Key Passages

Placed in their proper context, key scriptures can then be properly understood within the purpose of the passage as a whole. These key scriptures should be memorized and remembered, especially as they may stand at the crux of a certain issue. In this way, gospel scholars become aware of crucial passages that become principal building blocks in our knowledge about certain issues.

Gospel scholars think in terms of specific issues and the classic passages in scriptures where answers to those issues are found. We only know certain things because of certain scriptures. For example, the only place in the New Testament that mentions baptism for the dead is 1 Corinthians 15:29; the only place in the Bible to describe the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane is Luke 22:43-44; and so on. Such passages become critically important for gospel scholarship, for the only things we know scripturally about certain subjects must be extractable from their classic locations or else it cannot be found in the scriptures at all. Thus it is important that the Greek word hyper, meaning "for" or "on behalf of," appears in the key passage of Corinthians 15:29; and it is significant that the Greek word agon, translated as "agony" in the key passage of Luke 22:44, does not mean so much "an agony" but "a contest, struggle, or fight, facing an opponent."

Many tools of critical analysis and literary insight help readers to identify and extract meaning properly from these key scriptures. Here again, scholarship requires that these tools be properly used, carefully explained, and cautiously employed. Otherwise the tools can cause havoc, perhaps doing more harm than good. For example, just because some passages in the scriptures are chiastic, this does not mean that all are; and although many letters written in antiquity were intentionally written in someone else's style and then attributed to that other person, this alone does not mean that many of the New Testament letters were similarly created and then attributed to Peter or Paul. 

Books within the Scriptures

Gospel scholarship also looks beyond the building blocks of texts to try to understand the big picture they are painting. The ancient prophets have organized their blocks of texts into books, presumably for specific purposes. They have consciously chosen not to leave us a systematic outline of theology or a set of instructions by the number. Instead, they have left us to put the pieces of an elaborate puzzle together, seeing how things fit together and how they relate to the overall purposes of the plan of salvation.

In my mind, the plan of salvation, especially as presented in the temple, offers as much as anything else, the picture on the box of the jigsaw puzzle of the scriptures. By looking at the picture on the box, we begin to understand how the individual pieces fit into place. It is the plan of happiness that makes the best sense of everything from the book of Leviticus, or the Sermon on the Mount, to the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the letters of Paul.

Of course the puzzle is not only a three-dimensional puzzle, but also one that is moving in the dimensions of time and spirituality. The picture on the box still is only an abstraction, but like a road map it is essential in arriving at the destination of gospel scholarship.

The Worlds of the Scriptures

Ultimately, the purpose of reading the scriptures for a gospel scholar is to be able to visualize the worlds of the prophets who produced the scriptures, to recognize their personalities, to see their objectives, to relate to the audience that they were addressing, to recognize the techniques they used in achieving their objectives, to appreciate how they themselves used other scriptures, and to pick up on the subtleties of their allusions and their borrowings of phrases from their own scriptural traditions.