Matthew Harmon

Matthew Harmon

Since 2006 Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He is also a member of Christ’s Covenant Church, where he serves on the Preaching Team, leads a small group, and teaches regularly in their Life Education classes.

Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology, which is a forum for all matters pertaining to biblical theology (and some entirely unrelated).

Follow him on Twitter: @DocHarmon

TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday?

We are all familiar with the abbreviation TGIF – Thank God It’s Friday. It has become such a part of our culture that there is even a restaurant named T.G.I.Fridays! We live in a culture that often lives for the weekend, or the next vacation. According to a recent study, only about 45% of American workers are either satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs. A different survey suggests that the number may be as low as 33%. Only 20% of Americans feel very passionate about their jobs. Perhaps most telling was the fact that 33% of those surveyed believed they had reached a dead end in their career.

In light of that reality, a good number of us do not look forward to Monday and the start of the work week. But what would have to happen in our hearts to make us actually look forward to going to work no matter what kind of job situation we are in? To get us to the point where we might actually find ourselves saying TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday?

Only something as powerful as the gospel can transform our work from drudgery to delight. Curious? At this link you can listen to a recent sermon I gave from Ephesians 6:5-9. It was part of our church’s series entitled “The Gospel Changes Everything,” in which we walked through the entire book of Ephesians.

Dr. Matthew S. Harmon is a Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology.

Idolatry in Christian Ministry

In my continuing study of Philippians, I have been working my way through Markus Bockmuehl’s The Epistle to the Philippians in the Black’s New Testament Commentary. In speaking about some of his Christian brothers in Rome who were preaching Christ more boldly because of Paul’s imprisonment, Paul writes in Philippians 1:17:

“the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” (NASB)

Sometimes one finds a one-liner that captures the essence of what the biblical text says. I found that statement in Bockmuehl’s commentary when he writes:

“The robe of ‘Christian ministry’ cloaks many a shameless idolatry” (p. 80).

In this concise one-liner Bockmuehl identifies one of the most acceptable forms of idolatry in evangelicalism: ministry. In the name of serving the Lord far too many pastors, missionaries, professors, and lay people are, in fact, furthering their own agendas for personal fulfillment and success. In a word, that is idolatry. It is placing ministry ahead of God himself, and it is so dangerous because on the outside it looks good.

Here in the context of Philippians 1:12-26 Paul provides the necessary corrective: to have as our highest aim the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So the question for each of us involved in ministry is this: do you care who gets the credit? Are you fine with others being recognized for their faithful gospel ministry while your own proclaiming of Christ remains under appreciated or recognized? What happens in your heart when someone else receives credit for something YOU did? Can you be content with rejoicing in the progress of the gospel rather than nursing resentment that you did not receive the recognition?

May we take seriously the admonition with which John closes his first letter:

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary.

What Does It Mean to be a Citizen of God’s Kingdom?

One thing you realize very quickly when you travel internationally is the value and importance of a passport. As you enter and leave a country you need to be able to show that passport, or you aren’t going anywhere. That passport is tangible proof of your citizenship, the place you call home. Indeed, in the past it was even common to refer to the country you were from as your homeland.

When we talk about citizenship, we are at some level also talking about our identity. Our citizenship plays a role in shaping who we are, what we value, what is important to us, and how we live. Since as believers we are citizens of God’s kingdom, that reality should shape the way that we we live as sojourners and exiles in this world.

What does it mean to live as a citizen of God’s kingdom? What is it that governs our lives as citizens of God’s kingdom?

This past Sunday I had the privilege of answering these questions as I preached on Philippians 1:27–30. You can find the audio here, and read even more about it in my Philippians commentary.

Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary.

What is Biblical Theology?

