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Reading the Bible Supernaturally
Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture
By John Piper
Good News PublishersCopyright © 2017 Desiring God Foundation
All rights reserved.
Reading the Bible toward God's Ultimate Goal
"Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
Our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God's infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation. This implies:
1. that the infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe;
2. that the supremely authentic and intense worship of God's worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word;
3. that we should always read his word in order to see this supreme worth and beauty;
4. that we should aim in all our seeing to savor his excellence above all things;
5. that we should aim to be transformed by this seeing and savoring into the likeness of his beauty,
6. so that more and more people would be drawn into the worshiping family of God until the bride of Christ — across all centuries and cultures — is complete in number and beauty.
Our proposal elevates the worth and beauty of God to the highest place possible. The ultimate aim of all Bible reading, I argue, is that God's infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in everlasting, white-hot worship. There is nothing higher than the worth and beauty of God. That is what the first implication expresses: the infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe.
So the first thing we need to do is clarify from Scripture the meaning and then the supremacy of the glory of God. That may seem strange since I didn't even use the word glory in my proposal or its implications. Nevertheless, the reality is there, and it is the most important one. I used other words for it, namely, the pairs "worth and beauty" and "value and excellence."
Finding Words for the Glory of God
I recall one day when I was in college, Clyde Kilby, my favorite English teacher, said something to this effect: "One of the greatest tragedies of the fall is that we get tired of familiar glories." That simple statement sank deep into my consciousness. It made me very sad, because I saw how superficial and unresponsive I was to so many wonders around me. It filled me with a longing not to be like that. I did not want to arrive in the Alps, be filled with wonder for a couple days, but by the end of the week be watching television in the chalet. I lamented my ability to actually yawn during Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."
Which means I loathe the thought of speaking of the glory of God in a way that is so familiar or stale or cliched that it wakens no sense of wonder. Of course, I realize that only God can waken true wonder at the glory of God. Kilby was right. The fall has left us deeply dysfunctional emotionally. We are excited by trivia and bored by grandeur. We strain out a gnat to admire and swallow a camel of glory unnoticed. Nevertheless, I want to try to use language that helps us see what the glory of God is, if I can. Hence the effort to find other words besides glory — like worth and beauty and value and excellence.
What Is the Glory of God?
My understanding of the glory of God has been deeply shaped by its relationship to the holiness of God. I have in mind the way this relationship comes to expression in Isaiah 6:1-3:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
Why did the prophet not say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his holiness!"? My suggestion is that the glory of God is the holiness of God put on display. When God's holiness shines into creation, it is called "God's glory."
The Holiness of God
This pushes the question about the meaning of glory back into the holiness of God. What is that? The root meaning of the Old Testament word for holy (Hebrew chadosh) is the idea of being separate — different from and separated from something. When applied to God, that means God's holiness is his separateness from all that is not God. This, then, means he is in a class by himself. And like all good things that are rare, the more rare it is, the more valuable it is. Therefore, God is supremely valuable.
We can see this meaning of God's holiness in the following two illustrations. First, when Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it the way God had instructed him, God said, "Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them" (Num. 20:12; see 27:14). In other words, when Moses distrusted God, he did not treat him as being in a magnificent class of power and trustworthiness by himself. He treated him as just another common person to be distrusted as unwilling or unable to do what he said. But God is not common. He is not like others. He is holy.
Second, in Isaiah 8:12-13, God says to Isaiah, "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread." In other words, don't lump God into the same group as all your other fears and dreads. Treat him as an utterly unique fear and dread. Set him apart from all the ordinary fears and dreads.
So here is how I conceive of the holiness of God. God is so separate, so above, so distinct from all else — all that is not God — that he is self-existent and self-sustaining and self-sufficient. Thus he is infinitely complete and full and perfect in himself. He is separate from, and transcendent above, all that is not God. So he was not brought into existence by anything outside himself. He is, therefore, self-existent. He depends on nothing for his ongoing existence and so is self-sustaining. And, therefore, he is utterly self-sufficient. Complete, full, perfect.
The Bible makes plain that this self-existing, self-sustaining, self-sufficient God exists as three divine persons in one divine essence. Thus the Father knows and loves the Son perfectly, completely, infinitely; and the Son knows and loves the Father perfectly, completely, infinitely. And the Holy Spirit is the perfect, complete, infinite expression of the Father's and the Son's love of each other. This perfect Trinitarian fellowship is essential to the fullness and perfection of God. There is no lack, no deficiency, no need — only perfect fullness and completeness and self-sufficiency.
The Moral Dimension of God's Holiness
This is the holiness of God: his transcendent completeness and self-sufficiency. But there is a missing dimension in that description of holiness. This is the dimension I mentioned above that flows from his absolute rareness — being one of a kind in his perfection. This implies that he is of infinite value. One of the reasons it is crucial to focus on this aspect of God's holiness is that it helps us understand why the Bible treats God's holiness not just as transcendent being, but also as transcendent purity or goodness.
In other words, introducing God's infinite worth helps us conceive of God's holiness in moral categories. We take this so for granted that we don't ponder how this can be. How can God be thought of as infinitely good or right or pure, when there are no standards outside of God by which to measure him? Before creation, all there was was God. So, when there is only God, how do we define good? How can holiness mean more than transcendence? How can there be holiness with a moral dimension?
My answer is this: the moral dimension of God's holiness is that every affection, every thought, and every act of God is consistent with the infinite worth of his transcendent fullness. In other words, holiness is not only the infinite worth of God's transcendent fullness but also the harmony that exists between the worth of that transcendent fullness and all God's affections, thoughts, and acts. This harmony of God's acts with his infinite worth we may call "the beauty of God's holiness." Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) uses a quaint phrase to express what I am trying to say. God's holiness, he says, is that he "works with a becomingness to his own excellency." The old word becomingness means "suitableness, agreeableness, fittingness, harmony." That's how an act of God is good or pure or perfect. It is agreeable to — perfectly expressive of, in harmony with — the worth of God.
The Glory of God as the Beauty of God's Holiness
This brings us back to the relationship between God's holiness and his glory. We experience the beauty of God's holiness as the glory of God. As God's holiness becomes expressive — creating and penetrating the world — we call it the "glory of God." His glory is the streaming out of his holiness for the world to see and admire. Gerhard Kittle's lengthy article on glory in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament concludes that God's glory "denotes divine and heavenly radiance ... that which makes God impressive to man, the force of His self-manifestation."
We must constantly remind ourselves that we are speaking of a glory that is ultimately beyond created comparison. "The glory of God" is the way you designate the infinite beauty and the infinite greatness of the person who was there before anything else was there. In other words, it is the worth and beauty and greatness that exists without origin, without comparison, without analogy, without being judged or assessed by any external criterion. It is the all-defining, absolute original of worth and greatness and beauty. All created worth and greatness and beauty come from it, and point to it, but do not comprehensively or adequately reproduce it.
"The glory of God" is a way of saying that there is objective, absolute reality to which all human admiration, wonder, awe, veneration, praise, honor, acclaim, and worship are pointing. We were made to find our deepest pleasure in admiring what is infinitely admirable, that is, the glory of God. The glory of God is not the psychological projection of human longing onto reality. On the contrary, inconsolable human longing is the evidence that we were made for God's glory.
The Supreme Importance of God's Glory
So when the Bible puts the glory of God on display as the goal of all that God does, this is another way of saying that God's infinite worth and beauty — or his ultimate value and excellence — is the supreme reality in the universe. And that is, in fact, what we find in the Bible. From beginning to end, God tells us and shows us that his ultimate goal in all he does is to communicate his glory for the world to see and for his people to admire and enjoy and praise.
We can show this by pointing to six stages of redemption, beginning in eternity past and moving through creation and history to eternity future. At each of these stages, God says explicitly that his purpose is that his glory be known and praised — that is, gladly admired, expressively enjoyed, heartily treasured.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace. (Eph. 1:3-6)
Redemption begins in eternity past in the heart of God. He predestines a people "for adoption through Jesus Christ." Paul tells us the deepest root and the highest goal of this predestination. He says it is rooted in "the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:5). And he says its ultimate goal is "the praise of the glory of his grace" (Eph. 1:6).
How quickly do we pass over that last statement! Whose purpose is being expressed in the words "he predestined us for adoption ... to the praise of the glory of his grace"? It is God's purpose. And what is that purpose? That we praise. That we praise what? His glory. The peculiar glory of his grace. So from all eternity, God's plan was to have a family adopted "through Jesus Christ" who would praise his glory to all eternity. There are few things more important to know than that. Few things will shape more of your life than that — if it penetrates to the center of your soul.
The plan from eternity past was praise for eternity future. The one who planned and the one to be praised are the same: God. And the focus of the praise is his own peculiar glory — which shines most brightly as the glory of grace in the person and work of Jesus.
I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. (Isa. 43:6-7)
What does "for my glory" mean? It doesn't mean that the creation will bring God's glory into being. He has glory already. Creation is overflow. It means that creation will show, or display, or communicate God's glory. That is why Israel was created. And that is why all of us were created. This is the point of Genesis 1:27-28:
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth."
If you are very great and you fill the earth with seven billion images of yourself, what is your aim? Your aim is to be known and admired for your greatness. But, of course, since sin entered the world, human beings prefer to live for their own glory, not God's. That is why God planned a history of redemption — so that those who put their hope in Christ "might be to the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:12). We were created for God's glory in our first birth. And through Christ we are born again — made new as new creations — for his glory. Human existence is for the glory of God. That is why he created the world (Ps. 19:1) and the human race (Gen. 1:27-28), and the new race in Christ (Eph. 1:12).
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The incarnation of the eternal Son of God — the Word who "was with God and was God" (John 1:1) — put God's glory on display as never before. "We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." This was why God sent him, and why he came.
Paul makes this point in Philippians 2:6-11. He describes the incarnation like this:
Though he was in the form of God ... he was born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he ... was obedient to the point of death. ... Therefore God has highly exalted him ... so that at the name of Jesus ... every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If you follow the line of thought carefully, what you see is that God exalted Christ because he took on human form and was obedient to death. He was an obedient human; therefore God exalted him. And the aim of that incarnation and consequent exaltation was God's glorification. "Therefore God exalted him ... for the glory of God the Father." Thus God's aim in the incarnation of the Son was the display of the peculiar glory of the Father in the incarnation and work of Christ.
"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." (John 12:27-28)
Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. (John 17:1)
The hour Jesus is speaking of is the hour of his death. He had come to die. "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15). And the reason that needs to be done is that all humans are under the wrath of God. There is no hope for any of us without a propitiation — that is, a sacrifice that removes the wrath of God. Jesus gives himself as that sacrifice. The result is that "whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36). There are only two options. Believe and escape God's wrath. Or disobey the command to believe and remain under the wrath. Jesus said that he came to provide this escape for the glory of the Father. "For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name" (John 12:27).
Excerpted from Reading the Bible Supernaturally by John Piper. Copyright © 2017 Desiring God Foundation. Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible
Introduction to Part 1: The Proposal 37
1 Reading the Bible toward God's Ultimate Goal 41
"Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
2 Reading the Bible toward White-Hot Worship 55
"Because you are lukewarm, … I will spit you out of my mouth."
3 Reading to See Supreme Worth and Beauty, Part 1 65
"When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ."
4 Reading to See Supreme Worth and Beauty, Part 2 75
"When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed."
5 Reading to See Supreme Worth and Beauty, Part 3 87
"My eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
6 Reading to Savor His Excellence, Part 1 99
"You have tasted that the Lord is good."
7 Reading to Savor His Excellence, Part 2 117
"These things I speak … that they may have my joy."
8 Reading to Be Transformed, Part 1 135
"We all …, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed from one degree of glory to another."
9 Reading to Be Transformed, Part 2 151
"Their abundance of joy … overflowed in … generosity."
10 Reading toward the Consummation 163
"Ransomed … for God from every tribe."
Part 2 The Supernatural Act of Reading the Bible
Introduction to Part 2 179
11 The Necessity and Possibility of Reading the Bible Supernaturally 183
"He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures."
12 Why the Pharisees Couldn't Read 197
"Have you never read … the Scriptures."
13 New Testament Pictures of Bible Reading as a Supernatural Act 211
"Receive with meekness the implanted word."
Part 3 The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally
Introduction to Part 3 225
14 God Forbid That We Despise His Natural Gifts 231
"Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything."
15 Humility Throws Open a Thousand Windows 243
"He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way."
16 The Indispensable Place of Prayer in Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Wakening Our Desire for the Word 251
"Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain."
17 The Indispensable Place of Prayer in Reading the Bible Supernaturally: To See, Savor, and Love with a United Heart 263
"Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law."
18 Reading the Bible by Faith in the Promises of God 277
"I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
19 Reading the Bible by Faith in His Promise to Instruct Us 285
"Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way."
20 The Ordinary Aim of Reading: The Meaning of Meaning 295
"We are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand."
21 The Ordinary Aim of Reading: Five Reasons to Define Meaning as What the Author Intended to Communicate 303
"I wrote to you in my letter … not at all meaning …"
22 The Ordinary Aim of Reading: God's Intention through Man's Intention 313
"The things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord."
