16 October 2014

How to read the Bible

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Frank back in May 2007. The Bible isn't just 66 books that happen to be bound together.

As usual, the comments are closed.
Yes: this is another post on how to read your Bible. And as a brief exposition on why I'm not letting this topic go, it's because I am frankly tired of people tossing off the glib objection, "But how do you know? All those denominations out there – which one of them has the right reading?"

We have about 5000 readers a day at TeamPyro, and when any of us post here, that means 5000 different people read the post. And let's face it: we have a problem with people failing to engage what we write here all the time. It's frustrating. People see their pet peeves in one sentence, and suddenly the post is not about what it's about, but about what this person has made his life's work to confute.

As another example, we were sitting in church in the last couple of weeks, and my son was sitting next to me as my pastor was preaching on the doctrine of salvation. Well, my pastor was on about why salvation implies a need for being saved, and he was completely on about Romans 3:21-26.

And my son whispered to me as my pastor read that passage, "Daddy, I know that verse."

Listen: it is important to memorize Scripture, and it is important for children to memorize Scripture because they must have a foothold in God's word which is the foundation of the way they perceive the whole world. But when my son said that, I was certain that he wasn't the only one in the service who was thinking that – because that's how many adults perceive Scripture: as maxims of wisdom which are not connected except that they are all bound together with cotton stitches in their Bible.

I mention that because unless we understand the real, literary connections of the 66 books of the Bible, we don't really understand the Bible – and almost every single error one can make in interpreting or paraphrasing the Bible is founded in misconstruing how one passage fits into the book it appears in, and then in the whole canon of Scripture together.

So how do you find these connections? Is there a way to do that?

Well, of course there is. Let's look at Romans 3 to flesh that out. Paul has made the clear affirmation that we're all sinners, and that Christ redeems sinners – but so what? How do we know what Paul meant by that?

Let me suggest something: Paul makes a vivid point in Romans 3 by referencing Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Isaiah 59:7,8 and Psalm 36:1.

He cites Psa 14 – but why? Is it because there's a kernel of wisdom there and, like some motivational speaker, he can find some snippet of God's nice turns of phrase to underscore his point? Or is it because Paul's point here is that there is nothing new about the plight of man, and in that there is nothing new about God's plan of salvation. See: the point in Psa 14 is that certainly all the people God sees are sinful, but that psalm closes by affirming that God saves in spite of men's sinful foolishness.

And again, Paul cites Psa 140 to underscore the wickedness of men's mouths – but he also cites Psa 140 because it says that God delivers men from that kind of wickedness. His point in connecting his theological statement in a letter to the Romans to the book of Psalms is that the Bible is telling one particular story about God's work through all of time.

This view of Scripture shuts the mouth of any man-centeredness. It is in this way we can see the systematic and unified aspect of Scripture which drives us away from our errors if we are willing to receive what is there.

It is in this way that Scripture explains itself – but this view of what is happening in Scripture requires that one connect all the dots. It requires one to have a larger picture of each book, and all the books, of Scripture than one can get buy reading a verse a day.