Such a question at first might seem obvious—theology derived from, or based on, the Bible. But unfortunately it’s not that simple, because the term Biblical Theology has come to take on a specialized meaning. Perhaps the best way to explain what is meant by biblical theology is to define it along with other “types” of theology:

Systematic Theology—the attempt to organize the teaching of the Bible under various headings such as theology proper (what the Bible teaches about God and his character), anthropology (what the Bible teaches about human beings), soteriology (what the Bible teaches about salvation), Christology (what the Bible teaches about Christ), etc. Examples of this approach would include: The Institutes by John Calvin; Systematic Theology (3 vols.) by Charles Hodge; Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. In the past this was sometimes also referred to as Dogmatic Theology.

Historical Theology—the attempt to trace the development of specific doctrines (e.g., the Trinity) throughout the history of the church. Attention is paid to heretical views that forced the church to sharpen and refine her formulation of doctrine. An example of this approach would be Historical Theology (2 vols.) by William Cunningham.

Pastoral Theology—the attempt to relate Christian doctrine to specific life situations in the church (e.g., sickness, suffering, interaction with the culture). Attention is paid to how Christian doctrine is to be lived out within the church and the culture.

Biblical Theology—the attempt “to explore the unity of the Bible, delving into the contents of the books, showing the links between them, and pointing up the ongoing flow of the revelatory and redemptive process that reached its climax in Jesus Christ” (J.I. Packer, “Foreword” in The Unfolding Mystery by Edmund Clowney, p. 8). Attention is paid to the “storyline” of Scripture and prominent themes across the Bible usually with an attempt to relate them to gospel and/or Christ.

While I certainly believe all of these approaches are important, it is my conviction that biblical theology provides the basis for systematic, historical, and pastoral theology. So, on this blog the focus will be on biblical theology, but given the interlocking nature of biblical theology with the other disciplines, we will often delve into these other areas as well.

Since 2006 Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology, which is a forum for all matters pertaining to biblical theology (and some entirely unrelated).

5 Foundations for Unity in the NT

One of the perennial issues when discussing NT theology is the tension between the diversity of the individual documents and the claim that they contain a unified message. When reading through the NT, it does not take long to realize, for example, that Luke sounds different than John, and Paul different than both of them.

So what basis is there for seeing unity in the midst of such diversity? I suggest the following five foundations, offered in approximate order of significance in my mind.

  1. The various NT authors explicitly or implicitly work from the same basic kerygma. A comparison of the Gospels with the speeches in Acts as well as the teaching in the epistles reveals a basic sequence of events and actions pertaining to Christ that unify their message and establish parameters for true in contrast to false doctrine. Especially helpful in this regard is the work of C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Development.
  2. The various NT authors all wrote in the context of the mission of Jesus and the extension of that mission through the church. Each of the NT documents arose in the context of missionary expansion of the church. The Gospels testify to the mission of Jesus, Acts connects the mission of the church to the mission of Jesus, the Epistles address issues arising in the advance of mission, and Revelation describes the consummation of Jesus’ mission in a new heaven and new earth. Particularly noteworthy on this point is the work of David Wenham, “Unity and Diversity in the NT,” in G.E. Ladd, A Theology of the NT, 712-713.
  3. The various NT authors all claim continuity with and fulfillment of the OT hope. Although done in a variety of ways (promise/fulfillment, typology, salvation-history), all of the NT authors see the person and work of Jesus as the realization of what the OT promised. Note here should be made of C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-structure of NT Theology. The OT supplies the conceptual framework for their understanding of Jesus and significance of his actions.
  4. The divine inspiration of the various NT authors produces a demonstrable unity of thought. I have placed this one fourth for the simple reason that I want to show that arguing for unity in the NT does not exclusively hinge on accepting the inspiration of the NT. Of course, as one who firmly believes in the inspiration of both the OT and NT, it makes sense that there would be unity in the various documents if He was in fact responsible for their production. In one sense then we could argue that the diversity of the NT documents is a product of the individual human authors and their peculiar modes of thought/expression, while their unity is the result of the one Spirit inspiring those different authors to produce exactly what God wants said exactly how he wants it said.
  5. The recognition by the church of these NT documents as inspired and authoritative led them to organize them into the canon. The very fact that the church recognized some documents as authoritative and others as not demonstrates a conviction that there is in fact a core to the apostolic message. While not denying that this was a process not without dispute, the church’s recognition of these documents indicates a perceived unity among the 27 documents that should not be dismissed lightly.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list; no doubt others can think of other reasons for seeing unity in the 27 diverse NT documents. As to the order, I have chosen to prioritize the first three in order to stress that claiming unity in the NT does not rest solely on one’s belief in divine inspiration and the acceptance of the canon.

