In our conference in Zimbabwe, Dr. Craig Smith shared about the tools for Biblical interpretation. He didn’t teach Greek or Hebrew. He didn’t teach about using various commentaries and dictionaries and using a plethora of outside resources. He taught us how to simply read the Bible, itself.
It reminds me of Deuteronomy 30 when he writes that the word of God is not too far off that we would say, who can go and get it? Nor is it too difficult that we would say who could understand it? No, the bible is very near. Craig taught how the Bible really is very near, and that a lay person can read it with the insight of a scholar. It’s work – to be sure. You must read carefully. But it is do-able.
The thing is though, many people really do try to read the Bible carefully, but they are grossly misinterpreting it. They want to understand, but come away misled. Why is that???
I think this may help us understand the problem:
When we were coming to Zimbabwe, as I shared in THIS blog, we worked really hard to pack our luggage to airline weight requirements – 50 pounds. We carefully measured each piece of checked luggage, and then, to be safe, we made sure each bag was about 2 pounds under weight, but when we got to the check-in counter, every bag was overweight.
We had tried really hard to do the right thing. We measured carefully. We planned. The problem was, our tool was wrong. Our scale was off by about 5 pounds and we didn’t know it. So because we used the wrong tool (or at least an insufficient one) our results were skewed. We weren’t working with truth; everything we had done was based on a false premise. But our hearts were surely in the right place.
I think this is how it is for many of us when we read the Bible. We do what we think is right. We work hard at it. We want to understand. But sometimes we are using tools that aren’t quite right. Sometimes we apply the wrong tool or an insufficient tool to the passage. Sometimes, for example, we look too carefully at the details before we ever get a hold on the big picture. It’s not that we’re not trying; we surely are. It’s just that we don’t have the right tools, or aren’t using the right tools, or aren’t using the right tools in the right order.
Lest you get discouraged, let me return to my illustration. We were overweight about 2-10 pounds on every bag but one, and it was just at capacity. We were going to have to leave Bibles behind – Bibles we had intended to give away at the conference. We didn’t want to leave them behind, but unfortunately, they were expendable, and the rest of our equipment was necessary to run the conference.
Then an authority at the check-in counter had sympathy on us, and compassion for our cause, and he said if we would evenly distribute the weight so each bag was as close to 50 as possible, he would let them all through. So we got through with all our bags being about 53-54 pounds.
Our efforts weren’t quite sufficient. They had misled us some, but they did get us in the ball park. And then with some help from the authorities, we were OK. It’s the same with our Bible reading. We may not always read it rightly. We may miss some things. Our tools may be off, BUT, our efforts are not in vain. We do our best, and then the Holy Spirit comes along and helps us. He shows us where we are wrong. He reveals when our tools aren’t quite working right. He also helps us get closer to the real meaning of the thing, and then he moves us through. Why? Because, like our check-in agent, He cares about the Bible. He doesn’t want us to have to leave any scripture behind because of mismanagement.
Now that we know the scale was off, we can either adjust it’s read out by 5 pounds in the future, or get rid of it and get a better one. After our conference, these pastors in Zimbabwe are excited because they too now know that their scales were off in some areas. They now have better tools they can use. It’s not that all they did before was lost, it’s just that now they have better tools to help them take all that they have done so far, all they have studied and learned, and put it into a better context. They can now repack what they know and put it into the right crates, moving a few things around so that they fit a little better.
Tools are important. No matter the project you are working on, they are crucial. The same is true for reading the Bible.