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.