November 2016

Understanding the Bible

Three steps to understanding the Bible

It is one thing for us to claim that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and quite another to assert that we are interpreting it correctly.

‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth’. 2 Timothy 2:15-16 (HCSB)

I have written on this subject before but it is so important that it warrants repeating.

I am currently helping a colleague develop a two-day workshop on Bible interpretation for church leaders who have English as a second or third language. Most of them have a low level of formal education, and a further challenge is that many of them have only been exposed to topical or allegorical preaching.

Those who do not interpret the Bible allegorically, have been taught to take everything at face value and very literally.
Interpreting the biblePerhaps I should give an example of these two types of ‘interpretation’: The story that Jesus told of the good Samaritan has often been interpreted allegorically. Some  teachers have claimed that the two coins given to the innkeeper to provide for the injured man’s board and lodging stand for baptism and holy communion. The idea being that these are the two ordained church provisions for the ‘sinner’. But there is no end to what the two coins could be taken to represent; Old and New Testaments, Apostles and Prophets, and so on. The problem is, of course, that the original context of the passage plays little role in this form of interpretation, and nor does the first intended meaning.

A couple of years ago I came across a rather extreme yet nevertheless real-life example of literalistic interpretation. One of our preaching team members was ministering at a church in a nearby informal settlement. During the service, a young woman started to manifest signs of demonic interference, so… the church leaders immediately tied her up with ropes! The visiting preacher demanded that they release her and asked why they had tied her up. They answered that the Bible said they should because “Jesus said in Matthew 12:29 that they should ‘bind the strongman’.” Once again, the context and first intended meaning of the scripture in question had been ignored.

So, what are the most fundamental processes for interpreting the Bible? For me, there are just three – Context, Christocentricity, and Exhaustive Reference.

Understanding the bible imageIn the majority of cases, the context of a text yields its fundamental meaning, in other words;

  • Look at the verse’s position within the larger portion of scripture in which the text is set.
  • Observe the literary type or style of the passage. Is it poetic, or prophetic, a parable, or a historical account? For instance, we get into all sorts of trouble when we read the book of Revelation as a chronological history.
  • Finally, note the cultural, geographic, and historic setting.

Determining the context of a passage helps us answer the key question, ‘what is the first intended meaning of this portion of scripture?’ A helpful way of getting to an answer to this question is to consider what the first listeners or readers would have understood as the meaning.

Where the meaning of a passage is still not clear, even when considered within its various contexts, then we need to ask a further question; ‘what light does the life and teaching of the Lord Jesus shed on my understanding of this passage?’ Did Jesus teach this? Did Jesus do what the text appears to teach? Is what Jesus presented as the nature, character, and values of the Triune God consistent with what this text appears to be saying? Jesus Christ is the full manifestation of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9) and we can be sure that His life and teachings constitute the primary key to understanding the Bible. One of the most dramatic examples of the need for this Christocentric principle is the sad story of Ananias and Sapphira who appear to have been struck down by God for not fully disclosing their donation to the church (Acts 5:1-11). The question that must be asked of this difficult passage is, ‘would Jesus have killed two of His disciples for this or any reason?’ The answer is a resounding “No!” There must be another way of understanding this historical account, and if we cannot settle on it then we should simply say “I don’t know what happened here, but I am not convinced that God killed them”.

The first procedure in interpreting a biblical text is to determine its context, the second is to apply the Christocentric Principle, and the third is to see if other parts of the Bible have a bearing on the text in question; I call this Exhaustive Reference.
We are so blessed in our day to have access to fine commentaries, comprehensive concordances, Topical Bibles, Study Bibles, and so on. Many of these resources are available for free on the internet and can be accessed even through a small smartphone.

My recommendation is to stay away from allegorical interpretations… but if you do venture into this tricky area, please always ensure that what you arrive at is consistent with the text’s first intended meaning. In other words, ensure that what you claim the text teaches lines up with what the first readers would have understood the meaning to be.

There are parts of the Bible which are hard to understand, and that is why God has given the church it’s teachers. However, if you follow the three simple processes which I have briefly outlined, then most of the scriptures will be open to you. At very least, you will be able to identify the real problems texts and know to call on an experienced and trained teacher who can help you.





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Creation post

Old Earth, Young Earth – Who cares?

