Summary: We need to learn to discern between the greater and lesser commands of the Bible.
GNATS AND CAMELS AND BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
Let’s start off with a thought question. Think about this:
Agree or Disagree: Some parts of the Bible are more important than others.
Be careful. I’m not asking this question:
Agree or Disagree: Some parts of the Bible are unimportant.
At first, we might react negatively to the first statement. But I think that happens because we confuse the first question with the second one. No human being has the right to say that part of the Bible is unimportant. It may not be interesting to us, it may not be relevant to topics we are discussing, but we cannot say that it’s not important.
Yet, it’s important to see that not every passage of scripture is as important as every other passage. For example, look at these two passages:
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 11:12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah.
I think that it’s obvious that a passage that tells us about the identity of our Creator is more important than a passage that contains a genealogy.
OK, here’s another one:
Agree or Disagree: Some commandments in the Bible are more important than others.
Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
This one is easy because Jesus said that some matters of the law were more important than others. So it’s obvious that some commandments are more important than others. We mustn’t forget that the other commandments are important, for Jesus says you should have done the one without neglecting the other. But we should focus on the camels not on the gnats.
So our task, as children of God who want to do what God wants, our task is to learn to determine what things are more important than others.
Some might say that this is easy, that we follow the commands in the New Testament, not those in the Old Testament. I don’t fully agree with that statement, because I know that the Bible of the early church was the Old Testament and that when Paul tells Timothy that all scripture is inspired and is useful for teaching, he’s talking directly about the Old Testament, the scriptures that Timothy had known from his youth. However, we do have to admit that the direct teaching for the church is contained in the New Testament, so when I look for commands to be obeyed, I look first to the New Testament. But even then, we have to learn to distinguish the camels from the gnats. Take this command, for instance:
II Tim. 4:13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
Does anyone here think that we need to make a trip to Troas to get Paul’s belongings? Of course not. That’s an easy one. But they’re not all that easy. How do we know what are the weightier matters, how do we know which are the commandments that are most important?