Why Teach the Storyline of Scripture?

In anticipation of a one-week biblical theology course that I am teaching with Jim Hamilton at Northland International University in January, we were asked why it is important to study the storyline of Scripture. You can see our responses below:

Jim and I are excited to be working together in this class, and would love for you to join us. The course applies to the degrees for Master of Arts, Master of Ministry, and Doctor of Ministry. The great thing is that Northland will scholarship the cost of tuition for any first time student. You can find more information on the course here.

Are You a "Saint"?

NOTEThis is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming commentary on Philippians.

As evangelicals we often talk about ourselves as “sinners saved by grace.” While this statement is true, the Bible also describes believers as saints. According to its consistent use in the New Testament, the term translated saints (hagios) refers to all believers, not a special class of individuals who are super-spiritual as in the Roman Catholic tradition. The term simply means “holy ones” or those “set apart” for God’s special purposes,1 so in that sense every Christian is a “saint.”

This language is drawn from the Old Testament (Exodus 31:13; Leviticus 11:45, Leviticus 19:2; Daniel 7:18, Daniel 7:27), and particularly Exodus 19:5-6, where God refers to Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Believers’ status as “holy ones” stems from the fact that God himself is holy (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:13-16). So believers demonstrate that they are set apart for God’s special purposes by living lives that reflect (albeit imperfectly) the moral purity of God himself. So while the focus of the term is on the believer’s status/identity because of their faith in Christ, those who truly have that status will reflect it in their lives (Hebrews 12:14).

[1] See BDAG 2.d.β. Fee suggests translating hagios as “God’s holy people” which he explains as “believers in Christ as constituting God’s people, set apart by the Holy Spirit for God’s purposes and distinguished as those who manifest his character in the world” (Philippians, 65).

The Gospel According to Zechariah

Hard to believe that this past Sunday we reached Week 10 in my class on the Gospel according to the Minor Prophets. We looked at Zechariah, who in addition to his own prophetic book is mentioned in Ezra as well (Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14). Those references confirm what we learn in Zechariah itself.

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. His first prophetic revelation came in the eighth month of the second year of the reign of Darius, or late October / early November in 520 B.C. (right in the middle of Haggai’s four-month ministry). But his ministry continued on through December 7, 518 B.C. As with Haggai, a significant focus of his ministry was the encouragement of the people to finish the reconstruction of the temple, a project completed in 516 B.C.

According to one estimate, Zechariah is quoted/alluded to/echoed some 67 times, with most coming in Revelation and the Gospels. This should not be surprising, given that the key themes in Zechariah are the temple, a Davidic king, and the restoration of Jerusalem. All of these themes are picked up in the New Testament and focused on the person of Christ and his work.

I would summarize the theological big idea as this: God’s people already participate in the restored Jerusalem through repentance and faith in Jesus as they await the consummation of God’s kingdom. Zechariah’s promise of God establishing his kingdom centered on a restored Jerusalem has already been inaugurated through the death and resurrection of Jesus. As a result Zechariah’s call for repentance on the part of those who want to share in this kingdom is just as relevant, and perhaps even more so, for us today, because we have seen how that promise has been inaugurated in Christ. Thus the call for repentance from our sin is at the same time a call for faith in Yahweh’s anointed king, Jesus Christ, who not only announced the kingdom but inaugurated it. All who repent from their sin and believe in Jesus already participate in the restored Jerusalem, which is in the heavens awaiting the consummation of the new heavens and earth.