How old is the earth

I find it hard to believe that Evangelical Christians are divided, and passionately so, over whether planet Earth is 6,000 years or 4 billion years old.

Indeed, Jon Greene writes that it is ‘one of the most polarizing and divisive issues within the Christian community’. In the past, local churches and even entire denominations, have divided over issues such as baby baptism, speaking in tongues, and even end-time scenarios. But to divide over the age of the Earth seems even more pathetic!

In 2012 Joy! Magazine was buzzing with articles and letters to the editor about this issue, and so they asked me to write a ‘calming’ article which I titled ‘The great creation debate’. Now it seems that things are hotting up once more, and so I feel the need to make some observations… again.

To get up to date I watched a number of YouTube debates  between people like Kent Hovind and Ken Ham on the Young Earth side and Hugh Ross, and Hank Hanegraaff on the Old Earth side. All the Christians I have heard, or read, who are involved in the controversy believe in the inspiration of the Bible and, strangely enough, they all seem to agree that Darwinian Evolution (change through unguided naturalistic processes), as it is commonly understood, is neither biblical nor logical. Yet Kent Hovind called Hugh Ross a heretic, to his face, claimed that the God he worshiped was not Hugh’s god and that the graciously tolerant Dr. Ross was a cult leader. What on earth (pun intended) is the cause of such insecurity and animosity?

Trying to make sense of the debates on this issue can be confusing and frustrating.
DarwinOn the one side, the arguments often devolve into “God’s Word says so, so that’s the way it is” statements, and on the other side the many references to quasars, the speed of light, quantum mechanics, and so on can be a little overwhelming. Debaters tend to argue at length (Pun intended once more) whether the meaning of the word translated as ‘day’ in Genesis Chapter One can indicate a long period instead of a 24-hours. Ken Ham accuses Old Earth Creationists of arguing from the basis of science and then trying to make the biblical account conform to the so-called evidence. Dr. Ross, however, claims that he is equally committed to the inspiration and authority of the Bible, but that he sees no conflict between a reasoned interpretation of the scriptures and the scientific evidence. But is the real driving issue the matter of WHEN God created? Is it really? I don’t think so.

Ken Ham states that his concern is not so much the age of the earth as it is the authority of scripture, and I think that here he puts his finger on the underlying issue. The 20th century scientific age ushered in aggressive atheistic criticism of biblical authority, and even within the church liberal scholars undercut the belief that the Bible is divinely inspired. Charles Darwin’s theories of natural evolution added to the controversy and so several ‘fundamentalist’ Christians dedicated themselves to the task of defending the inspiration and authority of scripture against science in the face of humanistic scorn and derision.

Darwinian evolution, although taught in most schools as ‘fact’, has now been largely abandoned by most informed scientists, and so the battle front has shifted to the matter of the age of the cosmos in general and the earth in particular. Young Earthers contend that a ‘plain reading’ of the English translation of Genesis One necessitates belief that God created the world in six consecutive 24-hour days some 6,000 years ago. Old Earthers, on the other hand, claim that a literal reading of the Genesis creation account, in its original Hebrew, leads to the understanding that the world was created by God over very long periods of time. So, both sides believe that God created all things, and both sides believe that the Bible is inspired and authoritative, yet they differ vehemently on how to interpret the inspired scriptures. Dear, Oh dear, it’s the same problem underlying the old baby christening versus believers baptism controversy, or the lady elders dispute, or the homosexuality issue.

To my way of thinking the crucial matter of belief concerns whether God created everything, and not when or how He created.
magicianThe how and when of it only becomes important to me if it impacts on core Christian doctrines such as sin, spiritual death, salvation, and so on. Young Earthers do debate these issues as well, but not well, and nothing I have read or heard has even come close to convincing me that the biblical record is not entirely trustworthy when it sets out these truths… and everything else for that matter. And I don’t need to hold a Young Earth position to believe these doctrines.

Where I get more than irritated is when Young Earthers try to explain away the geological evidence of extreme age by claiming that God created the earth with an appearance of age. God is not a trickster and the fatuous contention that if He created Adam with the appearance of age then why not the whole earth just saddens me. The biblical account does not state HOW God created Adam other than the simple declaration that He ‘formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ (Genesis 2:7). I also tend to despair when ostensibly highly educated men and women claim that the Great Flood accounts for all the problems concerning dating  geological strata, the fossil evidence, and so on. And all for the sake of proving that the Bible is authoritative? No, actually, it is to demonstrate that THEIR INTERPRETATION of the Bible is authoritative!

