This is a substantially longer than usual post (about 3 written pages). I am exploring ideas for a longer form writing project digging into and applying this way of reading the Bible. If you take the time to read it, please send along any comments, questions, ‘pushback’ etc.
We need a more consistent approach to understanding and applying the Bible.
As disciples of Jesus who hold the Bible as authoritative over our lives and beliefs, we make declarations about what we consider ‘biblical’ or ‘unbiblical.’ And yet, if we’re honest, we know it’s more complicated than that.
Within the Bible itself, we are specifically told that people frequently misunderstood the intention of these writings and how to apply them (Luke 24:25, 2 Peter 3:16).
Christians who hold to the Bible as our only standard of faith and practice today differ on the meaning and application of many things.
How are we to decide on the best interpretation?
How do we make sense of the many things that the Bible says about food and drink, roles and relationships, money and ministry functions?
We need a lens through which to view the whole of the Bible.
I believe that through Jesus’ teaching that we can see that lens.
He has the right to guide us in our reading of the Bible.
Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). He is the Word made flesh (John 1) and the fullest revelation of God. He has been given all authority (Matthew 28:18)
The authoritative teaching of Jesus gives us a vital opportunity to understand much of God’s intention for us throughout the Old Testament story and into the New Testament.
When we take full stock of Jesus preserved teachings, there are still questions that flow from our reading of the Bible, including the activities and teachings of his apostles throughout the rest of the New Testament after Jesus’ ascension to the Father.
Even here, Jesus’ teaching offers us a lens (the big word is hermeneutic) for interpreting and applying the Bible.
I call this the kingdom lens and it comes from Jesus’ most pronounced teaching subject – the kingdom of God.
The ongoing subject matter of Jesus’ teaching was the nearness and importance of the kingdom of God. It is to be sought above all else. (Matthew 6:33). One must have a whole new beginning to see it (John 3:3). It was the ongoing subject matter of Jesus’ teaching during the 40 days following his resurrection (Acts 1:3).
The kingdom of God is a rich and deep theme throughout the whole Bible. It’s a reality that goes deeper than any given situation and into the very heart of God. This is a vital aspect because one of the struggles we have is in discerning which instructions are for a particular time, place and people and which are for eternity in God’s new world.
I’d like to suggest that there are many times throughout the Bible – often when kingdom language is used, that help us get to these deeper, permanent realities relating to God’s will for us. While the word kingdom is not always used, a broad picture of these themes throughout scripture enables us to see which things fit into the paradigm.
Many people ask the question, what is the kingdom of God? There have been many answers. In part, this is likely because there are so many aspects of nuances to this robust biblical theme. This does not mean, however, that we cannot achieve a basic grasp on this reality fairly simply.
On the simplest level, we might say that the kingdom of God is when and where God’s will is done. Jesus teaches us to pray that very thing: “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10).
One of the most helpful aspects our understanding of the kingdom of God is what has been called the ‘already/not yet’ This is a concept used to communicate the reality that the kingdom of God is a current reality that’s available for us to live into through the power of the Spirit but has not yet reached its fulfillment.
To say this another way, God has given us everything that we need to obey his desires for us in our lives, relationships and congregations through the working of his forgiveness, grace and the Holy Spirit. And yet, the world as a whole does not yet live as if Jesus is King. As we wait for the day when he will bring that to pass, we live into that new world – the kingdom – now.
This basic understanding leads us into the kingdom lens for both our interpretation of the Bible as well as our navigation of life in the here and now with an eye to eternity. There are a couple key ongoing questions that the kingdom lens enables us to bring to our Bible study.
What will things be like when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness and his will is done?
How can we live into that reality today?
What are the obstacles in our culture or world to kingdom life?
When we practice kingdom living we both honor God in our lives right now and we practice in preparation for when we are one day living in the fullness of his new world.
We will see that the kingdom lens and the questions that accompany it serve us well as we read our Bibles and seek to understand which instructions were given for a time and which relate to the fullness of time. Many, even most Christians recognize that there are things given in the Bible that served God’s people for a period of time. For instance, I don’t know many Christians who follow the detailed instructions of the Old Testament in books like Leviticus. No Christians engage in the temple based sacrificial system that is described in the Old Testament.
The New Testament offers instruction about women covering their heads in gatherings – something the vast majority of Christians do not practice or probably think much about. We often go to a lens of interpretation that understands some things as limited cultural practices. While this lens is useful, it sometimes leads to more questions than answers. While it might be obvious in one case, there are many others that lead to bigger questions than helpful answers when it comes to what is and is not ‘cultural’
How should we think about sexuality, singleness and marriage, men’s and women’s roles in the home and church? The many, sometimes varied things that are said about these throughout the Bible can leave us confused. A kingdom lens will help us think through these issues and more.
Like many other areas in life, understanding where we are going helps us navigate our choices and decisions today. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything about the inaugurated but yet to be fulfilled kingdom, but it tells us a lot. Understanding the kingdom of God helps us think through issues in our day that the Bible does not address directly.
2 thoughts on “How We Read the Bible…”
Dan, you raise some interesting questions and points. Thank you!
You said one thing that I was unsure about:
“Within the Bible itself, we are specifically told that people frequently misunderstood the intention of these writings and how to apply them (Luke 24:25, 2 Peter 3:16).”
Those two verses were sparse support. I can think of no other Scriptures, offhand, that support your statement above except possibly the parables which hid the truth from the listeners… even the disciples, and Jesus had to explain the parable to them such as the sower, the seed, and the three four soils.
I appreciate your insights!
Richard (aka Uncle Richard)
Thank you. That was helpful feedback.
I hope you’re doing well.