In the first part of this piece, we talked about realizing that the Bible was written for us and not to us, and that the Bible exists to carry out specific roles. We are going to look at three other things to keep in mind when studying the Bible.
- Don't ask "what does this passage mean to me?" Ask "what is this passage saying?" You see, when one is feeling blue or going through difficulties, the temptation to subjectively interpret the Bible is very high. While the applications of the scripture may be different, Biblical texts do not ever have more than one meaning. It is very important to separate the meaning of a text from personal situations. For example, someone going through a bad situation like, say, the loss of a job, may hopefully quote Romans 8:28 (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.), claiming that his current loss of job would lead to a better job, after all, all things work together for good. Now notice that his definition of good from the text is based on the good he currently needs in his life. But in truth, whether he lost his job or not, that scripture is promising a particular kind of good, not a better replacement for what was lost. In the very next verse, that good is defined. Verse 29 says "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters." Therefore, everything that happens in our life has one good (as defined by God) goal, and that is to conform us to the Image of Christ. Allowing the text speak to our situation is the way to go, rather than allowing our situation speak into the text.
- The whole of Scripture is understood in light of the parts of Scripture and vice versa. The Bible, while made up of many books and writings, contains a single narrative. To understand a text of Scripture, it is important to know the grand meta-narrative of the Bible. To say that in another way, we cannot understand the individual texts without understanding the whole of Scripture neither can we understand the whole of Scripture without understanding its individual parts. To be honest, there are some difficult texts in the Bible. Attempting to interpret those text in isolation has led to the birth of many heretical sects. It is always important to examine those text against the backdrop of the meta-narrative of Scripture. For example, when in Matthew 12:31 Jesus says "And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.", what did he mean? Books have been written on this text, theories have been propounded, ministries founded, doctrines birthed and heresies have arisen; all because this singular verse has been isolated from the rest of Scripture. Looking at the whole of Scripture, we quickly realize that the only unpardonable sin is the sin of rejecting the available pardon. The job of convicting us of our need for pardon belongs to the Holy Spirit. Ergo, rejecting the conviction of the Holy Spirit results in ultimately rejecting the available pardon which ultimately leads to damnation. So, instead of worrying about individual texts that may be tough to crack, it is important to look at them in light of the whole of Scripture.
- Leave the magnifying lens for interpreting the old testament in the hands of the new testament authors. We all know about those pesky old testament laws that seem to throw everyone off balance. We remember the dietary laws and the instructions against tattoos and shaving, etc. What do we make of those laws? Well, the right question to ask is "what do the new testament writers say about those things? In the case of forbidden foods, the new testament writers say no food is unclean. That is as direct as it gets. What about things like tattoos*? While there are no direct references to them in the new testament, we can find principles that can be applied. For example Paul teaches in Romans 12:2 that we should not be conformed to this world. So, if the desire to have a tattoo is driven by a desire to join the latest fashion fad, maybe it is wise to pause and think for a moment.
Knowing the Bible takes effort, but the result is well worth the effort. This is work every Christian should be busy doing.
*Tattoos would be covered in details in a separate article.