OK, so by now you have realised that if I had to take sides I would position myself in the Old Earth Creationist corner of the ring. It is getting a bit crowded there what with men like Norman Geisler, Lee Strobel, J.I Packer, Wayne Grudem, Gleason Archer, and Francis Schaeffer taking up so much space.

Just for clarity here are the core beliefs of us Old Agers (taken from J.W.Green’s article):

  • God miraculously created the universe from nothing, created life from non-life, and progressively intervened in history to supernaturally create new species of life.
  • The age of the earth has no bearing on the creation of life. An ancient earth does not equate with Darwinian evolution.
  • Darwinian evolution is unbiblical, biologically untenable, and not supported by the fossil record. Old-earth creationists adamantly reject the Darwinian concept of common descent—the hypothesis that all plant, animal, and human life ultimately evolved from primitive single-celled organisms through unguided mutations and naturalistic processes.
  • God miraculously created Adam and Eve, humanity’s historical parents, who were new distinct creatures from whom humanity’s sin originated.
  • Earth’s geologic features formed over long ages through both gradual and catastrophic processes.
  • Genesis 1 is a literal account of God’s creation. After God created the heavens and the earth, He then created life over six successive “days,” which in the original Hebrew may be literally interpreted as long epochs of time.

Well, if any Young Earth proponents read this article I am sure to get some interesting comments; probably more than when I write on something really important like the centrality of Jesus! Sigh! I titled this article ‘Old Earth, Young Earth – Who cares?’, but it is pretty obvious that there are a whole lot of people who do care… a lot. So, for the sake of fairness, here is a Young Earth Creationist site that has been recommended to me.

We should care about ‘truth’, but I believe that the focus of our passionate concern should be things such as the centrality of Jesus, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and dependence on the Holy Spirit for life and ministry. However, I don’t think that we should be focusing on defending one way of interpreting scripture against equally God-honouring understandings.




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The Great Creation Debate

Over the last several years there has been quite a lot of Christian media coverage given to the evolution versus divine creation debate. The subject is not a new one, but of late the Young Earth Creationist camp has been making its views known fairly clearly and dogmatically and this has sparked responses from Christians who hold other views on creation.

I am not a trained scientist and so I am not competent to comment significantly on the scientific aspects of the debate. I also do not claim to be a theological ‘expert’ on the subject. Despite both of these limitations I do feel able to make some cautionary comments on the subject. Job 38:4 records God’s challenge when He asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” I believe this applies equally to both scientists and theologians. Human beings were not present when God created the heavens and the earth. Scientists were not present at the creation to observe and analyse. They develop their hypotheses from the geological record and logical assumptions. Theologians were not there either and we develop our doctrines from a logical understanding of the scriptures. So an essential requirement in the evolution/creation debate, on both sides, is humility.

A second preliminary consideration concerns who the parties are in the debate. On the one hand Christians are engaged with atheist or agnostic sceptics like Richard Dawkins, but it seems to me that the more heated debate is occurring between Christians. Evangelicals are taking issue with Liberals, but bible-believing Christians are also fighting with other bible-believing evangelicals. I say ‘fighting’ because some of the debate is beyond robust.

creation picThe main ‘camps’ in the Christian debate over evolution and creation are the Young Earth Creationism camp, The Progressive Creationism camp, the Intelligent Design camp, and the Theistic Evolution camp. Bruce Waltke has written a paper on ‘Barriers to accepting the possibility of creation by means of an evolutionary process’ which you can read here and as an appendix he attaches the findings of four surveys administered to Pentecostal seminary faculties between 2004 and 2009. The last of these surveys revealed that only 23% of the respondents were Young Earth Creationists and 19% were evolutionary creationists. So we need to note that neither of these positions enjoys majority support even among Pentecostals.

I recently read comments by a scientist who described himself as a Christian Theistic Evolutionist claiming that a prominent Young Earth Creationist was implying that those Christians who do not agree with his views do not therefore believe in a real Adam or an actual fall. He then points out that as a Theistic Evolutionist he does believe in a real Adam and Eve, a Garden of Eden, a real Fall, and in the authority of the Bible. So we all need to be careful how we classify and characterise other sincere Christians.

