there, even in his book, his little book on interpreting Paul and epistles. He talks about discourse analysis. He would be like—all of your best commentators, like, if you pick up Doug Moo, you pick up, Doug Moo or Tom Schreiner, you see how they’re trying to trace the flow of the argument. That’s all I’m trying to do, and I’m trying to teach students how to trace the flow, because if you can do that—ask John. We need to have a—it’s time to testify, John. John is one of my best students at doing DA. He told me on many—I don’t mean to put words in his mouth, but I will. He said—John, John, tell me about the riches of the incorruptible DA.
[Name omitted]: It helps, especially when trying to understand the differences between ground—you know, the word “for,” “f-o-r,” can mean ground, but it can also have different uses, conditional clauses, what kind of conditional clause, not just in your syntax, but in how it plays in the argument. But then, it helps you when you’re also trying to explain the text, and you can use terms like, “Hey, here’s the reason by which Paul is making this argument,” or, “Here is—” you know, you don’t have to use “apodosis” and “protasis,” but you can use terms that will help explain, because you understand the argument. And also, when I’m preparing a sermon, one of the first things I do, I get out the original Greek and lay it out, and I do my discourse analysis, and all these observations. Then when I go to my commentaries, then it helps me kind of critique them and make sure I’m understanding them correctly or disagreeing, why disagree or agreeing with them. But then when I read them, I actually find that I’m a lot more picky on my commentaries, because I can do a lot of the work myself on the front end.
Ben Gladd: That’s right. You know, Ligon, I think it really comes back to the calling of RTS. One of the reasons why RTS exists is so that our students can learn to interpret the Bible for themselves. We do not train students here to just read commentaries and write their sermons based upon commentaries. I think commentaries are helpful. I think they can constrain us from false teaching. They really can constrain us. But we should not radically depend on them and be slaves to them. You’re here, we train students here so that they can stand on their own hermeneutical feet, so that they can read the text and stand in the long tradition of the saints and teachers and preachers, and do the work for themselves, because their ministry in their congregations will be amazing. To come back to 1 Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4, Paul is so concerned about these pastors and being faithful ministers, faithful proclaimers of the Gospel and truth. And Paul says that if these pastors are not good pastors, and they aren’t preaching well, then what happens to their congregation? They’re burned up. They don’t pass the test. This is a big deal for us.
Ligon Duncan: Yeah. Ben, somebody has just asked, “Could you repeat the names of the Handbook commentary series, the one from Baylor and one from Broadman Holman?” Could you repeat the names of that series?
Ben Gladd: Yeah. So the Broadman and Holman, it’s a little wordy. It’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. EGGNT is the acronym there. And then the Baylor one is called Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament. Both of those are worth getting. I think they’re both available on Logos. They’re very good.
Ligon Duncan: That’s great. And CL Pearce just put that into the chat for those of you who are wanting to get that. That’s super helpful. Hey, now here’s an interesting question. Is there a difference between an echo, and a quote or allusion in the text?
Ben Gladd: So, that’s a very good question. Richard Hayes has done a lot of work on that. I personally don’t like to make a distinction between allusion and echo just because they can get into issues of conscious and unconscious use of scripture. It’s really harder there. You’re getting into linguistic theory. I will say this—and I have thought more about this idea. Chris Beetham talks a little bit about this, and other scholars, this is fascinating. So, an allusion is like, if I say, “Only the penitent man will pass,” that is from—do you guys know this?—the Indiana Jones movie. Or maybe I say, “May the force be with you,” or stuff like that. So when you have these allusions, when you have allusions embedded in the text, they can actually be more powerful than just quotations. Because allusions, what they do—even when you watch Marvel, my kids and I , we got huge Marvel fans. And it’s so fun to watch these movies, and they have Easter eggs. You have Easter eggs embedded. Pixar does this too. Those have more of an impact on us than just straight up quotations. So what scholars are thinking now, is—so we used to think that allusions were second-class citizens, that they weren’t as powerful as the “big mama” quotations. But that may not be right. These allusions, the way that they move us internally—because think about it, in allusions, sometimes you have to step away from the text, and you’re walking around, all of a sudden, light bulb moment. It hits you. You’re like, “Oh, I think that’s an—” So, do you see what’s—see? It can be very powerful. So, yeah.
