Christians, you cannot read the Bible any old way you want – Part 2

As a follow up to You Can’t Read the Bible Any Old Way You Want-Part 1, which really was a primer for this one, I first want to express why I’m so passionate about this topic. One of the greatest tragedies of my Christian life is how I read the Bible. And from day one of trusting in Christ as my Lord and Savior, I had a firm desire to know what his word said. But because I did not know the framework of how the 66 books fit together, I read it in a very disjointed fashion, imposing whatever philosophies influenced me through the teaching I was under, which for many years was pretty wretched.

I came across an article recently on docetism and Scripture, which resonated with me in terms of how I would approach Scripture. Docetism was one of the earliest heresies that infiltrated the church and the pre-cursor to Gnosticism. Docestists placed emphasis on the “spiritual” to the neglect of the physical. You can see docetic approaches to Christianity in some sectors of Christianity today, where the Holy Spirit acts as a rogue agent;

A docetic approach to the Bible is one that allows any text to have any meaning to which we might consider ourselves led by the Spirit. The human dimension of the Bible is ignored so that the careful exegesis of passages and a sound hermeneutic are regarded as unspiritual impositions on the Word of God. What the Spirit makes the text mean to me is what it means! It is true for me even if it isn’t true for you. What is worse is that any fanciful interpretation of Scripture is then attributed to the Holy Spirit’s leading. But the Word is inspired by the Spirit, and his leading is always testable against the responsible exegesis of the Word.

Of course, no one is going to sit and devour the Bible in one setting. It makes sense that we only read a little bit each day. But it helps to put whatever we’re reading in context – in context of the author’s theme, in context of the genre and in context of the placement in the redemptive narrative. That means we just can’t read it anyway we want to.

not just one bible verse meme

We can’t read the Old Testament without consideration of Jesus’ words in Luke 24:26-27 where he asked, after his resurrection, to the travelers on the road to Emmaus, “‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” We can’t read the gospels without consideration of the way Jesus used language and the context that people knew to point to him, including his many references to the Old Testament. We cannot read the book of Acts without consideration of the apostolic mission in relationship to the underlying theme of Scripture, that God would be God to his people (Exod. 6:7; Lev. 26:11-12; Deut. 14:2; 2 Sam. 7:24; Jer. 24:7), which he ultimately accomplished through the Son. We cannot read the New Testament epistles as if they are meandering collections of sayings that are disconnected to what the Old Testament shadowed and the Gospels revealed. In short, we must read the Bible holistically as if it is one whole story.

God Spoke Through History

What has tremendously helped me in thinking about the Bible holistically is gaining a better understanding of how he spoke through the history of his redemption story. In his book The Bible and the Future, Anthony Hoekema has a wonderful section on how God moved through history and specifically, the history of redemption through the Bible;

God discloses his purposes in history. This is true primarily of what is commonly called ‘sacred history’ or ‘holy history.’ By ‘sacred history is meant redemptive history–God’s redemption of his people through Jesus Christ. This redemption has its roots in Old Testament promises, types, and ceremonies; comes to its fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and will reach its consummation in the new heavens and new earth which are still in the future. As is evident  from the above description, redemption has a historical dimension. It involves the history of mankind, the history of a nation (Israel), the history of a person (Jesus of Nazareth), and the history of a movement (the beginning and early years of the church.

In other words, we cannot read the New Testament disconnected from God’s self-revelation in the Old Testament. How was he accomplishing his purposes? We cannot read the Old Testament without considering these purposes in light of the redemption that ultimately is fulfilled in the Son.

Hoekema further adds;

Though it is true, therefore, that God reveals himself in the Bible which is his Word, we must not forget that he reveals himself primarily in the historical events which are record in the Bible.

Tim Keller has summed this up nicely in his post The Story of the Bible. Keller traces the

Because the Bible’s basic plotline is the tension between God’s justice and his grace and because it is all resolved in the person and work of Jesus Christ, Jesus could tell his followers after the resurrection that the OT—“the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44)—is really all about him (Luke 24:27, 45). Paul says that all God’s promises throughout the Scripture find their fulfillment only in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). So everything in the Bible—all its themes and patterns, main images and major figures—points to Jesus.

The Bible, then, is not a collection of Aesop-like fables, fictional stories that give us insights on how to find God and live right. Rather, it is both true history and a unified story about how God came to find us in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived and died in our place so we could be saved by grace through faith and live with him forever in a remade world, the Garden-City of God (Rev. 21–22). From this basic plot there emerge profound insights, principles, and directives on how to live. But the Bible is not primarily about us and what we should do. It is first and foremost about Jesus and what he has done.

God’s story has a framework and a plot. This historical interaction in creation for the purposes of what God will ultimately do through the Son means we cannot read make up private little insights about what passages mean divorced from this framework. It means that we cannot apply some kind of Bible code to a secret meaning of what God is speaking now. History means that God was doing something specific.

Every word, every paragraph, every idiom, every metaphor, every event, every Old Testament feast, every word of the law, every principle, every book finds it’s locust in Christ Jesus. Every covenant promise given to God’s people, to Abraham, Noah, Moses, David and the prophets was about Him. He is the anchor and reason for it all. It’s all throughout the New Testament. Stop snatching out Old Testament stories and prophecies and making it about some personal proclamation. Stop reading passages out of context and divorced from the overall narrative. Stop making the covenants about some U.S. promise or some personal promise other than their fulfillment in Christ.

Just stop.

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About Lisa Robinson

Servant of Christ, DTS Grad, member of Town North Presbyterian Church (PCA), non-profit professional, anti-poverty advocate, writer, thinker, explorer of ethnic food, lover of good coffee and a good laugh.
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9 Responses to Christians, you cannot read the Bible any old way you want – Part 2

  1. Wally Fry says:

    Very nice, I’m glad Brother Vincent found this!

  2. Nathan says:

    Interesting topic. I think of what I have learned of slave religion in the US. Supposedly, the worship service with the “correct” readings of scripture happened on Sunday mornings with the slaves in the balcony. However, a different kind of reading/interpretation of the Bible, in context, happened in the secret meetings at night in the woods among the slaves. These were powerful worship experiences with lots of “bad” exegesis that greatly encouraged God’s people in the midst of oppression. Which “reading” fed God’s people more? I will go with what works in community and context. Often those who define the “correct” reading of scripture fall far short of living those scriptures.

    • Nathan, great point. But were the slaveowners and slave supporters reading according to how I’ve described here? I don’t think so. You can’t read the bible holistically and determine its ok to devalue a whole race of people and treat them sub-humanly. They may have thought they had the context right, but they clearly didn’t.

      • Oops, I didn’t finish that last sentence. They clearly didn’t have the narrative right.

        But I think that fits in well with your comment about community. Clearly, their bible interpretation was supported by cultural phenomenon that determined black folks were sub-human. Just because a community studies the text together, doesn’t mean it will be faithful especially when there are sub-Christian or non-Christian influences on the pre-suppositions.

        That’s not to say I am opposed to community study. We absolutely need that and the Bible should be studied that way. However, I don’t think we can say just because it’s studied in community that community is necessarily consistent.

      • Nathan says:

        Yeah, I see your point, you want to protect against heresy. I think. I appreciate that concern. However, I question who gets to define who is in and who is out; who is right and who is wrong. Additionally,I have never seen an assembly free of local cultural influences in interpretation. Though, I have plenty of colleagues that would go to the mat saying their way is the way regardless of context and community.

  3. Pingback: Why pursuing shekinah glory can leave Jesus behind | Lisa Robinson

  4. Pingback: Christian, you cannot read the Bible any old way you want – Part I | Lisa Robinson

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