I believe that, instead of fighting each other over the ‘how’ of creation, Christian scholars with a particular interest in this area of study should engage each other in a non-confrontational way on some of the underlying issues in the debate. For instance, we need to discuss what the various views say or imply concerning the character of God, the trustworthiness of the scriptures, and key doctrines such as sin and salvation. As an example, the idea that God created the earth some 6,000 years ago with the appearance of great age says something about God’s integrity and transparency. Disbelief in an actual Adam and original sin seriously affects the evangelical understanding of salvation in and through the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), the Lord Jesus Christ, and so on. These, and other serious doctrinal and faith issues, should be resolved through considerate and careful debate. I for one would certainly appreciate more of this kind of exchange and less polemic dogmatism in Christian magazines and journals.

My appeal to both scholars and editors is to air the underlying faith issues in the debate rather than the endless ideas on how God might have created, or when He created.

As a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ I am far more interested in, and impacted by, what the creation issue has to say about God’s character, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and the key doctrines of the evangelical faith.
So my appeal is that we make the subject of creation a great debate rather than a great ‘barney’.

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Gods Glory

Revealing God’s Glory

What do you understand by the word ‘glory’? praise, honour, or distinction? Great beauty and splendour? A state of great gratification or exaltation?

These are dictionary definitions and if we applied them to God then we would most likely define His glory in a way similar to John Piper’s ‘the infinite beauty and greatness of his manifold perfections’.  But perhaps a more relevant question for us to ask is ‘how is God’s glory best displayed?’

From my interactions with Christians over many years it seems to me that many, if not most, people understand God’s glory as something that manifests in displays of His power, irresistible will, or supreme authority. Of course, God, being God, is the all-powerful, supreme authority over all creation and nothing can resist Him when He decides to act in a particular way. But is this how His glory is best revealed?

At the local church, I attend we are currently working our way through the Gospel of John and this last Sunday it was my privilege to preach on Chapter 17. On the surface, the subject matter appears to be Jesus’ prayer to The Father concerning their relationship, the 11 apostles, and all future believers. However, in His prayer, He uses the word ‘glory’ or ‘glorify’ 8 times and this gives us insight into the underlying substance of His prayer.

He speaks of His glory, The Father’s glory, and His disciples’ glory. So what exactly is this ‘glory’ that that Father and Son display and that we, as His disciples, are expected to display?
The first biblical reference to glory that I can find which concerns the personal attributes of God is in Exodus 33. Moses approaches God for help in leading the Israelites and the Lord responds with the words, “My presence will go with you” , or Glory of Godas the New Living Translation puts it “I will personally go with you”. To which Moses comes back with one of the most presumptuous requests in the Bible; “Now show me your glory”. The Hebrew word he uses here is transliterated as ‘kaw-bode’ which, in this context, is best translated as ‘substance’. Is Moses really saying, “Okay, so you say that you will go with me, but what is your essence? What defines you?” In other words, “can I trust your motive and character?’ It seems like this is what Moses is implying because God responds in an unexpected way; He says “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you. ”And then He amplifies the idea of goodness with the words mercy and compassion. Then God explains to Moses that no human being can look upon the radiance of His countenance and survive and so He demonstrates His goodness, mercy, and compassion by shielding Moses in order to protect him.

So, is God’s glory manifest in His total control of all things, or His immutable decrees and commands, or in the exercise of His irresistible power?

No, God’s glory is best displayed in His goodness, compassion, and mercy.
This should not surprise us because the Old Testament is replete with references to these divine qualities. And when we get to God’s self-revelation in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, the nature of God’s glory becomes obvious to all. John describes the coming of God the Son into the world with the words, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’  Hebrews 1:3 states that ‘the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’. When we consider the life of Jesus and ponder on His words then we can have no doubt that He is the personification of divine goodness, mercy, and compassion. Oh, and in Jesus, we can look upon the face of God and live!

The most powerful demonstration of the glory of God was the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. On the cross of Calvary God demonstrated the extreme extent of His goodness and through the death of His Son provided life with himself for all who will believe.

