The Bolton Conference

The Bolton Conference has just come and gone. I was thinking about it and some of the material that was covered this year. But first I should say something about the conference itself before I say anything else.

The Bolton Conference came about as a project of the New England Reformed Fellowship. NERF as it is called, is a fraternity of Pastors that meet together once a month to minister to each other. These ministers are sympathetic to the Reformed faith in one of its several historic expressions. Usually, one man is invited to present a paper on some topic of relevance to the men who gather.

The Bolton Conference was designed to minister once a year to the Reformed Christian community by inviting a couple of speakers to do so at a two-day conference. The date chosen for the annual conference has historically been on the last weekend of October in commemoration of the Reformation. This was the date when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle, setting off a firestorm of theological debate which culminated in the Protestant Reformation.

The name “Bolton Conference” comes from the town in Massachusetts by that same name. It met in a local Congregational church in Bolton for several years before moving to Newton, then to Whittensville Mass. where it has been for the last 15 years.

The conference began sometime in the mid 1980,s though I did not begin attending until 1990. Since that time I have only missed one conference. There have been some great speakers over the years at the conference, with many very relevant topics. Often, the theme of the conference seems to parallel the things that are on my own mind at the moment concerning one Biblical topic or another.

This year Dr. Greg Beale and Dr. Ralph Davis were the speakers. The theme centered on various methods of interpreting Scripture. Dr. Davis focused on literary patterns in the Old Testament. Though he did not use the term, some of what Dr. Davis was describing seemed to me a method of interpretation that is called Chiasm. This is a means of literary emphasis that can be seen throughout the Bible in different places. A chiasm is a literary structure that states the same thing twice, perhaps in inverse fashion. Tucked between the two phrases will be what the writer intended to emphasize. Anyway, the term was never mentioned but the jist of it was introduced in the substance of his first message.

Dr. Beale on the other hand spoke of interpretive method in the New Testament. His area of scholarship seems to be focued on finding quotes and allusions to the Old Testament in the New. Dr. Beale focused in two of his messages on the question of a literal or figurative interpretation of the Book of Revelation, a book in which he has produced an in depth commentary. Revelation is a book full of Old Testament allusion making it primarily a symbolic message. I found it interesting when he pointed out that the word “signify” in Revelation 1:1 which is the Greek word “semaino,” means to signify with symbols. So much for the literal interpretation.

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