We all approach the Scriptures carrying particular baggage and with a particular framework. Most of us come to the Bible knowing very little about it, and it all seems so overwhelming. How can I make sense of this? What relevance does this have to my life? I call this the Biblical Fog, but it's really biblical illiteracy, and I fear that the overwhelming majority of Christians, today, fall into this category. We simply have not been taught how to approach the Scriptures, how to interpret them and apply them for our lives today. So we wander about in a fog, never really picking up the Bible, and when we do, never grasping God's word. It doesn't have to be that way, and I can help, but that's another post for another time.
Another approach to the Scriptures is called Systematic Theology. In this approach, the Bible is a wellspring of doctrine and theology (as well as practical issues for life) ready to be categorized into an ordered system of belief. This is, generally, the approach that the scholars of the Church have taken for the past 200 years or more. "What do you believe about X?" "Well, let me go to Book A, Chapter B, Verse C and I'll tell you, after I follow up on all the cross-references." This approach has many strengths, but it is fundamentally flawed because it does not consider the manner in which the Bible was created.
I believe that the Bible is God's Redemptive History. It extends into the deep past, to the very beginning, and anticipates the end of the present age to a new beginning. In the middle is all that God has done to redeem humanity, destroy sin and evil and death, and become the true King of the Cosmos. The Bible is the story that invites us to become participants. It is not Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth so much as it is a play in search of actors--the play that is, in fact, the truest reality, to which all the other stories of the world are mere shadow puppetry. The Bible is the Story that defines my life--past, present, and future--because it is the story of how God made all that exists, how it went wrong, what he has done to make it right again, and what he will do to finally consummate that process of making-all-things-right.
For this reason, I must pay the utmost respect to the manner in which God created the Bible--its authors, its times, its contexts, its audiences. God sovereignly directed the Bible to be written by dozens of authors over almost 1500 years under wildly divergent circumstances. I cannot dishonor this incredible work of the Holy Spirit by disregarding the historical nature of Scripture and still hope to fully understand the end result of the Spirit's work. That is an arrogance of the worst order.
So I pay attention to the history of Scripture. I seek to understand it within its own context before I try to apply it to my context. I believe that the Bible was the Word of God to someone else before it became the Word of God for me. As I've said elsewhere, two principles that guide me are:
- The Bible cannot mean what it never meant.
- If we don't understand the Scriptures in their historical context, we'll never understand them at all.