Q&A: Theme Resolution in Applying Scripture

Theme Resolution in Applying Scripture

What do you mean by theme resolution, and how can it help our preaching?

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Answer

Jesus says, in John 5, that if you believed in Moses, you will believe in me because he wrote about me. So, clearly in also his conversation with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24, outlining that all of Scripture was written to point to him and for Christ to ultimately fulfill all these expectations. And so, what we find is, when we look at the issue of theme resolution, were trying to pull the thread of that gospel piece of a particular theme, an inter-canonical theme that you find being developed in the Canon, within Scripture, which is progressive revelation; within the Canon, that is, that certain themes are developed within the Bible.

And so, you take a theme such as law and grace. You look at certain places in the Old Testament, in the historical narratives where you see that there's a reference to God being a holy and just God who's also a wrathful God. But on the other hand, he's a God who is full of lovingkindness and steadfast love and mercy. And so, there is, as one Old Testament commentator has said, there is this apparent unreconcilable tension: Which is it? Is he the God of justice and wrath and holiness, or is he a God of steadfast love and mercy? And what you find with this theme of law and grace is something that kind of works its way through the entire Old Testament, where there is this so-called unreconcilable tension until you get the resolution in the person of Jesus Christ.

So, just to give you one example, in Exodus 34, it says here in verse 6, "The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children." So, the question is, which one is it? Is he a God who visits the iniquity of the sins of humanity, or is he a God who is full of steadfast love and kindness and mercy and who is slow to anger?

And so, what ends up happening is that this reference, steadfast love and faithfulness, which is actually a very, very important verbal … not a verbal but a word combination in the Bible; it gets developed. So, we see in Psalm 85, for example, where the psalmist says that steadfast love and faithfulness will meet and righteousness and peace will kiss. And the term there, steadfast love and faithfulness, is really, steadfast love is a reference to lovingkindness, and faithfulness is literally a reference to the truthful character of God, showing his integrity, which is referring to his holiness. And so, what we find in the Greek Septuagint which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Masoretic text what we find is, in places like in Exodus 34 where it uses this combination of steadfast love and faithfulness, it translates it "grace and truth". And what we find here again, that theme of this tension between law and grace gets developed in the Canon, and ultimately, find their resolution in Christ, because John says in John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who has come full of grace and truth."

Answer by Dr. Stephen Um

Dr. Stephen Um is Senior Minister of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston, MA. He also teaches New Testament studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary