How to Read Scripture

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Lev. 19:26-37; 2 Thess. 1:1-12; Matt. 6:25-34

Today we learn in the Old Testament that I am in violation of the Levitical code.  “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it.  You shall not practice augury or witchcraft.” (OK. I pass the test on this one).  “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.  You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you.”

Oh uh!  I eat my steak rare.  I just had my sideburns trimmed at the barber a few days ago.  What beard!?  And I have a tattoo.

Those who take the Bible literally have difficulty with discrepancies such as the ones today.  How do we follow all the Bible, not pick and choose?  I chuckle when people pair this understanding of the Bible with getting back to the Bible’s “family values.” How many wives did Solomon have again?

I wonder what values they are talking about.  Here in Leviticus, which is ultimately all a wilderness survival guide – the demands are pretty stringent.  And those who say that Jesus came to free us from the dietary laws and the ritual sacrifices of the Levitical code, I point out passages like today, or the one where we have to stone our children if they speak out of turn.  That doesn’t sound like a dietary requirement to me!!! And yet we don’t follow it.  Why?

The Matthew passage sheds some light on this.  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

Jesus came and felt strongly that it was the inner core of being that was of primary importance.  The gates were also open to the Gentiles, who did not claim to be a part of the heritage of the Old Testament, and therefore of its laws either.  The early church had to struggle with this.  So, who is bound by requirements of the Old Testament?  How much authority does it have?

It has all the authority that any other passage has!  One just has to KEEP READING.  What is the story?  Where is the story going?  How does each passage relate to one another?  In other words: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT – that is one important ingredient in how we read scripture.

More importantly, look more broadly.  Take a step back from each individual scripture and ask, “Where are we going with this?”  In other words, what do the scriptures principally teach?  Sometimes looking at something under a microscope reveals things, other times you need a telescope.

In many ways, Jesus supercedes the law here.  But he does not cancel it out.  I have many friends who have no need for the Old Testament.  And this breaks my heart.  It is so rich in stories of God’s grace, and it provides the footing and understanding of everything in the New Testament.

For instance, it is not enough boil down today’s passage to become “Don’t be anxious.”  That is to completely miss the point because of the verse that follows it:“For the Gentiles seek all these things: and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.”  In fact, this passage was a commentary on the Levitical code of dress and dietary requirements.  Jesus is saying, “Don’t worry so much about whether you are staying Kosher and don’t spend your whole day worrying about things that don’t matter.  Seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and everything else will fall in place.”

Priorities.  The Bible is teaching us about priorities.  Examining priorities in our lives, which are so filled with “busy”ness and pressure, would not only do our blood pressure good, but probably our families, and our society as a whole.

So often reading scripture is an art.  It means knowing IT ALL.  No cherry-picking allowed, for I can get the Bible to say just about anything.  (Even things that contradict!).

Here’s another tip: Read several translations.  Often the original Hebrew or Greek is complicated and even figuring out what the Bible actually says is difficult.  The best way for folks who don’t know Greek is to use multiple translations and note differences.

Also, enjoy! This is meant to enrich your life and help you find joy and peace.  If you aren’t getting that maybe you aren’t in the mindset for scripture just yet.  Talk to your pastor, get right with God, and then go back to the texts.

-Matt

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One thought on “How to Read Scripture

  1. Excellent post today. The concept of priorities in one’s daily walk or spiritual development probably boggles minds in abundance. The Gospels give us numerous examples of Jesus pushing us “back to basics”. Love God. Love your neighbor. Feed my sheep. Go teach the world what I’ve taught you. Priorities indeed.

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