How Can Scripture Teach Me?
How do you learn from Scripture? The very idea of learning important stuff about God can be intimidating. But you can do it. There are more details elsewhere on this site, but it boils down to this:
- study it yourself;
- study it with others;
- live how the Spirit leads you by it;
- live it out with others, especially (but not only) others who are living it out. There is more to learning God than reading Bible verses.
Your mind will change as you learn - if it doesn't, then you're not learning. You will live differently as you mature in your faith. You will make mistakes. Many mistakes. That's okay, you can make them, just don't hold on to them or fear them, for they are part of the learning process. You learn from your mistakes. You will also stir up nastier sides of yourself, perhaps even using what you read to bolster evils within you. But, don't fear that, either, because: (1) you can turn away from these sort of wrongs, and (2) God forgives, and provides a new start. The Spirit's guidance means you have no reason to fear the Scriptures.
More on how to study the Bible, and about methods used for doing it.
The Scriptures Speak, and Stuff Happens
It's often said in mainline Protestant churches that the Bible is only the Word of God when it is read with faith. I myself wouldn't put it quite that way. It seems to me that there is something inherent about the Scriptures that is the Spirit's own, in a way unlike anything else. The Spirit inspired the stories, events, speeches, and prophets which led to the writings. Then, the Spirit inspired the writers and editors. If so, much of the Spirit's greatness would have rubbed off on it.
One way to see if it's so is to see if it bears a key mark of God's Word: it does not come back empty. Do the books of the Bible canon meet this standard even in non-believers' hands? I'm convinced it's so. For all of this modern culture's disbelief and cynical bitterness, it isn't rare to see the Bible's effect. Even in the hands on those who don't believe in Christ or even in a god, whether in art or literature, diplomacy or politics, family life or inner transcendent longings, and whenever people speak of peace or justice or morality or character or vision, something of the Word's words, meanings, ethics, and intents do in fact come through. Sometimes those doing it have no idea where it came from. Sometimes they know full well and ignore or reject God yet still learn from the truths God put into Scriptures. Thus, the Bible does not come back empty.
This effect comes from another truth, one which carries forth regardless of your approach to God's speaking in Scripture: When God speaks, God creates. The word from God changes the old, and makes the new. The Testaments report that this is the pattern; the pattern also applies to the Testaments themselves.
Scripture Interprets Scripture
Through the "Scripture interprets Scripture" approach, what the Spirit tells us through Scripture is unlocked, tested, and balanced by the whole of Scripture. No part of the Bible is slighted or ignored -- but no part of it stands on its own, apart from the meaning of the whole and apart from other specific parts which deal with related matters. Since the Bible is how God reaches us, the whole of it is the most reliable resource for finding what the Spirit is saying in any one section of it. This often forces us to accept some amount of vagueness and paradox, since both are found all over Scripture and cannot be wished away. Narrative methods are a modern reflection of this approach.
Some (especially fundamentalists) hold that only Scripture interprets Scripture; however, that's not how the people in the Bible used earlier Scripture, and it doesn't help us learn how to live by it today.
Can I Interpret the Bible's Way?
The Bible itself shows the many ways the covenant people have used for trying to get at what God wanted from them. Some of these are familiar to us: the prophets, written histories, etc.. Other methods were not good: they cast lots, put out fleece, listened to donkeys, called on mediums, established a corps of 'royal' prophets. God had already told them such methods were not to be used for this all-important task. Superstition ain't the way. Yet, they tried it anyway. They could face Divine displeasure at their treason in using such methods (such as King Saul at Endor). But strangely enough, God spoke through each of them. Why? Because God had a message that was important for them to know, and wanted them to get it while someone was listening to something. (God, of course, has the right and power to use anything to do it.) Some of us today use methods that are akin to those bad methods (such as in most end-times theories, or bible codes). Using Scripture as the foundation for interpreting Scripture takes us away from the bad effects. Yet it's not helpful to say, "well, I'll just interpret like the New Testament writers do." Those human authors sometimes used the Law and Prophets out of their original context to make the case that Jesus fulfilled the Hebrew Scriptures. It's like it's got one of those warnings from TV infomercials: "don't try this at home". The earliest Christians knew what Jesus was face-to-face, either through Jesus Himself or the ones He taught. That changed the context of what was originally written. They couldn't look at the existing Holy Library the same way ever again. The earliest Christians worked backward from the Jesus they came to know. But just like the ancient Jews, God used them anyway to communicate the message, even when they didn't do it right.
Read It With Attitude
The Scriptures scream to be read with faith. But it really matters what faith one has. Case in point: Saul of Tarsus. He had learned the Hebrew Scriptures all his life long. He was even trained in the school of thought and practice which was slowly developing what would eventually become the Talmud, through Rabbi Gamaliel. He thoroughly believed in God -- not just any god, but the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Moses and of David -- and probably believed strongly enough to give up his life if need be (a very real possibility in Roman times). By all the standards of the Law and the Prophets as revealed up to Jesus' time, he was following God as he should have. But those standards had been radically changed only a few years earlier, and God set about to break through all that Saul knew. God didn't use the Torah or the Prophets to make the breakthrough, even though that remained important to his thinking. There was no New Testament yet to bear the new Word, since people (including Paul) were still busy living the New Testament. So God created an experience that would open Saul up to the truth: Saul was blinded. When his blindness ended, he had new eyes for seeing what had already been revealed in a new light: a new Word from God, Jesus. Saul was no longer Saul, but Paul, an apostle. And Paul went on to live, and write, that new revelation, as the author of letters and as the foremost evangelist of all. The light that the Spirit shed through Paul's life and pen, in turn, now lights our way.
One part of a good attitude toward Scripture is to read it with passion. In 2010 in Capetown, the Third Lausanne Congress expressed it as loving Scripture like its pages were love letters from the one you love, "not for the paper they are, but for the person who speaks through them." They further expressed this love, for:
- The Person the Holy Writ reveals, as "the primary witness to the Lord Jesus Christ".
- The story the Scriptures tell, which is "for all people on earth".
- The truths the Scriptures teach, which is "the foundation for exploring and understanding all dimensions of God's truth".
- The life its God calls for, for "nothing commends the gospel more eloquently than a transformed life".
The Scriptures are the floor we stand on,
the floor we worship on,
the floor we dance on.
And we can leap, and perchance even to fly.
But betides we come back to the floor,
for it is our home.
Free In Christ
A site user writes:
You wrote that "Experiences that are not found in Scripture can be Christian, so long as they adhere to the gospel as found in Scripture, and to Paul's concerns for order, and can be tested by all the means of discernment at our disposal." Where does the Word say this?
Some people say, "if it's not in Scripture, it's not Christian". That would be to miss the whole point of the Bible. It wasn't meant to be used as the bare limit of what we can do in the faith. If it were, we couldn't worship the way we do, we couldn't be organized in congregations (as we know them) or denominations, and we certainly couldn't use the Internet. Our work, play, art, romance, political systems, music recordings, and "nuclear family" would rarely be able to be put to use for God. The truth is, The Bible simply doesn't directly cover such things, and isn't meant to. It's there to teach you about Christ and what it means to follow him. The Bible gives you ways to sift and evaluate. It shows you the way God works so you know it when you see it, or when you do it. It helps you develop a God-pleasing way of looking at the world within you and around you. , or when you do it.
The apostle Paul speaks of Christian freedom, that we are not saved by following Law (Romans 8). All is allowed in Christ, but not all is good or right (1 Cor 6). Scripture teaches you what good and right are, what evil and wrong are, what the fruit are, what the commands are. But new things are happening all the time. Through the Bible, God gave us ways to discern where the the Spirit is leading us, showing us what God is up to. We have to test our experiences. How does it reflect, or help us reflect, the gospel or the love of Christ? How does it help us become Christlike, how is God's will for the human race, or for you, furthered by this? If your experiences fall in line with the gospel and bears forth the character of the Spirit's fruit, God may well be at work in it. Even if it seems strange or contradictory.
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