Jason DeRouchie (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis and an elder of Bethlehem Baptist Church. His resource website is www.jasonderouchie.com.
T4L: Dr. DeRouchie, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with Theology for Life Magazine. We’re looking forward to finding out more about you and your work! Please tell us a bit about yourself, including the current ministries you are involved in!
Dr. DeRouchie: I am a churchman, scholar, husband, and father. I am committed to helping others exalt Jesus and treasure the hope of the gospel from the whole of Christian Scripture—the Old and New Testaments. I have six children, three of whom my wife and I adopted from Ethiopia. I am a former associate pastor and presently serve as an elder of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. I have taught in a number of Christian colleges and seminaries and joyfully serve now as Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary.
T4L: Ah, a man interested in the Old Testament! Why is the Old Testament important for Christians to read?
Dr. DeRouchie: The Old Testament is three-fourths of the Christian Scripture, and it is the only “Bible” Jesus had. It was books like Genesis and Deuteronomy, Isaiah and Psalms that guided His life and ministry as the Jewish Messiah. And it was these Scriptures that He identified as God’s Word (Mark 7:13; 12:36), considered authoritative (Matthew 4:3–4, 7, 10; 23:1–3), and called people to know and believe in order to guard against doctrinal error and Hell (Mark 12:24; Luke 16:28–31; 24:25;).
Jesus was convinced that what God declared in these sacred writings “cannot be broken” (John 10:35). He was certain that they bore witness about Him (Luke 24:27, 46; John 5:39, 46), that they would be completely fulfilled (Matthew 5:17–18; Luke 24:44), and that they called for repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in His name to all nations (Luke 24:47). Paul too believed the Old Testament was written “for our instruction” (Romans 15:4; cf. 4:22–23; 1st Corinthians 10:11), and he believed those sacred writings are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ” (2nd Timothy 3:15).
I love the Old Testament because of the way it portrays God’s character and actions, and serves as a witness to the majesty of our Messiah. The Old Testament is seventy-five percent of God’s special revelation to us, and we need to interpret it rightly because there is no higher need for mankind than to see and celebrate the Sovereign, Savior, and Satisfier disclosed in its pages. For a more developed discussion of this issue, see my “Ten Reasons That the Old Testament Is Important for Christians” in pages 6–11 of How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament.
T4L: So true. The Church today has sadly drifted from preaching the whole doctrine of the Word of God. With that in mind, what are some of the principles that guide your approach to biblical interpretation?
Dr. DeRouchie: I will offer four:
- Scripture is God’s Word (2nd Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). The only way to arrive at what the biblical authors intended is to believe (as they did) that they were reading and writing God’s very Word (1st Corinthians 2:13).
- Truth in Scripture is knowable. Peter said, “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand,” but then he added, “that the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction” (2nd Peter 3:16).
- The task of biblical interpretation demands both work and God-dependence. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1st Corinthians 2:14). As such, Paul told Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2nd Timothy 2:7). Rigorous God-dependent thinking is necessary for Bible study.
- Biblical interpretation requires that we respond appropriately. In Paul’s words, Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2nd Timothy 3:16). As James said, we must “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves” (James 1:22).
T4L: How do we observe in what manner the biblical passage is communicated?
Dr. DeRouchie: To answer how a passage is communicated demands that we observe carefully what is in the passage. Texts convey meaning; they do not produce it. Following God’s leading, the biblical authors intentionally wrote the words they did with specific sense and purpose, and they constructed their texts with thought-flow and meaning.
We must identify the start and end of units, properly understand the clause and text grammar, track an author’s thought-flow through tracing connecting words like conjunctions and prepositions, and then seek to capture the message by synthesizing the whole in a main idea statement and message-driven outline. Along with tracing the argument, we also need to understand the specific words, necessitating that we engage in word and concept studies, all in order to ensure that we rightly understand what the author intended. We can rake and get rocks, or dig down to get diamonds. Observing carefully demands that we read for depth and not just distance. For more on this, see chapters 5–7 in How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament.
T4L: Quite insightful! How does a growing understanding of biblical theology help Christians to study how the whole Bible progresses, integrates, and culminates in Christ?
Dr. DeRouchie: The Bible is not just made up of books; it’s a book with its own frame, form, focus, and fulcrum. I capture these elements in my summary of Scripture’s message: God reigns, saves, and satisfies through covenant for His glory in Christ.
- “God reigns, saves, and satisfies” relates to God’s kingdom and is the frame of Scripture––i.e., what it’s all about.
- “Through covenant” expresses the form of the Bible, which relays a progression of covenants seen most clearly in the distinction of our Old and New Testaments/covenants.
- “For God’s glory” is the ultimate end of all things and captures Scripture’s focus.
- “Christ” is the fulcrum around whom all Scripture moves, to whom all Scripture points, and from whom all fulfillment come.
Far too many Bible readers think of the Bible like a wall of beautiful fabrics, each book having its own color and flavor but standing independent of the others. In contrast, I think the Lord wants us to perceive His Word more like a massive quilt, with each “square” (i.e., book) having its own story and placed together into an intentional pattern that proclaims an even greater message.
Jesus said that the Old Testament authors not only wrote about Him (Luke 24:27; John 1:45; 5:39, 46; Acts 10:43) and envisioned Him from a distance (Hebrews 11:13; 1st Peter 1:10–11), but that in Him the foundation gives rise to fulfillment––the new creational light dawning and moving reality from an age of kingdom anticipation into an age of kingdom realization––of hope, healing, and help (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44; Acts 13:32–33). He also said that a proper understanding of the Old Testament will lead to magnifying His role as Messiah and the mission He would spark (Luke 24:45–47; cf. Acts 10:43; 26:22–23).
Only when we know the Bible’s storyline (carried along by the various covenants and captured in the narrative books) and read it in light of the accompanying commentary (proclaimed in the prophets, poetry, and letters) are we able to grasp the place of Jesus in God’s purposes, and this is why we must engage in the discipline of biblical theology. For more on this issue, see chapter 10 in How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament.
T4L: And how should Christians begin to discern how a biblical passage theologically coheres with the whole Bible and then to assess essential doctrines, especially as they have a direction to the gospel?
Dr. DeRouchie: In the process of biblical interpretation, we will come to better understand and celebrate our passage when we engage in the discipline of systematic theology. At this stage in the interpretive process, we pause and consider what the passage we are focusing on contributes to our understanding of the key doctrines of the Christian Church?
- Theology proper (the doctrine of God)
- Bibliology (the doctrine of Scripture)
- Angelology (the doctrine of angels and demons)
- Anthropology (the doctrine of humanity)
- Hamartiology (the doctrine of sin)
- Christology (the doctrine of Christ)
- Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation)
- Pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit)
- Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church)
- Eschatology (the doctrine of the end time or last things)
No single passage of Scripture will address all of these topics, but many will address more than one. For example, if you were studying Moses’ intercessory prayer in Deuteronomy 9:25–29, and wanted to know more about the Bible’s teaching on prayer and what your passage contributes to it, you would want to look, not only for other instances of pray or prayer, but also for occurrences of terms such as confess, intercede, petition, and supplication and even words like prostrate.
You should also investigate other intercessory prayers, such as Moses’ parallel prayer in Exodus 32:11–13, his prayer in Numbers 14:13–19, and those in Daniel 9, Ezra 9, and Nehemiah 9. Once you have identified relevant texts, you then need to classify them––reading the texts, summarizing their points, and organizing them into groups based on distinct patterns or features.
The final step is to synthesize in one or more points what the Bible teaches on your topic and then to identify how your passage contributes to this understanding. If your passage were not present in Scripture, would some crucial knowledge about your topic be missing? For more on this issue, see chapter 11 in How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament.
T4L: So, we’ve learned how to dissect and interpret Scripture, but how does one apply the biblical text to oneself, the church, and the world?
Dr. DeRouchie: There are two main steps here. First, you need to establish the original revealed application (audience, external life issues, information vs. instruction, present vs. future). Second, you must determine the theological significance of the passage. This entails asking, “What does the passage tell us about God and His ways––His character, desires, values, concerns, standards, and purposes?” Then, we also ask, “How does Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament impact our application?”
For example, does the passage speak directly to old covenant structures that get transformed in the new? How has the progress of salvation history influenced how we hear and may apply the text? How does the passage anticipate Jesus’ life and work, the church age, or the consummation? Does the text express time-bound or culturally bound elements that can no longer relate to us on this side of the cross? Does the New Testament quote or allude to the particular text in a way that clarifies its lasting value for Christians?
These are the types of questions Christians need to find answers for in order to faithfully apply the initial three-fourths of our Bible. I discuss these issues and develop them specifically in relation to the Christian’s relationship to Old Testament laws and promises in chapter 12 of How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament.
T4L: Excellent explanations and instruction! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview, Dr. DeRouchie.