Ligon Duncan: OK, Ben, you stressed as we started today that, man, we’re immersed in current events. You know, the culture is in us and around us and we swim in it. And sometimes we think about it a lot more than we think about the Bible. And you rightly emphasize we’ve got to be beavers for the Bible. We’ve got to really know our Bible. So, let’s say we’ve done good work on our discourse analysis, and we understand the passage. Got any advice for us in how we connect the text to current events that we’re experiencing today, once we’ve done all our good hard work? Any advice for us?
Ben Gladd: That is a great question, Ligon. I feel like I change my mind all the time on that. I’ll just give you my 10 second thing, and maybe you can—you’re going to be better here. This is a great question. But what if we asked it this way? Let’s go back to the New Testament. So when New Testament authors, when they’re writing the churches, and then the churches, when they hear that letter or they listen to that gospel being read, we need to ask this question: how are those churches supposed to then take what is written and said, how do they apply it to their current situation two thousand years ago? And then, if I can answer that question, it’s going to be hard, but I think I can kind of get that area. I can then ask that second question and say, “Well, therefore, how can I apply this text to my situation?” Do you see? Typically, pastors just go from, “This is what the text meant 2000 years ago, this is what it means today.” But actually, we bypassed the text and forgot to ask, how is this text applied in these churches in Asia Minor or wherever? Does that make sense? That can really go a long way.
Ligon Duncan: No, that that changed the way, for instance, that I read the book of Revelation. You know, the Book of Revelation was no longer some sort of a theological puzzle. It was a pastoral document meant to encourage oppressed and discouraged Christians who were under the boot of the Roman Empire. And so, John clearly has an application in mind for them. I do, I agree with you. I think that’s the safest way, is to watch how the author has intended it to have a shepherding, pastoral effect in their current context. And by the way, every Christian in every generation will be able to powerfully identify with different aspects, because the people in the Bible are under every kind of circumstance. You know, if you’re living in the latter Old Testament, in the minor prophets, you’re in exile. There’s actually a lot of resonance with Christians today, with people that are living in exile. Because we feel like we’re in cultural exile in our own country and culture right now, you know? So yeah, I think that’s a great—that’s, you know, you could say a lot of things, but boy, that’s a good place to start. And Step, I see that I’ve already read over the one hour mark, so I’m going to hand it back to you for any instruction. Ben, thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Ben Gladd: Thank you guys for hanging on. I appreciate it. You know, this is a hard thing to do, just to sit here and listen. So I appreciate everybody’s time and energy. You guys are great. Thanks for all the questions. Sorry I didn’t get to all of them.
Ligon Duncan: Step?
Step Morgan: Thank you all so much for the time that you’ve given. And folks, if you have enjoyed this, there are similar resources like this on the RTS website, rts.edu/resources. All of our previous online discussion forums, as well as chapel sermons, special lecture recordings. And in addition to the website, we also have an app you can use. And so we’re happy to make these types of resources available to you. We’ve got more coming. Next month on May 19th, Dr. Charlie Wingard will be our guest on the online discussion forum. He and Dr. Duncan will be discussing renewal and ministry. Now, that may sound like a topic that’s exclusively for pastors, and it will focus largely on pastors, but I believe that laypeople are going to find it to be an encouragement as well. And our primary giveaway will be a book by Dr. Wingard called Help for the New Pastor, which again, is primarily focused on pastors. But all of us are called to do works of ministry. Not all of us are called to ordained office, but all of us are called to serve one another, bear one another’s burdens. And this book is full of practical help on how we can do that. And so, I think you will find it encouraging even if you’re not a minister. You will find it particularly helpful if you are a minister. So we’ll be giving that away. That’s with Dr. Charlie Wingard, May 19. Don’t forget, if you’ve not done so, put your name—don’t need your address—just put your name in the chat box there so that you’ll be entered into the drawing for this month’s books from Dr. Gladd, and watch your inbox for an email from me with the sign-up form for next month’s event. Thank you all so much for joining the event today. Hope you have a wonderful afternoon!