23 The Power of Patience and Aggressive Attentiveness 325
"If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures …"
24 Active Reading Means Asking Questions 339
"Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding."
25 Asking Questions about Words and Phrases 351
"The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple."
26 Propositions: Collections of Nuggets or Links in a Chain? 365
"He spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading …"
27 Querying the Text about Paradoxes, Pleasures, and a Transformed Life 375
"The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever."
Appendix: Arcing 395
A Word of Thanks 412
General Index 414
Scripture Index 423
Desiring God Note on Resources 432
What People are Saying About This
“Not many books should be recommended for both beginning Bible readers and mature Bible readers, but this is one of them. Utilizing brief and pointed expositions of often overlooked Bible verses, John Piper helpfully explains why we should be reading the Bible, the work of the Spirit in our Bible reading, and the fundamental skills and habits of faithful Bible reading. I cannot imagine a serious Christian who would not benefit from a thoughtful reading of this book.”
D. A. Carson, Theologian-at-Large, The Gospel Coalition
“I have been reading the Bible daily for thirty-five years. Reading the Bible Supernaturally challenged my motives, effort, and enjoyment. I doubt I will read the Scriptures the same way again. I look forward to deeper and more wonderful times alone in the Word in the days ahead. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to take Bible study seriously.”
Francis Chan, New York Times bestselling author, Crazy Love and Forgotten God
“Stunning. Profound. Powerful. Reading the Bible Supernaturally will move you to captivated and awestruck worship at the Divine’s plan for his Word as an instrument to magnify his unrivaled glory. Seeing and savoring the God of the Scriptures is an extraordinarily high calling every believer must pursue, and no man can move us to that place quite like John Piper. This book, accessibly written and weighty in content, is so much more than a manual or study guide to the Scriptures. Rather, it’s an invitation to the experience God intended we have with his Wordan experience that is Spirit dependent, faith building, and worship inciting.”
Louie Giglio, Pastor, Passion City Church, Atlanta; Founder, Passion Conferences; author, The Comeback
“The seemingly mundane topic of reading the Bible ushers us into a world of supernatural grace for sinners. With constant reference to the Holy Scriptures, John Piper shows us how to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and to read by the light of Christ. Yet Piper commends no passive mysticism, but studious labor over the best of books; he is thorough, practical, and engaging throughout. Take up and read!”
Joel R. Beeke, President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary; author, Reformed Preaching; coauthor, Reformed Systematic Theology
“Reading the Bible Supernaturally reminds us why we cannot rest until every person on earth has access to the Bible in their own tongue. Tribes, languages, peoples, and nations are perishing without access to, or opportunity to know, this glorious God through this glorious book. John Piper stokes the urgency of our calling as the church of Jesus Christ to deepen our appreciation for the Word that God uses toward a missional endhis global and eternal glory.”
Michael Oh, Global Executive Director, The Lausanne Movement
“Reading the Bible Supernaturally is a thorough and compelling wake-up call to lethargic, passive, resistant, mechanical Bible readers (which is all of us at one point or another) to become hungry, eager, inquisitive, aggressively observant miners for the treasure in the textfully expectant that God will bring us from death to life, from foolishness to wisdom, from damning despair to glorious hope through his Word.”
Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher; author, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story
“If you disconnect the Bible from God’s glory, you lose your grip on both. What terrible things we hear people say about each of them, taken in isolation. John Piper puts them together, and finds himself preaching an astonishingly high doctrine of Scripture, right alongside an intimately experiential doctrine of God’s glory. Reading the Bible Supernaturally is not just one of the helpful activities that make up the Christian life. Kept in proper context, seen in full perspective, and received in wide-awake recognition of the living voice of the triune God, reading the Bible is the central act of Christian existence. This book, a kind of extended Christian hedonist gloss on Psalm 119, is an invitation to the miracle of Bible reading.”
Fred Sanders, Professor of Theology, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University; author, The Deep Things of God
“No book has inspired me to approach Scripture with as much anticipation as Reading the Bible Supernaturally. Read this book at your own risk, for it will ignite your devotional life. You will find yourself actively hunting for treasure in the Bible, looking carefully at each passage, praying and trusting that God himself will open your eyes to see and savor his glory. Don’t let the length of this book fool you; it is clear, accessible, and inspiring. In fact, it is the most practical, passionate, and motivating book on reading the Bible I have ever read. Read it. Apply it. Test it. It will transform your approach to God’s Word.”
Vaneetha Rendall Risner, author, The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering