“Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” was the Lord’s charge to his preaching apostles. Their conduct among the ravening wolves was to be as such. I think we would not be amiss if we paralleled his command to our reading of Scripture. We must be both wise and innocent in our approach to the oracles.
The Hebrew word for wisdom denotes skill or competency. It’s used for an array of abilities, but the overall wisdom presented in Scripture is that of living well unto God. A rare skill indeed!
Not every skill is learned from the Bible—for instance (fun fact) I didn’t learn to cut my own hair by searching the nooks and crannies of the original Greek! But our spiritual skillset does come from the Bible. And one of the greatest skills God gives his people is the competency to read the Bible correctly.
He lays out very exact statements about such things as the object of our faith (Jesus, Gal 2:20) and the nature of his covenant with us (grace, not works, Rom 6:14). These alone will help us locate the fixing point for our faith in any given text. If my eyes of faith are to stay upon my Lord Jesus Christ, then I keep them fixed on him wherever I am in the Bible; if my relationship with God is based entirely on his grace to me in Christ, then the first word I come away with, no matter what text I’m in, is not do but done. In fact, he tells us quite plainly (more on that in a bit) what the subject of the Bible is: Jesus.
But beyond these sweeping (and game-changing!) ground rules for reading the Bible correctly, God also provides us with many examples of how to do it. The Bible teaches us how to read the Bible by reading itself. A good friend of mine has said, “Subsequent revelation often makes explicit what is implicit in antecedent revelation.” In other words, later Bible verses often tell us what earlier Bible verses really meant the whole time. Trust me, when the Bible says what the Bible means, the Bible is right about that.
The elegant hermeneutical wisdom we find in the Bible resists the very overly-wise systems of modern Christianity. This wisdom carries itself like a child. Our scientific age has taken the wonder out of God’s word. We are taught to box every text into a nice, neat package and tie a pretty bow on top. “That is what the text means, no more, no less.”
Interestingly, this is, perhaps, not so much the overstep of arrogance as the understep of unbelief (although the two are related). We stand as scientists over the text, all too happy to mark out its limits, instead of children under it, swept away by the other-worldly storytelling of our heavenly Father.
It is a fact of life that grown ups who talk most about being grown up are usually the most childish. Interestingly, those who speak most of the plain reading of the text seem to falter when presented with very plain texts about the meaning of other texts. When the text is very scientific about what other texts mean (Rom 4:13; 1 Cor 10:4; Heb 1:5, 8, 10-12, 2:5, 9, 13, 11:16, and 13:5 for starters), these voices seem to do everything in their power to avoid the straightforward reading of it! Ah, but this happens because the system, not the text, is governing the reading of the text.
Beloved, let’s leave our little systems behind and let God teach us what reading the Bible is all about: TRUSTING JESUS!