Now, in our day, God continues to manifest His glory through… us, Jesus-followers. With Christ in us and us in Christ, we live out the glorious fruit of His Spirit as we manifest His mercy and compassion through the Gifts of the Spirit  which He provides as demonstrations of His glory.

‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’. 2 Corinthians 3:18


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Revival Feature Image

Revival Revisited


I believe that only genuine Holy Spirit, Bible-based, and Jesus-centred REVIVAL can rescue the church and nations from the darkness that has fallen upon us.

On Sunday morning and evening I preached at the church of a dear friend; my text was Isaiah 61 and the subject matter was ‘revival’. In the morning I described the Kwasizabantu Zululand revival of 1966 as an example of what can happen in times of revival, and in the evening I detailed the wonderful revival of 1949 that took place in the Scottish Hebrides. You can listen to these sermons by clicking on the audio player links provided at the bottom of this post.

For those of you who prefer a quick read to a long listen, let me outline the ground I covered.
What is Revival?Revival Jump
First allow me to say what revival is NOT:
  • It’s not a special rally as in “We are holding a revival Friday through Sunday”
  • It’s not a period of growth and health in a local church.
  • It’s not a hype and drama signs and wonders promotion – a sort of show-and-tell what God is doing in OUR church.

No, Revival is so much MORE than any of these things.

  • It is a sudden and sovereign move of God.
  • It is a visitation from God: “When God stepped down”
  • It is an acute and sustained church-wide, and often country-wide sense of the presence of God.
  • It is when a community is saturated with Holy Spirit.
  • It is a dramatic return to Acts 2 Christianity.
  • It is a Reformation, Restoration, and Renewal of the CHURCH that then extends to society at large.
  • It is when Jesus manifests himself gloriously in and through His church.

Brian Edwards describes revival in his book ‘Revival – a people saturated with God’: A true Holy Spirit revival is a remarkable increase in the spiritual life of a large number of God’s people, accompanied by an awesome awareness of the presence of God, intensity of prayer and praise, a deep conviction of sin with a passionate longing for holiness and unusual effectiveness in evangelism, leading to the salvation of many unbelievers.

Revival is remarkable, large, effective and, above all, it something that God brings about. It is quite impossible for man to create a revival.
Though men may prepare and pray for it, revival is the work of the sovereign God, not primarily for the benefit of his people, but for his own honour and glory.

Why do we need revival?

After considering the nature of revival it should be obvious but allow me to spell it out.

  • In Isaiah’s day Israel and the nations were in great spiritual darkness Ref. ISA 60:2 ‘See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples’ Just so today – look around at ecology, economy, politics, the state of the church!
  • ISA 59:14-15(a) ‘So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.’ Just so today!

But it’s not just the world around us that is in darkness for the church too has generally lost its way.

The church has lost its focus on Jesus!

  • Jesus as only Saviour
  • Jesus as effective Lord and head of our churches.
  • Jesus as our model for life and ministry.
  • Jesus as our interpreter of scripture.

The only thing that can bring the church back to the centrality of Jesus is REVIVAL!

And the only thing that can bring light to our dark world is a revived church!

The Revival I believe is at the door of the church is not ‘just’ like the great Protestant reformation, or the many restoration movements of the past, or the Azusa type outpourings but ALL THREE – Reformation, Restoration, and Revival.

But more than anything else IT WILL BE A JESUS REVIVAL!
So what can we expect at a personal level when revival comes?
  • It will be emotionally volatile
  • It will be messy and spontaneous
  • It will not be within our ability to control
  • It will call for humility and transparency as sin issues are revealed
  • It will demand our time and energy
  • It will be all consuming
  • BUT it will be glorious
  • And it will be the only hope for church and world

The questions I believe the Holy Spirit is urgently presenting to all of us are; “Do you want revival?”

And “Are you prepared to call on me in prayer until I come win revival power?”

And “Are you prepared to pay the price that revival will demand of you?”

Over the last few years I have written much on Revival and here are the links to my other articles:

Article Links:

And finally, for those of you who prefer watching to reading or listening, here is a three-part video series on Revival:

Video Links:

Video: Revival and the Church – Episode 1
Video: Revival and the Church – Episode 2
Video: Revival in South Africa – Episode 3

Audio Links:

Morning Service: Revival 1 (click ‘play’ button to listen)


Evening Service: Revival 2 (click ‘play’ button to listen)


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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.