So then how should we respond to the message of Zechariah. First, we should rejoice that God has sent the long-promised Davidic king Jesus Christ to inaugurate the kingdom. Our experience of the Spirit is evidence that the kingdom has begun, and we are participants in it. So when Yahweh calls Zion to rejoice, he is speaking directly to us. Second, we should grow in our repentance from our sin and faith in Christ. The way we show that we prize God’s kingdom and prove that we are already experiencing it is a life of repentance and a manifestation of the fruit of His Spirit in us. Repentance and faith are not one-time events that begin the Christian life; they are also way in which we continually experience the kingdom. Third, we should long for the day when Christ will return and consummate the kingdom. If we truly prize the establishment of God’s kingdom above all else, we will long to see it realized in all its fullness in the new heavens and the new earth. Can you fathom that day when every last stain and remnant of sin will be done away? When the curse that hangs over this present earth is removed and all creation perfectly reflects the radiance of her maker and redeemer? So as we go into worship this morning, let us rejoice in Jesus our King, repent from our sin, and long for the consummation of God’s kingdom.

Want to hear more? You can check out the audio and the handout below:

Week 10 – Zechariah

Week 10 – Zechariah (Handout)

The Gospel According to Haggai

This past Sunday we reached Week 9 in my class on the Gospel according to the Minor Prophets. We looked at Haggai, who in addition to his own prophetic book is mentioned several times in Ezra (Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14). Those references confirm what we learn in Haggai itself.

The prophecies recorded in Haggai span a four month period stretching from August 29, 520 BC, to December 18, 520 BC. When the remnant returned from exile in 539/538, they had begun work on rebuilding the temple (Ezra 3). But in the face of opposition they had abandoned the project in 536. So by the time that Haggai prophesied, the project had been dormant for about 16 years. Haggai (along with Zechariah) called God’s people to turn from their own selfish pursuits and resume rebuilding the temple.

From this short prophetic book of Haggai, I would summarize the theological big idea as this: Yahweh will renew His presence among His people and re-establish His reign over His people by sending Jesus Christ as His Messianic King. God reassures Haggai that the latter glory of the temple will surpass its former glory (Haggai 2:9). That promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is the true temple (John 2:18-22). Because we as believers are united to Christ by faith, we are God’s temple, both corporately (Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:4-9) and individually (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). In the New Heavens and Earth there will be no temple, because the entirety of creation at that point will be God’s dwelling place (Revelation 21:22). Haggai ends with a word of reassurance to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah. God refers to him as signet ring on his finger. As a descendant of David it is through him that the Messiah will ultimately come (Matthew 1:12).

Want to hear more? You can check out the audio and the handout below:

Week 9 – Haggai (Part 1) (AUDIO: N.B. Because of problems with the recording, only the first 40 minutes or so are available; sorry!)

Week 9 – Haggai (Handout)

The Gospel According to Nahum

This past Sunday was week 6 in my class on the Gospel according to the Minor Prophets. We worked our way through Nahum, one of the least-known Minor Prophets. Little is known about Nahum of Elkosh; scholars are even unsure where Elkosh was! His name means “comfort/compassion,” which highlights the central message of his prophecy: to comfort Judah with the news of Assyria’s impending destruction. The book was written sometime between the destruction of Thebes in 664 BC (mentioned in Nahum 3:8 as something that has already happened) and the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC (announced in advance by Nahum).

There are several key biblical-theological themes in Nahum: God’s jealous love for his people, God’s wrath towards his enemies, and God’s power and sovereignty of God are among the most prominent.

How can we as God’s people today benefit from Nahum? What is it that God has to say to us today through this Minor Prophet?

I believe the starting point is determining the theological big idea, which I would summarize as follows: God will judge the wicked and restore His people to freedom through His ultimate Warrior-King, Jesus Christ.

Some people think of God as meek grandfather or perhaps even a Santa Claus like figure who simply winks at sin and gives people what they want. To such people Nahum reminds us that God is a jealous God who will pour out his just wrath on his enemies. But God’s people must never think that they are somehow better than those who stand under God’s wrath, because we only avoid that wrath by the mercy of God. And our experience of mercy required God pouring out the wrath that we deserve for our sin onto his Son, Jesus Christ. God commissions us to call all people to flee the wrath to come and seek refuge in Christ. For there is coming a day when Christ will return and execute the righteous wrath and judgment of God on all his enemies (Revelation 19:11-21).

Want to hear more? You can check out the audio and the handout below:

Week 6 – Nahum (AUDIO)

Week 6 – Nahum (Handout)

J. R. R. Tolkien on Good Preaching

In a letter to his son Christopher, J. R. R. Tolkien attempts to explain why from his perspective so many sermons are so bad:

The answer to the mystery is prob[ably] not simple; but part of it is that ‘rhetoric’ (of which preaching is a dept.) is an art, which requires (a) some native talent and (b) learning and practice. The instrument used is v[ery] much more complex than a piano, yet most performers are in the position of a man who sits down to a piano and expects to move his audience without any knowledge of the notes at all. The art can be learned (granted some modicum of aptitude) and can then be effective, in a way, when wholly unconnected with sincerity, sanctity, etc.  But preaching is complicated by the fact that we expect in it not only a performance, but truth and sincerity, and also at least no word, tone, or note that suggests the possession of vices (such as hypocrisy, vanity) or defects (such as folly, ignorance) in the preacher.

Good sermons require some art, some virtue, some knowledge. Real sermons require some special grace which does not transcend art but arrives at it by instinct or ‘inspiration’; indeed the Holy Spirit seems sometimes to speak through a human mouth providing art, virtue, and insight he does not himself possess: but the occasions are rare. In other times I don’t think an educated person is required to suppress the critical faculty, but it should be kept in order by a constant endeavour to apply the truth (if any), even in cliché form, to oneself exclusively! A difficult exercise… (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 75)

A difficult exercise indeed! No wonder the apostle Paul wrote “who is sufficient for these things ” (2 Cor 2:16). Yet he also wrote “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21).

Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary.

God’s Good Gift of Sleep

Psalm 127 is a well-known passage of Scripture. The first half (1-2) emphasizes the necessity of God superintending our work if it is not to be in vain, while the second half (3-6) extols the blessing that children are, picturing them as arrows in a man’s quiver. But tucked away at the end of verse two is a little appreciated line:

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep.

What Solomon indicates here is that apart from the LORD’s blessing of our labor, it is vain (cp. Eccl 1:1-18). But this last line also recognizes the good gift that sleep is to his people. When we rest our heads on the pillow at night, we are in effect implicitly trusting both the sovereignty and goodness of God. We are trusting his sovereignty because sleep is the cessation of our labor. It is us recognizing that whatever remains undone, God alone is sovereign over it. We are trusting his goodness in surrendering to the rest that our bodies need to enable us to function. It is us recognizing that we are not God.

If you’re anything like me, it is easy for my mind to run wild at the end of the day as I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep. Often my mind turns to the things that did not get done, or what must get done for the next day. This can easily turn into sinful anxiety (cf. Matt 6:25-34). At the root of our anxiety is often the idol of control. Deep down we believe that we either have or must have control. And if we push that even further, it is at the root rebellion against the One who truly is Sovereign.

So tonight as you lie in bed, waiting for sleep to overtake you, and your mind turns to the things you did not get done, rest in the goodness and sovereignty of God. And then embrace sleep as God’s good gift.

Dr. Matthew S. Harmon is a Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology.