Today, in a short blog post, we are going to try to dive pretty deep theologically and philosophically. I want to begin with a quote from a pretty well-known Biblical scholar at Wheaton, named John Walton, who apparently Larry went to school with, which makes me quite jealous.
Walton writes this, “We must notice that when God wanted to talk to the Israelites about their intellect, emotions, and will, he did not revise their ideas of physiology and feel compelled to reveal the function of the brain. Instead, he adopted the language of the culture to communicate in terms they understood.”
For me, that last line is incredibly important… “[God] adopted” – or we could say incarnated Himself – “in the language of the culture to communicate in terms they understood.” What this means is that the message of the Bible is imbedded and formed by the ancient cultures of the Bible. Or, as John Walton puts it, “[The Bible’s] message transcends the culture in which it originated, but the form in which the message was imbedded was fully permeated by the ancient culture.”
So far, if you’ve read this and think to yourself, “I have no idea what this means and why this matters” and you feel sorry for my wife because I like to sit down on Friday nights and read passages like this, then here’s my interpretation of what this means…When it comes to interpreting the Bible, we need to be humble.
We cannot pretend that the Bible speaks our modern-day language – it doesn’t. We cannot pretend that the Bible is asking our modern-day questions – it often isn’t. We cannot pretend that we have everything put together – we often don’t. The Bible speaks in an ancient voice that we need to listen to and not be so arrogant to think we have it all put together. Because, while I believe the Bible is authoritative, I just as equally believe I am not, nor are my interpretations.
So, for me, the main point of this post is this… We need to be open to letting the Bible speak in its own voice, not in ours.We need to be humble with our interpretations because we aren’t perfect. We need to be open to continually learning, searching and growing because none of us has it all put together.
That doesn’t mean we have to give up on the truth we know, but rather our fallibility should shape how we hold the truth. We shouldn’t be arrogant, haughty and overconfident. Instead, when we come to reading the Bible, we should be humble, grateful and open to learning. Because, this amazing, ancient document has changed lives for centuries, and it will continue to change lives when we learn to humbly listen to it and the wisdom found in it.
We talked about how the Bible came to be over a period of years, and how there were different criteria for books to be included in the Bible. These criteria were: Apostolicity, Orthodoxy, Antiquity and Catholicity or Usage.
Apostolicity is that the writings needed to be connected to an apostle. Orthodoxy meaning that it conformed to the overall emerging tradition. Antiquity meaning that it was written early and close to the time of first-hand and eye witness accounts. And lastly, Catholicity or usage meaning that it was used by the majority of the early church, and attested to its usefulness.
From there we moved on to discuss three poor ways to the read the Bible, and three helpful ways to read the bible.
The first poor way to read the Bible was what I called foundationalism. This is where the Bible is the foundation of our faith. Where we build up a historical, reasonable, and irrefutable arguments for the validity of the Bible and of faith itself. And while I believe in apologetics and using reason and history to demonstrate the reliability of the Bible, this view has one major flaw for me. And it’s this: the Bible is not the foundation of our faith. I know that sounds controversial but it shouldn’t be. The foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ. And yes, the Bible attests to that fact, but it is still not the foundation of our faith.
For me foundationalism misses the point because it raises the Bible above Jesus. So to put it clearly I don’t believe in Jesus because of the Bible, I believe in the Bible because of Jesus. That’s the correct order of priorities of things. And yes, of course, we get to know Jesus through the Bible, but the Bible should never become more important or foundational than Jesus. The Bible actually has a word for that, and it’s idolotary and leads to poor readings of Scripture.
Secondly, we talked about how a poor way to read the Bible is to read it flat. We read it as if each part is equally authoritative for our lives right now. All of the Bible is God-breathed, absolutely!, but we do prioritize or privilege certain parts – specifically Jesus. When we read the Bible we need to take into account the overall arc or trajectory of Scripture, and interpret in light of that. So what this means to give a practical example, we no longer practice “eye for an eye” because Jesus says not to do that. To read the Bible flat though makes these two teaching authoritative even though they contradict. Instead, we need to read the bible through the light and revelation of Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God. So reading it flat is taking each part equally without placing the commands of God, in the history, context, and overall scope in which they are given.
The third issue is that we read the Bible plainly or naively. Sometimes people say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it”. But that is a really naïve way of reading, because we interpret all of the Bible even the clear parts. Because what is clear to you, might not be clear to others. Most of us in the West who are very wealthy do not take Jesus clear words “Go and sell everything” as his clear command. We take them metaphorically, even though they are clear. My point is that we need to learn to read the Bible not naively or plainly but deeply. And ask some key questions is this text just describing a time, or prescribing how we should relate for all time? What is the context here? How does this relate to other parts of the Bible? I think that to approach the Bible with just a forced naivety without a willingness to study is problematic.
And lastly, I gave three other quick ways to read it correctly. First, was to read it through the lens of Jesus. If Jesus is the complete revelation of God, we need to read the Bible through that revelation. Jesus is the standard, so we need to start there.
Secondly, we need to start reading the Bible through not only the lens of Jesus, but also the lens of love. This is because this is what Jesus explicitly says. When he summarizes all of the Old Testament he says its summary is to love God and love others. That this is the trajectory or goal of the Old Testament to teach how to love. So we need to read the Bible in light of that. And St. Augustine agrees, saying this: “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought”
And lastly, I argued that we need to read it looking for things to practice. The classic verse that is used to argue for the inspiration of Scripture actually points us to the meaning or purpose of Scripture. Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 says:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.
The purpose of Scripture is to teach us how to live. That’s the point of it, “teaches to do what is right”
So when I come to read the Bible this is what I try to do:
- To not place the Bible above Jesus, but to help me discover Jesus
- To not read the Bible flat, but to look for how to act
- To not read the Bible plain, but through the lens of love
We ended with this main point: The Bible matters, but what matters most is following Jesus. And when we keep that priority and relationship right, it helps everything. So the challenge was simple this week. To go home and read your Bibles, to really dive deeply into them, to wrestle with them, and read them through the lens of love, through the lens of Jesus, and looking for things to place into action.
The truth is reading the Bible flat, plainly, or as the main priority are just immature ways of reading it. They are great starting places, but we need to grow deeper than that. And that happens through practice. So read, study, and let God guide you in that.
Big Idea: The Bible matters, but what matters most is following Jesus
- Criteria for the Bible: Apostolicity, Orthodoxy, Antiquity, Catholicity or Usage
- The Bible isn’t the foundation of our faith, Jesus is.
- I don’t believe in Jesus because of the Bible, I believe in the Bible because of Jesus.
- Scripture has a trajectory and a goal to it.
- Don’t read it flat, but in light of Jesus.
- Reading the Bible “plainly” or “naively” rather than deeply isn’t helpful.
- Read the Bible through the Lens of Jesus
- Read the Bible through the Lens of Love.
- Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought. St. Augustine
- Read the Bible for action and praxis.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? How can reading the Bible without context lead to difficulty? Which way of reading the Bible (lens of love, Jesus, or action) do you really need to focus most on? How often do you read the Bible? What are your struggles with reading the Bible? Who can help you?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Today rather than asking questions, why not do something together. If you’re not already in the habit of reading the Bible with your kids daily – why not start? There are some great Story Bibles even for little kids like Whirl Story Bible. Pick one up and start reading.
Challenge for the Week: Read the Bible everyday this week.
At first glance this doesn’t seem to be something we need to be taught…but it is. And here is why. Because we have probably all encountered bad readings of the Bible.
This is where people use the Bible, but leave feeling like they missed the point. Or they used it poorly, or hatefully, or just plain wrong. Let’s be clear, you can use the Bible to make almost any point you want. And just because something is in the Bible, doesn’t mean just quoting it – makes it right. Just look at Satan in the temptations with Jesus; he uses the Bible as a weapon to try to actually stop him from accomplishing his mission.
So there are healthy and unhealthy ways of reading the Bible. And even though if you’ve grown up in the faith and it seems pretty straightforward, I think this could be one of the most revealing and interesting sermons all year. So I hope you can make it. I know it’s a long weekend ~ but I promise not to preach…too long 🙂