What is the Best Way to Read the Bible?

Last week we looked at examples from the New Testament of people coming together in community to study the Scriptures. We also looked at the first few centuries after the New Testament to see the council at Nicea surrounding the deity of Christ. Christians came together around the Scriptures in order to clarify beliefs and put an end to false teaching. This council resulted in what we commonly call The Nicene Creed.

This community study of the Scriptures happened on many other occasions as well. As the years passed, again the Church saw need of solidifying doctrine amongst all believers. The decision was made to collect the writings held highly by the community and combine them into an authoritative collection. There was some debate concerning some of the writings we have today in our New Testament, and some differences still exist today (does your Bible contain the Apocrypha?) But when the Church came together in community, the most trusted writings were compiled to solidify the documents of our faith – the New Testament.

We are so used to having our sacred writings in one book. Can you imagine going through life and having to search from city to city to find a copy of John’s Gospel? The fact that you own a Bible, or have access to a Bible online, or in app form is because 1600 years ago the Church, the Body of Christ, came together in community in order to compile (not create) the writings we know and love.

Today, we must take the same approach toward interpreting Scripture. Renowned theologian, seminary professor, and author Scot McKnight has a suggestion for how we are to read and interpret Scripture today in his book, The Blue Parakeet. In this quote, he speaks of the “Great Tradition,” that is the understanding of the historical Christian community.

“I suggest we learn to read the Bible with the Great Tradition. We dare not ignore what God has said to the church through the ages (as the return and retrieval folks often do), nor dare we fossilize past interpretations into traditionalism. Instead, we need to go back to the Bible so we can move forward through the church and speak God’s Word in our days in our ways. We need to go back without getting stuck (the return problem), and we need to move forward without fossilizing our ideas (traditionalism). We want to walk between these two approaches. It’s not easy, but I contend that the best of the evangelical approaches to the Bible and the best way of living the Bible today is to walk between these approaches.”

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet

The history of the church shows that Scripture has been best interpreted in community. When believers come together and wrestle with the Scriptures to find truth, error is avoided, God is honored, and Scripture is upheld and interpreted in a relevant way. As history and the New Testament has shown us, it is the best way.

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We Must Take This More Seriously!

I just sat on my couch in Snyder, TX, USA and watched a live (and powerful) sermon streamed over YouTube from Australia. I got to watch and hear the same message preached that my brothers and sisters in Christ are hearing on the other side of the world at the same time they were hearing it. What a time we live in that the Word of God can be transmitted in such a way.

And yet it worries me that we don’t take the Word of God as seriously as we should. We have more opportunity to interact with the Word than any other time in human history. Our access to Scripture is unprecedented, the resources we have to study Scripture and access to quality teaching us seemingly unending. And I think therein lies the problem.

Can you imagine living in a world where every sermon you ever heard was in a language you didn’t understand? And there was no copy of the Bible in your own language? I’m reading a biography on William Tyndale and it’s reminding me of the immense blessing God has given us through having the Bible in our own native language. Tyndale died because he dared to translate the Bible into English, and yet we often find it a bother to carry a Bible around. It’s “inconvenient.”

Can you imagine for the first time in your life hearing these words in your own language for the first time:

“For God so loved the world that he hath given his only son that none that believe in him should perish, but should have everlasting life.” (Tyndale New Testament)

Friends, don’t ever let interacting with the Word of God become routine. Don’t ever let it become so “common” that we don’t take it seriously. About 10 hours from now I’ll gather with brothers and sisters and we’ll open God’s Word once again. I pray you do the same, wherever you are, whatever is going on in your life. I pray you stop and open God’s Word again with the same excitement and passion as if you were hearing it for the very first time. Because for some of you reading this, the Word just might come alive as though it were the very first time.

May God bless you as you gather with the saints and as you dwell in His Word.

Will We Learn From Our Past?

Paul’s admonition to Timothy is to correctly handle the Scriptures. Does any true follower of Christ seek to do otherwise? I’m sure we can find spurious people that misuse Scripture for ulterior motives. Yet Paul needs to caution Timothy about handling the Word. Surely this caution would extend to us, and we have more need of concern.  Timothy saw Paul’s ministry firsthand, and thoroughly understood the culture in which the New Testament was written, and Paul still feels the need to caution him in the correct handling of God’s Word. What are we to do when it comes to the handling of Scripture? This is where a basic understanding of church history comes into play.

The community of believers in Christ has always worked together to study and interpret the Scriptures, and this community approach is still needed today. From the time of Paul we see the Bereans working together to compare the truth of Scripture with Paul’s message (Acts 17:11), or the need in Philippi for the members to be of the same mind (Phil. 4:1-3). We also see the leaders of the church come together in community to discuss how to apply Scripture to these new Gentile converts (Acts 15). There are many other examples of the church coming together in community to interpret the Scriptures in the pages of the New Testament alone, but what about after the first century? Should Christians continue to read and understand Scripture in community? Absolutely! And many of the beliefs you hold today are a direct result of this process.

Most Christians understand that our New Testament was written in the first century AD. What we often forget is that the New Testament didn’t exist in a leather bound, easy to carry book for all believers to read. Many Christians went their entire lives never having the opportunity to read the New Testament. How could they ever live the Christian life without a personal copy of the Scriptures? Community! Believers came together and summarized the teachings of the apostles in the second century with the Old Roman Creed, which eventually became known as The Apostles Creed. While it is not a complete retelling of the New Testament, it does summarize many of the facts of Bible in a format that believers could memorize and discuss.

These discussions eventually raised some questions concerning the deity of Jesus. What did it mean to be “the Son of God,” or the “Word,” or “one with the Father?” Has Jesus existed for all eternity like the Father, or was he created first before all things? In 325 AD, over two hundred Church leaders gathered in the town of Nicaea to sort these matters out. Like the Bereans two centuries before, they searched the Scriptures in community to give language to the deity of Christ. The core Christian belief today that Jesus was “fully God and fully man,” or as The Nicene Creed states “true God from true God…became human,” came out of this meeting.  With Christians coming together in community to interpret the Scriptures, major questions were answered, heresies were silenced, and Scripture was upheld.

We’ll continue to look at other examples from Church History next week, but today I want to leave you with a question: What’s the best way to study Scripture in community today?

2 Rules for Reading Scripture

Last week we looked at the human component in Scripture. All Scripture is from God, but it comes through the mind and hand of humans, sometimes humans writing in community as we noted last week in many of Paul’s writings. This makes the Bible more special in my eyes, that God was willing to partner with humans in getting his word to the world, just as he partners with us today in doing the same thing (See Matthew 28:19). Today we’ll unpack the last part of Bobby Valentine’s quote: “God’s word addressed them in that situation and may not be God’s directive for all time and all places.”

There are two rules for reading Scripture: Context, and Context. Because of the historical nature of revelation we must pay close attention to the historical occasion of the text.  Why was it said or written in the first place? For instance, Ezekiel records many times of coming calamities upon Israel and Jerusalem “from the north.” This does not mean that Americans should be arming our border with Canada and preparing for war. This is a ridiculous example, I admit, but there are some who take equally specific texts meant for a specific people group in a specific time and place and try to apply it to everyone today. We must honor the context of the statements in order to accurately derive their meaning.

Let’s take a look for a moment and look at another example.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 NKJV

I’ve seen this verse applied to people trying to make a difficult decision, athletes wanting to win a game, couch potatoes that want to work up to running a marathon, churches hoping to begin a new ministry, people hoping to buy a new car or find a new house, and the list goes on and on. This verse is poorly translated in the KJV/NKJV (the word “Christ” doesn’t even appear in the Greek text), and its meaning is poorly applied to our lives because we don’t understand the context of Paul’s statement.

Paul has been arrested for preaching about Christ, but he doesn’t view this as a bad thing. In fact, Paul believes this is good because believers now see their faith in Christ is worth even going to prison over, and therefore they are spreading the Gospel message more intensely (Phil. 1:12-18). Fast forward a few chapters. Paul exhorts the church to rejoice always, no matter your circumstances…even if you are in chains for the Gospel (4:4). They should focus on Godly ways rather than worrying about the things of this world (4:5-9). Paul acknowledges that for a while the church was unable to support him, or provide for his needs (after all, he is in prison so he doesn’t have much – 4:10) Then Paul writes:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

Paul is saying he doesn’t need money or possessions in order to preach the Gospel. God gives him strength, and that is enough. Want to apply this to your life? You should go preach the Gospel and God will give you the ability in whatever situation you find yourself to do just that. And no, that doesn’t include winning your softball game.

Changes Coming…

If you are reading this please know I appreciate you following my little blog. I’ve committed to make changes and improve the content here, seeking to always focus on Christ while providing relevant and interesting content.

Over the next few days and weeks you’ll see some changes here in design, and probably a name change as well. There are some things I want to do with this site that the basic version of WordPress won’t allow. I’ll keep you updated as we progress, but I wanted to take a minute and thank you for joining me on this journey we call life.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you:

Wherever he may send you;

May he guide you through the wilderness:

Protect you through the storm;

May he bring you home rejoicing:

At the wonders he has shown you;

May he bring you home rejoicing:

Once again into our doors.

The Book of Common Prayer

The Human Component of Scripture

Last week we began to look at the “inspiration” of Scripture (see 2 Tim. 3:16). I mentioned the biggest problem we face when trying to understand God’s inspiration of Scripture is we try to remove the human element from Scripture. We forget that the people writing these texts had a hand in their creation as well. They were not strictly taking dictation.

Bobby Valentine puts it this way:

“The Bible is inspired of God’s Holy Spirit through the words of human beings in specific historical circumstances. Thus it is literally the word of God and the word of humans. Thus the text was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and not Spanish, English or Southern. God’s word addressed them in that situation and may not be God’s directive for all time and all places.”

I left you with three examples of differences between Scriptures that refer to the same events. All of these are narrative events (meaning a story is being told). Did you look them up? If not do so now:

Did you notice the differences? They are all human elements that have been changed. Let’s look at the first. The writings of Samuel and Kings cover the exact same time frame as Chronicles, but their intent is different. The writing of Samuel is more of a prophetic warning, or explanation of why the people wound up in exile. Chronicles attempts to reestablish the image of Israel after the exile. Two different purposes, and the writers included two different sets of details. All true, but different purposes.

Both Luke and John tell us about Peter going to the empty tomb. John includes this “other disciple” beating Peter to the tomb. That’s the way John refers to himself throughout his Gospel. Why did John include this and Luke didn’t? Because it was John himself who beat Peter in a footrace to the tomb!

Mark and Luke tell us of the bleeding condition of the woman healed by touching Jesus’ robe. Mark tells us that she had suffered greatly at the hands of physicians. Luke, who was himself a physician, apparently didn’t feel we needed that bit of the story.

Can you see the human element of these texts? Can you see how God gave latitude to the authors? This makes the Bible more special in my eyes, that God was willing to partner with humans in getting his word to the world, just as he partners with us today in doing the same thing (See Matthew 28:19).

In the meantime, look at how Paul did not write his letters alone, but in partnering with others: Rom. 16:22, 1 Cor. 1:1, 2 Cor. 1:1, Gal. 1:1-2, Phil. 1:1, Col. 1:1, 1 Thess. 1:1, 2 Thess. 1:1, etc.

Next week we’ll unpack the last part of Bobby’s quote, specifically how God’s word may apply to specific times and places, verses all times and all places.

Common Myths Surrounding the Inspiration of Scripture

In these articles we have been discussing the ways many read the Bible incorrectly. I’m not talking about doctrinal interpretation, I’m talking about the very way we approach the book. I would encourage you to look at these past articles if you haven’t already:

Today, we are looking at the “inspiration” of Scripture. Paul wrote a letter to one of his coworkers named Timothy in which he gives this charge:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God  may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 NIV

What exactly did Paul mean by “God-breathed?” I grew up thinking that this process was much like the way we use voice-to-text with our cell phones today. Ask Siri to send a text message, you speak, and the person on the other end gets your words. Siri doesn’t shape your words, Siri doesn’t give the gist of your words, it is every word exactly as you speak it. This is how I viewed the process of the Holy Spirit inspiring the words of Scripture. The Spirit whispered in the ear of Paul, Peter, Luke, Matthew, and the others, and they wrote down every word in the exact order the Spirit spoke them. I guess you could summarize this process as “strict dictation.”

If this is so, why does Paul write differently than Peter? Why does Matthew write differently than John? Why does Luke include a story that Mark does not? Isn’t the same Holy Spirit behind the writing? Isn’t the same Holy Spirit dictating word for word to each writer? Why then are they different?

And therein lies the problem. We often try to remove the human element from Scripture, forgetting that the people writing these texts had a hand in their creation as well. They were not strictly taking dictation.

Bobby Valentine puts it this way:

“The Bible is inspired of God’s Holy Spirit through the words of human beings in specific historical circumstances. Thus it is literally the word of God and the word of humans. Thus the text was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and not Spanish, English or Southern. God’s word addressed them in that situation and may not be God’s directive for all time and all places.”

Bobby Valentine

We’ll unpack the last part of Bobby’s quote next week, and explore the context of these inspired writings next week. But if you want to see examples of this, look at the following passages…all true, but you can see the human element of the author at play:

Ask yourself: What are the differences in these passages, and why?