In this series, we are looking at a set of tools to help us understand and interpret scripture effectively. We will call these tools our toolkit of truth. In the first parts, we looked at classification, context, and Christ Centredness. Now let’s move onto tools number 4 and 5.
- TOOL 4: COMMON SENSE
Common Sense matters! Sometimes we just need to read the text for its plain and obvious meaning when taken in the right context. People are very quick to super spiritualize things. “Do not murder”… I wonder what God was trying to say? We don’t need to overcomplicate it. People jump through linguistic hoops to make a passage mean what they want it to mean. Sometimes people deliberately stay in confusion, ignorance or intentional blindness so they don’t have to respond to the word!
It is common sense to consider the context of a passage to see if instructions, commands or blessings in both the Old and New Testament were specific to individual circumstances or can apply universally to all today. Otherwise, every time we go to the town centre we might expect Jesus to leave us a donkey tied up ready to use (See Matthew 21 for that obscure joke!)
We also need to understand the difference between DESCRIPTIVE and PRESCRIPTIVE in the Bible. For example, you may read a story in the Old or New Testament where a character behaves in a horrific way –don’t be confused or offended - it is not prescribing how we should respond, or even endorsing the behavior, it is merely relaying it for future generations. This is why it is never a great idea to take more than one wife!
It is not all about using our head knowledge though. Perhaps we should use the term Uncommon Sense to speak of the unique combination of common sense and spiritual discernment we need when engaging with scripture. There is always a spiritual dimension at work behind the scenes. God is the God of the impossible! We can’t explain every miracle or understand all the mysteries of an infinite God. We need uncommon sense to recognize that the supernatural defies logic and that God can work beyond the realm of the natural.
The Bible does contain some real mysteries. Some things need further consideration and study – other things we may never know this side of Heaven. Yet as Mark Twain famously said, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
In the midst of mystery, we need to pray for the spirit to bring clarity as we keep Christ central to all we do. In THE TOOLKIT OF TRUTH, Common Sense is key.
- TOOL 5: CROSS-REFERENCING
For the past 10 years, there has been one series of films I never fail to see at the Cinema with at least one of my children. I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe because it is so connected. Every story arch and character somehow links to the next – from Iron Man to Spider-Man to Rocket and Groot. Fans will look for clues known as “Easter Eggs” hidden in films to help them gain an understanding of the bigger story.
The idea of an interconnected universe is nothing new – we find it first in the Bible. Many times the imagery or language in the New Testament mimics or expands the language and imagery of the Old. When Peter says “You are a Royal Priesthood” he is directly referencing passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy. Revelation is full of references to the Old Testament prophetic imagery and can’t be understood apart from this interconnectedness. We need to see ALL scripture as part of the Biblical Cinematic Universe.
Practically a good rule of thumb is let the Bible interpret the Bible. When looking at a topic or theme ask “Where else does the Bible talk about this?” Other passages in the Bible shed often light on the passage you are looking at. If you can’t figure out a verse - Look for comparisons but be careful not to assume that the same word or phrase in two different passages means the same thing. The Picture of Yeast, for example, is symbolic of the Kingdom but also a picture of false doctrine. It is also sometimes simply referring to actual yeast!
As we read we see there are big reoccurring themes of scripture that sweep across the whole architecture of scripture; from Creation to New Creation. In THE TOOLKIT OF TRUTH, Cross-Referencing is key.