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The Bible does not provide a prescription or formula for something that, when applied, will guarantee success, happiness, and prosperity. The Bible was never intended to be read, interpreted and applied in these flat ways. In fact, there’s a lot more going on inside the stories of this sacred book than a formulaic reading will ever be able to uncover.

When we treat the Bible as a flat text we’re essentially saying that each and every part of it has equal value. We are effectively saying that each verse, regardless of its location in the Bible, regardless of its genre, regardless of its original audience and intention, is a verse for everyone in all times and in all places. A specific food restriction in Leviticus, for example, will have the same value and import as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew or Luke.

Those who read and seek to apply the Bible this way, as Brian Zahnd has recently said, end up treating the ‘do not eat shrimp’ passage of the Old Testament and the ‘God is love’ passage in the New Testament as equals. Anyone with an agenda can search through the Bible, find verses that seem to support their bias, string those verses together, formulate an argument and call it biblical. However, stringing a few verses together from various parts of the Bible doesn’t make an idea biblical.

What Makes an Idea Biblical?

For an idea to be biblical it should follow these basic guidelines

First, it should follow the hermeneutical paradigms (models of interpretation) the Church has used throughout its history to aid its reading, interpreting, understanding, and applying of the Bible in such a way that faithfully reflects the context and intent of the passage in question (history of interpretation).

Secondly, it needs to pay attention to the verse, but move beyond the verse, to embrace the flow and direction of the entire biblical story. All too often, we can isolate a verse, but miss the overall flow and direction the larger biblical story is leading us to discover and embrace.

Finally, we should remember that Jesus is the central, controlling interpretive principle we need to bring with us every time we read the Bible. As the Word of God in flesh, Jesus reflects the fullness of God’s nature and character so that (to quote Zahnd again) “Jesus is what God has to say”

Reading scripture by the light and through the lens of Jesus will dramatically impact our reading, understanding and applying of the story to all of life. Without Jesus guiding our reading of the Bible, we will always run the risk of reading something into and out of the Bible that we were never meant to.

As Graeme Goldsworthy has said, "Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. He is thus the hermeneutic principle for every word from God."

Reading the Bible as Story

In the end, we need to treat the Bible the way it was meant to be treated; not as a series of isolated texts and verses, but as a story – God’s grand, redemptive story unfolding in, to and for the world.

When we treat the Bible improperly we run the risk of making it say whatever we want it to say. However, such an approach to reading the Bible will never do.

When we treat the Bible like a scientific textbook we will run the risk of missing the forest for the trees and spend so much time on the smaller pieces that we forget the mega-story the smaller pieces all point to.

The over-arching story of the Bible paints a beautiful portrait of God slowly leading humanity along on a journey to gradually understand and embrace His best goals for us. In order to grasp the flow of this story and learn to better appreciate the place the story is leading us towards, we need to read it as a grand story every step of the way – from Genesis to Revelation.

And when we do, we must bring Jesus along with us, allowing Him to shed light on the smaller stories as He helps us to better appreciate the larger story He is leading us to embrace.

Not Everything in the Bible is Biblical

So, not everything in the Bible is biblical. Only those ideas which align with the larger biblical story of God’s redeeming love and in-breaking kingdom should be received and communicated.

Every other idea we bring to the table should be studied further for clarification with the prayer that light from the larger story of scripture will shine upon our ideas, illuminating our fidelity or departure from the biblical witness.

Christ should always be the primary and ultimate interpretive lens through which we read, interpret and understand the Bible. Any other lens will misdirect us and potentially cause more harm than good.

Jeff K. Clarke is a blogger and an award-winning writer of articles and book reviews in a variety of faith-based publications. The goal of his blog is to place Jesus at the center of our discussions. From there, all of our questions, ideas and reflections are placed through the filter and lens of a Jesus (Re)Centered.

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William Howard

commented on Oct 27, 2015

"So, not everything in the Bible is biblical. Only those ideas which align with the larger biblical story of God?s redeeming love and in-breaking kingdom should be received and communicated." Strong statement. What sir, in the Bible is not "biblical"?

Reba Jones

commented on Oct 27, 2015

Those who read and seek to apply the Bible this way, as Brian Zahnd has recently said, end up treating the ?do not eat shrimp? passage of the Old Testament and the ?God is love? passage in the New Testament as equals. Anyone with an agenda can search through the Bible, find verses that seem to support their bias, string those verses together, formulate an argument and call it biblical. However, stringing a few verses together from various parts of the Bible doesn?t make an idea biblical.

Bryan Herrington

commented on Oct 27, 2015

I think a better way of saying it is, everything in the Bible is biblical but every recorded word of men in the Bible is necessarily of the Lord or fits into HIs great redemptive plan. However, the recorded record in the Bible is biblical!

Bryan Herrington

commented on Oct 27, 2015

That should say, "but not every recorded word of man in the Bible is necessarily of the Lord..."

Lawrence Webb

commented on Oct 27, 2015

We might quibble over some of Jeff Clarke's wording, but his point is well made: The Bible records many incidents and advocacies that are not consistent with the revelation of God's love in Jesus Christ. A couple of examples: 1 Samuel 15:3 "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (KJV). Psalm 137:8-9 "O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones" (KJV).

William Howard

commented on Oct 27, 2015

How can we say these things in the face of 2Tim 3:16

Charles Bain

commented on Oct 27, 2015

the Bible helps us to understand the God stuff that we need to know to become a mature member of his kingdom and his family.. Just in case we think this is too easy ,or too hard for us , we have actually lived example lives for us to inform and warn us of the very important pitfalls , snares, minefields in our lives.these actual examples where men did wrong help us to not do the same . treat the bible, if it helps, like Gods encyclopedia ,and just for the today,look up the relevent topic from Gods point of view.

Marvin L. Fowler

commented on Oct 27, 2015

This means seems to give room to "interpret the Bible as one desires." It is also at leas hinting that God "did not write all His Word" but men at least added to the Bible. In both the Old and New Testament, we are warned not to "add to or take away from" His Word. Did Jesus mean it when He said, "Ye must be born again", absolutely. The idea that the entire Bible is NOT biblical, leaves us with a reason to interpret as it fits our own beliefs and according to modern culture and times. I know that God knew how the world would be in 2015 as well as He did on the very day Jesus died. Marvin L. Fowler Oct 27, 2015

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